06 Feb 2014
If you were watching Iranian state TV in early December 2011, you would have seen an unusual flying object paraded in front of viewers. Windowless, squat, with a pointed nose, its two wings made it the shape of a manta ray. The trophy on show was an RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone, a key weapon in the intelligence gathering arsenal of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Standing in a hangar on a military airfield, the drone was seemingly undamaged. Indeed, Iranian officials insisted that it had not been shot down; rather, they claimed an unusual coup: to have hacked the drone while it was flying near Iran’s border over Afghanistan and forced it to land.
Outside Iran, many snorted in disbelief at hearing such claims. Todd Humphreys, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas in Austin, US, was one of the sceptics. Soon, though, he would prove himself wrong. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
06 Feb 2014
LONDON — Exotic particles never before detected and possibly teensy extra dimensions may be awaiting discovery, says a physicist, adding that those searching for such newbies should keep an open mind and consider all possibilities.
Such particles are thought to fill gaps in, and extend, the reigning theory of particle physics, the Standard Model, said David Charlton of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, who is also a spokesperson of the ATLAS experiment at the world's biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and one of the experiments that pinpointed the Higgs boson particle thought to explain why other particles have mass.
Charlton addressed an audience of researchers last month at a talk titled "Before, behind and beyond the discovery of the Higgs Boson" here at the Royal Society. ---> Keep reading
31 Jan 2014
31 Jan 2014
IF YOU were to draw up a list of the most pressing issues in science, it's unlikely that astronomy's carbon footprint would be on it. If it were, it would probably end up somewhere between effective male birth control and how to fold headphones to stop their wires getting tangled in your pocket.
Ueli Weilenmann, deputy director of La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, would disagree with that assessment. Recently, while grappling with the costs of running the place, he was shocked to discover the scale of the observatory's carbon emissions (see diagram). A bit of further digging revealed that the problem is not limited to Paranal: many other observatories exude more greenhouse gas than their size betrays. ---> Keep reading (subscription only)
Earthlings may be extreme latecomers to a universe full of life, with alien microbes possibly teeming on exoplanets beginning just 15 million years after the Big Bang, new research suggests.
Traditionally, astrobiologists keen on solving the mystery of the origin of life in the universe look for planets in habitable zones around stars. Also known as Goldilocks zones, these regions are considered to be just the right distance away from stars for liquid water, a pre-requisite for life as we know it, to exist.
But even exoplanets that orbit far beyond the habitable zone may have been able to support life in the distant past, warmed by the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created the universe 13.8 billion years ago, says Harvard astrophysicist Abraham Loeb. ---> Keep reading
28 Jan 2014
27 Jan 2014
Rechargeable, energy-dense bio-batteries running on sugar might be powering our electronic gadgets in as little as three years, according to a US team of scientists. The battery, created by the group of Y H Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, can convert all the potential chemical energy stored in a sugar into electricity.
The prototype is similar in size to a typical AA battery and has an energy storage density of 596 amp hours per kilogram – roughly one order of magnitude greater than a smartphone’s lithium-ion battery. This means that the battery could last at least twice as long as conventional lithium-ion batteries on a weight-for-weight basis.
Sugar is an excellent source of energy. Most living cells generate their energy from glucose by passing it down an enzymatic chain that converts it into different sugars. This enzymatic cascade provides the necessary energy to create an electrochemical gradient. This, in turn, can be used to power an enzyme that synthesises adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the universal biological energy currency. ---> Keep reading
Data journalism offers a new way to visualise and
discuss development challenges, but is being hampered in the developing world by a lack of open data and stricter
laws, says an expert.
Despite this form of journalism being in its infancy in developing nations, there is a lot of innovation in this field in some newsrooms. Argentina’s newspaper La Nacion, for example, won one of the awards at last year’s Data Journalism Awards (DJA) for its investigation into political corruption.
Bertrand Pecquerie, the chief executive of the Global Editors Network that organises these international awards, says data investigation and visualisation offer a way to change how people view
many issues, such as global warming, slums and poverty. “Changing our perception [regarding] these problems is the first
step to solving them,” he says.
Data journalism is now moving into the mainstream thanks to open data and access to more public and private databases, says Pecquerie. “Today, the data journalists are recognised as being at the forefront of newsroom innovation,” he tells SciDev.Net. ---> Keep reading
23 Jan 2014
23 Jan 2014
LONDON — Squarks, selectrons and neutralinos may be lurking in the universe, say physicists who suggest supersymmetry — the idea that every known particle has a yet-to-be-discovered sister particle — is not dead, despite the lack of evidence found in its favor.
