21 March 2014
They gush along the ocean floor and can wipe out the internet. Need another reason to understand the planet's underwater rivers?
UNDERNEATH the Bosporus Strait flows a mysterious river. It has banks and rapids and in places is a kilometre across. If it snaked across the land, the volume of water careering through it per second would make it our sixth largest river after the Amazon, Ganges, Congo, Yangtze and Orinoco. Yet the crews on board the ships that ply the strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea don't even know the river exists. It flows silently 70 metres beneath them before reaching the edge of the sea shelf and disappearing into the deep.
The hidden river has no name, yet is by no means unique. Myriad underwater rivers criss-cross the ocean floor, some many thousands of kilometres long, tens of kilometres wide and hundreds of metres deep. They are the arteries of our planet. They shunt sediments into the deep, carrying with them the oxygen and nutrients that allow life to thrive at great depths. They also seem to be a vital part of the world's carbon cycle, burying organic matter carried from the shore. ---> Keep reading
19 March 2014
Modern airliners go through a series of exhaustive tests, from the earliest stages of design, to make sure they are as safe as possible. Katia Moskvitch lifts the lid on some of the stresses plane-makers put them through – from Arctic freezing to shooting chickens at the cockpit.
Aeroplanes have moved on more than a little since the first aviators soared into the sky, clad in leather jackets, caps and goggles. Back then, they needed quite an element of faith before taking to their flying machines. One hundred years on, they board highly complex machines often made from unusual materials such as carbon fibre and flying partly thanks to computers. The days of flying on “a wing and a prayer” are over.
Nowadays, aircraft testing is incredibly elaborate and rigorous. New planes only make it into the air after a long list of tests – from chucking chickens into jet engines to simulate bird strikes to bending the wings to extreme angles.
In the last 10 years, the testing methods have undergone major changes– both on the ground and in computer simulations. The aim, in both cases, is to minimise the number of hours testing planes in flight. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
17 March 2014
Synthetic nanoparticles can boost photosynthesis in plants and enable them to spot pollutants, according to a team of researchers in the US.
Previous research that added nanomaterials to plants had focused on the uptake of nanoparticles through plant cell walls and membranes, and their absorption, transport and distribution. But this latest study takes a nanobionic approach and could transform plants into a non-conventional technology, says Juan Pablo Giraldo who performed the work in Michael Strano’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
To create the nanobionic plants, the team extracted chloroplasts – tiny structures in plant cells that are home to the photosynthetic system – from Arabidopsis, a flowering plant that is commonly used by biologists as a model organism. They put the chloroplasts into a buffer solution and added polymer-coated nanoparticles containing ceria (CeO2). ---> Keep reading
13 March 2014
Flight delays are tedious at the best of times. But it’s even worse when it’s cold, and the plane you’re in poised for take-off suddenly lumbers down a taxi way to join a queue of aircraft waiting to be de-iced – as many people in the US can testify during the recent bad weather.
Ice and aircraft do not mix well. The weight of ice on the wings and fuselage of a fully-fuelled aircraft can prevent it taking off. During the Arctic conditions the US this January, when temperatures dropped as low as -51C (-60F) thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed. Some airports further south, where sub-zero temperatures are rare, didn’t even have de-icing equipment. At O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, the jet fuel and de-icing fluids froze altogether, according to American Airlines.
This leads to more than just delays and ill-tempered passengers – it can have deadly consequences. One such tragedy occurred in October 1994 when American Eagle flight 4184 crashed in Roslawn, Indiana, killing all 68 people on board. ---> Keep reading (non-UK only)
14 March 2014
Voyaging spaceships may soon be able to top off their fuel tanks in space, just as cars and trucks do here on Earth.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston are suggesting establishing off-Earth propellant depots to fuel future missions to the moon. Such en-route stations would mean spacecraft could launchwith less fuelon boardand hencecarryheavier loads, such as largerscientific experiments.
