Welcome to the fast track

or, This week’s briefs have a one-track mind

Published April 1, 2024

Have you been keeping track of the news lately? How about the news… about tracks? We have, because we’re weird like that, so here, have some.

One giant choo-choo for mankind

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency–which just now taught us that DARPA stands for something–is bringing the prospect of lunar colonization one step closer, by commissioning a design for train tracks on the moon. The agency awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to design the tracks, as part of its 10-year lunar feasibility study.

Railroads are the easiest way, DARPA reckons, to schlep people and things across a lunar surface that is the size of Africa. Train travel could also reduce human contact with corrosive lunar dust, which would otherwise limit the service life of sooty spacesuits and equipment, and keep moon buggies from tearing everything up. (With no rain, and thus no erosion, the moon is famously defenseless against even the smallest impact.) 

Northrop Grumman is tasked with sorting out all details and logistics for a lunar rail network, including assessment of risks, development of prototypes, and sussing out inspection, repair, and maintenance. Both DARPA and Northrop have been mum on the value of the deal, which follows the government’s own lunar maglev plan from a few years back. Still, MOOOON!

They probably say “Dude WTF???”

Were prehistoric humans as fascinated by dinosaur tracks as we are? Probably so, according to a recent discovery

Brazilian scientists working in the aptly-named Valley of the Dinosaurs found sets of dinosaur tracks with petroglyphs beside them–i.e., tracks laid down in the Cretaceous epoch, at least 66 million years ago, and glyphs added no more than 9,400 years ago. Many of the inscriptions are within a couple inches of the dino-prints, and the study concludes that the inscribers did that on purpose.

Both the prints and the glyphs are varied: Theropods, sauropods, and two-legged ornithopods are represented, and the carvings include circles, geometric lines, and abstract motifs. Some even appear to be attempts at copying the tracks. The amazing display from the past (and even-paster) seem to indicate the prehistoric people appreciated the tracks, but of course it’s nigh-impossible that they knew where they came from.

… though we’re sure some people will interpret it differently. 

A kinder, gentler needle drop

Get ready for a rollercoaster of emotions: It turns out the material used to make vinyl records–polyvinyl chloride, the same stuff in everything from car decals to modern plumbing–is the most environmentally damaging of all plastics. But good news: a U.K. startup has found a sustainable plant-based alternative that apparently doesn’t suck.

Evolution Music whipped up the new material called EvoVinyl, which is primarily made from sugarcane. It can be pressed with existing equipment, the company says, but at lower temperatures, so it will even save manufacturing costs. “And it takes 50% less time to press a record,” the CEO told New Atlas, “so big energy savings are possible.”

There are benefits for the end user too, beyond the warm fuzzy feeling: EvoVinyl is less prone to static, and the sound quality is “indistinguishable from traditional vinyl,” according to Peter Thomas of speaker-maker PMC. In fact, he’s so impressed that PMC has invested in the brand, and hopes to apply the technology to other plastic speaker parts.

As for us, we can’t wait for the first EvoVinyl pressing of Dark Side of the MOOOOON!

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