exact in June & September 2010 and January 2011
The Out Square is in orb from 7 July 2013 to July 2014. It is exact on 21 August 2013 and 26 February & 20 April 2014. This page will be updated to the cycle Out Square in June 2016
THE 2016-17 CYCLE OPPOSITION DOES NOT COMPLETE TILL NOVEMBER 2017 SO ANALYSIS WILL NOT BE ENTERED TILL THEN
This cycle appears to continue from the last Jupiter/Uranus cycle the correlation with Space Exploration, Computer viruses, Cloning, Genetics, Nuclear Radiation. Fuel Cell, Fusion Power, Robotics, Nanotechnology and Theoretical Physics which as cutting-edge technologies look set to continue to provide some of the most revolutionary advances of the 21st century. However as we can only see what is at the conjunction stage some of these may fail to meet the expected criteria for the remaining stages of the cycle. We have tried hard to pinpoint the totally innovative breakthroughs in science or technology over this cycle that will have outstanding long term significance – our best guess is some unexpectedly dramatic result from the Large Hadron Collider in its 17 miles tunnel some 500 feet (175m) beneath the Franco-Swiss border.
NASA TO VISIT AN ASTEROID RATHER THAN MOON & MARS
Early in 2010, President Obama announces a proposal to cancel the funding for NASA’s Constellation programme to send astronauts first to the international space station, then to the Moon and afterwards to Mars. But on April 15 2010, just two weeks after the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction first comes into orb, he announces changes to the proposal in a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center – he backs continued development of the Orion Multi purpose Crew vehicle capsule, albeit in a more limited role, and confirms 2015 as the date for construction of the space launch system (SLS). He also sets a goal for NASA to visit an asteroid by 2025. In September 2010 NASA announces that it has selected the design of the Space Launch System.
The plan to visit an asteroid is more complex than it sounds. Asteroids are minor planets that orbit the sun – many are located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. There are some 9,000 asteroids whose orbit takes them near earth – of which perhaps 1,000 have a diameter of over one kilometre while most can be measured in metres. The chosen asteroid, ideally measuring 7 metres across with a mass of 500,000 kilograms (550 tons), would be captured by a spacecraft (NASA’s Space Launch System) using a deployable capture bag. Once secured, the spacecraft would steer the mass toward a region of gravitational stability known as the Earth-moon Lagrangian (EML2) point. This ‘gravitational island’ is reportedly a possible location for a lunar farside space station — in theory if an asteroid can be stabilised there, a manned outpost could even use its resources to sustain itself.
Once the captured asteroid is in a stable orbit within our Earth-Moon system it can be visited by astronauts who can conduct detailed scientific tests – both to obtain general scientific data about our solar system and for data that will specifically help a manned mission to another asteroid or planet. The asteroid capture-then-visit project is not due to take place till 2021 – though some analysts have forecast it could launch as early as 2017 – which would persuasively place it at the opposition stage of this Jupiter/Uranus cycle – in orb from November 2016 through to November 2017.
The NASA Authorization Act moves the programme’s objective away from a moon base and more towards a Near-Earth asteroid mission as a stepping stone to an eventual Mars landing. If space exploration correlates with this 14 year cycle then this implies that the April re-definition of NASA’s aims will be tested at the out square in 2013 but get maximised at the opposition in 2016.
SPACEX FIRST COMMERCIALLY OPERATED SPACECRAFT TO REPLACE SHUTTLE
But in 2010 the key issues concern the re-supplying of the International Space Station (ISS) which NASA sees as fundable at least up to 2020. A key question is what will take the place of the shuttle ? On June 4 Falcon 9, a SpaceX test rocket, blasts off on its maiden voyage and reaches orbit. NASA hopes to use this rocket to resupply the ISS. On December 8 2010 the US Falcon 9 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral with an unmanned prototype of the Dragon spacecraft, both developed under a NASA contract by SpaceX. Three hours and twenty minutes after lift-off, Dragon successfully splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. It becomes the first commercially-built and operated spacecraft ever to be recovered successfully from orbit. Its appearance at the conjunction suggests its future is assured.
On Jan 22 a Japanese rocket carries supplies to the ISS. On March 9 2011, the day the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction goes out of orb, the US space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center completing its 39th and final voyage. May 16 2011 (Endeavour) and July 8 (Atlantis) are the last two expeditions (both out of orb).
RUSSIA & CHINA & IRAN SPACE TESTS
Space Exploration is not the prerogative of the US. A hectic launch rate puts Russia well ahead of the US, and its Soyuz rocket – with its vital transport role to and from the ISS – gets a brand new launch pad in Korou, French Guinea. But the end of the cycle conjunction sees the beginning of a disastrous 12 months for the Russian space industry starting with the failure of three Glonass navigation satellites in December and Geo-IK-2 in Feb 2011.
The significance of other test spaceflights in this period is less clear. On October 1 2010 China launches Chang’e-2 into a 100-kilometre orbit around the Moon to prepare for a lunar landing at some date in the future. On Oct 10 Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket, SpaceShip Two, achieves its first solo glide flight – manned by two pilots it flies for 11 minutes before landing in California. On Dec 3 2010 US Air Force’s secrecy-shrouded X-37B unmanned spaceplane returns to Earth after more than seven months in orbit on a classified mission. On Feb 7 2011 Iran unveils four new domestically produced “research” satellites as part of a space programme that’s beginning to worry other nations.
