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  • richardmitnick 3:41 am on May 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Russia Just Reactivated 3 Mystery Satellites - And We Still Don't Know Why They Exist, Science Alert, The Daily Beast   

    From Science Alert: “Russia Just Reactivated 3 Mystery Satellites – And We Still Don’t Know Why They Exist” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    22 MAY 2017
    DANIEL BROWN

    1
    SES

    They’re on the move.

    Three Russian satellites that were sent into low orbit in 2013 are on the move again, and no one knows what they are for, The Daily Beast reports.

    Having been idle for more than a year, one of the satellites went hundreds of metres off its orbit last month to within 1,200 metres of a piece of a Chinese weather satellite that China smashed in a 2007 anti-satellite rocket test.

    The manoeuvre, which is pretty impressive for such a small spacecraft, is also rather close by orbital standards.

    No one quite knows what the satellites are for, but some experts say they could be “technology-demonstrators” or even “precursors to orbital weapons”, according to The Daily Beast.

    Code named Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504, the three satellites manoeuvred several times in the last three years to within a few dozen feet of their old booster shells.

    This means that they could be inspection satellites that can scan and match the orbit of other spacecraft, possibly even interact with it physically for repairs, modifications or to dismantle it.

    It’s also possible that these satellites could be used for warfare. “You can probably equip them with lasers, maybe put some explosives on them,” Anatoly Zak, an independent expert on Russian spacecraft, told The Beast in 2015.

    “If [one] comes very close to some military satellite, it probably can do some harm.”

    In 2012, US intelligence completed a report analysing “the growing vulnerability of US satellites that provide secure military communications, warn about enemy missile launches, and provide precise targeting coordinates”, anonymous sources told Reuters.

    The report raised many concerns about China’s ability to disrupt satellites in higher orbits, possibly putting sensitive US spacecraft at risk, the sources told Reuters.

    But Russian space agency chief Oleg Ostapenko claimed in 2014 that the satellites were for peaceful purposes.

    Read the full article from The Daily Beast here.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:49 pm on May 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESA/Lisa, GEO600, , , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Einstein’s ‘Spooky’ Entanglement Is Guiding Next-Gen Gravitational Wave Detectors” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    19 MAY 2017
    DAVID BLAIR

    1
    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    Breaking the standard quantum limit.

    The first direct detection of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, was reported by scientists in 2016.

    Armed with this “discovery of the century”, physicists around the world have been planning new and better detectors of gravitational waves.


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project


    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    Physicist Professor Chunnong Zhao and his recent PhD students Haixing Miao and Yiqiu Ma are members of an international team that has created a particularly exciting new design for gravitational wave detectors.

    The new design is a real breakthrough because it can measure signals below a limit that was previously believed to be an insurmountable barrier. Physicists call this limit the standard quantum limit. It is set by the quantum uncertainty principle.

    Proposal for gravitational-wave detection beyond the standard quantum limit through EPR entanglement
    Yiqiu Ma, Haixing Miao, Belinda Heyun Pang, Matthew Evans, Chunnong Zhao, Jan Harms, Roman Schnabel & Yanbei Chen

    The new design, published in Nature Physics this week, shows that this may not be a barrier any longer.

    Abstract

    In continuously monitored systems the standard quantum limit is given by the trade-off between shot noise and back-action noise. In gravitational-wave detectors, such as Advanced LIGO, both contributions can be simultaneously squeezed in a broad frequency band by injecting a spectrum of squeezed vacuum states with a frequency-dependent squeeze angle. This approach requires setting up an additional long baseline, low-loss filter cavity in a vacuum system at the detector’s site. Here, we show that the need for such a filter cavity can be eliminated, by exploiting Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen (EPR)-entangled signals and idler beams. By harnessing their mutual quantum correlations and the difference in the way each beam propagates in the interferometer, we can engineer the input signal beam to have the appropriate frequency-dependent conditional squeezing once the out-going idler beam is detected. Our proposal is appropriate for all future gravitational-wave detectors for achieving sensitivities beyond the standard quantum limit.
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    Figure 1
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    figure 2
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    Figure 3
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    Figure 4
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    Figure 5

    Using this and other new approaches may allow scientists to monitor black hole collisions and ‘spacequakes‘ across the whole of the visible Universe.

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    During a spacequake, Earth’s magnetic field shakes in a way that is analogous to the shaking of the ground during an earthquake. Image credit: Evgeny Panov, Space Research Institute of Austria.

    How gravitational wave detectors work

    Gravitational waves are not vibrations travelling through space, but rather vibrations of space itself.

    They have already told us about an unexpectedly large population of black holes. We hope that further study of gravitational waves will help us to better understand our Universe.

    But the technologies of gravitational wave detectors are likely to have enormous significance beyond this aspect of science, because in themselves they are teaching us how to measure unbelievably tiny amounts of energy.

    Gravitational wave detectors use laser light to pick up tiny vibrations of space created when black holes collide. The collisions create vast gravitational explosions.

