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  • richardmitnick 3:56 pm on August 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Black Holes Slug it Out in Quasar Deathmatch” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Aug 28, 2015
    Ian O’Neill

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    This artistic illustration is of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar host galaxy to Earth, Markarian 231 NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
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    How to measure the spin of a black hole: This chart illustrates the basic model for determining the spin rates of black holes. The three artist’s concepts represent the different types of spin: retrograde rotation, where the disk of matter falling onto the hole, called an accretion disk, moves in the opposite direction of the black hole; no spin; and prograde rotation, where the disk spins in the same direction as the black hole. NASA/JPL-Caltech
    3
    Two models of black hole spin: Scientists measure the spin rates of supermassive black holes by spreading the X-ray light into different colors. The light comes from accretion disks that swirl around black holes, as shown in both of the artist’s concepts. They use X-ray space telescopes to study these colors, and, in particular, look for a “fingerprint” of iron — the peak shown in both graphs, or spectra — to see how sharp it is. Prior to observations with NASA’s Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency’s XMM- Newton telescope, there were two competing models to explain why this peak might not appear to be sharp. The “rotation” model shown at top held that the iron feature was being spread out by distorting effects caused by the immense gravity of the black hole. If this model were correct, then the amount of distortion seen in the iron feature should reveal the spin rate of the black hole. The alternate model held that obscuring clouds lying near the black hole were making the iron line appear artificially distorted. If this model were correct, the data could not be used to measure black hole spin. NASA/JPL-Caltech
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    This chart depicts the electromagnetic spectrum, highlighting the X-ray portion. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescope complement each other by seeing different colors of X-ray light. XMM-Newton sees X-rays with energies between 0.1 and 10 kiloelectron volts (keV), the “red” part of the spectrum, while NuSTAR sees the highest-energy, or “bluest,” X- ray light, with energies between 3 and 70 keV. NASA/JPL-Caltech
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    This image taken by the ultraviolet-light monitoring camera on the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescope shows the beautiful spiral arms of the galaxy NGC1365. Copious high-energy X-ray emission is emitted by the host galaxy, and by many background sources. The large regions observed by previous satellites contain so much of this background emission that the radiation from the central black hole is mixed and diluted into it. NuSTAR, NASA’s newest X-ray observatory, is able to isolate the emission from the black hole, allowing a far more precise analysis of its properties.
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    What XMM-Newton saw: The solid lines show two theoretical models that explain the low-energy X-ray emission seen from the galaxy NGC 1365 by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton. The red line explains the emission using a model where clouds of dust and gas partially block the X-ray light, and the green line represents a model in which the emission is reflected off the inner edge of the accretion disk, very close to the black hole. The blue circles show the measurements from XMM-Newton, which are explained equally well by both models. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CfA/INAF
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    Two X-ray observatories are better than one: NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has helped to show, for the first time, that the spin rates of black holes can be measured conclusively. It did this, together with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, by ruling out the possibility that obscuring clouds were partially blocking X-ray right coming from black holes. The solid lines show two theoretical models that explain low-energy X-ray emission seen previously from the spiral galaxy NGC 1365 by XMM-Newton. The red line explains the emission using a model where clouds of dust and gas partially block the X-ray light, and the green line represents a model in which the emission is reflected off the inner edge of the accretion disk, very close to the black hole. The blue circles show the latest measurements from XMM-Newton, and the yellow circles show the data from NuSTAR. While both models fit the XMM-Newton data equally well, only the disk reflection model fits the NuSTAR data. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CfA/INAF

    In a galaxy, 600 million light-years away, a black hole deathmatch is ripping up spacetime, exposing some fascinating dynamics at the heart of a powerful quasar.

    The quasar, which lives in the core of the galaxy Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), is the closest quasar to Earth and after studying years of data from the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers have realized that this particular quasar is driven by 2 black holes trapped in an orbital spiral of death.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    This discovery could be critical to the study of quasars, the super-bright emissions blasting from galaxies in the distant universe. But the fact we have a quasar that’s comparatively close to our galactic neighborhood, Mrk 231 is a great laboratory to gain an insight to these enigmatic objects.

    When studying the ultraviolet emissions blasting from the quasar’s accretion disk — a disk of superheated gases surrounding the central region — a deeply fascinating discovery was made. The quasar appears to be hollowed out, resembling a ring doughnut, and using dynamical models the researchers quickly realized that there must be two supermassive black holes, one more massive than the other, carving out the center.

