Tagged: CNN Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 12:38 pm on January 11, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Crater From Giant Meteorite Strike Might Be Hidden Under Volcanic Plateau", Although the evidence they present is thorough it’s not quite rock-solid., CNN, , Earth Observatory of Singapore, , New York Times, PNAS, , The first clue to the meteorite’s impact site came from the bits of glassy debris called tektites that it launched into the air about 800000 years ago., Ultimately a lava field in southern Laos turned up promising results.,   

    From smithsonian.com: “Crater From Giant Meteorite Strike Might Be Hidden Under Volcanic Plateau” 

    From smithsonian.com

    January 10, 2020
    Theresa Machemer

    A large meteorite can launch bits of molten rock into the atmosphere when it impacts Earth. When that molten rock cools, it forms tektites, shown here. (Photo by Robert Eastman / Alamy Stock Photo)

    Debris from the strike scattered across Earth, but the exact point of impact has been a mystery.

    The impact of a meteorite ranges from an Alabama woman’s giant bruise to the end of the dinosaurs. But one meteorite’s crater has eluded scientists for almost a century, despite the fact that it scattered glass confetti across one-tenth of the Earth’s surface. Now, experts at the Earth Observatory of Singapore have released a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, providing new evidence for the crater’s location.

    The first clue to the meteorite’s impact site came from the bits of glassy debris, called tektites, that it launched into the air about 800,000 years ago. The tektites landed across Antarctica, Australia and Asia, so geologist Kerry Sieh searched for signs of the crater in satellite imagery. Sieh’s search has taken years and led him down many dead-ends, Katherine Kornei reports for the New York Times-Hints of Phantom Crater Found Under Volcanic Plateau in Laos, but ultimately a lava field in southern Laos turned up promising results. There, volcanic eruptions long ago covered the land in molten rock, building a layer of igneous rock up to 1,000 feet deep, which could have easily obscured the impact crater.

    The research team began by analyzing previously published chemical characteristics of tektites found in Australia and Asia, and found evidence linking them to the Laotian lava field. They then estimated the age of the tektites and lava flows—the lava at the suspect site was younger than the lava around it—and measured the local gravitational field of the lava bed. Craters are often filled with less dense material that was broken apart on impact, and Sieh’s findings of a weaker gravitational pull provide more evidence of the impact crater’s existence.

    “There have been many, many attempts to find the impact site,” Sieh tells CNN’s Michelle Lim [A huge meteorite smashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. We may have finally found the crater]. “But our study is the first to put together so many lines of evidence, ranging from the chemical nature of the tektites to their physical characteristics, and from gravity measurements to measurements of the age of lavas that could bury the crater.”

    By the new study’s calculations, the meteorite was about 1.2 miles wide and created a crater 8 miles wide and 11 miles long. It would have struck our planet at a speed fast enough to melt the Earth beneath it, material that was thrown into the air to create tektites. The impact also would have sent boulders flying at 1,500 feet per second, Leslie Nemo writes for Discover [Found: Crater From Asteroid Impact That Covered 10% of Earth’s Surface in Debris], some of which Sieh spotted in a hill that was cut through by a road a few miles away from the suspected impact site.

    Although the evidence they present is thorough, it’s not quite rock-solid. In a commentary [PNAS] that accompanied the study, impact crater expert Henry Melosh writes that Sieh and his team “present the best candidate yet for the long-sought source crater,” but adds, “one of my impact-savvy colleagues read the paper and was unconvinced. As with all possible impact craters, proof will rest on finding shock-metamorphosed rocks, minerals, and melt.”

    Melosh points out that the crater is smaller than previously expected for this meteorite, and that it would have had to land at an unusually shallow angle to create the oval shape that Sieh’s team proposes. To provide the strongest evidence that this is the crater they’ve been looking for, scientists would have to drill through the lava flows, which are in a tropical jungle, and recover rock samples from below.

    Sieh tells Nemo that he would be supportive of anyone who wants to complete that work.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

  • richardmitnick 11:52 am on February 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroid 2019 AQ3, CNN, Samuel Oschin Telescope at the California Institute of Technology's Palomar Observatory, Zwicky Transient Facility known as ZTF   

    From CNN: “‘Rare species’ of asteroid spotted in our solar system” 

    From CNN

    February 7, 2019
    Ashley Strickland

    The orbit of asteroid 2019 AQ3, discovered by ZTF, is shown in this diagram. The object has the shortest “year” of any recorded asteroid, with an orbital period of just 165 days.

    An odd kind of asteroid has been hiding out in our solar system, close to Venus, and it took a new state-of-the-art surveying camera to detect it.
    The Zwicky Transient Facility, known as ZTF, was installed on the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the California Institute of Technology’s Palomar Observatory in March. Since then, it has observed over a thousand supernovae outside our galaxy, extreme cosmic events and more than a billion Milky Way stars.

    Zwicky 576-megapixel Transient Facility installed on the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar

    Caltech Palomar Samuel Ochin Telescope

    “Astronomers are energized” by what the camera has enabled them to do in the first year of operations, said Shri Kulkarni, principal investigator of the camera, in a statement.
    ZTF is also pretty good at spotting near-Earth asteroids that zoom past our planet. Scientists want to find and catalog as many of these as they can, especially those between 10 and 100 meters in diameter. These are the asteroids that could make a severe impact if they collided with Earth. The ones coming from the direction of the sun are the most dangerous because the glare helps hide them from our view.

    But this asteroid, known as 2019 AQ3, isn’t like anything they’ve seen before. Quanzhi Ye, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology’s data and science center for astronomy, spotted the images of the asteroid on January 4.

    “This is one of the largest asteroids with an orbit entirely within the orbit of Earth — a very rare species,” Ye said.
    Ye reported it to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which officially categorizes asteroids and other objects in our solar system. His data, along with that of other telescopes around the world, helped determine the orbit that 2019 AQ3 takes around the sun.

    The asteroid is one of the first to be found that remains within Venus’ orbit. It has a vertically angled orbit that takes it in a loop up and over the space where the planets orbit the sun. It has the shortest year of any known asteroid, completing its orbit every 165 days. It’s also estimated to be fairly large, about a mile across. But researchers don’t know the true size just yet, due to the limited data.

    “In so many ways, 2019 AQ3 really is an oddball asteroid,” Ye said in a statement.

    This orbit takes it down by Mercury and back up right outside Venus’ orbit. This inner solar system orbit, interior to Earth’s orbit, makes it an Atira or Apohele asteroid — so unique that they represent only about 20 of the 800,000 known asteroids in our solar system. But this discovery suggests that there could be a larger number of unseen asteroids orbiting in parts of the solar system, especially close to the sun, that are unknown.

    “These small asteroids are only bright enough to be detected during the short period that they are very close to the Earth,” Tom Prince, senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, in a statement. “During this brief window, the asteroids are moving very fast, posing challenges for astronomers to find and track them.”

    ZTF is able to help spot these objects because its wide field of view allows it to survey the entire northern sky every three nights. In a single exposure, the camera captures an image that encompasses about 230 times the size of our moon when it’s full.

    It’s spotted around 60 near-Earth asteroids, including two in July in the hours before they zoomed past Earth.

    This new asteroid isn’t dangerous, as it comes within about 22 million miles of Earth.

    But its location is key to helping find something that has long been thought to exist: vulcanoids, or asteroids within Mercury’s orbit. During the 19th century, astronomers also believed that a planet called Vulcan existed between Mercury and the sun and that it caused anomalies in Mercury’s orbit. But those anomalies were accounted for by Albert Einstein, with gravity and the general theory of relativity.

    ZTF could lead to telescopes that can investigate the possibility of the unexplored space close to the sun.

    In the meantime, ZTF is paving the way for other astronomy discoveries, like other potential sources for gravitational waves. The US government pays for nearly half of ZTF and its operations, so the observations are shared publicly in almost real time for astronomers to study.

