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  • 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” 


    Science Alert

    7 MAR 2017


    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” 


    Science Alert

    20 FEB 2017

    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.

    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” 


    Science Alert

    20 FEB 2017

    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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  • richardmitnick 10:10 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Science Alert, Yosemite Firefall   

    From Science Alert: “An Incredible ‘Firefall’ Is Lighting Up Yosemite Right Now” 


    Science Alert

    17 FEB 2017

    Sangeeta Dey

    Only when conditions are right.

    There’s no shortage of beautiful views in Yosemite National Park but the “firefall” phenomenon has a wow factor all of its own – where rivers of molten lava appear to be flowing down the park’s El Capitan rock face.

    What you’re seeing is not actually molten lava, but regular water lit up by the Sun in a way that only happens for a few days in the middle of February each year.

    Photographer Ray Lee captured the glorious sight last year and has been back this year to take more breathtaking shots of the firefall.

    “This trip almost didn’t happen due to the crazy road conditions at Yosemite,” Lee writes. “There has been so much water that a lot of the roads were closed due to mudslides.”


    “For those that plan on going to see this, be careful since there has been so much water that some of the roads are falling apart.”

    Other travellers have been venturing to get a site of El Capitan and posting their own firefall shots, including Alice Thieu and Sangeeta Dey.

    “This year, I feel fortunate to have been one of the first to witness it,” writes Dey on her Instagram page.

    The subject of the photos is the Horsetail Fall, which drops 305 metres (1,000 feet) down the east side of El Capitan. What makes the firefall even rarer is that the Horsetail Fall isn’t always flowing, depending on snowfall and water supply.

    Horsetail Falls

    “As the Sun’s rays moved towards the fall, I saw the colour of the water changing,” Dey told National Geographic. “As [the waterfall] glowed in yellows, oranges and reds, I realised I had tears flowing down. It was a very emotional moment for me.”

    Dey wisely chose to use a remote control to capture the images so she could also see the phenomenon for herself, not just behind a camera lens.


    The name of the event is borrowed from a genuine firefall that happened regularly in Yosemite between 1872 and 1968. This one wasn’t natural though: the owners of the Glacier Point Hotel would throw burning embers down the 975-metre (3,200-foot) Glacier Point cliff to the valley below to entertain campers and hikers.

    That practice was eventually stopped because of the huge number of onlookers who would trample the meadows of Yosemite to get a look at the show, but nature has provided a much more special replacement.

    “There are some things you just need to experience in person,” says Axle Ethington, and we don’t disagree.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:50 am on February 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 96 percent of Earth's inner core is likely to be made up of iron, , body-centered cubic (BCC) phase, , Earth's solid inner core, hexagonal close packed (HCP) phase, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Science Alert, Scientists Might Have Figured Out Why Earth's Super-Hot Core Stays Solid, Simulation of atomic processes, Triolith supercomputer   

    From Science Alert: “Scientists Might Have Figured Out Why Earth’s Super-Hot Core Stays Solid” 


    Science Alert

    15 FEB 2017

    Vadim Sadovski

    Scientists have a new explanation for why Earth’s inner core remains solid – despite being hotter than the surface of the Sun. Turns out, it could be all down to the atomic architecture of the crystallised iron ball at Earth’s centre.

    Researchers suggest that this iron core exists in a never-before-seen atomic state that allows it to withstand the incredible temperatures and pressures found in the centre of our planet – and if they’re right, it could solve a mystery that’s puzzled scientists for decades.

    A team from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden used Triolith – one of the country’s largest supercomputers – to simulate what atomic processes might be happening some 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) beneath our feet.


    Triolith supercomputer at The National Supercomputer Centre in Sweden (NSC) Linköping

    As with any metal, the atomic-scale structures in iron change depending on temperature and pressure. At room temperature and under normal pressure, iron is in what’s called a body-centered cubic (BCC) phase; under high pressure, it switches to a hexagonal close packed (HCP) phase.

    These technical terms describe the arrangement of atoms inside the metal, which in turn affects its strength and other properties, such as whether it stays solid or not.

    Until now, it was thought the solid, crystallised iron at Earth’s core was in an HCP arrangement, because conditions were just too unstable for BCC.

    The new research turns that on its head, suggesting that the environment at the centre of the planet actually strengthens this BCC arrangement, rather than breaking it up.

