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  • richardmitnick 10:14 am on June 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Dark fusion?, , , Science News   

    From Science News: “If real, dark fusion could help demystify this physics puzzle” 


    From Science News

    June 6, 2018
    Emily Conover

    1
    DARK CLOUDS Galaxies and galaxy clusters are surrounded by dark matter (illustrated in blue over an image of the cluster Abell 2744; red indicates gas). Dark matter particles may undergo a process called dark fusion, one scientist suggests. XMM-Newton/ESA, WFI/ESO, NASA, CFHT

    Fusion may have a dark side. A shadowy hypothetical process called “dark fusion” could be occurring throughout the cosmos, a new study suggests.

    The standard type of fusion occurs when two atomic nuclei unite to form a new element, releasing energy in the process. “This is why the sun shines,” says physicist Sam McDermott of Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. A similar process — dark fusion — could occur with particles of dark matter, McDermott suggests in a paper published in the June 1, 2018 in Physical Review Letters.

    If the idea is correct, the proposed phenomenon may help physicists resolve a puzzle related to dark matter — a poorly understood substance believed to bulk up the mass of galaxies. Without dark matter, scientists can’t explain how galaxies’ stars move the way they do. But some of the quirks of how dark matter is distributed within galaxy centers remain a mystery.

    Dark matter is thought to be composed of reclusive particles that don’t interact much with ordinary matter — the stuff that makes up stars, planets and living creatures. That introverted nature is what makes the enigmatic particles so hard to detect. But dark matter may not be totally antisocial (SN: 3/3/18, p. 8). “Why wouldn’t the dark matter particles interact with each other? There’s really no good reason to say they wouldn’t,” says physicist Manoj Kaplinghat of the University of California, Irvine.

    Scientists have suggested that dark matter particles might ricochet off one another. But the new study goes a step further, proposing that pairs of dark matter particles could fuse, forming other unknown types of dark matter particles in the process.

    Such dark fusion could help explain why dark matter near the centers of galaxies is more evenly distributed than expected. In computer simulations of galaxy formation, the density of dark matter rises sharply toward a cusp in the center of a galaxy. But in reality, galaxies have a core evenly filled with dark matter.

    Those simulations assume dark matter particles don’t interact with one another. But dark fusion could change how the particles behave, giving them energy that would provide the oomph necessary to escape entrapment in a galaxy’s dense cusp, thereby producing an evenly filled core.

    “You can kick [particles] around through this interaction, so that’s kind of cool,” says physicist Annika Peter of the Ohio State University in Columbus. But, she says, dark fusion might end up kicking the particles out of the galaxy entirely, which wouldn’t mesh with expectations: The particles could escape the halo of dark matter that scientists believe surrounds each galaxy.

    For now, if fusion does have an alter ego, scientists remain in the dark.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:14 pm on June 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Science News   

    From Science News: “Magnetic fields may be propping up the Pillars of Creation” 


    From Science News

    June 15, 2018
    Emily Conover

    The structure’s internal magnetism could mean the columns of gas and dust will be long-lived.

    1
    PILLAR OF STRENGTH Columns of cosmic gas and dust dubbed the Pillars of Creation (shown in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope) may be propped up by an internal magnetic field. NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team/STScI and AURA

    The Pillars of Creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.

    For the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 Hubble Space Telescope image (SN Online: 1/6/15). The data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. This configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer Kate Pattle and colleagues suggest in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    Hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth. The pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before breaking up. However, the researchers suggest, the organization of the magnetic field within the pillars could be providing an outward force that resists the plasma’s onslaught, preventing the columns from disintegrating.

    The Pillars of Creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.

    For the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 Hubble Space Telescope image (SN Online: 1/6/15). The data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. This configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer Kate Pattle and colleagues suggest in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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    FIELD OF DREAMS A map of the magnetic field within the Pillars of Creation reveals that the orientation of the field runs roughly parallel to each skinny column. White bars indicate the field’s orientation in that location. K. Pattle et al/Astrophysical Journal Letters 2018

    Hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth. The pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before breaking up. However, the researchers suggest, the organization of the magnetic field within the pillars could be providing an outward force that resists the plasma’s onslaught, preventing the columns from disintegrating.