    “The start of routine operations of ZTF marks a new era in our ability to capture the nightly and hourly changes transpiring in the universe,” said Anne Kinney, National Science Foundation assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, in a statement. “They are now recording real-time events from distant supernovae to nearby asteroids and are poised to discover the violent mergers and explosions generating gravitational-wave events.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on October 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , CNN, , , , , ,   

    From Don Lincoln via CNN: “The ultimate mystery of the universe” 

    From CNN

    September 21, 2018

    FNAL’s Don Lincoln

    This might win an award for “most obvious statement ever,” but the universe is big. And with its size comes big questions. Perhaps the biggest is “What makes the universe, well…the universe?”
    Researchers have made a crucial step forward in their effort to build scientific equipment that will help us answer that fundamental question.

    An international group of physicists collaborating on the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) have announced that a prototype version of their equipment, called ProtoDUNE, is now operational.
    ProtoDUNE will validate the technology of the much larger DUNE experiment, which is designed to detect neutrinos, subatomic particles most often created in violent nuclear reactions like those that occur in nuclear power plants or the Sun. While they are prodigiously produced, they can pass, ghost-like, through ordinary matter. There are three distinct types of neutrinos, as different as the strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate flavors of Neapolitan ice cream.

    Further, through the always-confusing rules of quantum mechanics, these three types of neutrinos experience a startling behavior — they literally change their identity. Following the ice cream analogy, this would be like starting to eat a scoop of vanilla and, a few spoonfuls in, it magically changes to chocolate. It is through this morphing behavior that scientists hope to explain why our universe looks the way it does, rather than like a featureless void, full of energy and nothing else.

    View of the interior of the ProtoDUNE experiment

    CERN Proto DUNE Maximillian Brice

    Large enough to encompass a three-story house, ProtoDUNE is located at the CERN laboratory, just outside Geneva, Switzerland. Years in the making, ProtoDUNE is filled with 800 tons of chilled liquid argon, which detects the passage of subatomic particles like neutrinos. Neutrinos hit the nuclei of the argon atoms in the ProtoDUNE detector, causing particles with electrical charge to be produced. Those particles then move through the detector, banging into argon atoms and knocking their electrons off. Scientists then detect the electrons.
    It’s similar to how you can know an airplane recently passed overhead because you observe contrails, the white streaks in the sky it briefly leaves behind. The ProtoDUNE detector has now observed particles coming from space — what scientists call cosmic rays — which has validated the effectiveness of the particle detector.

    Though considerably large, ProtoDUNE pales in comparison to the size of the DUNE apparatus, which is still being developed. DUNE will be based at two locations: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), which is America’s flagship particle physics laboratory located just outside Chicago, and the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), located in Lead, South Dakota.

    FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF, Lead, South Dakota, USA

    Surf-Dune/LBNF Caverns at Sanford

    The biggest part of the DUNE experiment will ultimately consist of four large modules, each of which will be twenty times larger than ProtoDUNE. Because neutrinos interact very rarely with ordinary matter, bigger is better. And with an eighty times increase in volume, the DUNE detector will be able to detect eighty times as many neutrinos as ProtoDUNE.
    These large modules will be located nearly a mile underground at SURF. That depth is required to protect them from the same cosmic rays seen by ProtoDUNE.
    Fermilab will use its highest energy particle accelerator to generate a beam of neutrinos, which it will then shoot through the Earth to the waiting detectors over 800 miles away in western South Dakota.

    This beam of neutrinos will pass through a ProtoDUNE-like detector located at Fermilab to establish their characteristics as they leave the site. When the neutrinos arrive in South Dakota, the much bigger detectors again measure the neutrinos and look to see how much they have changed their identity as they traveled. It’s this identity-changing behavior that DUNE is designed to study. Scientists call this phenomenon “neutrino oscillations” because the neutrinos change from one type to another and then back again, over and over.
    While investigating and characterizing neutrino oscillations is the direct goal of the DUNE experiment, the deeper goal is to use those studies to shed light on one of those fundamental questions of the universe. This will be made possible because the DUNE experiment not only will study the oscillation behavior of neutrinos, it can also study the oscillation of antimatter neutrinos.

    A strong runner-up in the “most obvious statement ever” award is “our universe is made of matter.” But researchers have long known of a cousin substance called “antimatter.”

    Antimatter is the opposite of ordinary matter and will annihilate into pure energy when combined with matter. Alternatively, energy can simultaneously convert into matter and antimatter in equal quantities. This has been established beyond any credible doubt.

    Yet, with that observation, comes a mystery. Scientists generally accept that the universe came into existence through an event called the Big Bang. According to this theory, the universe was once much smaller, hotter, and full of energy. As the universe expanded, that energy should have converted into matter and antimatter in exactly equal quantities, which leads us to a very vexing question.

    Where the heck is the antimatter?

    Our universe consists only of matter, which means that something made the antimatter of the early universe disappear. Had this not happened, the matter and antimatter would have annihilated, and the universe would consist of nothing more than a bath of energy, without matter — without us.

    Which brings us back to the DUNE experiment. Fermilab will make not only neutrino beams, it will also make antimatter neutrino beams. The exact mix of neutrino “flavors” leaving the Fermilab campus will be established by the closer detector, and then again when they arrive at SURF, so that the changes due to neutrino oscillation can be measured. Then the same process will be done with antimatter neutrinos. If the matter and antimatter neutrinos oscillate differently, that will likely be a huge clue toward answering the question of why the universe exists as it does.

    With the completion of the new ProtoDUNE technology that will be used in the DUNE detector, the race is on to build the full facility. The first of the detector modules is scheduled to begin operations in 2026.

    While Fermilab has long made substantial contributions to the CERN research program, the DUNE experiment marks the first time that CERN has invested in scientific infrastructure in the United States. DUNE is a product of a unified international effort.
    Modern science is truly staggering in its accomplishments. We can cure deadly diseases and we’ve put men on the moon. But perhaps the grandest accomplishment of all is our ability to innovate in our effort to study in detail some of the oldest and most mind-boggling questions of our universe. And, with the success of ProtoDUNE, we’re that much closer to finding the answers.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 4:18 pm on September 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , CNN, , Dame Burnell discovered Pulsars, Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell awarded a special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, , , ,   

    From CNN: Women in STEM – “Scientist omitted from Nobel Prize finally gets her due” Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 


    September 14, 2018

    FNAL Don Lincoln

    A special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has been awarded this month to British astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell for a distinguished research career, including her key role in the 1967 discovery of pulsars.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 2009

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars with radio astronomy. Jocelyn Bell at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory at Cambridge University, taken for the Daily Herald newspaper in 1968.

    Bell Burnell’s discovery was a very important one in the field of astronomy — one sufficiently impressive to receive the Nobel Prize, although she was not awarded it. Her Ph.D. thesis adviser received that prize instead — a sad, but not uncommon, outcome. Bell Burnell is now receiving her due with the prestigious breakthrough prize.

    The Breakthrough Prize is awarded to “recognize an individual(s) who has made profound contributions to human knowledge.” Each recipient of the prize receives $3 million, more than twice the financial award associated with the older Nobel Prize.

    Although Bell Burnell’s Breakthrough Prize was partially awarded for “a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community,” she is most known for her crucial contribution to the discovery of pulsars, which are remnants of long-dead stars that emit radio waves in pulses, separated by milliseconds to seconds and detectable on Earth.

    These pulses are kind of like the beeping of the alarm that wakes you up in the morning, but with radio waves instead of sound and with a much faster chirp. Pulsars are too distant and too dim to see by eye. But, as Bell Burnell found, their presence is observable through their rhythmic signal, detectable by a suitable radio.

    In 1967, as a graduate student at the fabled Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, Bell Burnell helped build a radio telescope that would be used to scan the sky and pick up radio waves. Once the telescope was operational, she began collection data on the signals coming from the sky (printed on literally miles of old-style continuous printer paper), when she observed a faint and repeating signal of radio waves. She had no idea what it was, as nothing of the sort had been discovered before.

    After considerable cross-checking of her work, she brought it to the attention of her thesis adviser, British radio astronomer Antony Hewish. While they first interpreted her observation as an unwanted signal from somewhere here on Earth, a more careful study revealed that it was actually of extraterrestrial origin. Given that the signal was so faithfully periodic, they jokingly labeled the radio source as LGM-1 (for “little green men”).