KEPLER EXOPLANETARY MISSION MAY HAVE KEY SIGNIFICANCE
Developments in exploration outside our solar system at this time give little clue as to what the cycle might bring. On May 21 2010 Japan launches the Akatsuki (Planet-C) orbiter and the IKAROS solar-sailing probe toward Venus. On 15 June 2010, the Kepler exoplanetary mission releases its first data to the public on all but 400 of the 156,000 planetary target stars – 706 targets from this first data set have viable exoplanet candidates, with sizes ranging from as small as the Earth to larger than Jupiter. On July 10 the European Rosetta spacecraft flies at a distance of 3,126 kilometers from the asteroid Lutetia.
On Feb 2 2011 NASA scientists report that the Kepler spacecraft has found over 1,200 possible planets with at least 54 of them within their suns’ habitable zones. Will further discoveries of new planets mark the remaining 3 stages of this cycle ? On March 18 2011, just as the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction moves out of orb, the NASA robotic MESSENGER space probe (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) achieves orbital insertion around the planet Mercury. MESSENGER’s orbit is highly elliptical – to shield the probe from the heat radiated by Mercury’s hot surface – taking it to within 200 kilometres of Mercury’s surface and then 15,000 km away from it every twelve hours.
COMPUTERS – VIRUSES & TABLETS
In April 6 2010 researchers from IWM (Information Warfare Monitor) uncover a ‘complex cyber-espionage’ network which penetrated various organisations including the United Nations, the Embassy of Pakistan in the US and the Office of the Dalai Lama. The attacks are thought to originate in the city of Chengdu in China. “An important question to be entertained is whether the Chinese administration will take action to shut the Shadow network down,” say the researchers who point out that the network – known as a botnet – exploits social networking and cloud computing platforms including Google, Baidu, Yahoo, and Twitter to infect computers with malicious software or malware.
On June 17 2010 Stuxnet, a Windows trojan, gets detected. It is the first computer worm to attack SCADA systems – industrial control systems. There are suggestions that it was designed to target Iranian nuclear facilities and as to which countries might have been interested in disabling such facilities. On Sept 15 the virus called Kenzero appears, a virus that spreads online from Peer to peer (P2P) sites taking browsing history. In April 2011 a SpyEye and Zeus merged code is seen as new variants attack mobile phone banking information.
It is in March 2010 that ‘Banker Trojans’ that empty a users account start to proliferate. The Trojan unwittingly downloaded presents the user with fake login screens that mimic your bank’s website, intercepting your credentials and feeding them to a remote server.
Meanwhile what has happened to Computer Tablets ? On April 3 2010, two days after the new cycle conjunction comes into orb, the first Apple iPad is released. The user interface is built around the device’s multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard. The iPad has built-in Wi-Fi and, on some models, cellular connectivity. It can shoot video, take photos, play music, and perform Internet functions such as web-browsing and emailing. Other functions such as games, reference, GPS navigation, social networking, etc. can be enabled by downloading and installing extra applications – the App Store offers over half a million apps by Apple and third parties.
The iPad 2 released on March 25 2011, just before the cycle conjunction goes out of orb, adds a dual core Apple A5 processor and VGA front-facing and 720p rear-facing cameras. The whole tablet computer market gets completely reinvigorated by the Apple iPad device in 2010. Apple’s attention to detail for the touch interface is considered a milestone in that it defines the tablet computer as a new class of portable device – different from a laptop PC or netbook. The iPad has been characterized by some as a tablet computer that mainly focuses on media consumption such as web browsing, email, photos, videos, and e-reading, even though Microsoft compatible software for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations were also released. In March 2011 Apple announces that 15 million iPads have been sold in three quarters of 2010
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011, over 80 new tablets are announced to compete with the iPad. Companies who announce tablets include Motorola, Samsung, Research in Motion, Vizio and Toshiba.
By 2010, though the Apple iPhone has a market share of only 4% of all cell phones, it generates more than 50% of the total profit from global cell phone sales. In the period at the centre of this conjunction – July to October 2010 – Apple sells 14.1 million iPhones surpassing those of Research in Motion’s 12.1 million BlackBerry units sold in their most recent quarter. In the US market the iPhone becomes the most popular single device. By March 2 2011, just before the conjunction goes out of orb, Apple announces it has sold 100 million iPhones worldwide and becomes the largest mobile handset vendor in the world by revenue in 2011, surpassing long-time leader Nokia.
Smartphones are on their way to provide a significant section of mobile users with a truly integrated mobile phone and portable computer. Their functionality extends to portable media players, low-end compact digital cameras, pocket video cameras, and GPS navigation units. Smartphones increasingly include high-resolution touchscreens and web browsers which display standard web pages as well as mobile-optimized sites.
GENETICS – cloning
On 4 August 2010 the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) announces that meat from the offspring of a cloned cow was eaten in the UK. Two bulls from the embryos of a cow cloned in the US were bought by a farm near Nairn in the Scottish Highlands, and meat from one was sold to consumers. American biotechnology companies are cloning animals that give high yields of milk and meat to use as breeding stock. However contrary to earlier reports the cows had not been used for milk production. The European parliament only recently voted in favour of a ban on cloned meat and products in the European food supply.