    They are the biggest explosions known in the Universe, converting mass directly into vibrations of pure space.

    It takes huge amounts of energy to make space bend and ripple.

    Our detectors – exquisitely perfect devices that use big heavy mirrors with scarily powerful lasers – must measure space stretching by a mere billionth of a billionth of a metre over the four kilometre scale of our detectors. [LIGO, above.]

    These measurements already represent the smallest amount of energy ever measured.

    But for gravitational wave astronomers this is not good enough. They need even more sensitivity to be able to hear many more predicted gravitational ‘sounds’, including the sound of the moment the Universe was created in the big bang.

    This is where the new design comes in.

    A spooky idea from Einstein

    The novel concept is founded on original work from Albert Einstein.

    In 1935 Albert Einstein and co-workers Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen tried to depose the theory of quantum mechanics by showing that it predicted absurd correlations between widely spaced particles.

    Einstein proved that if quantum theory was correct, then pairs of widely spaced objects could be entangled like two flies tangled up in a spider’s web. Weirdly, the entanglement did not diminish, however far apart you allowed the objects to move.

    Einstein called entanglement “spooky action at a distance”. He was sure that his discovery would do away with the theory of quantum mechanics once and for all, but this was not to be.

    Since the 1980s physicists have demonstrated time and again that quantum entanglement is real. However much he hated it, Einstein’s prediction was right and to his chagrin, quantum theory was correct. Things at a distance could be entangled.

    Today physicists have got used to the ‘spookiness’, and the theory of entanglement has been harnessed for the sending of secret codes that cannot be intercepted.

    Around the world, organisations such as Google and IBM and academic laboratories are trying to create quantum computers that depend on entanglement.

    And now Zhao and colleagues want to use the concept of entanglement to create the new gravitational wave detector’s design.

    A new way to measure gravitational waves

    The exciting aspect of the new detector design is that it is actually just a new way of operating existing detectors. It simply uses the detector twice.

    One time, photons in the detector are altered by the gravitational wave so as to pick up the waves. The second time, the detector is used to change the quantum entanglement in such a way that the noise due to quantum uncertainty is not detected.

    The only thing that is detected is the motion of the distant mirrors caused by the gravitational wave. The quantum noise from the uncertainty principle does not appear in the measurement.

    To make it work, you have to start with entangled photons that are created by a device called a quantum squeezer. This technology was pioneered for gravitational wave astronomy at Australian National University, and is now an established technique.

    Like many of the best ideas, the new idea is a very simple one, but one that took enormous insight to recognise. You inject a minuscule amount of squeezed light from a quantum squeezer, and use it twice!

    Around the world physicists are getting ready to test the new theory and find the best way of implementing it in their detectors.

    One of these is the GEO gravitational wave detector at Hannover in Germany, which has been a test bed for many of the new technologies that allowed last year’s momentous discovery of gravitational waves.

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    http://www.geo600.org GEO600 aims at the direct detection of Einstein’s gravitational waves by means of a laser interferometer.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:48 am on May 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Cosmic inflation theory, , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Stephen Hawking And 32 Top Physicists Just Signed a Heated Letter on The Universe’s Origin” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    12 MAY 2017
    FIONA MACDONALD

    Inflationary Universe. NASA/WMAP

    For centuries, people have puzzled over how our Universe began. But the heat just got turned way up on a debate that’s quietly been raging between cosmologists, with 33 of the world’s most famous physicists publishing a letter angrily defending one of the leading hypotheses we have for the origin of the Universe.

    The letter is in response to a Scientific American feature published back in February, in which three physicists heavily criticised inflation theory – the idea that the Universe expanded just like a balloon shortly after the Big Bang. The article went as far as claiming that the model “cannot be evaluated using the scientific method” – the academic equivalent of saying it isn’t even real science.

    In response, 33 of the world’s top physicists, including Stephen Hawking, Lisa Randall, and Leonard Susskind, have fired back by publishing their own open letter in Scientific American. The Cliff’s note version is this: they’re really angry.

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    Alan Guth

    Inflation theory was first proposed by cosmologist Alan Guth, now at MIT, back in 1980.

    It’s based on the idea that a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded rapidly, spinning entire galaxies out of quantum fluctuations.

    “By the time it slowed down, what had been a tiny, quivering quantum realm was stretched out until it looked smooth and flat, save for speckles of denser matter that later became galaxies, stars, and planets,” writes Joshua Sokol for The Atlantic.

    In the following years, Guth’s original idea was improved and updated by Stanford physicists Andrei Linde, and they’ve since spent their careers refining the inflation model – which has become the leading theory for how the Universe was born.

    In fact, most of us were taught inflation theory at high school and university when discussing the Universe’s origins.

    Guth and Linde, along with cosmologists David Kaiser and Yasunori Nomura, were the ones who recruited the other 29 signees behind this week’s letter.