    However, an announcement of the discovery of extraterrestrial life was not to be. Instead, Bell Burnell had discovered pulsars.
    For this discovery, her adviser Hewish shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics with Sir Martin Ryle, who was awarded his portion of the Nobel for a different contribution to radio astronomy.

    Much has been written about the fact that Bell Burnell did not share in the Nobel Prize. While there is no question that there are a distressing number of examples of women overlooked for a well-deserved Nobel Prize, it is unclear whether gender played a role in Bell Burnell’s omission from the award. She was a young graduate student working with an established scientist. Historically, in science, the leader of a research group gets both the acclaim and blame for the performance of the group, and this is irrespective of the gender of the students they work with.

    Even Bell Burnell has said that it is very difficult to separate the contribution of student and supervisor and that it would demean the Nobel Prize if it were awarded to students, except in very exceptional cases. She did not believe that this was one of them.

    In many ways, I think she’s right. Students are able to conduct their research because they are educated and mentored by their professors and it is thus appropriate that the professor is recognized for their scientific leadership. Still, I would not have objected if she had been recognized by the Swedish Academy for her work. I would include her name with other overlooked female luminaries, like Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, Vera Rubin, and others.

    However, Nobel Prize aside, Bell Burnell’s life after graduate school has been full of accolades and achievements. She has been a professor at a number of institutions and was president of both the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was also made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for her astronomical work, the second highest level recognition of the Order of the British Empire, equivalent to Knight Commander.

    Despite the accolades, Bell Burnell has proven that she does what she does not for the prestige or money, but for the sake of science. She has announced that she is donating the entire $3 million dollars to the Institute of Physics to provide scholarships and support to students and scholars from underrepresented groups in science.

    The face of cutting edge science is changing, but not quickly. Women were awarded only about 5% of physics bachelor’s degrees in 1967, when Bell Burnell made her discovery, but has risen to 20% as of last year. And when one looks more broadly at science, technology, engineering and math over the same time period, the percentage of STEM degrees awarded to women has jumped from about 17% to over 35%. Things are getting better, but there is still room for improvement.

    It’s nice to see a brilliant career recognized in this way, and even nicer to see such a magnanimous gesture toward future students. By supporting the next generation of scientists, Bell Burnell’s legacy will include not only her own discoveries, but future ones as well.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 5:17 pm on August 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , CNN, , , , , , , The scientific theories battling to explain the universe   

    From CNN: “The scientific theories battling to explain the universe” 

    From CNN

    August 17, 2018
    FNAL’s Don Lincoln

    In human history, there have been many interesting and epic feuds — the Hatfields and McCoys, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, or the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac. Many of us love to read in tabloids or history books about the salacious details of how the bad blood came to be.

    Just like these human characters, scientific theories can also fall into disagreement, causing just as much drama in the science world.

    Recently, a group of scientists claimed to have found a fatal tension between two of the scientific community’s most mind-blowing theories: superstrings and dark energy. If the authors are correct, one of the two theories is in trouble.

    Superstring theory is a candidate theory of everything, with the operative word being “candidate,” meaning it is not yet accepted by the scientific community. It tries to explain all observed phenomena of the universe with a single principle. At its core, it predicts that the smallest building blocks of the cosmos aren’t the familiar atoms and protons, neutrons, and electrons; nor are the smallest building blocks the even-smaller quarks and lepton that my colleagues and I have discovered. Instead, superstring theory suggests that the very smallest building blocks of all are tiny and vibrating “strings.”

    These strings can vibrate in different ways — essentially different notes — with each note looking like one of the known subatomic particles. Waxing slightly poetic, superstring theory explains the universe as a vast and cosmic symphony.

    The other popular theory, called dark energy, is quite different. Astronomers have long known that the universe is expanding. For decades, we thought we understood that, because gravity is an attractive force, this expansion would slow over the lifetime of the universe. It was therefore a surprise when, in 1998, astronomers discovered that not only was the expansion of the universe not slowing down — it was speeding up.

    To explain this observation, astronomers added a type of energy — called dark energy — to Einstein’s equations describing the behavior of gravity. Dark energy is an energy field that permeates the entire universe. And, because the expansion of the universe is accelerating, dark energy must exist and it must be positive. The reason we know that is simple. If the dark energy didn’t exist or was negative, the expansion of the universe would be slowing down.

    So, what is it about these two theories that has caused such a conflict?

    In a nutshell, it’s hard to make a superstring theory with positive energy and yet the accelerating expansion of the universe demands it. If one theory is completely accurate it means that a key aspect of the other is wrong. And, on the face of it, things look bad for superstring theory. This is because while dark energy is still a theory, the accelerating expansion of the universe is not. Thus, dark energy is probably true, while superstring theory still remains only a conjecture.

    But there’s a reason that scientists aren’t rushing to media platforms to spread the news that superstring theory has been disproved.

    It’s because superstring theory is fiendishly complex. Aside from the prediction of subatomic vibrating strings, it also predicts that there are more dimensions of space than our familiar three. In fact, the theory predicts that there are nine in total — 10 if you include time. You’d think that this would be a fatal flaw of the theory, but these additional dimensions are thought to be invisibly small.

    Since these extra dimensions (if they exist) are smaller than our best instrumentation can detect, we don’t know what their shapes are, and scientists must consider all possibilities. But there are a lot of possibilities. In fact, there are more configurations than there are atoms in a million universes just like ours. It’s a crazy big number.

    So, what conclusion can we draw?

    With so many possible configurations, it would seem that superstring theory could predict just about anything, yet the scientists who pointed out the theories’ disagreement are making the bold claim that none of these configurations result in the existence of a positive and constant energy (aka, the theory of dark energy).

    And all the data recorded so far have made scientists feel relatively confident that dark energy not only exists, but is also both positive and nearly constant, making it seem likely that, if only one of these theories can be true, it’s dark energy for the win. Still, it’s premature to make any conclusions about the superstrings. It’s possible that scientists are not right about the nature of dark energy and they are using powerful instruments like the Dark Energy Survey to refine their measurements.

    The bottom line is that physicists are going to have to take this new idea seriously. It’s not quite a WWE cage match, but it’s going to be fun to watch these theories fight it out.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on April 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CNN, , , , , ,   

    From CNN: “Why the universe shouldn’t exist at all” 


    April 1, 2018

    FNAL’s Don Lincoln

    Don Lincoln, a senior physicist at Fermilab, does research using the Large Hadron Collider. He is the author of The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind, and produces a series of science education videos. Follow him on Facebook. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

    Why is there something, rather than nothing?” could be the oldest and deepest question in all of metaphysics. Long exclusively the province of philosophy, in recent years this question has become one that can be addressed by scientific methods. What’s more, a new scientific advance has made it more likely that we will finally be able to answer this cosmic conundrum. This is a big deal, because the simplest scientific answer to that question is “We shouldn’t exist at all.”

    Obviously, we know that there must be something, because we’re here. If there were nothing, we couldn’t ask the question. But why? Why is there something? Why is the universe not a featureless void? Why does our universe have matter and not only energy? It might seem surprising, but given our current theories and measurements, science cannot answer those questions.

    However, give some scientists 65 pounds of a rare isotope of germanium, cool it to temperatures cold enough to liquify air, and place their equipment nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine, and you’ll have the beginnings of an answer. Their project is called the Majorana Demonstrator and it is located at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, near Lead, South Dakota.