The UK Food Standards Authority’s chief Tim Smith tells the BBC his organisation does not know how many embryos from cloned animals have been imported into the UK, despite cattle tracing schemes being in place. More worryingly Holstein UK, Europe’s largest independent breed society confirms that three bulls bred from the US produced clone had sired 97 calves in total. To cap it all a few days later a US cloning company states that some of the cattle cloned in the US to boost food production have been created from the cells of dead animals. “What we are doing is to find that animal that created that great steak…and once we have it, reproduce it”
At the end of November 2010 the UK Advisory Committee on Novel Foods & Processes states that meat and milk from cloned cattle are safe to consume. But EU proposed restrictions have led some European farmers to believe they are being put at a disadvantage by being denied the option of using the technology. However critics say there are strong ethical and animal welfare reasons to ban its use in European agriculture. One organic association says “…we have no long-term evidence for the impacts on health.”
GENETICS – stem cells
HEART, LIVER & KIDNEY REPLACEMENT APPLICATIONS
While human embryos were originally seen as the prime source of ‘pluripotent’ cells, those with the potential to form virtually any tissue type, scientists are increasingly finding ways to isolate proactive cells from adults and encourage them to multiply. Human veins left over from now common bypass surgery could be a source of master cells to help treat damaged heart muscle, say scientists. On 24 April 2010 a University of Bristol team extracts stem cells from the veins, then uses them to stimulate new blood vessel growth in mice,
On 13 June 2010 US scientists in Massachusetts, USA succeed in creating working liver grafts in the laboratory, and say the research could one day allow the growth of livers for transplant. There is a shortage of liver donors but so far it has been difficult to grow replacement organs. On 17 June 2010 Canadian and Thai scientists warn that a new complication has been seen in a patient who received stem cell therapy for kidney disease. Stem cells were injected into the kidney, but the patient suffered tissue damage and died from an infection. It appears that clusters of blood vessels and bone marrow cells had caused tissue damage. On 24 July 2010 a team at Oxford University announces that specially manipulated skin cells, called ‘induced pluripotent’ stem cells, can be used to generate the brain nerve cells that die in Parkinson’s disease.
HIP, SHOULDER & KNEE REPLACEMENT APPLICATIONS
On 13 July 2010 an Oxford University team launches a study to take skin cells from 1,000 patients with early stage Parkinson’s disease and turn them into nerve cells carrying the disease in order to learn more about the brain disorder. On 29 July 2010 US researchers develop a promising new technique that could one day enable doctors to regrow broken or diseased joints in patients. They succeed in regrowing the forelimb thigh joint of rabbits using their own stem cells. Scientists say they have shown ‘proof of principle’ for a technique which could replace hips, shoulders or knees. This is the first time an entire joint surface has been regenerated with the return of functions.
On 6 Aug 2010 pioneering surgery to rebuild an 11-year-old boy’s windpipe using his own stem cells is hailed as a success. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in March take stem cells from his bone marrow and inject them into a donor windpipe. He is the first child in the world to undergo the pioneering trachea transplant. On 28 Aug 2010 scientists in Cambridge UK succeed in reprogramming cells from skin samples given by liver disease patients back into stem cells. These stem cells are then used to generate liver cells which mimic a broad range of liver diseases and to create ‘healthy’ liver cells from a control group. Doctors only take a sample from a patient’s liver if it is deemed absolutely necessary, because there is such a high risk of death or of serious complications such as bleeding.
On 11 Oct 2010 US doctors begin the first official trial of using human embryonic stem cells in patients after getting the green light from US regulator the Food & Drug Administration – Geron, a biotech company that has spent $170m on a stem cell treatment, is now allowed to treat people with spinal injuries.
STEM CELLS FOR MUSCLE, BRAIN AND NERVE SYSTEM
Muscle wasting linked to old age might one day be treated using stem cells, claim US scientists. On 11 Nov 2010 a University of Colorado team transplants cells into mice and sees the muscle more than double in size – staying that way even into old age. This may have promise in treating muscle-wasting conditions such as muscular dystrophy. On 16 Nov 2010 a pilot study on 14 patients in the Netherlands and Spain found that stem cells extracted from body fat and delivered to the heart appeared to boost heart function after a heart attack. On the same day doctors in Glasgow inject stem cells into the brain of a stroke patient in an effort to find a new treatment for the condition. The elderly man is the first person in the world to receive this treatment. Critics object as brain cells from foetuses were used to create the cells.
In Dec 2010 scientists identify a way of prompting nerve system repair in multiple sclerosis (MS). Studies on rats by Cambridge and Edinburgh University researchers identify how to help stem cells in the brain regenerate myelin sheath, needed to protect nerve fibres.
