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  • richardmitnick 1:25 pm on December 17, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Physicists Prove Anyons Exist- a Third Type of Particle in the Universe", , Discover Magazine,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Physicists Prove Anyons Exist- a Third Type of Particle in the Universe” 


    From Discover Magazine

    December 12, 2020
    Stephen Ornes

    This year, physicists gave us an early view of a third kingdom of quasiparticles that only arise in two dimensions.


    After decades of exploration in nature’s smallest domains, physicists have finally found evidence that anyons exist. First predicted by theorists in the early 1980s, these particle-like objects only arise in realms confined to two dimensions, and then only under certain circumstances — like at temperatures near absolute zero and in the presence of a strong magnetic field.

    Physicists are excited about anyons not only because their discovery confirms decades of theoretical work, but also for practical reasons. For example: Anyons are at the heart of an effort by Microsoft to build a working quantum computer.

    This year brought two solid confirmations of the quasiparticles. The first arrived in April, in a paper featured on the cover of Science, from a group of researchers at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Using an approach proposed four years ago, physicists sent an electron gas through a teeny-tiny particle collider to tease out weird behaviors — especially fractional electric charges — that only arise if anyons are around. The second confirmation came in July, when a group at Purdue University in Indiana used an experimental setup on an etched chip that screened out interactions that might obscure the anyon behavior [Nature Physics].

    MIT physicist Frank Wilczek, who predicted and named anyons in the early 1980s, credits the first paper as the discovery but says the second lets the quasiparticles shine. “It’s gorgeous work that makes the field blossom,” he says. Anyons aren’t like ordinary elementary particles; scientists will never be able to isolate one from the system where it forms. They’re quasiparticles, which means they have measurable properties like a particle — such as a location, maybe even a mass — but they’re only observable as a result of the collective behavior of other, conventional particles. (Think of the intricate geometric shapes made by group behavior in nature, such as flocks of birds flying in formation or schools of fish swimming as one.)

    The known universe contains only two varieties of elementary particles. One is the family of fermions, which includes electrons, as well as protons, neutrons, and the quarks that form them. Fermions keep to themselves: No two can exist in the same quantum state at the same time. If these particles didn’t have this property, all matter could simply collapse to a single point. It’s because of fermions that solid matter exists.

    The rest of the particles in the universe are bosons, a group that includes particles like photons (the messengers of light and radiation) and gluons (which “glue” quarks together). Unlike fermions, two or more bosons can exist in the same state as the same time.

    Standard Model of Particle Physics via http://www.plus.maths.org .

    They tend to clump together. It’s because of this clumping that we have lasers, which are streams of photons all occupying the same quantum state.

    Anyons don’t fit into either group. What makes anyons especially exciting for physicists is they exhibit something analogous to particle memory. If a fermion orbits another fermion, its quantum state remains unchanged. Same goes for a boson.

    Anyons are different. If one moves around another, their collective quantum state shifts. It might require three or even five or more revolutions before the anyons return to their original state. This slight shift in the wave acts like a kind of memory of the trip. This property makes them appealing objects for quantum computers, which depend on quantum states that are notoriously fragile and prone to errors. Anyons suggest a more robust way to store data.

    Wilczek points out that anyons represent a whole “kingdom” containing many varieties with exotic behaviors that can be explored and harnessed in the future. He began thinking about them about 40 years ago in graduate school, when he became frustrated with proofs that only established the existence of two kinds of particles.

    He envisioned something else, and when asked about their other properties or where to find these strange in-betweeners, half-jokingly said, “anything goes” — giving rise to the name.

    Now, he says, the new studies are just the beginning. Looking forward, he sees anyons as a tool for finding exotic states of matter that, for now, remain wild ideas in physicists’ theories.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:15 pm on October 4, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Discover Magazine, The Quantum Internet Will Blow Your Mind. Here’s What It Will Look Like"   

    From Discover Magazine: “The Quantum Internet Will Blow Your Mind. Here’s What It Will Look Like” 


    From Discover Magazine

    October 3, 2020
    Dan Hurley

    The next generation of the Internet will rely on revolutionary new tech. It will make unhackable networks real — and transmit information faster than the speed of light.

    Credit: Jurik Peter/Shutterstock.

    Call it the quantum Garden of Eden. Fifty or so miles east of New York City, on the campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Eden Figueroa is one of the world’s pioneering gardeners planting the seeds of a quantum internet.

    Capable of sending enormous amounts of data over vast distances, it would work not just faster than the current internet but faster than the speed of light — instantaneously, in fact, like the teleportation of Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk in Star Trek.

    Sitting in Brookhaven’s light-filled cafeteria, his shoulder-length black hair fighting to free itself from the clutches of a ponytail, Figueroa — a Mexico native who is an associate professor at Stony Brook University — tries to explain how it will work. He grabs hold of two plastic coffee cup lids, a saltshaker, a pepper shaker and a small cup of water, and begins moving them around on the lunch table like a magician with cards.

    “I’m going to have a detector here and a detector here,” he says, pointing to the two lids. “Now there are many possibilities. Either those two go in here” — he points to the saltshaker — “or the two go in there,” nodding at the cup of water. “And then depending on what happened there, that will be the state,” he says, holding up the black pepper shaker, “that I’m preparing here.”

    Got that? Me neither. But don’t worry. Only a few hundred or so physicists in the U.S., Europe and China really comprehend how to exploit some of the weirdest, most far-out aspects of quantum physics. In this strange arena, objects can exist in two or more states at the same time, called superpositions; they can interact with each other instantly over long distances; they can flash in and out of existence. Scientists like Figueroa want to harness that bizarre behavior and turn it into a functioning, new-age internet — one, they say, that will be ironclad for sending secure messages, impervious to hacking.

    Already, Figueroa says his group has transmitted what he called “polarization states” between the Stony Brook and Brookhaven campuses using fiber infrastructure, adding up to 85 miles. Kerstin Kleese van Dam, director of Brookhaven Lab’s Computational Science Initiative, says it is “one of the largest quantum networks in the world, and the longest in the United States.”

    Next, Figueroa hopes to teleport his quantum-based messages through the air, across Long Island Sound, to Yale University in Connecticut. Then he wants to go 50 miles east, using existing fiber-optic cables to connect with Long Island and Manhattan.

    Eden Figueroa (right) has worked for several years on technology that would extend the distance that quantum particles can travel and still be entangled. Here Figueroa and researchers Mehdi Namazi (left) and Mael Flament (center), part of his team at Stony Brook University back in 2018, stand behind one prototype of technology that’s impervious to hacking. Credit: Stony Brook University.

    Kleese Van Dam says that although other groups in Europe and China have more funding and have been working much longer on the technology, in the U.S. “[Figueroa] is leading when it comes to having the knowledge and the equipment necessary to put together a quantum network in the next year or two.”

