Tag Archives: Travel

China builds the world’s first artificial moon

Chinese scientists have built an ‘artificial moon’ possessing lunar-like gravity to help them prepare astronauts for future exploration missions. The structure uses a powerful magnetic field to produce the celestial landscape — an approach inspired by experiments once used to levitate a frog.

The key component is a vacuum chamber that houses an artificial moon measuring 60cm (about 2 feet) in diameter. Image credits: Li Ruilin, China University of Mining and Technology

Preparing to colonize the moon

Simulating low gravity on Earth is a complex process. Current techniques require either flying a plane that enters a free fall and then climbs back up again or jumping off a drop tower — but these both last mere minutes. With the new invention, the magnetic field can be switched on or off as needed, producing no gravity, lunar gravity, or earth-level gravity instantly. It is also strong enough to magnetize and levitate other objects against the gravitational force for as long as needed.

All of this means that scientists will be able to test equipment in the extreme simulated environment to prevent costly mistakes. This is beneficial as problems can arise in missions due to the lack of atmosphere on the moon, meaning the temperature changes quickly and dramatically. And in low gravity, rocks and dust may behave in a completely different way than on Earth – as they are more loosely bound to each other.

Engineers from the China University of Mining and Technology built the facility (which they plan to launch in the coming months) in the eastern city of Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province. A vacuum chamber, containing no air, houses a mini “moon” measuring 60cm (about 2 feet) in diameter at its heart. The artificial landscape consists of rocks and dust as light as those found on the lunar surface-where gravity is about one-sixth as powerful as that on Earth–due to powerful magnets that levitate the room above the ground. They plan to test a host of technologies whose primary purpose is to perform tasks and build structures on the surface of the Earth’s only natural satellite.

Group leader Li Ruilin from the China University of Mining and Technology says it’s the “first of its kind in the world” that will take lunar simulation to a whole new level. Adding that their artificial moon makes gravity “disappear.” For “as long as you want,” he adds.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the team explains that some experiments take just a few seconds, such as an impact test. Meanwhile, others like creep testing (where the amount a material deforms under stress is measured) can take several days.

Li said astronauts could also use it to determine whether 3D printing structures on the surface is possible rather than deploying heavy equipment they can’t use on the mission. He continues:

“Some experiments conducted in the simulated environment can also give us some important clues, such as where to look for water trapped under the surface.”

It could also help assess whether a permanent human settlement could be built there, including issues like how well the surface traps heat.

From amphibians to artificial celestial bodies

The group explains that the idea originates from Russian-born UK-based physicist Andre Geim’s experiments which saw him levitate a frog with a magnet – that gained him a satirical Ig Nobel Prize in 2000, which celebrates science that “first makes people laugh, and then think.” Geim also won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for his work on graphene.

The foundation of his work involves a phenomenon known as diamagnetic levitation, where scientists apply an external magnetic force to any material. In turn, this field induces a weak repulsion between the object and the magnets, causing it to drift away from them and ‘float’ in midair.

For this to happen, the magnetic force must be strong enough to ‘magnetize’ the atoms that make up a material. Essentially, the atoms inside the object (or frog) acts as tiny magnets, subject to the magnetic force existing around them. If the magnet is powerful enough, it will change the direction of the electrons revolving around the atom’s nuclei, allowing them to produce a magnetic field to repulse the magnets.

Diamagnetic levitation of a tiny horse. Image credits: Pieter Kuiper / Wiki Commons.

Different substances on Earth have varying degrees of diamagnetism which affect their ability to levitate under a magnetic field; adding a vacuum, as was done here, allowed the researchers to produce an isolated chamber that mimics a microgravity environment.

However, simulating the harsh lunar environment was no easy task as the magnetic force needed is so strong it could tear apart components such as superconducting wires. It also affected the many metallic parts necessary for the vacuum chamber, which do not function properly near a powerful magnet.

To counteract this, the team came up with several technical innovations, including simulating lunar dust that could float a lot easier in the magnetic field and replacing steel with aluminum in many of the critical components.

The new space race

This breakthrough signals China’s intent to take first place in the international space race. That includes its lunar exploration program (named after the mythical moon goddess Chang’e), whose recent missions include landing a rover on the dark side of the moon in 2019 and 2020 that saw rock samples brought back to Earth for the first time in over 40 years.

Next, China wants to establish a joint lunar research base with Russia, which could start as soon as 2027.  

The new simulator will help China better prepare for its future space missions. For instance, the Chang’e 5 mission returned with far fewer rock samples than planned in December 2020, as the drill hit unexpected resistance. Previous missions led by Russia and the US have also had related issues.