The world's most powerful atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has yet to find evidence of the existence of such sparticles (supersymmetric particles), though perhaps physicists are not interpreting the in the right way, said particle theorist Ben Allanach of Cambridge University.
Speaking here at the Royal Society conference "Before, behind and beyond the discovery of the Higgs Boson" on Tuesday (Jan. 21), Allanach proposed that the LHC might detect the elusive supersymmetric particles once it is up and running again next year with much higher energies.
The underground accelerator at the CERN laboratory, located near Geneva, is currently switched off until early 2015 for a technical upgrade, which will allow it to smash protons together at the machine's near-maximum energy of 14 teraelectronvolts (TeV). ---> Keep reading
Putting the squeeze on light may be the key to teleporting energy across vast distances. Although the amount of energy that could theoretically be transmitted is tiny for now, it could be enough to power quantum computers that don't overheat.
For years physicists have been smashing distance records for quantum teleportation, which exploits quantum entanglement to send encrypted information. Entangled particles remain linked no matter how far apart they are, and a change to one particle always affects its partner in a particular way. In experiments, for example, a pair of entangled particles is separated and each partner is sent to a different location. When someone measures the particle at point A, its quantum state is decided and that event immediately causes a corresponding change in the particle at point B.
No physical matter is transmitted, and nothing is travelling faster than light. But the person at point B can recreate the photon at point A using only information about the observed changes – effectively teleporting the photon.
Physicists have done this with light and with matter, such as entangled ions. But Masahiro Hotta of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, wondered if it would be possible to also teleport quantum energy. ---> Keep reading
22 Jan 2014
22 Jan 2014
LONDON — Music blasts can't quite lift you off your feet just yet, but making droplets levitate with sound may be the first step in that direction. A team of researchers demonstrated experimentally how to lift and spin liquid droplets, controlling them with high-frequency sound waves.
The scientists developed a device that makes liquid droplets "dance," hovering in midair, without exploding. The achievement could lead to potential biological and pharmaceutical applications, such as studying chemical reactions in extreme environments without disturbing them via contact, moving hazardous materials, and analyzing and testing new materials without the risk of contamination. It could also be used in microgravity experiments on Earth.
Mathematics is a universal language. Even so, a Kazakh mathematician's claim to have solved a problem worth a million dollars is proving hard to evaluate – in part because it is not written in English.
Mukhtarbay Otelbayev of the Eurasian National University in Astana, Kazakhstan, says he has proved the Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness problem, which concerns equations that are used to model fluids – from airflow over a plane's wing to the crashing of a tsunami. The equations work, but there is no proof that solutions exist for all possible situations, and won't sometimes "blow up", producing unrealistic answers.
In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, now in Providence, Rhode Island, named this one of seven Millennium Prize problems offering $1 million to anyone who could devise a proof.
Otelbayev claims to have done just that in a paper published in the Mathematical Journal, also based in Kazakhstan. "I worked on the problem on and off, for 30 years," he told New Scientist... ---> Keep reading
22 Jan 2014
22 Jan 2014
Dark matter — the mysterious stuff that is thought to make up most of the matter in the known universe — may reveal itself during the next decade, one prominent scientist predicts.
When the moment comes, it will result in "a pivotal paradigm shift in physics," Gianfranco Bertone, a physicist with the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said in a talk on dark matter research at a Royal Society Frontiers of Astronomy conference in London in November.
The elusive substance may show itself as researchers set out to test "the existence of some of the most promising dark matter candidates, with a wide array of experiments, including the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and a new generation of astroparticle experiments underground and in space," Bertone said.
The universe contains much more matter than scientists can currently detect. Models suggest that this unseen matter makes up about 85 per cent of the universe, but nobody is sure what this missing matter is made of. Telescopes can't observe it, because it gives off absolutely no light. ---> Keep reading
In Lewis Carroll's famous children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, which disappears and leaves only its grin behind. Now, physicists have created a quantum version of the feline by separating an object—a neutron—from its physical property—its magnetism. The experiment is the latest example of how quantum mechanics becomes even weirder using a technique called weak measurement and could provide researchers with an odd new experimental tool for performing precision measurements.
In quantum physics, tiny particles can be in opposite conditions or states at the same time, a property known as superposition. For instance, an electron can literally spin in opposite directions simultaneously. Try to measure the spin, however, and that state will "collapse" so that the electron is found spinning one way or the other. That's because quantum theory generally forbids you to measure a particle's state without altering it—at least ordinarily. ---> Keep reading
21 Jan 2014
17 Jan 2014
At first, there was nothing — complete and utter emptiness. Zero energy and zero matter.
And then, out of this nothingness, the universe was born. Tiny, but extremely dense and packed with energy. And then, within a miniscule fraction of a second, it rapidly grew in size — inflated — by at least a factor of 10raised to the 25th power.