On 5 Jan 2011 experts say they have discovered what they believe is the cause of male baldness. It is not so much a lack of hair, but rather a problem with the new hair. A manufacturing defect with the stem cells that make new hair means the hair produced is so small it appears invisible By restoring the normal function of these cells it may be possible to ‘cure’ male baldness
GENETICS – genetherapy
On 14 April 2010 just as the conjunction comes into orb, scientists at Newcastle University develop a technique which would potentially allow them to replace defective mitochondria (the structure between the cell membrane and nucleus responsible for energy conversion) during in-vitro fertilisation. The nuclei from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg, which contain the parents’ DNA, are removed, leaving behind the faulty mitochondria. The nuclei are put into another egg from which the nucleus had been removed, but which retains its mitochondria. This new embryo contains the genes from both parents plus a tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg.
On 20 May 2010 scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California succeed in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. The researchers construct a bacterium’s ‘genetic software’ and transplant it into a host cell. The resulting microbe then looks and behaves like the species “dictated” by the synthetic DNA. It is thought synthetic bacteria might be used to make new fuels and drugs. Dr Venter is quoted by the BBC stating “I think they’re going to potentially create a new industrial revolution”.
However Genewatch claims “If you release new organisms into the environment, you can do more harm than good,….We don’t know how these organisms will behave in the environment.” Moreover Dr Venter’s efforts to apply for patents on the artificially created organism – nicknamed Synthia – arouses strong opposition from Professor John Sulston who is part of the government and charity-backed effort to make the human genome freely available to all scientists. He believes it will give Dr Venter a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering and will inhibit research.
MENINGITIS & BLOOD DISORDERS BREAKTHROUGHS
On 8 August 2010 an international team manage to pinpoint a set of genes which render people more prone to meningitis by scanning the whole genetic code of 475 UK patients with meningococcal disease and 4,700 healthy individuals. They found a clear difference in a small set of genes known to be involved in the immune system response.
On 15 Sept 2010 comes the announcement that genetherapy has been used for the first time to treat an inherited blood disorder. A man who is given pioneering treatment to correct a faulty gene has made “remarkable progress”. The 18-year-old man had suffered from a severe form of the condition Beta thalassaemia and had been receiving regular blood transfusions since the age of three. Stem cells from his bone marrow were treated with a gene to correct for the faulty one. They were then transfused back into his body, where they gradually gave rise to healthy red blood cells.
ALZHEIMER’S & PARKINSON’S GENETHERAPY
On Nov 29 2010 a gene therapy technique which aims to ease memory problems linked to Alzheimer’s Disease has been successfully tested in mice. US scientists use it to increase levels of a chemical which helps brain cells signal to each other. On 17 March 2011 US researchers demonstrate for the first time that treating Parkinson’s disease with gene therapy has been shown to be successful in clinical trials. The study uses a virus to add genes to brain cells, which results in reduced symptoms for half of patients.
DANGERS OF GENETIC TESTS BEING WIDELY AVAILABLE ?
On 6 April 2011, three weeks after the cycle conjunction goes out of orb, the UK government’s advisory body on genetics says genetic tests for conditions that can be passed on to future generations should be more widely available before pregnancy. It sees ‘no specific social, ethical or legal principles’ against preconception screening, Indications are this would be the recommendation in other countries.
The campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, describes it as a “simply a modern version of eugenics” while Human Genetics Alert, says the report is “immensely dangerous” and that “it will inevitably lead to young people being stigmatised and becoming unmarriageable, and disabled people will feel even more threatened.” The UK Government is set to consider the report’s findings.
On 18 April 2011 a US study appears to demonstrate that parents who were offered a genetic test for 15 genetic variants linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and colon, skin and lung cancer also support their children being tested. There are concerns about these tests being offered over the internet or off the shelf. One consumer pressure group Genewatch says “Online gene tests frequently give misleading results because most common conditions such as cancer, obesity or diabetes are not predicable from a person’s genes, except in special circumstances.” It adds “Children should not be tested for risk of adult-onset conditions, full stop. They should be allowed to decide for themselves, with medical advice, when they are grown up.”
GENOME OF APPLE & COCOA SEQUENCED
At the end of August 2010 a team of 86 global scientists finish sequencing the genetic code of the Golden Delicious apple for the first time. The DNA breakthrough could result in new and improved apple varieties which are more resistant to disease. Scientists from 20 institutions took two years to unravel the code – the largest plant genome uncovered to date. On Nov 14 2010 the public release of the genome of the cacao tree – from which chocolate is made – is hailed as the saviour of the chocolate industry A researcher for Mars Cconfectionery, said that without engineering higher-yielding cacao trees, demand would outstrip supply within 50 years. The genome’s availability is also likely to lead to healthier, tastier chocolate.
On 26 March 2010, just a few days before the cycle conjunction comes into orb and after months of negotiations US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev agree a new nuclear arms reduction treaty. The treaty, which replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, limits both sides to 1,550 warheads – about 30% less than currently allowed. A cap on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine launched missiles is set at 700. Coming at the cycle conjunction does this promise the final end of cold war type nuclear competition?
al-QAEDA SEEKING NUCLEAR MATERIAL
If so that might be offset by the focus a few days later at a summit on nuclear safety in Washington where world leaders hear dire warnings of the danger of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands. A senior American counter-terrorism expert at the summit warns that al-Qaeda had been seeking material for a nuclear bomb for more than 15 years. Just before the summit opened, Ukraine agrees to eliminate its stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material which, the US says, is “enough to build several weapons”.
