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Gizmorama - July 5, 2017

Good Morning,

Are you worried about sizeable asteroids hurling toward the Earth? Well, worry no more because NASA is working on 3D models to prepare for and prevent potential asteroid impact scenarios. That's a relief.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- NASA is building computer models of possible asteroid impact scenarios --*

NASA scientists are using one of the agency's most powerful supercomputers to build 3D models of potential asteroid impact scenarios.

NASA hope the models will help emergency responders and other decision makers prepare for and prevent the consequences of life-threatening asteroid impacts.

The meteor that exploded in the sky above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 -- shattering windows and shaking buildings -- served as a wakeup call for many. The Chelyabinsk explosion was proof that an asteroid fragment large enough to do damage can evade the eyes of astronomers, and that a meteor doesn't need to directly strike Earth to cause destruction.

Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley used special modeling software to generate a range of potential impact scenarios based on the Chelyabinsk asteroid event. The Pleiades supercomputer allowed scientists to consider the potential impacts of a large range of meteor sizes traveling at different speeds and angles.

As part of its Asteroid Threat Assessment Project, NASA will share the conclusions of its modeling efforts with officials at government agencies, universities and elsewhere responsible for preparing emergency response plans related to an impact event.

"Asteroid impacts are one of the only natural disasters we can actually predict and then take action to protect people," aerospace engineer Michael Aftosmis said in a news release.

Scientists at the European Space Agency are also building 3D models of asteroids. They're creating tangible, real-life models using a 3D printer. Researchers at ESA hope the models will help them prepare to put another lander on the surface of an asteroid.

*-- MIT scientists design tiny motors powered by light --*

A team of engineers at MIT have simulated tiny motors powered by light.

Scientists have created a variety of light-based contraptions, including tractor beams and tweezers. But these optical technologies often require a sophisticated laser beam or some other kind of expensive and complex light source.

"Our approach is to look at whether we can get all these interesting mechanical effects, but with very simple light," Ognjen Ilic, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, said in a news update.

Ilic and his colleagues focused on designing a particle that could be powered and manipulated by simple light sources. The scientists simulated asymmetric particles known as Janus particles. The two-faced particles boast a micrometer diameter and are composed of silica. Half of each particle is coated in gold.

When exposed to light, the particles shift the axis of their symmetry in line with the beam. At the same time, the light-exposed particles begin to spin uniformly. By changing the color of the light, scientists found they can alter the particles' spin rate. A single beam can energize multiple particles at once.

Scientists suggests the optical nanomotors could be deployed in the body as part of new medical treatments. Their movements through and positioning within the body could be controlled by light.

"Because our approach does not require shaping of the light field, a single beam of light can simultaneously actuate a large number of particles," Ilic said. "Achieving this type of behavior would be of considerable interest to the community of scientists studying optical manipulation of nanoparticles and molecular machines."

Researchers say their findings -- detailed in the journal Science Advances -- could be used in a variety of applications outside the medical field.


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