Sci-Fi In Real Life: FTL Neutrinos May Make Time Travel Possible

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The ever-interesting “Ask a Physist” column over at i09 tackles an issue close to the hearts of many sci-fi fans: faster than light travel.  Scientists involved in the OPERA experiment – connected to CERN – have measured subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light. If you want a deep explanation of the actual science involved, you should head over to the column at i09.  If you want to really get down with the math, you should go to Dr Dave Goldberg’s equation-laden explanation over at his blog.  What I can do is give you a quick and dirty rundown.

The OPERA experiment recorded that neutrinos – those electrically neutral subatomic particles you learned about in your high school physics class and then probably forgot existed – can travel about 2 parts in 100,000 faster than the speed of light.  Fairly insignificant, but Goldberg says “it’s only a matter of fine tuning to get any superluminal speed we like” after the light barrier is broken. Pair this with their potential to travel interstellar distances (their weak interactions mean they don’t mess with other things on the way), and the scientific world is a-buzz.  Goldberg is still skeptical as to whether OPERA’s current experiments will be replicated or hold up under heavier scrutiny but says that (if the results do hold) “the simple ability to send signals faster than light would allow us, in a very real way, to affect the past”.  You could send a message to someone, have them receive it before you sent it, then get their response to that message before you sent your original one.  Crazy, right?

Obviously, this isn’t full-on Doctor Who or Star Trek: The Voyage Home time travel, but it does still raise a host of interesting questions and potential paradoxes.  Would you choose to essentially change history, if you could send or receive messages about events before they happened?  What new information could we learn if we could communicate with the past or future?  Does this have something to do with how Hope Plaza communicates with Terra Nova?


Sci-Fi In Real Life: Scientists Have Found A Way To Record Your Dreams

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Science has found a way to record your dreams. A staple of the sci-fi genre for decades, this fantasy is about to become reality.

It’s happening at UC Berkeley where they’ve developed a system to capture, decode, and reconstruct visual experiences happening inside the human brain. The technology is still in early stages but the scientist there seem pretty confident that they’ll soon be able to use this to capture and record dreams. UC Berkeley neuroscientist Jack Gallant explains it this way: “this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds”

There’s a lot of talk in their announcement in which they try to justify the scientific leap by saying they could use it to help people who can’t communicate verbally, but I suspect they have much more interesting and lofty goals and they’re just saying that to make the anti-science crowd look bad, should anyone find some reason to come out against what they’re doing. Don’t worry guys, this is awesome.


Sci-Fi In Real Life: Watch This Doc About Modern Cyborgs Filmed By A Man With A Bionic Eye

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When filmmaker Rob Spence lost his right eye, rather than simply settle for a glass replacement, he went high-tech. With help from friends he crafted a video camera replacement. Now his eye records video everywhere he goes, in an attempt for Rob to become the first lifecaster.

But what’s even more interesting than his own experience is the new documentary he’s filmed on the subject of modern day Cyborg. Rob isn’t the only person who’s decided to replace their missing limb with something unbelievably futuristic. The following short is the result of Rob’s recent project, interviewing people who have had missing body parts replaced and maybe even improved by technology. The future is now and he’s filmed some of it with his bionic eye. Watch after the jump…


Sci-Fi In Real Life: Droid Astronaut Robonaut 2 Awake And Tweeting Aboard ISS

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This is the age we live in. We’ve successfully put a cybernetic droid in space to help with missions at the ISS and possibly go on space walks, and the first thing we do is give him a Twitter account. Yesterday, after waiting since February to be powered up, Robonaut 2 has booted and aptly tweeted, “Those electrons feel GOOD! One small step for man, one giant leap for tinman kind.” At least he’s got a sense of humor, or rather the engineers tweeting for him do.

The bot, also referred to as R2 for not only its name but also it’s blatantly obvious nerd cred implications, won’t be fully juiced until next week on September 1st when the ISS crew will start the robot moving it’s appendages and working with the rest of the team. According to Space.com, vigorous tests are being run to ensure that R2 is safe to operate and will remain stable during tasks.


Sci-Fi In Real Life: Parasites Trick Rats’ Brains Into Not Being Scared Of Cats

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Well hello there, Mr. Cat.When asked what scares them the most, people will generally gravitate towards tangible things–sharks, bears, the dark, closed spaces. These are the sort of things most people would describe as scary. But today I have something for you that you’ve probably never thought about before, but is absolutely terrifying.

Toxoplasma Gondii. Ring any bells? Chances are no, but let me enlighten you. It’s a parasite that lives in warm blooded creatures whose goal is to reproduce, which it does in the digestive system of felines. That’s not the scary part. The scary part is how it gets there. According to a recent study published at PLoS One, Toxoplasma Gondii that finds life in rats alters the brain patterns of rats so that they are no longer afraid of cats, their greatest enemy. Which essentially means that these rats no longer fear or will flee from the death that will definitely happen if they come in close proximity to a kitty.

This of course is a small example. Rats and cats, what do we humans have to worry about? Maybe nothing, but what if you went camping and all of a sudden you were no longer afraid of bears all because a little microscopic parasite wants to be inside that bear? Yeah. That’s scary.


Newly Discovered Planet Has Embraced The Dark Side Of The Force

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I’m 34-years-old and when I was a kid sitting in science class, the existence of planets outside our solar system was only a theory. Scientists weren’t actually able to confirm the existence of extra-solar planets until 1992, but since then, they’ve been uncovering them at a rapid pace. Nearly 575 different planets have been confirmed to exist in orbit around suns other than our own. But few, if any, of those 575 destinations are likely to be as strange as the one just discovered by the Keplar spacecraft.

One thing all planets have in common, or at least had in common until now, is that they all reflect light. The Earth for instance, reflects nearly 40% of the light sent to it by our sun back out into space. But not this planet, currently labeled as TrES-2b. There the forces of light and dark seem to be at war with one another, and light is losing. Light directed at it never actually reflects back out into space.

NASA reports that this new planet reflects less than 1% of the light hitting its surface. It’s black, really black. So black in fact that seen from space, well it almost can’t be seen from space. The light it does emit, isn’t reflected. David Spiegel of Princeton University explains, “…it’s not completely pitch black. It’s so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove.”

The really fascinating thing here is that no one’s entirely sure why or how this can happen. One theory is that its atmosphere is composed of some sort of chemical we’ve never seen before, but I have a better theory: cloaking device.

Beware Romulans bearing gifts.

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