Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
It's not often that smell gets a look-in when it comes to gadgets and technology. That all changes this week with the "scent camera" you see above. But, while you're thinking about preserving the aroma of those killer cookies you baked, others are wondering what's going on in the deep, dark sky above. This is alt-week.
How about a new area of astrophysics to get things started? Well, that could potentially be a reality thanks to something discovered by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia. A recently published paper details four unusual deep-space radio "flashes" picked up by the telescope, each lasting barely a millisecond. The team of scientists involved has ruled out gamma rays, merging stars and black holes as potential sources, and the signature of the frequency strongly suggests that the flashes came from as far as 11 billion light-years away. It's not believed that the bursts came from the same location, but instead, might actually be a fairly common occurrence in the sky -- just only rarely received by current listening posts. This is where a new field of astrophysics could fork out, in search of more information about the potentially new class of event. For now though it's left to our imaginations.
All those pictures of food on instagram could eventually become a whole lot more tempting (or repulsive, depending) thanks to an aroma "camera" called The Madeleine. Creator Amy Radcliffe developed a scent-snatching device using equipment more commonly used in the creation (rather than capture) of fragrance. Radcliffe says that The Madeleine functions in a similar way to a photo sensor, but instead of receiving and recording light information, The Madeleine grabs molecular information about the odor. The hardware, however, would look more comfortable in a science lab than a camera bag -- consisting of a glass dome some pipes and an angular unit housing a resin trap. It's this last piece that receives the molecules from whatever is in the glass bell. The idea being that you can then send the trap off to a lab to be "developed" into a replica of the smell. So, while it won't be in the camera of your phone any time soon "scent-ography" could become a burgeoning area of its own.
While there are many believers, for the mainstream scientific community there's yet to be any conclusive proof of alien life in our galaxy. The good news is, that that doesn't mean they're not trying their hardest to find some. The Search for Extra Terrestrial Inteligence -- better known as SETI -- has largely operated out of the US, but that's about to change. Teams from 11 UK academic institutions are collaborating to join the hunt for signs of alien life. Collectively known as the UK SETI Research Network (UKSRN), the group is currently seeking funding, and plans to explore new ways of searching for signs of life in outer space. It's not asking for much, either, with co-ordinator Alan Penny stating that it just needs half a percent of the amount that currently gets spent on astronomy to be comparable with the American wing of the operation. British agencies have previously worked with SETI projects, but the hope is that the new dedicated effort could make an "amazing difference" once up and running. Sounds like something we could definitely get behind.
Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.
[Image credits: Swinburne Astronomy Productions, Amy Radcliffe, Mike Peel]