Experiments conducted on a smaller prototype simulator suggested drill resistance on the moon could be much higher than predicted by purely computational models, according to a study by the Xuzhou team published in the Journal of China University of Mining and Technology. The authors hope this paper will enable space engineers across the globe (and in the future, the moon) to alter their equipment before launching multi-billion dollar missions.

The team is adamant that the facility will be open to researchers worldwide, and that includes Geim. “We definitely welcome Professor Geim to come and share more great ideas with us,” Li said.

Luxembourg to become the first country to make public transportation free

The small European country isn’t the only place moving in this direction — Estonia will implement a very similar policy very soon.

Credits: Benh Lieu Song.

Luxembourg doesn’t get much press. The country of about 600,000 people receives little international attention, despite its very high standard of living and virtuall absence of crime. Yet now, the Grand Duchy, as Luxembourg is sometimes called, is certainly having its moment in the spotlight thanks to a very ambitious policy mandating that all public transport will be absolutely free.

For the sake of clarity, it should be said that public transportation in Luxembourg was already almost free — for a country with a minimum salary of just under €2,000 ($2,270), paying €2 for a two-hour railway ticket is nothing. A full day ticket was about €4, and young people already traveled for free.

Still, the new measure is sending a message — a message that Luxembourg thinks it can make up for losing a source of revenue. For starters, reducing costs associated with buying and selling tickets will offer a slight compensation, but in the grand scheme of things, the Duchy has other things in mind. For starters, this encourages more people to use public transportation, which means that there will be fewer cars on the road — something that Luxembourg (like many other parts of the world) struggles with, particularly during rush hour. Secondly, this acts as a sort of tax cut for passengers. Lastly it also has an environmental twist by encouraging people to choose public transportation, which is more sustainable than using a personal car. There’s also a sense of practicality, as the longest train ride takes just around two hours.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Not the only one” footer=””]The Baltic country of Estonia is pursuing similar plans, which it sees as a form of wealth redistribution and a way to increase social stability. Rural Estonians, who comprise 32.5 percent of the country’s total population, are moving towards the Estonian capital of Tallinn, where much of the country’s population resides. In order to prevent this population drain, the government decided to make transportation free for everybody (it was already free in Tallinn).[/panel]

This isn’t the only popular policy Luxembourg decided to implement. In addition to its short working weeks (of an average of 1,512 working hours per year, compared to 1,783 in the U.S. and 1,676 in the U.K.), the country is adding two more free days a year and a minimum wage increase of €100 ($114).

To top it all off, Luxembourg will also legalize marijuana. So if you love weed and hate driving, Luxembourg seems like the right place for you.

It should also be said that Luxembourg is not a wildly permissive country or a “socialist” heaven. It’s a very productive and economically efficient country. They are cosmopolitan, but quite moderated. Its motto, “We Want To Stay What We Are” (Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn) says it all. The only thing I can say is you keep doing you, Luxembourg — it’s pretty nice.

 

 

Global tourism generates 8% of the planet’s emissions

A new study found that overall, tourism might account for almost four times more emissions than we thought.

Who doesn’t like a good vacation? Detaching yourself from all the stress, going somewhere else, enjoying the fun and relaxation — but it all comes at a cost. It’s not just the money, but also the emissions. Global tourism is a trillion-dollar industry with a large-scale environmental impact. While previous studies found that tourism emissions account for 2.5–3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, researchers now report that the figure is actually closer to 8%.

Arunima Malik, Manfred Lenzen, and colleagues conducted a comprehensive analysis of tourism, finding that previous studies didn’t fully consider all the emissions embodied in transportation choices, and they also tended to ignore emissions from food and beverage production, infrastructure, and retail services at destinations.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Emissions” footer=””]Many of the things we do generate carbon dioxide (CO2). It’s not just transportation, but also food and clothes. For instance, eating a pound of beef produces more emissions than burning a gallon of gasoline, due to the CO2-emitting processes associated with beef production.[/panel]

“By definition, the carbon footprint of tourism should include the carbon emitted directly during tourism activities (for example, combustion of petrol in vehicles) as well as the carbon embodied in the commodities purchased by tourists (for example, food, accommodation, transport, fuel and shopping),” researchers write in the study. “Tourism carbon footprints therefore need to be evaluated using methods that cover the life cycle or supply chain emissions of tourism-related goods and services”

Interestingly, the study reports that tourism emissions are tightly associated with income — the wealthier you are, the more you travel, and the more likely you are to travel to an exotic, faraway place. The carbon footprint decreased slightly with technology, due to energy-saving tech and transportation. The time of travel seemed to have no influence over the total generated emissions.

Image credits: Malik et al.

Americans were responsible for the most emissions, taking the top four spots. Americans traveling to Canada generated 75 megatons of CO2, followed by Americans in Mexico, Americans in the UK, and, surprisingly, Americans in Japan.