It is estimated there are about 1,600 tonnes of highly enriched uranium in the world – the type used in nuclear weapons. And of that virtually all is held by the nuclear-weapons states, most of it in Russia. President Obama confirms that “ terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon and, if they ever succeed, they would surely use it” adding that a quantity of radioactive material just “the size of an apple” would be enough to kill thousands of people. At the end of the summit the leaders of 47 countries pledge to secure all vulnerable material within four years.
AIM TO ACHIEVE NUCLEAR FREE MIDDLE EAST
On 29 May nearly 200 nations who signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) agree to work towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. The unanimously agreed document also states that Israel should sign the NPT. On 3 July a fire breaks out at the British nuclear power station Sizewell B – it is quickly put out. On August 4 a fire breaks out at the British atomic weapons establishment in Aldermaston – again there are no radiological implications. A few days later the area hit by nuclear fallout from Chernobyl is swept by fires amid concerns that wind or fire could whip up radioactive particles in the soil.
REPROCESSED NUCLEAR WASTE TRAIN HELD UP BY PROTESTS
On August 24 2010 Moldovan police seize 1.8 kg of uranium-238 in the capital Chisinau – arresting three members of the group trying to sell the material on the black market for 9 million euros. The material however is not weapon capable and there is little of it. On Sept 21 2010 scientists discover that plants may have an innate ability to thrive in radioactive environments like Chernobyl – where tests showed soybean plants adapted to thrive in contaminated soil. On Nov 8 a train carrying 123 tonnes of reprocessed nuclear waste in glass and steel containers across Germany is held up by a series of protests by thousands of anti-nuclear activists. On Nov 9 scientists discover that forensic analysis of the debris left after a nuclear explosion could reveal evidence about the composition and origin of the bomb – this means that if ever there were a terrorist nuclear attack those behind it could be traced.
NEW START TREATY RATIFIED BY US & RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTS
On Nov 30 Russian President Medvedev warns that a new arms race could begin in the next decade if NATO and Moscow fail to agree on a joint missile shield. The issue for NATO is how far it is willing to share information and command and control systems. Russia also warns US lawmakers that any change to the new nuclear arms disarmament treaty could destroy the pact to reduce deployed nuclear warheads by 30% – Republicans in the US Senate had pushed to change its wording. On 21 Dec 2010 the US Senate ratifies the New Start treaty – described by President Obama as the most important such deal in almost 20 years. The treaty is approved by Russia’s parliament on 27 Jan 2011.
FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR DISASTER WORST SINCE CHERNOBYL
Yet bad news in the nuclear field emerges on Feb 4 2011 when the $2.21 billion shelter being built to seal the almost 200 tonnes of melted nuclear fuel rods at Chernobyl power plant is found to have only half the sufficient funds to complete. On Feb 17 2011 managers of the British Sellafield plant are issued with a formal caution over a leak of radioactive liquid which went unnoticed for 14 months. But the big correlation with this Jupiter/Saturn conjunction comes on March 12 2011 – one day after it goes out of orb – when following a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake in NE Japan a powerful explosion badly damages the Fukushima nuclear plant. The tsunami destroys back-up diesel generators that kept vital water pumps running to send water round the hot nuclear core.
Later that day the Japanese government declares a nuclear emergency after a number of reactors have automatically shutdown. While Japan has extremely tight standards on ensuring nuclear power plants are earthquake resistant it appears the magnitude, and seismically active coastal location, of this one had not been envisaged.
GOVERNMENTS PHASE OUT OR SUSPEND NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS
Later tens of thousands of people in Germany – pointing to Japan’s disaster as proof of nuclear power’s risky and uncontrollable nature – protest against the government’s plans to extend the life of its nuclear reactors. Demonstrators in Stuttgart form a human chain reaching 27 miles for the protest waving yellow flags with the slogan ‘Nuclear power – no thanks’. On March 15 Germany temporarily shuts down seven of its nuclear reactors and goes on to announce a “measured exit” from nuclear power. In the week following the disaster China suspends approval for new nuclear power stations – it is planning over 100 in the next few years. Switzerland does the same. Venezuela freezes its nuclear energy programme. Within two months the German and Swiss governments decide to phase out nuclear power. The Fukushima nuclear disaster is the worst nuclear disaster since that at Chernobyl in 1986 (at a previous Jupiter/Uranus Out Square).
We have already mentioned that on 20 May 2010 scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) succeed in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. Not only could bacterial cells produce medicines – they should also be able to produce fuels.
HYDROGEN POWERED CARS AND TAXIS
On June 14 in the UK a company called Riversimple launches its hydrogen-powered car which boasts a range of 200 miles and a maximum speed of 50mph and does the equivalent of 300 miles per gallon. By arrangement with Leicester City council in England 30 of these vehicles will be leased at £200 per month plus 15p per mile which includes all the fuel.
