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On Wednesday, I reported on the approach to the Sun by Comet Lovejoy, the first "sungrazing" comet to be discovered by a ground-based observer in over 40 years. Most comet experts had predicted that the comet, officially known as C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), would disintegrate on Friday, vaporized by its passage just a fraction of a solar radius from our star. Clearly, the comet had other ideas.

To the delight of astronomers, it survived its close encounter with the Sun, retaining much of its brilliance as seen in images from spaceborne observatories. It’s now receding from the Sun and should become visible in the night sky within days for observers at southerly latitudes.

Yesterday, as seen in images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), Comet Lovejoy rapidly closed in on the Sun, brightening (as evidenced by the "wings" on either side of the comet’s head—an artifact due to "pixel blooming" as the camera’s CCD censors became oversaturated by the comet’s brilliance, flooding adjacent pixels with brightness) and then fading in its final approach to the Sun.

Click to continue reading Comet Lovejoy lives on, survives sungrazing


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Soon after Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered a comet in an automated search program using a telescope equipped with a CCD detector on Nov. 27, it became clear that he had found something special.

Follow-up observations determined that the comet belonged to the Kreutz group of sungrazing comets, so called because members of this comet family—which all travel in similar orbits—pass extremely close to the Sun. The brightest Kreutz comets, such as the great comets of 1066, 1843, 1882, and 1965, have been among the most spectacular comets on record. The Kreutz group is believed to be the remnants of what was once a single, larger comet that has progressively fragmented over the past couple thousand years.

Although Lovejoy's comet—now officially known as C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy)—is not expected to rival the greatest Kreutz comets, it’s the first sungrazer to be found by a ground-based observer in over 40 years, and it should put on an impressive show online. It’s now visible in the images of several spaceborne observatories that monitor our star—the twin STEREO spacecraft and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)—and should brighten as it makes what’s likely a suicidal run at the Sun.

Click to continue reading Watch a bright comet head for the sun


Eliminate Car Blind spots

Car and Driver has released a simple infographic that explains how we should all be setting up the rear-view and outside mirrors on our cars to get rid of that pesky blind spot. I must admit, when looking at their examples of how to set up your mirrors improperly, they're definitely talking about me. The recommended setup comes from the Society of Automotive Engineers:

The paper advocates adjusting the mirrors so far outward that the viewing angle of the side mirrors just overlaps that of the cabin's rearview mirror. This can be disorienting for drivers used to seeing the flanks of their own car in the side mirrors. But when correctly positioned, the mirrors negate a car's blind spots. This obviates the need to glance over your shoulder to safely change lanes as well as the need for an expensive blind-spot warning system.

Get a look at the full instructions in the graphic after the break.

Click to continue reading How to adjust your car mirrors to eliminate blind spots


Protecting the nation's electric grid from cyber attacks is imperative, but a lack of standards and a designated federal agency to handle the issue could hamper progress, according to a new study.

"With rapidly expanding connectivity and rapidly evolving threats, making the grid invulnerable to cyber events is impossible, [but] improving resilience to attacks and reducing the impact of attacks are important," according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The 268-page report focuses on the future of the electric grid, with a chapter on cybersecurity efforts.

"Much as cybersecurity was not a key factor in the design of the Internet, cybersecurity has not been a high priority—until recently—in designing grid components," researchers concluded.

It's not cheap to secure the grid, however. A 2011 report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimated that it would take at least $3.7 billion to secure grid cybersecurity. Trouble is, "the probability of a serious event is still very low," so it's difficult to get businesses to invest in grid cyber efforts.

That could change as more and more devices come on to the grid, and consumers turn to generating their own electricity via fuel cells, wind turbines, solar roofs, and the like.

Click to continue reading How do we protect the power grid from a cyber attack?


Astronomers said Monday that NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered a far-off planet that orbits its Sun-like star at just the right distance to support life. Kepler-22b is about 2.4 times bigger than Earth and is located 600 light-years away from our planet.

"We're getting closer and closer to discovering the so-called 'Goldilocks planet,'" said Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, according to Space.com, referring to a habitable planet that is "just right" in meeting all the requirements for life.

Kepler-22b is pleasantly warm, with an average surface temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit, according to researchers. It orbits its star at the right distance for liquid water to exist.

