It's A Load Of Highly-Compressed Hot Air
When you think of energy storage, you probably first think of batteries. Cast your mind a little further, and you might know about pumped hydro storage, where water is pumped uphill to store energy and then released downhill through turbines to release it.
Batteries, though, are temperature sensitive, degrade quickly, and need a lot of maintenance - and something like pumped hydro needs a mountain to be conveniently close by. This is why compressed air storage is growing in popularity - especially in places where nothing else would work well.
This particular plant is being built in the Atacama region of Chile - in part because that bit of Chile has an incredibly large amount of sunlight, and is perfect for generating solar power - and solar power's one weakness is that it needs energy storage to keep providing output when it's dark. There are challenges involved in compressing air that much, though - a lot of them to do with how it heats and cools as pressure changes - but once those are sorted out, it's a promising technology.
It Turns Out Mud Volcanoes Are A Thing
When a giant fireball erupted into the sky off the coast of Azerbaijan this week, everyone initially assumed it was one of the many oil platforms in the area going up. Upon closer inspection, though, it turned out to be a mud volcano.
Now, these aren't quite as bad as your normal magma-spewing volcanoes - they're more gas-based, and tend to bubble up violently through water and mud, and occasionally catch on fire spectacularly. If you've seen Yellowstone National Park, the mud pots and fumaroles there are approaching what a mud volcano is, though whether Yellowstone is technically one is apparently under question.
Either way, it's nice that, for once, this wasn't an oilfield accident - we had one of those just last week. Though, given how many mud volcanoes are in and near Azerbaijan, this is definitely not the last eruption of its kind - though it might be the most spectacular one for a while.
The Problems With Geothermal Energy
Austin Vernon takes a look at the current state of geothermal energy - in the United States specifically - and breaks down some of the problems it's facing in terms of being a real contender, in this rather well-written analysis.
See, geothermal energy is promising - it always has been - but it's rather involved, and it turns out decades of advancement in solar and wind energy is kind of taking the wind out of its sails. Of course, stable baseload power is always a good thing when dealing with the rather intermittent nature of these other two energy sources, but even then, drilling down into the Earth's crust comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole heap of problems.
Not Stuck Ever After
Everyone's favourite ship-that-blocked-global-logistics is finally moving again, after its owners and insurers came to an agreement with Egypt's Suez Canal Authority for an undisclosed sum of money. It started moving a few days ago and is now out of the canal just off the coast of Port Said, before it, apparently, heads to Rotterdam.
I would love to know exactly how the argument of "the Suez Canal pilots you legally have to have on board were responsible" versus "the ship captain was responsible" went, but I guess we won't know for a while.
No word on what's going to happen to the many containers on it that were delayed by months - I'm sure some are going to absolutely reek when they open them, while some will be perfectly fine. Fingers crossed nobody was shipping their personal posessions via sea cargo, and are still sitting in their new house waiting for all their furniture.
The One Hundred Year Plane
Look, planes last for a very long time. Commercial passenger aircraft often last past the 30 year mark, and with enough care and attention, you can push planes even further for tourist or military reasons.
Nothing is quite as astonishing, though, as the US Air Force proposing to keep flying the B-52 - initially developed as a high-altitude bomber in the 1950s - flying beyond its 100-year anniversary. Apparently the people who designed the thing overengineered the airframe so much that it's still pretty much fine, and even better, they can strap some new engines on it and it'll all hold up.
It's so old that the people who maintain these aircraft have to get a feel for them to tell what's wrong - there's no easy way to checklist the problems, unlike modern aircraft whose computers tell you everything. Of course, I wish there wasn't a need for a plane to carry around hypersonic missiles (which is its new role), but I can at least admire keeping the old thing flying.
The Woman Who Saw Our World From Space
Virginia Tower Norwood is an incredible person - being foundational in microwave transmitter design and being part of the team that helped Apollo succeed - but by far her greatest achievement was the design, development and launch of Landsat 1, containing a multispectral imager of her own design (they literally stuck her prototype on the satellite and flew it!).
