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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” 


    Science Alert

    21 APR 2017


    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.

    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:


    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

    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

    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.


    “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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    U Leeds Campus

    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” 


    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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