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Company sending mini-museum of humanity to the moon for future explorers



Earth is giving a gift to the moon that will land on the lunar surface next year.

The nine-ounce MoonArk a tiny time capsule-esque artifact of humanitywill be attached to a small lunar rover. This is in the hopes that one day it may be picked up by lunar explorers — hundreds or thousands of years in the future.

The MoonArk was designed to capture humanity’s view of Earth, the moon, the space between the two, and the greater universe. Fittingly, these complex narratives are shared through various types of art — not unlike the way ancient humans left their mark on Earth for us to understand the past.

It’s not a traditional time capsule because it’s not organized chronologically and doesn’t encapsulate everything a future human or other species would need to know. That would be impossible. But the MoonArk team has achieved their own kind of impossible feat over the course of 10 long, determined years. They have turned a vision into a reality that will sit on lunar soil.

MoonArk will hitch a ride with with a new lunar rover set to launch next year. Originally known as the Moon Arts Project, MoonArk was designed in response to the 2007 Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The competition and its US$30 million prize expired in 2018 when teams around the globe failed to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon.

But the Andy lunar rover — developed by William “Red” Whittaker, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and director of the Field Robotics Center — is go for launch in 2021. The tiny rover will be one of the first American robots to explore the moon’s surface and transmit video back to Earth.

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Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander will deliver the rover to the near side of the moon, landing by the Lake of Death. This region contains a large scientifically intriguing pit that the rover can image. Whittaker co-founded Astrobotics, a Carnegie Mellon spin-off company that plans to send payloads to the moon and eventually elsewhere.

The rover will drive at a few centimeters per second and its major capabilities include autonomously choosing where to go, taking pictures, calling home and staying out of trouble, Whittaker said.

“It is about the size of a shoebox with four wheels, and it is ultra lightweight, with a camera in forward and rear,” Whittaker said. “MoonArk is attached underneath the deck of the lander, like a skirt that protrudes from the body. Our approach is to attach it underneath that lander deck and when the time comes to release it and have it float to the ground. That’s never been done before.”

Andy and the MoonArk will part ways after the rover releases its cultural payload and leaves it behind to explore the Lake of Death. For MoonArk, it’s just the beginning.


Inside the ark

Lowry Burgess, NASA space artist and professor emeritus at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art, came up with the original concept for MoonArk.

Burgess, along with Carnegie Mellon faculty members Mark Baskinger, Matt Zywica, Dylan Vitone and James Madison University professor Mark Rooker, have been on a journey together ever since. They’re not just creators of the MoonArk, but caregivers as well.

Initially driven by determining factors like weight, scale and cost, the project took on a greater purpose.

“We had a larger narrative in mind,” said Baskinger, project co-lead and associate professor at CMU’s School of Design. “We thought about ‘What does it mean to be human?’ ‘What are the elements and dimensions of being human?’ ‘And how does the moon factor into that?’ ”

The fundamentals of living on Earth and seeing space through human eyes are there, arranged in a stack of small chambers representing Earth, the moon and various regions of space.

They decided on four chambers, starting with Earth at the bottom, followed by the metasphere where our communications satellites exist, then the moon chamber and finally, the ether chamber exploring the “more existential and abstract conceptions of the universe beyond what we know.”

The team wanted to create a literal context for humanity, showcasing humans as they are today on Earth, how the moon has acted as our muse for art and the ether above it all, causing us to ponder where we are in the grand scheme of things.

The chambers are each only about two inches in both height and diameter. But each one contains a nanoscale world within, including hundreds of examples of poetry, music, sounds, drawing, symbols, dance, art, artifacts and tiny samples.

Each chamber is the result of collaborating with a team of 60 people and more than 250 artists, scientists, designers and educators.

The inventory contained within is long and varied, a mix of concrete and abstract.

Songs are laser-etched on disks alongside perfume to evoke the idea of moving through a city and catching fragments of music. There are impossibly tiny samples of plankton, ocean water, flower pollen and resin. Multiple languages and translations share slices of the varied cultures found across Earth.

There’s a stunning visual of the FOXP2 genome structure, the gene that allows songbirds to make songs and humans to put words in order, said Dylan Vitone, professor of photography at CMU. The “out of Africa” concept explaining the spread of humanity is given a modern update, showing the light population and density over Egypt. It represents the growth of light and electrification to show the spread of humanity from the fertile crescent.

Smartphone messages sent between Vitone and his wife over the course of five years reveal how humans express affection through images.

In the moon chamber, there are artistic tributes: the representation of a ballet composed in honor of the moon, 108 poems to the moon across the years and 9,000 drawings people wanted to send to the moon.

When Baskinger found out one of his friends was going to Hawaii, he asked him to bring back a sandwich bag of sand. For two weeks, he sifted through the sand under a microscope, picking out shells and organism structures. They reflect the various microscosms on Earth in contrast to the human scale.

One ring contains infinities, combinations of things that are represented in one tiny item. Burgess put together the “metal of metals” by taking all of the metals from the periodic table, melting them down and fusing them together.

Each chamber includes murals representative of the theme, designed to degrade over time on the moon’s harsh surface and reveal other details. The ether chamber ends with a musical score and an image of the Andromeda galaxy, which our galaxy will collide with in about four billion years.