    Interestingly, one of Guth and Linde’s former colleagues, physicist Paul Steinhardt, is part of the trio they’re rallying against. Guth, Linde, and Steinhardt all shared the prestigious Dirac prize “for development of the concept of inflation in cosmology” back in 2002.

    But in the years since, Steinhardt has gone rogue, and has become an active critic of inflationary theory. He was one of the authors of Scientific American’s February feature, originally titled “Pop goes the Universe”, along with Princeton physicist Anna Ijjas, and Harvard astronomer Abraham Loeb.

    That article highlighted recent research into the cosmic microwave background, which doesn’t match up with the predictions of inflationary theory.

    It also criticised the fact that inflation would have generated primordial gravitational waves, which have never been found.

    “The data suggest cosmologists should reassess this favoured paradigm and consider new ideas about how the universe began,” summarises an ‘In Brief’ wrap up of the article.

    That criticism in itself wasn’t a huge deal – these kinds of arguments are healthy in the science world.

    But what really pissed off Guth, Linde, and the 31 other signees, was the suggestion that inflationary theory couldn’t actually be tested in the first place, and therefore wasn’t really science.

    “They [made] the extraordinary claim that inflationary cosmology ‘cannot be evaluated using the scientific method’ and go on to assert that some scientists who accept inflation have proposed ‘discarding one of [science’s] defining properties: empirical testability,’ thereby ‘promoting the idea of some kind of nonempirical science’,” the physicists write in their open letter.

    “We have no idea what scientists they are referring to. We disagree with a number of statements in their article, but in this letter, we will focus on our categorical disagreement with these statements about the testability of inflation.”

    Their argument is that inflation theory is based on many models, and there’s no illusion that all of these models are correct. Over the past 37 years, some of the models have made correct, testable predictions – including the average mass density of the Universe, and its flat shape. Many are still unresolved.

    But either way, these models are all testable, which means they’re proper science, and they can be proven or disproven depending on the evidence we find in the coming years.

    Ryan F. Mandelbaum has done incredible coverage of this feud over at Gizmodo, and points to a blog entry by Sean Carroll, one of the physicists who signed the letter, on the controversy:

    “We judge theories by what predictions they make that we can test, not the ones they make that can’t be tested. It’s absolutely true that there are important unanswered questions facing the inflationary paradigm. But the right response in that situation is to either work on trying to answer them, or switch to working on something else (which is a perfectly respectable option). It’s not to claim that the questions are in principle unanswerable, and therefore the field has dropped out of the realm of science.”

    The authors of the original article have since responded to the letter with their own extended FAQ on the debate. And they maintain their position – that inflation was once testable, but “what began in the 1980s as a theory that seemed to make definite predictions has become a theory that makes no definite predictions”.

    Which takes us right back to where we started… some cosmologists have publicly slammed inflation theory, and others have angrily responded.

    Unfortunately there’s no neat resolution to this debate on the horizon, with both sides standing pretty firm. The one thing they both agree on is the fact that inflation theory isn’t perfect, and we should all keep an open mind about what really happened at the birth of our Universe as new data comes in.

    Or as Guth told Mandelbaum in the ultimate mic drop when asked what would happen next: “I think we’ll all continue on with our research.”

    You can read the original article here, the responding open letter here, and the original authors’ response here.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:27 pm on May 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Science Alert, Tokamak Energy's ST40 fusion reactor   

    From Science Alert: “The UK Just Switched on an Ambitious Fusion Reactor – and It Works” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    1 MAY 2017
    FIONA MACDONALD

    1
    Tokamak Energy

    First plasma has been achieved.

    The UK’s newest fusion reactor, ST40, was switched on last week, and has already managed to achieve ‘first plasma’ – successfully generating a scorching blob of electrically-charged gas (or plasma) within its core.

    2
    Tokamak Energy

    The aim is for the tokamak reactor to heat plasma up to 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) by 2018 – seven times hotter than the centre of the Sun. That’s the ‘fusion’ threshold, at which hydrogen atoms can begin to fuse into helium, unleashing limitless, clean energy in the process.

    “Today is an important day for fusion energy development in the UK, and the world,” said David Kingham, CEO of Tokamak Energy, the company behind ST40.

    “We are unveiling the first world-class controlled fusion device to have been designed, built and operated by a private venture. The ST40 is a machine that will show fusion temperatures – 100 million degrees – are possible in compact, cost-effective reactors. This will allow fusion power to be achieved in years, not decades.”

    Nuclear fusion is the process that fuels our Sun, and if we can figure out a way to achieve the same thing here on Earth, it would allow us to tap into an unlimited supply of clean energy that produces next to no carbon emissions.

    Unlike nuclear fission, which is achieved in today’s nuclear reactors, nuclear fusion involves fusing atoms together, not splitting them apart, and it requires little more than salt and water, and primarily produces helium as a waste product.

    But as promising as nuclear fusion is, it’s something scientists have struggled to achieve.

    The process involves using high-powered magnets to control plasma at ridiculous temperatures for long enough to generate useful amounts of electricity, which, as you can imagine, is far from simple.