On 3 Aug 2010 Lotus, chiefly known as a Formula 1 company, launches a hydrogen powered London taxi to showcase zero exhaust emission vehicles during the 2012 London Olympics. The cab has a stack of fuel cells that convert energy from hydrogen (stored in a tank under the car’s bonnet) into electricity. The electric motors can be powered by either the fuel cell system, or by the battery, or by a combination of the two. One tank of gaseous hydrogen gives the taxi a range of at least 160 miles, Six hydrogen filling stations in London will also serve 5 hydrogen fuel cell buses. In September the Honda FCX Clarity is launched in the UK and Gordon Murray’s T25 city car design and £6,000 price is announced.
In the same month a research team at Heriot-Watt University starts investigating whether a component of urine could be used in fuel cells as an alternative to flammable hydrogen or toxic methanol.
FIRST MASS PRODUCED ELECTRIC CAR
On 19 Nov the Nissan Leaf becomes the first mass-produced electric car to be purpose built and go on sale in the UK – it is priced at £23,990 after taking into account the government subsidy. On 23 Dec a prototype solar device is unveiled which mimics plant life, turning the Sun’s energy into fuel. The machine uses the Sun’s rays and a metal oxide called ceria to break down carbon dioxide or water into fuels which can be stored and transported.
The prototype concentrates sunlight into a cylinder lined with cerium oxide, which has a natural propensity to exhale oxygen as it heats up and inhale it as it cools down. If water is pumped into the vessel, the ceria will rapidly strip the oxygen from it as it cools, creating hydrogen for fuel cells in cars, for example
FINDING A WAY OF STORING HYDROGEN
On 26 Jan 2011 scientists at Glasgow University announce they are using nanotechnology to find a way of storing hydrogen in a solid state. The major problems holding back the industrial-scale use of hydrogen to power fuel cells are storage and expense – and that it requires high volumes and weight to operate successfully.
On 12 May 2010 North Korea announces that it has made significant progress towards the development of thermo-nuclear power – its scientists claim it had succeeded in carrying out nuclear fusion. It is a claim that is met with some scepticism in the scientific community. Not even the most technologically advanced countries have so far succeeded in making it work and the limited progress made has demanded huge sums of money.
In the US some $3.5 billion is being spent on its National Ignition Facility and in Europe, at least 10 billion euros is being spent on the ITER reactor under construction in France. In contrast North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries and struggles to generate enough electricity for lighting and other basic needs.
In fact it is a funding issue that makes the news on 12 July when after months of negotiations EU member states decide that the additional funds needed to build the ITER fusion reactor will have to come from a variety of sources within the existing EU budget rather than as fresh investment. By the end of 2012 these plans for an additional 1.4bn euros will have been rejected by the EU parliament. The price for the experiment has risen from a planned 5bn euros to an estimated 16bn euros. ITER is not expected to begin operations until much later this decade. Even then, these will be shake-down tests – full fusion power will not be achieved until the 2020s.
On 24 July Iran launches a programme aimed at developing a nuclear fusion reactor. The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran says the institute will have a budget of $8m and that it could take up to 30 years for a fusion plant to become commercially viable. It is surely strange that the two nations most at odds with the Western powers over their nuclear strategy should both boast of activities in such a long term and expensive development as nuclear fusion power generation.
EMPHASIS ON ADAPTATION & EMPATHY
Robotics seems to continue its correlation – at this conjunction stage the emphasis seems to be on adaptation and empathy. In September 2010 ‘artificial skin’ which could bring a sensitive touch to robots and prosthetic limbs, is shown off by two groups of scientists. Arrays of small pressure sensors that convert tiny changes in pressure into electrical signals are built into or under flexible rubber sheets capable of being stretched into a variety of shapes. The ‘skins’ match human skin’s ability to sense tiny pressure changes quickly.
In October 2010 a team at the Neural Systems Laboratory, University of Washington, is working to take brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to the next level by attempting to teach robots new skills directly via brain signals. “The resulting system is both adaptive and hierarchical – adaptive because it learns from the user and hierarchical because new commands can be composed as sequences of previously learned commands.” says team leader Dr Rao.
ROBOTIC LEGS FOR STROKE PATIENTS
In December 2010 Japanese scientists test out ‘robotic legs’ that can be attached to stroke patients enabling them to walk again. A physiotherapist helps strap the patient in. From a hip joint there are struts running down the outside of the patient’s thighs, to another joint level with her knees. The metal and plastic rods also run down the calves to special shoes for the feet. The two limbs are joined together by a wide belt that goes round the patient’s back Sensor pads on the skin pick up the body’s electrical signals. When the patient moves her leg, the machine moves in unison. It is rather like having an extra set of muscles to help out.
In that same month it is reported that a restaurant in Jinan, China is using robots to serve and entertain customers. The robots follow set routes round the tables stopping for customers to pick food off their trays. While in Edinburgh Scotland a fleet of remote control robots is being used to undertake a major demolition project. The robots work in very small spaces and can even crawl up stairs, so that human builders do not need to enter dangerous areas. Worldwide such robots are used in disasters – including the Fukushima nuclear accident following the 2011 tsunami.
CAN ROBOTS REPLACE HUMAN CARING ?
On February 4 2011 BBC News reports from Tokyo that the Japanese government and care industry have found that robots in the Health sector have turned out to be too expensive, impracticable and sometimes unwelcome, even in ‘robot friendly’ Japan. The country’s biggest robot maker Tmsuk created a life-like one-metre tall robot six years ago, but has struggled to find interested clients. Costing as much as $100,000 each, a rental programme was scrapped recently because it failed to meet the needs of consumers and because it put off patients at hospitals. “We want humans caring for us, not machines,” was one response.