This theory, known as inflation, is currently the dominant explanation for what happened after the Big Bang and for how the universe came to be the way it is today. But although many scientists now believe that inflation did indeed take place, they still don't know how or why it started, or how it stopped. And so far, there hasn't been any solid experimental evidence for this accelerated expansion.
Scientists hope that in just a few months they might start to unravel the riddle, when they examine the next set of data from the Planck satellite. ---> Keep reading
Chemical reactions run much faster and more efficiently when they take place in tiny droplets rather than in freestanding water – such as a puddle or a lake, say researchers. The advance could help unravel how life originated on our planet, unlock secrets of prebiotic atmospheric chemistry and help synthesise new molecules much more efficiently.
One theory on the genesis of life is that it began in evaporating aerosol droplets. As these droplets evaporated the space for the small, simple molecules that they held to move around freely shrank. This, in turn, increased the concentrations of these reactants, creating just the right conditions to trigger efficient prebiotic synthetic chemistry. As these small molecules reacted with each other, they made bigger and bigger molecules and, eventually, life began. But exactly how this happened remains a mystery.
17 Jan 2014
09 Jan 2014
Physicists in Germany say they have taken an important step towards the creation of ultrafast computers that use light instead of electrical signals to process information. The team has created the first compact electronic device that can measure the absolute phase of extremely short light pulses. While the device is first expected to find use in laser labs, it could someday play an important role in systems that use ultrashort light pulses to process information.
The work was done by Ferenc Krausz and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching. In 2001 a team led by Krausz and colleagues generated and measured the first isolated light pulse lasting only attoseconds – just a billionth of a billionth of a second. Such pulses have since been used to study the motion of electrons inside atoms and they form the basis of the new and burgeoning field of "attosecond physics".
While the technology used to create and characterize these pulses has improved over the past decade, it still involves the use of large and expensive pieces of equipment. ---> Keep reading
THIS isn't what you would expect a "science city" to look like. They hunt for mysterious cosmic oddities like wormholes and white holes here, but as I step out of the car I see grey concrete-slab buildings that take me back to the drab days of my Soviet childhood.
The tiny science city of Pushchino, on the outskirts of Moscow, was founded in 1956 to house the Soviet Union's first radio astronomy research facility. Back then, Soviet space science was riding high, with Sputnik about to start circling Earth and Yuri Gagarin's space flight still a top-secret mission.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet government lined up Pushchino for one more scientific feat: to be the heart of the biggest radio telescope ever built. Project RadioAstron would sync up the signals from many telescopes to produce one highly detailed picture. A radio dish in orbit around Earth, dubbed Spektr-R, was supposed to be launched and linked up with radio antennas around the world, creating an uber-telescope whose "dish" had an effective span 30 times Earth's diameter. ---> Keep reading
08 Jan 2014
23 Dec 2013
DARK-MATTER hunters may need to check their calendars. The sun's gravity could change the time when dark matter signals are detected on Earth, which could help sharpen the search for the elusive substance.
Invisible dark matter is thought to make up most of the matter in the universe. Physicists hope to detect it in the form of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) when they collide with ordinary matter in underground detectors. Some have argued that the rate of such interactions should vary with the seasons, as Earth's orbit brings it ploughing through the cloud of dark matter suffusing the galaxy. When the planet heads into this "WIMP wind", around 1 June, we should see more dark matter strikes... ---> Keep reading
John Farese’s plane engine quit without a sputter, and he began to plummet.
Farese, a US lawyer with 42 years experience flying his 1978 Cessna 182 plane, had failed to register that there was a problem with the fuel tanks. He was too slow in a banked turn, so the plane rolled left in a spiral stall. At 400ft above the ground, he was going down – fast.
Fortunately, his Cessna was equipped with a simple but clever technology. As the ground loomed, he pulled a handle just above his head.
There was a huge impact, and everything went white. “I thought I was dead. Then a second, more violent, impact, as the plane fell out of the top of the trees,” Farese recalls. He survived with a sprained back. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
13 Dec 2013
10 Dec 2013
Tiny "tags" made of dye molecules stuffed into carbon nanotubes have been used to develop a high-resolution imaging technique based on Raman scattering. Created by researchers in Canada, the tags boost the weak Raman signal of molecules about one million times. The new approach could lead to improved medical diagnostics and treatments, and could even be used to fight counterfeiting.
Raman spectroscopy involves shining a beam of light onto a solid or a liquid to identify its molecular composition. While most of the photons will scatter from the sample with no change of energy, a small number of photons will exchange a tiny amount of energy by causing molecules in the sample to vibrate. This is called Raman scattering, after the Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman who first observed it in liquids in 1928 and won the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery.