This is not a new idea, but previous proposalsto solve the problemhave usually been pricey. One, for example, explored the possibility of setting up a fuel-manufacturing station on the lunar surface, from which tankers would be sent to refill floating depots. ---> Keep reading
13 March 2014
Hundreds of wandering "rogue" black holes may dwell in the Milky Way — and now researchers say they know how to detect them. Discovering these strange objects could shed light on the formation of the Milky Way and other galaxies.
No one knows exactly how the Milky Way came to exist. But according to one popular model of galaxy formation, the building blocks of the Milky Way were dwarf galaxies that collided and merged shortly after the Big Bang.
This idea assumes that floating black holes, each containing 1,000 to 100,000 more mass than the sun, could be left over from those early cosmic times — fossil evidence for the growth and mergers of black holes in the infant universe. ---> Keep reading
12 March 2014
It's never fazed by seeds of doubt. A shrub with small, edible berries is a cool customer when parasites attack, responding in line with the severity of the infestation.
Each fruit of the barberry, Berberis vulgaris, has either one or two seeds, which may be targeted by larvae of the tephritid fruit fly.
Katrin Meyer, now at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her colleagues collected around 2000 berries and examined them for signs of piercing – because the fruit fly makes a tiny hole in the berries so it can lay its eggs inside. If the berries were pierced, the team also dissected them.
It was already known that the plant can cut off nutrient supplies to its seeds when resources are limited. Meyer's team also found that the same mechanism was used with infested seeds, killing the parasite in the process. More surprisingly, the likelihood of a seed being aborted depended on how many seeds the berry had – if it had two seeds and one was attacked, the plant killed off the infested seed 75 per cent of the time, compared with just 5 per cent in single-seeded berries that were attacked. ---> Keep reading
12 March 2014
Scientists should expand their quest for life in other worlds by searching for any kind of liquid, not just water, say researchers. Rich organic chemistry can occur in many types of liquid, and a recent study supports the idea that a prebiotic ‘soup,’ from which life could emerge, may be present in hydrocarbon lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
‘We think that life requires liquid,’ says Chris McKay from Nasa, who led the study. ‘Right now, there’s a bias that that liquid has to be water. But maybe when we look at other moons and planets, we should be asking what other possible liquids there could be.’
Using new data from the Cassini probe, which has been orbiting Titan since 2004, alongside his team’s lab research, McKay has released the first year results of a five-year investigation into whether a prebiotic soup could form on Titan. ---> Keep reading
05 March 2014
Biological engineer Angela Belcher is genetically modifying viruses to create batteries that can be recharged thousands of times and then decay harmlessly
You're making batteries using viruses – don't they normally make us sick?
When people think of viruses, the flu often comes to mind. But there are also viruses everywhere, from in the ocean to inside the gut, that infect bacteria. Those are not harmful to humans. Viruses are basically genetic material with a protein coat. They need a host so they can use its molecular machinery to make copies of themselves.
The main virus I work with has a single strand of DNA in a protein coat and it is completely benign. It only infects a particular bacterial host – and doesn't kill it, just slows it down as it uses the host to replicate itself. ---> Keep reading
05 March 2014
A device that detects ultra-weak radio waves by converting them into light signals has been created by physicists in Denmark and the US. The device does not require costly cryogenic cooling and could be put to practical use in a range of applications, from radio astronomy to magnetic resonance imaging. The researchers also believe that the technology could provide an essential building block of a "quantum internet" of the future.
Detecting extremely weak radio waves is at the heart of many modern technologies, including satellite navigation, long-distance communications, radio telescopes and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. In some detectors, weak radio signals are converted into optical signals that can then be transported long distances via optical fibres. In addition to requiring expensive modulators to convert the electronic signals into optical signals, these converters must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures, making them expensive and inconvenient to operate. ---> Keep reading
04 March 2014
Every black hole conceals a secret — the quantum remains of the star from which it formed, say a group of scientists, who also predict that these stars can later emerge once the black hole evaporates.
The researchers call these objects "Planck stars" and believe that they could solve a very important question in modern physics: the information paradox, or the question of what happens to information contained in matter that falls into a black hole.
