Snooze (this week in Science News): February 26th

    Some big discoveries certainly took place in the science community this week. A series of exoplanets was discovered just 40 light years away, a Russian startup invented a hoverbike, and Saudi Arabia (of all places) started investing more in renewable energy. Let’s take a look!

    The largest number of Earth-like planets surrounding a single star have been discovered.

    Photo by Stuart Rankin / Flickr

    We are not alone.

    This is the number one statement a majority of astronomers and astrophysicists hope to release one day. That day is not today, unfortunately. What is exciting though is that the potential for finding another inhabited planet has increased greatly with the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. This system, about 40 light years away, consists of seven Earth-like planets orbiting the red dwarf TRAPPIST-1. Though all the planets are rocky, with the potential for oceans on the surface as well, the ones scientists are most excited about are TRAPPIST-1e, f and g which all fall in the habitable zone. For those unaware, the habitable zone or Goldilocks zone is when planets gets an amount of star light similar to that of Earth, giving it potential to be of a temperature similar to Earth and allowing for life. Although more than 3000 Earth-like exoplanets have been discovered before the TRAPPIST-1 system, scientists believe that a system like this with so many exoplanets and three being in the habitable zone is a major step forward. As Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, puts it, “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not a matter of if, but when.”

    Russian startup releases trailer for first manned Hoverbike

    And I thought Rouge One was going to be the only Star Wars promo..

    Well this is no publicity stunt. Contrarily, the Russian startup company Hoversurf fully intends to release their hover-bike product to the public. However that may still be a few years away. The Scorpion-3, as Hoversurf have dubbed it, looks exactly like what one would expect the cross between a motorcycle and a piloted drone to look like, very unsafe. Hoversurf are marketing their product as safe to use thanks to their "state of the art flight controllers" which would regulate speed, altitude and other safety parameters; however, when one imagines flying through the air on a motorcycle with no seat belt and four uncovered propellers buzzing below the dangers seem clear. The prototype is certainly exciting and the test-flight trailer released online makes it look like a lot of fun, but don’t make any hover-bike race plans as of yet.

    So what will this new technology actually be used for?

    "[The] Scorpion platform is the next step in accessible amateur flying developed to inspire athletes, engineers, scientists and inventors around the world," Hoversurf officials say. While the immediate reaction by most is to ogle at the transportation possibilities the hover-bike could provide, Hoversurf in fact created the demo with extreme sports in mind. One can clearly see the similarities between motocross drivers and the flight suit worn by the Scorpion-3 pilot in the promo trailer. Yet a flying Uber may not be as far away as we think either with many other companies, including Aerofex out of California and a Dubai-based taxi service also investment much time and resources into this idea of manually controlled hovercrafts.

    Saudi Arabia jumps on the renewable bandwagon.

    Photo by Anek Suwannaphoom / Flickr

    You mean OPEC’s top oil producer?

    Yes indeed! Saudi Arabia, which in 2016 produced the second most oil behind Russia according to CNN, has changed course and now seeks to remain an energy powerhouse through renewables. John Sfakianakis, economic research director at the Gulf Research Centre claims that “Saudi Arabia wants to balance economic needs against environmental goals as it has considerable solar power potential and is eager to reduce its use of fossil fuels.” This all sounds fine and good but when a country produces 80,000 barrels of oil a day, such a dramatic shift leads to skepticism. However, the country’s leaders in energy have no illusions about what it would take and therefore have set future goals, such as producing 10 gigawatts of energy through solar and wind power by 2023, which would essentially eliminate the need for those 80,000 barrels.

    And who, may I ask, is going to pay for all this?

    See there is the catch. Although the country’s energy leaders have made this pledge to greatly reduce their oil production, renewable energy is not cheap. Therefore the country is seeking up to $50 billion of investment to help in achieving their lofty goals. Who will be making these investments? That is still unknown, but for one of the world’s top crude oil producers any step towards renewable energy is a step forward. Companies like Saudi Aramco, which currently pumps 1 out of 10 used every day, are already making huge strides forwards like creating solar plants on top of their parking garages which have already eliminated 30,000 of the barrels pumped a day and they plan to cut out another 19.000 with their on-going wind-turbine project.


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