There's nothing quite like the frustration of an unexpected traffic jam. Many of us have been the victim of a sudden slowdown on the freeway, which lasts for a few miles before clearing up for no particular reason. Frustration isn't the only byproduct of bad traffic - by some estimates, traffic flow accounts for as much as one-third of global energy consumption and the resulting CO2 emissions. Improving the traffic situation, therefore, has the potential to greatly reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide as well as our emissions of swear words.
The eyes of deep-ocean dwelling creatures are always fascinating - in the near darkness of thousands of feet underwater, a very dim flash of light can mean an organism has found its meal for the month (or has become a meal for another fish). Detecting these flashes of light is difficult for a biological system, simply because of the extremely low energy of the light source. Some deep-sea creatures have abandoned eyesight altogether, relying instead on other sensory systems to find food. In the case of the spookfish, a creature that inhabits the murky depths 3000 feet below the surface of the south Pacific ocean, evolution has provided a novel and completely unique method for detecting light - a mirror.
We may not be using it for navigation any time soon, but a new map of our own Milky Way galaxy provides other answers about the structure of our galaxy, and resolves conflicting information gathered from previous surveys.
Many previous mappings of the Milky Way have focused on either the inner galaxy or the outer galaxy, and as a result, different surveys have found different numbers of spiral arms - two in the inner galaxy and four in the outer. Now, Iowa State University has completed the first map of the entire system of galactic spiral arms, which shows two arms at the center branching into four on the outside.
As worldwide demand for cleaner energy grows, scientists are working frantically in every area to improve the amount of energy we are able to generate from various renewable sources. Many existing technologies, such as wind and solar power, are advancing slowly in efficiency as research continues, while others such as wave power are merely prototypes awaiting verification. Solar panel technology has undergone numerous upgrades over the years, many of which have increased efficiency by altering the materials and coatings applied to the panels. And now, two new nanotechnologies may provide a large increase in solar panel efficiency, driving solar panels down to costs manageable for homeowners and small businesses.
Well, it's now a merry Christmas for everyone except Nicholas Cage. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) announced Monday that as of Christmas Eve, 2008, they've completed the destruction of all munitions carrying VX gas in the possession of the U.S. Army. Unfortunately for Mr. Cage, this means that he's far less likely to be called upon to save San Francisco from rockets armed with the deadly gas by breaking into the former prison on Alcatraz Island aided by Sean Connery, as he proved he could do in Micheal Bay's 1996 film, The Rock.
It seems like they're already everywhere - if you look down at your keyboard, one is providing the little green indicator for your Num Lock key, while another may be frantically blinking to inform you of your waiting voice mail. On your next drive, chances are you will stop at a stoplight lit purely by LED's and perhaps may notice a blinker made up of small, bright lights instead of one bulb.
LED's certainly are everywhere, faithfully providing indications of all kinds. But, with a few exceptions, the primary purpose of an LED is to indicate rather than illuminate, despite the fact that LED's do nothing useful besides produce light. A few new developments, however, may bring solid-state lighting into our homes very soon.