    Eagle Nebula NASA/ESA Hubble Public Domain

    The team studied light emitted from the pillars, measuring its polarization — the direction of the wiggling of the light’s electromagnetic waves — using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. Dust grains within the pillars are aligned with each other due to the magnetic field. These aligned particles emit polarized light, allowing the researchers to trace the direction of the magnetic field at various spots.

    “There are few clear measurements of the magnetic fields in objects like pillars,” says Koji Sugitani of Nagoya City University in Japan. To fully understand the formation of such objects, more observations are needed, he says.

    Studying objects where stars are born, such as the pillars, could help scientists better understand the role that magnetic fields may play in star formation (SN: 6/9/18, p. 12). “This is really one of the big unanswered questions,” says Pattle, of National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan. “We just don’t have a very good idea of whether magnetic fields are important and, if they are, what they are doing.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:43 pm on May 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Gaia delivers a trove of data revealing secrets of the Milky Way, Science News   

    From Science News: “Gaia delivers a trove of data revealing secrets of the Milky Way” 


    From Science News

    May 9, 2018
    Emily Conover

    Astronomers are using the info to gauge the galaxy’s mass, size up exoplanets and more.

    1
    IN MOTION The Gaia spacecraft can reveal new features of the universe, thanks to its ability to track the movement of stars, like the rotation of the Large Magellanic Cloud, shown in this image based on light measured by Gaia.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    The April 25 release of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, which cataloged nearly 1.7 billion stars, has kicked off a scientific spree, with multiple papers published online in the last two weeks at arXiv.org.

    Charting stars in the Milky Way and beyond, Gaia surveys the entire sky. The spacecraft can measure stars’ motions and distances (SN Online: 4/25/18), properties which haven’t been inventoried on such a large scale before. “It’s really opening new dimensions in how we view stars,” says astronomer Ana Bonaca of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

    Because Gaia takes multiple images over time, “you’re not only getting a static picture of the sky at one instant, you’re looking at how it changes,” says astronomer Laura Watkins of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “We’ve never really had something like this before.”

    Here are five new observations made with the unprecedented info.

    1. Sizing up the Milky Way

    Pinning down the mass of our home galaxy is a hefty challenge. Much of the Milky Way’s mass is hidden in the form of a dark matter halo, a shroud of matter that is invisible except for its gravitational pull.

    Caterpillar Project A Milky-Way-size dark-matter halo and its subhalos circled, an enormous suite of simulations . Griffen et al. 2016

    But scientists can gauge the galaxy’s unseen bulk by observing objects moving at the outskirts of the galaxy.

    Combining information from Gaia and the Hubble Space Telescope, Watkins and colleagues estimated the galaxy’s mass using the motions of clumps of stars called globular clusters. The Milky Way is about 1.7 trillion times the mass of the sun, the team reports in a paper submitted April 30.

    2. Rescaling exoplanets

    Exoplanet updates are also on the agenda. Because NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler telescope has limited ability in gauging how big stars are, the diameters of exoplanets passing in front of those stars were not well known (SN: 6/19/17).

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    “Gaia has now completely changed the game and solved this problem,” says astronomer Daniel Huber of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

    Knowing both the brightness and distance of a star helps determine its size. So Huber and colleagues used Gaia’s data to better size up nearly 200,000 stars and more than 2,000 orbiting planets, the researchers report in a paper submitted May 1.

    3. Expanding a cosmic debate

    A disagreement over how fast the universe is expanding persists (SN Online: 1/16/18). Gaia data reinforced the discrepancy in results between two methods for measuring the expansion rate.

    One of those techniques involves estimating the distances of exploding stars, or supernovas, and measuring how their light is stretched by the expansion of space. Gaia improved distance estimates for variable stars called Cepheids, which scientists use to estimate how far away the supernovas are. The result: The expansion rate mismatch is now slightly worse, Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and colleagues report in a paper submitted April 27.