    U Washington Majorana Demonstrator Experiment at SURF

    Science paper om Majorana Demonstrator project
    Initial Results from the Majorana Demonstrator
    Journal of Physics: Conference Series

    SURF-Sanford Underground Research Facility

    SURF Above Ground

    SURF Out with the Old

    SURF An Empty Slate

    SURF Carving New Space

    SURF Shotcreting

    SURF Bolting and Wire Mesh

    SURF Outfitting Begins

    SURF circular wooden frame was built to form a concrete ring to hold the 72,000-gallon (272,549 liters) water tank that would house the LUX dark matter detector

    SURF LUX water tank was transported in pieces and welded together in the Davis Cavern

    SURF Ground Support

    SURF Dedicated to Science

    SURF Building a Ship in a Bottle

    SURF Tight Spaces

    SURF Ready for Science

    SURF Entrance Before Outfitting

    SURF Entrance After Outfitting

    SURF Common Corridior

    SURF Davis

    SURF Davis A World Class Site

    SURF Davis a Lab Site

    SURF DUNE LBNF Caverns at Sanford Lab

    FNAL DUNE Argon tank at SURF

    U Washington LUX Xenon experiment at SURF

    SURF Before Majorana

    U Washington Majorana Demonstrator Experiment at SURF

    To grasp why science has trouble explaining why matter exists — and to understand the scientific achievement of Majorana — we must first know a few simple things. First, our universe is made exclusively of matter; you, me, the Earth, even distant galaxies. All of it is matter.

    However, our best theory for explaining the behavior of the matter and energy of the universe contradicts the realities that we observe in the universe all around us. This theory, called the Standard Model, says that the matter of the universe should be accompanied by an identical amount of antimatter, which, as its name suggests, is a substance antagonistic to matter. Combine equal amounts of matter and antimatter and it will convert into energy.

    And the street goes both ways: Enough energy can convert into matter and antimatter. (Fun fact: Combining a paper clip’s worth of matter and antimatter will result in the same energy released in the atomic explosion at Hiroshima. Don’t worry though; since antimatter’s discovery in 1931, we have only been able to isolate enough of it to make about 10 pots of coffee.)

    An enigma about the relative amounts of matter and antimatter in the universe arises when we think about how the universe came to be. Modern cosmology says the universe began in an unimaginable Big Bang — an explosion of energy. In this theory, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have resulted.

    So how is our universe made exclusively of matter? Where did the antimatter go?

    The simplest answer is that we don’t know. In fact, it remains one of the biggest unanswered problems of modern physics.

    Just because the question of missing antimatter is unanswered doesn’t mean that scientists are completely clueless. Beginning in 1964 and continuing through to the present day, physicists have studied the problem and we have found out that early in the universe there was a slight asymmetry in the laws of nature that treated matter and antimatter differently.

    Very approximately, for every billion antimatter subatomic particles that were made in the Big Bang, there were a billion-and-one matter particles. The billion matter and antimatter particles were annihilated, leaving the small amount of leftover matter (the “one”) that went on to make up the universe we see around us. This is accepted science.

    However, we don’t know the process whereby the asymmetry in the laws of the universe arose. One possible explanation revolves around a class of subatomic particles called leptons.

    The most well-known of the leptons is the familiar electron, found around atoms. However, a less known lepton is called the neutrino. Neutrinos are emitted in a particular kind of nuclear radiation, called beta decay. Beta decay occurs when a neutron in an atom decays into a proton, an electron, and a neutrino.

    Neutrinos are fascinating particles. They interact extremely weakly; a steady barrage of neutrinos from the nuclear reactions in the sun pass through the entire Earth essentially without interacting. Because they interact so little, they are very difficult to detect and study. And that means that there are properties of neutrinos that we still don’t understand.

    Still a mystery to scientists is whether there is a difference between neutrino matter and neutrino antimatter. While we know that both exist, we don’t know if they are different subatomic particles or if they are the same thing. That’s a heavy thought, so perhaps an analogy will help.

    Imagine you have a set of twins, with each twin standing in for the matter and antimatter neutrinos. If the twins are fraternal, you can tell them apart, but if they are identical, you can’t. Essentially, we don’t know which kind of twins the neutrino matter/antimatter pair are.

    If neutrinos are their own antimatter particle, it would be an enormous clue in the mystery of the missing antimatter. So, naturally, scientists are working to figure this out.

    The way they do that is to look first for a very rare form of beta decay, called double beta decay. That’s when two neutrons in the nucleus of an atom simultaneously decay. In this process, two neutrinos are emitted. Scientists have observed this kind of decay.

    However, if neutrinos are their own antiparticle, an even rarer thing can occur called “neutrinoless double beta decay.” In this process, the neutrinos are absorbed before they get outside of the nucleus. In this case, no neutrinos are emitted. This process has not been observed and this is what scientists are looking for. The observation of a single, unambiguous neutrinoless double beta decay would show that matter and antimatter neutrinos were the same.

    If indeed neutrinoless double beta decay exists, it’s very hard to detect and it’s important that scientists can discriminate between the many types of radioactive decay that mimic that of a neutrino. This requires the design and construction of very precise detectors.

    So that’s what the Majorana Demonstrator scientists achieved. They developed the technology necessary to make this very difficult differentiation. This demonstration paints a way forward for a follow-up experiment that can, once and for all, answer the question of whether matter and antimatter neutrinos are the same or different. And, with that information in hand, it might be possible to understand why our universe is made only of matter.

    For millennia, introspective thinkers have pondered the great questions of existence. Why are we here? Why is the universe the way it is? Do things have to be this way? With this advance, scientists have taken a step forward in answering these timeless questions.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 3:29 pm on June 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CNN, Frank Lloyd Wright, What his 5 best buildings tell us about his life and work   

    From CNN: “Frank Lloyd Wright: What his 5 best buildings tell us about his life and work” 


    June 8, 2017
    Jonathan Glancey

    Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time, was born 150 years ago today. The mastermind behind more than 500 projects realized around the world over seven decades, he’s remembered for elegantly blending nature with the built environment.
    Here’s what his five most memorable buildings tell us about his life and work.

    1910: Robie House (Chicago, Illinois)

    1923: Imperial Hotel (Tokyo, Japan)

    1939: Fallingwater (Fayette County, Pennsylvania)

    1959: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York)

    1956: The Illinois (unrealized)

    In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright left his wife and six children. In Europe, he met his lover, Martha “Mama” Cheney, who had left her American husband to join him.

    In Germany, Wright arranged publication of the Wasmuth Portfolio, 100 lithographs of his work to date. This was a revelation to the first generation of European modern architects. Work is said to have stopped for a day in the Berlin office of Peter Behrens, where the architect’s young assistants, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, pored over a first edition.

    With their open plan floors, low roofs, ribbon windows and long horizontal lines, Wright’s Prairie Houses were distinctive and modern. Before Wright and Mama returned to the States, the most impressive of these was completed by Marion Mahony, Wright’s first assistant, and interior designer George Mann Niedecken for Frederick C. Robie, a 28-year old Chicago businessman.
    With its steel frame and brick skin, the construction of the house was considered highly advanced. Named a US National Historic Landmark in 1963, it has been under threat of demolition twice: in 1941 and again in 1957, both times by the Chicago Theological Seminary, its owner since 1926.

    “It all goes to show,” said Wright, “the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy.”
    Currently being returned to its original condition, the Robie House epitomizes the spirit of what was an original and wholly American architecture independent of European influence.

    The scandal over his flight to Europe ensured Wright was without new commissions for several years. Worse still, in 1914 a male servant set fire to Taliesin, the Wisconsin house he had built for Mama, and murdered her, her children and several members of staff with an axe as they fled.
    The commission to design the new Imperial Hotel in Tokyo came as the architect’s salvation. A lifelong collector of Japanese prints, Wright visited the city multiple times, creating a temple-like courtyard building fusing Eastern and Western themes, the latter expressed through his growing fascination with Mayan design.

    Completed in 1923 by his Tokyo assistant Arata Endo, this quixotic hotel was, according to Wright, “a system of gardens and sunken gardens and terraced gardens, of balconies that are gardens and loggias that are also gardens and roofs that are gardens.”
    Kameki and Nobuko Tsuchiura, two young Japanese architects who had worked on the project, joined Wright’s team in Wisconsin. Nobuko was the first Japanese woman architect.

    Although alluring in many ways, the Imperial floated on a mud plain. In May 1945 it had been partly destroyed by USAAF incendiary bombs, and it was occupied by American forces from 1945 to 1952. By the 1960s it had sunk deeper into the ground and in 1968 it was demolished.

    If it existed today, this would surely be one of the world’s cult hotels.

