Tail without a comet: the dusty remains of Comet ATLAS

A serendipitous flythrough of the tail of a disintegrated comet has offered scientists a unique opportunity to study these remarkable structures.

Credit: Royal Astronomical Society

Comet ATLAS fragmented just before its closest approach to the Sun last year, leaving its former tail trailing through space in the form of wispy clouds of dust and charged particles. The disintegration was observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in April 2020, but more recently the ESA spacecraft Solar Orbiter has flown close to the tail remnants in the course of its ongoing mission.

This lucky encounter has presented researchers with a unique opportunity to investigate the structure of an isolated cometary tail. Using combined measurements from all of Solar Orbiter’s in-situ instruments, the scientists have reconstructed the encounter with ATLAS’s tail. The resulting model indicates that the ambient interplanetary magnetic field carried by the solar wind ‘drapes’ around the comet, and surrounds a central tail region with a weaker magnetic field.

Source (Royal Astronomical Society, “Tail without a comet: the dusty remains of Comet ATLAS”, 19.07.2021)

Virtual influencers explained

Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters that can be human-like, with realistic features, personalities, and characteristics. They are also referred to as digital avatars, CG-models, or digital characters. And, while they don’t exist in the physical world with us, they live very full lives on social media. Virtual influencers are created and managed by their creators. The creators are the ones who put in the work creating the backstories, growing followers on social media platforms, and overall marketing the virtual influencers. Their creators build these virtual influencers to meet their own needs and specifications, from what they look like to what they wear to how they behave. And, of course, they also manage the relationships and collaborations.

Some of their advantages are: reduced expenses that come from not having to pay a real person, not having to travel physically, etc.; they are never tired, they don’t have needs, and they are a mould that can fit any style or job. However, the teams behind them are expensive, because now instead of paying one person, brands that want to use them have to pay for the 3D model creator, the voice actor, the story writer, the fashion designer, the editor, to name a few. Additionally, however realistic they might seem at first glance, they lose their novelty quite fast.

In terms of how much money these virtual influencers make, it is said that the virtual human Lil Mickela, introduced by U.S. startup Brud, earned 14.2 billion KRW (~12.4 million USD) in 2019 alone. It has been reported that the price of one post on her Instagram, which has 3 million followers, is about 10 million KRW (~8,500 USD) per post. Imma, created by Japanese startup IWW, earned 700 million KRW (~610,682 USD) last year alone, including filming advertisements for furniture brand IKEA.  A virtual human RUI created by D.O.V. Studio was selected as a brand model for Patra X Living Zium’s campaign following the Korea Tourism Organization’s ‘Korea Safe Travel’ campaign model. Business Insider, a U.S. market research firm, predicts that companies’ marketing costs related to virtual humans will increase from about 8.84 trillion KRW in 2019 to about 16.6 trillion KRW in 2022.


Influence Marketing Hub, “What Are Virtual Influencers and How Do They Work”

AllKpop, “How much do virtual influencers make and why are they gaining so much popularity?”

Making computer servers worldwide more climate friendly

An elegant new algorithm can significantly reduce the resource consumption of the world’s computer servers. Computer servers are as taxing on the climate as global air traffic combined, thereby making the green transition in IT an urgent matter. The researchers expect major IT companies to deploy the algorithm immediately.

Credit: DNS stuff, source

Compared to existing load balancing methods, the new methodology can distribute efficiently clients among servers, ensuring that the load is balanced and the retrieval time is minimal. Mathematically, the improvement is equal to going from 100 steps to only 10. This method has already been applied by Vimeo, which stated that it has reduced the bandwidth usage by a factor of 8.

Source (University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Science. “Making computer servers worldwide more climate friendly.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2021.)

Original paper: Aamand, A., Knudsen, J.B.T. and Thorup, M., 2021, June. Load balancing with dynamic set of balls and bins. In Proceedings of the 53rd Annual ACM SIGACT Symposium on Theory of Computing (pp. 1262-1275).

Low-cost imaging technique shows how smartphone batteries could charge in minutes

Researchers have developed a simple lab-based technique that allows them to look inside lithium-ion batteries and follow lithium ions moving in real time as the batteries charge and discharge, something which has not been possible until now.

Credit: Merryweather Alice

The researchers from the University of Cambridge developed a low-cost technique based on optical microscopy called interferometric scattering microscopy to observe the insides of lithium-ion batteries. The method is able to observe how particles of lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) are charging or discharging by measuring the amount of scattered light. This will help to improve existing battery materials and accelerate their developments in the future.

“We found that there are different speed limits for lithium-ion batteries, depending on whether it’s charging or discharging,” said Dr Akshay Rao from the Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “When charging, the speed depends on how fast the lithium ions can pass through the particles of active material. When discharging, the speed depends on how fast the ions are inserted at the edges. If we can control these two mechanisms, it would enable lithium-ion batteries to charge much faster.”

Source (University of Cambridge. “Low-cost imaging technique shows how smartphone batteries could charge in minutes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2021.)

Merryweather, A.J., Schnedermann, C., Jacquet, Q., Grey, C.P. and Rao, A., 2021. Operando optical tracking of single-particle ion dynamics in batteries. Nature, 594(7864), pp.522-528.

New nanoparticle design for detecting tumors

Nano-sized particles have been engineered in a new way to improve detection of tumors within the body and in biopsy tissue, a research team reports. The advance could enable identifying early stage tumors with lower doses of radiation.

Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology have developed “core-shell nanoparticles” which may be used in the future for targeted diagnostics, instead of current methods that use optical or X-ray fluorescence contrast agents. The tests performed in the laboratory on mice have shown that the new particles are able to detect early-stage tumours of only a few millimetres in size. “Nanoparticles of different size, originating from the same material, don’t appear to be distributed in the blood in the same concentrations,” Muhammet Toprak, Professor of Materials Chemistry at KTH, says. “That’s because when they come into contact with your body, they’re quickly wrapped in various biological molecules — which gives them a new identity.”

Source (KTH, Royal Institute of Technology. “New nanoparticle design paves way for improved detection of tumors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2021.)

Original paper: Saladino, G.M., Vogt, C., Li, Y., Shaker, K., Brodin, B., Svenda, M., Hertz, H.M. and Toprak, M.S., 2021. Optical and X-ray Fluorescent Nanoparticles for Dual Mode Bioimaging. ACS nano15(3), pp.5077-5085.