    As they orbit one another inside the quasar’s core, the smaller black hole carves out a region at the inner edge, also creating its own, smaller accretion disk. Calculations show that the pair complete one orbit every 1.2 years. The larger black hole is approximately 150 million times the mass of our sun and its smaller partner is 4 million times the mass of our sun.

    “We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission,” said Youjun Lu, of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    As the two black holes whip around one another, energy is lost through the emission of gravitational waves. And this means that they are slowly spiraling into one another, set to collide and merge in a few hundred thousand years.

    The fact there are 2 supermassive black holes occupying the quasar speaks to Mrk 231′s violent past.

    Known as a “starburst” galaxy, it is a powerhouse of star formation, birthing stars 100 times the rate of our Milky Way. The tidal disruption of a smaller galaxy merging with Mrk 231 is also highlighted by long tails of young, blue stars. The galaxy is also asymmetrical in shape, showing that the billions of stars are still in the process of settling. It’s likely that the smaller black hole in the galactic core was the central black hole occupying the smaller, merging galaxy.

    “The structure of our universe, such as those giant galaxies and clusters of galaxies, grows by merging smaller systems into larger ones, and binary black holes are natural consequences of these mergers of galaxies,” added co-investigator Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.

    The tidal upheaval has also generated huge quantities of in-falling gas, fueling the powerful black hole “engine” and bright quasar.

    This research is published in the Astrophysical Journal and can be found on the arXiv preprint service.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 11:50 am on August 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Life 2.0? Synthetic DNA Added to Genetic Code” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Aug 25, 2015
    Glenn McDonald

    1
    Thinkstock

    Well, there’s no way this could go wrong.

    According to recent announcements, a small biotech startup in California has successfully added new synthetic components to the genetic alphabet of DNA, potentially creating entirely new kinds of life on Earth.

    You’d need a Ph.D. or three to really get into it, but here goes: DNA, the organic molecule that carries genetic information for life, is made from a limited chemical “alphabet.” DNA can be thought of as a molecular code containing exactly four nitrogen-containing nucleobases — cytosine (C), guanine (G), adenine (A), or thymine (T). All known living organisms on the planet, from bacteria to biologists, are based on combinations of this four-letter molecular code: C-G-A-T.

    That’s how it’s been for several billion years, but last year the biotech company Synthorx announced development of a synthetic pair of nucleobases — abbreviated X-Y — to create a new and expanded genetic code.

    From the company website: “Adding two new synthetic bases, termed X and Y, to the genetic alphabet, we now have an expanded vocabulary to improve the discovery and development of new therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines as well as create innovative products and processes, including using semi-synthetic organisms….”

    The additions to the four letter DNA code effectively raises the number of possible amino acids an organism could use to build proteins from 20 to 172. That opens up entire new vistas of possibilities, including a completely new class of semi-synthetic life forms using a six-letter DNA code instead of a four-letter code.

    Synthorx’s most recent announcement concerns the successful production of proteins containing the new synthetic base pair, building on the research published last year: “Since the publication, Synthorx has developed and validated a protein expression system, employing its synthetic DNA technology to incorporate novel amino acids to create new full-length and functional proteins.”

    According to third-party reports, Synthorx has even started creating new organisms with the technology, including a type of E. coli bacteria “never before seen on the face of the Earth.”

    The company insists that multiple safeguards are built into the technology, and that organisms created with the synthetic elements can only be produced in the lab. That, of course, is the premise of roughly one million science fiction horror stories, but what can you do? Well, you can read more about it here.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:00 am on August 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Balanced Rocks Hint at San Andreas Secret” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Aug 7, 2015
    Larry O’Hanlon

    1
    A group of delicately balanced rocks have been standing for thousands of years close to the active San Andreas and San Jacinto faults.

    A mysterious group of balanced rocks that ought to have been knocked flat centuries ago may have let slip a deep, dark secret about the San Andreas Fault, according to a new study. 


    For two decades a handful of researchers have been uncovering the power of centuries-old earthquakes by studying how easily it would be to tip the balanced rocks that dot the countryside: If precariously balanced rocks have stood for centuries, then the risk or frequency of large quakes is probably low in that area. But if only very sturdy balanced rocks can be found, then it could be that more frequent strong quakes knocked down everything else.