    Frank Lloyd Wright: What his 5 best buildings tell us about his life and work

    In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright left his wife and six children. In Europe, he met his lover, Martha “Mama” Cheney, who had left her American husband to join him.

    In Germany, Wright arranged publication of the Wasmuth Portfolio, 100 lithographs of his work to date. This was a revelation to the first generation of European modern architects. Work is said to have stopped for a day in the Berlin office of Peter Behrens, where the architect’s young assistants, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, pored over a first edition.

    With their open plan floors, low roofs, ribbon windows and long horizontal lines, Wright’s Prairie Houses were distinctive and modern. Before Wright and Mama returned to the States, the most impressive of these was completed by Marion Mahony, Wright’s first assistant, and interior designer George Mann Niedecken for Frederick C. Robie, a 28-year old Chicago businessman.

    With its steel frame and brick skin, the construction of the house was considered highly advanced. Named a US National Historic Landmark in 1963, it has been under threat of demolition twice: in 1941 and again in 1957, both times by the Chicago Theological Seminary, its owner since 1926.

    “It all goes to show,” said Wright, “the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy.”
    Currently being returned to its original condition, the Robie House epitomizes the spirit of what was an original and wholly American architecture independent of European influence.

    The scandal over his flight to Europe ensured Wright was without new commissions for several years. Worse still, in 1914 a male servant set fire to Taliesin, the Wisconsin house he had built for Mama, and murdered her, her children and several members of staff with an axe as they fled.

    The commission to design the new Imperial Hotel in Tokyo came as the architect’s salvation. A lifelong collector of Japanese prints, Wright visited the city multiple times, creating a temple-like courtyard building fusing Eastern and Western themes, the latter expressed through his growing fascination with Mayan design.

    Completed in 1923 by his Tokyo assistant Arata Endo, this quixotic hotel was, according to Wright, “a system of gardens and sunken gardens and terraced gardens, of balconies that are gardens and loggias that are also gardens and roofs that are gardens.”
    Kameki and Nobuko Tsuchiura, two young Japanese architects who had worked on the project, joined Wright’s team in Wisconsin. Nobuko was the first Japanese woman architect.

    Although alluring in many ways, the Imperial floated on a mud plain. In May 1945 it had been partly destroyed by USAAF incendiary bombs, and it was occupied by American forces from 1945 to 1952. By the 1960s it had sunk deeper into the ground and in 1968 it was demolished.

    If it existed today, this would surely be one of the world’s cult hotels.

    With the effects of the Great Depression and the growing influence of a younger generation of Bauhaus-influenced Modern architects, Wright’s career stalled.

    In 1934, Edgar J. Kaufmann, a wealthy Pittsburgh department store proprietor, commissioned the 67-year-old architect to design a weekend mountain retreat overlooking the waterfall at Bear Run in the Laurel Highlands 65 miles southeast of the city.

    Wright wrote Kaufmann and his wife, Liliane: “I want you to live with the waterfall, not just to look at it.”

    The result was a highly original and beautiful house set directly over falling water that, while overtly modern, belonged to the landscape. A daring structure, its cantilevered riverfront sagged the moment the concrete formwork was removed, while damp seeping up from the waterfall — accessible by stair from the living room— caused mold as roof-lights leaked.

    It was hard, though not to fall in love with Fallingwater, its very name barely concealing that of “FLW”. Together with its caped architect (Wright was always a showman), it made the cover of Time. The influential magazine described the exquisite house as the architect’s “most beautiful job.”

    Wright’s star was in the reascendant. A museum since 1964 and in danger of collapse by the end of the century, Fallingwater has been beautifully restored to enchant and inspire future generations.

    A rhyme in a café on nearby Route 381 said “Frank Lloyd Wright built a house over falling water/which he really shouldn’t have oughta.”

    Most of us are glad he did.

    Dreamed up in the mid-1940s, Wright’s designs for the Guggenheim — his only museum — were very much against the grain of the rectilinear modern European architecture that dominated New York and cities worldwide from the end of the Second World War.

    A spiraling organic structure, rather like a Nautilus shell, the completed Guggenheim was a highly personal architectural statement rather than some rational analysis of function expressed in a grid of 90-degree angles.

    From its opening six months after Wright’s death at the age of 91 (he had never stopped working), the Guggenheim was loved and loathed. Those who loved it reveled in its sense of freedom and daring, its radical architectural breaking from that of conventional museums and galleries. Those who loathed it took against its contrary design.

    How could curators be expected to hang paintings, or visitors to contemplate them, along the walls of a continuously ascending, or descending, spiral? When curators questioned the low ceilings, Wright told them to “cut the paintings in half.”

    However controversial, the Guggenheim endeared Wright to New York’s media.

    In June 1956, he even appeared on the popular TV quiz show “What’s My Line?”

    The following September, he was the subject not once but twice, of “The Mike Wallace Interview,” sponsored by Philip Morris and conducted in clouds of cigarette smoke, covering subjects from religion and sex to fame and architecture. Wright had become an American legend. He remained, though, a fierce individualist, refusing to ever join the American Institute of Architects.

    In October 1956, Wright unveiled his design for The Illinois, a sensational mile-high skyscraper, at a press conference at Chicago’s gargantuan Hotel Sherman. The tallest of all skyscrapers, The Illinois was to have risen from the prodigious green acres of Chicago parkland.

    Counterintuitively, or so it must have seemed, The Illinois was the 88-year old architect’s riposte to the very idea of the city in general. As he told Mike Wallace on television when pressed on his religious beliefs, Wright said he spelled God with an “n” rather than a “g.” “N” was for nature.

    Designed for 130,000 tenants, The Illinois was Wright’s way of keeping the sheer horizontal sprawl of the American city in check. The 528-floor tower, with its twin helipads and 56 atomic-powered elevators, however, remained a dream, although it proved that Wright had become ever more radical with age, and that he was, as he had been since he first promoted his Prairie Houses, still a highly talented publicist.

    Wright has been described, time and again, as narcissistic and egotistical. He was, though, an exceptionally talented architect, and never doubted this, even in the face of personal loss and downright tragedy.

    Asked for his occupation in a court of law, Wright replied “The world’s greatest architect.” His (third) wife remonstrated him.

    “I had no choice, Olgivanna,” he told her. “I was under oath.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 12:46 pm on May 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , CNN, , , The mysterious 'Cold Spot' in the universe   

    From Don Lincoln of FNAL via CNN: “The mysterious ‘Cold Spot’ in the universe” 


    May 14, 2017

    FNAL Don Lincoln

    The circled area in this map of the cosmic microwave background left by the Big Bang is the “Cold Spot” that scientists are investigating. No image credit

    A recent astronomical observation of a “cold spot” in the universe is stirring the interest of scientists who are intrigued with an exciting and highly speculative theory that there may be more than one universe.

    Now before you get incredibly excited about that prospect, I should caution that this particular explanation is a huge long shot and there are more prosaic possible explanations. The idea of multiple universes, or multiverses, is a highly speculative and contentious one, and many experts view it with a very jaundiced eye. (This includes me.)

    In 1964, two scientists used a microwave receiver to hear the radio hiss that is the modern remnant of the Big Bang.

    Radioastronomers Arno Penzias, 45, and Robert Wilson, 42, have received a Nobel prize for their discovery of the 3 degree kelvin sky temperature associated with the Big Bang fireball which created the universe. Penzias and Wilson made their observations in 1965 at the Holmdel, New Jersey, site of the Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL) where another BTL scientist, Karl G. Jansky, discovered radio waves of extraterrestrial origin in 1931.

    Karl V Jansky NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    Penzias and Wilson had measured a 3 degree excess in the temperature of their big horn antenna. They at first suspected its cause in some of the antenna’s connections but finally concluded it was related to the creation of the universe. Their careful tracking down of a small discrepancy led them to the grandest of all possible answers.

    While the universe after the Big Bang was unimaginably hot, it has cooled over the eons and these measurements showed that the temperature of the universe is about 3 Kelvin (-455 ºF). Further, the temperature is extraordinarily uniform.