    Over the past year there have been some big wins. Scientists from MIT broke the record for plasma pressure back in October, and in December, South Korean researchers became the first to sustain ‘high performance’ plasma of up to 300 million degrees Celsius (540 million degrees Fahrenheit) for 70 seconds.

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    MIT Bob Mumgaard/Plasma Science and Fusion Centre

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    Michel Maccagnan/Wikimedia Commons

    In Germany, a new type of fusion reactor called the Wendelstein 7-X stellerator has been able to successfully control plasma.

    Wendelstein 7-AS built in built in Greifswald, Germany

    But we’re still a long way off being able to put all those pieces together – finding an affordable way to generate plasma at the temperatures required for fusion to occur, and then being able to harness it for long enough to generate energy.

    ST40 is what’s known as a tokamak reactor, which uses high-powered magnetic coils to control a core of scorching plasma in a toroidal shape.

    The next step is for a full set of those magnetic coils to be installed and tested within ST40, and later this year, Tokamak Energy will use them to aim to generate plasma at temperatures of 15 million degrees Celsius (27 million degrees Fahrenheit).

    In 2018, the team hopes to achieve the fusion threshold of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit), and the ultimate goal is to provide clean fusion power to the UK grid by 2030.

    Whether or not they’ll be able to pull off the feat remains to be seen.

    But the company is now one step closer, and as they’re not the only ones with a tokamak reactor in development, it will hopefully only speed up the race to get a commercial fusion reactor online.

    Watch this space.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:33 am on April 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Microbes Have Been Found Growing "Out of Nowhere" After a Volcanic Eruption, Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Microbes Have Been Found Growing “Out of Nowhere” After a Volcanic Eruption” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    26 APR 2017
    JACINTA BOWLER

    1
    George Burba/Shutterstock

    Life finds a way.

    When an underwater volcano erupts, completely altering the underwater landscape for kilometres, you’d assume it wouldn’t be the best place to look for new life.

    But researchers have discovered just that, identifying a new species of furry white bacteria covering a submerged volcano 130 metres (426 feet) below sea level in the Canary Islands.

    Even weirder – it appears to have started colonising the volcano as soon as the temperature dropped.

    “I bet there were microbes appearing there just as soon as those rocks got below 100 °C (212 °F),” says David Kirchman, from the University of Delaware, told Sam Wong at New Scientist.

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    Under the microscope: a single strand of Venus’s hair. Roberto Danovaro

    Back in 2011, the Canary Islands were hit by a number of tremors, while under water the Tagoro Volcano completely blanketed the seafloor with new rock over 138 days.

    Italian and Spanish researchers went to survey the area in 2014, expecting to see the underwater region still barren.

    Instead, they discovered that the volcano was covered in white, hair-like microbes – a species the researchers hadn’t seen before.

    “It was an impressive and surreal landscape, like discovering life on Mars,” Cinzia Corinaldesi, one of the researchers from the Polytechnic University of Marche told The Atlantic.

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    Satellite image of the discolored water (light blue) during the Tagoro volcano eruption in 2012. NASA Earth Observatory

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    CRG Marine Geosciences

    The white hair, which they’ve called Venus’s hair, was up to 3 centimetres (1 inch) long, and around 36-90 micrometres in diameter. (For reference, a human hair is between 17 and 180 micrometres in diameter.)

    And this wasn’t a small amount of fur – the researchers say it covered an area of roughly eight tennis courts (2,000 square metres, or about 21,500 square feet) across the volcano.

    But none of that answers how the hell it got there in the first place.

    “These organisms apparently come out of nowhere,” Kirchman told New Scientist.

    And not everything is as it appears, with countless passing microbes just waiting for an opportunity to settle and grow a family.

    “It’s helpful to remember that each drop of seawater contains millions of bacteria and that only one of them, in theory, is needed to colonise a new habitat, says Kirchman.

    “The Venus’s hair bacterium could have been in this ‘rare biosphere’ and by chance came across the virgin habitat created by the volcanic eruption.”

    Although the bacteria wouldn’t grow in the lab, the team sequenced its DNA, discovering that Venus’s hair was a completely new genus and species of the order Thiotrichales. The new scientific name for the hair is Thiolava veneris.

    Venus’s hair would have fed on the large amounts of hydrogen sulphide coming out of the rocks.

    While they’re only about 82 percent of the way through the DNA sequencing, the analysis does provide some hints on how Venus’s hair survives – it has a gene that produces a protein ‘pump’ capable of removing heavy metals that leach from the new volcanic rock.

    By the time the researchers had surveyed the area, the Venus’s hair was already acting as a welcoming committee – worms and crustaceans had started making the hair their home, reigniting life in that barren location.

    “A volcanic eruption is as devastating under the sea as it is on land, spewing out molten lava and toxic gas, destroying life in its shadow and disrupting habitats for kilometres in every direction,” writes Kirchman in a Nature editorial accompanying the piece.