    David Awschalom, a legend in the field who is a professor of spintronics and quantum information at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, calls Figueroa’s work “a fantastic project being done very thoughtfully and very well. I’m always cautious about saying something is the biggest or fastest,” he says. “It’s a worldwide effort right now in building prototype quantum networks as the next step toward building a quantum internet.” Other efforts to build quantum networks, he says, are underway in Japan, the U.K., the Netherlands and China — not to mention his own group’s project in Chicago.

    U.S. efforts have lately been given a boost by the U.S. Department of Energy’s announcement in January that it would spend as much as $625 million to fund two to five quantum research centers. The move is part of the U.S. National Quantum Initiative signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 21, 2018.

    But what, really, is this thing called a quantum internet? How does it work? Figueroa, enraptured by his vision, told me of his plan with contagious enthusiasm, laughing sometimes as if it were all so simple that a child (or even an English major) could understand it. Not wanting to disappoint, I nodded my head and pretended that I knew what the hell he was talking about.

    And, after spending two days with Figueroa last summer, following him around the campus of Brookhaven and the nearby Stony Brook, getting a firsthand look at his futuristic equipment, talking with other physicists around the world, reading a few books and perusing dozens of articles and studies, I began to kind of, sort of, get it. Not in all its unsettling depths, but in the general way that I understand how an internal-combustion engine goes vroom or why a toilet bowl flushes. And you can, too.

    Untangling Entanglement

    Leading me to the back room of his laboratory at Stony Brook, where he heads the quantum information technology group, Figueroa shows me a large table covered with a labyrinth of tiny mirrors, lasers and electronics. “This is where we create these photons that carry superpositions,” he says, “that then we can send into the fiber. OK? It’s very simple.”


    Curiously, all the implications of the quantum internet can be traced back to an experiment so straightforward you can do it in your living room. Called the double slit experiment, it was first performed more than 200 years ago by British polymath Thomas Young.

    When shining a beam of light at a flat panel of material cut with two slits side-by-side, Young saw that the light passing through the slits created an interference pattern of dark and bright bands on a screen behind the panel. Only waves — light waves — emanating from the two slits could make such a pattern. Young concluded that Isaac Newton, who published a particle theory of light in 1704, was wrong. Light came in waves, not in particles.

    Credit: Roen Kelly/Discover.

    But by the early 20th century, scientists had confirmed that light also came in particles — what physicist Gilbert N. Lewis called photons, or quanta. And incredibly, researchers found that even when single photons of light were sent flying one at a time at the double-slit panel, the interference pattern still appeared on the other side. Each particle, they realized, was also a wave, spread out like a schmear of cream cheese, and so traversed both slits simultaneously, thereby interfering with … itself on the other side.

    Think on that. A single particle of light was in two places at once. That meant tickling a particle in one place should make it giggle in the other. Observing it in one place should reveal something about its twin. Erwin Schrödinger called the phenomenon entanglement — the very thing that Figueroa and other researchers are harnessing now to send information. Simply put, adding information, such as a message or data, to a particle in one location will make the data appear at the other location: the essence of teleportation.

    But how, I ask Figueroa, do all these wild ideas work in practice, with nuts and bolts and physical devices?

    “Let me show you where the magic happens,” he says.

    Thanks for the Quantum Memories

    “It’s just equipment and optics,” he tells me, pointing to an array of lasers and mirrors configured on a large table. “This is what people call Lego for adults.” On one end, a laser aims high-energy blue photons at a crystal, which breaks each one into a pair of lower-energy red photons; each of the two resulting red photons is now entangled with the other. Figueroa points out the path the photons take from mirror to mirror. “They do boop, boop, boop, boop, boop-boop-boop-boop. This is why we have this beautiful system. This is working, actually. This is beautiful,” he says.

    Once entangled, one red photon is sent a short distance to a detector in Figueroa’s lab down the hall, while the other can be sent a dozen miles away to a detector at the Brookhaven National Lab. The differing distances would cause the two photons’ arrival times to fall slightly out of sync, which would disrupt their entanglement. To prevent that, Figueroa had to find a way to coordinate the arrival times of each down to the sub-nanosecond.

    But how? Other quantum labs freeze their stay-at-home photons to near-absolute zero as a way of tapping the brakes. Figueroa’s innovation, by contrast, works at room temperature: an inch-long glass tube containing a fog of trillions of rubidium atoms. That first morning when I visit Figueroa’s lab, he puts one of these tubes in my hand.

    “What is it?” I ask him.

    He smiles and says, “A quantum memory.”

    Back when he was pursuing his doctorate at the University of Konstanz in Germany, Figueroa tells me, he had asked his professor if it would be possible to build a system that would work at room temperature without costly, complex freezers.

    “I don’t think so,” he was told. “But prove me wrong.”

    So, he did. By bouncing photons off a series of carefully placed mirrors and bombarding a mist of rubidium atoms with a network of lasers, Figueroa discovered that he could tune the wavelengths of entangled photons to broadcast a signal that electrons in the rubidium fog could receive. Voila! The entangled state of the photon is transferred, momentarily, into the entire cloud of atoms. A fraction of a nanosecond later, the entangled photon moves on, arriving at the detector at the same moment as its twin.

    Incredibly, since completing his doctorate in 2012, igueroa has miniaturized the entire system for holding quantum memories into a portable device smaller than a carry-on suitcase, small enough to mount on an ordinary rack of computer servers at a data center — a crucial innovation if a quantum internet is ever to go mainstream. As his colleague and collaborator Dimitrios Katramatos tells me later that day: “They are portable, right? So, we loaded some of them up in a van one day and brought them from Stony Brook to Brookhaven.”

    “He drove his wife’s van,” Figueroa says with a laugh. “Ever since we have called it the Quantum Van.”

    Entanglement Swapping

    Another problem remains, however — one that neither Figueroa nor Katramatos (nor any other quantum engineer in the world) has fully figured out so far: how to successfully transmit quantum-entangled photons via fiber-optic cables past a barrier that appears around the 60-mile mark. Beyond it, photons unintentionally interact with the cable, its housing or even sunlight from above-ground, thereby destroying its entanglement.

    Credit: Sakkmesterke/Shutterstock.

    The proposed solution, Figueroa explains, is something called “entanglement swapping.” And quantum engineers around the world are competing to apply the concept to a working prototype.

    “The idea has by now been around for 20 years,” says Mikhail Lukin, a leading quantum theoretician and experimentalist at Harvard University. “Up to now, no one has succeeded in building one capable of being used in a practical application. As far as I understand, that’s what [Figueroa]’s group is trying to do.”

    To explain his plan, Figueroa leads me into a small meeting room, where he has it all mapped out on a whiteboard.

    “Let me show you something really cool,” he says.

