This week we've seen some amazing things and heard some very bold claims indeed. From a blind man having his sight restored by stem cells to a massive explosion on the Moon that no one seems to have noticed, until now.
But the biggest news of the week happened to be centered around proof of cold fusion -- the holy grail of energy production. Is it true? Have we really found the solution to all our clean energy problems? Not so fast.
Is Cold Fusion finally a reality? -- Andrea Rossi, an Italian entrepreneur famous for his 'E-Cat' low energy nuclear reaction kit is back again, this time with so called "proof" that his cold fusion reactor actually works and generates more energy than is put in. Despite what you might read in other publications, it hasn't been proven, yet. Instead, Rossi has apparently had scientists over to "verify" his claims.
While the scientists have supposedly been able to verify that indeed more heat is coming out of the thing than is put in, Rossi's company maintains the secret to success is, well, a trade secret. Therefore, as it stands, people are basically being asked to validate a black box, without knowing precisely how it works, which isn't the way science operates. So, until full disclosure, and proper independent verification is possible, take these new cold fusion claims with a pinch of salt. Not that we won't be happy to be proven wrong, of course, because cold fusion could hold the key to safe, sustainable energy for the future. [arxiv]
Stem cells amazingly restore blind man's sight -- A trial of human embryonic stem cells has successfully restored a blind man's sight to the point where his vision is good enough for him to drive again. The remarkable treatment involved stem cells used to restore the man's disease-degenerated retinal pigment epithelial cells, which normally supply rod and cone photoreceptor cells with nutrients in the retina, maintaining your vision. The trial itself is specifically looking at the safety of use of these types of stem cells within human patients, however the treatment has proven particularly effective, and certainly bodes well for further stem cell-fuelled repair applications like this. [New Scientist]
The Moon's been hit by a massive explosion -- A 40kg rock smashed into the surface of the Moon at some 56,000mph causing a massive explosion equivalent to five tonnes of TNT being detonated. It created a bright flash that glowed like a 4th magnitude star, 10 times stronger than any other recorded, and could be seen with the naked eye.
The impact apparently occurred back in March, but has only just been spotted in video shot by NASA's automated lunar-monitoring equipment. NASA's now tasking its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to have a look at the impact site and confirm what actually hit the Moon. Let's just hope it really is just a rock and not a rogue alien spacecraft, which is now building a space station on the dark side of the Moon in preparation to enslave us all. [NASA]
More than half of all spider species have abandoned webs for direct predator-style stalking of prey -- Those who aren't too fond of spiders may not sleep so soundly tonight. It seems that more than half of all the described species of our eight-legged friends have abandoned their famous web building in favour of hunting their prey directly.
Researchers discovered that special hairy pads on the spider's legs, which enable spiders to climb smooth surfaces, also latch onto prey. In fact, new data suggests that these climbing pads actually evolved for catching prey first, and climbing second, which changes our thoughts about the evolution of spiders quite dramatically. It seems movies like Eight-legged Freaks weren't that far off the mark after all. [PLoS One]
Viruses are your friend -- We're used to hearing that viruses cause deadly diseases, things like bird flu and other scary-sounding afflictions, but it turns out that not all viruses are bad. A recent study has shown that bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria rather than humans, actually help your body control your bacterial population. In fact, your mucus, which is known to play a crucial role in blocking out disease, attracts and locks in the phages through proteins on their surface, anchoring them to the mucal layer. This essentially creates a lethal barrier to 'unfriendly' bacteria, allowing the phages to ambush them and kill them off, protecting your cells from the nasty little bugs. [PNAS]
NASA's planet hunter taken offline by broken wheels -- When you think of satellites sitting up there in space you don't expect them to have wheels. Keplar, NASA's prolific exoplanet hunter, had four of the things, but they weren't for rolling in the conventional sense, they were used for turning. The reaction wheels, essentially massive metal gyroscopes in space, spin at between 1,000 and 4,000 RPM, and were used to manoeuvre the spacecraft in orbit. By spinning in one direction, they cause the satellite to rotate in the opposite in very precise increments, allowing scientists to target co-ordinates in deep space for study.
Unfortunately, reaction wheels have a torrid history of failure, and while Keplar can operate with only three out of the four wheels operational, now two have failed leaving NASA's eagle-eyed planet hunter paralysed. The reaction wheels could be fixed in orbit, but it's unlikely to happen, meaning Keplar's exoplanet-spotting campaign has likely been brought to an abrupt end. Efforts will continue to either try and fix the issue remotely or to crudely use the thrusters as a stand-in until Autumn, at which point scientists will give up and sadly leave Keplar dead in space. [Nature]
You're not crazy, your dog might actually be able to understand you -- Dogs can recognise the names of certain objects, that's pretty well know, but did you know that your dog might even be able to understand grammar? A recent study with a 9-year-old border collie has shown that a dog can tell the difference between "to ball take Frisbee" and "to Frisbee take ball", something that's a crucial yet highly complex part of understanding human speech. Of course, the dog had been in training for years, but it's known that other border collies learn grammatical cues from shepherds as part of their sheep herding. It's thought that with enough training, other dog breeds could replicate these kinds high-level vocal recognition. [Learning and Motivation]