The idea could also finally reconcile quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity that describes gravity, thus showing how a theory of quantum gravity might solve longstanding puzzles in the world of physics. ---> Keep reading
03 March 2014
The first microscope that uses the eerie trick of quantum entanglement to increase its sensitivity has been developed by Japanese researchers.
The new tool relies on a weird principle of quantum mechanics, in which two particles can become entangled so that even when separated by large distances, say light-years, they are intimately connected. Using such entangled photons, or particles of light, the microscope reveals things that are completely transparent, visualizing them in a much better quality than could be done with ordinary light.
Physics guru Albert Einstein once famously called it "spooky action at a distance." ---> Keep reading
20 Feb 2014
A syringe that turns bright red after it has been used could dramatically reduce the number of unsafe injections in the developing world and save lives, says the researcher who came up with the
David Swann of Huddersfield University in the United Kingdom has been shortlisted for the biennial World Design Impact Prize, which recognises projects that use industrial design solutions to improve social, economic and environmental quality of life.
“In an ideal world, every provider would adopt [single-use] safety syringes,” says Swann. “However this is not the case at the moment. Our ambition is to add patient safety value to an ordinary disposable syringe.”
More than half of all injections in developing nations involve used or unsterilised needles, according to the WHO, and such injections cause more than 30 per cent of all hepatitis A and B cases and five per cent of all HIV cases. ---> Keep reading
18 Feb 2014
Working replicas of expensive scientific equipment could be made for a fraction of conventional cost using cheap 3-D printers, possibly saving developing world labs thousands of dollars each
time, says a researcher whose book on the subject was published this year.
This and similar advances mean the age of appropriate technology — affordable, sustainable solutions designed and built to meet local needs — may be here, argues Joshua Pearce, a materials science and engineering professor at Michigan Technological University, United States, in an article in last month’s Physics World magazine.
“For example, my lab developed an open-source 3-D printable colorimeter for water testing, which costs US$50 instead of US$2,000,” says Pearce, whose book is called Open source lab: How to build your own hardware and reduce research costs. ---> Keep reading
18 Feb 2014
Move over, copper wires. The next generation of electricity cables may well be made from lettuce, based on the innovation of a U.K. researcher. The advance could pave the way to biological computers and bio-robots of the future.
Computer scientist Andrew Adamatzky of the University of West England did a series of tests with four-day-old lettuce seedlings. To create bio-wires, he bridged two electrodes made from conductive aluminum foil with a seedling that was placed onto the electrodes in drops of distilled water.
Next, he applied electrical potential between electrodes ranging from 2 to 12 volts, and calculated the seedling's so-called potential transfer function that shows output potential as a fraction of input potential — the amount of energy produced relative to energy put in. ---> Keep reading
12 Feb 2014
The shape of the Milky Way galaxy, our solar system's home, may look a bit like a snail, but spiral galaxies haven't always had this structure, scientists say.
In a recent report, a team of researchers said they now know when and how the majestic swirls of spiral galaxies emerged in the unicerse. Galaxies are categorized into three main types, based on their shapes: spiral, elliptical and irregular. Almost 70 percent of those closest to the Milky Way are spirals. But in the early universe, spiral galaxies didn't exist.
A husband and wife team of astronomers, Debra Meloy Elmegreen at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Bruce Elmegreen at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., analyzed an image from the Hubble Space Telescope known as the Ultra Deep Field. ---> Keep reading
12 Feb 2014
Across portions of the south of England, waves lap against the shores of lakes and ponds that used to be fields, as one of the wettest winters in U.K. history has dumped successive bouts of rain over the country, causing rivers to top their banks and inundate farms and towns.
And while a series of shifts in weather patterns across the globe seems to be causing the endless train of storms soaking the island, climate change may play a role in the current heavy downpours as well, said Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist of the country's official weather service, the MET Office, according to news reports. ---> Keep reading
11 Feb 2014
LONDON — So, physicists have found the Higgs boson. What next?
It took three years for the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), to spot the elusive Higgs boson particle, which is thought to explain how other particles get their mass.
It took the international science lab CERN much longer, though, to build the machine beneath the mountains straddling France and Switzerland — nearly two decades, and at a cost of billions of dollars. ---> Keep reading
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