Even as days grow shorter, scientists are focused on developing new breakthroughs in solar technology. This week, NASA scientist John Mankins explained how the world's first orbital photovoltaic plant could beam solar energy from outer space to the Earth. And a group of Greek students released plans for a solar-powered, spinach-growing greenhouse that could sustain the first Mars settlers. In other space-age news, NASA is proposing to use automated 3D printers that resemble giant robot spiders to build a huge spacecraft. Back on Earth, the world's largest solar-powered boat, the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, arrived in London after completing an environmental study along the Gulf Stream. But Londoners are concerned with a different solar problem, after it was determined that reflections off of Rafael Viñoly's distinctively curved "Walkie Talkie" building are creating light beams so strong that they're melting parked cars.
This week we learned that radiation levels at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are 18 times higher than previously thought. In response to the ongoing crisis, the Japanese government pledged about $470 million to build a wall of ice to block further radioactive contamination at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. On the clean energy front, South Australia is projected to source half of its energy from renewables within the decade. A Spanish solar firm is installing South Africa's first concentrating solar power plants in the Northern Cape, which will contribute about 150 MW of solar to the region. And in the US, Virginia auctioned off a lease to build a massive offshore wind farm that would generate about 2 GW of clean energy.
For years, technology experts have been telling us that smartwatches will be the next big thing. This week, Samsung debuted the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which Co-CEO J.K. Shin described as the "perfect companion" to the new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. In other tech news, Oregon-based startup NliteN unveiled a new dimmable LED bulb that is just 2mm thick and costs only $9.99. Inhabitat also profiled the Lifesaver, a new syringe that changes color to warn patients if it has been used before. Scientists at MIT have created a new fog-harvesting material that can catch five times as much water as current technologies. In her latest post about biomimicry, evolutionary biologist Tamsin Woolley-Barker explains how scientists are designing fans and filters that are inspired by the blue whale. And in a long-awaited blow to the Lego glass ceiling, Lego added a female scientist to its Minifigures Series 11 collection. It's about time.