If you live in Portland, Oregon, your lights are now powered in part by the water flowing through your pipes.
The city recently installed new municipal water pipes equipped with four 42-inch turbines that create electricity from the water passing through them.
Historyically, hydropower has been created by damming rivers and installing turbines inside the dams, which can be damaging to fish and the river itself.
Tap-water hydropower creates virtually no effect on wildlife, as it is simply harnessing the energy of water that’s already flowing through the pipes.
“It’s pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there’s no environmental impact,” saysGregg Semler, CEO of Lucid Energy, the Portland-based startup that designed the new system.
“But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting.”
Another bonus about hydro-power is, unlike wind and solar, it’s always working as long as water is flowing.
The turbines can only be installed in places where municipal water pipes flow downhill, as using electricity to pump water through them would defeat the purpose.
The four turbines are expected to produce at least $2 million worth of free electricity over the next 20 years. More turbines would produce more.
A larger tap-water hydro-power system could have a major impact in places like California where 20% of total energy consumption goes toward treating and pumping water to farms, residents and businesses, Fast Company notes.
Lucid Energy already has a pilot program in place in Riverside, California, where they city’s water utility is using the turbines to offset operating costs during the day and power streetlights at night.
ESA’s technical heart has begun to produce oxygen out of simulated moondust.
A prototype oxygen plant has been set up in the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.
“Having our own facility allows us to focus on oxygen production, measuring it with a mass spectrometer as it is extracted from the regolith simulant,” comments Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow, whose Ph.D. work is being supported through ESA’s Networking and Partnering Initiative, harnessing advanced academic research for space applications.
“Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel.”
ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse adds: “And now we have the facility in operation we can look into fine-tuning it, for instance by reducing the operating temperature, eventually designing a version of this system that could one day fly to the Moon to be operated there.”
Samples returned from the lunar surface confirm that lunar regolith is made up of 40–45% percent oxygen by weight, its single most abundant element. But this oxygen is bound up chemically as oxides in the form of minerals or glass, so is unavailable for immediate use.
ESTEC’s oxygen extraction is taking place using a method called molten salt electrolysis, involving placing regolith in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt to serve as an electrolyte, heated to 950°C. At this temperature the regolith remains solid.
But passing a current through it causes the oxygen to be extracted from the regolith and migrate across the salt to be collected at an anode. As a bonus this process also converts the regolith into usable metal alloys.
In fact this molten salt electrolysis method was developed by UK company Metalysis for commercial metal and alloy production. Beth’s Ph.D. involved working at the company to study the process before recreating it at ESTEC.
“At Metalysis, oxygen produced by the process is an unwanted by-product and is instead released as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which means the reactors are not designed to withstand oxygen gas itself,” explains Beth. “So we had to redesign the ESTEC version to be able to have the oxygen available to measure. The lab team was very helpful in getting it installed and operating safely.”
The oxygen plant runs silently, with the oxygen produced in the process is vented into an exhaust pipe for now, but will be stored after future upgrades of the system.
“The production process leaves behind a tangle of different metals,” adds Alexandre, “and this is another useful line of research, to see what are the most useful alloys that could be produced from them, and what kind of applications could they be put to.
“Could they be 3-D printed directly, for example, or would they require refining? The precise combination of metals will depend on where on the Moon the regolith is acquired from—there would be significant regional differences.”
The ultimate aim would be to design a “pilot plant” that could operate sustainably on the Moon, with the first technology demonstration targeted for the mid-2020s.
“ESA and NASA are heading back to the Moon with crewed missions, this time with a view towards staying,” says Tommaso Ghidini, Head of ESA’s Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division.
“Accordingly we’re shifting our engineering approach to a systematic use of lunar resources in-situ. We are working with our colleagues in the Human and Robotics Exploration Directorate, European industry and academia to provide top class scientific approaches and key enabling technologies like this one, towards a sustained human presence on the Moon and maybe one day Mars.”