EMPATHETIC PARO SUCCESSFUL WITH DEMENTIA PATIENTS
But Japan has had one modest commercial success with Paro, the robotic pet seal – in the absence of the family a successful provider of emotional interaction for those in care homes. More than 1,000 Paros have been sold in Japan, where they are used in nursing homes and hospitals, as well as by private individuals. The Danes too have been impressed. Following a trial in a dementia centre in Copenhagen using 12 Paro robots, the Danish Technological Institute ordered 1,000 of the electronic pets. What makes the seal so effective is not its robotic skills but more its seemingly empathic responses. Paro can grow active or sleepy, show pleasure when held, and get angry when hit. He also understands simple words like greetings and compliments, and responds with calls and facial expressions.
ROBOEARTH & ROBO-LANGUAGE
In February 2011 European scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich are embarking on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world. Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data when they master a task, and seek help in carrying out new ones. The aim is to achieve some measure of standardisation in how robots see the world – to provide the robot equivalent of Wikipedia.
In March 2011 researchers in Spain are examining the walking patterns of crabs, lobsters and spiders to develop new ways of getting robots to move around. The rhythmic nerve impulses that govern how they move have been adapted into modular control elements that can be transferred into robots to help mimic natural movement.
As the cycle conjunction goes out of orb scientists at the University of Queensland are working on getting robots to develop their own language to help them navigate. The language has proved so sophisticated that it can be used to help robots find places other robots direct them to. “Human language is so loaded with information that robots found it hard to understand” says project leader Dr Ruth Schulz. In one trial wheeled robots travel about and when they reach a place that does not have a name, they generate a random combination of syllables that represents that place. When that robot meets another robot it tells it about the places it has been. Slowly, as the robots travel and talk, they narrow down their lexicon of place names until a mutual gazetteer of their world has been generated.
On Nov 6 2010 scientists in the UK demonstrate a flexible film that represents one big step towards being able to render objects invisible. The film contains tiny structures that together form a ‘metamaterial’, which can manipulate light to change the visibility of a material. Flexible metamaterials have been made before, but only work with a wavelength far beyond that which we can see.
In February 2011 engineers develop a computer chip made of tiny nanowires whose computing functions can be changed by applying small electric currents. This chip may represent the building blocks for a new generation of far smaller computers. Instead of etching chips out of chunks of material, the nanoprocessors can be built up from minuscule parts. The head of the team describes it as “a quantum jump forward in the complexity and function of circuits”.
MINISCULE GENE TRANSPORT SYSTEM
In March 2011 scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast mange to use a miniscule gene transport system to deliver a poison directly into breast cancer cells. As this approach leaves normal healthy breast cells unaffected, this would overcome many of the toxic side effects of current treatments. Patients would receive the targeted treatment 24-hours before chemotherapy – it would kill the breast cancer cells as well as improving the chemotherapy
ULTRA CLOSE-UP VIEW OF VIRUSES
At the same time researchers at the University of Manchester demonstrate the highest-resolution optical microscope ever – aided by tiny glass beads. The microscope manages to image objects down to just 50 billionths of a metre to yield a direct ultra close-up glimpse into the ‘nanoscopic’ world. The technique makes use of ‘evanescent waves’ emitted very near to an object but normally lost. Instead the beads are configured to gather the light and refocus it. The team says the method could even be used to view individual viruses.
IS A MAJOR PARTICLE PHYSICS DISCOVERY IMMINENT ?
On 10 March 2010 just three weeks before the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction comes into orb it is announced that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) must close at the end of 2011 for up to a year to address design issues – this is thought likely to put back the machine reaching its full potential around two years. However within days the LHC not only beats world records in collision energies, it sets one seven times higher.
It may be important to see how these two announcements pan out by April 2011 when the conjunction goes out of orb. One thing is definite if this correlation is correct, it seems highly likely that this twelve year cycle will see a confirmed major particle physics discovery at the cycle opposition stage in 2016.
BEGINNING OF A NEW ERA IN SCIENCE ?
It was on 21 Nov 2009 that engineers operating the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) first smashed together proton beams in the machine. These initial trials measured collision energies beyond one trillion electron volts, making it the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. Then on 19 March 2010 the LHC creates two beams of protons, each with an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts which when allowed to collide produced a collision energy of 7 trillion electron volts. Some describe this breakthrough as the beginning of a new era in science – though at the same time caution is expressed that any major discovery will require billions of ‘events’ and years of patient work.
RECREATING THE CONDITIONS AFTER ‘THE BIG BANG’
The LHC’s four major experiments – its giant detectors Alice, Atlas, CMS and LHCb – now start to gather their first physics data from the collisions, a development CERN describes as an “historic moment”. The ultimate aim is to collide particles head on at 14 trillion electron volts to recreate the conditions in the moments after the Big Bang. CERN’s hope is it will find new subatomic particles in the debris and gain insights into how the universe came into being, billions of years ago.