04 Dec 2013
03 Dec 2013
For decades, the space race was seen as being mostly about national pride. Getting there first mattered most, whereas pushing the frontiers of science and technology took a close second. The first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, was proclaimed by the Kremlin as Citizen of the World and hailed as a sign of communist leadership. Watching NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon made Americans grin in triumph and forced Soviet leaders to grit their teeth. Even today, national pride may be fueling space launches, for instance, in places like China and India, both emerging players in the space game, according to space industry experts at a Nov. 20 summit here. On Nov. 5, India’s national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, launched a spacecraft dubbed Mangalyaan to Mars. China, which a decade ago became the third nation to send its own astronauts into orbit, is currently building a lunar rover and a space station, while also planning its own unmanned mission to Mars. ---> Keep reading
Oops. One of the universe's most-wanted particles may have shown its face in a simple tabletop experiment nearly a decade ago – only no one noticed at the time.
"If other experiments confirm the effect, then it could be an immense step forward in our understanding of the matter contents of the universe," says Christian Beck of Queen Mary, University of London, UK.
Beck has reanalysed an unexplained signal in an electrical circuit, first reported in 2004, and says it is just what you would expect to see if dark matter takes the form of hypothetical particles called axions. It's too soon to known if the signal actually is dark matter, but these circuits -Josephson junctions - may present a promising new way to hunt for the mysterious stuff.
Though we know from gravity's effects on galaxies that dark matter must make up about 85 per cent of the universe's matter, its identity is still a puzzle. ---> Keep reading
02 Dec 2013
30 Nov 2013
This advance is so meta. Theoretical physicists have forged a connection between the concept of entanglement—itself a mysterious quantum mechanical connection between two widely separated particles—and that of a wormhole—a hypothetical connection between black holes that serves as a shortcut through space. The insight could help physicists reconcile quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity, perhaps the grandest goal in theoretical physics. But some experts argue that the connection is merely a mathematical analogy.
Entanglement links quantum particles so that fiddling with one can instantly affect another. According to the bizarre quantum laws that govern the subatomic realm, a tiny particle can be in two opposite conditions or states at once. ---> Keep reading
Piloting fighter jets, floating in zero gravity and spinning at a belly-flattening speed in a centrifuge are not the things a regular tourist is asked to do before a dream holiday. But this is exactly what Per Wimmer has been doing during 13 years of waiting for his trip — to outer space.
For the 45-year-old London-based Danish entrepreneur and financier, it won't even be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So far, he has bought three tickets from companies offering space tourism: Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures and XCOR Aerospace.
Wimmer expects to blast into the blackness overhead within the next 18 months, "on whichever rocket becomes available first," he said. When he first found out that private citizens had an opportunity to take a peek beyond Earth's surface, it took him less than 48 hours to pony up the $100,000 to sign up. ---> Keep reading
26 Nov 2013
Research into lithium–air batteries that may in the future power electric cars and other electronic devices has just received a boost – from a virus. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US have shown that using genetically modified viruses greatly increases the surface area of nanowires that work as electrodes in a battery's cathode, thereby improving the battery's charge-storage capacity.
A typical battery consists of a cathode, an anode (normally made of lithium), an ion conductor (or an "electrolyte") through which charged ions flow easily, and a separator to keep the two ends apart. An electric current is produced as the positively charged lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode during cell discharge. When a battery is recharged, an external current makes the ions flow in the opposite direction, which results in the ions being stored at the anode. ---> Keep reading
13 Nov 2013
We’re bombarded with the radiation of supernovae and other cosmic sources when we fly – how concerned should we be?
One day, shortly before boarding a flight from Paris to Montreal, I began to think about the risks of flying for the first time. It was not the fear of engine failure or crashing into a mountain that worried me. Rather I realised I was about to make my 39th plane journey of the year, and as a result was exposing myself to higher than normal levels of radiation from space.
Like most holidaymakers, I had checked the weather forecast. But now, as I waited to board the plane, I wondered whether I and other frequent flyers should be more concerned with checking the space weather before we take off. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
12 Nov 2013
Locusts have a highly integrated and miniaturized hearing system that bears little resemblance to either the human ear or an electronic microphone. That is the conclusion of researchers in the UK who have done a detailed study of how the insects detect and process sounds. The insect's hearing system, which makes use of a nanostructured eardrum to discern between high- and low-frequency sounds, could provide inspiration for the development of tiny microphones or systems for processing human speech.
