Mars’ surface, as far as we can tell, is not habitable to humans—it’s far too cold. But eventually, humanity would like to put an outpost on the planet. That will require warming things up a bit, but how?
Scientists now propose using an insulating material called silica aerogel to make parts of the Martian surface friendlier to photosynthetic life, aka plants. It’s by no means suggestive of a planet-wide terraforming project, but perhaps an aerogel blanket could more easily melt the water on the Martian ice caps to make a small section of the planet habitable to longer-term human or plant visitors.
“The nice part is that the other ways you can think of to terraform a planet are so far out there,” Laura Kerber, research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Gizmodo. Far from radical science, silica aerogels are a small, scalable technology that already exists.
Humans have already demonstrated that they’re quite good at heating up planets, thanks to the greenhouse effect, which is when a material (carbon dioxide, for example) absorbs sunlight and then reradiates it, keeping the area below warmer than it would be otherwise. But it’s unfeasible to warm an entire planet this way—past results have already shown that there isn’t enough carbon dioxide on Mars to terraform it with today’s technology. So the researchers instead focused on how they might be able to heat small parts of the surface with as little effort as possible, say, for a research outpost.
Silica aerogel would induce the greenhouse effect. It’s a material that’s mostly air by volume, trapped by a network of silicon dioxide. Thanks to its properties, a few-centimeter-thick layer can transmit the visible light that a plant would use for photosynthesis, block harmful ultraviolet radiation, and warm the area beneath it.
The team built an experimental setup where they shined an approximately Martian-level of light onto the gel, and measured a difference of more than 50 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) between the top and bottom. Such a material might therefore be useful to raise the ground temperature in the region around the Martian poles. Kerber proposed producing tiles of the material that could be assembled into a greenhouse-like structure.
One researcher who not involved with the study thought it was a “clever” and “potentially interesting” idea. Bruce Jakosky, professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Gizmodo that it’s not “terraforming” by any means, as other news outlets have already claimed. Instead, researchers suggest warming a region enough to melt the ice. The team say in their paper, published in Nature Astronomy, that there remain other important constraints for life that such a greenhouse won’t overcome, like the proper atmospheric pressure. Additionally, Kerber pointed out that the silica aerogel is quite brittle, and would need to be doped with another material like a polymer.
But before we even think about transforming some of the Martian surface to make it habitable to humanity, there are a ton of other things to consider. The mere act of establishing a base on Mars brings up a conversation of who should go and why, and Mars might have its own extant life today, which the presence of Earthlings (human, plant, or microbial) would complicate the search for. Kerber herself pointed out that terraforming the planet would destroy the “pristine” environment scientists want to research.
Terraforming Mars is probably a bad idea. “It’s dangerous,” Jakosky said. “It suggests we don’t have to worry about maintaining an environment here on Earth. That’s not a good concept.” But perhaps building a smaller structure would allow researchers to perform experiments without all of the potentially bad results.
Ultimately, this is proof-of-principle research, and a human settlement on Mars remains an idea of the distant, speculative future. But for now, the researchers hope to test their material in hostile environments on Earth in Antarctica or Chile. And unlike the speculative technology required to transform a whole planet, building a greenhouse from a material that already exists doesn’t seem quite as difficult.
DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States is building a coalition with its allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes by having “eyes on all shipping”, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Monday, following recent attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Iran.
The official told reporters en route to the United Arab Emirates that a coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions to the “Sentinel” program, but did not name the countries.
“It’s about proactive deterrence, because the Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say hey we didn’t do it. We know what they’ve done,” he said, adding that the deterrents would include cameras, binoculars and ships.
Reporting by Asma Alsharif and Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean
The three-decade-old Dragon Quest franchise loves its traditions. While Final Fantasy has never been afraid to depart from its roots, there are big parts of Dragon Quest XI that are directly drawn from the very first Dragon Quest NES game from 1986.
