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2012: Science Fiction Dreams That Came True

As a longtime reader of science fiction, it’s always interesting to see how the visions of writers eventually become real. Take Arthur C. Clarke’s letter to Wireless World in 1945, which details the geostationary communications satellite network everyone uses today. The satellites are in what is called the “Clarke Orbit.” And Isaac Asimov wrote frequently about humanoid robots, which are becoming more common in research labs — although we have yet to see R. Daneel Olivawfrom Asimov’s Robot series.So inspired by these writers and others, I decided to take a look at 2012 and the futuristic technologies that are materializing before our eyes.
Bionic Limbs


The term “cyborg” was coined in 1960 by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, in an article they wrote for the journal Astronautics. Since then bionic limbs have been a trope in many pieces of fiction -– The Six Million Dollar Man of the 1970s, the Borg of the Star Trek franchise, and even Darth Vader. In 2012 for the first time, a paralyzed woman was able to control a robotic limb and feed herself directly with her brain. Continuing work with primates demonstrated that it’s possible to make the brain-computer interface efficient enough to design more realistic movement into the limbs. The bionic limbs so far don’t look anything like their fictional counterparts, as they are still connected via external electrodes to the skull. But that dream seems to be a lot closer than it was even a decade ago.
Quantum Teleportation and Communication


While it’s not possible — yet — to “beam” an object around as in Star Trek, new records for zapping photons instantly from one place to another were set this year. Quantum teleportation has been done in the lab for some time, but the distances were on the order of a few yards. In 2012 the new record was 89 miles. In addition to teleporting, scientists built the first quantum Internet. It’s only a beginning, but teleporting photons for miles would enable communications that can’t be hacked or eavesdropped.
Genetic Disease Prevented


Genetic engineering for “better” humans is a theme that’s appeared repeatedly ever since Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in 1931 — although at that point nobody knew what DNA really was. Later, films such as Gattaca and novels such as Beggars in Spain explore the implications of widely available genetic alterations. In 2012, we saw a proof-of-concept for mitochondrial diseases. About one in 200 people are born with a disorder of the mitochondria, the energy factories of cells. For the first time scientists were able to transfer the nuclear DNA of one human egg cell to another. Two groups independently found a way to transplant nuclei between human egg cells, leaving behind the mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child. The finding means that mitochondrial disorders could be cured before a child is born. Such techniques won’t cure something like Down’s syndrome, which involves nuclear DNA. But it shows that some manipulation of the human genome is not only possible, but happening.
The Universal Translator


Most of the time when intrepid explorers in fiction meet aliens, they always seem to speak perfect English. Doctor Who’s TARDIS generates a field that allows travelers to be understood, while the crew of the Enterprise never seem to need a dictionary. Kim Stanley Robonson’s Mars Trilogy features one, but he didn’t think it would appear until late in the 21st century (the novels were written in the 1990s). While they won’t let you talk to aliens, in the last year several speech-to-speech translators have managed to reach real consumer devices — and even one type that uses your own voice. Most of the apps require an internet connection, though some, such as Jibbigo, can store their dictionaries locally. (If they ever add Klingon I’m taking it to the next ComicCon).
Head-mounted Computer Glasses
Readers of Charles Stross’ novel Accelerando would have eagerly anticipated Google Glasses — the Internet giant’s foray into augmented reality. In the novel, “venture altruist” Manfred Macx carries his data and his memories in a pair of glasses connected to the Internet. Google Glasses allow the wearer to access data, the Internet and capture life via a head-mounted digital camera. Memories will have to wait.
Private Space Flight
In many science fiction stories, space travel is private. In Ridley’s Scott latest movie, Prometheus, the Weyland Corporation funds an expedition to follow a star map to the distant moon LV-223. In real life, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the first of a dozen planned missions to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule is designed to resupply the ISS, but Musk, who made his fortune as founder of PayPal, has bigger plans: a colony on Mars. Is 2013 going to be the year human spaceflight becomes an enterprise like railroads? We won’t know that for a while, but SpaceX is a heck of a start.
This list isn’t comprehensive, and it isn’t meant to be the last word on anything; readers, if you think there’s something I missed, please sound off in the comments!

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Planet Earth

Life on Earth can be explained by asteroid-eating bacteria

A new study suggests that asteroids can be a food source for living things, more specifically a microorganism called  Metallosphaera sedula , a metal-eating species.

M. sedula Picture: Tetyana Milojevic

Metallosphaera sedula  is a species of bacteria-like microbes, originally isolated from a volcanic field in Italy. The first part of the name can roughly be translated as a “metal mobilizing sphere,” while the word “sedulus” means busy. This describes the efficiency of these organisms in mobilizing metals, including those found in asteroids.