    “But out of this destruction comes new land and the opportunity for life to begin again.”

    The research has been published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:59 am on April 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Science Alert, Singularity   

    From Science Alert: “Physicists Say They’ve Found a Way to Detect Naked Singularities… if They Exist” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    21 APR 2017
    FIONA MACDONALD

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    u3d/Shutterstock.com

    Black holes are weird: insanely dense objects that are crammed into such a small space they cause space-time to distort and the laws of physics to break down into a singularity.

    Fortunately, the Universe shields us from this weirdness by wrapping black holes in event horizons. But now, physicists say they’ve found a way we could detect something even more extreme – a naked singularity – and most likely bend the laws of physics in the process.

    “A naked singularity, if such a thing exists, would be an abrupt hole in the fabric of reality – one that would not just distort space-time, but would also wreak havoc on the laws of physics wherever it goes and lead to a catastrophic loss of predictability,” explains Avaneesh Pandey for IB Times.

    If that sounds a little too confronting, don’t worry, this whole study is purely theoretical, and is hinged on one very big assumption – that naked singularities actually exist in our Universe, something that scientists have never confirmed.

    But according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity at least, and our best computer models to date, naked singularities are possible.

    So, what are they? A singularity can form when huge stars collapse at the end of their lives into regions so small and dense, physics as we know it fails to explain what could happen there.

    There are two general laws of physics that govern our understanding of reality: quantum mechanics, which explains all the small stuff, such as the behaviour of subatomic particles; and general relativity, which describes the stuff we can see, such as stars and galaxies.

    When applied to singularities, both these schools of thought predict different and incompatible outcomes.

    And we’ve never really had to deal with that conundrum, because all the singularities we know of are inside black holes, wrapped in an event horizon from which not even light can escape – or at the very birth of our Universe, shrouded by radiation we can’t see past. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

    But naked singularities are theoretical singularities that are exposed to the rest of the Universe for some reason.

    Below you can see an illustration of a black hole wrapped in its event horizon (dotted line) on the left, and a naked singularity on the right. The arrows indicate light, which would be able to escape a naked singularity, but not a black hole.

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    Sudip Bhattacharyya/Pankaj Joshi

    Assuming they do exist, the big question then is how would we be able to distinguish a naked singularity from a regular black hole, and this is where the new study comes in.

    Researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India have come up with a two-step plan based on the fact that singularities, as far as we know, are rotating objects, just like black holes.

    According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the fabric of space-time in the vicinity of any rotating objects gets ‘twisted’ due to this rotation. And this effect causes a gyroscopic spin and makes the orbits of particles around the rotating objects ‘precess’, or change their rotational axis.

    You can watch the hypnotic precession of a gyroscope below to see what we mean – its axis is no longer straight:

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    LucasVB/WikimediaCommons

    Based on this, the researchers say that we could figure out the nature of a rotating objects by measuring the rate at which a gyroscope precesses – its precession frequency – at two fixed points close to the object.

    According to the new paper, there are two possibilities:

    1. The precession frequency of the gyroscope changes wildly between the two points, which suggests the rotating object in question is a regular black hole.
    2. The precession frequency changes in a regular, well-behaved manner, indicating a naked singularity.

    Obviously getting a gyroscope close enough to a black hole to perform these experiments isn’t exactly easy.

    But that’s okay, because the team has also come up with a way to observe the same effect from here on Earth – measuring the precession frequencies of matter falling into either black holes or naked singularities using X-ray wavelengths.

    “This is because the orbital plane precession frequency increases as the matter approaches a rotating black hole, but this frequency can decrease and even become zero for a rotating naked singularity,” the team’s press release explains.

    Again, we have to make it clear that all of this is wildly speculative at this time – we have never found any candidate naked singularities, and we’re only just beginning to truly understand regular black holes.

    It’s also worth noting that last week, another team of researchers suggested that even if naked singluarities exist, strange quantum effects could keep them hidden from us.

    So there’s definitely no consensus right now on whether we’ll ever get the chance to study naked singularities.

    And that’s not a terrible thing for now, because are we really ready to observe what goes on at the edge of our Universe?

    Maybe, in our lifetime, we’ll find out.

    The research has been published in Physical Review D.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on April 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mud volcanoes deliver new clue to life beneath ocean floor, Science Alert,   

    From U Leeds: “Mud volcanoes deliver new clue to life beneath ocean floor” 

    U Leeds bloc

    University of Leeds

    10 April 2017

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    Distribution of elements in hydrated mantle rocks. Image credit: Dr Ivan Savov, University of Leeds

    Rock fragments brought to the sea floor by massive mud volcanoes have given scientists new clues about how far life may extend into the Earth’s interior.

    A team of scientists, including Dr Ivan Savov from the University of Leeds, have confirmed the presence of organic matter in rock fragments brought up to the seafloor from as deep as 10 km within the Earth’s mantle – tripling the previously estimated depth limit for life.

    The rock fragments were discovered by Dr Savov as part of a deep sea drilling expedition near the deepest place on the planet – the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean.

    Study co-author Dr Savov, a geoscientist at the School of Earth and Environment, said: “The findings give us new insight into the habitability of the planet.

    “Given the difficulty of obtaining samples from the deep earth, there have not been many opportunities to explore how microbial life can be supported in the absence of photosynthesis. The mantle rocks we studied give us a link between the deep carbon cycle and the surface world.”

    Chemical analysis of the recovered mantel rock fragments reveal evidence for microbial life deep below the mud volcano.

    This is consistent with calculations conducted by the team using the currently known temperature limit for life, 122°C, and the temperatures expected under the mud volcanoes, which suggest that life could exist as deep as 10,000 metres below the sea floor.

    This is considerably deeper than other similar regions such as mid-ocean ridges, and could have provided a sheltered habitat for life, helping it to survive the more violent phases of Earth’s early history such as meteorite bombardment and mass extinctions.

    Lead author Dr Oliver Plümper, Earth scientist at Utrecht University said: “You could think of this organic matter trapped within a rock a bit like a message in a bottle.

    “The mud volcanoes are a unique window into the deep subsurface and allow us to probe processes that are otherwise hidden from us. Finding the organic material within the rock was very exciting as it may point to a deep biosphere below the mud volcanoes.”

    The massive mud volcanoes sit above the Izu-Bonin-Mariana subduction zone, where the Pacific Plate is dragged under the Philippine Sea Plate.

    Fuelled by fluids that are released as the down-going plate heats up, the mantle rocks deep below the mud volcano undergo chemical reactions with the fluids during a process called serpentinization.

    This process is affiliated with life at mid-ocean ridges and may feed microbial life that does not depend on light for its main energy source.

    The study Subduction zone forearc serpentinites as incubators for deep microbial life is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 10 April 2017

    From Science Alert:

    11 APR 2017
    PETER DOCKRILL

    3
    Stefano Bolognini/Flickr

    Scientists may have discovered evidence of the deepest microbial life ever found on the planet, detecting the presence of organic matter in rock fragments spewed up by mud volcanoes near the deepest place on Earth, the Mariana Trench.

    3

    “This is another hint at a great, deep biosphere on our planet,” lead researcher Oliver Plümper from Utrecht University in the Netherlands told National Geographic.

    “It could be huge or very small, but there is definitely something going on that we don’t understand yet.”

    Plümper and his team ran a chemical analysis of rock fragments brought up to the seafloor by the South Chamorro Seamount, a large mud volcano underneath the western Pacific Ocean.

    While researchers are hoping to find signs of alien lifeforms lurking under the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the discovery highlights the possibility that equally strange and unknown organisms dwell hidden on Earth, buried as far as 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) below the sea floor.

    See the full article here.

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    The University, established in 1904, is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK. We are a world top 100 university and are renowned globally for the quality of our teaching and research. The strength of our academic expertise combined with the breadth of disciplines we cover, provides a wealth of opportunities and has real impact on the world in cultural, economic and societal ways. The University strives to achieve academic excellence within an ethical framework informed by our values of integrity, equality and inclusion, community and professionalism.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:25 am on March 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “IBM is Rolling out the World’s First Universal ‘Quantum Computing’ Service” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    7 MAR 2017
    FIONA MACDONALD

    1
    sakkmesterke/Shutterstock.com

    If you build it, they will come.

    We’re all excited about the potential of quantum computers – devices that will harness strange quantum phenomena to perform calculations far more powerful than anything conventional computers can do today.

    Unfortunately, we still don’t have a tangible, large-scale quantum computer to freak out over just yet, but IBM is already preparing for a future when we do, by announcing that they’re rolling out a universal ‘quantum-computing’ service later this year.

    The service will be called IBM Q, and it will give people access to their early-stage quantum computer over the internet to use as they wish – for a fee.

    The big elephant in the room is that, for now, IBM’s quantum computer only runs on five qubits, so it’s not much faster (if any faster) than a conventional computer.

    But their technology is improving all the time. The company has announced it hopes to get to 50 qubits in the next few years, and in the meantime, it’s building the online systems and software so that anyone in the world can access the full power of its quantum computer when it’s ready. IBM Q is a crucial part of that.

    Unlike conventional computers, which use ‘bits’ of either 1 or 0 to code information, quantum computers use a strange phenomenon known as superposition, which allows an atom to be in both the 1 and 0 position at the same time. These quantum bits, or qubits, give quantum computers far more processing power than traditional computers.

    But right now, qubits are hard to make and manipulate, even for more the most high-tech labs. Which is why IBM only has five qubits working together in a computer, despite decades of research. And those qubits have to be cooled to temperatures just above absolute zero in order to function.

    Companies such as Google, and multiple university research labs, have also built primitive quantum computers, and Google has even used theirs to simulate a molecule for the first time, showing the potential of this technology as it scales up.

