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Gizmorama - March 21, 2018

Good Morning,

Russian scientists use lasers to destroy mini asteroid. What?! Does that sound like the begin of a James Bond movie, or is it me? Well, at any rate, it's happening.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Russian scientists use lasers to destroy mini asteroids --*

To simulate a nuclear explosion on an asteroid careening towards Earth, a team of scientists in Russia built miniature asteroid models and blasted them with lasers.

The results of their experiments -- published in the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics -- could help scientists better understand the type of explosive force needed to knock an Earth-bound asteroid off its collision course.

Asteroids buzz by Earth all the time, and most of them are relatively small. But some asteroids can stretch a few hundred miles across. If such an asteroid were to strike Earth, the collision could be powerful enough to trigger another mass extinction event.

Astronomers aren't aware of any large space rocks currently on a path toward Earth, but scientists are discovering new asteroids all the time.

Should Earth find its way in the path of large asteroid, there are two options: blow up the asteroid or deflect its orbit.

The latest experiments considered the possibility of the first option.

A fragment of the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, in 2013, served as the model for the miniature asteroids. The manufacturing process was designed to replicate the natural asteroid formation process, which involves sedimentation, compression and heating. Each stage of the formation process was tweaked to ensure the model's composition, density, porosity and rigidity were as close as possible to the real thing.

Scientists used laser pulses to mimic the shockwaves produced by a nuclear bomb explosion. While blasting the model space rocks with the laser, researchers measured the distribution and movement of heat and pressure across the tiny asteroids.

Their experiments produced results similar to those predicted by computer simulations. But researchers found the total destruction of the model asteroids required nearly twice as much force per unit of mass as the force needed to disintegrate the Chelyabinsk meteor.

The experiments also proved a succession of small explosive forces was no more efficient than a single large explosion for the destruction of the mini asteroids.

The data suggests an Earth-threatening nonmetallic asteroid measuring 600 feet across would require a 3-megaton bomb.

In followup tests, scientists plan on measuring the effects of explosive forces on asteroids with different shapes and compositions.

"By accumulating coefficients and dependencies for asteroids of different types, we enable rapid modeling of the explosion so that the destruction criteria can be calculated promptly," Vladimir Yufa, a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, said in a news release. "At the moment, there are no asteroid threats, so our team has the time to perfect this technique for use later in preventing a planetary disaster."

NASA is currently managing several missions designed to study asteroids, including OSIRIS-REx, launched last year, and its Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a CubeSat set to launch in 2019.

* Prosthetic arm with realistic sensation makes 'life a better place' *

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have developed a prosthetic arm with more natural movement sensation.

With the new prosthetic, patients who had previously undergone targeted nerve reinnervation can direct amputated nerves to remaining muscles. They can "feel" their palm, back of the hand and even felt each finger, according to researchers.

One test participant, 49-year-old-of Amanda Kitts of Bonita Springs, Fla., whose arm was amputated above the elbow in 2006 after a car accident, told UPI it was "amazing."

She said Dr. Paul Marasco, who leads a research team at the Laboratory for Bionic Integration in Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, has "made my life a better place." His research was published online Wednesday in Science.

"By restoring the intuitive feeling of limb movement -- the sensation of opening and closing your hand -- we are able to blur the lines between what the patients' brains perceived as 'self' versus 'machine,' " Marasco said in a press release. "These findings have important implications for improving human-machine interactions and bring us closer than ever before to providing people with amputation with complete restoration of natural arm function."

Small but powerful robots vibrate specific muscles to "turn on" patients' sensation of movement, allowing them to feel their fingers and hands moving, researchers say. With the ability to feel their missing hand, the patients were able to complete complex grip patterns and perform specific tasks nearly as well as able-bodied people.

"I have been going with Paul for about four years," Kitts said. "And it kind of had a wow moment a couple of years ago. I actually could tell blindfolded where he would touch different parts of the arm and feel like it actually was my hand."

This is a large improvement from five years ago when she first started feeling sensation with an older prosthetic -- including the ability to tell the difference between fingers.

"It feels more realistic," she said about the newest model. "It feels like it is more part of the body. You can tell when the hand is closed. It makes the whole arm come together. I don't even have to hook it up to a computer or anything. It's all in itself. That is fantastic."

Her spirits are dramatically different than 2006 when she was hit head-on by a Ford F-350 truck in Knoxville, Tenn. Her arm was nearly torn off -- the only major injury she sustained -- but was later amputated above the elbow.

"I was depressed and in a bad state for a couple years," said Kitts, who moved to Bonita Springs a few years ago with her husband and son. "These studies have really helped me."

Six weeks after the accident, she went to the Rehab Institute of Chicago to be fitted for her first prosthetic arm, a basic model without movement.

Cleveland Clinic researchers wanted to replicate how the brain constantly receives feedback regarding the movement's progress in an unconscious sense that prevents errors in movement. The body can necessary adjustments.

"When you make a movement and then you feel it occur, you intrinsically know that you are the author of that movement and that you have a sense of control or 'agency' over your actions," Marasco said. "People who have had an amputation lose that feeling of control, which leaves them feeling frustrated and disconnected from their prosthetic limbs. The illusions we generate restore the sensation of movement and reestablish their sense of agency over their prosthetics. This helps people with amputation to feel more in control."

The research team is currently exploring ways to expand use of the technology to patients who have lost a leg, or for those with conditions that impede movement, such as a stroke.

"The ultimate goal of our research is to use movement sensation to streamline the relationship between patients and their technology, to better integrate their prosthetics as a natural part of themselves," Marasco said.


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