    However, in 1998, the COBE satellite discovered that the temperature of the universe wasn’t perfectly homogeneous.


    There were places in the sky that were a little hotter and colder than average. These variations are very small, only about one part in 100,000.

    There have been improved measurements of this non-uniformity, with the most recent satellite (called Planck) publishing its measurements in the early part of this decade.

    CMB per ESA/Planck


    These new measurements are much more precise and they support the earlier conclusions of the COBE satellite.

    Scientists believe these small variations are actually remnants of subatomic-sized temperature differences that were present at the moment of the Big Bang that are now stretched across the entire universe. And, while that is inarguably an extremely cool idea, it’s not the thing that has scientists’ attention at the moment. There’s another topic that is literally cooler still.

    Our current theories can pretty much explain the pattern of cold and hot spots across the sky, except there appears to be an anomaly. There is a spot in the heavens that is unusually cold. Scientists have unimaginatively called it “The Cold Spot.”

    At only 150 microkelvins below average, this seems like a very small variation. But it is a much bigger temperature difference and it covers a much larger part of the sky than can be easily explained. There is something unusual going on.

    In about 2008, several scientists proposed that this cold spot in the remnant of the Big Bang fireball could perhaps be due to collisions between multiverses. The Cold Spot could be nothing more than a bruise on a particularly large peach.

    This is obviously an exciting idea. The possibility of confirming multiverses would vastly overturn mankind’s vision of our place in reality. Copernicus taught us that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, while Hubble taught us that not only is the Sun not at the center of universe, the Sun is a simply an ordinary component of a larger galaxy that is but one of billions.

    Discovering that multiverses existed would tell us that not even our universe is special. The idea of human exceptionalism would take another blow.

    Naturally scientists look critically at these grand ideas. Maybe there is a far more ordinary explanation for the Cold Spot.

    One such explanation of the Cold Spot is simply there that there is a void in the cosmos, which is to say a region of the universe with far fewer galaxies than usual. If true, as the primordial light from the Big Bang passes through this region, it loses energy and cools. This effect only occurs if the universe is expanding, but we know that it is, so the proposal is completely reasonable.

    A recent study [MNRAS] announced on April 12 looked at this region of space to see if it really did have fewer galaxies than expected. The study suggests that there was a small deficit, but not nearly enough to explain the Cold Spot. In short, the obvious answer doesn’t appear to be the right one.

    So what does it all mean? Although I’d bet that the void idea is the right one, this is a bet I’d be happy to lose, because I would be lying if I didn’t say that I would love to see someone prove that the Cold Spot was caused by colliding universes.

    However, it is a highly improbable outcome. It is far more likely that additional studies will support a more ordinary cause. But the prospect of observing multiverses is an exciting one, so scientists are guaranteed to keep looking at it.

    Figuring out what is going on will take a lot more research, and nobody can definitively tell you what the final outcome will be. In the words of the eternally wise Yogi Berra, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 1:41 pm on January 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , CNN, Robbin Thorp   

    From CNN: “The old man and the bee” 


    December 13, 2016
    John D. Sutter

    He was an old man who spent his days alone in the mountains of southern Oregon looking for a bee. He hadn’t seen the bee — no one had seen this particular bee species — in 10 years when he asked me to join him.
    It was August, the last breath of summer bee season. Robbin Thorp, then 82, a retired entomologist from University of California-Davis, wore a safari hat, tinted bifocals and a T-shirt with an image of Franklin’s bumblebee printed on the chest. That black-and-yellow bee, which looks like so many others except for the characteristic “U” on its back, is the object of Thorp’s obsession. It’s a creature he told me flies through his dreams, always just out of reach.
    Finding it — believing it can be found — is what brings him to this spot 6,400 feet above sea level, near the base of a ski lift, even though his gait is wobbly now and these craggy, alpine ravines could break a 20-something hip.
    Franklin’s bumblebee is a species other scientists fear extinct. But Thorp will barely entertain that idea.
    “When things are rare, they’re really, really hard to find,” he told me.
    Thorp can be matter of fact like that.
    And so the old man keeps looking, bee net in one hand and “bee vacuum” in the other. He walks from one flower to the next, inspecting the pollinators. If he sees one that might be Franklin’s he’ll slurp it into the bee vacuum, which looks like a child’s water gun. Then he closely inspects it: “Just another one of the common bumblebees.”

    World-renowned native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

    He does this on his own time and for no pay, usually alone.

    Day after day, year after year.
    It’s almost like something out of Hemingway: The old man and the bee.
    I’ll admit that when I met Thorp on August 8, 2016, the day before the 10-year anniversary of his last sighting of Franklin’s bumblebee, which occurred on that very slope, I had my doubts about his quest. To me, the bee hunt seemed like a Sisyphean task. That’s because scientists say we are entering a new age of mass extinction. Species are disappearing at something like 100 times the normal rate, and biologists fear three-quarters of all species could disappear in the next couple centuries if we don’t stop polluting the atmosphere and bulldozing habitat.
    In that context, it’s hard not to see Thorp as an old man living in an old world, one where a species reasonably can be expected to survive one year to the next.
    We don’t live in that world anymore.
    But after two days with Thorp I realized that he’s on to something.
    It’s precisely when we stop looking for species that we allow them to vanish.

    I’m sure by now you’ve read something about bees being in trouble. Maybe you’ve heard of “colony collapse disorder,” or perhaps there’s a do-gooder on your Facebook page who is raising a beehive in her yard and takes way too many selfies in a Space-Age suit.
    All of that barely scratches the surface of the trouble bees face.

    There are roughly 20,000 species of bees in the world — that’s more than birds or amphibians or reptiles or mammals — and the Western honey bee, the one you usually hear about, the one that lives in big, social hives and is domesticated to produce honey — is just one of those species.
    To get a sense of what the other 19,999 are like, it helps to talk to Sam Droege, a researcher at the US Geological Survey’s Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab in Maryland. Droege spends his days taking super-high-resolution photos of dead bee specimens, some of which come from natural history museums and others that are pulled from field research. One benefit of the work is that it provides a detailed catalog of species, in case they disappear.
    But the photos are also just really freaking cool — in that way potheads can appreciate. Some of the images first got popular on a stoner-themed subpage of the website reddit. The page is called “WOAHDUDE.” Droege’s daughter brought that to his attention, “Why was my daughter looking at the stoner subreddit, I don’t know!,” he told a documentary film crew.
    Take a look at a few of the images:


    [More in the full article. See the link below.]

    We’re losing this diversity fast.

    So that’s the stoner argument for why bees matter.
    Here’s the self-interested one: Bees help pollinate 35% of the world’s food, and bumblebees, of which Franklin’s bumblebee is (or was) one, pollinate everything from tomatoes to cranberries and blueberries and melons. Yet they live in underground colonies, caring for a queen. And they don’t make honey, so you don’t hear as much about them from journalists.
    Sarina Jepsen, deputy chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s bumblebee specialist group, and a director at the Xerces Society, an environmental nonprofit, told me about 25% of bumblebees in North America are at risk for extinction. “If you think about it, that’s a really strikingly high percentage of a fauna to be declining — and in some cases really crashing,” said Leif Richardson, a postdoctoral fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics.
    And much of the vanishing is undocumented.
    “It’s abysmal what we know right now,” Droege, from USGS, told me.
    “There are just too few people on the ground looking.”

    ‘It was just gone’
    Robbin Thorp started looking for Franklin’s bumblebee in the 1960s. He’d taken an entomology course at the University of Michigan and got hooked on the invisible insect world. It’s an obsession that was, from the start, both personal and professional. He told me his first wife did not love the fact that he kept stacks of insect eggs and other specimens in their apartment.
    “She was not a naturalist,” he said, laughing. “But she put up with it.”
    In 1998, he began to study Franklin’s bumblebee in earnest.
    In part, he was interested in whether the bee should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. But he also just wanted to know what this bee was all about. Why did it live only in northern California and southern Oregon when so many other bee species had wider ranges? Which flowers did it prefer? Which plants and potentially crops would be lost without it?
    Back then, the bee was relatively abundant — not the most common, but far from the least. “I could walk down and see (Franklin’s bumblebee) on every patch of flowers,” he told me.
    “I’d see 15, 20 of ’em in just a short distance.”