    But instead of just focussing on the hardware itself, IBM is also interested in the software around quantum computers, and how to give the public access to them.

    “IBM has invested over decades to growing the field of quantum computing and we are committed to expanding access to quantum systems and their powerful capabilities for the science and business communities,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director for IBM Research.

    The system builds on the company’s Quantum Experience, which was rolled out last year for free to approved researchers. IBM Q will use similar cloud software, but will also be open to businesses – and, more importantly, any programmers and developers who want to start experimenting with writing code for quantum systems.

    The goal is to have a functional, commercial, cloud-based service ready to go when a fully realised quantum computer does come online.

    “Putting the machine on the cloud is an obvious thing to do,” physicist Christopher Monroe from the University of Maryland, who isn’t involved with IBM, told Davide Castelvecchi over at Scientific American. “But it takes a lot of work in getting a system to that level.”

    The challenge is that while, on paper, a five-qubit machine is pretty easy to simulate and program for, real qubits don’t quite work that way, because you’re working with atoms that can change their behaviour based on environmental conditions

    “The real challenge is whether you can make your algorithm work on real hardware that has imperfections,” Isaac Chuang, a physicist at MIT who doesn’t work with IBM, told Scientific American.

    In their announcement, IBM said that in the past few months, more than 40,000 users have already used Quantum Experience to build and run 275,000 test applications, and 15 research papers have been published based off of it so far.

    And they predict that in future, the quantum service will become even more useful.

    “Quantum computers will deliver solutions to important problems where patterns cannot be seen because the data doesn’t exist and the possibilities that you need to explore to get to the answer are too enormous to ever be processed by classical computers,” said IBM in its announcement.

    There’s no word as yet on how much IBM Q will cost to use, or how users will be approved. But we have to admit it’d be pretty cool to be among the first to play around with quantum computing.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:15 am on February 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chemosynthesis, , , Science Alert, Strange Life Has Been Found Trapped Inside These Giant Cave Crystals   

    From Science Alert: “Strange Life Has Been Found Trapped Inside These Giant Cave Crystals” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    20 FEB 2017
    BEC CREW

    1
    Alexander Van Driessche/Wikipedia

    A NASA scientist just woke them up.

    Strange microbes have been found inside the massive, subterranean crystals of Mexico’s Naica Mine, and researchers suspect they’ve been living there for up to 50,000 years.

    The ancient creatures appear to have been dormant for thousands of years, surviving in tiny pockets of liquid within the crystal structures. Now, scientists have managed to extract them – and wake them up.

    “These organisms are so extraordinary,” astrobiologist Penelope Boston, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

    The Cave of Crystals in Mexico’s Naica Mine might look incredibly beautiful, but it’s one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with temperatures ranging from 45 to 65°C (113 to 149°F), and humidity levels hitting more than 99 percent.

    Not only are temperatures hellishly high, but the environment is also oppressively acidic, and confined to pitch-black darkness some 300 metres (1,000 feet) below the surface.

    2
    Peter Williams/Flickr

    In lieu of any sunlight, microbes inside the cave can’t photosynthesise – instead, they perform chemosynthesis using minerals like iron and sulphur in the giant gypsum crystals, some of which stretch 11 metres (36 feet) long, and have been dated to half a million years old.

    Researchers have previously found life living inside the walls of the cavern and nearby the crystals – a 2013 expedition to Naica reported the discovery of creatures thriving in the hot, saline springs of the complex cave system.

    But when Boston and her team extracted liquid from the tiny gaps inside the crystals and sent them off to be analysed, they realised that not only was there life inside, but it was unlike anything they’d seen in the scientific record.

    They suspect the creatures had been living inside their crystal castles for somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 years, and while their bodies had mostly shut down, they were still very much alive.

    “Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” Boston told Jonathan Amos at BBC News.

    What’s perhaps most extraordinary about the find is that the researchers were able to ‘revive’ some of the microbes, and grow cultures from them in the lab.

    “Much to my surprise we got things to grow,” Boston told Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph. “It was laborious. We lost some of them – that’s just the game. They’ve got needs we can’t fulfil.”

    At this point, we should be clear that the discovery has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, so until other scientists have had a chance to examine the methodology and findings, we can’t consider the discovery be definitive just yet.

    The team will also need to convince the scientific community that the findings aren’t the result of contamination – these microbes are invisible to the naked eye, which means it’s possible that they attached themselves to the drilling equipment and made it look like they came from inside the crystals.

    “I think that the presence of microbes trapped within fluid inclusions in Naica crystals is in principle possible,” Purificación López-García from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was part of the 2013 study that found life in the cave springs, told National Geographic.

    “[But] contamination during drilling with microorganisms attached to the surface of these crystals or living in tiny fractures constitutes a very serious risk,” she says. I am very skeptical about the veracity of this finding until I see the evidence.”

    That said, microbiologist Brent Christner from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was also not involved in the research, thinks the claim isn’t as far-fetched as López-García is making it out to be, based on what previous studies have managed with similarly ancient microbes.