One of the first prospects for new discoveries at this mass scale are particles known as W prime and Z prime bosons. These are heavier versions of the W and Z bosons, which are responsible for weak interactions. The weak interactions are one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, alongside gravity, the strong interaction and electromagnetic force. But its is the Higgs boson that is the Holy Grail – it will explain why all other particles have mass.
MATTER & ANTI-MATTER BALANCE
On 19 May 2010 a US-based physics experiment at Fermilab in Illinois reports finding a clue as to why the world around us is composed more of normal matter and not its shadowy opposite – anti-matter. Anti-matter is comparatively rare and yet physicists think the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and its opposite.
Researchers working on the DZero experiment observe that collisions of protons and anti-protons in Fermilab’s Tevatron particle accelerator produce pairs of matter particles slightly more often than they yield anti-matter particles. Their findings show much more significant asymmetry of matter and antimatter than can be explained by the physicists’ Standard model established in the 1970s.
“THE DEEPER YOU GO, THE MORE OF A PATTERN YOU FIND”
On 22 June scientists succeed in simulating the sounds set to be made by sub-atomic particles such as the Higgs boson when they are produced at the LHC. The Atlas team at LHC have devised a way to convert data into sounds so they can be more easily picked out. A composer involved with the project says he is struck at how musical the products of the collisions sound. “We can hear clear structures in the sound, almost as if they had been composed….” Adds a software engineer “The deeper you go, the more of a pattern you find…”
On 14 July a rumour surfaces that the US Tevatron accelerator had detected the elusive Higgs boson but the news is swiftly quashed. The Tevatron accelerator is due to close in 2011 but if that were to be extended to 2014 it could give the US facility an advantage over the LHC in the race to find the Higgs boson. On 23 July physicists at the LHC claim they have seen several candidates for the heaviest elementary particle known to science – the top quark. There is thought to be a special interaction between the top quark and the Higgs boson.
TEN TRILLION DEGREES REACHED
On Sept 22 LHC physicists notice something strange in the paths taken by the debris particles as they move away from the impacts – effects mirroring those recently found at the US Brookhaven National Laboratory. On Nov 7 the LHC successfully creates a mini big-bang by smashing together lead ions instead of protons – creating temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun – over ten trillion degrees ! In sub atomic terms the result is a “hot dense soup of quarks and gluons”, the plasma believed to have existed just after the Big Bang.
“IN THE STANDARD MODEL THERE’S NOTHING CYCLIC”
Meanwhile on Nov 27 2010 a renowned cosmologist Roger Penrose finds some evidence for his rejection of the need to institute a theoretical beginning to the Universe “I claim that this aeon (period from our Big Bang until the remote future) is one of a succession of such things, where the remote future of the previous aeons somehow becomes the Big Bang of our aeon.” The Penrose theory holds that the same object may have undergone the same processes more than once in history. One cosmologist commented “In the standard Big Bang model, there’s nothing cyclic; it has a beginning and it has no end. “The philosophical question that’s sensible to ask is ‘what came before the Big Bang?’; and what they’re striving for here is to do away with that ‘there’s nothing before’ answer by making it cyclical.”
WHEN WILL THE HIGGS BOSON BE FOUND ?
On Jan 10 2011 the US Tevatron accelerator is denied an extension that would have kept it running to 2014 and will now close at the end of 2011. A difficult US budget situation is to blame. After that the LHC will have a clear run in the search for the Higgs boson particle. On Feb 27 2011 researchers at the LHC say they expect to discover the Higgs boson particle by the end of 2012. If the Higgs boson research does correlate with this Jupiter/Uranus cycle we would be tempted to look for August 2013 (the out square) as the earliest point for the breakthrough but if the meaning of the Out square were to hold the full discovery would almost certainly not be made till the cycle opposition between 2016 and 2017.
MAY HAVE TO MODIFY OUR CURRENT VIEW OF SUB-ATOMIC PHYSICS
The physicists say if the LHC does not turn up evidence of the Higgs boson by end 2012, they may have to significantly alter their views of physical laws. Professor Tom LeCompte of the Argonne National Laboratory, US, who works at the LHC says “… not finding the Higgs may be more exciting than finding it – because researchers may have to modify their current view of sub-atomic physics”. His other comments fit well with what might be expected at the cycle out square : “If we don’t see it after this two year run it means that something is perhaps not the way that we think it is, either the Higgs search itself had to be amended in some way or some of its indirect evidence may be pointing us in the wrong direction.“
On 10 March 2011 this Jupiter/Uranus conjunction goes permanently out of orb. No development of any significance to the LHC occurs in the 12 months that follow. April sees a possible find at the US Tevatron of a particle not included in the Standard Model – later rejected – and in Europe a pioneering technique with slow-moving neutrons. June sees scientists briefly trap atoms of anti-hydrogen for more than 15 minutes for the first time. But thereafter all is talk of hints, speculation and false alarms on the search for the Higgs boson as the US Tevatron facility closes after 25 years and the LHC ramps up to look at the remaining narrow search band at a 14 trillion electron volts level. The Jupiter/Uranus Out square is exact in August 2013 and February and April 2014.
The Opposition is in orb from November 2016 through to November 2017. It is exact on 26 December 2016 and 3 March & 28 September 2017.