    A year or two later, the bee became more difficult to find.
    Then all of a sudden: “It was just gone.”

    Thorp’s work shifted from what-is-this-bee-up-to to where-the-hell-did-it-go. The bee scientist, in a sense, became a detective. Who or what could have killed Franklin’s bumblebee?
    Thorp hoped finding it might offer some clues.

    ‘There’s something flying!’
    I met Thorp on a cool, clear morning in the parking lot at the base of Oregon’s Mount Ashland Ski Area. You could see California’s Mount Shasta from this altitude. I worry about meeting people for the first time — whether I’ll know who they are and all that. But identifying Thorp was no trouble at all. White truck, bumblebee sticker on tailgate. Yep, that’s him.
    His treasured bee, however, proved much harder to pick out of a crowd.
    We drove 15 minutes or so down a gravel road toward the meadow where Thorp last spotted Franklin’s bumblebee, on August 9, 2006, a date he recites from memory. When we stopped, Thorp pulled a little wooden box out of the back of his pickup and opened it.
    Inside, rows of dead bees with pins stuck through them.


    “These are Franklin’s,” he said, pointing to three of them. “A queen, a worker and a male.”
    Shaky handwriting dated the specimens: “1950.”
    The trouble: Franklin’s bee looked like so many others in the box. Thorp told me Franklin’s is distinguished by its “round black face” — “some of the others have a very long face,” he said — and by a U-shaped black marking on its back, near the wings. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of these,” Thorp said, pointing to the Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, which, true to name, has a yellow face (as does Franklin’s) and a distinguishing yellow stripe on its abdomen.
    None of this helped me much. I drew a few pictures in my notebook — jotted down these descriptions and pretended I could tell all of these seemingly identical bees apart.
    “There’s something flying!” Thorp said, pointing to a bee that buzzed right by my leg.
    “It’s probably headed for the flowers.”
    Apparently, so were we.

    ‘That’s a fly’
    To find bees, Thorp told me, you start with the flowers.
    If you know something about bumblebees and what they’re up to — I didn’t, Thorp did — this makes sense. Bumblebees serve a queen, which is buried in a den beneath the ground. Worker bees — females that don’t reproduce because they’re not the queen — fly around during the day collecting flower pollen and nectar for food and energy.
    They carry the pollen back to the nest in saddle bags, which look like little orange or yellow (it depends on the pollen) footballs taped to their legs. I asked Thorp if this was the origin of the phrase “the bee’s knees.” Sorry to report: It’s not. He did tell me, however, that all of these bumblebees, except the queen, die each year. The queen hibernates through the winter alone, producing the next year’s generation.
    It’s a risky life cycle, and it’s one reason Thorp is so concerned about Franklin’s, which, by the way, is named for a researcher, not Benjamin Franklin.
    Another fun bumblebee fact: Females sting, males don’t.
    To prove the point, Thorp slurped a male from the air with his bee vacuum —
    — and put the poor guy in my hand.
    “It’s kind of like a cell phone on buzz mode,” he said.

    That’s exactly how it felt.
    That buzz — which is much stronger on a bumblebee than other bees — is what shakes pollen off of flowers, helping them reproduce. Bumblebees pollinate crops other bees can’t.
    Some bees have evolved to pollinate very-specific plants. Franklin’s bumblebee can pollinate many things, Thorp told me, but it tends to prefer two plants: a mini-mum-looking flower called yellow buckwheat; and a purplish blossom commonly called coyote mint, but which Thorp calls “monardella.” We set our sights on those flowers and continued scanning the field.
    The trouble: These flowers were everywhere.
    Notebook in hand, I started testing my bee-ID skills.
    I pointed at a bee I thought, stupidly, might be Franklin’s.
    “This also has a yellow face but it’s shaggier looking,” he said.
    I’d never thought of bees as “shaggy” before.
    “Which one is that?” I asked.
    “That’s a fly.”

    500 million butterflies
    The precise location where Thorp saw Franklin’s bumblebee in 2006 is on a steep slope, past a clump of trees and slightly below the Pacific Crest Trail, the famous hiking path.


    Unlike me, Thorp can identify bees in a split second. He knew instantly that this was Franklin’s bumblebee, which he hadn’t seen in three years at that point. He saw it zip down the meadow, across what now is a field of yellow buckwheat, and toward a soggy ravine.
    Thorp was 72 then.
    Still, he ran downhill after the bee.
    He never caught it.
    And he remains mystified by its disappearance.
    That’s because the usual bee killers don’t make total sense for Franklin’s.
    There are a number of reasons for the crash of pollinators bees worldwide. Mainly, they are habitat loss (nearly 40% of all land is used for agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization), climate change (the land that’s left is changing, and this is shrinking the ranges of some bees) and rampant chemical use.

    You may remember seeing images of millions of dead bees in South Carolina earlier this year. Officials sprayed insecticide in hopes of killing mosquitoes that could transmit the Zika virus. Millions of honeybees became unintended casualties. More pervasive, though, are pesticides and herbicides, which are routinely sprayed on crops like corn. More than 500 million monarch butterflies have disappeared since 1997, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. That’s partly because herbicide use has killed off much of their habitat, the group says, noting that a Texas sized chunk of monarch habitat has been lost in the last 20 years.
    Some researchers fear their epic migration is in jeopardy.
    Franklin’s bumblebee, meanwhile, seems to live on a pristine, alpine meadow, with few people around and no crops that I saw. Its historic range only includes California and Oregon. Climate change is mangling so many things in the natural world it’s difficult to tease out its effect everywhere — but Thorp suspected a totally different culprit.
    To understand it, you need to take a quick trip with me.

    ‘Caution: Bumblebees at work’
    There’s a shiny pool of disinfectant by the door to the greenhouse at Windset Farms in British Columbia, about 600 miles up the Pacific Coast from Mount Ashland.
    Two ominous signs are stuck to the door.
    “Warning: Strict biosecurity measures in effect.”
    “Caution: Bumblebees at work.”
    I got a tour from Ron Moes, a senior grower at Windset, which grows tomatoes and a host of other crops in greenhouses that seem big enough to contain neighborhoods.
    I was interested in the farm because it hires commercial bees — raised in factories some 2,000 miles away and then flown way out here.
    “When we get the bees, they come in a box like this,” Moes told me, pointing to what looked to be a box for legal files. Except that it had a bunch of bees buzzing around inside.
    “When I started, we pollinated everything by hand,” he said. “We manually went around with the — we call it a vibrator — and we would touch every flower and pollinate.” Now that the greenhouse has hired commercial bees, an industry that developed in the late 1990s, the process is more efficient and cheaper. “They’re great workers,” Moes said. “They put in a lot of time. They basically go from sunup to sunset, and they basically work seven days a week.”


    Aside from the postapocalyptic feel of the place — the bees are raised only for mass production and their colonies are incinerated after eight weeks of work — perhaps there is nothing wrong with hiring bees for their pollination services. They can pollinate better than a “vibrator” — so let them do their thing, right? But Thorp and other researchers are concerned about diseases that can spread anytime you have a bunch of homogenous livestock — or bees — in one place.
    Thorp fears greenhouse diseases, perhaps one called Nosema, infected wild bee populations — and helped lead to the rapid decline of Franklin’s bumblebee.
    Moes told me Windset takes ample precautions to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Aside from incinerating the hives, they trap queen bees inside the boxes permanently so that she can’t start new colonies. The greenhouse is disinfected regularly, he said.
    Still, there are open panels in the ceiling of the greenhouse. And while Moes told me these bees have no interest in leaving so many pollination-ready tomato crops, it does seem possible one or two could sneak out. It’s enough of a concern that conservationists like Jepsen, at the Xerces Society in Portland, want stiffer, disease-minded regulation of the commercial bee industry. She also wants commercial bees to only be local species, instead of shipped around the globe.