Importantly, emissions produced through tourism are experiencing a slow but steady increase. Researchers also note that a big part of these emissions are not targeted by the Paris Agreement and are therefore unlikely to be reduced. Furthermore, under Trump, the US, the largest contributor to these emissions, has vowed to back out of the Paris Agreement. As global GDP increases, tourism emissions are set to grow.

Researchers encourage people to seek out more eco-friendly travel opportunities. Try to travel closer to home, if at all possible. When at the destination, public transportation or biking can be used instead of renting a car. Eating foods that are local grown (and less meat) can also help reduce emissions. For more information, read our full article on ecotourism and why we need more of it.

The study has been published in Nature Climate Change.

Tardis Pinball set.

Time travel is proven possible — but we’ll likely never be able to build the machine, author says

New research from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan comes to validate the nerdiest of your dreams. Time travel is possible according to a new mathematical model developed at the university — but not likely anytime soon. Or ever.

Tardis Pinball set.

Image credits Clark Mills.

The idea of modern time traveling machine has its roots in HG Wells’ Time Machine, published way back in 1885. Needless to say, it has enraptured imaginations all the way up to the present, and scientists have been trying to prove or disprove its feasibility ever since. One century ago, Einstein was unveiling his theory of general relativity, cementing time as a fourth dimension and describing gravitational fields as the product of distortions in spacetime. Einstein’s theory only grew in confidence following the detection of gravitational waves generated from colliding black holes by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

So time isn’t just an abstract, human construct — it’s a dimension just as real as the physical space we perceive around us. Does that mean we can travel through time? Ben Tippett, a mathematics and physics instructor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, says yes. An expert on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, sci-fi enthusiast and black hole researcher in his spare time, Tippett recently published a paper which describes a valid mathematical model for time travel.

“People think of time travel as something as fiction,” says Tippett. “And we tend to think it’s not possible because we don’t actually do it. But, mathematically, it is possible.”

Tippett says Einstein’s division of space in three dimensions with time as a fourth, separate dimension, is incorrect. These four facets should be imagined simultaneously, he adds, connected as a space-time continuum. Starting from Einstein’s theory, Tippett says that the curvature of space-time can explain the curved orbits of planets around stars. In ‘flat’ (or uncurved) space-time, a planet or a star would keep moving in straight lines. But in the vicinity of a massive stellar body space-time curves, drawing the trajectories of nearby planets and bending them around that body.

Tippett proposes using such a curvature to create a time machine. The closer one gets to a black hole, he says, time moves slower. So if we could find a way to recreate that effect and bend time in a circle for the passengers of the time-machine, we can go back or forward in time.

Tippett created a mathematical model of a Traversable Acausal Retrograde Domain in Space-time (TARDIS). He describes it as a bubble of space-time geometry which carries its contents backward and forwards through space and time as it tours a large circular path. The bubble moves through space-time at speeds greater than the speed of light at times, allowing it to move backward in time.

But although it’s possible to describe the device using maths, Tippett doubts we’ll ever build such a machine.

“HG Wells popularized the term ‘time machine’ and he left people with the thought that an explorer would need a ‘machine or special box’ to actually accomplish time travel,” Tippett says.

“While is it mathematically feasible, it is not yet possible to build a space-time machine because we need materials–which we call exotic matter–to bend space-time in these impossible ways, but they have yet to be discovered.”

The paper “Traversable acausal retrograde domains in spacetime” has been published in the IOPscience journal Classical and Quantum Gravity.

More breathtaking photography from National Geographic’s Travel contest

National Geographic’s Travel Photographer of the Year is nearing its conclusion, where the winners will be crowned. It’s not easy to decide from so many amazing photos, as you can see for yourself below. Which one is your favorite?

Gentle Giants

Photo and caption by Kathleen Cameron / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest Gentle Giants Elephants hold onto each others tails as they walk the fields of The Crags Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay. Location: Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Photo and caption by Kathleen Cameron / National Geographic. Elephants hold onto each others tails as they walk the fields of The Crags Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay. Location: Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Mystical forest

You don't need to travel far from cities to visit Narnia. This 7 gill shark was photographed in a kelp forest just off the shore of Simonstown near Cape Town.

You don’t need to travel far from cities to visit Narnia. This 7 gill shark was photographed in a kelp forest just off the shore of Simonstown near Cape Town.

Eligible contestants can visit natgeo.com/travelphotocontest to submit photographs in any or all of three categories: Nature, People and Cities. The entry fee is $15 (USD) per photo, and there is no limit to the number of submissions per entrant. First-, second- and third-place prizes will be awarded in each category. The prizes are substantial.

Blue Lagoon

People enjoying their time in the legendary Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik in Iceland.

People enjoying their time in the legendary Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik in Iceland.

