• The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral February 11, 2015. (Reuters)The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral February 11, 2015. (Reuters)

    The most expensive part of any voyage into space – be it to the orbiting space station or distant Pluto – is travelling the first 160 kilometres blasting off the Earth.

    On average, the cost of leaving the gravity pull of our planet and placing a communication satellite, telescope or planetary probe into space is about US$10,000 per pound. Each and every large rocket launches hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment. With astronomical costs like these tied to today’s dependence on expendable, chemical launch vehicles, the hopes for a burgeoning space industry in the near future filled with orbiting hotels and moon bases and boots on Mars and beyond may remain stymied for generations to come unless these expenses can be brought down to Earth.

    Space propulsion researchers have been coming up with blueprints for alternatives (some more realistic than others) for decades, and one particularly intriguing concept has been receiving a lot of attention recently.

    Going up

    This past

    Read More »from How humans will get to space without rocket ships
  • Black-footed ferret (Ken Ardill/Toronto Zoo)Black-footed ferret (Ken Ardill/Toronto Zoo)

    It has been generations since the black-footed ferret has been seen in Canada.

    Cute enough to give pandas a run for their money – only about 50 centimetres long with black bandit masks, round pinkish ears and black boots – they disappeared from Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 20th century.

    Now several breakthroughs are giving biologists hope that the only ferret native to North America could yet make a comeback.

    Scientists have successfully used frozen semen from a ferret dead 20 years to artificially inseminate captive ferrets in a North American breeding program.

    Eight kits were born, vastly increasing the genetic gene pool of one of the most endangered animals on the continent.

    “The wild population was down to 18 individuals. Out of them, only seven individuals actually bred so the whole black-footed ferret population is from seven founders,” says Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Toronto Zoo, the only Canadian facility that is part of the captive breeding program

    Read More »from Black-footed ferret numbers being revived in Canada thanks to sperm freezing program
  • You know the drill.

    You wake up with the sniffles – maybe the light, raspy shadow of a mild sore throat.

    You cough. It seems a little deep.

    You think you’re catching a cold. You don’t want or need to catch a cold.

    So – maybe you reach for the vitamin C.

    Hold that thought.

    Throughout the panoramic sweep of human history, the cure for the common cold has proved elusive. But a compromise wisdom has emerged. A broad consensus feels that if you can’t cure a cold, vitamin C might at least be able to head one off.

    At least one well-informed author disagrees.

    Short answer: it does not appear to,” says Catherine Price, the author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Natural Perfection, an overview of how vitamins revolutionized the way we think about food.

    “The big meta-analyses of vitamin C have concluded that when it is taken as a preventative measure, it doesn't help prevent colds in the general population. While there's always a chance that you'll benefit from the placebo effect,

    Read More »from Vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds, author says
  • Around the world, fresh water is increasingly being seen as a dwindling resource.

    In California, an epic drought is threatening a huge portion of American agriculture. The need there is beyond critical.

    Meanwhile, up here in Canada, a whopping 31 per cent of all the water on the continent is draining away into inaccessible places like Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

    Oh, and we’re already sharing the vast waters of the Great Lakes with our increasingly thirsty neighbours to the south.

    The more we have – and aren’t even using – the more and more they need.

    “You just have to look at the history of Canada to figure out what’s inevitably going to happen,” warns Lloyd Alter, a blogger and editor at TreeHugger.com.

    “At some point, I believe the Americans are either just going to take the water, or we’re all going to make some deal and sell it.”

    Alter has just written a fine and comprehensive article on the past – and future – of Canada’s water supply. The stakes are high, he warned.


    Read More »from Will the U.S. steal Canada’s water?
  • Sometimes, science is a work in progress.

    The lofty goal has not been attained.

    But the object of the search is so sweet and compelling, it’s cool to hear from someone who’s actually trying to get it done.

    Case in point? Invisibility cloaks.

    The ultra-cool concealment gizmo immortalized in the Harry Potter books and countless other fantasy classics continues to not exist. But it’s no longer through a lack of effort.

    “An invisibility cloak has always been something that fascinates people,” said Zi Jing Wong, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley.

    “We have tried to use nanotechnology to create a very thin layer of metallic nanostructures. These were carefully designed in such a way that you can change the local response of the light, so that when you see from very far, the object looks like it’s not there.”

    Wong is part of a team of researchers whose newly published study involves a bold attempt to actually render microscopic objects invisible.

    “Unfortunately, at

    Read More »from Invisibility cloak in sight?

    The DeLorean-style golf cart in actionThe DeLorean-style golf cart in action

    Those of a certain vintage will always list Back To The Future as one of their favourite movies of all time. It allowed those of us born in the 70s and 80s to dream of a futuristic car with a Flux Capacitor that could take us through time. And it inspired Lucas Evanochko and David Heykants of Dual Divisions to build a golf cart that looks like a futuristic car that can take us back through time.

