Sven-Erik writes: Stand aside, Wesley Crusher: there's a new tractor beam on deck that pulls objects using nothing more than laser light. The device has already grabbed NASA's attention as it could one day prove useful on space missions.
Sven-Erik writes: The solar system once had five giant gaseous planets rather than the four it has today. That's the conclusion from a computer simulation of the solar system's evolution, which suggests the fifth giant was hurled into interstellar space some 4 billion years ago, after a violent encounter with Jupiter.
Astronomers have struggled for decades to explain the solar system's current structure. In particular, Uranus and Neptune couldn't have formed where they are today – the disc of gas that congealed into the planets would have been too thin at the edge of the solar system to account for the ice giants' bulk.
A more likely scenario is that the planets were packed close together when they formed, and only spread out when the disc of gas and dust from which they formed was used up. The tighter orbits of extrasolar planet systems support this idea.
Sven-Erik writes: Could living things that evolved from metals be clunking about somewhere in the universe? Perhaps. In a lab in Glasgow, UK, one man is intent on proving that metal-based life is possible.
He has managed to build cell-like bubbles from giant metal-containing molecules and has given them some life-like properties. He now hopes to induce them to evolve into fully inorganic self-replicating entities.
"I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology," says Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow. His building blocks are large "polyoxometalates" made of a range of metal atoms — most recently tungsten — linked to oxygen and phosphorus. By simply mixing them in solution, he can get them to self-assemble into cell-like spheres.
Sven-Erik writes: Adrenalin junkies, step aside: a new base-jumping robot can climb up buildings before deploying a paraglider to fly back down to earth. It is also equipped with an on-board video camera to film the jump.
The robot — named Paraswift — is a collaboration between Disney Research and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and was initially built for entertainment purposes. But as the first compact robot that can both climb and fly, it has practical uses too, such as gathering aerial footage for 3D modelling systems.
Sven-Erik writes: Underlying the memorial's seemingly random layout of nearly 3,000 names is a complex and deeply human order.
At first glance — and even after deep scrutiny — the names on a new memorial to those killed on September 11, 2001, seem randomly arrayed. The names are not arranged alphabetically nor, for the most part, are they presented in labeled groups. But the memorial's layout is anything but random.
The 2,983 names etched across bronze panels surrounding two memorial pools of water, one north and one south — are strung together in a way that reflects thousands of complex interpersonal relationships forged before the attacks and, on at least one occasion, during the immediate aftermath.
Ammonia produces just nitrogen and water vapour when burned and, unlike hydrogen, it is relatively easy to store in liquid form. That means transporting ammonia will not require costly new infrastructure, says John Fleming of SilverEagles Energy in Lubbock, Texas.
Fleming and Tim Maxwell at Texas Tech University, also in Lubbock, are developing a system to produce ammonia that can be installed in filling stations. Powered by mains electricity, it first produces hydrogen from water using electrolysis, then combines it with nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia.
First we hunted animals for their meat. Then we developed ways to raise them on farms. Now we are on the verge of the next breakthrough. Within months labs could be growing synthetic meat for the table — and not just the usual steaks and burgers either. Meat from exotic animals could one day widen our culinary choices, for those adventurous enough to try.