Posts Tagged ‘news’


Robots Hit the Beach for Lunar Exploration Training

March 27, 2012

The seaside Nakatajima Sand Dunes in Central Japan hosted several would-be lunar explorer robots and their support teams on March 13 for a public demonstration and training run in a simulated lunar environment.

Aichi University of Technology's LUBOT at Nakatajima

Seven teams from universities around Japan arrived here with their robots after being invited by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) to come and show off their work. As a follow-up to their Kaguya probe, which took HD images of much of the moon’s surface from 2007 to 2009, JAXA has proposed sending a rover by 2025 to continue Kaguya’s work by exploring the moon’s surface directly, and has been collaborating with universities in creating new rover designs.

The Nakatajima Dunes, just a short bus ride from Hamamatsu City in Shizuoka Prefecture, were selected for their wide expanses of soft, fine sand dotted with large rocks and the treacherously steep inclines that come close to the kinds of terrain the rovers will encounter if they make it to the moon. The high winds and sea spray they experienced on the beach, however, are unlikely to be a factor.

Notable designs include the Track-Walker 2 from  Tohoku University in Sendai, which used multiple caterpillar treads to navigate the uneven terrain by lifting itself over obstacles too big to crawl over.

Tohoku University's Track-Walker 2

Aichi University of Technology brought LUBOT, an eight-wheeled design that features a movable arm for mounting video cameras and a working scoop for gathering samples.  The video below was taken by the students themselves during a test run at Nakatajima last July.

Another design that garnered a fair amount of interest was the Tri-Star IV 3-wheeled rover from Tokyo Institute of Technology. The wheels use a combination of flexible supports and metal claws to navigate uneven and unstable terrain, and appears capable of righting itself if it turns over. According to Professor Shigeo Hirose, it can navigate slopes as steep as 30 degrees, and has mobility at least equal to what the US and Russia have built so far.



Elements 114 and 116 Confirmed

June 8, 2011

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry released an announcement yesterday confirming the existence of elements 114 and 116. Researchers collaborating  from Lawrence-Livermore in California and Dubna in Russia had announced their discoveries in 2004 and 2006, but only now has the IUPAC determined that their results meet the criteria to be considered new elements.

While still in their unconfirmed status, the elements were referred to as Ununquaduim (1-1-4-ium)  and Ununhexium (1-1-6-ium), but now the researchers will be applying for official names to be given. Over the last few decades the trend has been to name new elements after pioneers in nuclear physics (Meitnerium, Mendelevium, Bohrium) or important research centers (Dubnium, Lawrencium, Darmstadtium). #112 was dubbed Copernicium, so perhaps we’ll see a Gallileum or Newtonium.

This confirmation means there will be gaps in the periodic table at 113 and 115, as there have not yet been enough observations of Ununtrium and Ununpentium to meet the IUPAC’s criteria.

Interestingly, 114 (or more specifically, isotope Uuq-298) is theorized to be a potential ‘island of stability’, with a half-life significantly longer than elements and isotopes surrounding it. So far, the most stable example observed has had a half-life of 2.6 seconds, although an possible isomer (an isotope of the same weight and structure, but with nucleons in a higher-energy state) may have a half-life of just over a minute. In comparison, the most stable observed example of 116 is Uuh-293, with a half-life of just 60 milliseconds.


Update (2012 Oct 9): Elements 114 and 116 have been given the names Flerovium (after Russian scientist Georgy Flyorov) and Livermorium (after the Lawrnce Livermore National Laboratory in California), respectively. The names were officially decided on earlier this year.