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Alt-week 4.27.13: stargazing, antimatter and a robot turtle


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

As a youngster, you may have been told -- and quite rightly so -- not to stare directly at the sun. This creates a dillema. It's the center of our solar system, but how are we to ever gaze upon it with our own eyes for more than a few fleeting seconds? Don't worry, NASA has that comprehensively covered. This is alt-week.

Have you got three years to spare? We didn't think so, but thanks to NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO), and its constant coverage of the sun, you don't need that long to see our solar system's main attraction on its rise towards solar maximum. The event occurs once every 11 years, and the video above shows the period from spring 2010 onwards. The SDO grabs an image every 12 seconds at 10 different wavelengths, but the video shows just two shots per day at a wavelength of 171 Angstroms. This extreme ultraviolet range is perfect for observing the sun's 25-day rotation, and shows the parts of the sun at a mind (and everything else) melting 600,000 Kelvin. If you watched it through and thought there wasn't much going on, think again. NASA provides a list of interesting cosmic activity captured in the film, with handy time-stamps to see if you can spot them. How many did you see on a second watch?

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Lab coats on for this one. The theory goes that, once upon a time, matter and antimatter existed in equal measure. As any self respecting sci-fi fan knows, the latter is essential for our weapons of the future (or not). What happened to it all is far from fully understood. Enter B0s, the fourth member of an exclusive group of sub-atomic particles that demonstrate a matter-antimatter asymmetry in their decay -- something scientists can observe to learn more how the two interact. A paper, submitted by a collaboration at CERN known as LHCb, reveals the first observations of B0s, and hopes to provide an insight into where all the antimatter went (or at least why it did so). They key player is something called the CP-violation -- a preference for matter over antimatter -- which has been observed in B0s during experiments. The importance of this observation is given a significance of more than 5 sigma, and were only possible thanks to the resources available at the LHC. This preference for matter seen in B0s doesn't solve the riddle, and can be accounted for in the Standard Model, but the team hope the new data will help provide a new insight on the, ahem, matter.

We've seen some pretty creepy robots in our time. Most of them coming from Boston Dynamics, it has to be said. The one featured in the video above, on the other hand, is much less threatening. Almost endearing. Dubbed "Flipperbot," and inspired by sea turtles, the robot is being developed to better understand how to mimic the movements used in nature to cross surfaces such as sand or water. Developed at the Complex Rheology and Biomechanics, or, ahem, CRAB, lab at Georgia Institute of Tech, it uses two 40cm-long front flippers to haul itself over unsteady terrain. The research could lead to more robots adapted to a variety of different landscapes, as well as provide an insight into evolutionary adaptations in animals. One finding already in the bag is that a free moving wrist at the end of a flipper improves mobility over ground compared to a fixed one. How long before we see these replacing the real McCoy at Sea World? A little while yet we imagine.

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.

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