    Instead of creating only one pair of entangled photons and trying to send it to a lab 100 miles away, he explains, a second set of entangled pairs are created in two different substations located at the 25-mile and 75-mile marks. These substations will shoot one photon of the pair toward each other and the other toward the closest of the two labs. When one photon from each of the two pairs meets at the 50-mile mark, they will become entangled, automatically entangling the other remaining photons in the distant laboratories. Once this entanglement has been shared, the information Figueroa wanted to send can be teleported to the lab 100 miles away, overcoming the barrier.

    “You see?” he says with charming enthusiasm. “Easy.”

    The Quantum Future

    And what about teleporting not just information, not just messages, but also particles, molecules, cells or Captain Kirk? When the first experimental demonstration of entanglement was reported in December 1997, IBM physicist Charles H. Bennett told The New York Times: “It would be utterly infeasible to do it even on something as small as a bacterium.” (Bennett, it should be pointed out, had coined the term quantum teleportation four years earlier, so you would think he would be correct.)

    But 21 years later, in the fall of 2018, Oxford University researchers reported exactly what Bennett had said was “utterly infeasible”: the entanglement of a living bacterium with a photon of light. Not all physicists were persuaded by the findings, however, based as they were on the Oxford team’s analysis of another group’s experiment. But then, nobody knows how far the quantum revolution will go — certainly not Figueroa.

    Credit: Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock.

    “Many of the things these devices will do, we are still trying to figure it out,” he tells me. “At the moment, we are just trying to create technology that works. The really far reaches of what is possible are still to be discovered.”

    Before leaving him, I ask Figueroa how his friends, family and neighbors try to understand his cryptic work. He tells me a story about his father-in-law. Back when Figueroa was conducting postdoctoral research in Germany, his wife’s father came to visit. After giving him a two-hour tour of the lab, Figueroa asked him what he thought of it all.

    “I didn’t understand a word you said in there,” his father-in-law said, “but I know it’s the most amazing thing I have ever seen.”

    I could empathize. That’s how I felt before visiting Figueroa, interrogating him repeatedly over the phone, and reading his papers with far-out titles like A Single-Atom Quantum Memory [Nature] and “Quantum Memory for Squeezed Light.” [NLM] But after all that, the whole thing began to make sense to me. And I hope it does now for you, too.

    Kind of.


    3 Easy Steps to Build a DIY Quantum Internet

    Step 1. To build a quantum internet, you begin by entangling two photons so they behave like a single unit, no matter how far they might be separated. Easy peasy. To do this, take one high-energy blue photon, generated by a laser, and put it through a crystal that splits the photon into two lower-energy red photons. Now those photons are permanently entangled. Kind of like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, entangled till the end of time as Brangelina. Now go ahead and send one of those photons to your pal, Steven Spielberg, and keep the other one for yourself.

    Which one did you send, Brad or Angelina? Until Spielberg looks through his peephole to see who’s on the other side of the door, you both have a random, 50-50 chance of seeing one or the other. In the quantum world, everything exists in a statistical blur. But that’s OK, because Brad and Angelina are just your conduit for sending information from one to the other.

    Step 2. To send a meaningful message from Brad to Angelina, you need a third photon. Let’s call this one Jennifer Aniston. Put Jennifer through a polarizer — like the polarized lenses used in sunglasses — to set her atomic pole to a particular position on the vertical and horizontal axes. This gives you a quantum bit, or qubit, which can be a 0 or 1 at the same time. Similar to the 0s and 1s of digital data, qubits can be strung together to encode any message you want to send — say, the script for a new movie.

    Step 3. You’re almost there! Now you need to entangle the qubit called Jennifer with the photon called Brad, who you’ve been hanging onto ever since you sent Angelina to Spielberg. To do that, put both Jennifer and Brad into a beam splitter. When you do, Jennifer becomes entangled not only with Brad, but also with Angelina, by virtue of the preexisting Brangelina connection. All three of them are entangled with each other.

    Now get this: Because photons are so sensitive, the very act of measuring them (to be sure that they are in fact entangled) destroys them. So, both Brad and Jennifer vanish in your lab. But wait: Spielberg still has Angelina. And Angelina is still entangled with the information that Jennifer had. This means — ta da! — the information Jennifer was carrying has now been teleported, instantaneously, to Spielberg’s photon.

    You did it! Now you can only hope Spielberg remembers to thank you at the Oscars. — D.H.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 10:39 am on September 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "5 NASA Spacecraft That Are Leaving Our Solar System for Good", Discover Magazine, , Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2   

    From Discover Magazine: “5 NASA Spacecraft That Are Leaving Our Solar System for Good” 


    From Discover Magazine

    September 26, 2020
    Eric Betz

    Most of these interstellar spacecraft carry messages intended to introduce ourselves to any aliens that find them along the way.

    For millennia, humans have gazed up at the stars and wondered what it would be like to journey to them. And while sending astronauts beyond the solar system remains a distant dream, humanity has already launched five robotic probes that are on paths to interstellar space.

    Each of these craft was primarily designed to explore worlds in the outer solar system. But when they finished their jobs, their momentum continued to carry them farther from the Sun. Astronomers knew their ultimate fate was to live among the distant stars. And that’s why all but one of these spacecraft carries a message for any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find it along the way.

    NASA Pioneer 10.

    NASA Pioneer 11.

    NASA/Voyager 1.

    NASA/Voyager 2.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft.

    Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11
    Voyager 1 and Voyager 2
    New Horizons

    The Voyager golden record (left) is a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc. It’s covered with aluminum and electroplated with an ultra-pure sample of uranium-238. Credit: NASA.

    Half a century ago, NASA built its two identical Voyager spacecraft to capitalize on a rare alignment of the outermost planets that only happens once every 175 years. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were perfectly placed, allowing scientists to chart a course that would send the spacecraft by each of these gas giants. That path also meant that, after they’d completed their tour of our solar system, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 would continue into interstellar space.

    Voyager 1 launched in 1977, made its flyby of Jupiter in 1979, and passed by Saturn in 1980. But rather than continuing on to Neptune and Uranus, like Voyager 2 did, NASA decided to send Voyager 1 on a detour past Saturn’s moon Titan — the only other known world in the solar system with an atmosphere thick enough to host a rain cycle.

    That choice made Voyager 1 veer off its grand tour of the outer planets and head up and away from the orbital plane of our solar system, putting in on course for interstellar space.

    Meanwhile, Voyager 2, was sent on an even bolder mission to explore the outer planets. Voyager 2 continued on past Saturn and encountered Neptune and Uranus. It still remains the only spacecraft to see those two planets up close.

    To this day, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 remain in communication with NASA. And each spacecraft has now passed beyond the heliopause, a region where the Sun’s solar wind loses is sway. On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 reached the heliopause and entered what some consider interstellar space. Voyager 2 accomplished the same feat on November 5, 2018.

    That milestone was really just their first step on a long journey into the stars.

    The spacecraft may be zipping along at a breathtaking 35,000 mph, but they still will take many millennia to truly leave the solar system. Voyager 1’s course could take it close to another star in some 40,000 years, while Voyager 2 won’t get close to another star for some 300,000 years, according to NASA.