    The two were called upon to take on the project as part of Red Deer College’s 30th Annual Golf Classic, a fundraising event that provides much needed resources to the institution’s athletics programs. The cart is a spot-on rendition of exactly what you’d think a DeLorean Back To The Future golf cart complete with its own Flux Capacitor should look like. Dual Divisions built the cart, and Evanochko “lit it up,” as he said.

    Bright rainbow coloured buttons in the dashboard (which look like just like the bright switches we remember from the movie) play all of the catch phrases you’d remember from

    Read More »from Red Deer builders create "Back to the Future"-style golf cart
  • A close-up view of the icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto in this photo released Sept. 17 (Reuters)A close-up view of the icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto in this photo released Sept. 17 (Reuters)

    It’s the little planet that was – then wasn’t – and now is again (sort of).

    Now officially listed as a “dwarf planet,” icy, tiny Pluto still has not been formally reinstated as the ninth planet in our solar system.

    That’s because other, similar worlds (called Kuiper Belt objects) have been discovered lurking out on the far edges of the solar system. If Pluto’s a full planet, then they would have to be, too.

    The eyes of humanity were upon it back in July, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took stunning photos in a fly-by, following a nine-and-a-half year, 4.6-billion kilometer journey from Earth. Those photos are being released this month, including a new crop published by NASA just today.

    A near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto taken by New Horizons. (Reuters)A near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto taken by New Horizons. (Reuters)

    It may have an identity crisis and be a little misunderstood, but there are still plenty of cool things to know about our tiny, icy fellow cosmic adventurer:

    1) Pluto was discovered in 1930, by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. His photographic plates revealed a tiny, faint object moving

    Read More »from Ten things you might not know about Pluto
  • Workers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park REUTERS/Amit DaveWorkers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park REUTERS/Amit Dave

    Climate change is a divisive issue.

    Fossil fuel fans tend to deny it exists. Supporters of alternative solar and wind energy shout that the world will end if humanity doesn’t change course.

    The stakes are high. Confrontation doesn’t appear to be helping.

    So, why not just side-step it?

    From the counter-intuitive science desk comes an intriguing new study out of UC Berkeley.

    Researchers say the best way to move forward may be to stop cracking down so hard on carbon emissions, and hugely step up investment in clean alternatives instead.

    “Most of the carbon pricing that has been put in place so far is very weak. It doesn’t do a lot to move things along,” Nina Kelsey, a Berkeley post-doctoral scholar, told Yahoo Canada.

    “We’re less interested in deciding if a certain policy is good or bad. We’re more excited about asking, okay, if you want to tackle the climate problem, how do you build the coalition to get you there?”

    Faced with a carbon fight that can only get nastier, these researchers

    Read More »from Best way to fight climate change? Stop fighting
  • When you’re lying on a couch, watching TV and eating snacks, your body is expending the lowest amount of energy it can.

    And when you’re at the gym? Working out? Hard?

    Your body is expending the lowest amount of energy it can.

    That’s the finding of an intriguing new study from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Researchers are revealing that any time your body adjusts – to a new activity level or to any form of physical obstacle – it always picks the option that expends the least energy.

    Couch potatoes of the world, rise up!

    (Or stay right where you are. Apparently it doesn’t matter.)

    SFU PhD candidate Jessica Selinger is part of a team that studied the ways people adjust when their normal walking is impeded by an outside limitation.

    “What we found is that people will change really fundamental characteristics of their gait,” Selinger told Yahoo Canada.

    “These are characteristics that you would have had over years and years of your life, for millions and millions of steps. And

    Read More »from Our bodies are hardwired to be as lazy as possible
  • Right now, biohackers are more likely to discover tastier cheese than a super-virus. (Photo: Thinkstock)Right now, biohackers are more likely to discover tastier cheese than a super-virus. (Photo: Thinkstock)

    For the uninitiated, biohacking or Do-It-Yourself Biology (DIYBio) might sound like kind of creepy, more like something out of a Frankenstein movie. But the time for it appears to have arrived: amateur science enthusiasts are cutting and pasting DNA and playing with the molecular biology of organisms.

    “While hacking simply refers to the idea of tinkering with something by taking it apart and playing with it, DIYBio is simply looking at biology as if it were something that anyone could do,” explained Ron Shigeta, Chief Science Officer at IndieBioSF, a DIYBio biotech accelerator in San Francisco, Calif. 

    “When science takes on the hacker attitude that you can play with a technology, it frees up innovation and new kinds of discoveries can happen. People think of useful things like real-time blood alcohol monitoring, or milk produced by yeast instead of a cow.”

    A big part of why it’s gaining momentum now is a new gene manipulation tool called CRISPR/CAS, which has opened up levels of

    Read More »from DIY biology: How amateur scientists are playing with genetic code


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