    “Under conditions in Earth’s core, BCC iron exhibits a pattern of atomic diffusion never before observed,” says one of the researchers, Anatoly Belonoshko.

    “The BCC phase goes by the motto: ‘What does not kill me makes me stronger.’ The instability kills the BCC phase at low temperature, but makes the BCC phase stable at high temperature.”

    Belonoshko likens the extreme atomic activity of the iron at the centre of Earth to cards being shuffled in a deck – while the atoms might be getting shuffled incredibly rapidly due to the high forces of temperature and pressure, the deck remains intact.

    And those forces really are remarkable: 3.5 million times the pressure we experience at the surface, along with temperatures some 6,000°C (10,800°F) hotter than those we experience at the surface.

    The data crunched by Triolith also shows that 96 percent of Earth’s inner core is likely to be made up of iron – a higher figure than previous estimates, with nickel and other light elements making up the rest.

    Another mystery that could be solved by the latest research is why seismic waves travel faster between the poles than through the equator – a feature technically known as anisotropy – which means something organised in one particular direction, like grains in wood.

    The researchers say the behaviour of BCC iron under the intense conditions at Earth’s core could be enough to create large-scale anisotropic effects, opening up another avenue for scientists to explore in the future.

    It’s important to note that these hypotheses are based on specific simulations of Earth’s internal movements, and separate teams running different models based on different calculations could end up with results that are incompatible with these conclusions.

    Until we can figure out how to get actual instruments down there, we’ll never be 100 percent sure that the calculations are correct – and with the kinds of pressures and temperatures that are thought to exist down there, we might never have direct evidence of the core’s activity.

    But it’s important research to pursue, despite the challenges, because once we know more about the inner workings of Earth, we can make better predictions about what will happen next.

    “The ultimate goal of earth sciences is to understand the past, present and future of the Earth,” says Belonoshko, “and our prediction allows us to do just that.”

    The findings are published in Nature Geoscience.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on February 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Massive Amounts of Melting Carbon Have Been Found Under the Western US, Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Massive Amounts of Melting Carbon Have Been Found Under the Western US” 


    Science Alert

    14 FEB 2017

    Linda M. Foster/Shutterstock.com

    We still have no idea how much carbon Earth is holding onto.

    Scientists have used the world’s largest array of seismic sensors to map what lies deep beneath Earth’s surface, and have discovered an unidentified reservoir of melting carbon under the United States, covering an area of 1.8 million square km (695,000 square miles).

    The find, which is located roughly 350 km (217 miles) beneath the Western US, challenges what researchers have assumed about how much carbon is trapped inside the planet. Turns out, there’s far more than anyone had predicted.

    The reservoir is far too deep for the researchers to physically get to, but a team from the University of Royal Holloway London used a vast network of 583 seismic sensors that pick up on strange vibrations generated in Earth’s upper mantle to identify it.

    The upper mantle is the layer that sits directly under our planet’s crust, and extends to a depth of about 410 km (250 miles).

    Within this layer, temperatures can span from 500 to 900°C (932 to 1,652°F) near the crust, and can reach a hellish 4,000°C (7,230°F) in the lower mantle closer to the central core.

    That ridiculous heat is constantly melting carbonates – a large group of minerals such as magnesite and calcite that all contain a specific carbonate ion – and this molten carbon is thought to be responsible for the conductivity of the mantle.

    The melting process also produces a unique signature of seismic patterns, which can be read by sensors on the surface by converting ground motion into an electronic signal.

    Based on what these sensors have told us, researchers now suspect that Earth’s upper mantle could contain up to 100 trillion metric tonnes of melted carbon – far more than expected.

    The team now thinks that the massive carbon reservoir they’ve identified could have formed when one of the tectonic plates that make up the Pacific Ocean was forced under the western part of the US, and has provided more fuel for the upper mantle fire.

    “It would be impossible for us to drill far enough down to physically ‘see’ Earth’s mantle, so using this massive group of sensors we have to paint a picture of it using mathematical equations to interpret what is beneath us,” says one of the team, Sash Hier-Majumder.

    “Under the western US is a huge underground partially-molten reservoir of liquid carbonate. It is a result of one of the tectonic plates of the Pacific Ocean forced underneath the western US, undergoing partial melting, thanks to gasses like CO2 and H2O contained in the minerals dissolved in it.”