    However, NASA has prepared for the possibility that someone (or something) stumbles upon them along the way. Both spacecraft contain copies of the Golden Record. And as Carl Sagan noted: “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space.”

    We’ll just have to hope record players are popular in other star systems.

    Scientists fought for decades to get a mission to Pluto approved. But months after New Horizons finally launched, Pluto was demoted from planet to dwarf planet. That didn’t make the spacecraft’s findings any less incredible, though.

    At Pluto, New Horizons found signs of ice volcanoes, giant mountains, and even a liquid water ocean. Then, the probe pushed on into the depths of the Kuiper Belt, where it explored 486958 Arrokoth, a primordial world of ice and rock that looks like two pancakes stuck together.

    Now, New Horizons is continuing on in the footsteps of the Pioneer and Voyager missions, as it’s only the fifth spacecraft ever launched on a path that will take it out of the solar system.

    But unlike its interstellar spacecraft kin, New Horizons doesn’t carry a plaque or a golden record designed to teach aliens about the human race. And that was intentional.

    “After we got into the project in 2002, it was suggested we add a plaque,” Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, said in an interview with CollectSPACE.com back in 2008. “I rejected that simply as a matter of focus,” he added. “We had a small team on a tight budget and I knew it would be a big distraction.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 10:20 am on September 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Salty Lakes Found Beneath Mars' Surface", Discover Magazine,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Salty Lakes Found Beneath Mars’ Surface” 


    From Discover Magazine

    September 28, 2020
    Mark Zastrow

    New research adds fresh evidence for salty lakes below the red planet’s south pole.

    The potential underground salt lake reported by the Mars Express spacecraft in 2018 is located near the planet’s permanent south polar ice cap. (Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, INAF.)

    Two years ago, planetary scientists were abuzz with the potential discovery of a subsurface lake on Mars — buried deep beneath layers of ice and dust at the planet’s south pole.

    Now, new research adds more weight to that possibility, suggesting there is not just one but several briney lakes.

    These aquifers would represent the first known martian bodies of liquid water — albeit extremely salty water. Taken with other recent discoveries — such as lakes beneath the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres — it is part of a growing picture that liquid water is more widespread in the solar system than previously thought.

    Looking Salty

    In 2018, an Italian team of researchers announced [Astronomy]evidence of salt water beneath the southern polar cap of Mars: the radar sounder of the ESA Mars Express orbiter had detected unusually bright, reflective patches below the ice. This, the researchers argued, could be a lake of liquid water 12 miles (20 kilometers) across that melted from the ice cap and was trapped beneath it, over a kilometer beneath the surface.

    On Earth, similar lakes form beneath glaciers, where heat from the ground and the pressure of the glacier above melt some of its ice. And although Mars is too cold for pure water to remain in liquid form below its glaciers, it could do so if it were extremely salty with a much lower freezing point, the team says. This briney mixture might be filled with salts called perchlorates, dissolved from rocks.

    But it wasn’t a slam-dunk case. Mars is not very geologically active, and it’s not clear whether the planet’s interior can supply the amount of heat to create a lake of that size.

    Now, the team is back with a new study, published September 28 in Nature Astronomy, that they say bolsters their argument.

    The team returned to data from the Mars Express radar sounder, called MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding).

    This time they analyzed a dataset of 134 radar profiles, compared to 29 in their previous study.

    They also brought a new approach, adapting radar techniques used by satellites orbiting Earth to image buried geological features. Their analysis looks not just at how bright an area is but other metrics as well, such as how the signal strength varies, indicating how smooth the reflecting surface is. Previously, this method has found subglacial lakes in Antartica, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic.

    By running their analysis on sounding data collected by the spacecraft over the previously-identified bright area and comparing it to surrounding regions, the team could see major differences in their characteristics that suggested the presence of liquid water, strengthening the evidence that the original bright patch is indeed a salty lake.

    In addition, they spotted other, smaller areas that met their detection criteria for liquid water — or came close, suggesting they’re ponds or mucky sediments.

    Life Below Mars?

    The prospect of these underground, salty lakes also add an intriguing wrinkle to the debate about whether life could exist on Mars today. The extreme salt content doesn’t sound hospitable for life, but some researchers think it could be possible. A recent paper by a pair of researchers at Harvard University and the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) also addressed the possibility of life in underground environments on Mars and even the moon.

    “Extremophilic organisms are capable of growth and reproduction at low subzero temperatures,” said Harvard’s Avi Loeb, one of the study authors, in a press release [ https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2020/09/23/from-harvard-smithsonian-center-for-astrophysics-could-life-exist-deep-underground-on-mars/ ]. “They are found in places that are permanently cold on Earth, such as the polar regions and the deep sea, and might also exist on the moon or Mars.”

    In their paper, published September 20 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters they calculate that even without the addition of salt, liquid water is possible on Mars several miles deep. And although any life at those depths would be subjected to crushing pressures from the rock above, some known single-celled organisms can survive them.

    One thing is certain: actually searching for such life will require drilling technology far beyond what we are capable of sending into space at the moment. But, write Loeb and his coauthor Manasvi Lingam of FIT, NASA’s Artemis program could pave the way for such subsurface exploration by returning humans to the moon — beginning as soon as 2024.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 7:46 am on August 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Trying to Forecast Earthquakes Near the Salton Sea", , Discover Magazine, , , , ,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Trying to Forecast Earthquakes Near the Salton Sea” 


    From Discover Magazine

    August 12, 2020
    Erik Klemetti

    A view across the Salton Sea in California. Credit: Moonjazz / Flickr.

    No one can “predict” an earthquake. Let’s get that out first. We don’t understand enough of exactly what triggers large earthquakes to ever say with any certainty that one will strike on a specific day in a specific location. However, by looking at patterns of earthquakes in the past and swarms of earthquakes in the present, seismologists can begin to forecast the likelihood of a big earthquake. This is like weather forecasting — we know there is a chance of something happening, but by no means is it a prediction of something happening at a specific time and date.

    Southern California has been experiencing an earthquake swarm near the Salton Sea for the past few days. None of the earthquakes have been big. They have mostly been in the magnitude 2-3 range with a few as large as M4.6. The smaller ones you might notice, the larger would definitely be felt, but none are widely destructive. So, where could all these earthquakes lead?

    Busy Geology of the Salton Sea

    The Salton Sea lies along the San Andreas Fault System, although it is a somewhat complicated area. The Sea lies in the Brawley Seismic Zone, where there is both the classic side-by-side motion (strike-slip) of the San Andreas Fault as well as pull-apart motion (extension) that makes the basin. In fact, the Brawley Seismic Zone is the northernmost piece of the Pacific Ocean spreading that extends to the southern hemisphere. North of the Salton Sea, this spreading becomes the side-by-side sliding of North America and the Pacific Plate.