Locusts and other insects are too small to accommodate the kind of highly developed hearing systems that are found in some larger animals. Mammals, for example, first capture sound with an eardrum, then amplify vibrations through middle-ear bones, and finally transmit these to the cochlea, which functions as a frequency analyser. ---> Keep reading
08 Nov 2013
LONDON — Billions of years ago, the Earth's atmosphere was opaque and the planet's surface was a vast magma ocean devoid of life.
This scenario, says Stanford University professor of geophysics Norman Sleep, was what the early Earth looked like just after a cataclysmic impact by a planet-size object that smashed into the infant Earth 4.5 billion years ago and formed the moon. The moon, once fully formed, which would have appeared much larger in the sky at the time, since it was closer to Earth
Hundreds of millions of years later, he added, the first forms of life appeared, possibly having hitched a ride on a rock from Mars. The scenario is one presented by Sleep at a recent Royal Society conference here called Origin of the Moon. A paper detailing Sleep’s study was submitted to the symposium volume. ---> Keep reading
07 Nov 2013
WHEN it comes to the cosmos, gravity is the big attraction. The same force that keeps our feet on the ground also shapes the universe. It takes clouds of gas and sculpts them into planets and stars. It fashions hundreds of billions of stars into galaxies, which clump together to form clusters, then superclusters. Yet gravity isn't the only player in the game – another force operates across the cosmic landscape, and that is magnetism.
Magnetic fields stretch for vast distances in the near-nothingness of deep space, even spanning the billions of light years between galaxies. Admittedly, these fields are feeble. A fridge magnet is more than a million times stronger than the weak, all-pervading sea of magnetism in the Milky Way and beyond. That might explain why cosmology has largely ignored magnetism. After all, how could something so puny influence a galaxy? ---> Keep reading (Subscription only)
01 Nov 2013 (Print edition)
Locusts have been the bane of farmers for centuries. One locust can consume its own body weight in vegetation a day, and in a single plague that struck Ethiopia in 1958, swarms of the insects destroyed 167 000 tonnes of grain – enough to feed a million people for a year. But for the neurobiologist Claire Rind, locusts are also an inspiration. The reason? Their incredible talent for avoiding collisions. Research has shown that locusts can avoid fast-approaching objects as little as 45 ms before a collision – nearly 10 times faster than the blink of a human eye. This ability is crucial to their infamous swarming behaviour: a single swarm can contain millions of insects and may fly 200 km in one day, yet somehow the locusts manage to avoid crashing into each other or triggering airborne mayhem. (Full article in Nov print ed.)
29 Oct 2013
LONDON — The young moon may have been a magma "mush" for hundreds of millions of years before it solidified, a scientist says.
The idea, presented at a recent Royal Society conference focusing on the origin of the moon, is drastically different from the most widely accepted lunar formation , which states that the moon was completely molten right after its accretion, 4.5 billion years ago.
According to the prevailing theory, this magma ocean then cooled, the theory says, and solidified. But professor Sara Russell, head of the mineral and planetary sciences division at the Natural History Museum in London, challenges this idea. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts] ---> Keep reading
28 Oct 2013
The elusive Hofstadter's butterfly could soon be spotted in lattices of ultracold atoms, now that two groups of researchers have independently created the conditions required for a spectacular fractal pattern to emerge from the energy spectra of ultracold rubidium atoms held in optical lattices. Although neither team has directly observed the fractal pattern, they have created physical systems with the right conditions for Hofstadter's butterfly to emerge. The research could also lead to the development of new ways to simulate quantum systems with exotic electric properties.
In 1976 the American physicist Douglas Hofstadter – famous for the 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach – first outlined the concept of the butterfly that bears his name. ---> Keep reading
17 Oct 2013
LONDON — In 1969, the world watched in awe as astronauts from Earth walked on the moon during NASA's historic Apollo 11 lunar landing.
And while five more Apollo moon landings followed in the years to come, the era of manned moon exploration ended more than 40 years ago. No human has walked on the moon — or any other celestial body — since Dec. 14, 1972, when astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt blasted off the lunar surface during Apollo 17, NASA's last manned moon flight.
But in order to truly answer the unsolved mysteries of the moon's origin, new missions to retrieve samples of the lunar surface and return them to Earth will be needed, one scientist said. ---> Keep reading
16 Oct 2013
LONDON — Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, may hold clues to understanding how the Earth's moon was born, a scientist studying the planet says.
Just like the moon, Mercury is a desolate, rocky and airless body, albeit a bit bigger than Earth's satellite, said Sean Solomon, the principal investigator for NASA's Messenger mission to Mercury. He presented the idea of using Mercury to glean insights into Earth's moon at the recent Origin of the Moon conference held here at the Royal Society.