    “So it’s indirect evidence of what has not happened,” explained Lisa Grant Ludwig, the lead author of a paper about the balanced rocks in the latest issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters. And that’s important for drawing up good earthquake hazard maps and establishing adequate building codes.

    Then a few years ago researchers found a group of balanced rocks that seem to defy common sense, located in the San Bernadino Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles. These rocks are far too close to the large San Jacinto Fault, right where it edges near the even more notorious San Andreas Fault.

    “Based on what we know about the physics of earthquakes and fault ruptures, these shouldn’t be here,” said Ludwig. So Ludwig and her colleagues looked for the possible reasons the rocks have remained. “We kind of had a process of elimination.”

    One possibility is that the balanced rocks are much younger than they appear and so they have not been around long enough to experience a less frequent, but strong earthquake. Maybe they are even younger than the great earthquakes of 1812 and 1857, the former of which famously toppled the big church, which still lies in ruins, at San Juan Capistrano.

    To find out, the rocks were dated using cosmogenic dating techniques. These allow researchers to determine how long a rock surface has been exposed to the sky. That showed the rocks were in place for up to 18,000 years — plenty of time to have experienced lots of San Andreas and San Jacinto quakes.

    To find out, the rocks were dated using cosmogenic dating techniques. These allow researchers to determine how long a rock surface has been exposed to the sky. That showed the rocks were in place for up to 18,000 years — plenty of time to have experienced lots of San Andreas and San Jacinto quakes.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:11 am on August 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Mars 2020: Where We’ll Look for Alien Life: Photos” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Aug 6, 2015
    Irene Klotz

    1
    Mars 2020

    Scientists are meeting this week to discuss landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover, an ambitious mission that not only will attempt to look for past life on Mars, but also stash samples drilled out from rocks for a future rover to retrieve and fly back to Earth for analysis. The point of the meeting is to discuss the current top candidate landing sites, though the list likely will change as new images and science data come in from satellites orbiting Mars and from NASA’s ongoing Curiosity and Opportunity rover missions.

    The new mission, still generically referred to as Mars 2020, is due to blast off in July or August 2020 and land itself in February 2021 using a heat shield, parachutes and Curiosity’s “skycrane” tethered descent system (pictured here). Engineers also are working to develop a “terrain recognition navigation” system that would allow the descending spacecraft to take pictures and match them with imagery stored in its computer for more precise steering. That system could make many more potential landing sites safe for touchdown. Another concern is how fast the rover could traverse the surface so that it can meet its mission goals, including drilling and cache 20 samples, in one Martian year, or 668 Earth days.)NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Here’s a look at some of the leading landing site contenders.

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    Nili Fossae

    Tucked between a large volcano and an ancient impact basin is a region known as Nili Fossae, which is marked by wide, curved troughs cutting about 1,600 feet into the Martian crust. Nili Fossae is replete with clay-rich rocks, which form in the presence of water and which may be key to finding preserved organics. Nili Fossae was a top candidate for NASA’s ongoing Curiosity mission, but the site was cut due to engineering concerns.
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

    3

    Jezero Crater

    Scientists believe water once flowed and pooled inside an ancient crater known as Jezero, located near the Martian equator. The water streamed in from the northern and western sides of the crater, now marked by dried out channels, and eventually overflowed the crater’s southern wall, creating a third channel. Scientists do not know how long the water existed, though they do think there were at least two separate water events before the area dried out between 3.5 billion and 3.8 billion years ago. Chemical data collected by Mars orbiters show Jezero has clay and carbonate minerals that were altered by water. If life evolved during the time when Jezero was flush with water, it may be preserved in the sediments. University of Arizona/HiRise-LPL 

    4
    Northeast Syrtis Major

    Ancient exposed bedrock and a diverse collection of hydratated minerals got this site a spot on the Mars 2020 candidate landing list. The targeted zone is located in the northeast part of Syrtis Major, a huge shield volcano and near the northwest rim of the giant impact basin Isidis Planitia.
    NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

    5
    Holden Crater

    Scientists took a long, hard look at 100-mile wide Holden Crater before deciding to send the Curiosity rover to Gale Crater instead for a mission to assess if Mars ever had all the ingredients necessary for life. That goal was met less than seven months after the rover’s Aug. 3, 2012, touchdown.