    This means that multiple kinds of earthquakes can happen and some of them can be large. This seismic zone has produced two major earthquakes over the past 100 years: the M6.9 El Centro temblor in 1940 and the M6.5 Imperial Valley earthquake in 1979. As recently as 2012, an earthquake swarm in the area produced earthquakes up to M5. That swarm may have been triggered by the geothermal injections done in that area.

    The Salton Sea area is also home to potentially active volcanoes. The Salton Buttes are rhyolite volcanoes that lie in and along the Sea and may have erupted as recently as about 200 AD. Now, these earthquake swarms in 2012 and now are not connected to magma moving under the area, but it just shows how geologically active this area is.

    Current Earthquake Swarm

    The current earthquake swarm in California’s Salton Sea that started on August 10, 2020. Credit: USGS.

    The current earthquake swarm started on August 10 and has already generated dozens of earthquakes underneath the Salton Sea. These swarms aren’t uncommon – this is now the fourth of this century and they usually end in less than a month., However, this activity did prompt the US Geologic Survey to release a forecast for the potential of a large earthquake. After the first day, they forecasted an 80% chance of the swarm continuing but not producing any temblors larger than M5. This would be the typical behavior for swarms like this in the area.

    However, they did say there was a 19% chance of the earthquakes in the swarm being foreshocks of a potentially larger earthquake in line with what has happened during the past 100 years. That’s not a high probability, but enough to note.

    An even smaller chance exists for a truly massive earthquake larger than M7, but that was only about a 1% chance. That’s because they occur much less frequently in that stretch of southern California. Unlike the M6 earthquakes that have happened multiple times in the past century, a M7 earthquake hasn’t happened in 300 years.

    The swarm has settled down a bit since its opening day, so the USGS has revised its initial estimates. Now they think that it is a 98% chance that the swarm continues much as it is going now and has dropped the chance of a large earthquake down to 2% (and very large to <1%).

    This is no guarantee, but with new data comes a new forecast. Think of this like trying to forecast how strong a hurricane might be when it makes landfall — new information about the winds and barometric pressure lead to a new forecast. For earthquakes, the changing frequency and size of the swarm might hint at new probabilities.

    We're still in the infancy of earthquake forecasting. The most important thing you can take away from all this is that if you live in one of these areas, you should always be prepared for the next big earthquakes. Earthquakes can happen almost anywhere in the country — just look at Sunday's M5.1 in North Carolina — but we can be prepared for their impact.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 2:02 pm on July 16, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Powerful Eruptions On The Sun Might Trigger Earthquakes", , Discover Magazine, , ESA/NASA SOHO which is located 900000 miles (1.45 million kilometers) from Earth keeps its sights set on the sun which helps scientists track how much solar material ends up striking our planet., Ground-shaking earthquakes occur all across the globe. And according to a new study many of them might be triggered by the sun., Reverse piezoelectric effect ?, Scientists have learned that large powerful earthquakes commonly occur in groups not in random patterns.   

    From Discover Magazine: “Powerful Eruptions On The Sun Might Trigger Earthquakes” 


    From Discover Magazine

    July 14, 2020
    Mara Johnson-Groh

    Ground-shaking earthquakes occur all across the globe. And according to a new study, many of them might be triggered by the sun.

    This false-color composite of the Sun was created using ultraviolet images taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite. (Credit: NASA/ESA)


    Through decades of research, scientists have learned that large, powerful earthquakes commonly occur in groups, not in random patterns. But exactly why has so far remained a mystery. Now, new research published July 13 in Scientific Reports, asserts the first strong — though still disputed — evidence that powerful eruptions on the sun can trigger mass earthquake events on Earth.

    “Large earthquakes all around the world are not evenly distributed … there is some correlation among them,” says Giuseppe De Natale, research director at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome and co-author of the new study. “We have tested the hypothesis that solar activity can influence the worldwide [occurrence of earthquakes].”

    A Solar Origin for Earthquakes

    To the unaided eye, the sun might seem relatively docile. But our star is constantly bombarding the solar system with vast amounts of energy and particles in the form of the solar wind. Sometimes, however, formidable eruptions on the sun’s surface cause coronal mass ejections, or especially energetic floods of particles — including ions and electrons — that careen through the solar system at breakneck speeds. When they reach Earth, these charged particles can interfere with satellites, and under extreme circumstances, take down power grids. The new research suggests that particles from powerful eruptions like this — specifically, the positively charged ions — might be responsible for triggering groups of strong earthquakes.

    Earthquakes typically occur when rocks grind past one another as Earth’s tectonic plates shift and jostle for position. When the intense friction that’s locking plates together is overcome, the rocks break, releasing tremendous amounts of energy and shaking the ground.

    But scientists have also noticed a pattern in some large earthquakes around the planet: they tend to occur in groups, not at random. This suggests there may be some global phenomenon that’s triggering these worldwide earthquake parties. And though many researchers have done statistical studies to try to determine a cause before, no compelling theories have yet been rigorously proven.

    So, to tackle the lingering mystery, the researchers of this latest study combed through 20 years of data on both earthquakes and solar activity, searching for any possible correlations. Specifically, the team used data from NASA-ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite [above], compiling measurements of protons (positively charged particles) that come from the sun and wash over our planet.

    Central and South American earthquakes, shown as dots in this image, are documented as part of the ISC-GEM Global Instrumental Earthquake Catalogue project. (Credit: International Seismological Centre)

    SOHO, which is located 900,000 miles (1.45 million kilometers) from Earth, keeps its sights set on the sun, which helps scientists track how much solar material ends up striking our planet. By comparing the ISC-GEM Global Instrumental Earthquake Catalogue — a historical record of strong earthquakes — to SOHO data, the scientists noticed more strong earthquakes occurred when the number and velocities of incoming solar protons increased. Specifically, when protons streaming from the sun peaked, there was a spike in quakes above magnitude 5.6 for the next 24 hours.

    “This statistical test of the hypothesis is very significant,” De Natale says. “The probability that it’s just by chance that we observe this, is very, very low — less than 1 in 100,000.”

    A Piezoelectrical Origin for Earthquakes

    After noticing the correlation between solar proton flux and strong earthquakes, the researchers went on to propose a possible explanation: a mechanism called the reverse piezoelectric effect.

    Previous experiments have clearly shown that compressing quartz, a rock common in the Earth’s crust, can generate an electrical pulse through a process known as the piezoelectric effect. The researchers think that such small pulses could destabilize faults that are already close to rupturing, triggering earthquakes. In fact, signatures from electromagnetic events — such as earthquake lightning and radio waves — have been recorded occurring alongside earthquakes in the past. Some researchers think these events are caused by the earthquakes themselves. But several other studies have detected strong electromagnetic anomalies before large earthquakes, not after, so the exact nature of the relationship between earthquakes and electromagnetic events is still debated.