There is currently no theory that can successfully tick all the boxes answering the question how the moon formed. The most popular theory is that it was produced after a planet-size body nick-named Theia smashed into the infant Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, with the moon coalescing from material blasted out from the catastrophic impact. ---> Keep reading
01 Oct 2013
The moon came into existence after several planet-size space bodies smashed into the nascent Earth one after the other, with the final one actually forming our satellite, while several impacts repeatedly blew off our planet’s atmosphere, according to a new study.
Until now, scientists thought it was unlikely that the early Earth could lose its atmosphere because of a giant moon-forming impact. But the new research, based on recent studies showing that at its infancy our planet had magma oceans and was spinning so rapidly that a day was only two or three hours long, argues that this may have been possible. ---> Keep reading
27 Sept 2013
LONDON —The Earth's moon may be a present from Venus, which once had a moon and then lost it, a new theory suggests. Under the theory, Earth's gravity captured Venus' old moon, giving our planet its big natural satellite.
This idea contrasts to the thinking of the vast majority of moon researchers, who believe that the Earth's moon formed some 4.5 billion years ago when a planet-size body slammed into nascent Earth at high speed.
This giant impact hypothesis, however, has its own issues, as did all the alternative moon formation theories discussed this week at the Origin of the Moon conference at the Royal Society here. ---> Keep reading
18 Sept 2013
The scientists behind the project call it EchoBeach: a plan to send a giant helium balloon into the skies to study planets in other solar systems. And indeed, it could well be a beachhead for Echo - another ambitious space mission currently under consideration.
Led by physicist Enzo Pascale of Cardiff University in the U.K., the EchoBeach experiment would allow researchers to identify what the atmospheres of distant alien worlds are made of – and do so much cheaper than other space missions.
“It will be a 1.5m telescope hanging from a balloon at very high altitude - 40 kilometers (or nearly 25 miles) – in the stratosphere,” Pascale said. “There’s science to be done, very compelling science.”
Lately, there has been no shortage of exoplanets: new ones are discovered regularly, and today’s count is nearly a thousand. ---> Keep reading
Water, water everywhere, and some of it fit to drink.
That’s the picture of ancient Mars that has emerged during the past few months thanks to discoveries by NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Red Planet since touching down inside Gale Crater in August 2012.
The announcements have come in dribs and drabs, but presented together recently here at the European Planetary Science Congress, they provide compelling evidence that Mars was quite wet in the distant past.
During many sessions at the conference, which was held Sept. 8 to Sept. 13 in London, scientists presented details of the rover’s most exciting finds, made before it began the long drive toward the towering Mount Sharp this past July. ---> Keep reading
11 Sept 2013
Did gravity, the force that pins us to Earth's surface and holds stars together, just shift? Maybe, just maybe. The latest measurement of G, the so-called constant that puts a figure on the gravitational attraction between two objects, has come up higher than the current official value.
Measurements of G are notoriously unreliable, so the constant is in permanent flux and the official value is an average. However, the recent deviation is particularly puzzling, as it is at once starkly different to the official value and yet very similar to a measurement made back in 2001, not what you would expect if the discrepancy was due to random experimental errors. ---> Keep reading
11 Sept 2013
A single atom held between two sharp points has been used to create the smallest-ever memory device – according to the international team of researchers that built it. The aluminium atom operates as a two-terminal switch that can be toggled back and forth between two logical states. This is done by passing electrical currents through the atom, which results in tiny shifts in its position. The device could one day be used to create computer memories with extremely high density.
Conventional electronic switches are usually made of transistors that have three electrodes. The current flowing between two of the electrodes is controlled by applying a voltage to the third electrode. Nanometre-sized transistors based on one atom have been made before. ---> Keep reading
6 Sept 2013
Sept. issue, PhysicsWorld print ed.
JOHN GASS was certain he'd done nothing wrong. Yet there it was, in black and white: the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had revoked his driving licence.
It took him nearly two weeks, numerous calls to the registry and a court hearing to put things right. For the 41-year-old it was a nightmare, threatening his livelihood as a professional driver. For the registry it was clear: Gass had committed fraud by applying for more than one driver's licence – caught thanks to a facial-recognition algorithm. ---> Keep reading
The Russian government has unveiled a plan to consolidate 15 of the country's largest physics institutes into a single organization. Russian president Vladimir Putin has welcomed the move, with a law due to be drawn up by 1 September by the Russian parliament as Physics World went to press. However, many physicists have been taken aback by the step and worry that the merger could threaten the independence of their research.
2 Sept 2013
CROWDED around a hole in the ice, the dozen or so people clad in thick jackets could be local fishermen. But the rope winch, carefully lowering a long, fat pipe into the frigid Siberian water, hints that it is not dinner they are here to catch.