    While none of that will affect us much today – it’s 350 km deep, after all – one day, it will, and in the most dramatic fashion.

    As Hier-Majumder explains, it’s expected that the contents of the melted carbon reservoir will slowly make their way up to the surface via volcanic eruptions.

    These eruptions are how carbon from inside our planet makes its way into the atmosphere – something that wouldn’t usually be a problem, if we weren’t already emitting roughly 40 billion tonnes of the stuff every year.

    “We might not think of the deep structure of Earth as linked to climate change above us, but this discovery not only has implications for subterranean mapping, but also for our future atmosphere,” says Hier-Majumder.

    “[R]eleasing only 1 percent of this CO2 into the atmosphere will be the equivalent of burning 2.3 trillion barrels of oil. The existence of such deep reservoirs show how important is the role of deep Earth in the global carbon cycle.”

    The research has been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:17 am on February 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Surprise! LIGO Can Also Make Gravitational Waves” 


    Science Alert



    11 FEB 2017


    We can produce gravitational waves now.

    It’s been almost a year now since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the greatest scientific discovery of 2016.

    LIGO bloc new
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Though the first gravitational waves were actually detected in September 2015, it was only after additional detections were made in June 2016 that LIGO scientists finally confirmed that the elusive waves exist, solidifying Albert Einstein’s major prediction in his theory of relativity.

    Now, the most sensitive detector of spacetime ripples in the world turns out to also be the best producer of gravitational waves.

    “When we optimise LIGO for detection, we also optimise it for emission [of gravitational waves],” said physicist Belinda Pang from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena according to a report in Science.

    Pang was speaking at a meeting of the American Physical Society last week, representing her team of physicists.

    Gravitational waves are ripples that are produced when massive objects warp spacetime.

    They essentially stretch out space, and according to Einstein, they can be produced by certain swirling configurations of mass. Using uber-sensitive twin detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, LIGO is able to detect this stretching of space.

    Once they realised they could detect gravitational waves, the physicists posited that the sensitivity of their detectors would enable them to efficiently generate these ripples, too.

    “The fundamental thing about a detector is that it couples to gravitational waves,” said Fan Zhang, a physicist at Beijing Normal University.

    “When you have coupling, it’s going to go both ways.”

    The LIGO team tested their idea using a quantum mathematical model and found that they were right: their detectors did generate tiny, optimally efficient spacetime ripples.

    Quantum mechanics says that small objects, such as electrons, can be in two places at once, and some physicists think that it’s possible to coax macroscopic objects into a similar state of quantum motion.

    According to Pang, LIGO and these waves could be just the things to make it happen.

    Though that delicate state couldn’t be sustained for very long periods, any amount of time could give us added insight into quantum mechanics.

    We could measure how long it takes for decoherence to occur and see what role gravity might play in the existence of quantum states between macroscopic objects.

    “It’s an interesting idea, but experimentally it’s very challenging,” explained Caltech physicist Yiqui Ma, one of Pang’s colleagues.

    “It’s unbelievably difficult, but if you want to do it, what we’re saying is that LIGO is the best place to do it.”

    Any added insight into quantum activity could not only help us build better quantum computers, it could completely revolutionise our understanding of the physical universe.

    LIGO is already in the process of receiving upgrades that will help it detect even fainter gravitational waves, and eventually, the plan is to build the Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA), a gravitational wave observatory in space.

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder
    ESA/LISA Pathfinder


    Within the next decade, not only could LIGO be regularly detecting gravitational waves, it could also be finding ever more advanced ways to create them and furthering our understanding of the quantum world in unimaginable ways.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:47 pm on February 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Kamokuna lava delta, Lava tube, Science Alert,   

    From Science Alert: “WATCH: Sea cliffs just collapsed in on this Hawaii’s ridiculous ‘lava tube’ “ 


    Science Alert

    6 FEB 2017


    Nature is out of control.

    If watching a thick, red stream of molten lava pour into the Pacific Ocean like the world’s biggest bloody Mary isn’t enough to make you gape at how utterly bananas nature can be, how about the moment when the whole thing collapses in on itself?

    Last month, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released incredible footage of that lava ‘firehose’ pouring from a crack in Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, the sea cliffs that supported it collapsed, and it’s a stark reminder that nature DNGAF.

    The lava tube itself formed on New Year’s Eve, when a massive section of the Kamokuna lava delta, in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the Big Island, collapsed into the ocean, exposing the volcano’s molten insides.