    The new explanation, however, flips this electromagnetic cause-and-effect on its head, suggesting electromagnetic anomalies aren’t the result of earthquakes, but instead cause them. It goes like this: As positively charged protons from the sun crash into Earth protective magnetic bubble, they create electromagnetic currents that propagate across the globe. Pulses created by these currents could then go on to deform quartz in Earth’s crust, ultimately triggering quakes.

    This is not the first time scientists have tried to link solar activity to earthquakes, however. In 1853, a Swiss astronomer named Rudolf Wolf tried to connect sunspots ­— locations of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the sun — to earthquakes. More recent experiments have also sought such a link, but strong statistical evidence remains out of reach. A 2013 paper published in Geophysical Review Letters, for instance, looked at 100 years of sunspot and geomagnetic data, finding no evidence of a connection between the sun and earthquakes.

    Partly because long-term efforts to find a link between the sun and earthquakes have come up short, this latest claim that solar protons may play a role has been met by notable skepticism in the research community. Some are wary of the statistical analysis performed on the data, while others take issue with how the data was selected.

    “The results [from the new paper] alone don’t tell you there’s actually any real physical connection, I think,” says Jeremy Thomas, a research scientist at NorthWest Research Associates who was not involved in the new research. “There could be, but I don’t think it’s proving that.”

    As is almost always the case with science, more research is required before we can know for sure if the sun can trigger earthquakes. But if future work manages to cement the proposed connection, keeping a close eye on our shining star might help us better predict and prepare for when the ground unexpectedly and violently shakes beneath our feet, possibly helping save lives.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 12:55 pm on July 3, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Thorne-Żytkow Objects: When a Supergiant Star Swallows a Dead Star", , , , Both theory and observation still have a long way to go., , Discover Magazine, HV 2112, HV 2112: A Strange Star Disputed, Thorne-Żytkow Object Discovered in 2014   

    From Discover Magazine: “Thorne-Żytkow Objects: When a Supergiant Star Swallows a Dead Star” 


    From Discover Magazine

    July 3, 2020
    Eric Betz

    One of the universe’s strangest stars is thought to form when a neutron star gets sucked into a red supergiant. But despite 45 years of searching, astronomers still aren’t sure they’ve ever found one.

    A Thorne-Żytkow object is a theoretical type of hybrid star created when a dense neutron star is swallowed by a puffy red supergiant star, as seen in this artist’s concept. (Credit: Astronomy Magazine)

    Nearly half a century ago, physicist Kip Thorne (now a Nobel laureate) and astronomer Anna Żytkow suggested a strange, Russian-nesting-doll-type star might be hiding in the cosmos, just waiting to be found by those who knew how to seek it. Astronomers named these theoretical stellar hybrids Thorne-Żytkow objects.

    The possible existence of Thorne-Żytkow objects came to light when their namesake researchers ran early computer simulations. When they did, they found that a neutron star — a tiny, ultra-dense stellar remnant left behind when a star goes supernova — could be gobbled up by a red supergiant star.

    According to the simulations, if the “Twins” (in the Danny DeVito-Arnold Schwarzenegger sense) get too close to one another, instead of one star getting ejected, the two stars can merge together. The city-sized, solar-mass neutron star would carry on living inside its much larger host, almost like a cosmic parasite.

    But even if physics really allows for such stars to exist, finding them will be hard.

    In a study published in 1975 in The Astrophysical Journal, Thorne and Żytkow suggested these stars would look almost identical to red supergiants like Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. Supergiant stars are relatively common and are some of the youngest and largest stars in the universe. Thorne-Żytkow objects (TZOs) would look very similar to red supergiants, but are suspected to survive up to 10 times longer.

    Ordinary red supergiants, like other stars, are powered by nuclear fusion in their cores. So when that energy runs out, their uncontested gravity causes them to implode before erupting as a supernova. But TZOs can live such long lives because they do not rely on sustained nuclear fusion in their cores to avoid collapse. Instead, a TZO’s neutron star core, which is already extremely compressed, largely prevents the rapid and uncontested gravitational collapse of the surrounding supergiant layers.

    Astronomers have two different theories for how TZOs form — and they both depend on the initial objects starting their lives as two gigantic stars in a close binary system. In one theory, the bigger of the two stars would explode as a supernova first, leaving behind a neutron star. But over time, the remaining supergiant would continue to balloon outward, growing until it fully swallowed the nearby neutron star remnant.

    Another possibility for the formation of TZOs is that when one star explodes as an asymmetric supernova, its remnant core could get a powerful “kick.” That could potentially fire the neutron star into the belly of the remaining red giant.

    A candidate Thorne-Zytkow object (yellow box) shines among the stars of the Small Magellanic Cloud. (Credit: ESA/Hubble)

    Thorne-Żytkow Object Discovered

    But no matter how they form, astronomers in 2014 announced they may have discovered the first Thorne-Żytkow object. The star was hiding some 200,000 light-years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.


    Small Magellanic Cloud. 10 November 2005. NASA/ESA Hubble and Digitized Sky Survey 2

    It was found by astronomer Emily Levesque, now at the University of Washington, with the help of her team of researchers. To find the suspected TZO, Levesque’s group used New Mexico’s Apache Point Observatory to study two dozen red supergiant stars in the Milky Way, as well as one of the Magellan Telescopes in Chile to study another group of supergiants in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

    Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot, New Mexico Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    Upon reviewing the data, one star in particular stood out. The system, dubbed HV 2112, was initially cataloged as variable in 1908 by pioneering astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt. At the time, though, astronomers thought it was a red supergiant living out its dying days before going supernova.

    However, more than 100 years after Leavitt first noted the strange object, Levesque and her team’s analysis revealed unusual chemical signatures that they thought could be the tell-tale signs of a mythical Thorne-Żytkow object. The researchers saw excess amounts of lithium, calcium and other elements, which they could only explain through the unique nuclear reactions that would occur inside a TZO.

    But they couldn’t be completely sure; HV 2112 also seemed to have other strange chemical fingerprints that they didn’t expect to see. Based on these remaining mysteries, the team suggests that either theoretical models haven’t fully appreciated the nuances of Thorne-Żytkow objects, or HV 2112 simply wasn’t a TZO in the first place.

    HV 2112: A Strange Star Disputed

    The bizarre nature of the find sparked headlines at the time. But for astronomers, it was also an important discovery because it offered evidence for stars powered by processes beyond nuclear fusion.

    But four years later, in 2018, another group of astronomers pushed “pause” on this unique find [MNRAS]. They’d done their own analysis of HV 2112 and compared it to similar stars, but didn’t find the same levels of excess calcium or other elements spotted by Levesque’s team. The new analysis did show a surplus of lithium, but, other than that, the results suggested this star was basically an ordinary red supergiant.

    Though the team might have dashed HV 2112’s dreams of being different, they did offer up the hope a replacement candidate. They found another possible Thorne-Żytkow object, cataloged as HV 11417, which did sport some of tell-tale signs that astronomers predicted the objects should have.