The men on the ice are researchers from the Limnological Institute in nearby Irkutsk, and the treasure they are after, hidden at the bottom of Lake Baikal, is a trove of white, ice-like chunks called methane hydrates. Put a flame next to them and they'll ignite, burning what may be the cleanest fossil fuel currently known.
For over a decade, scientists have trekked to this remote corner of the Russian wilderness from around the world, funded by governments eager to understand how to exploit these peculiar accumulations. "We've hosted scientists from everywhere – Japanese, Belgian, Indian and others," says Oleg Khlystov... ---> Keep reading
29 August 2013
It's been 10 years since Skype came on to the scene.
The internet chat service wasn't the first to allow people to make voice calls over the internet.
But by allowing the public to make computer-to-computer calls free and using peer-to-peer technology - which meant that connections improved the more people who used it - it helped popularise the concept.
Today Voip (voice over internet protocol) and video chats are something many of us take for granted. And Skype faces competition from a multitude of rivals, including Google Hangouts, Apple's Facetime, Blackberry's BBM, Tango and Viber.
But on this anniversary it's perhaps worth reflecting on the impact the technologies can have on people's lives. ---> Keep reading
29 August 2013
As mountains go, Cerro Armazones may not be much to look at. Standing 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) tall, it is a shapeless reddish dust heap in Chile’s hot and arid Atacama Desert. The only sign of life is a dirt road zig-zagging all the way to the top.
But for astronomers like Joe Liske, this is arguably the world’s most interesting mountain right now, and not just because in the next few months more than 100 tonnes of dynamite will blow off its top to create a flat platform. By the early 2020s, that platform will become home to the biggest-ever eye on the sky, the E-ELT, or European Extremely Large Telescope. ---> Keep reading
10 August 2013
Lightning is a natural electrical discharge – but scientists are still scratching their heads trying to figure out what triggers it. Renowned Russian physicist Alexandr Gurevich tells Katia Moskvitch about his theory, which really is out of this world
What don't we know about lightning?
The main problem is that we don't know how a thundercloud gets the spark needed to initiate a lightning bolt. The biggest mystery is that the electric field in thunderclouds is not very large. Years of experimental measurements from aeroplanes and air balloons have shown that the field is about 10 times smaller than what is needed to initiate lightning. It is not clear how a lightning bolt is born, but the idea is that something has to "seed" it first.
What do we know about how lightning works?
In 1749 Benjamin Franklin discovered that lightning was an electrical discharge between a thundercloud and Earth. ---> Keep reading
August issue, PhysicsWorld print ed.
31 July 2013
Plans to merge the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) with two smaller academies and let it be bun by a government agency have been shelved following an outcry from scientsts who threatened to boycott any new merged academy. In the wake of the protests, Russia's parliament - the Duma - has now postponed the vite, giving the RAS at least another three years of of autonomy.
TALK about bling. Miniature diamonds more usually found in quantum computers, combined with fragments of gold, can be used to measure the temperature of individual cells. That could lead to a more accurate way to kill cancers while sparing healthy tissue – and a new way to explore cell behaviour.
There are already ways to take a cell's temperature, using glowing proteins orcarbon nanotubes. However, these lack sensitivity and accuracy because their components can react with substances inside the cell. --->Keep reading
31 July 2013
26 July 2013
It's championed by some as a new weapon to defend content-makers, decried by others as a blunt tool that could extend censorship of the net.
One thing's for sure - Russia's new anti-piracy law is proving controversial.
"Access to online content should be free and global, because it is people's right to freely receive and distribute information, as well as it is their right to consume art," says Natalia Malysheva, of the Russian Pirate Party.
On Sunday, the party held a protest in central Moscow against the law, now active, which allows sites to be blocked if they do not tackle complaints that they are aiding copyright infringement within three days of being notified.
About 300 people, waving black pirate flags, attended the peaceful event. ---> Keep reading
Canada has developed a new version of its famed robotic space arm to give exploration of the final frontier a helping hand. The nation's Next-Generation Canadarm (NGC) program is designed to support both missions in low-Earth orbit and deep space, ranging from repairing communication satellites to assisting manned missions to the moon, asteroids, Mars and other corners of the universe, officials said. "With the retirement of the space shuttle, a new generation of crewed space exploration vehicles will soon become available," said Alain Ouellet, director of space exploration development at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). ---> Keep reading
24 July 2013
Erwin Schrödinger dreamed up the famous thought experiment about a cat that is both dead and alive to demonstrate the absurdity of applying quantum mechanics to ordinary objects. Now two teams have made the closest thing yet to a Schrödinger's cat in the lab – by connecting hundreds of millions of photons via the strange quantum property of entanglement.
