Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”


As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”


The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.

Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What will Elon Musk announce at the International Astronautical Congress?

Later today, Elon Musk will be giving a talk at the International Astronautical Congress entitled Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, discussing the challenges involved in getting to and colonising Mars.

It is expected that during the talk he will reveal the next stage of SpaceX’s involvement in this mission. We don’t yet know however, just what this involvement will stretch to, whether it will just be on the transport side or whether Musk and his company will be involved in colonisation itself.

Below are some of the possibilities and how likely we think they are as announcements.

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

Expanded information on Interplanetary Transport System

Yesterday, Musk revealed that SpaceX had completed the first successful firing test of their Raptor engine. He also unveiled a few specs for the engine, including a chamber pressure almost three times greater than the Merlin engine SpaceX uses in the Falcon 9 rocket, and announced a certain change brought on by the power of the engine.

Initially, the Raptor was planned to be the power behind the Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship Musk intends to carry people and supplies to the Red Planet. After tweeting that, “Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name…”, however, the craft has now been renamed to the Interplanetary Transport System.

A successful firing test is a good start but still a far cry from a completed craft and launch system, it is highly likely however that Musk will expand on the specs he previously revealed to announce the full craft and just how the Raptor is going to play into getting people to Mars.

Probability: High

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Elon Musk will lead colonisation of the planet

Musk has previously said he believes that humans must become a multiplanetary species if we are to continue long-term and it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that he would want to be leading the charge not just on getting us to Mars but actually settling there.

While at the moment any such announcement is likely to be mostly hypothetical – just being able to get there being a big first step – the work Elon Musk is doing with his other companies, Tesla and SolarCity, has showed he is not adverse to grand plans uniting his various endeavours.

If he is involved with colonisation, don’t be too shocked if Musk announces the Tesla settlement as a pilot test, powered by his solar efforts and running on clean electricity with all the parts and settlers carried there by SpaceX rockets. A longer term plan than the Interplanetary Transport System certainly, but one that is not beyond the reach of Musk’s ambition.

Probability: Medium

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Immediate plans to colonise beyond Mars

We are still several years from even reaching Mars with manned missions, let alone colonising the planet, but the renaming of the Mars Colonial Transporter seems to tease that SpaceX may have plans beyond the Red Planet.

Jupiter’s moon Europa has previously been discussed as a possibility for life elsewhere in the solar system, the idea of floating cities on Venus being another consideration. Any announcement of plans to immediately start working towards colonising beyond Mars would have to acknowledge it as a very long-term goa,l but given Musk’s belief in the multiplanetary species, the idea of limiting ourselves to just the two planets maybe isn’t quite enough.

Probability: Low

Elon Musk’s talk will begin at 6:30pm GMT today, and will be viewable in the embedded video below:

NASA finds evidence of water plumes shooting out from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence of 125 mile high water vapour plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

It is already well known that Europa’s ocean contains twice as much water as that of Earth, which makes it an area of extreme interest in the search for alien life. But until now water samples were impossible to obtain because the ocean is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness.

NASA’s findings increase the possibility that astronauts travelling to Europa may be able to sample the icy moon’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, Geoff Yoder. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

Europa’s plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa’s surface.

To observe these plumes the team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, took pictures of Europa in ultra-violet light as the moon transited across the disk of Jupiter.

The direct images showed what appeared to be the silhouette of plumes rising above the surface of Europa, and in 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed what is presumed to be erupting water vapour plumes on three separate occasions.

This isn’t the first time that water vapour has been potentially observed on Europa through Hubble’s Space Telescope.

In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, detected evidence of water vapour erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa which they measured as reaching more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) into space.

“When we calculate in a completely different way the amount of material that would be needed to create these absorption features, it’s pretty similar to what Roth and his team found,” said Sparks. “The estimates for the mass are similar; the estimates for the height of the plumes are similar. The latitude of two of the plume candidates we see corresponds to their earlier work.”

A composite image depicting the plumes, which are located around the 7 o'clock position. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Above: A visualisation of the plumes. Image courtesy of Goddard/Katrina Jackson

A composite image depicting the plumes, which are located around the 7 o’clock position. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Above: A visualisation of the plumes. Image courtesy of Goddard/Katrina Jackson

In order to confirm the presence of the water vapour plumes, scientists have proposed using the infrared vision of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.

NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.

“This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions — such as the James Webb Space Telescope — to follow up on this exciting discovery,” said director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Paul Hertz.

Palmer Luckey and the Perils of Social Media

At some point in the last few days, someone has had to have an interesting conversation with Mark Zuckerberg about Palmer Luckey. The 24 year old founder of Oculus has already built himself somewhat of a reputation; anyone who tries to argue with their customers on Reddit is unlikely to come off well,  but recent news coming from The Daily Beast and Motherboard has cast an uglier light on the tech entrepreneur.

According to the reports, Luckey is not only a pro-Trump supporter but also supports Gamergaters. Luckey admitted to donating $10,000 dollars to Nimble America, a group that essentially trolls on behalf of Donald Trump, but claims in a Facebook post it was because “I thought the organisation had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.”

Having favourited several tweets from Trump, as well as several mocking SJWs, Luckey’s social media profile is starting to look questionable.

Image and featured image courtesy of eVRydayVR

Image and featured image courtesy of eVRydayVR

Although he doesn’t tweet in support of GamerGate himself, and there is only so much we can read into passively favouriting others’ commentary, the image generated by the opinions he chooses to support isn’t one that we particularly like to see on a man who is one of the leaders of the VR movement.

Luckey is at the forefront of technological innovation and you would hope that he would be reasonably progressive in other areas, particularly given the money invested in him and the mass of attention currently resting on his company.

Virtual reality is not a guaranteed consumer success at this point and given that a fairly significant chunk of consumers interested in the Oculus are also young and progressive, coming out as a far-right supporter of several bigoted movements is unlikely to win much approval for you or your company.

Unsurprisingly, following the news, several VR developers have dropped their support for Oculus.

Image courtesy of Web Summit

Image courtesy of Web Summit

Luckey is now distancing himself from Nimble America, describing himself as a Libertarian who plans to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. There has been no comment on the GamerGate affiliation and both Facebook, and Oculus have simply pointed to Luckey’s personal statement when asked for comment.

Palmer Luckey and Oculus are most likely going to come out of this just fine.

However it sets a worrying precedent for a man who really needs to be seen in a positive light if people are going to follow him down the path of VR. And considering Mark Zuckerberg pretty much directly criticised Trump in his F8 keynote earlier this year, it would maybe serve Luckey well to remember who owns his company now, and present a stronger public front.

True sympathy of course lies with whoever had to deliver the – imagined – message below to Zuckerberg:

“Hey Mark, remember how you bashed Trump’s campaign and want to present a progressive front to the world? Remember how you spent $2bn on Oculus? Well, you might want to take a seat for this.”