    Holden, along with Eberswalde Crater and Mawrth Vallis, made to the short list of Curiosity candidate landing sites and remains of interest to scientists on the follow-on Mars 2020 mission to actually look for signs of ancient life and cache samples for an eventual return to Earth. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

    6
    Southwest Melas

    The widest segment of the massive Valles Marineris canyon system is known as Melas Chasma, which cuts through layered deposits believed to be sediments from an ancient lake. Melas has hydrated sulfates and other minerals transformed by water. The southwest region contains fan-shaped structures, indicating the lake’s water level fluctuated. Another attraction is the site’s proximity to seasonal features, known as recurring slope linea, or RSL, which may be signs of present day briny water near the surface, which potentially could be explored during a mission extension. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:23 am on August 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From phys.org: “End-of-century Manhattan climate index to resemble Oklahoma City today” 

    physdotorg
    phys.org

    August 4, 2015
    Carnegie Institution for Science

    1
    View from Midtown Manhattan, facing south toward Lower Manhattan

    Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions will alter the way that Americans heat and cool their homes. By the end of this century, the number of days each year that heating and air conditioning are used will decrease in the Northern states, as winters get warmer, and increase in Southern states, as summers get hotter, according to a new study from a high school student, Yana Petri, working with Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira. It is published by Scientific Reports.

    “Changes in outdoor temperatures have a substantial impact on energy use inside,” Caldeira explained. “So as the climate changes due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the amount of energy we use to keep our homes comfortable will also change.”

    Using results from established climate models, Petri, under Caldeira’s supervision, calculated the changes in the number of days over the last 30 years when U.S. temperatures were low enough to require heating or high enough to require air conditioning in order to achieve a comfort level of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. She also calculated projections for future days when heating or air conditioning would be required to maintain the same comfort level if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked.

    Looking forward toward the end of this century, her calculations found that Washington state will have the smallest increase in air conditioning-required days and southern Texas will have the largest increase. Likewise, upper North Dakota, Minnesota, and Maine would have the largest decrease in heating-required days and southern Florida would have the smallest decrease.

    Petri then took this inquiry one step further and looked at a sum of heating-required days and cooling-required days in different regions both in the past and in future projection, to get a sense of changes in the overall thermal comfort of different areas.

    “No previous study has looked at climate model projections and tried to develop an index of overall thermal comfort, which is quite an achievement,” Caldeira said.

    Today, the city with the minimum combined number of heating- and cooling-required days, in other words the place with the most-optimal outdoor comfort level, is San Diego. But the model projected that in the same future time frame, 2080-2099, the climate would shift so that San Francisco would take its place as the city with the most-comfortable temperatures.

    Other changes predicted by the model are that the amount of heating and cooling required in New York City in the future will be similar to that used in Oklahoma City today. By this same measure, Seattle is projected to resemble present day San Jose, and Denver to become more like Raleigh, NC, is today.

    See the full article here.

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:12 am on August 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Hopes Dim for Reversing Ocean Warming: Study” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Aug 3, 2015
    AFP

    1
    2

    Technology to drain heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere may slow global warming, but will not reverse climate damage to the ocean on any meaningful timescale, according to research published Monday.

    A new NASA study has revealed that the ocean abyss has not warmed in the past few years. What does this mean for global warming?

    At the same time, a second study reported, even the most aggressive timetable for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will need a big boost from largely untested carbon removal schemes to cap warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

    Above that threshold, say scientists, the risk of climate calamity rises sharply. Earth is currently on a 4 Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) trajectory.

    Both studies, coming months before 195 nations meet in Paris in a bid to forge a climate pact, conclude that deep, swift cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are crucial.

    Planetary-scale technical fixes — sometimes called geo-engineering — have often been invoked as a fallback solution in the fight against climate change.

    But with CO2 emissions still rising, along with the global thermostat, many scientists are starting to take a hard look at which ones might be feasible.

    Research has shown that extracting massive quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere, through intensive reforestation programs or carbon-scrubbing technology, would in theory help cool the planet.

    But up to now, little was known about the long-term potential for these measures for restoring oceans, rendered overly acidic after two centuries of absorbing CO2.

    Increased acidification has already ravaged coral, and several kinds of micro-organisms essential to the ocean food chain, with impacts going all the way up to humans.