So when 2016’s Dragon Quest Builders successfully combined the art, story, and general aesthetic with the open-world Lego-style building of Minecraft (itself seven years old at the time), it was paradoxically fresh. The games share exploration, crafting, and an intentional retro streak, and those elements formed the foundation of a short, sometimes limited, but ultimately entertaining game.
The game did well enough to make Dragon Quest Builders 2 a thing, and it’s a game that does what good sequels do. It gives you more of what its predecessor did well—both in that it is literally more content in the same style, but also in that the game is slightly larger and more ambitious in scope—while improving the core gameplay and jettisoning stuff that didn’t work. Builders 2 is fun enough, flexible enough, and charismatic enough to be fun even for people with zero knowledge of the source material.
A link to the past
The Builders games both put you in the shoes of a “Builder,” which in the game means having the extraordinary power to put things together and make other things. The first game was presented as an alternate ending to the original Dragon Quest, where the main villain’s victory rendered building things a lost art. Rather than continuing the first game’s story, Builders 2 plays as an alternate ending to Dragon Quest 2, where the followers of that game’s villain establish a cultish religion that forbids building. In both cases, the player’s job is to rebuild society from the ruins, inspiring NPCs (and a few friendly monsters) along the way.
The new game’s core mechanics are also mostly carried over from the first game: you explore and gather materials to use in your creations; take quests from townspeople who ask you to find specific materials, craft specific things, or build specific structures; and occasionally fight off waves of monsters intent on destroying what you’ve made. It’s still a lot like Minecraft, but the mission-based structure gives it a different feel. If you find the open-ended, do-whatever-you-want feel of Minecraft’s survival mode frustrating, Builders may be more your speed.
Builders 2 does feel a lot larger in scale than the first game, both in terms of its story structure and in terms of the kinds of things you can build and the area you can build them in. The original was broken up into four chapters, each of which took place in a totally different town. It was telling one overarching story, but every chapter made you start over again from essentially ground zero. Character progression, inventory, and your structures themselves did not carry over from one chapter to the next in that game, and you couldn’t revisit old areas with new items or equipment. The only place where you could use every item in the game was a totally separate free-play mode, which had no quests or any narrative connection with the rest of the game.
Instead of chapters, the bulk of Builders 2 takes place on separate islands with separate cities. Your inventory and crafting recipes do still mostly reset when you go to a brand-new island, but afterward, you return to a “home base” called the Isle of Awakening, where you continue building structures and completing missions that let you use all the items and recipes you’ve gathered throughout the game. Some of the missions on the Isle of Awakening are totally optional, but others are required to push the story forward.
That story’s pretty basic and not too hard to predict if you’re in any way familiar with RPG tropes. But in the same way that the first Builders subverted the mechanics of leveling up and character progression to make a point about what being a “hero” means in a Dragon Quest game, Builders 2’s story explores the relationship between creation and destruction. These forces, presented as diametrically opposed in the first game, have a much more symbiotic relationship in this one, personified as your semi-permanent wingman Malroth.
The Builder can, well, build, but its combat abilities are limited; Malroth is physically much stronger than the Builder and can help bust up materials for you to gather but is utterly inept at creation. When you create, don’t you need to begin by destroying something to gather the parts you need? When you destroy something, aren’t you laying a foundation for future creations, in a way? It’s not a perfect or especially deep metaphor (in the game, it’s easier to build than to destroy; in the real world the reverse is true by a considerable margin), but it works as well as it does because you do become attached to the characters who represent each force.
Easier but bigger
By traveling with you nearly constantly, Malroth gives the game a different feel than the first Builders had, much in the way the added party members in Dragon Quest 2 changed the melancholy solitude of the original. Malroth levels up in lockstep with the player—you both gain experience by fighting monsters, which ups Malroth’s attack power and gives the Builder more hit points and stamina and crafting recipes.
