SciTech Briefs

Perseid meteor shower reaches annual peak

Skywatchers worldwide had their eyes and cameras ready this weekend as the annual Perseid meteor shower reached its peak Friday night. Despite threats of clouds and a coincidental full moon, amateur astronomers from California to England reported stellar sightings throughout the week. Observers called in as many as 20 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak, and NASA hosted an online skywatching party complete with live video.

Perseid meteors come from pieces of the sun-orbiting comet Swift-Tuttle. The Earth passes through the comet’s debris cloud each August, when pieces of the debris enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 133,000 m.p.h. and burn up. The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, its observed place of origin in the night sky.


Amazon team invents cell phone airbag

Addressing the woes of butterfingered users everywhere, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Vice President Gregory M. Hart have filed a patent for airbags to prevent damage to mobile phones when they are accidentally dropped. The patent application, filed in February 2010, became public Thursday.

According to the application, a mobile device outfitted with the airbag mechanism would first detect that it has been dropped and determine the likely amount of resulting damage. If that damage passes a certain threshold, the device would deploy an airbag to absorb the brunt of the force of impact. Bezos and Hart list several variations on the airbag technology, including springs, reinforced edges, and a “propulsion element” to modify how the device falls in mid-air.

Source: PC World

Researchers propose method to fight Web censors

Many Web users are familiar with using proxies to access blocked sites — until the proxy sites are discovered and blocked themselves. To bypass the cat-and-mouse game of Internet censorship, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed Telex, a prototype system that secretly reroutes a connection without using an overt proxy.

A user running Telex first connects to any accessible HTTPS site as a decoy. Telex places a cryptographic key inside the HTTPS headers that is undetectable from the outside, but communicates the real intent of the connection to Telex-supported routers. When a Telex router recognizes a coded request for a blocked site, it can redirect the user's connection accordingly.

One drawback of the system is that it requires a large number of Internet service providers to install Telex-supported routers.

Source: ScienceDaily

Professors develop mock circulatory system

While artificial hearts and heart-assist devices have existed for decades, the development and testing of these devices for juvenile patients has always lagged behind. The complex physical requirements for children’s devices have made it so developers cannot simply make smaller versions of adult devices.

Professors in Carnegie Mellon’s department of biomedical engineering have made strides in creating an environment for developers to test their new pediatric ventricular assist devices (VADs). They have created a mock circulatory system to simulate a child’s circulatory system and thus provide a better testing environment for these medical devices.

This new simulation is both economical to manufacture and simple to use, and it should allow for more rapid testing of pediatric VADs.

Source: Journal of Engineering in Medicine

SETI project to come back online after donation

The SETI Institute will reactivate its Mount Shasta radio telescope facility by September after receiving $210,000 in donations this summer. The Mount Shasta array consists of 42 satellite dishes that search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. The site has been inactive since April of this year, when the institute ran out of funding for operations. Among the high-profile summer donors are Jodie Foster, who starred in the movie Contact, which featured the SETI project; science-fiction author Larry Niven; and Bill Anders, a former Apollo 8 astronaut.

The Allen Array monitors the electromagnetic spectrum to identify possible non-natural signals, which could indicate transmissions from extraterrestrial intelligence. Its high-altitude location allows it to make observations with significantly less interference than telescopes at sea level.

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Pronoun reversal in autistic children explained

When autism was first characterized in 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner noted in his seminal paper the misuse of the pronouns “I” and “you” in autistic children. The use of these personal pronouns by normal listeners requires rapid re-mapping of their relationship to the subject; autistic listeners often reverse these pronouns, referring to themselves as “you.”

Research at Carnegie Mellon has shown where this neural dysfunction may lie for high-functioning autistic adults. The autistic subjects struggled to answer questions that contained the pronoun “you.” This behavior was accompanied by a significantly diminished connectivity between a frontal region of the brain (the right anterior insula) and a posterior region of the brain (the precuneus).

Source: Brain