    What’s the value of this?’
    Whatever the cause, Thorp is understandably alarmed by Franklin’s bumblebee’s disappearance. And he’s sure humans are behind it somehow.
    As I walked up and down the meadows of Oregon with Thorp looking for this impossible-to-find insect, I thought about how we know so very little about the natural world. We live in concrete cities, deal only with managed forms of nature — farms, lawns, medians.
    In a generation or two, will there be any Robbin Thorps left?
    Will anyone notice species like Franklin’s are disappearing?
    Maybe it seems like this doesn’t matter — it’s just one bee. Others will pick up the slack of pollinating wildflowers, and we have factory bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables now.
    To that, I’d offer two arguments.
    One is that farmers in part of China now have to pollinate apple crops by hand because wild bee populations have vanished entirely. True, the crop isn’t gone. But what does that say about us?
    For the second, I’ll give the floor to Thorp.
    I asked him to name the question about Franklin’s that bothers him most.
    “I guess the question that irks me the most is, ‘What’s the value of this?'”
    Meaning, what’s the economic value of this species.
    He hates that question because, yes, pollination services from nature are valued at billions per year, and, yes, the grocery store would look much sadder without bees and other pollinators.
    But that’s missing the bigger truth.
    “I don’t think you can put an economic value on a species,” he told me, sitting in that meadow in Oregon he’s returned to so many times since 2006. “To me they’re all valuable. They’re all priceless really … Franklin’s is one that I’ve had a lot of personal investment in, in many ways. And, yeah, I feel an attachment and kinship to it.”
    Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all thought that way?
    We might not be on the verge of the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history — something of dinosaur-ending magnitude. Anthony Barnosky, an expert on this from Stanford University, told me humans have about 20 years max to shape up before this mass extinction becomes inevitable. And by mass extinction he means three-quarters of all known species would be lost.
    Franklin’s bumblebee should be a wake-up call — a window into a dystopian future.
    It certainly was for me.

    ‘Honeybee on buckwheat’
    I wasted the first day-and-a-half I spent with Thorp wondering what keeps this old man looking for this lost bee. It must be extinct, I thought. Give up.
    But then, somehow, I got hooked on this quest.


    The more I looked for Franklin’s bumblebee, the more I learned about this meadow in Oregon, the rich lattice of flowers, bees, ferns and the like that make it wonderful and unique. And the more I learned the more I wanted to believe that Franklin’s bumblebee might still be out there — somewhere, against all odds.
    I know that probably sounds silly, but Thorp’s endless vat of hope is infectious. If we’re going to beat the sixth extinction, we have to believe it’s possible. We need to believe species like Franklin’s bumblebee matter.
    We should be pissed off they’re missing.
    Late in the afternoon, I left Thorp and walked off on my own path.
    Thorp mutters notes into a voice recorder while he walks through the mountains looking for bees — listing the flowers and the insects. I decided to try the same, speaking notes to my phone.
    “Honeybee on buckwheat. Yellow-faced whatever on buckwheat.”
    “There’s a big patch of this mint stuff that Franklin’s bumblebee likes. It’s kinda purple. Yellow faced bumblebee — looks like — just flew up. It’s buzzing one of those flowers. I guess it’s good there are bees here at all, but these are NOT the bees I’m looking for.”

    “There’s just this buzzing sound all around you. It kinda makes you insane.”
    I got so into it that I actually started talking to the bees.
    “Do you guys know where Franklin is?”
    We never found it.
    I was crushed.
    Thorp was disappointed but hopeful.
    And as long as he can walk, he told me, he will continue the search.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 2:27 pm on August 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CNN, , , , ,   

    From Don Lincoln via CNN: “A new planet in our neighborhood — how likely is life?” 


    August 24, 2016

    Dr. Don Lincoln is a senior physicist at Fermilab and does research using the Large Hadron Collider. He has written numerous books and produces a series of science education videos. He is the author of Alien Universe: Extraterrestrial Life in Our Minds and in the Cosmos. Follow him on Facebook. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

    Space. The final frontier.

    These words inspired many young people to enter science (including me), but I’ll bet that’s especially true for the team who announced Wednesday that they had found evidence of an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, our closest star. This planet is tentatively called Proxima b.

    Pale Red Dot
    Pale Red Dot project at ESO

    Scientists working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), using the La Silla telescope, claim to have discovered the closest exoplanet to Earth.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, Chile

    Exoplanet, of course, means planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Over 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered by facilities like the ESO and the Kepler orbiting observatory. Most of them are huge planets orbiting very near their star — Jupiter-like planets heated to temperatures guaranteed to sterilize them of life as we know it.

    In recent years, instrumentation has improved to the point that not only can individual planets be found, but even complete solar systems, consisting of many planets. This has been a heady time for planet hunters.

    The goal of those inspired by Star Trek’s opening words has not been to find planets, but to find planets that are like Earth — meaning at a temperature on which liquid water could be present and which could theoretically support some form of life. This is what astronomers call “the habitable zone.” In addition, we’d like to find a planet that is nearby.

    After all, space is huge and human spacecraft using current technology would take tens of thousands of years to get to even this, our closest celestial neighbor. To give a sense of scale, that’s longer than human civilization has existed. There are plans under discussion that might reduce travel time to a more manageable duration, even less than a single human lifespan.

    Related article: Proxima b: Closest rocky planet to our solar system found

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker
    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    So what might this newly discovered planet look like? Well, even though its temperature is thought to be such that liquid water could exist, you shouldn’t imagine a lush and verdant world, with lovely blue waters, sandy beaches, lush and green plants, with an excited alien fish occasionally breaching the waters. There are lots of reasons why these are unreasonable expectations.

    Setting aside the possibility of life for a moment, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, which is the most common type of star in the galaxy. Red dwarfs are much smaller than our Sun. For instance, Proxima Centauri is only about 1.5 times larger than Jupiter. Red dwarfs are very dim. For instance, in the visible spectrum that we use to see, Proxima Centauri gives off 0.0056% as much as light as the Sun.

    Most of the light given off by Proxima Centauri is in the infrared region, but even if you compare all of the light emitted by Proxima Centauri in all wavelengths to the amount emitted by the Sun, Proxima Centauri still emits only 0.17% as much light as our own life-giving stellar companion. The star also emits as much x-rays as our own Sun, but Proxima b is much closer to its stellar parent, so the surface receives far more x-rays than Earth.

    In addition to being a very dim star, Proxima Centauri is known to be a “flare star,” which means the star periodically gives off far more light than usual. During these flares, the x-ray emission can go up tenfold.

    Because of the star’s small size, a planet in the habitable zone will have to be in a very small orbit, taking under two weeks to complete a single orbit. Any planet that close to a star will be “tidally locked,” which means that one face of the planet will constantly face the star. This is just like the Earth and Moon, where we see only one side of the Moon throughout the course of the Month. Proxima Centauri’s planetary companion will likely have one side in perpetual daylight, while the other is in perpetual night.

    So what about life? Are there any chances that an alien lizard might bask in Proxima Centauri’s light or try to find shade under an alien tree? Well, given the instability of the light emitted by the parent star, the answer is likely no, although the real answer to that question is obviously something for observations to answer.

    Given the very dim light output of the star, it is likely that any hypothetical plants would have to be black, as black is the most light-absorbent color. “Sunlight” would be precious and evolution would drive alien plants to find ways to collect every bit of energy that falls on them.

    Realistically, the prospect of life is improbable. This planet is unlikely to be a haven for people trying to escape the ecological issues of Earth, so we should not view this discovery as a way to ignore our own ecosystem.

    Still, the question of extraterrestrial life is a fascinating one, so astronomers are devising techniques to look at the planet’s atmosphere. Certain chemicals, like oxygen or methane, cannot exist long in a planet’s atmosphere without being constantly replenished by living organisms. Observing them would be strong evidence for life.

    So, what’s the bottom line? First, the discovery, if confirmed is extremely exciting. The existence of a nearby planet in the habitable zone will perhaps increase the interest in efforts like Project Starshot, which aims to send microprobes to Proxima Centauri with a transit time of about twenty years. It may well be that this discovery will excite an entirely new generation of the prospect “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: