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  • richardmitnick 1:10 pm on September 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Physicists Just Cracked The Problem of Stabilising a Totally New Kind of Particle, , Science Alert, VCU   

    From Science Alert: “Physicists Just Cracked The Problem of Stabilising a Totally New Kind of Particle” 


    Science Alert

    19 SEP 2017

    Virginia Commonwealth University

    Scientists have discovered the existence of a type of particle that’s never previously been observed, which demonstrates unprecedented chemical stability for its kind.

    It’s big news for chemists and physicists – but the achievement isn’t just exciting for theoretical scientists, because, if researchers can figure out how to make it in the lab, it could also enable new kinds of consumer products, such as aluminium-ion batteries.

    The new discovery is the modelling of what’s called a tri-anion particle, so-called because they contain three more electrons than protons.

    While these have been found before, they’ve always been atomically unstable in the gas phase due to their surplus of electrons – that is, until now.

    Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University used computer modelling to show that stable tri-anions are in fact possible – at least hypothetically – as long as you’ve got the right molecular ratios of the elements boron and beryllium paired with the chemical compound cyanogen.

    Tri-anion particles are usually unstable in the gas phase because their extra electrons means they dispel additional electrons due to strong electrostatic repulsion, which interrupts chemical reactions.

    But a team led by physicist Puru Jena used quantum mechanical calculations to show that a molecule called BeB11(CN)12 is actually chemically stable – so robust in fact, that they described it in their paper as exhibiting “colossal stability”.

    “This is very important in this field, nobody has ever found such a tri-anion,” says Jena.

    “Not only can it keep three electrons but the third electron is extremely stable.”

    The researchers also had success substituting cyanogen for the chemical compounds thiocyanate (SCN) and borate (BO) .

    “The implication of the extraordinary stability of the above tri-anions is that one can regard this class of clusters as super-pnictogens,” the researchers write, “analogous to super-halogens discovered more than 30 years ago.”

    Pnictogens are a class of chemicals including nitrogen and phosphorus that have three unpaired electrons in their outermost electron shell, and which are known for their stability.

    These belong in group 15 of the Periodic Table, and the researchers say the newly discovered BeB11(CN)12 – and its thiocyanate and borate variants – mimic the chemistry and stability of the group.

    What that means in terms of industrial applications is that they could be used to develop new kinds of aluminium-ion batteries, with the tri-anion helping to make the battery conductive by moving from one of its electrodes to the other.

    Much like with di-anions – particles that have two additional electrons – tri-anions could be used for much more than just batteries, however.

    “Such particles are very important for many reasons. Number one, they make salts. Secondly, they are used in all kinds of chemical compounds, such as those in floor cleaners as oxidising agents that kill bacteria,” Jena says.

    “They are also used to purify air, which is a billion-dollar industry, and in mood enhancers, similar to what Prozac does. The potential uses are endless.”

    To be clear, the results are only based on computer modelling for now, so someone still needs to physically create the particle in the lab.

    But perhaps the most exciting part of the discovery is that now that we know these colossally stable kinds of particles are possible, it will encourage scientists to look for what other kinds of never-before-seen molecular arrangements are out there.

    “The guiding principles we have used in this paper will help with the design of other tri-anions,” Jena says.

    “The question is: What do we do with this knowledge?”

    It sounds like it won’t be long before we find out.

    The findings are reported in Angewandte Chemie.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:21 am on August 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chinese Physicists Just Achieved Quantum Teleportation Underwater For The First Time, , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Physicists Just Achieved Quantum Teleportation Underwater For The First Time” 


    Science Alert

    28 AUG 2017


    Chinese scientists have successfully sent information between entangled particles through sea water, the first time this type of quantum communication has been achieved underwater.

    In this proof-of-concept experiment, information was sent across a 3.3-metre (10.8-foot) long tank of seawater, but the researchers predict they should be able to use the same technique to send unhackable communications close to 900 metres (0.55 miles) through open water.

    “People have talked about the idea of underwater quantum communication before, but I’m not aware of anyone who has done an experiment like this,” Thomas Jennewein from the University of Waterloo in Canada told Devin Powell over at New Scientist.

    “An obvious application would be a submarine which wants to remain submerged but communicate in a secure fashion.”

    This is a big deal, because quantum communication – also known as quantum teleportation – promises to allow people to send messages that are protected from prying eyes by the laws of physics. It’s the ultimate encryption.

    It’s based on the idea of quantum entanglement – that kooky phenomenon Einstein referred to as “spooky at a distance”. Basically, quantum entanglement means that two particles become inextricably linked so that whatever happens to one will automatically affect the other, no matter how far apart they are.

    Through that mechanism, scientists have already ‘teleported’ information across vast distances through optical fibre and even open space.

    Earlier this year, a separate team of Chinese researchers were able to use quantum entanglement to teleport information to a satellite in Earth’s orbit across more than 500 km (311 miles).

    But up until now, no one had done the same thing in water, which is notorious for scattering anything we try to beam through it. Just think of shining a laser pointer into the air and into water.

    For this experiment, researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University took seawater from the Yellow Sea and set it up in a 3 metre tank in the lab.

    They then created a pair of entangled photons by shooting a beam of light through a crystal. Whatever the polarisation of one of the photons, its pair would automatically have the opposite polarisation.

    These particles were placed at opposite ends of the tank, and the team showed that despite being separated by metres of seawater, they could accurately communicate information between them more than 98 percent of the time.

    “Our results confirm the feasibility of a seawater quantum channel, representing the first step towards underwater quantum communication,” the researchers write in the journal The Optical Society.

    It’s still early days, and not only is it important for other teams to now replicate this result, but it remains to be seen whether the same thing can be done across greater distances, but also in seawater not confined to a tank.

    Based on the team’s calculations, they predict that it would be possible to achieve quantum communication through open water across a distance of 885 metres (0.55 miles) using photons in the blue-green window.

    But New Scientist reports that other groups have calculated a limit of underwater quantum communication of just 120 metres (0.07 miles).

    “Because ocean water absorbs light, extending this is going to difficult,” Jeffrey Uhlmann, a physicists from the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Powell.

    How far we can stretch this underwater quantum communication remains to be seen, but now that researchers have shown it’s possible, it’s only a matter of time before the limits begin to be pushed.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on August 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Science Alert, World's Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia   

    From Science Alert: “World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia” 


    Science Alert

    16 AUG 2017

    Crescent Dunes near Las Vegas, the blueprint for the new plant. Credit: Solar Reserve.

    The onward march of renewables continues: an Australian state government has greenlit the biggest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world, a 150-megawatt structure set to be built in Port Augusta in South Australia.

    As well as providing around 650 construction jobs for local workers, the plant will provide all the electricity needs for the state government, with some to spare – and it should help to make solar energy even more affordable in the future.

    Work on the AU$650 million (US$510 million) plant is getting underway next year and is slated to be completed in 2020, adding to Australia’s growing list of impressive renewable energy projects that already cover solar and tidal.

    “The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines,” says sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia.

    “This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.”

    Solar photovoltaic plants convert sunlight directly into electricity, so they need batteries to store excess power for when the Sun isn’t shining; solar thermal plants, meanwhile, use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight into a heating system.

    A variety of heating systems are in use, but In this case, molten salt will be heated up – a more economical storage option than batteries – which is then used to boil water, spin a steam turbine, and generate electricity when required.

    The developers of the Port Augusta plant say it can continue to generate power at full load for up to 8 hours after the Sun’s gone down.

    The Crescent Dunes plant in Nevada will act as the blueprint for the one in Port Augusta, as it was built by the same contractor, Solar Reserve. That site has a 110-megawatt capacity.

    Renewable energy sources now account for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated in South Australia, and as solar becomes a more stable and reliable provider of energy, that in turn pushes prices lower.

    Importantly, the cost of the new plant is well below the estimated cost of a new coal-fired power station, giving the government another reason to back renewables. The cost-per-megawatt of the new plant works out about the same as wind power and solar photovoltaic plants.

    But engineering researcher Fellow Matthew Stocks, from the Australian National University, says we still have “lots to learn” about how solar thermal technologies can fit into an electric grid system.

    “One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat,” says Stocks. “If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro.”

    Authorities say 50 full-time workers will be required to operate the plant, using similar skills to those needed to run a coal or gas station. That will encourage workers laid off after the region’s coal-fired power station was closed down last year.

    Solar thermal has been backed to the tune of AU$110m ($86m) of equity provided by the federal government.

    And as renewables become more and more important to our power grids, expect to see this huge solar thermal plant eventually get eclipsed by a bigger one.

    “This is first large scale application of solar thermal generation in Australia which has been operating successfully in Europe, USA and Africa,” says Saman.

    “While this technology is perhaps a decade behind solar PV generation, many future world energy forecasts include a considerable proportion of this technology in tomorrow’s energy mix.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:13 am on August 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Science Alert, Scientists found 91 previously unknown volcanoes ranging in height from 100 to 3850 metres, Student’s idea leads to Antarctic volcano discovery,   

    From U Edinburgh: “Student’s idea leads to Antarctic volcano discovery” 


    University of Edinburgh

    An Edinburgh student has helped identify what may be the largest volcanic region on Earth.

    Aug 14, 2017
    No writer credit found


    A study conceived by undergraduate Max Van Wyk de Vries has revealed that West Antarctica’s vast ice sheet conceals almost 100 newly discovered volcanoes. The largest of these is as tall as the Eiger in Switzerland.

    Max, a third-year student in the School of GeoSciences, came up with the idea by analysing publically available radar mapping data of Antarctica.

    He proposed his study to researchers in the School, who were impressed by the quality of Max’s work and used their expertise to verify the presence of the volcanoes.

    Ice sheet

    Geologists and ice experts say the range has many similarities to East Africa’s volcanic ridge, which is currently acknowledged to be the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.

    Researchers remotely surveyed the underside of the ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock, like those of other volcanoes in the region whose tips push above the ice.

    They analysed the shape of the land beneath the ice using measurements from ice-penetrating radar, and compared the findings with satellite and database records, as well as geological information from aerial surveys.

    Volcanic range

    Scientists found 91 previously unknown volcanoes, ranging in height from 100 to 3850 metres.

    The peaks are concentrated in a region known as the West Antarctic Rift System, spanning 3,500 kilometres from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula.

    “Antarctica remains among the least studied areas of the globe, and as a young scientist I was excited to learn about something new and not well understood. After examining existing data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet.”
    Max Van Wyk de VriesStudent, School of GeoSciences

    Long-term effects

    Results from the study, which is the first of its kind, will help scientists understand how volcanoes can influence long-term fluctuations in the ice sheet.

    They could also help improve understanding of how the continent has changed during past climates.

    The team’s results do not indicate whether the volcanoes are active, but should inform ongoing research into seismic monitoring in the area.

    Warmer climates

    Volcanic activity may increase if Antarctica’s ice thins, which is likely in a warming climate, scientists say.

    Previous studies and the concentration of volcanoes found in the region together suggest that activity may have occurred in previous warmer periods.

    The study is published in the Geological Society Special Publications series.

    “It is fascinating to uncover an extensive range of volcanoes in this relatively unexplored continent. Better understanding of volcanic activity could shed light on their impact on Antarctica’s ice in the past, present and future, and on other rift systems around the world.”
    Dr Robert BinghamSchool of GeoSciences

    From Science Alert:

    “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” geoscientist Robert Bingham from the University of Edinburgh in the UK told The Guardian.

    “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.”

    Bingham’s team studied the rift system lying underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, analysing ice-sheet bed-elevation data sourced from a database called Bedmap 2.

    What they were looking for were conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica – pretty much the same thing we see when topside volcanoes extend out of Earth’s surface.

    Of course, we can’t physically see these volcano peaks when they’re hidden underground, but ice-penetrating radar signals can detect their basalt rock forms within the ice sheet.

    Some 47 subglacial volcanoes had previously been found in Antarctica, but the discovery of these 91 new peaks – along a region reaching approximately 3,500km (2,175 miles) between Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf and the Antarctic peninsula – suggests there could be many, many more than scientists thought.

    “We were amazed. We had not expected to find anything like that number,” Bingham told The Guardian.

    “I think it is very likely this region will turn out to be the densest region of volcanoes in the world, greater even than east Africa, where mounts Nyiragongo, Kilimanjaro, Longonot and all the other active volcanoes are concentrated.”

    The identified volcanoes extend in height from 100 metres (328 feet) to 3,850 metres (12,631 feet), and while the researchers don’t yet know if any of them are active, it’s important we find out.

    Because these volcanoes are buried under kilometres of ice, it’s unlikely they could pose a direct immediate threat to anything on the Antarctic surface – but if one were to erupt, it could heat and melt the ice above it, potentially rising sea level.

    Aside from that concern, the researchers speculate that the activity of volcanoes could in fact be linked to their level of ice cover – or rather, the lack of it.

    “The most volcanism that is going in the world at present is in regions that have only recently lost their glacier covering – after the end of the last ice age,” Bingham said.

    “Theory suggests that this is occurring because, without ice sheets on top of them, there is a release of pressure on the regions’ volcanoes and they become more active.”

    As the true, extended scope of the West Antarctic Rift System has only recently been detected, it could be some time before we know the real impact of this discovery.

    But it’s a part of the world already undergoing tremendous, unrecognisable changes – so we can only hope this amazing find doesn’t portend ominous news.

    See the full article here.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    The University’s mission is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge.

    As a world-leading centre of academic excellence we aim to:

    Enhance our position as one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities and to measure our performance against the highest international standards
    Provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students
    Produce graduates fully equipped to achieve the highest personal and professional standards
    Make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing.

    As a great civic university, Edinburgh especially values its intellectual and economic relationship with the Scottish community that forms its base and provides the foundation from which it will continue to look to the widest international horizons, enriching both itself and Scotland.

  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on July 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Gamma-ray burst, Science Alert, The Most Intense Cosmic Explosion Out There Has Been Captured as It Happened   

    From Science Alert: “The Most Intense Cosmic Explosion Out There Has Been Captured as It Happened” 


    Science Alert

    27 JUL 2017

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

    The most powerful kind of cosmic explosions known to science are called gamma-ray bursts – aka ‘death from space’ – galactic events so fierce their awesome intensity is only surpassed by the Big Bang itself.

    Now, an international team of astronomers has observed one of these violent outbursts of energy in unprecedented detail, witnessing a distant, giant star in its destructive death throes like never before.

    The findings are reported in Nature.

    “Gamma-ray bursts are catastrophic events, related to the explosion of massive stars 50 times the size of our Sun,” explains one of the researchers, Eleonora Troja from the University of Maryland.

    “In a matter of seconds, the process can emit as much energy as a star the size of our Sun would in its entire lifetime.”

    Nathaniel Butler/ASU

    These intense flashes are thought to occur all the time, but thankfully they usually take place in galaxies billions of light-years away from Earth, sparing us from intense jets of particles thrust at the speed of light from collapsing stars.

    Because we don’t get any fore-warning of these bursts, it’s not easy for scientists to observe them – given the events usually only last a matter of seconds, if that.

    What made this incredibly bright burst different was that its tight beam of gamma rays was aimed by chance at Earth, enabling our telescopes to pick it up and respond in real time.

    “Gamma ray bursts occur completely randomly in space and time, so we cannot predict where or when one will appear,” one of the team, Carole Mundell from the University of Bath in the UK, told IBTimes UK.

    “It was very bright and produced a very short flare that lasted just 1 second before the main explosion began, so our telescopes were ready to capture the visible light at the same time as the high-energy gamma rays from the explosion itself. It was so bright, it could have been seen through binoculars. This is rare.”

    The unprecedented observation of the event – which took place on 25 June 2016 and is called GRB 160625B – could help us understand how gamma-ray bursts come to occur at all.

    Scientists think that these explosions happen when a dying star collapses to become a black hole. As this process takes place, particle jets are blasted outward in a beam, but up until now, researchers weren’t sure if the jets were controlled by matter, or by a magnetic field produced by the black hole.

    The new study suggests a compromise is the most accurate view of the phenomenon.

    “There has been a dichotomy in the community. We find evidence for both models, suggesting that gamma-ray burst jets have a dual, hybrid nature,” Troja explains in a statement.

    “The jets start off magnetic, but as the jets grow, the magnetic field degrades and loses dominance. Matter takes over and dominates the jets, although sometimes a weaker vestige of the magnetic field might survive.”

    This blast, detected by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and observed soon after by Russia’s MASTER-IAC telescope at the Teide Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands, also revealed that the initial, brightest phase of the burst is prompted by a kind of radiation called synchrotron radiation, which occurs when electrons are accelerated in a curved or spiral path.

    NASA/Fermi Telescope

    Russia’s MASTER-IAC telescope at the Teide Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands.

    Scientists had previously speculated that two other forms of radiation – black-body radiation and inverse Compton radiation – might be responsible, but the level of polarisation in the light burst produced by GRB 160625B suggests synchrotron radiation is the most likely candidate.

    That insight could help to clear up decades of mystery over what drives gamma-ray bursts, but the researchers acknowledge there’s still a lot we don’t know about these intense beams.

    Learning more will require us to catch of a glimpse of another violent explosion being unleashed in a (hopefully) very far away place – but as the researchers admit, there’s no way of telling just when that might be, nor whether it will be as instructive as the singular brilliance of GRB 160625B.

    “Any amateur astronomer with just binoculars looking in the right part of the sky could have recorded the explosion,” Troja explained to Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo.

    “It was really, really bright, and it also lasted for a very long time… it was such a unique event.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:33 am on July 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Dipolar magnetic field, Magnetic dipole field, NASA has indicated it wants to study the possibilities of launching a giant magnetic field to make Mars habitable again, Period-doubling bifurcation, Physicists Make a Glowing Fireball From a Magnet And a Plasma Chamber, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in India, Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Physicists Make a Glowing Fireball From a Magnet And a Plasma Chamber” 


    Science Alert

    26 JUL 2017

    Shaw et al/AIP Publishing.

    Scientists have observed how a magnetic dipole field can create what looks like a glowing, localised fireball inside a plasma chamber.

    By placing a regular dipole bar magnet near the surface of the cathode, the researchers were able to generate an intense “glowing, fireball like structure” inside the plasma chamber, which varied in its brightness depending on how they positioned the magnet.

    According to the team from the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in India, the localised glowing results from increased ionisation in the plasma chamber, due to the way electrons are confined by the magnetic field near the negatively charged cathode surface.

    Scientists have previously conducted a range of research on how magnetism interacts with plasma using chambers just like this, but most of the time those experiments involve a magnet positioned inside the chamber – which means variations in the strength of the magnetic field don’t usually show up.

    By placing and repositioning a mobile magnet on the outside of the chamber, however, it highlights a different effect of the magnetic field.

    “Though bar magnets have been used in plasma experiments, the focus was mainly on the measurement of plasma equilibrium parameters like density, potential, and other fluctuation measurements,” says lead researcher Pankaj Kumar Shaw.

    “In our opinion, this is the first effort to investigate nonlinear dynamical phenomena of the fluctuations under dipolar magnetic field.”

    When a magnetic field is introduced to plasma, it induces fluctuations in the plasma, which become less ordered and more chaotic as the strength of the magnetic field increases.

    While scientists already knew about this effect, the researchers here discovered that the transition from order to chaos in the plasma reflects what’s called period-doubling bifurcation – a mathematical equation that explains how systems can repeat in a doubling pattern in response to changes in parameters.

    Shaw et al/AIP Publishing.

    “Following a particular sequence from order to chaos via [a] period-doubling route was unexpected,” says Shaw.

    “Changing position of the bar magnet varied the strength of magnetic field over 1–10G. This observation in such a low range of magnetic field was surprising.”

    Aside from the cool fireball effect, the results may largely be of theoretical interest for other plasma researchers right now, but the team thinks that in the future the findings could impact the study of how magnetic anomalies affect solar wind interactions with planetary bodies.

    Tbh, that’s a pretty academic area too, but it’s one that could also have massive repercussions on future space exploration and colonisation inside our Solar System – especially since NASA has indicated it wants to study the possibilities of launching a giant magnetic field to make Mars habitable again.

    The idea there is that, over the passing of galactic eons, the Red Planet may have lost its once lush atmosphere, which was stripped away by high-energy particles projected from the Sun.

    Understanding more about how plasma and magnetic fields play together could be a vital step in learning how to restore the Martian atmosphere, by reinstating the Red Planet’s own magnetic field.

    Of course, that’s a pretty giant leap from the discovery we’re telling you about today – but it’s all part of a scientific continuum, folks.

    One little fireball could help us heal the hurt created by a much bigger one.

    The findings are reported in AIP Physics of Plasmas.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:20 am on July 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “We Now Have More Evidence For The Existence of Planet Nine…” 


    Science Alert

    Artist’s rendering of a Jupiter-sized lonely planet. NASA/JPL

    18 JUL 2017

    …And maybe even Planet Ten?

    In January of 2016, astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin published the first evidence that there might be another planet in our Solar System.

    Known as “Planet 9”, this hypothetical body was estimated to be about 10 times as massive as Earth and to orbit that our Sun at an average distance of 700 AU. Since that time, multiple studies have been produced that either support or cast doubt on the existence of Planet 9.

    While some argue that the orbits of certain Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) are proof of Planet 9, others argue that these studies suffer from an observational bias.

    The latest study [MNRAS], which comes from a pair of astronomers from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), offers a fresh perspective that could settle the debate.

    Using a new technique that focuses on extreme TNOs (ETNOs), they believe the case for Planet 9 can be made.

    Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects are those that orbit our Sun at average distances greater than 150 AU, and therefore never cross Neptune’s orbit.

    As the UMC team indicate in their study [see above], which was recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the distances between the ETNOs nodes and the Sun may point the way towards Planet 9.

    These nodes are the two points at which the orbit of a celestial body crosses the plane of the Solar System. It is at these points that the chances of interacting with other bodies in the Solar System is the greatest, and hence where ETNOs are most likely to experience a drastic change in their orbits (or a collision).

    By measuring where these nodes are, the team believed they could tell if the ETNOs are being perturbed by another object in the area.

    As Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, one of the authors on the study, explained in an interview with The Information and Scientific News Service (SINC):

    “If there is nothing to perturb them, the nodes of these extreme trans-Neptunian objects should be uniformly distributed, as there is nothing for them to avoid, but if there are one or more perturbers, two situations may arise.

    One possibility is that the ETNOs are stable, and in this case they would tend to have their nodes away from the path of possible perturbers, he adds, but if they are unstable they would behave as the comets that interact with Jupiter do, that is tending to have one of the nodes close to the orbit of the hypothetical perturber”.

    For the sake of their research, Doctors Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos conducted calculations and data mining to analyse the nodes of 28 ETNOs and 24 extreme Centaurs (which also orbit the Sun at average distances of more than 150 AUs).

    What they noticed was that these two populations became clustered at certain distances from the Sun, and also noted a correlation between the positions of the nodes and the inclination of the objects.

    This latter find was especially unexpected, and led them to conclude that the orbits of these populations were being affected by the presence of another body – much in the same way that the orbits of comets within our Solar System have been found to be affected by the way they interact with Jupiter.

    As De la Fuente Marcos emphasised:

    “Assuming that the ETNOs are dynamically similar to the comets that interact with Jupiter, we interpret these results as signs of the presence of a planet that is actively interacting with them in a range of distances from 300 to 400 AU.

    We believe that what we are seeing here cannot be attributed to the presence of observational bias”.

    As already mentioned, previous studies that have challenged the existence of Planet 9 cited how the study of TNOs have suffered from an observational bias.

    Basically, they have claimed that these studies made systematic errors in how they calculated the orientations in the orbits of TNOs, in large part because they had all been directed towards the same region of the sky.

    By looking at the nodal distances of ETNOs, which depend on the size and shape of their orbits, this most recent study offers the first evidence of Planet 9’s existence that is relatively free of this bias.

    At the moment, only 28 ETNOs are known, but the authors are confident that the discovery of more – and the analysis of their nodes – will confirm their observations and place further constraints on the orbit of Planet 9.

    In addition, the pair of astronomers offered some thoughts on recent work that has suggested the possible existence of a Planet 10.

    While their study does not take into account the existence of a Mars-sized body – which is said to be responsible for an observable “warp” in the Kuiper Belt – they acknowledge that there is compelling evidence that such a planet-sized body exists.

    As de la Fuente Marcos said:

    “Given the current definition of planet, this other mysterious object may not be a true planet, even if it has a size similar to that of the Earth, as it could be surrounded by huge asteroids or dwarf planets.

    In any case, we are convinced that Volk and Malhotra’s work has found solid evidence of the presence of a massive body beyond the so-called Kuiper Cliff, the furthest point of the trans-Neptunian belt, at some 50 AU from the Sun, and we hope to be able to present soon a new work which also supports its existence”.

    It seems that the outer Solar System is getting more crowded with every passing year.

    And these planets, if and when they are confirmed, are likely to trigger another debate about which Solar bodies are rightly designated as planets and which ones aren’t.

    If you thought the “planetary debate” was controversial and divisive before, I recommend staying away from astronomy forums in the coming years!

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:58 am on June 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Science Alert, , The Yellowstone Supervolcano Has Just Seen 878 Earthquakes in Two Weeks,   

    From Science Alert: “The Yellowstone Supervolcano Has Just Seen 878 Earthquakes in Two Weeks” 


    Science Alert

    29 JUN 2017

    Suzi Pratt / shutterstock.com

    But don’t freak out just yet.

    Yellowstone has had a turbulent June. In just two weeks, the supervolcano that lies underneath the national park was hit with 878 earthquakes. The dense series of earthquakes, called an earthquake swarm, began on June 12. Within one week, the USGS had already recorded 464 earthquakes.

    “This is the highest number of earthquakes at Yellowstone within a single week in the past five years,” reported the USGS in a statement [U Utah] released last week.

    The majority of the earthquakes were no greater than a magnitude of 1, but the largest reached a magnitude of 4.4, which is the biggest earthquake experienced in Yellowstone since March 2014.

    But, thankfully, we don’t need to freak out anytime soon. It is extremely unlikely that these swarms will set off the supervolcano. In fact, the USGS sets the probability of the supervolcano erupting in the coming year at 1 in 730,000, and has kept its volcano alert level at green.

    “Swarms in Yellowstone are a common occurrence,” Jamie Farrell, a research professor at the University of Utah, which is part of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), told Newsweek.

    “On average, Yellowstone sees around 1,500-2,000 earthquakes per year. Of those, 40 to 50 percent occur as part of earthquake swarms.”

    And while the most recent swarm is larger than average, Farrell says there isn’t any evidence that the activity is related to magma moving in the subsurface.

    Geologists are constantly monitoring the Yellowstone supervolcano for unusual activity. If the volcano was about to blow, Farrell says they would start seeing increased seismicity, large changes in surface deformation, changes to the hydrothermal system and changes in gas output.

    “Typically if we see just one of these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is an eruption coming. If we start to see changes in all these things, then a red flag may be raised,” said Farrell.

    The Yellowstone supervolcano doesn’t blow very often. In the past two million years, it has only experienced three major eruptions.

    But even if it did erupt, Jacob Lowenstern, a scientist in charge of the YVO, says it would be fairly inconsequential.

    “If Yellowstone erupts, it’s most likely to be a lava flow, as occurred in nearly all the 80 eruptions since the last ‘supereruption’ 640,000 years ago,” he told Newsweek’s Hannah Osborne.

    “A lava flow would be a big deal at Yellowstone, but would have very little regional or continental effect.”

    Regardless, Farrell and the rest of the team at the University of Utah assure us they are continuing to monitor the swarm. So there won’t be any nasty surprises sneaking up out of Yellowstone anytime soon.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:54 pm on June 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Gowanda Research on Science Direct, , Science Alert   

    From Gowanda Research via Science Alert: “This Amazing Map Fills a 500-Million Year Gap in Earth’s History” 


    Science Alert

    28 JUN 2017




    Earth is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old, with life first appearing around 3 billion years ago. To unravel this incredible history, scientists use a range of different techniques to determine when and where continents moved, how life evolved, how climate changed over time, when our oceans rose and fell, and how land was shaped.

    Tectonic plates – the huge, constantly moving slabs of rock that make up the outermost layer of the Earth, the crust – are central to all these studies.

    Along with our colleagues, we have published the first whole-Earth plate tectonic map of half a billion years of Earth history, from 1,000 million years ago to 520 million years ago.

    In the visualisation above, the colours refer to where the continents lie today. Light blue = India, Madagascar and Arabia, magenta = Australia and Antarctica, white = Siberia, red = North America, orange = Africa, dark blue = South America, yellow = China, green = northeast Europe.

    The time range is crucial. It’s a period when the Earth went through the most extreme climate swings known, from “Snowball Earth” icy extremes to super-hot greenhouse conditions, when the atmosphere got a major injection of oxygen and when multicellular life appeared and exploded in diversity.

    Now with this first global map of plate tectonics through this period, we (and others) can start to assess the role of plate tectonic processes on other Earth systems and even address how movement of structures deep in our Earth may have varied over a billion year cycle.

    Below you can see: (a) map of Precambrian cratonic crust used in the reconstruction in their present-day locations; (b) present day geographical map of the world with Precambrian cratonic crust used in the reconstruction in grey.

    Fig. 2, Mueller et al., Gondwana Research (2017)

    The Earth moves under our feet

    Modern plate tectonic boundaries. But how do we map the Earth like this in the past? NASA’s Earth Observatory

    The modern Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries are mapped in excruciating detail.

    In the modern Earth, global positioning satellites are used to map how the Earth changes and moves. We know that up-welling plumes of hot rock from over 2,500 km (1,553 miles) deep in the planet’s mantle (the layer beneath the Earth’s crust) hit the solid carapace of the planet (the crust and the top part of the mantle). This forces rigid surface tectonic plates to move at the tempo of a fingernail’s growth.

    On the other side of the up-welling hot rock plumes are areas known as subduction zones, where vast regions of the ocean floor plunge down into the deep Earth. Eventually these down-going oceanic plates hit the boundary between the core and mantle layers of Earth, about 2,900 km (1,801 miles) down. They come together, forming thermal or chemical accumulations that eventually source these up-welling zones.

    It’s fascinating stuff, but these processes also create problems for scientists trying to look back in time. The planet can only be directly mapped over its last 200 million years. Before that, back over the preceding four billion years, the majority of the planet’s surface is missing, as all the crust that lay under the oceans has been destroyed through subduction.

    Oceanic crust just doesn’t last: it’s constantly being pulled back deep into the Earth, where it’s inaccessible to science.

    Mapping the Earth in deep time

    So what did we do to map the Earth in deep time? To get at where plate margins were and how they changed, we looked for proxies – or alternative representations – of plate margins in the geological record.

    We found rocks that formed above subduction zones, in continental collisions, or in the fissures where plates ripped apart. Our data came from rocks found in locations including Madagascar, Ethiopia and far west Brazil. The new map and associated work is the result of a couple of decades of work by many excellent PhD students and colleagues from all over the world.

    We now have more details, and a view to way further back in geological time, than were previously available for those studying the Earth.

    Using other methods, the latitudes of continents in the past can be worked out, as some iron-bearing rocks freeze the magnetic field in them as they form.

    This is like a fossil compass, with the needle pointing into the ground at an angle related to the latitude where it formed – near the equator the magnetic field is roughly parallel to the Earth’s surface, at the poles it plunges directly down. You can see this today if you buy a compass in Australia and take it to Canada: the compass won’t work very well, as the needle will want to point down into the Earth.

    Compass needles are always balanced to remain broadly horizontal in the region that they are designed to work in.

    But, these so-called “palaeomagnetic” measurements are hard to do, and it is not easy finding rocks that preserve these records. Also, they only tell us about the continents and not about plate margins or the oceans.

    Why map ancient plate tectonics?

    The lack of ancient tectonic maps has posed quite a problem for how we understand our Earth.

    Tectonic plates influence many processes on Earth, including the climate, the biosphere (the sphere of life on the outer part of the planet), and the hydrosphere (the water cycle and how it circulates around the planet and how its chemistry varies).

    By simply redistributing tectonic plates, and thereby moving the positions (the latitudes and longitudes) of continents and oceans, controls are placed on where different plants and animals can live and migrate.

    Plate boundary locations also govern how ocean currents redistribute heat and water chemistry. Different water masses in the ocean contain subtly different elements and their various forms, known as isotopes.

    For example, water in the deep oceans was often not at the surface for many many thousands of years, and has different composition from the water presently on the ocean’s surface. This is important because different water masses contain different amounts of nutrients, redistributing them to different parts of the Earth, changing the potential for life in different places.

    Tectonic plates also influence how much of the Sun’s radiation gets reflected back out to space, changing the Earth’s temperature.

    How fast tectonic plates move have also varied over time. At different periods in Earth history there were more mid-ocean volcanoes than there are today, creating water movement such as pushing up ocean waters over the continents. At these times, some types of volcanic eruptions were more frequent, pumping more gas into the atmosphere.

    Mountain ranges form as tectonic plates collide, which affect oceanic and atmospheric currents as well as exposing rocks to be eroded. This locks up greenhouse gases, and releases nutrients into the ocean.

    Understand ancient plate tectonics and we go someway to understanding the ancient Earth system. And the Earth as it is today, and into the future.

    The research reported in this article was conducted by a team of researchers from The University of Sydney, The University of Adelaide and Curtin University.

    Abstract from Gowanda Research paper on Science Direct


    Neoproterozoic tectonic geography was dominated by the formation of the supercontinent Rodinia, its break-up and the subsequent amalgamation of Gondwana. The Neoproterozoic was a tumultuous time of Earth history, with large climatic variations, the emergence of complex life and a series of continent-building orogenies of a scale not repeated until the Cenozoic. Here we synthesise available geological and palaeomagnetic data and build the first full-plate, topological model of the Neoproterozoic that maps the evolution of the tectonic plate configurations during this time. Topological models trace evolving plate boundaries and facilitate the evaluation of “plate tectonic rules” such as subduction zone migration through time when building plate models. There is a rich history of subduction zone proxies preserved in the Neoproterozoic geological record, providing good evidence for the existence of continent-margin and intra-oceanic subduction zones through time. These are preserved either as volcanic arc protoliths accreted in continent-continent, or continent-arc collisions, or as the detritus of these volcanic arcs preserved in successor basins. Despite this, we find that the model presented here still predicts less subduction (ca. 90%) than on the modern earth, suggesting that we have produced a conservative model and are likely underestimating the amount of subduction, either due to a simplification of tectonically complex areas, or because of the absence of preservation in the geological record (e.g. ocean-ocean convergence). Furthermore, the reconstruction of plate boundary geometries provides constraints for global-scale earth system parameters, such as the role of volcanism or ridge production on the planet’s icehouse climatic excursion during the Cryogenian. Besides modelling plate boundaries, our model presents some notable departures from previous Rodinia models. We omit India and South China from Rodinia completely, due to long-lived subduction preserved on margins of India and conflicting palaeomagnetic data for the Cryogenian, such that these two cratons act as ‘lonely wanderers’ for much of the Neoproterozoic. We also introduce a Tonian-Cryogenian aged rotation of the Congo-São Francisco Craton relative to Rodinia to better fit palaeomagnetic data and account for thick passive margin sediments along its southern margin during the Tonian. The GPlates files of the model are released to the public and it is our expectation that this model can act as a foundation for future model refinements, the testing of alternative models, as well as providing constraints for both geodynamic and palaeoclimate models.

    Full paper available here.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:08 am on June 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Here's How to Backup Life on Earth Ahead of Any Doomsday Event, , NEOWISE has discovered 114 near-Earth objects and characterized 693 others, Perhaps the obvious place to locate the backups is in space, Science Alert, Seed banks, Svalbard Global Seed Vault, There is no plan B because there is no planet B, We are already observing that extinctions are happening now at an unprecedented rate   

    From Science Alert: “Here’s How to Backup Life on Earth Ahead of Any Doomsday Event” 


    Science Alert

    20 JUN 2017


    Just in case…

    There are ten asteroids that the space organisation NASA said last month have been classified as “potentially hazardous” based on their size and their orbits in our Solar system.

    This animation shows asteroids and comets observed in infrared by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission. Since the mission was restarted in December 2013, NEOWISE has discovered 114 near-Earth objects and characterized 693 others. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/PSI

    NASA has now identified 693 near-Earth objects thanks to the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft that’s been looking for potential threats to Earth since 2013.

    NASA/WISE Telescope

    The organisation doesn’t specify what kind of hazard these ten asteroids pose.

    But Earth has been hit by objects in the past, with devastating effects. Scientists largely agree that it was an asteroid or comet impact that started the chain of events that wiped out the dinosaurs around 60 million years ago.

    Every year several previously unseen asteroids whizz past Earth, sometimes with only with a few days’ warning. This year two of these asteroids came very close to Earth, with one in May sailing past only 15,000km away.

    On cosmic scales, that was a very close shave.

    But impacts from objects in space are just one of several ways [Science] that humanity and most of life on Earth could suddenly disappear.

    We are already observing that extinctions are happening now at an unprecedented rate. In 2014 it was estimated that the extinction rate is now 1,000 times greater than before humans were on the Earth.

    The estimated number of extinctions ranges from 200 to 2,000 species per year.

    From all of this very worrying data, it would not be a stretch to say that we are currently within a doomsday scenario. Of course, the “day” is longer than 24 hours but may be instead in the order of a century or two.

    So what can we do about this potential prospect of impending doom? We can try to avoid some of the likely scenarios.

    We should act to tackle climate change and we can develop new asteroid-tracking systems and put in place a means to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

    But the threats we face are so unpredictable that we need to have a backup plan. We need to plan for the time after our doomsday and think about how a post-apocalyptic Earth may recover and humanity will flourish again.

    A backup plan

    Some efforts to backup life on our planet have already started. Since the 1970s scientists around the world began to store seeds of potentially endangered plants. There are now dozens of seed banks or vaults scattered around the world.

    The most famous is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on a remote Norwegian island about 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole. The location was deliberately chosen to afford the project safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults.

    But there were reports earlier this year that the vault had suffered issues with water from the surrounding melting permafrost (caused by global warming) gaining entry to parts of the structure.

    Less common are vaults for storing biological material from animals. There are a handful of so-called frozen zoos around the world.

    They store embryos, eggs, sperm and more recently DNA of endangered animals. So far, sperm, eggs and embryos that have been frozen for roughly 20 years have been shown to be viable.

    All of the storage methods that involve freezing have the same problem that the material is at risk of thawing out if the freezing methods fail. Storing frozen biological material for centuries or even millennia on Earth is not realistic.

    Humans can now sequence a whole genome of a living organism and the cost has reduced to the point where it costs less than US$1,000 to sequence the human genome. This process effectively turns the information from any organism’s cells into data.

    If future scientists can create living DNA from the genome data and can then create living organisms from that DNA, then having the data alone may be sufficient to backup the Earth’s living organisms.

    Where to store the backups?

    But where should humanity store the backups? As French president Emmanuel Macron said recently, “there is no plan B because there is no planet B”, echoing 2014 comments from Ban Ki-moon when he was secretary general of the United Nations.

    Backing up on Earth seems a high-risk strategy, equivalent to having a computer backup on an external hard drive that sits right next to your computer.

    So given that the motivation for backing up Earth’s organisms is the likelihood of Earth itself suffering a catastrophe, it follows that our planet is not the best location for the backups.

    The partial flooding of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault illustrates that perfectly.

    Perhaps the obvious place to locate the backups is in space.

    Seeds have already been taken to space for short periods (six months) to test their viability back on Earth. These experiments so far have been motivated by the desire to eventually grow plants in space itself, on space stations, or on Mars.

    Space is a harsh environment for biological material, where cells are exposed to potentially very high doses of radiation that will damage DNA.

    Storage of seeds in low Earth orbit is desirable as Earth’s magnetic field provides some protection from space radiation. Storage outside of this zone and in deep space would require other methods of radiation protection.

    The other question is how you would get seeds and other biological material safely back to Earth after a global disaster. Now we get to the robotics that can help, as autonomous re-entry of biological material from orbit is totally feasible.

    The tricky part is for our orbiting bio-backup to know when its cargo is required and where to send it to. Perhaps we need a global limited robot crew – such as David in the recent Alien films – that would wake up the orbiter when it is needed.

    Alternatively, it could be staffed by a rotating crew of wardens similar to the International Space Station. These people could carry out other important scientific work too.

    Other locations in space for storage of biological material or data include the Moon, and the moons of our solar system’s gas planets asteroids or deep space itself on free flying spacecraft.

    Such projects have been proposed and groups around the world have begun planning such ventures.

    It seems that some people have already accepted the fate of humanity version 1.0 and that it will end sometime in the relative near term. The movement to create our backup ready for humanity version 2.0 has already begun.

    See the full article here .

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