Midnight Thirst

In the still of a star lit night, buffalo cautiously approach to quench their thirst. A long exposure with light painting allows me to capture the moment forever

In the still of a star lit night, buffalo cautiously approach to quench their thirst. A long exposure with light painting allows me to capture the moment forever

Fire on the rocks!

Fire on the ROCKS!

Fire on the ROCKS!

River Delta

One of a series of aerial shots taken from a helicopter over the fabulous river deltas in South Iceland.  This one depicts one river winding its way to the ocean.  The brilliant colors are a result of mineral deposits picked up by the glacial waters as they flow towards the sea. We were lucky to shoot on a gorgeously sunny day

One of a series of aerial shots taken from a helicopter over the fabulous river deltas in South Iceland. This one depicts one river winding its way to the ocean. The brilliant colors are a result of mineral deposits picked up by the glacial waters as they flow towards the sea. We were lucky to shoot on a gorgeously sunny day

Time to go home

The youngster are having fun at the roof top of the train. There are too many people who rushing home after the Bishwa Ijtema at Tongi train station of Bangladesh.

The youngster are having fun at the roof top of the train. There are too many people who rushing home after the Bishwa Ijtema at Tongi train station of Bangladesh.

The Colourful Ho Chi Minh City

This is taken from the 12th floor of a hostel. Me and my friends were amazed how beautiful is the night view, let alone the vibrant side of Ho Chi Minh City in the morning.

This is taken from the 12th floor of a hostel. Me and my friends were amazed how beautiful is the night view, let alone the vibrant side of Ho Chi Minh City in the morning.

Rain in the desert

Over the last 7 years I had one aim - photograph rain in the driest desert of Africa. In 2015 finally I found the rain. In the breathtaking scenery of the Namibrand-Park right at the border of the Namib Naukluft Nationalpark. An enormous thunderstorm came in and the setting sun created a wonderful rainbow. The challenge was, to not have my shadow in the picture.

Over the last 7 years I had one aim – photograph rain in the driest desert of Africa. In 2015 finally I found the rain. In the breathtaking scenery of the Namibrand-Park right at the border of the Namib Naukluft Nationalpark. An enormous thunderstorm came in and the setting sun created a wonderful rainbow. The challenge was, to not have my shadow in the picture.

 

Survivor Airport: How To Outwit, Outplay, Outlast Today’s Airports

Don’t you feel like sometimes you’re playing some kind of insane TV game show whenever you go through airports? Except, thankfully, instead of being forced to eat frighteningly exotic cuisines, at airports, you’re forced to walk through security checks without your shoes on. That’s just the tip of the airport security check iceberg. Add the fact that you have to keep remembering the 3-1-1 rule: all passengers are limited to carry on one quart-sized zip-top bag of liquid toiletries no more than 3.4 ounces each, and you’ve got one less than enjoyable time at the airport. How do frequent travelers survive?

The first rule of airport survival is to come dressed accordingly. This means chucking the jewelry, avoiding shoes that will have you untying laces for minutes, wearing socks so you don’t catch bacteria off of the floor, and wearing jackets that do not require two other people to take off (yes, such fashionable contraptions do exist). In short, make your outfit as easy and simple so you get through security checks with your sanity intact.

The next thing you’ll want to do is arrive early. This is especially critical right around the holidays. You want to get to the airport before the security line gets populated by distracted travelers who are either too preoccupied getting a voicemail number from their mobile phones or digging into their bags for their tickets to realize they’ve gotten on the wrong security check line. Once the security lines slow down, you may just be faced with the possibility of missing your flight. So get to the airport early.

Be a 21st century traveler and avoid the lines at the check-in counters. Check-in online or ask your airline if they have self-service kiosks. Self-service kiosks allow passengers to view their itinerary, check their bags, and print their own boarding pass. You can do this by entering a reservation code, scanning a confirmation, and swiping an ID, credit card, or passport. The process should be easy and help you reach the gate early enough to get the best spot, which would be near the boarding door if you’re real excited about getting into the plane.

Always keep your IDs and travel documents within reach. You can put them inside your jacket pocket or use a lanyard that has storage for your passport, ticket, and ID. Keeping your travel documents within reach will prevent a frantic search in your bag. It’s also advisable to store your passport in wallets or holders that are designed with RFID (radio-frequency identification) blocking feature. As you know, most passports now come with RFID, which makes identification easier. Unfortunately, the technology has also made identity theft easier. Storing your passport and credit cards in RFID holders will keep you safe from enterprising people who go around airports with an RFID reader to steal identities.

Traveling is always a welcome opportunity. But the experience can sometimes be marred by a horrible time spent at the airport. Don’t let your well-planned trip get tripped up by long lines, embarrassing security checks, and missed flights. Use these survival tips.  Survive today’s airports. Ensure one happy trip.