Hi there – Marian Shivji here with your weekly dose of science facts and fascinations. This week features an injection of augmented reality into your web browser, up to a giant monument that converts air pollution into jewellery. Doctor’s orders below.
Your Web Browser’s Latest Plugin? Why, Augmented Reality Of Course!
Augmented reality (AR) is currently best-known for its gaming applications, such as the once ever popular Pokémon Go. A new trend is now on the rise, however, of companies pushing this seamless blending of the digital and physical worlds for more mainstream purposes, as opposed to just the gaming novelty that AR is today. The latest innovation in AR comes from Google, who’s latest venture explores how to invigorate static content, such as a news article on mobile and PC web browsers, with AR. Google has dabbled in AR for the past few years now, through Tango and ARCore. While Google has previously explored implementing AR into its own Chrome browser, the search engine giant is now looking to extend its cross-platform edge. This week, Google debuted the novel product Article, a 3D model viewer that can integrate AR into most web browsers. On mobile phones, an AR button appears when the user reads about an object that the browser can bring to life. Tapping this button activates the phone’s camera, allowing the user to project the object into the physical world, as represented by the space suit ‘object’ below. The Google blog post explained: “The unique power of AR is to blend digital content with the real world. So we can, for example, surf the web, find a model, place it in our room to see just how large it truly is, and physically walk around it.” Article will also allow such capabilities that were previously limited to devices like smartphones to be available on desktop computers. Article is just one in a series of prototypes and there’s a lot left to explore. As the AR matures, much more impressive applications will be unveiled, which could help the tech to go from novel to transformative.
Dark Matter May be More “Matter-Like” Than Once Thought
Our current understanding of dark matter is that it surrounds entire galaxies as spherical “halos” of invisible, unidentified massive, as illustrated by the blue surrounding the milky way above. This ‘featureless blob’ theory of dark matter’s existence is supported by the observation that an extra source of mass, astronomers can’t explain the motions of the stars in galaxies and why they move at the speeds they do. The ‘halo of mass’ version of dark matter might be only part of the story, however, as recent research by theoretical physicists Mathew Buckley and Anthony DiFranzo suggests that dark matter could collapse into smaller, more complex structures. This behaviour would render it more like the ‘normal’ matter that condenses into stars and planets. To collapse, dark matter would need a way to lose energy, slowing particles as gravity pulls them into the centre of the clump, so they can glom on to one another rather than zipping right through. The electromagnetic forces that dictate this process of energy loss for ‘normal’ matter have been ruled out for the most commonly proposed types of dark matter particles, such as weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). Buckley and DiFranzo imagined what might happen if an analogous “dark electromagnetism” allowed dark matter particles to interact and radiate energy in the form of dark photons, a dark matter analog to particles of light. In Buckley and DiFranzo’s scenario, it is unlikely that the dark matter can squish down to the size of a star and likely reach a point where they can’t lose any more energy long before then, rendering a single clump to be hundreds of light-years across. Thousands of clumps of dark matter could therefore be lurking, undetected in the halo surrounding our galaxy. The latest figure suggests that dark clumps constitute 10 percent of the Milky Way’s dark matter. By looking for the effects of unexplained gravitational tugs on stars, scientists may be able to determine whether galaxies are littered with dark matter clumps. “Because we didn’t think these things were a possibility, I don’t think people have looked,” Buckley says. “It was a blind spot.”
A Giant Smog-Sucking Hoover in Poland Converts Air Pollution into Jewellery
92% of the world’s population live in areas of poor air quality. Given that figure basically equates to the entire global population, tackling poor air quality could be a lucrative market. A giant air purifier created by the Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde is currently being installed in a park in Kraków, Poland. Known as ‘the Smog Free Project’, the purifier stands at a whopping seven-metres and will be able to clean the air around the park at a rate of 30,000 cubic metres per hour whilst only consuming the same amount of electricity used by a water boiler. Most notably, the Smog Free Tower filters out the ultra-fine and very harmful PM2.5 particles – created by cars, tires and even trains – that can become lodged deep within the lungs. The tower took three years to develop and has been touring the world for the last two years. Its last year-long stay was in China, where it was shown to reduce air pollution by up to 55% in its surrounding area. While its functional use is clear, Roosegaarde also designed the purifier as a centrepiece for raising awareness around air pollution. Its stationing in Krawkow is as part of an exhibition that challenges our views on air pollution. As such, the fine carbon particles that are collected by tower can then be condensed into tiny cubes of ‘air pollution’ which can then be bought. As I said, lucrative.
MIA for 8 Decades, the Eastern Cougar is Now Officially Extinct
The eastern cougar once roamed the forests, mountains, and grasslands in every American state east of the Mississippi. For the past eight decades, however, the cougar has gone off grid. This led the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to open a review into the status of the mountain lion in 2011. After years of research, federal wildlife biologists finally concluded in 2015 that there was no scientific or physical evidence of a viable population left. The big cat had been on the Endangered Species Act since 1973 and at this point, the researchers recommended that the search for the cat be put to bed. This week finally saw that happen as the subspecies (Puma concolor cougar) is now officially extinct. This declaration of extinction might – paradoxically – be a good thing. States that have been prevented from reintroducing animals from the western population for decades should now be allowed to do so. Large predators, such as the mountain lion, play a crucial role in the wider ecosystem. According to a recent paper detailing these benefits, not only do cougars reduce the number of ticks by killing deer, but they also save lives by reducing deer-car collisions. Putting it into perspective, if pumas were reintroduced across the US, collisions from deer-car incidents would likely be slashed by 22 percent, saving 115 people and preventing over 21,000 accidents, altogether saving the economy an impressive $2.12 billion.