Provided by European Space Agency
(CNN) — Around the world, fireflies light up the night with their shimmering bodies. But scientists say this magical display is under threat — with the loss of their natural habitats, pesticide use and artificial light putting some of the 2,000 or so species at risk of extinction.
Habitat loss is leading to the decline of many wildlife species, with some fireflies suffering because they need certain environmental conditions to complete their life cycle, said Sara Lewis, a professor of biology at Tufts University, who led the research published Monday in the journal Bioscience.
For example, she said, one Malaysian firefly (Pteroptyx tener), famous for its synchronized flashing displays, needs mangroves and the plants they contain to breed but across Malaysia mangrove swamps have been converted into palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms.
More surprisingly, the researchers found that the use of artificial light at night, something that has grown exponentially over the past century, was the second most serious threat to the creatures.
Artificial light includes both direct lighting, such as street lights and commercial signs, and skyglow, a more diffuse illumination that spreads beyond urban centers and can be brighter than a full moon.
“In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms — including our own — light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals,” said Avalon Owens, a PhD candidate in biology at Tufts and a co-author of the study, in a news release.
Many fireflies rely on bioluminescence — chemical reactions inside their bodies that allows them to light up — to find and attract mates, and too much artificial light can interfere with this courtship. Switching to energy efficient, overly bright LEDs is not helping, said Owens.
The study noted that, according to conservative estimates, more than 23% of the planet’s land surface now experiences some degree of artificial brightness at night.
The authors of the study, who are affiliated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature Firefly Specialist Group, surveyed 350 members of the Fireflyers International Network to catalog the threats faced by the insect.
They said that more monitoring studies, with long-term data, were needed to understand to what degree firefly populations were declining. Most evidence about firefly numbers is anecdotal, they said.
Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex in the UK, said the ranking of habitat loss as the single most important driver, with pesticides a significant secondary concern, is in line with what is believed to be driving declines of insects more broadly.
“Of course fireflies are particularly vulnerable to light pollution, more so than perhaps any other insect group, so it makes sense that this also emerges as a major concern,” said Goulson, who was not involved in the research.
Scientists have detailed a “quiet apocalypse” among insect populations, with 41% of bug species facing extinction, according to a recent report on insect decline for the UK Wildlife Trusts authored by Goulson.
The firefly paper highlighted the risk posed by insecticides, like neonicotinoids, which is used in the US for corn and soybean seeds.
Another factor was what the authors called “firefly tourism.” In places like Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia, it’s long been a recreational activity to watch the spectacular light displays put on by some firefly species. However, it is now becoming more popular and widespread — attracting more than 200,000 visitors per year — impacting firefly numbers as a result.
In Thailand, the authors said that motorboat traffic along mangrove rivers in Thailand was toppling trees and eroding river banks and destroying habitat, while flightless species were getting trampled on by tourists in North Carolina and Nanacampila in Mexico.
The authors said guidelines were needed to establish and manage tourist sites that outline the best way to protect the fireflies from trampling, light pollution, and pesticides.
“Our goal is to make this knowledge available for land managers, policy makers, and firefly fans everywhere,” said co-author Sonny Wong of the Malaysian Nature Society. “We want to keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time.”
Today, 2/18/20 at 11 AM, we head back to DC Board of Elections for one more step in the process to get @melissalava’s initiative on the ballot so that DC voters can decide to #decrimnature!
#decrimnatureDC #entheogen #entheogens #magicmushrooms #phyrgian #ayahuasca #cactus #iboga #mesclun #restoringourroots #vote
Its Black History Month. And in order to celebrate it, every day for 28 days, Seattle mom Cristi Smith-Jones has been posting pictures to Twitter and Facebook of her daughter Lola dressed up as a different famous black woman. The result? One seriously epic photo series.
Just check out this shot of her 5-year-old (on the left) dressed up as infamous changemaker Rosa Parks (pictured at 42):
Pretty powerful, right?