The Kepler spacecraft has discovered 2,326 potential planets just 16 months into its planet-hunting mission. If those discoveries are confirmed, it brings the total number of planets scientists have discovered outside of our solar system to four times the 700 or so that were known to exist prior to Kepler's mission.

Click to continue reading Kepler-22b: The most Earth-like planet ever found


This is an entry from our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide. Check it out for suggestions on what to buy your loved, liked, and hated ones this holiday season!

Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

The Zeo Mobile Sleep Manager safely and easily measures your sleep patterns right from home, resulting in a more restful and restorative sleep. It's a cool way to educate yourself about how well you sleep, and teaches you new ways that may help you get a better night's rest, so we're including it in our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide. It uses three main components--a comfortable wireless headband, your iOS or ANdroid device running the Zeo app, and the MyZeo.com companion website. They all work together to show you which habits and behaviors may help or hinder your sleep, and create personalized strategies just for you. A cool and unique item for anyone, and hey, who doesn't wanna feel rested in the morning? For those without an iOS or Android device, you can pick up the Zeo Personal Sleep Manager, which does all the same stuff without the need for a smartphone, and provides an alarm clock with sleep pattern display that captures your data onto DS card. You can get the Zeo Mobile Sleep Manager for $99 on Amazon.


Prosthetics have come a long way since the days of wooden legs. Now a team of Stanford researchers says it's taken a big step towards developing an artificial skin that can actually "feel" pressure and could someday help amputees and burn victims.

Spray-on carbon nanotubes and deformable silicone storing an electrical charge form the stretchy, sensitive material that's being billed as a synthetic skin prototype by the team of Stanford researchers led by associate professor of chemical engineering Zhenan Bao that developed it. The flexible, skin-like sensor can be stretched in any direction without tearing, losing its shape, or wrinkling and it's sensitive enough to detect a wide range of pressure.

"This sensor can register pressure ranging from a firm pinch between your thumb and forefinger to twice the pressure exerted by an elephant standing on one foot," Darren Lipomi, a Stanford post-doctoral researcher who helped develop the artificial skin sensor, told PopSci.com.

Click to continue reading Stanford researchers create artificial skin that can feel pressure


Domino's on the MoonAccording to the Japanese branch of Domino's Pizza, the company says it will have a branch affiliate on the moon at an undetermined time in the future.

"We started thinking about this project last year, although we have not yet determined when the restaurant might open," said Tomohide Matsunaga, a spokesman for Domino's in Japan.

"In the future, we anticipate there will be many people living on the moon, astronauts who are working there and, in the future, citizens of the moon."

Click to continue reading Domino’s vows to deliver pizza on the moon


Astrorobonaut

Coming in at three feet four inches and 330 pounds, it’s Robonaut 2, NASA’s humanoid robot. Six months after it was first delivered to the International Space Station by Space Shuttle Discovery, the robot has been powered on for the first time.

Robonaut 2, or R2, tweeted the progress of its first test from the @AstroRobonaut feed, operated by NASA’s Joe Bibby, a multimedia specialist working out of Houston’s Johnson Space Center, where R2's ground support is located.

“My power cable is plugged in and my status LEDs on my power backpack are on,” Robonaut tweeted Monday morning.

Click to continue reading NASA fires up humanoid robot, Robonaut 2


TrES-2b planet

How dark is dark within the solar system? We suppose black holes, by their very nature, are pretty dark. But high on the list of astronomical objects that don't reflect much light is a new contender: TrES-2b, a Jupiter-sized gas giant around 750 light-years from Earth that's now taking top billing as the darkest exoplanet that astronomers have ever discovered.

Brightness readings measured by NASA's Kepler spacecraft suggest that TrES-2b reflects less than 1 percent of the sunlight that hits it–and that's coming from a star a mere three million miles away from the planet itself (GSC 03549-02811). For comparison's sake, Earth is around 93 million miles from the Sun and, we should note, a whole lot cooler. The average temperature of TrES-2b hovers around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although the super-heated planet's atmosphere is full of light-absorbing chemicals, there's no indication that their presence is the direct reason why the planet fails to reflect a great deal of light.

Click to continue reading Astronomers find the darkest known planet, TrES-2b


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