    Scientists led by Sabine Mathesius of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, used computer models to test different carbon-reduction scenarios, looking in each case at the impact on acidity, water temperatures and oxygen levels.

    If humanity waited a century before sucking massive amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere, they concluded, it would still take centuries, maybe even a thousand years, before the ocean would catch up.

    In the meantime, they researchers say, corals will have disappeared, many marine species will have gone extinct and the ocean would be rife with dead spots.

    “We show that in a business-as-usual scenario, even massive deployment of CO2 removal schemes cannot reverse the substantial impacts on the marine environment — at least not within many centuries,” Mathesius said.

    Even in a scenario in which large-scale carbon removal begins in 2050 — assuming such technology is available — the ocean does not fare well.

    “Immediate and ambitious action to reduce CO2 emissions is the most reliable strategy for avoiding dangerous climate change, ocean acidification, and large-scale threats to marine ecosystems,” the researchers concluded.

    Scientists commenting on the study said it should sound an alarm.

    “The threat of ocean acidification alone justifies dramatic and rapid reduction of CO2 emissions,” said Nick Riley, a research associate at the British Geological Survey (BGS).

    The second study, led by Thomas Gasser of the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace, near Paris, uses state-of-the-art models to measure the trade-off between reducing emissions and carbon-removing technologies.

    They show that even if nations strike a deal in Paris adhering to the most aggressive CO2-slashing pathway outlined by UN scientists, it may not be enough to keep Earth on a 2 C trajectory.

    “Our results suggest that negative emissions” — the use of carbon removing technology — “are needed even in the case of very high mitigation rates.”

    To have a chance of meeting the 2 C target, 0.5 to 3.0 gigatonnes of carbon — up to a third of total annual CO2 emissions today from industry — would need to be extracted every year starting more or less immediately, they calculate.

    The study exposes “an elephant in the room,” Riley said. ”The target to keep warming within the 2 C rise is looking increasingly unattainable.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:13 am on July 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “LHC Keeps Bruising ‘Difficult to Kill’ Supersymmetry” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Jul 27, 2015
    AFP

    1

    In a new blow for the futuristic “supersymmetry” theory of the universe’s basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

    New data from ultra high-speed proton collisions at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) showed an exotic particle dubbed the “beauty quark” behaves as predicted by the Standard Model, said a paper in the journal Nature Physics.

    2
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    CERN LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    LHC at CERN

    Previous attempts at measuring the beauty quark’s rare transformation into a so-called “up quark” had yielded conflicting results. That prompted scientists to propose an explanation beyond the Standard Model — possibly supersymmetry.

    2

    But the latest observations were “entirely consistent with the Standard Model and removes the need for this hypothesis” of an alternative theory, Guy Wilkinson, leader of LHC’s “beauty experiment” told AFP.

    “It would of course have been very exciting if we could show that there was something wrong with the Standard Model — I cannot deny that would have been sensational,” he said.

    The Standard Model is the mainstream theory of all the fundamental particles that make up matter, and the forces that govern them.

    But the model has weaknesses: it doesn’t explain dark matter or dark energy, which jointly make up 95 percent of the universe. Nor is it compatible with Einstein’s theory of general relativity — the force of gravity as we know it does not seem to work at the subatomic quantum scale.

    Supersymmetry, SUSY for short, is one of the alternatives proposed for explaining these inconsistencies, postulating the existence of a heavier “sibling” for every particle in the universe.

    This may also explain dark matter and dark energy.

    ‘Many-Headed Monster’

    But no proof of supersymmetric twins has been found at the LHC, which has observed all the particles postulated by the Standard Model — including the long-sought Higgs boson, which confers mass to matter.

    Supersymmetry predicts the existence of at least five types of Higgs boson, but only one, believed to be the Standard Model Higgs, has so far been found.

    Wilkinson said it was “too soon” to write off supersymmetry.

    “It is very difficult to kill supersymmetry: it is a many-headed monster,” he said.

    But “if nothing is seen in the next couple of years, supersymmetry would be in a much harder situation. The number of true believers would drop.”

    Quarks are the most basic particles, building blocks of protons and neutrons, which in turn are found in atoms.

    There are six types of quarks — the most common are the “up” and “down” quarks, while the others are called “charm”, “strange”, “beauty” and “top.”

    The beauty quark, heavier than up and down quarks, can shift shape, and usually takes the form of a charm quark when it does.