    “[R]eviving microbes from samples of 10,000 to 50,000 years is not that outlandish based on previous reports of microbial resuscitations in geological materials hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,” he told National Geographic.

    For their part, Boston and her team say they took every precaution to make sure their gear was sterilised, and cite the fact that the creatures they found inside the crystals were similar, but not identical to those living elsewhere in the cave as evidence to support their claims.

    “We have also done genetic work and cultured the cave organisms that are alive now and exposed, and we see that some of those microbes are similar but not identical to those in the fluid inclusions,” she said.

    Only time will tell if the results will bear out once they’re published for all to see, but if they are confirmed, it’s just further proof of the incredible hardiness of life on Earth, and points to what’s possible out there in the extreme conditions of space.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on February 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: and Pluto Could Soon Be Back, , , , , NASA Scientists Have Proposed a New Definition of Planets, Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “NASA Scientists Have Proposed a New Definition of Planets, and Pluto Could Soon Be Back” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    20 FEB 2017
    BEC CREW

    1
    Pluto’s redemption? Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    NASA scientists have published a manifesto that proposes a new definition of a planet, and if it holds, it will instantly add more than 100 new planets to our Solar System, including Pluto and our very own Moon.

    The key change the team is hoping to get approved is that cosmic bodies in our Solar System no longer need to be orbiting the Sun to be considered planets – they say we should be looking at their intrinsic physical properties, not their interactions with stars.

    “In keeping with both sound scientific classification and peoples’ intuition, we propose a geophysically-based definition of ‘planet’ that importantly emphasises a body’s intrinsic physical properties over its extrinsic orbital properties,” the researchers explain.

    The team is led by Alan Stern, principle investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, which in 2015 achieved the first-ever fly-by of the controversial dwarf planet.

    Pluto was famously ‘demoted’ to dwarf planet status back in August 2006, when astronomer Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) proposed a rewrite of the definition of planets.

    The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which controls such things, declared that the definition of a planet reads as follows:

    “A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.”

    Having not yet cleared the neighbourhood of its orbit in space, Pluto could no longer hold the designation of a planet under these new guidelines.

    Stern, who obviously has a great fondness for Pluto, having led the mission that showed us all its adorable heart pattern for the first time, recently called the decision “bullshit”.

    “Why would you listen to an astronomer about a planet?” Stern, a planetary scientist, pointed out to Kelly Dickerson at Business Insider in 2015.

    He said asking an astronomer, who studies a wide variety of celestial objects and cosmic phenomena, rather than a planetary scientist, who focusses solely on planets, moons, and planetary systems, for the definition of a planet is like going to a podiatrist for brain surgery.

    “Even though they’re both doctors, they have different expertise,” Stern said. “You really should listen to planetary scientists that know something about this subject. When we look at an object like Pluto, we don’t know what else to call it.”

    Now, Stern and his colleagues have rewritten the definition of a planet, and are submitting it to the IAU for consideration.

    “We propose the following geophysical definition of a planet for use by educators, scientists, students, and the public,” they write.

    “A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.”

    If that’s a little too jargony for you, their ‘layman’s version’ is simply: “Round objects in space that are smaller than stars.”

    The definition sounds incredibly simple, but it’s deceptively narrow – there aren’t a whole lot of objects objects in the known Universe that would qualify, as it excludes things like stars and stellar objects such as white dwarfs, plus neutron stars and black holes.

    “In keeping with emphasising intrinsic properties, our geophysical definition is directly based on the physics of the world itself, rather than the physics of its interactions with external objects,” the researchers explain.

    This would mean that our Moon, and other moons in the Solar System such as Titan, Enceladus, Europa, and Ganymede, would all qualify as planets, as would Pluto itself, which has already been looking more and more ‘planet-like’ of late.

    The researchers don’t just argue that their definition holds more merit than the current one in terms of what properties we should be using to classify a planet – they say the current definition is inherently flawed for several reasons.

    “First, it recognises as planets only those objects orbiting our Sun, not those orbiting other stars or orbiting freely in the galaxy as ‘rogue planets’,” they explain.
    Second, the fact that it requires zone-clearing means “no planet in our Solar System” can satisfy the criteria, since a number of small cosmic bodies are constantly flying through planetary orbits – including Earth’s.

    Finally, and “most severely”, they say, this zone-clearing stipulation means the mathematics used to confirm if a cosmic body is actually a planet must be distance-dependent, because a “zone” must be clarified.

    This would require progressively larger objects in each successive zone, and “even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone”.

    Of course, nothing changes until the IAU makes a decision, and if it decides to rejig the definition of a planet, either by these recommendations or others in the future, it’s going to take a whole lot of deliberating before it becomes official.

    But the team claims to have the public on their side, and if this public debate is anything to go on, maybe it’s time for a rethink – even if Stern just really wants to stop having to answer the question: “Why did you send New Horizons to Pluto if it’s not a planet anymore?”

    You can read the proposal in full here.

    See the full article here .

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