The MoonArk wasn’t designed to capture the doomsday aspect of humanity ending, however. You won’t find any seed catalogs or an upload of Wikipedia entries. It’s not reflective of politics or current affairs. Instead, like a miniature museum, MoonArk was designed to be timeless and open to interpretation.

“The world is divisive,” Baskinger said. “This cuts through all of that artifice and touches on fundamental and core aspects of humanity. What does it mean to be a human in this experience that we can look at an object and begin to see a reflection of ourselves in, and not one that aligns with any particular mold or model? It’s a a very raw mirror. It’s not our voice we’re trying to project, but the result of an organic process of cooperation and collaboration with people in 18 countries.”


Creating a gift for to the future

The MoonArk itself is a testament to technology and design, pushing the limits of what’s possible now to create an object for the future.

Platinum-engraved sapphire disks, nano sculptures, millimeter-sized silicon chips and metal murals are enclosed in an elaborate exoskeleton.

“It’s a cutting-edge object in so many ways, like bleeding-edge technology,” Zywica said. “It involved 3D printing and the machining of wafer-thin sapphire disks that really pushed our capacity.”

Rooker, a metalsmith professor, was in charge of the final assembly. He controlled the process of engraving the various disks down to the nanometer.

“He worked tirelessly to make this a beautiful object tipped in diamonds and gold,” Vitone said. “It has the elegance of a Faberge egg. So we can leave behind a gift that’s functional and beautiful.”

The object is both lightweight and strong, built to last on the moon.

There’s a twin copy of the MoonArk that will remain on Earth, touring as an exhibit so people can interact with it.

“Hopefully the one on Earth allows conversations to happen,” Vitone said. “We’re so fast paced. When we do step back, it’s a chance analyze our own life and find meaning. An artifact can make you turn internally.”

Whoever picks up the MoonArk in the future will bring their own context to it, with no knowledge of the world that created this object at this particular time in history. To the creators, that makes the prospect even more exciting.

“What makes a piece of art work for me is when an artist or designer has made an experience that the viewer can enter into,” Vitone said. “It’s not complete, it needs the viewer to complete the narrative. ”

“Cultures are known for their creative practice that endures, from an archaeological standpoint,” Baskinger said. “So this object is an honest, emergent creative practice that can bring a reflection of humanity for the folks of tomorrow. ”

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Move over, Stegosaurus, there’s a new armored dino in town – Popular Science



Paleontologists in southern Argentina have recently discovered an adorable, five-foot-long armored dinosaur. The Jakapil kaniukura roamed the Earth during the hot and humid Cretaceous period roughly between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago, and weighed 9 to 15 pounds–the size of the average domestic cat. 

The tiny dino’s fossilized remains were dug up during multiple digs over the over the past 10 years near a dam in Patagonia’s Río Negro province. The province is home to the La Buitrera palaeontological zone, a region well-known for the discovery of three complete southern raptors (Unenlagia) skeletons, herbivorous terrestrial crocodiles, the oldest found chelid turtles, and more.

Jakapil is part of the Thyreophoran dinosaur group that lived from the Jurassic period to the early Cretaceous period whose name means “shield bearer.” This feisty-looking group includes the bony backed, spiky tailed Stegosaurus and the tank-like Ankylosaurus. Like its prickly cousins, Jakapil had built in physical defenses, with rows of bony oval-shaped armor along its neck, back, and down to its tail.

[Related: This fossilized butthole gives us a rare window into dinosaur sex.]

“It bears unusual anatomical features showing that several traits traditionally associated with the heavy Cretaceous thyreophorans did not occur universally,” wrote the study’s authors, Facundo J. Riguetti, Sebastián Apesteguía, and Xabier Pereda-Suberbiola. “Jakapil also shows that early thyreophorans had a much broader geographic distribution than previously thought.”

The team published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports on August 11th. They first discovered Jakapil’s partial skeleton alongside 15 tooth fragments, which revealed that jakapil’s teeth were leaf-shaped like a modern-day iguana’s. 

According to lead paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía, Jakapil marks the first-of-its-kind discovery of an armored dinosaur from the Cretaceous in South America. It also resembles a more primitive form of thyreophoran dinosaur that lived in the area significantly earlier. 

“Thyreophorans originated about 200 million years ago and rapidly evolved into various species distributed throughout the world,” Riguetti, first author of the work and a Conicet doctoral fellow at the Center for Biomedical, Environmental and Diagnostic Studies at Maimónides University said in a release. “However,of these early thyreophorans, the lineage represented by ‘Jakapil’ was the only one that lasted until at least 100 million years ago.”

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Full moon may hinder most anticipated meteor shower of the year –



This weekend is the peak of Perseid’s meteor shower, one of the best-known and largest celestial events that can be seen from Earth.

Throughout the past couple of days, meteors have been visible to on-lookers and will get an even better view during the event’s peak on Friday night.