    Much more rarely, it morphs into an up quark. Wilkinson’s team have now measured — for the first time — how often that happens.

    “We are delighted because it is the sort of measurement nobody thought was possible at the LHC,” he said. It had been thought that an even more powerful machine would be needed.

    The revamped LHC, a facility of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was restarted in April after a two-year revamp to boost its power from eight to 13, potentially 14, teraelectronvolts (TeV).

    “If you expect Earth-shattering news from the new run, it’s a bit early,” CERN director-general Rolf Heuer told journalists in Vienna Monday at a conference of the European Physical Society.

    “The main harvest will come in the years to come, so you have to stay tuned.”

    So far, the new run at 13 TeV has re-detected all the Standard Model particles except for the Higgs boson, but Heuer insisted: “We are sure that it is there.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:01 am on June 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Undersea Volcano Erupts a Mile Below the Surface” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Jun 4, 2015
    Patrick J. Kiger

    1
    The volcanic eruption at Axial Seamount on April 24, 2015. Oregon State University

    It’s sort of a variation on the old “If a tree falls in a forest…” quandary. 80 percent of volcanic eruptions on Earth probably go unnoticed by people, because they take place in the planet’s oceans, often at depths of thousands of feet. There’s nobody down there to flee in terror or to write an eloquent account of nature’s fury, as Pliny the Younger did when Vesuvius erupted back in 79 AD.

    Or rather, undersea eruptions used to go unnoticed. University of Washington researchers have installed an array of cutting-edge monitoring instruments in the vicinity of the Axial Seamount, an underwater volcanic mountain that’s about 300 miles off the coast of the Pacific and a mile beneath the ocean surface. In late April, that gadgetry enabled them to anticipate and then observe a eruption in real time, and to collect a massive amount of data on the event.

    “It was an astonishing experience to see the changes taking place 300 miles away with no one anywhere nearby, and the data flowed back to land at the speed of light through the fiber-optic cable connected to Pacific City — and from there, to here on campus by the Internet, in milliseconds,” noted UW oceanography professor John Delaney in a press release.

    The researchers, who are working in a larger effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation, got their first inkling that Axial was about to blow just before midnight on April 23, when eight seismometers installed at the site transmitted warnings that seismic activity in that area was going off the charts. The rate of tremors increased dramatically over the next 12 hours, to a rate of thousands per day.

    Meanwhile, the center of Axial’s volcanic crater dropped by about 6 feet.

    “The only way that could have happened was to have the magma move from beneath the caldera (the collapse of land following an eruption) to some other location,” Delaney said, “which the earthquakes indicate is right along the edge of the caldera on the east side.”

    Axial Seamount’s latest eruption actually was predicted in advance by Oregon State University researcher Bill Chadwick and his colleague Scott Nooner at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It previously erupted in 1998 and 2011, when scientists captured a picture of a bizarre layer of undersea glass formed when molten lava from the volcano encountered the near-freezing seawater.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:01 am on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Leak in Curiosity’s Wet Chemistry Test Finds Organics” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Mar 17, 2015
    Irene Klotz

    1

    An unexpected leak of a chemical designed to tag complex organic molecules in samples collected by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity appears to have serendipitously done its job, scientists reported on Tuesday.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    Curiosity’s onboard laboratory includes seven so-called “wet chemistry” experiments designed to preserve and identify suspect carbon-containing components in samples drilled out from rocks.

    None of the foil-capped metal cups has been punctured yet, but vapors of the fluid, known as N-methyl-N-tert-butyldimethylsilyl-trifluoroacetamide, or MTBSTFA, leaked into the gas-sniffing analysis instrument early in the mission.

    Curiosity landed in a 96-mile wide impact basin known as Gale Crater in August 2012 to determine if the planet most like Earth in the solar system has or ever had the chemistry and environments to support microbial life.

    2
    Gale Crater

    NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in the Martian crater known as Gale Crater, which is approximately the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. This oblique view of Gale, and Mount Sharp in the center, is derived from a combination of elevation and imaging data from three Mars orbiters. The view is looking toward the southeast. Mount Sharp rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater.

    The image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery. There is no vertical exaggeration in the image.
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS
    Date 13 August 2012

    ESA Mars Express Orbiter
    ESA/Mars Express

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    NASA Viking 1
    NASA/Viking

    Scientists quickly fulfilled the primary goal of the mission, discovering sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in powder Curiosity drilled out of an ancient mudstone in an area known as Yellowknife Bay.