    ___________________________________________________
    Cosmic centerpiece

    The Milky Way and its neighbors are revealed in this Gaia map of star density. Brighter regions are more densely populated, highlighting the plane of the galaxy, clumps of stars known as globular clusters, as well as neighboring dwarf galaxies including the Large Magellanic Cloud (larger spot in lower right).

    4
    ___________________________________________________

    4. Dipping into star streams

    The Milky Way is a violent beast, ripping up clumps of stars and stretching them into strands known as stellar streams. Bonaca and astronomer Adrian Price-Whelan of Princeton University study the longest thin stream in the Milky Way, known as GD-1, in a paper posted May 1.

    Gaia’s measurements of stars’ motions, combined with information about their brightness and color from the Hawaii-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS, allowed the duo to pinpoint which stars were going with the flow of the stellar stream.

    Pannstars telescope, U Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, Altitude 3,052 m (10,013 ft)

    The data also revealed gaps where stars seem to be missing. That could indicate the stream was disturbed in the past by a close encounter with a clump of dark matter.

    5. Spotting speed demons

    Several teams used Gaia to pick out fast-moving stars, zipping through the galaxy at speeds of more than 1,000 kilometers per second. A team including Ken Shen of the University of California, Berkeley seized on this capability to look for clues to the origins of a kind of explosion called a type 1a supernova, thought to occur when a dead star known as a white dwarf explodes.

    Scientists don’t know exactly what causes a white dwarf explosion. In one theory, two white dwarfs swirl around one another as one steals material from the other. The thief eventually explodes and its partner is flung away at high speed.

    Shen and colleagues wasted no time in hunting for these fast-moving white dwarfs. Within an hour and a half of the Gaia data release, the team had the first of several ground-based telescopes taking a closer look at some of the speed demons. Three stars potentially fit the bill for coming from a type 1a supernova, the team reports in a paper submitted April 30.

    This is only the beginning of the Gaiapalooza, though. The data is so rich, Watkins says, “it’s going to take us months and years to get to grips with what’s there.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:27 pm on December 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomers Find Galaxy Cluster with Mass of Two Quadrillion Suns, , , , , , , Science News   

    From Science News: “Astronomers Find Galaxy Cluster with Mass of Two Quadrillion Suns” 

    SciNews

    Dec 25, 2017

    NASA and ESO astronomers have joined forces to observe RCS2 J2327-0204, one of the most massive galaxy clusters known at its distance or beyond.

    1
    The galaxy cluster RCS2 J2327-0204. Image credit: ESO / NASA / ESA / Hubble.

    RCS2 J2327-0204 is an extremely massive cluster of galaxies located approximately 6 billion light-years away.

    Massive objects such as RCS2 J2327-0204 have such a strong influence on their surroundings that they visibly warp the space around them. This effect is known as gravitational lensing.

    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA

    In this way, they cause the light from more distant objects to be bent, distorted, and magnified, allowing us to see galaxies that would otherwise be far too distant to detect.

    Gravitational lensing is one of the predictions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

    Strong lensing produces stunning images of distorted galaxies and sweeping arcs; both of which can be seen in this image.

    Weak gravitational lensing, on the other hand, is more subtle, hardly seen directly in an image, and is mostly studied statistically — but it provides a way to measure the masses of cosmic objects, as in the case of this cluster.

    This image of RCS2 J2327-0204 is a composite of observations from the HAWK-I instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instrument on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

    ESO HAWK-I on the ESO VLT


    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    NASA/ESA Hubble ACS

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    It demonstrates an impressively detailed collaborative approach to studying weak lensing in the cosmos.

    The astronomers found RCS2 J2327-0204 to contain the mass of two quadrillion Suns.