“Meteors are these tiny little pieces of space dust that crash into the earth and burn up, and when that happens we see them in the sky as a falling star or a shooting star,” says Scott Young, the Planetarium Astronomer at the Manitoba Museum. “The meteor is sort of the official name for those objects, and on any night you can probably see one or two of those if you’re lucky, but on certain nights of the year, the Earth goes through a big cloud of cosmic dust and when you get all that dust hitting the Earth all on the same night, you get lots of meteors. So we call that a meteor shower.”

Young also says that it won’t look as if thousands of stars are falling out of the sky, but rather it will be one star every minute instead of one a night.

“It always occurs every year around August 11-13, somewhere in that range because we’re going through the dust bunny left behind by a comet that crosses Earth’s orbit. Now, that doesn’t always mean that you will see all of those things hitting the Earth, and the timing might happen during the day for you. It might be cloudy, or like this year, close to the full moon. When the full moon is up, it makes it hard to see some of those fainter meteors that you would see.”

The best time to see any meteor shower is between midnight and dawn. According to Young, even with the bright light of the full moon on the same night as the peak time to see meteors, it is a strong enough shower that viewers will still be able to see shooting stars. 

“The official peak occurs after midnight, Friday night, so Saturday morning around 3:00 a.m. our time. But to be honest, it’s not a single-night event. It builds up over a previous couple of weeks and each night there’ll be more and more meteor showers until the peak and then after the peak, it fades away for a couple of weeks.”

The comet that causes the meteor shower is comet Swift–Tuttle, discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1862.

“Each meteor shower over the course of the year has its own source objects, most of them are comets and we know that when we get close to the comet’s orbit in our orbit, we’ll see this meteor shower. They’re actually named after the constellations in the sky where the meteors look like they’re coming from. When we’re looking at the sky, it seems that the meteors from the Perseid meteor shower will come from the constellation Perseus, which is rising in the northeastern part of the sky at this time of year. That doesn’t mean you have to know where Perseus is, the meteors can appear all over the sky.”

To get the best view of the meteor shower peak, Young suggests viewers go to a place where there are not a lot of lights and even “put your back towards any bright lights that are like the moon or city lights.” He also suggests putting the phone away, because the bright light will cause your eyes to need time to adjust to the dark sky and some of the dimmer shooting stars may be missed.

“This is one of those things where you have to unplug, disconnect and just lay out under the stars, relax and look up. it’s a great therapeutic way to connect with the sky.”

Normally on the peak day of the event, Young will go out with an all-sky camera and broadcast live on the Manitoba Museum’s Facebook and YouTube pages, but he says it always depends on the weather.

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Talk like you: Scientists discover why humans evolved to talk while other primates can’t – Euronews



Why did humans evolve to talk, while monkeys were left to hoot, squeak and grunt to communicate?

The question has long puzzled scientists, who blamed our closest primate cousins’ inability to reproduce human speech sounds on their vocal anatomy.

Until now, researchers could not quite underpin what happened exactly during our evolution to make us able to speak while apes and monkeys can’t, given our vocal structures look almost identical to other primates.

Now, a new study published on Thursday in the journal Science claims to have the answer – and it’s not what anyone expected.

Analysing the phonal apparatus – the larynx – of 43 species of primates, a team of researchers based mainly in Japan found that all non-human primates – from orangutans to chimpanzees – had an additional feature in their throat that humans do not have.

Ability to speak and develop languages

While both humans and non-human primates produce sounds by forcing air through their larynges, causing folds of tissue to vibrate, monkeys and apes have an additional feature, a thin flap of tissue known as vocal membranes, or vocal lips.

Compared to apes and monkeys, humans were found to lack this anatomical vocal membrane – a small muscle just above the vocal cords – as well as balloon-like laryngeal structures called air sacs which apes and monkeys use to produce the loud calls and screams we’re not quite capable of.

According to the researchers, humans have lost this extra vocal tissue over time, somehow simplifying and stabilising the sounds coming out of our throat, and allowing us, in time, to develop the ability to speak – and eventually develop very complex sophisticated languages.

Monkeys and apes, on the other hand, maintained these vocal lips which don’t really allow them to control the inflection and register of their voice and produce stable, clear vocal fold vibrations.

“Paradoxically, the increased complexity of human spoken language thus followed simplification of our laryngeal anatomy,” says the study.

Communication through sign language

It’s unclear when humans lost these extra tissues still present in apes and monkeys and became able to speak, as the soft tissues in the larynx are not preserved in fossils, and researchers could only study living species.

We know that it must have happened sometime after the Homo Sapiens lineage split from the other primates, some 6-7 million years ago.

The fact that apes and monkeys haven’t developed the ability to speak like humans doesn’t mean that they are not able to clearly communicate with each other.

Though their vocal anatomy doesn’t allow them to form vowel sounds and proper words, non-human primates have a complex communication system based primarily on body language rather than oral sounds.

But monkeys and apes have also proven to be able to communicate with humans.

In the not-often-happy history of the interaction between non-human primates and humans, researchers have been able to teach apes and monkeys to communicate with people.

Koko the gorilla, for example, became famous for being able to use over 1,000 hand signs in sign language, while the bonobo Kanzi was reportedly able to communicate using a keyboard.

But when it comes to having a chat, monkeys and humans might never be able to share one.

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