Light Friday: Homeless Planet Discovered Drifting through Space
European Southern Observatory
European Southern Observatory

Plus: The Rat Tissue Robot, Flickering Lights as an Energy Efficiency Solution and a Look Inside a Mythbuster’s Workshop.

Homeless Planet Drifts through Space

Astronomers have definitively classified the first planet without a gravitational connection to any star – a homeless heavenly body drifting through space. The planet may be part of a much larger “nomadic” trend and could provide support for theories about the formation of stars and planets.

The planet, known as CFBDSIR2149, has a mass four to seven times that of Jupiter, a temperature of approximately 400 degrees Celsius and is estimated to be between 50 and 120 million years old, according to Science Blog. The object was discovered in a scan of hundreds of millions of planets and stars, and is the only homeless planet within our galactic vicinity.

“One tricky part is determining if rogue planet candidates are as massive as the ‘failed stars’ known as brown dwarfs, further along in stellar evolution but without enough mass to spark the nuclear fusion that causes starlight,” BBC News reports. “Either way, the objects end up free of a host star’s gravity. Given that most planets we know of are found through the effects they have on their host star’s light, pinning down rogue planets has proven difficult.”

The discovery of CFBDSIR2149 lends evidence for theories about rogue stars being formed from a disk of dust and debris but then thrown out of a host star’s orbit or forming similarly to stars but never reaching a full star’s mass. It also suggests that nomadic bodies could be far more numerous than suspected.

The Rat-Heart-Powered Robot

We’re one step closer to Innerspace, as University of Illinois engineers yesterday published a study showing they were capable of making tiny robots that can travel inside the body to repair tissue damage.

The team used 3-D printing to fashion these “bio-bots” out of hydrogen, but added a secret ingredient: their hydrogen worms were seeded with rat cardiac tissue. The cardiac tissue, fed by liquid food, beats like a heart, causing the springboard-shaped, 5-10 millimeter robots to expand and contract, moving to the next damaged area.

“The idea is that, by being able to design with biological structures, we can harness the power of cells and nature to address challenges facing society,” Rashid Bashir, professor of engineering at the University of Illinois, said in an announcement of the project. “As engineers, we’ve always built things with hard materials, materials that are very predictable. Yet there are a lot of applications where nature solves a problem in such an elegant way. Can we replicate some of that if we can understand how to put things together with cells?”

The bio-bots have a range of uses, including drug testing. “How the bots move can indicate their response to certain chemicals,” NBC News explains. “Integration of cells that respond to specific chemicals could allow the bio-bots to be used as sensors.”

The team has also revealed that it’s working on adding legs to the bio-bot design to enable other activities, including walking in open air.

Are Flickering Lights the Next Energy Solution?

Lights that flicker for milliseconds at a time could lead to substantial energy savings, according to a new study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the scientists at the Barrow Neurological Institute who authored the study, pulses of light that flicker fast enough create the illusion of an uninterrupted stream of light. The study findings show that 67 milliseconds of light alternating with 10 milliseconds of darkness produce the illusion of continuous light, essentially tricking the human eye.

The discovery is more than just an optical illusion: if this flickering process were adapted for use in every light-emitting device in the country, energy consumption could be reduced by an estimated 5 percent to 20 percent, Stephen Macknik, neuroscientist and co-author of the study, explained to the Txchnologist blog. Furthermore, such lighting could result in billions of dollars in savings.

The flicker fusion effect is nothing new – movie screens and television monitors also produce the effect. But this study is the first to “tune light-emitting devices to match the temporal dynamics of the human visual system’s temporal response” and provide a viable solution for more efficient energy usage.

Inside Mythbuster Adam Savage’s Workshop

What does a professional mythbuster keep in his personal workshop? A surprising amount of rare, arcane and often amazing technology.

In an interview with Tested, Adam Savage of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters grants an inside look at his gadget cave, which includes fascinating technological oddities such as a one-gigabyte hard drive from 1981 that weighs 75 pounds.

Have a great weekend, folks.



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