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ravelling at a velocity approximately eight times faster than a speeding bullet, an asteroid zipped past the Earth on 15 February at 17,400 miles per hour. The asteroid, 2012 DA14, flew within 17,200 miles of the Earth. That is 500 miles closer than TV, weather and communication satellites, or 14 times closer than the moon. According to Donald Yeomans, an astronomer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this is the closest an asteroid of this size (nearly as large as an Olympic swimming pool) has come to the Earth in recorded history. But while eyes were focussed on 2012 DA14, a meteor sneaked past the spacebound gaze of scientists and struck Chelyabinsk, Russia, just hours before 2012 DA14 was due to whizz by the Earth. The meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere as a 17-metre wide fireball, releasing a sonic blast equivalent to force of detonating 20 nuclear bombs. The blast injured more than 1,200 people as it shattered windows – totalling one million square feet of glass – and damaged approximately 3,000 buildings. There is no connection between the asteroid 2012 DA14 and the meteor, according to European Space Agency (ESA) experts, as the rocks were travelling in opposite directions past the Earth. It was just a cosmic coincidence. However, in light of the number of people injured by the meteor and the fact that its approach went unnoticed, Nicolas Bobrinsky, the head of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness for Europe, has called for Europe to strengthen its watch for dangerous space rocks. “Around 99% of these big asteroids have already been spotted,” Bobrinsky said, in an article published by Agence France-Presse on 21 February. “The real danger now comes from small asteroids, which are far more numerous.”
ex, the world’s most complete bionic man, was recently unveiled as part of the ‘Who Am I?’ gallery at the Science Museum.
The London-based Shadow Robotics Company built Rex to have approximately two-thirds of a replicated human body. Even the company’s managing director, Rich Walker, was surprised at the high percentage of replicated body parts. Eighteen institutions – including universities and companies – lent artificial limbs and organs such as prosthetic hips, knees, feet and hands alongside an artificial retina, cochlea and heart. Unfortunately, Rex is unable to eat or drink as he lacks a stomach and intestines, and no attempt was made to simulate a human brain. But he can have a simple conversation thanks to ‘chatbot’ artificial intelligence and a speech generator. His head was modelled on Dr Bertolt Meyer, a psychologist from Zurich University, who was invited to create a bionic version of himself. His skull was reproduced using a high-definition CT scan and 3D printing.
Dr Meyer, who has a prosthetic arm, is concerned that new technologies are becoming so good that they may lead to elective prosthetics – where members of the public choose to swap healthy body parts for stronger and better artificial replacements. Dr Meyer feels this could result in commercial forces taking priority over medical need. The Rex project cost $1 million (£665,000) and was a response from television company Darlow Smithson Productions to the question: “How close is bionic technology catching up with – and even exceeding – the capabilities of the human body?” The project’s success is impressive but scientists have stressed there is a long way to go before complete replication can be realised. For example, we are still a long way from prostheses that relay sensory information the way a human body does. Rex will be on display at the Science Museum until 11 March, before jetting off to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
Dave King, Channel 4