If having a helper makes the game sound easier than the first, that’s because it mostly is. The original Builders had an aggressive hunger meter, limited inventory slots (which only became less-limited midway through each chapter, once you had built a specific item), and weapons, armor, and tools that would wear down and break over time. That gave the original a survivalist feel that the new game mostly rejects. The hunger meter still exists, but you no longer lose hit points when it’s empty, none of your equipment wears down or breaks, and you always have access to a full map of the area you’re in, along with unlimited item-free fast traveling between checkpoints. A dash button speeds up walking, and a parachute/hang glider item you get early on reduces the risk of fall damage and makes it easier to traverse uneven terrain.
The locations you’re exploring get bigger and more complex as a result of these tweaks—exploring this game’s maps with the first game’s mechanics intact would be a chore, particularly the second island’s cavernous mine—but the sense of mystery and risk that accompanied exploration in the first game is mostly gone. And although there are secrets peppered across each island, there’s not as much of an incentive to find them, since you always know just where you need to go to progress, and finding HP-boosting Seeds of Life isn’t the only way to boost your health.
Building stuff is easier in this game, too. Some of that comes from improved mechanics: it’s easier to find materials, easier to tell what parts you need to finish a blueprint, easier to build in enclosed tight spaces thanks to an improved third-person camera and a new first-person camera. But mechanics aside, the game just makes it easier to accomplish the objectives laid out for you: you’re always given clear directives and quest markers, it’s much easier to gather basic materials like wood and iron, and NPCs can help you collect and build stuff now (the story mode’s biggest structures are not only NPC-built, but NPCs even bring most of the materials needed to build the structures in the first place).
This is occasionally irritating—why make me The Builder (capital-T capital-B) if you’re not going to let me put everything together? But it works mainly because the scale of your creations can be considerably larger and more complex than in the first game. The first game’s wonky third-person camera made it a chore to enter most enclosed structures, but this camera is a lot better, encouraging the creation of rooms with multiple floors and a roof on top. And while each of the first game’s towns was limited to a 32-by-32-block grid (you could build outside it, but it didn’t count toward your base’s score and NPCs would ignore it), the towns in Builders 2 are bigger and more free-form—you can build stuff just about anywhere you want on the Isle of Awakening. There are tons more blocks and decorations, too, so your creations can be considerably more personalized and imaginative than in the first game.
By stacking several Peltier coolers in a cascade, it’s possible to increase the temperature differential generated. In this design, the copper plate of the chamber is cooled down to -33 degrees Fahrenheit (-36.11 Celcius), more than cold enough for the experiment to work. Alcohol is added to the glass chamber, and when it reaches the cold plate, it creates a super-saturated vapor. When disturbed by charged particles zipping out of a radioactive source, the vapor condenses, leaving a visible trail.
Cloud chambers are a popular experiment to try at home. It’s a great science fair project, and one that can be easily constructed with old computer parts and a couple of cheap modules from eBay. Just be careful when experimenting with radioactive sources. Video after the break.
Everyone should build a speaker cabinet at least once in their life, if only so they can realize how much thought goes into building a simple box. [John] of ibuildit.ca wanted a sound bar for his home theater setup, and that means building a sound bar. The result is beautiful, and a demonstration of how much you can do with just a router and a table saw.
[John] built this sound bar almost entirely out of MDF, which isn’t the best material but it works well enough for a speaker cab that’s meant to be mounted to a wall. The sides were constructed first, with a rabbet holding the front and back on. Both the woofer and tweeter are inset into the front, and a standard piece of plumbing pipe serves as the bass port. Slap a round over bit into the router and do some light sanding, and everything looks great with a coat of black paint.
As with any speaker enclosure, the design is effectively parametric, designed entirely around the drivers being used. In this case, [John] is using a spreadsheet named ‘Unibox’ that gives you all the formulas and graphs for designing a speaker enclosure.