During the past month, Cristi has also dressed Lola up as such modern icons as ballerina Misty Copeland:
And she’s honored scientist Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel into space:
So incredible! And according to Cristi, it all started back in January when Lola came home from school and told her parents she had learned about Martin Luther King Jr.
“She seemed to understand where we were coming from,” Cristi told CNN, then added: “Since it’s a heavy topic, we wanted to find a way to make learning about black history fun for her.”
So the creative mama compiled a list of women in history and showed their pictures to Lola so she could choose the ones she wanted to dress up as. Cristi then shot most of the pics on her phone—her photog friend Kayleigh Stefanko also lent a hand—with Lola tricked out in various wigs and old family clothes and accessories.
The project may have started out as a way to add some levity to a heady topic, but the result is a poignant and empowering celebration of 28 iconic black women. In fact, Cristi’s education-through-art is probably one of the most effective methods of teaching about Black History Month we’ve ever seen. Way to go, Mama—you and that brilliant little muse of yours are truly inspiring!
Check out the rest of the incredible images on Cristi’s Twitter feed.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Ahead of a series of major events later this year, The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Population Media Center released a collection that illustrates the devastating effects of out-of-control growth and waste, and it’s breathtaking.
“This is an issue that people care about, and oftentimes it’s just not discussed by mainstream media,” Missie Thurston, director of marketing and communications at the Population Media Center, told Mic.
It’s difficult to always know the impacts of our daily choices, like the real effect of buying a bottled water or an extra TV or laptop. With 220,000 more people on the planet every day, and the average person generating over 4 pounds of waste a day — an almost 60% increase since 1960 — the impact of that growth and change in behavior is rarely seen like this.
Electronic waste, from around the world, is shipped to Accra, Ghana, where locals break apart the electronics for minerals or burn them.
Mexico City, Mexico, one of the most populous cities in the Western Hemisphere.
Los Angeles, California, which is famous for sometimes having more cars than people.
Kern River oil field, California, USA.
Former old-growth forest leveled for reservoir development, Willamette National Forest, Oregon, per the Population Media Center.
Coal power plant, United Kingdom. The tall center structure is a stack from the plant, while the surrounding structures are its cooling towers.
North East Land, Svalbard, Norway, where rising global temperatures are fundamentally changing the ecology.
The world’s largest diamond mine, Russia.
Amazon jungle burns to make room for grazing cattle, Brazil.
Tar sands and open pit mining in an area so vast, it can be seen from space. Alberta, Canada.
Tires discarded in Nevada.
Vancouver Island, Canada.
Industrial agriculture in Almeria, Spain, stretches for miles.
Tar sands, Alberta, Canada.
A man turns away from the smell of the Yellow River in China.
Fungus could be very much among us when humanity sets up shop on the moon and beyond.
NASA researchers are investigating the potential of mycelia — the mass of nutrient-absorbing, widely branching underground threads that make up much of a fungus’s bulk — to help construct outposts on the moon and Mars.
“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle — carrying our homes with us on our backs,” project principal investigator Lynn Rothschild, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, said in a statement.
This is “a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” she added in a NASA statement. “Instead, we can harness mycelia to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there.”
Rothschild and her team are conducting their research with the aid of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which seeks to encourage the development of potentially game-changing exploration technologies.
And the myco-architecture project could indeed be game-changing, if everything works out. (There’s certainly no guarantee that it will, however; the project is in the early stages.)
“Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars,” NASA officials wrote in the same statement. “Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat — all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.”
There could be many different manifestations of off-Earth “mush-rooms.” For example, one habitat concept would consist of three layers, NASA officials explained. On top would be water ice, which may be sourced locally. (Both the moon and Mars are known to harbor the stuff.) The ice would shield the habitat’s human occupants from harmful radiation and would also provide resources to the tiny denizens of the middle layer — photosynthesizing microbes called cyanobacteria. These creatures would produce oxygen for the astronauts and nutrients for the fungal mycelia, the chief constituent of the bottom layer.