    3
    Geologic feature of Yellowknife Bay known as Shaler – the outcrop displays prominent cross-bedding, a feature indicative of water flows

    That paved the way for a more ambitious hunt for complex organic molecules, an effort complicated by the MTBSTFA leak.

    “This caused us a lot of headache in the beginning, frankly, because it has a lot of carbon in it and other (chemical) fragments that can break apart,” Curiosity scientist Danny Glavin, with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said on Tuesday (March 17) at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference in Houston, Texas.

    “We’ve turned this sort of bad thing into a good thing because we’ve learned how to work around this leak. We’ve actually used this vapor from this leak to carry out derivitization,” he said, referring to the technique to tag organics.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:11 am on March 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Discovery News,   

    From Discovery: “‘Habitable’ Super-Earth Might Exist After All” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Mar 9, 2015
    Ian O’Neill

    1
    Possible image of Gliese 581d, a controversial exoplanet that may exist only 20 light-years from Earth.

    Despite having discovered nearly 2,000 alien worlds beyond our solar system, the profound search for exoplanets — a quest focused on finding a true Earth analog — is still in its infancy. It is therefore not surprising that some exoplanet discoveries aren’t discoveries at all; they are in fact just noise in astronomical data sets.

    But when disproving the existence of extrasolar planets that have some characteristics similar to Earth, we need to take more care during the analyses of these data, argue astronomers from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Hertfordshire.

    In a paper published by the journal Science last week, the researchers focus on the first exoplanet discovered to orbit a nearby star within its habitable zone.

    Revealed in 2009, Gliese 581d hit the headlines as a “super-Earth” that had the potential to support liquid water on its possibly rocky surface. With a mass of around 7 times that of Earth, Gliese 581d would be twice as big with a surface gravity around twice that of Earth. Though extreme, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination that such a world, if it is proven to possess an atmosphere and liquid ocean, that life could take hold.

    And the hunt for life-giving alien worlds is, of course, the central motivation for exoplanetary studies.

    But the exoplanet signal has been called into doubt.

    3
    Gliese 581d’s star, Gliese 581, is a small red dwarf around 20 light-years away.
    ESO/Digitized Sky Survey photo.

    Red dwarfs are known to be tempestuous little stars, often generating violent flaring outbursts and peppered in dark features called starspots. To detect the exoplanet, astronomers measured the very slight frequency shift (Doppler shift) of light from the star — as the world orbits, it exerts a tiny gravitational “tug”, causing the star to wobble. When this periodic wobble is detected, through an astronomical technique known as the “radial velocity method,” a planet may be revealed.

    Last year, however, in a publication headed by astronomers at The Pennsylvania State University, astronomers pointed to the star’s activity as an interfering factor that may have imitated the signal from an orbiting planet when in fact, it was just noisy data.

    But this conclusion was premature, argues Guillem Anglada-Escudé, of Queen Mary, saying that “one needs to be more careful with these kind of claims.”

    “The existence, or not, of GJ 581d is significant because it was the first Earth-like planet discovered in the ‘Goldilocks’-zone around another star and it is a benchmark case for the Doppler technique,” said Anglada-Escudé in a university press release. “There are always discussions among scientists about the ways we interpret data but I’m confident that GJ 581d has been in orbit around Gliese 581 all along. In any case, the strength of their statement was way too strong. If the way to treat the data had been right, then some planet search projects at several ground-based observatories would need to be significantly revised as they are all aiming to detect even smaller planets.”

    The upshot is that this new paper challenges the statistical technique used in 2014 to account for the signal being stellar noise — focusing around the presence of starspots in Gliese 581′s photosphere.

    Gliese 581d isn’t the only possible exoplanet that exists around that star — controversy has also been created by another, potentially habitable exoplanet called Gliese 581g. Also originally detected through the wobble of the star, this 3-4 Earth mass world was found to also be in orbit within the habitable zone. But its existence has been the focus of several studies supporting and discounting its presence. Gliese 581 is also home to 3 other confirmed exoplanets, Gliese 581e, b and c.

    Currently, observational data suggests Gliese 581g was just noise, but as the continuing debate about Gliese 581d is proving, this is one controversy that will likely keep on rumbling in the scientific journals for some time.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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