With the box built and the speakers installed, the only matter left were a few aesthetic choices. [John] went with a standard black finish with a very nice wooden grille held onto the front with magnets. It’s a design that pops, but the true test of a speaker is how it sounds. That’s a bit hard to convey over the Internet, but [John] included a few sound samples at the end of the build video, available below.
DC’s line of Wal-Mart exclusive comics has been an interesting experiment, attempting to bring in new readers by putting DC comics in a high-traffic retail space. But comic-book collectors are aggressive creatures, and many of these books were scooped up in bulk because they contained new stories by A-list DC creators like Tom King, Andy Kubert, Brian Michael Bendis, and Nick Derington. It’s unclear just how significant the reach of these Wal-Mart books has been in terms of new readers, but enough time has passed that DC is reprinting the previously exclusive material so the entire fanbase can check it out. Batman Universe #1 kicks off an expansive Batman tale that takes the Dark Knight to a variety of DC locales, starting in his home base of Gotham City before venturing to Gorilla City, Thanagar, Dinosaur Island, and the Wild West.
Batman Universe is Bendis’ debut writing a solo Batman, and the humor in Bendis’ writing creates a more playful hero reminiscent of the iteration in the iconic Batman: The Animated SeriesTV show. The crisp, vibrant artwork by Derington, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Josh Reed reinforces that cartoon connection, and in a world where brooding Batman is king, it’s a delight to get a version of the character with a brighter worldview. This exclusive extended preview of this week’s Batman Universe #1 highlights the craft and imagination of this stellar creative team, opening with a clever two-page sequence that shows the readers the world through Batman’s eyes. These first-person panels show Batman driving the Batmobile, climbing up a building, and swinging through the air, stripping the visuals of superhero dynamism to offer a more methodical depiction Batman’s process.
And then the perspective shifts to the goons on the ground, about to get their asses kicked by a guy dressed as a bat who just fell from the sky. This brings a rush of spectacle to the artwork, and the restrained storytelling of the previous pages gives this splash even greater impact. The fight scene that follows is outstanding. Derington’s linework packs a lot of detail into panels that move with thrilling energy, and he gives each individual Riddler their own look and personality. Stewart’s colors add texture and visual accents to Derington’s inks, and the biggest joy of this story is seeing how the art team interprets a wide array of DC environments and characters. Bendis takes full advantage of his collaborators’ immense skill, and it makes Batman Universe essential reading for fans of the Dark Knight.
Michael Karcz is about to be banned from the 500PX community. His account will likely be deleted. All based on what the 500PX moderators deem to be “non-photographic content” on his page.
Michael Karcz is a well-respected photographer on 500PX. He is known for his fantasy-style images, which involved extensive use of Photoshop to create alternate realities. He has garnered thousands of followers and millions of views.
On Karcz’s end, nothing. His account has been business-as-usual in recent months. He never attempted to hide the process behind his images. Karcz writes on Facebook: “I marked each work as photo-montage and placed in a category that most closely matches content – fine art.”
Karcz’s gallery on 500PX.
Instead, the reversal is due entirely to 500PX’s new orientation, which rejects anything seen as non-photographic content. And this includes Karcz’s work, which relies heavily on Photoshop.
Here’s the initial message that Karcz received from a 500PX representative:
This email is to notify you that our Moderators have found non-photographic content posted on your account. 500px is a photography community, and we do not currently allow non-photographic content to be uploaded to the site. This includes screenshots, graphic designs, drawings/illustrations, video game screen captures, and other non-photographic content that we deem to be in violation of our Terms of Service. If our Moderators continue to find non-photographic material posted to your account, it may result in your account being banned. Thank you for your cooperation, 500px.
And when Karcz asked for further explanation, this was the reply from 500PX:
Hi there, Unfortunately photomanipulations based on photography is not photography and our website in the current iteration is evolving into a purely photography website. Not only that, our terms of service require you to be the copyright owner of the images you upload so if you’re editing bits and pieces of other peoples imagery then you’re in violation of that. I personally am a fan of your artwork but unfortunately it doesn’t fit within the conditions of our site at the moment.