According to research led by University of Vienna astrobiologist Tetyana Milojevic, these microbes derive their energy from inorganic substances through oxidation, and can collect energy sources faster from extraterrestrial rocks than from simple ancient terrestrial minerals. Milojevic explains that the study was conducted to find “microbial fingerprints” left in meteorites. “This should be useful for tracking life-seeking biosignatures in other parts of the universe,” she concludes.

This kind of research, according to the astrobiologist, can provide her colleagues with “little tips” on what they can look for in their search for alien life. “If there was ever life on another planet, similar microbial fingerprints may still be preserved in the geological record,” she said.

The team examined how Metallosphaera sedula  interacts with NWA 1172, a rocky meteorite found in northwest Africa that contains about 30 different metals. Using various spectroscopy techniques and an electron microscope, the researchers documented the signatures left by the organism. Thus, they found that M. sedula  is able to consume extraterrestrial material much faster than it does with terrestrial minerals, resulting in healthier cells.

Inorganic Compounds of Meteorite NWA 1172 (Image: Tetyana Milojevic)

While terrestrial minerals provide only a few nutrients for the microorganism, “NWA 1172 iron is used as an energy source to meet M. sedula’s bioenergetic needs  as microbes breathe due to iron oxidation,” Milojevic explained. The wide range of metals in NWA 1172 can also be used for other metabolic processes, such as accelerating vital chemical reactions within cells. And because the meteorite is so porous, it can promote M. sedula’s improved growth rate.

That means iron meteorites could have brought more metal elements and phosphorus to Earth, making life’s evolution easier, according to Milojevic. In addition, research may also support the panspermia hypothesis, an idea that cannot yet be substantiated, but it is not ruled out either, as scientists have not yet completely unraveled the origin of life on our planet. And Milojevic is interested in exploring this possibility: To do so, her team plans to “test the survival of  M. sedula  under simulated and real environmental conditions from outer space,” the astrobiologist said. The plan, however, will have to find the funding needed to send the microorganisms into space.

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Planet Earth

Latimeria found, lived on our planet long before the dinosaurs

The unique fish Latimeria chalumnae, also called “Coelacanth”, lived on our planet long before the dinosaurs. They were long thought to have disappeared around the same time, about 65 million years ago.

However, after 1938, when the first Latimeria was officially discovered by chance, it turns out that the Latimerians did not die, but live in the deep waters off the east and south coasts of Africa.

Later, a second type of Latimeria was discovered in Indonesia.

The oldest fossils of Latimeria are 360 ​​million years old, and the “freshest” are 80 million years old. At the same time, it should be known that there were a huge number of Latimerians, at least 90 different species. They have been distributed worldwide, in sea and fresh waters.

Latimeria stand out against the modern fishes with their unusual fins, more like limbs, and a wedge-shaped tail. Their bodies are covered with solid scales, similar to armor.

Latimeria are pretty big fish. They can reach up to 2 meters in length and weigh up to 90 kg. At the same time, the fact that no one has found them for so long is amazing.

Even after this species has been officially recognized as being extant, the Latimeria is still rare and can only be found through specific monitoring in the waters where it has been observed.

Latimeria swim slowly and feed on cephalopods and deep-sea fishes. Often, they were discovered in groups in underwater caves. They live to about 48 years. Females give birth to live individuals after a long pregnancy of 13 months.

The first discovered Latimeria

The history of the Coelacanth is the cornerstone that supports the belief of many cryptozoologists that the mysterious Yeti, sea monsters, Chupacabra and other cryptids, actually exist, but simply have not yet been found.

At least two species of Latimeria, and perhaps more, have survived to this day without hiding at all. In addition, as mentioned above, Latimeria’s “freshest” fossils date back to 80 million years.

Just imagine this huge period of time during which archeologists have not found a single skeleton of Latimeria, even though they existed all this time.

According to some reports, there are populations of 300-400 individuals near the coasts of Africa and Indonesia. This comes after several years of increased illegal fishing. In the 1980s, the Latimerians were hunted (supposedly) because of the healing properties of their meat, and before that there were probably several thousand of them.

But if they were initially much smaller, they would probably never have been discovered at all, still considered extinct.

And the rare stories of local fishermen about “fish with a foot and a shell ” would be considered the same fiction as the stories of Africans about living dinosaurs.

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Planet Earth

Humpback Whales Have Made a Stunning Recovery After Coming Close to Extinction

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

After coming dangerously close to the brink of extinction, the humpback whale population in the South Atlantic Ocean has made a stunning rebound, according to scientists.

Around 60 years ago, it was estimated that the western South Atlantic (WSA) humpback whale population had been thinned out to less than 500.

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