Dec. 9, 2008 -- With a brutal economic slowdown, 2008 may feel as if it will never end. Now the world's timekeepers are making it even longer by adding a leap second to the last day of the year.
Along with the economy, the Earth itself is slowing down, requiring timekeepers to add an extra second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with Earth's slightly slowing rotation. So an extra second will be tacked on to Dec. 31 after 6:59:59 p.m. and before 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
That extra second will make 2008 -- already long with an extra day on Feb. 29 -- the longest year since 1992.
The decision to add an extra second was made by an international consortium of timekeepers, whose American arm announced it Monday. World commerce and digital technology depend on accurate to-the-second timekeeping, said Geoff Chester, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, responsible for one-third of the world's atomic clocks.
Most cellular phone providers and computer operating systems check with the world's atomic clocks and update their time to add the leap second automatically, he said.
The world started adding leap seconds in 1972, sometimes twice a year. This is first leap second since Dec. 31, 2005. This is the fourth year to have a leap day and a leap second.
At the Naval Observatory they have a party at 6:59:60 p.m.
"We watch the clock and make sure nothing breaks," Chester said. "It's an early New Year's celebration." A brief one.
The British National Space Centre (BNSC) has announced it will undertake a technical feasibility study of the MoonLITE mission. The study will report with a full mission schedule and costs late next year. Depending on the outcome, the Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment mission could launch by around 2014, the BNSC said.
The plan for the mission is to put a satellite in orbit around the Moon for use as a telecoms station, relaying data from a network of geophysical instruments on the Moon's surface back to Earth.
The instruments will gather data on the strength and frequency of moonquakes and the thickness of the crust and core. They will also be able to determine whether organic material or water is present in the Moon's polar regions.
In addition to relaying this scientific data back to Earth, the satellite system should also ensure a full four-bar mobile signal for lunar colonists living in a Moon base which NASA wants to build after 2020.
Minister of state for science and innovation, Lord Drayson, said the mission could resolve fundamental questions about the composition of the Moon.
The BNSC said no decision will be made to proceed with, build or launch MoonLITE until the study has reported its findings.
A tender process for the feasibility study contract will run until March 2009. The study itself is expected to take nine months and will be supported by NASA - which is assessing any potential contribution it could make to the science and technology of the mission.Fem-bot's my love machine
LOVE MACHINE: Man lives with female robot...A BOFFIN too busy to find real love has INVENTED his idea of the perfect woman – a female ROBOT.Inventor Le Trung, 33, created Aiko, said to be "in her 20s" with a stunning 32, 23, 33 figure, shiny hair and delicate features.She even remembers his favourite drink and does simple cleaning and household tasks. "Fem-bot" Aiko, who has cost £14,000 to build so far, is a whizz at maths and even does Le's accounts.Le, a scientific genius from Brampton in Ontario, Canada, said he never had time to find a real partner so he designed one using the latest technology.He said he did not build Aiko as a sexual partner, but said she could be tweaked to become one."Her software could be redesigned to simulate her having an orgasm and reacting to touch as if she is playing hard to get or being straight to the point," he said.The former software programmer has taken out credit cards and loans, sold his car and spent his life savings on perfecting the machine. "I want to make her look,feel and act as human as possible so she can be the perfect companion," said Le.The odd looking pair go out for drives together in the Canadian countryside, before sitting down at the dinner table, but Aiko never eats anything.Le said: "So far she can understand and speak 13,000 different sentences in English and Japanese, so she's already fairly intelligent."When I need to do my accounts, Aiko does all the maths. She is very patient and never complains." The fem-bot has a touch-sensitive face and body so she reacts if shown affection or hurt."Like a real female she will react to being touched in certain ways. If you grab or squeeze too hard she will try to slap you. She has all senses except for smell," he said.
"Women are generally impressed and try to talk to her. But the men always want to touch her, and if they do it in the wrong way they get a slap."
Dotsgloves, are thick due to heavier weight fibers than similar gloves, without sacrificing the lightness and flexibility expected of a casual glove.
Compatible with iPhone, iPod, iTouch, Nintendo DS, notebook trackpads, atms, kiosks, point of sale systems and other touch screen devices.
Scientists, including Harvard Medical School's Jack Szostak, expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life" that they have created the first cell of synthetic life — made from the basic chemicals in DNA.
Meanwhile at the J. Craig Venter Institute , a team of scientists has refined its method for building a synthetic genome. In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers demonstrate that they can assemble dozens of snippets of DNA into a complete Mycoplasma genitalium genome in just one step in yeast.
"Genome assembly in yeast, as we described it, is accomplished not by the addition of overlapping segments one at a time, but rather by co-transformation of 25 different pieces at once," lead author Daniel Gibson, a JCVI scientist, and his co-workers wrote. "Thus, large DNA molecules can be assembled much more rapidly from synthetic or naturally occurring sub-fragments than with any other system described previously."
The publication marks the newest milestone in the Venter team's quest to create a synthetic organism. In the 1990s, the researchers started tinkering with M. genitalium in their effort to create a minimal genome — a feat they accomplished in 1995. By 2003, they had assembled the roughly 5,400 base pair viral genome of a bacteriophage called phi X. And in 2007, the team demonstrated that it could transplant the genome of one microbe into another microbe.
At Harvard, Szostak predicts scientists will soon report evidence that the first step — creating a cell membrane using fatty acids.
"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe," Bedau said. "This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role."
And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.
Bedau figures there are three major hurdles to creating synthetic life:
• A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.
• A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.
• A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.
Szostak is optimistic about getting nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to form a working genetic system. His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.
"We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened," Szostak said.
Bedau said there are legitimate worries about creating life that could "run amok," but there are ways of addressing it, and it will be a very long time before that is a problem.
"When these things are created," Bedau added, "they're going to be so weak, it'll be a huge achievement if you can keep them alive for an hour in the lab," he said. "But them getting out and taking over, never in our imagination could this happen.
"We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways — in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."
Posted by Casey Kazan.
Related Galaxy Posts:
Whiz News provides news, views and interesting articles from various sources and all perspectives.