    One thing the two teams do agree on is that when it comes to Thorne-Żytkow objects, both theory and observation still have a long way to go.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 2:15 pm on June 22, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How Many Extraterrestrial Civilizations Can Communicate In Our Galaxy Right Now? (Spoiler: It's More Than One)", Discover Magazine, ,   

    From Discover Magazine: “How Many Extraterrestrial Civilizations Can Communicate In Our Galaxy Right Now? (Spoiler: It’s More Than One)” 


    From Discover Magazine

    A new way to count the number of intelligent ET cultures suggests we are far from alone; but also that we may never be able to find them, astronomers say.

    June 22, 2020

    (Credit: sdecoret/Shutterstock)

    The Copernican principle is the idea that Earth does not sit at the center of universe or is otherwise special in any way. When Nicolaus Copernicus first stated it in the 16th century, it led to an entirely new way to think about our planet.

    Since then, scientists have applied the principle more broadly to suggest that humans have no special privileged view of the universe. We are just ordinary observers sitting on an ordinary planet in an ordinary part of an ordinary galaxy.

    This form of thinking has had profound consequences. It led Copernicus to the idea that Earth orbits the sun and Einstein to his general theory of relativity. And it regularly guides the thinking of physicists, astronomers and cosmologists about the nature of the universe.

    Now, Tom Westby and Christopher Conselice at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. have used the Copernican principle to come up with a new take on the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. They point out that the principle implies there is nothing special about the conditions on Earth that allowed intelligent life to evolve. So, wherever these conditions exist, intelligent life is likely to evolve over about the same timescale as it evolved here.

    This “astrobiological Copernican principle” has important implications for the way astronomers estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that might be capable of communicating with us. Indeed, Westby and Conselice have crunched the numbers and say that, given the strongest limits they can place on the numbers, there are probably about 36 civilizations in the galaxy right now with this capability. But the numbers come with a significant caveat that also throws light on the Fermi Paradox, which famously suggests that if intelligent aliens exist, surely we ought to have seen them by now.

    First, some background. Back in 1961, the American astrophysicist Frank Drake wrote down an equation of endless fascination that estimates the number of communicating extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy.

    Drake Equation

    Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    The Drake Equation starts with an estimate of the number of stars in the galaxy, then calculates the fraction that have planets in the habitable zone. It then estimates the fraction on which life develops and then those on which life becomes intelligent and capable of communicating.

    The final term is the length of time over which this civilization broadcasts signals that we might be able to detect. The result is the number of civilizations that we might be capable of communicating with today.

    Over the years, astrophysicists have reinterpreted these numbers in numerous ways, revising their estimates as new ideas and observational data change the estimates. And, in the last few years, a great deal of new observational data have emerged that have the potential to firm up some of the numbers.

    In particular, astronomers have confirmed the existence of exoplanets and begun to understand just how common they are in habitable zones throughout the galaxy. That provides some hard numbers to enter into the Drake Equation. Westby and Conselice have duly updated the equation with the latest figures.

    But they have also gone significantly further using the astrobiological Copernican principle. This is the idea that if a planet sits in the habitable zone of a system that is rich in the heavier elements necessary for life, then intelligent life will emerge on the timescale of between 4.5 billion and 5.5 billion years.

    The rationale is that intelligent life emerged over 5 billion years on Earth, and there is nothing special about our corner of the universe. Therefore, the same thing will happen over the same timescale in other similar corners.

    Nevertheless, this is a much stricter assumption than imagining life can emerge at any time after a planet is 5 billion years old (many stars are 10 billion years old). That’s why the researchers call this the Strong Condition.

    When the astronomers enter these numbers into the Drake Equation, the number of civilizations is huge. But there is another limiting factor — the length of time over which these civilizations communicate — whether centuries, millennia or even longer. Obviously, the longer they are able to communicate, the more likely we are to overlap with them.

    However, Westby and Conselice decide on a figure of just 100 years. “We know that our own civilization has had radio communications for this time,” they say. So this is the lower limit on which they base their calculations.

    And the results make for interesting reading. “In the Strong Condition, we find there should be at least 36 civilizations within our galaxy,” say Westby and Conselice, although the number could be as many as 211 and as few as four.

    That may seem like a significant number, but the galaxy is large place. If spread uniformly throughout the galaxy, these civilizations would be a huge distance apart, say the researchers. “The nearest would be at a maximum distance given by 17,000 light-years, making communication or even detection of these systems nearly impossible with present technology,” they say.

    Fermi Paradox

    That provides an immediate rejoinder to the Fermi Paradox, which is sometimes used to suggest that we must be alone in the universe. It’s not that there aren’t any intelligent civilizations out there, it’s that they are distributed so thinly throughout the galaxy that we cannot spot them.

    As Douglas Adams has famously pointed out: Space is big. And the amount we have searched for signs of intelligent life is a tiny fraction. Westby and Conselice point to calculations suggesting the volume searched is equivalent to just 7,700 liters of Earth’s oceans.

    Of course, the researchers are well aware of the limitations of their argument. They acknowledge the well-known warning against drawing any inferences from a sample of just one. But that doesn’t stop them from speculating.

    The researchers also come to some other interesting conclusions. They point out that if they assume that primitive life arises wherever conditions are suitable for long enough, then the universe should be teeming with it. “Such generous assumptions lead to estimated numbers of habitats for primitive life in the Milky Way which reach into the tens of billions,” they say.

    The only question now is how long till we spot evidence of it.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on May 21, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "There’s a Russian Volcano That Erupts Diamonds", , Discover Magazine, , Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia   

    From Discover Magazine: “There’s a Russian Volcano That Erupts Diamonds” 


    From Discover Magazine

    May 12, 2020
    Erik Klemetti

    Researchers looking at the 2012-13 eruption from Russia’s Tolbachik found tiny diamonds, but where are they from?

    Tolbachik in Russia, with the cones from the 2012-13 eruption in the middle foreground. (Credit: kuhnmi/Flickr)

    Diamonds are remarkable. Most form deep within Earth, 62 miles or more beneath our feet and are brought to the surface in powerful explosive eruptions. Yet researchers looking at the 2012-13 eruption of Tolbachik on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia found tiny diamonds in the volcanic debris. This was not one of those powerful explosions but a massive series of lava flows. So why were there diamonds showing up unexpectedly?

    Diamonds from the Deep

    The “easiest” way to form diamonds is taking carbon and exposing it to the immense pressure within Earth’s mantle. Then they get coughed up with other chunks of rock from the mantle in these giant explosive eruptions called kimberlites. They’re named after one of the world’s most famous and productive diamond mines in Kimberley, South Africa. The places where we find most diamonds today are from the rocks created by these eruptions, found in places like northern Canada and Arkansas. Sometimes, glaciers or rivers have moved the diamonds from their sources, but they can be traced back to their original volcano sources.