"It's not the entanglement of something as big as a cat, but it's at least a kitten," says Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a quantum physicist who was not involved in the work.
The results, which were presented on 23 July at the Second International Conference on Quantum Technologies, in Moscow, Russia, suggest that the rules of quantum mechanics may extend to much larger objects than we thought – and that this could have practical uses. ---> Keep reading
19 July 2013
Robots do not look human just yet, but soon they may get the "human touch." Researchers say they have developed a flexible sensor able to detect temperature, pressure and humidity simultaneously, and more accurately than currently existing devices. In addition to improving robotics, the sensor could one day be embedded into the "electronic skin" of prosthetics, to help amputees sense environmental changes. The sensor is "a huge step towards imitating the sensing features of the human skin," said study author Hossam Haick, a professor of chemical engineering and nanotechnology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The device is about 10 times closer to how real human skin senses the environment, compared with other designs. ---> Keep reading
18 July 2013
Did life on Earth originate on Mars? Or did Earth dispatch life to Mars aboard a meteorite more than 3.5 billion years ago? In order to investigate the possible origin of life on Mars and Earth, a team of researchers from MIT, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) want NASA’s next Mars rover to probe the Red Planet’s surface for genetic material by analyzing soil and ice samples with a DNA-sequencing microchip. Finding signs of past life has already been set as one of the top priorities for the successor of the Mars rover Curiosity, NASA's most recent ambassador to Mars. But new research outlined in June in the journal Astrobiology says the new rover, which is slated to launch in 2020, should search instead for existing or recently dead lifeforms — where "recent" means as much as one million years old. ---> Keep reading
16 July 2013
Researchers in the UK and France have developed a new and extremely sensitive method for visualizing fingerprints left on metal surfaces such as guns, knives and bullet casings. The technique utilizes colour-changing fluorescent films and the team says that it can be used to complement existing forensic processes.
The chance that two people will have identical fingerprints is about 64 billion to 1, which is why law-enforcement agencies rely on fingerprint evidence. Despite advances in detection since the 19th century, only about 10% of crime-scene fingerprint images are of sufficient quality to lead to the unambiguous identification of an individual that is good enough to satisfy a court.
Fingerprints are essentially deposits of sweat and natural oils. ---> Keep reading
5 July 2013
4 July 2013
To mark the centenary of the Radio Society of Great Britain, one of its members recalls how the amateur organisation played a key role in a covert operation to safeguard the country's independence.
One day, towards the start of World War II, a captain wearing the Royal Signals uniform knocked on a British teenager's door.
The 16-year-old was called Bob King. When he went to greet the visitor, he had no idea that soon he would become one of Britain's so-called "voluntary interceptors" - some 1,500 radio amateurs recruited to intercept secret codes broadcast by the Nazis and their allies during the war.
"The captain asked me if I would be willing to help out with some secret work for the government," remembers Mr King, now 89. "He wouldn't tell me any more than that. ---> Keep reading
Scientists in France are the first to make a direct measurement of the Van der Waals force between two atoms. They did this by trapping two Rydberg atoms with a laser and then measuring the force as a function of the distance separating them. The two atoms were in a coherent quantum state and the researchers believe that their system could be used to create quantum logic gates or to perform quantum simulations of condensed-matter systems.
The Van der Waals force between atoms, molecules and surfaces is a part of everyday life in many different ways. Spiders and geckos rely on it to walk up smooth walls, for example, and the force causes proteins inside our bodies to fold into complicated shapes. ---> Keep reading
3 July 2013
IT'S just after 7 on a quiet Tuesday morning in June 1908 when a dazzling fireball streaks across the Siberian sky. Minutes later an immense blast topples 80 million trees and knocks people off their feet 60 kilometres away. It's the violent end of an alien dogfight, with one spaceship destroyed in mid-air and the other turning and vanishing into space.
His voice trembles as 79-year-old retired Russian physicist Viktor Zhuravlyov tells me this rather unorthodox theory of what happened that day at Tunguska. The enigma has fascinated scientists for more than a century. Something exploded over the Siberian taiga – but what?
---> Keep reading
27 June 2013
In the days before GPS, we needed both a compass and a map to navigate. Migrating birds are no different. Studies have suggested that the animals rely on an internal map and compass to traverse large distances, though just where these senses reside is unclear. Now, scientists say they have the strongest evidence yet that map sense is associated with the beak.
Researchers have long suspected that migrating birds navigate by sensing Earth's magnetic field. The idea was that their beaks, which contain a lot of iron, worked like real magnets, with the metal aligning itself relative to the field. Supposedly, the so-called trigeminal nerve transmitted this information to the brain. ---> Keep reading