    Since then, the lava tube has been flowing into the Pacific Ocean some 21 metres (70 feet) below the exposure point, as one continuous stream of molten rock stretching up to 2 metres across at its widest point.


    While it looked spectacular, tourists were advised to keep well away from the exposed lava delta, because as the lava hits the cool ocean waters, it causes a reaction that sends exploding chunks of hot rock and debris back in towards the land.

    “When the lava delta collapsed, solid and molten fragments of lava and superheated steam exploded skyward, creating tremendous hazard for anyone who ignored the warning signs and entered the closed area on land or ventured too close to the lava delta by boat,” the USGS reported on January 1.

    “[It’s] definitely the most dramatic firehose event I’ve ever witnessed in the last three decades of viewing lava,” Shane Turpin from Lava Ocean Tours in Hawaii told Phys.org.

    Here’s footage of the delta collapsing and exposing the lava tube:

    And here’s the lava tube in all its thunderous glory, filmed on January 25:

    If all that molten lava streaming through the rock face for over a month non-stop seems kinda unsustainable, it was, because the USGS just announced that the cliffs have collapsed in on themselves, destroying the lava tube in the process.

    “Within minutes of HVO (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory) geologists reaching the ocean entry site, the sea cliff seaward of the hot crack collapsed with no warning. Fortunately, they were far enough away to not be in harm’s way,” the USGS reported on February 2.

    “When they arrived, the ‘firehose’ flow was no longer visible. However, spatter (bits of molten lava) and black sand flying through the steam plume indicated that lava was still flowing into the ocean and interacting explosively with seawater.”

    As for the Kilauea volcano, it’s been erupting continuously since 1983, so while the ‘great firehose’ might have disappeared for the time being, this certainly isn’t the last time we can expect activity from the ancient formation.

    “There’s no indication of it slowing down or stopping,” USGS geologist, Janet Babb, told Phys.org.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:26 am on January 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Britain's Central Laser Facility (CLF), DiPOLE 100 laser, HiLASE's plan for the laser, , Science Alert   

    From Science Alert: “Scientists claim they’ve built the most powerful pulse laser on Earth” 


    Science Alert

    25 JAN 2017

    Georgy Shafeev/Shutterstock,com

    This we need to see.

    Scientists say they’ve successfully tested a new US$48 million ‘super laser’, and they’re claiming it’s 10 times more powerful than any other laser of its kind on the planet, with an average power output of 1,000 watts.

    If that doesn’t sound all that powerful to you, you’re right – there’s a laser in Japan that can hit peak outputs of more than 1 trillion watts. But this new pulse laser doesn’t blow everything on a single burst – it can reportedly fire high-powered beams many times over, and with more power than any other technology on the planet.

    The laser has been built by Britain’s Central Laser Facility (CLF), and HiLASE (High average power pulsed laser), a Czech state research and development project run by the country’s Institute of Physics.

    “It is a world record which is important,” director of the CLF, John Collier, told AFP.

    “It is good for putting things on the map, but the more important point is that the underlying technology that has been developed here is going to transform the application of these high power, high energy lasers.”

    Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat – a world record is a mighty big claim, and the team has yet to release a peer-reviewed paper to support it. So until the numbers are independently verified, we’ll have to take their word for it, but it’s by no means official.

    But the Czech researchers have had a plan in place to hit this specific record since 2011, and Central Laser Facility has been developing laser technology for over four decades now, and currently have five active laser labs in operation, so these are not new players in the laser game.

    The team claims to have achieved the record last month at a testing facility in Dolní Břežany – a municipality near Prague in the Czech Republic.

    Their DiPOLE 100 laser (nicknamed Bivoj, after a Hercules-like hero in Czech mythology), reportedly hit an average of 1,000 watts for over 1 hour without intervention, and the team asserts that this kind of sustained, high-energy pulsing is unrivalled.

    When we talk about the world’s most powerful lasers, there are two very different types – there are continuous lasers, which fire constant beams of energy, and there are pulse lasers, which can fire in short, powerful bursts.

    The DiPOLE 100 is a pulse laser, and the two other largest high-power pulse lasers in existence are the Texas Petawatt Laser in Austin, and the 2-petawatt Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments (LFEX) in Osaka, Japan.