That basal layer provides the main structure of the habitat. The mycelia that make it up would be heavily processed, baked into sturdy bricks. This would kill the fungus, ensuring that none could escape and proliferate in the alien wilds. But as a second safeguard, any fungi used in this manner would be genetically altered to make them incapable of surviving beyond the base, NASA officials said.
The mycelia could do more than just serve as walls and ceilings, however. Fungi could also help filter water for off-Earth pioneers and extract minerals from their sewage, NASA officials said. And, like many technologies developed for space exploration, myco-architecture could end up having significant applications here on Earth as well — perhaps helping to reduce the huge carbon footprint of the construction industry, for example.
“When we design for space, we’re free to experiment with new ideas and materials with much more freedom than we would on Earth,” Rothschild said. “And after these prototypes are designed for other worlds, we can bring them back to ours.”
Rothschild and her colleagues aren’t the only researchers working on novel and efficient habitat designs. For example, teams around the world are investigating the potential of 3D printing to construct habitats out of native Mars or moon material, spurred in part by competitions such as NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge.
Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
An artist’s rendering of DNA. Scientists have found traces of DNA that they say is evidence that prehistoric humans procreated with an unknown hominin group in West Africa.
About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn’t know existed.
There aren’t any bones or ancient DNA to prove it, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call “ghost” DNA from an unknown ancestor.
Our own species — Homo sapiens — lived alongside other groups that split off from the same genetic family tree at different times. And there’s plenty of evidence from other parts of the world that early humans had sex with other hominins, like Neanderthals.
That’s why Neanderthal genes are present in humans today, in people of European and Asian descent. Homo sapiens also mated with another group, the Denisovans, and those genes are found in people from Oceania.
Denisovans, A Mysterious Kind Of Ancient Humans, Are Traced To Tibet
The findings on ghost DNA, published in the journal Science Advances, further complicate the picture of how Homo sapiens — or modern humans — evolved away from other human relatives. “It’s almost certainly the case that the story is incredibly complex and complicated and we have kind of these initial hints about the complexity,” says Sriram Sankararaman, a computational biologist at UCLA.
The scientists analyzed the genomes of 405 West Africans. Sankararaman says they used a statistical model to flag parts of the DNA. The technique “goes along a person’s genome and pulls out chunks of DNA which we think are likely to have come from a population that is not modern human.”
The unusual DNA found in West Africa isn’t associated with either Neanderthals or Denisovans. Sankararaman and his study co-author, Arun Durvasula, think it comes from a yet-to-be-discovered group.
“We don’t have a clear identity for this archaic group,” Sankararaman says. “That’s why we use the term ‘ghost.’ It doesn’t seem to be particularly closely related to the groups from which we have genome sequences from.”
The scientists think the interbreeding happened about 50,000 years ago, roughly the same time that Neanderthals were breeding with modern humans elsewhere in the world. It’s not clear whether there was a single interbreeding “event,” though, or whether it happened over an extended period of time.
The unknown group “appears to have split off from the ancestors of modern humans a little before when Neanderthals split off from our ancestors,” he says.
Sharon Browning, a biostatistics professor at the University of Washington who has studied the mixing of Denisovans and humans, says “the scenario that they are discovering here is one that seems realistic.”
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Browning notes that the ghost DNA appears frequently in the genetic material. “That tells us that these archaic populations might have had some DNA that did some useful stuff that’s proved to be useful to the modern population,” she says.
But at the moment, Sankararaman says, it’s not possible to know what, if any, role these genetic materials have for modern humans who carry them. “Are they just randomly floating in our genomes? Do they have any kind of adaptive benefits? Do they have deleterious consequences?” he added. “Those are all questions which would be fantastic to start thinking about
Read the full article at NPR