Karcz is understandably frustrated by this about-face. For years, 500PX was a platform to share his work. And now, without warning, he’s been turned away, despite investing time and energy into building a 500PX following.
Karcz writes: “I never concealed how my work is created, and evidence of hypocrisy is an interview with me in 500px, which was later also found in the Huffington Post. What I use are photographs, and the photomontage is the starting medium.”
He goes on to argue that his photomontage technique has been “used almost from the beginning of photography, by those who wanted to show something more [than] realism.”
What are your thoughts? Should Karcz’s work be allowed on 500PX?
And if not, how should 500PX deal with once-accepted photographers who have been dedicated members of the community?
A hatch might seem like an odd artifact to recreate, but considering its complexity, it’s the perfect target for such an effort. The hatch that Project Egress will be building is from Block II CMs, which was completely redesigned in response to the tragedy of Apollo 1. The fire that killed Guss Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee inside their Block I capsule was inescapable due to the design of the hatch, a two-piece plug that opened inward and was pushed firmly into its seals by the pressure difference between the capsule interior and atmospheric pressure. The three crew members never had a chance once the fire started, accelerated as it was by the pure oxygen atmosphere of the capsule.
The Block II hatch, dubbed the “Unified Crew Hatch” or UCH, was designed with crew safety in mind. The design requirements stated that the hatch must be able to be opened by the crew within 3 seconds, and allow for complete crew egress in 30 seconds. They also wanted the hatch to open to a wider angle, and for it to be able to prop open for extended extravehicular activity. That last requirement added a lot of complexity, because making sure that the hatch latches securely again for re-entry is critical. Consequently, a backup latching mechanism had to be included in the UCH design.
To satisfy those requirements, the Block II UCH became a 225 pound (102 kg) beast. It had fifteen latches that could be simultaneously retracted with a few strokes of a handle on a hydraulic pump, or by use of the backup system. The UCH also had vents for rapidly equalizing cabin pressure to the ambient pressure, a special mechanism to open the outer boost cover hatch until it was jettisoned along with the escape tower, beefy hinges to keep the hatch propped open securely, and a gas spring counterbalance system to assist opening and keep the hinges from overextending. The Block II UCH was flown on all the manned missions and performed flawlessly.
This Way to the Egress
All this makes the UCH a great artifact to recreate, but it means that Project Egress is far too big a job for one person. To spread the work around and make the build more interesting, Adam has enlisted over 40 well-known makers and hackers and assigned them all a specific part to recreate. The list reads like a who’s who of the maker movement: Jimmy Diresta, This Old Tony, John Saunders at NYC CNC, Fran Blanche from FranLab, and our own Quinn Dunki, also known as BlondiHacks. The list includes DIYers, prop makers, cosplayers, 3D-printing nerds – the entire spectrum of maker genres is represented.
Here’s the really interesting part: each maker will choose the medium for their part. Some will work in metal, some in wood, and there will no doubt be 3D-printed parts too. Pretty much every method and material in the hacker armamentarium will come to bear, and the parts will be a mish-mash of everything that makes what we do every day so powerful and so much fun.
The culmination of Project Egress happens on July 18th when Adam will take the collection of parts to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and assemble them in front of a live audience. It’s not clear if there will be a live stream of the event, but it would be a crying shame if there isn’t. If you’re in the DC area, it’d certainly be worth dropping by.
We really like the sound of this event, and we can’t wait to see the builds that come out of it. Both Fran Blanche and Quinn Dunki have already posted their builds; Fran did videos on the design and build of one of the latch assemblies, rendered in wood, while Quinn machined a latch tie rod from aluminum.
Project Egress looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun, and hats off to Adam for coordinating it – and for giving up his annual trip to San Diego Comic Con in favor of the live build – and to all the hackers he has roped into the project. We’ll keep track of progress along the way, and hopefully be able to report on the big reveal at the end.