    Those lasers “have a very high peak power, but they can only reach it several times a day,” HiLASE director Tomas Mocek told AFP.

    “They do not have so-called average power. This is a combination of the repetition rate and the energy. Our laser has the highest average power, which is important. The repetition rate in Osaka and Austin is significantly lower.”

    What’s really cool about this announcement – if it can be confirmed in a published paper – is that it adds a new kind of diversity to the world’s best high-powered pulse lasers, and could be really useful for researchers of the future.

    So while the Texas Petawatt Laser could be used to run a couple of experiments per day, helping researchers peer into exotic states of matter and ultra-high electromagnetic fields, the DiPOLE 100 provides a constant stream of highly focussed laser energy for things like particle acceleration and X-ray generation.

    The team plans on commercialising it by the end of 2017, so let’s hope some great science comes of it.

    For more information on the project, you can check out HiLASE’s plan for the laser.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:01 am on January 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Accelerating mirror, , Black hole paradox, , , Plasma wakefield accelerator, Science Alert, Shooting electron waves through plasma could reveal if black holes permanently destroy information,   

    From Science Alert: “Shooting electron waves through plasma could reveal if black holes permanently destroy information” 


    Science Alert

    25 JAN 2017

    Interstellar/Paramount Pictures

    Without having to enter a black hole ourselves…

    One of the greatest dilemmas in astrophysics is the black hole paradox – if black holes really do destroy every scrap of information that enters them.

    Now, physicists might have finally come up with a way to test the paradox once and for all, by accelerating a wave of negatively charged electrons through a cloud of plasma.

    As far as objects in space go, black holes need little introduction. Get too close, and their concentrated mass will swallow you, never to return.

    But in the 1970s, physicists including Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes weren’t necessarily forever.

    Thanks to the peculiarities of quantum mechanics, particles did indeed radiate away from black holes, Hawking hypothesised, which means, theoretically, black holes could slowly evaporate away over time.

    This poses the paradox. Information – the fundamental coding of stuff in the Universe – can’t just disappear. That’s a big rule. But when a black hole evaporates away, where does its bellyful of information go?

    A clue might be found in the nature of the radiation Hawking described. This form of radiation arises when a pair of virtual particles pops into existence right up against a black hole’s line of no return – the ‘event horizon’.

    Usually, such paired particles cancel each other out, and the Universe is none the wiser. But in the case of Hawking radiation, one of these particles falls across the horizon into the gravitational grip of the black hole. The other barely escapes off into the Universe as a bona fide particle.

    Physicists have theorised that this escaped particle preserves the information of its twin thanks to the quirks of quantum dynamics. In this case, the phenomenon of entanglement would allow the particles to continue share a connection, even separated by time and space, leaving a lasting legacy of whatever was devoured by the black hole.

    To demonstrate this, physicists could catch a particle that has escaped a black hole’s event horizon, and then wait for the black hole to spill its guts in many, many years, to test if there’s indeed a correlation between one of the photons and its entangled twin. Which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly practical.

    Now, Pisin Chen from the National Taiwan University and Gerard Mourou from École Polytechnique in France have described a slightly easier method.

    They suggest that a high-tech ‘accelerating mirror’ should provide the same opportunity of separating entangled particles.

    That sounds strange, but as a pair of particles zips into existence in this hypothetical experiment, one would reflect from the accelerating mirror as the other became trapped at the boundary. Just as it might happen in a black hole.

    Once the mirror stopped moving, the ‘trapped’ photon would be freed, just as the energy would be released from a dying black hole.

    Chen’s and Mourou’s mirror would be made by pulsing an X-ray laser through a cloud of ionised gas in a plasma wakefield accelerator. The pulse would leave a trail of negatively charged electrons, which would serve nicely as a mirror.

    By altering the density of the plasma on a small enough scale, the ‘mirror’ would accelerate away from the laser pulse.

    As clever as the concept is, the experiment is still in its ‘thought bubble ‘stage. Even with established methods and trusted equipment, entanglement is tricky business to measure.

    And Hawking radiation itself has yet to be observed as an actual thing.

    Yet Chen’s and Mourou’s model could feasibly be built using existing technology, and as the researchers point out in their paper, could also serve to test other hypotheses on the physics of black holes.

    It sounds far more appealing than waiting until the end of time in front of a black hole, at least.

    This research was published in Physical Review Letters.

    See the full article here .

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