    There hasn’t a kimberlite eruption in recent human history. The most recent known kimberlite eruption might have happened 10,000 to 20,000 years ago in Tanzania, and that is controversial. The last confirmed kimberlite erupted 30 million years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both of those places (and the locations of most kimberlite eruptions) are old continental areas called “cratons,” away from active tectonic zones like volcanic arcs.

    So, what are diamonds doing in Kamchatka? The easternmost peninsula in Russia is a subduction zone, where the Pacific plate is sliding under Eurasia. There is a string of active volcanoes starting in Japan and running north into Kamchatka. In Russia, these include highly active volcanoes like Sheveluch, Klyuchevskoi and Bezymianny. So, not really the types of places we would normally expect to find those eruptions that bring diamonds up from the mantle.

    Yet, Erik Galimov and his colleagues found just that at Tolbachik. This Russian volcano produced one of the largest lava flow eruptions of the 21st century (so far), dumping over 1/10 of a cubic mile of lava. There were some explosions as part of the eruption, producing lava fountains that reached hundreds of meters upwards.

    From Russia, With Carbon

    A recent paper by Galimov and others in American Mineralogist details the tiny diamonds they found in lavas from Tolbachik. These crystals are less an a 0.03 inches and mostly found in the rocks made during the lava fountain phase of the eruption. So, how did these mysterious diamonds form?

    Normally, diamonds would be part of a foreign rock brought up in a kimberlite eruption. Geologists call these xenoliths, and the diamonds themselves are xenocrysts. They aren’t really related to the magma erupting, but they came along for the ride. However, these Tolbachik diamonds don’t seem to be from xenoliths because there isn’t much other evidence for these chunks of foreign debris in 2012-13 lava.

    Microdiamonds found in lava from the 2012-13 eruption at Tolbachik. “Mkm” scale is micrometer (0.00003 inch). (Credit: Galimov et al. 2020 American Mineralogist)

    If they didn’t come from deep in the mantle, what are their sources? Galimov and others decided to look at the composition of the diamonds. Surprisingly enough, the composition of impurities in the diamonds in elements like nitrogen, fluorine, chlorine and silicon matched the composition of the volcanic gases from Tolbachik. This suggested that they may actually have been forming from the gases being released during the eruption.

    However, there was one more potential source for these diamonds: people! Could the microdiamonds actually just be contamination from drilling or the sampling instruments themselves? Most diamonds used in industry are synthetic and would have a specific nitrogen isotopic composition. Galimov and others looked at the nitrogen isotope composition of the Tolbachik diamonds and, sure enough, they weren’t synthetic. These diamonds formed naturally from the volcanic gases being released from the lava. [Author’s note: I’ve had a brief discussion with Dr. Ryan Ickert (Purdue University) and it seems like it might not be as simple at the paper portrays. It doesn’t change the idea that these diamonds are likely crystallized from the volcanic gases at Tolbachik, but the isotope argument might be messier.]

    This type of crystallization, directly from a gas, isn’t a new observation. In some rhyolite eruptions, the hot gases that get released after a massive explosive eruption form minerals like topaz. These diamonds at Tolbachik likely formed the same way, where hot volcanic gases laden in carbon dioxide and other elements cooled in bubbles and rapidly crystallized minerals like diamonds.

    Now, don’t rush out to Kamchatka. You’re not going to get rich from these tiny diamonds from Tolbachik. However, these little crystals show just how bizarre volcanic activity can be, where diamonds can form directly from a gas, high pressure not needed.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 6:25 pm on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Astronomers Find a New Explanation for a Super-Bright Supernova", , , , , Discover Magazine, Finding so much iron means the star that exploded was a white dwarf and not a large massive star that collapsed explosively., Finding the gassy material must have been released outward only 100 years or so before the supernova explosion — barely any time at all on astronomical scales., It was the brightest superluminous supernova they’d ever seen., or the two phenomena are somehow linked., , The team found that the stellar explosion must have contained iron — and a lot of it.   

    From Discover Magazine: “Astronomers Find a New Explanation for a Super-Bright Supernova” 


    From Discover Magazine

    January 23, 2020
    Erika K. Carlson

    The supernova SN 2006gy, shown in this illustration, was the brightest supernova discovered yet when it was spotted in 2006. (Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)

    Many stars end their lives as bright explosions called supernovas. Some of these explosions are much brighter than typical and give off up to 100 times more energy. Astronomers call these “superluminous supernovas,” and they don’t yet understand exactly what makes them super-bright.

    Now, a team of researchers has proposed an origin story for one of these superluminous supernovas, SN 2006gy. They suggest that the explosion happened in a binary star system when a small, dense white dwarf star spiraled into the core of its giant star companion.

    The researchers presented their findings in a new paper published Jan. 23 in Science.

    A Strange Explosion

    When astronomers spotted SN 2006gy in 2006, it was the brightest superluminous supernova they’d ever seen.

    Later, a group of researchers led by Koji Kawabata, now at Hiroshima University in Japan, managed to capture a detailed picture of the light that the supernova was emitting at various wavelengths, or colors. They saw that SN 2006gy was emitting light in combinations of wavelengths that hadn’t been seen in supernovas before.

    “It was kind of a very exciting mystery,” said Anders Jerkstrand, an astronomer at Stockholm University. He teamed up with Kawabata and another researcher to figure out what was going on and write the new paper.

    The supernova SN 2006gy. (Credit: Fox et al 2015)

    A New Explanation

    By modeling what elements could have produced the wavelengths of light that SN 2006gy emitted, the team found that the stellar explosion must have contained iron — and a lot of it. Finding so much iron means the star that exploded was a white dwarf and not a large, massive star that collapsed explosively.

    The wavelengths SN 2006gy emitted also showed that the explosion must have rammed into and interacted with a slower-moving shell of gassy material around it, as other astronomers had previously pointed out. The collision with the surrounding material likely caused the explosion to convert a lot of its energy into light and produce such a bright supernova, Jerkstrand said.

    But the team found that the gassy material must have been released outward only 100 years or so before the supernova explosion — barely any time at all, on astronomical scales. Either it’s a coincidence that the shell of gases was ejected just before the supernova explosion, or the two phenomena are somehow linked.

    So the team came up with a scenario to explain both events. A dense white dwarf and a giant star with a stretched-out gassy atmosphere orbit each other in a binary system. The two stars are close enough that the white dwarf orbits inside the giant star’s gaseous outer layers. The resulting drag sends the white dwarf spiraling in toward the larger star’s core and also pushes gassy material outward.

    If the white dwarf colliding into the larger star’s core caused the supernova, the explosion would interact with the ejected gas on its way out, as astronomers observed. But the team can’t yet say that this is the case with SN 2006gy, because they don’t know for sure that the inspiraling would lead to the white dwarf’s explosion.

    “What we are saying is that if that happens, you get a supernova that looks just like 2006gy,” Jerkstrand said.

    See the full article here .


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