    The diffuse blue and white image covering the picture shows a mass map. It is connected to the amount of mass thought to be contained within each region.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:57 am on September 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Minuscule jitters may hint at quantum collapse mechanism, , , , Science News,   

    From Science News: “Minuscule jitters may hint at quantum collapse mechanism” 

    ScienceNews bloc

    ScienceNews

    September 1, 2017
    Emily Conover

    Data match prediction for wave function theory, but more experiments are needed.

    1
    A tiny, shimmying cantilever wiggles a bit more than expected in a new experiment. The excess jiggling of the miniature, diving board–like structure might hint at why the strange rules of quantum mechanics don’t apply in the familiar, “classical” world. But that potential hint is still a long shot: Other sources of vibration are yet to be fully ruled out, so more experiments are needed.

    Quantum particles can occupy more than one place at the same time, a condition known as a superposition (SN: 11/20/10, p. 15). Only once a particle’s position is measured does its location become definite. In quantum terminology, the particle’s wave function, which characterizes the spreading of the particle, collapses to a single location (SN Online: 5/26/14).

    In contrast, larger objects are always found in one place. “We never see a table or chair in a quantum superposition,” says theoretical physicist Angelo Bassi of the University of Trieste in Italy, a coauthor of the study, to appear in Physical Review Letters. But standard quantum mechanics doesn’t fully explain why large objects don’t exist in superpositions, or how and why wave functions collapse.

    Extensions to standard quantum theory can alleviate these conundrums by assuming that wave functions collapse spontaneously, at random intervals. For larger objects, that collapse happens more quickly, meaning that on human scales objects don’t show up in two places at once.

    Now, scientists have tested one such theory by looking for one of its predictions: a minuscule jitter, or “noise,” imparted by the random nature of wave function collapse. The scientists looked for this jitter in a miniature cantilever, half a millimeter long. After cooling the cantilever and isolating it to reduce external sources of vibration, the researchers found that an unexplained trembling still remained.

    In 2007, physicist Stephen Adler of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., predicted that the level of jitter from wave function collapse would be large enough to spot in experiments like this one. The new measurement is consistent with Adler’s prediction. “That’s the interesting fact, that the noise matches these predictions,” says study coauthor Andrea Vinante, formerly of the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies in Trento, Italy. But, he says, he wouldn’t bet on the source being wave function collapse. “It is much more likely that it’s some not very well understood effect in the experiment.” In future experiments, the scientists plan to change the design of the cantilever to attempt to isolate the vibration’s source.

    The result follows similar tests performed with the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft, which was built as a test-bed for gravitational wave detection techniques. Two different studies found no excess jiggling Physical Review D] of free-falling weights [Physical Review D] within the spacecraft. But the new cantilever experiment tests for wave function collapse occurring at different rate and length scales than those previous studies.

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder

    Two different studies found no excess jiggling of free-falling weights within the spacecraft. But the new cantilever experiment tests for wave function collapse occurring at different rate and length scales than those previous studies.

    Theories that include spontaneous wave function collapse are not yet accepted by most physicists. But interest in them has recently become more widespread, says physicist David Vitali of the University of Camerino in Italy, “sparked by the fact that technological advances now make fundamental tests of quantum mechanics much easier to conceive.” Focusing on a simple system like the cantilever is the right approach, says Vitali, who was not involved with the research. Still, “a lot of things can go wrong or can be not fully controlled.”

    To conclude that wave function collapse is the cause of the excess vibrations, every other possible source will have to be ruled out. So, Adler says, “it’s going to take a lot of confirmation to check that this is a real effect.”

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on August 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Science News, Star that exploded in 1437 tracked to its current position   

    From Science News: “Star that exploded in 1437 tracked to its current position” 

    ScienceNews bloc

    ScienceNews

    August 30, 2017
    Lisa Grossman

    1
    CANNIBAL ZOMBIE STAR Dead stars called white dwarfs (left) steal material from ordinary companion stars (right), as shown in this artist’s illustration. When the white dwarf has devoured enough material, it can explode as a nova. JPL-Caltech/NASA

    Some stars erupt like clockwork. Astronomers have tracked down a star that Korean astronomers saw explode nearly 600 years ago and confirmed that it has had more outbursts since.