People of the time were very sceptical of the value of imaging from space - they were used to the grainy analog cameras used for Apollo missions, among others. But Norwood was insistent that digital, line-scanning imagery was the way to go - and put her career on the line to get it into an orbiting satellite. Almost everyone was a sceptic until they saw the first images come back, and Norwood's dream became a visually stunning reality.
Of course, these days, digital imagery from satellites is a given, and her work set the stage for the multispectral satellites we now use for mapping our natural and physical world - capturing ocean currents, wildfires, deforestation, and more - but it all started with Landsat 1.
Ingenuity Is Actually Helping Now
Ingenuity - the companion helicopter to the Perseverance Mars rover - was initially intended just as a demonstration of flight on Mars, and nothing more. However, like so many well-engineered Mars missions before it, it's doing very well and has found a new role.
After the initial test flights were completed and the Ingenuity team showed without question that their plans for Martian flight worked astonishingly well, there was the question of what to do with the very alive helicopter that it seems at least some people presumed would have crashed by that point. It turns out, scouting for its parent rover is a really helpful thing.
The mini copter flew over a rocky field this week that would have taken the rover ages to slowly traverse, snapping images of various places of interest and saving the rover team heaps of time in planning what to do next - and all while performing its longest flight yet.
I have no idea what its theoretical service life could be, but this is definitely a strong argument to include aerial components of future missions - hopefully with the plan to fly over rough terrain baked in, rather than having to hurredly teach the helicopter about the concept of hills, as the Ingenuity team had to do for this!
We Actually Can Give It More Power
The solar arrays on the International Space Station are pretty old - the oldest set went up in 2000 - and so they're starting to near the end of their life. Fortunately, solar panels just slowly produce less power as they get older rather than just stopping completely, but it was starting to hamstring the ISS a little.
Even more fortunately, solar panel technology has come a long way in those 20 years - it's almost the cheapest power source available per kWh here on Earth - and so we're able to get more juice out of less space. A set of smaller, roll-up solar arrays were flown up on a recent cargo mission and are now being installed in the gaps between the older arrays - boosting the panels' output to their original design capacity.
Of course, small is relative here, as you can see from the people standing in front of them. Still, things seem to be going well, which is good news as these same panels will power the new Lunar Gateway space station NASA are planning around the moon. It might be a bit harder to get amazing amateur astrophotography shots of that station, though.
The Man Who Would Be King Of Xbox Gift Cards
It's a classic situation - you're using the internal, test copy of the Xbox Store to make sure everything is working, and you realise that the gift card feature gives you working gift card codes. If you're a responsible person, you report the mistake to the team involved and they fix it. If you're irresponsible? You use this knowledge to create so many gift card codes that you fluctuate global reseller markets.
Volodymyr Kvashuk, the person in question, did attempt to hide his tracks - by using other employees' accounts to create all the codes he'd later go on to sell - but didn't do it particularly well, and some investigation by internal Microsoft teams, external investigators, and the FBI soon found him sitting in some very hot water.
Bitcoin, was - of course - involved, and used as the way to convert these illegitimately-gained store codes into cash. He's now serving time after claiming that he couldn't have stolen anything since "store codes were not real money" - a difficult defence when you used the profit from selling them to buy a $1.7 million house.
Keeping Baaaaaart Safe
California is very dry this year (as in many recent years) due to climate change, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system - BART - have quite a lot of long brush and grass near their railway tracks, which are at no small risk of wildfire (and last I checked, uncontrolled wildfire is bad for everyone, including trains).
In addition, some of these areas are hilly and steep, are close to houses so noise pollution is a concern, and could easily be set alight by sparks from mechanical equipment, so BART have turned to one of nature's great eaters - goats.
Herds of these adorable yet hungry animals are roaming BART's land, eating over an acre a day of dry brush and grasses, powered only by a load of water and some goat herders pointing them in the right direction. The goats get fed, the trains have less risk of being in fire, and everyone is happy.