Every year around June 21, thousands of visitors from around the world gather at Stonehenge in southwest England to celebrate the summer solstice. It’s a tradition that is thought to go back thousands of years, ever since Neolithic peoples created what is believed to be a temple aligned with the movements of the sun.
Stonehenge is the only neolithic monument in the U.K. to use stones not from the local area. While some were most likely taken from the neighboring Marlborough Downs, the “bluestones,” weighing around 3.6 tons each, were transported from quarries in Wales that are 180 miles away. Historians still struggle to explain how, in pre-wheel Britain, humans could have managed this architectural feat.
Though its exact purpose remains a mystery, Stonehenge is still sacred to members of Britain’s Druid and Pagan communities, who observe various rituals at the site, including on the summer and winter solstices. But these days, historians, archeologists and local residents worry for the landmark’s future, as digging for a tunnel motorway past the site could start in 2021.
The A303, one of the main routes between London and rural southwest England, passes through the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury, creating what many see as a blemish on an important landscape. In December 2014, the U.K. government announced plans to invest in a two-mile-long tunnel to upgrade the road, hiding the section closest to Stonehenge from view — the latest in a series that have been proposed since 1995 to solve the notorious traffic jams around Stonehenge, where the road narrows to a single lane. The National Trust and English Heritage, who between them manage the central core area around Stonehenge, welcomed the proposal, describing it as a “momentous decision” that would remove much of the traffic from the landscape. But anti-tunnel campaigners warn the scheme could cause irreparable harm.
The Brief Newsletter
Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now. View Sample
The Stonehenge Alliance, a group made up of NGOs including Friends of the Earth and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, have warned that building a tunnel there would risk destroying the site. “It would betray millennias’ worth of history,” says Tom Holland, a historian and president of the Stonehenge Alliance. “It’s Europe’s most precious prehistoric landscape, and that’s because it’s not just Stonehenge itself, but the entire surroundings that give those stones their significance.”
In addition to the stone circle, the area recognized as a World Heritage Site comprises several complexes of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments that indicate that hundreds of people were buried there in ancient times. The main concerns about the tunnel have to do with the damage that could be made to archeological remains. “If we start messing around, drilling things, then we don’t know what will happen. We’ll end up not even knowing what it is that we have lost,” says Holland.
Not all archeologists, however, oppose the tunnel. Mike Pitts is an author and archeologist specializing in British prehistory, and one of a few to have excavated within Stonehenge itself. He says that aside from the traffic problem, the road is a “major scar in the middle of the World Heritage landscape” and “the only acceptable solution is to hide it on its existing course.”
“It’s sad, but there is no alternative,” he says.
David Bullock, Highways England project manager for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, says the tunnel will be aligned very carefully, especially on the Western side, where recent discoveries of Mesolithic material provided information about very early settlers. “We’re confident that the route doesn’t disturb any archeology at all,” says Bullock. “But we will do further investigation during the project to add to the overall knowledge of the archeology in the area.”
Still, those who fear for the future of the site remain determined that the project poses a danger to the historical and archaeological record.
And the concerns are not just about the impact on remains. Some worry about the impact that the construction, which is likely to last around five years, could have on various celebrations at Stonehenge. Amanda Hart, one of the elders at the British Druid Organisation, says the roadworks would massively affect the celebrations, and could result in people moving them to a different site, such as the Neolithic henge in neighboring Avebury. “We could move it to Avebury, but it just wouldn’t be the same,” she says. “There is such a deep connection with the site.”
The monument is usually cordoned off, but the summer solstice is one of the rare occasions that the inner circle is open to the public. Though several other festivals take place at Stonehenge throughout the year, the summer solstice attracts the largest audience, which gathers to watch the sun rising through the ancient entrance to the stone circle.
“It would be quite sad if we couldn’t meet together to celebrate the solstice,” says Hart. “It’s a very moving and beautiful event.”