    Carnegie Institution Swope telescope at Las Campanas, Chile

    3
    The 1437 nova and its ejected shell, spotted in 2016. (K. Ilkiewicz, J. Mikolajewska and M.M. Shara/Nature 2017)
    That star today (marked “2016” and set off with red lines) is far from the cloud’s center, but researchers used historical data to trace it back to its 1437 position.
    The diffuse cloud in this image, taken with the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Swope telescope in Chile, is the shell of hot hydrogen gas ejected by a white dwarf star on March 11, 1437.

    The finding suggests that what were thought to be three different stellar objects actually came from the same object at different times, offering new clues to the life cycles of stars.

    On March 11, 1437, Korean royal astronomers saw a new “guest star” in the tail of the constellation Scorpius. The star glowed for 14 days, then faded. The event was what’s known as a classical nova explosion, which occurs when a dense stellar corpse called a white dwarf steals enough material from an ordinary companion star for its gas to spontaneously ignite. The resulting explosion can be up to a million times as bright as the sun, but unlike supernovas, classical novas don’t destroy the star.

    Astronomer Michael Shara of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and colleagues used digitized photographic plates dating from as early as 1923 to trace a modern star back to the nova. The team tracked a single star as it moved away from the center of a shell of hot gas, the remnants of an old explosion, thus showing that the star was responsible for the nova. The researchers also saw the star, which they named Nova Scorpii AD 1437, give smaller outbursts called dwarf novas in the 1930s and 1940s. The findings were reported in the Aug. 31 Nature.

    The discovery fits with a proposal Shara and colleagues made in the 1980s. They suggested that three different stellar observations — bright classical nova explosions, dwarf nova outbursts and an intermediate stage where a white dwarf is not stealing enough material to erupt — are all different views of the same system.

    “In biology, we might say that an egg, a larva, a pupa and a butterfly are all the same system seen at different stages of development,” Shara says.

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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  • richardmitnick 6:42 am on August 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , Rumors swirl that LIGO snagged gravitational waves from a neutron star collision, Science News   

    From Science News: “Rumors swirl that LIGO snagged gravitational waves from a neutron star collision” 

    ScienceNews bloc

    ScienceNews

    August 25, 2017
    Emily Conover

    1
    CRASH AND FLASH Rumors suggest that LIGO may have detected gravitational waves from a new source: colliding neutron stars (illustrated). Such cataclysms are expected to generate a high-energy flash of light, called a gamma-ray burst (yellow jets). Several telescopes made observations seemingly in search of light from such events.

    Speculation is running rampant about potential new discoveries of gravitational waves, just as the latest search wound down August 25.

    Publicly available logs from astronomical observatories indicate that several telescopes have been zeroing in on one particular region of the sky, potentially in response to a detection of ripples in spacetime by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO.


    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

    These records have raised hopes that, for the first time, scientists may have glimpsed electromagnetic radiation — light — produced in tandem with gravitational waves. That light would allow scientists to glean more information about the waves’ source. Several tweets from astronomers reporting rumors of a new LIGO detection have fanned the flames of anticipation and amplified hopes that the source may be a cosmic convulsion unlike any LIGO has seen before.

    “There is a lot of excitement,” says astrophysicist Rosalba Perna of Stony Brook University in New York, who is not involved with the LIGO collaboration. “We are all very anxious to actually see the announcement.”

    An Aug. 25 post on the LIGO collaboration’s website announced the end of the current round of data taking, which began November 30, 2016. Virgo, a gravitational wave detector in Italy, had joined forces with LIGO’s two on August 1 (SN Online: 8/1/17).


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    The three detectors will now undergo upgrades to improve their sensitivity. The update noted that “some promising gravitational-wave candidates have been identified in data from both LIGO and Virgo during our preliminary analysis, and we have shared what we currently know with astronomical observing partners.”

    When LIGO detects gravitational waves, the collaboration alerts astronomers to the approximate location the waves seemed to originate from. The hope is that a telescope could pick up light from the aftermath of the cosmic catastrophe that created the gravitational waves — although no light has been found in previous detections.


    SPIRAL IN Two neutron stars orbit one another and spiral inward until they merge in this animation. The collision emits gravitational waves and a burst of light.

    Since mid-August, seemingly in response to a LIGO alert, several telescopes have observed a section of sky around the galaxy NGC 4993, located 134 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. The Hubble Space Telescope has made at least three sets of observations in that vicinity, including one on August 22 seeking “observations of the first electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave sources.”

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Likewise, the Chandra X-ray Observatory targeted the same region of sky on August 19.

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    And records from the Gemini Observatory’s telescope in Chile indicate several potentially related observations, including one referencing “an exceptional LIGO/Virgo event.”


    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 7200 feet

    “I think it’s very, very likely that LIGO has seen something,” says astrophysicist David Radice of Princeton University, who is not affiliated with LIGO. But, he says, he doesn’t know whether its source has been confirmed as merging neutron stars.

    LIGO scientists haven’t commented directly on the veracity of the rumor. “We have some substantial work to do before we will be able to share with confidence any quantitative results. We are working as fast as we can,” LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker of MIT wrote in an e-mail.

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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  • richardmitnick 8:53 am on August 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NCAR-National Center for Atmospheric Research, Science News, , The spectrometer will measure the corona in infrared wavelengths between 1 and 6 micrometers   

    From Science News: “On a mountain in Wyoming, the eclipse brings wonder — and, hopefully, answers” 

    ScienceNews bloc

    ScienceNews

    August 21, 2017
    Lisa Grossman

    1
    TOTALLY AMAZING Keon Gibson, an intern for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, shot the moment of totality through a telescope atop Casper Mountain, Wyo., on August 21. The corona stretches around the moon-blocked sun. The planet Mercury is visible in the bottom left.

    CASPER MOUNTAIN, Wyo. — It’s nothing like a sunset. It’s cold and dark, but it’s not like nighttime, or even twilight. The moon just snaps into place over the last slivers of the sun, turning the sun into a dark hole. The only illumination — a flat, ghostly, metallic sort of light — is from peaked gossamer streamers stretching out toward the edges of the sky.

    I’ve been writing about eclipse science and interviewing researchers who study that eerie halo for the better part of a month. I thought I knew what to expect from my first total solar eclipse.

    I had no idea.

    I’m at a Baptist summer camp called Camp Wyoba about a half hour’s drive up a mountain from Casper, Wyo., with a group of engineers and solar physicists. Most come from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, in Boulder, Colo.

    Our presence here is a stroke of luck: Retired NCAR researcher William Mankin’s wife Mary Beth is a Baptist pastor. When they realized the camp would be in the path of the total eclipse, the Mankins suggested holding an event, complete with a scientific lecture the night before and a church service in the morning. They also invited Mankin’s former NCAR colleagues to bring their experiments — and their families.

    The day before the eclipse, scientists tested their equipment in a field at the top of Casper Mountain near camp, while a group of kids played dodgeball nearby. But by afternoon, the team’s luck seemed to be flagging. One of their telescopes started malfunctioning in a way they hadn’t seen before. They had less than 24 hours to fix it. “It’s a very bad thing if we can’t get it going,” said instrument leader Steven Tomczyk.

    Tomczyk and his colleagues schlepped three telescopes and a spectrometer the size of a coffee table up here to try to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the sun’s corona: Why this ethereal solar atmosphere is so much hotter than the sun’s surface?


    INTO THE DARK This time-lapse video shows how a group of solar physicists and engineers studying the sun’s wispy atmosphere kept busy during totality, but also got to take a look at the corona with their own eyes. In the foreground, Paul Bryans and Ben Berkey uncover and cover the telescopes’ lenses, while Steven Tomczyk, Alyssa Boll and Keon Gibson record data and Philip Judge calls out the time. Lisa Grossman.

    The visible surface of the sun is about 5,500° Celsius. Higher up in the sun’s atmosphere, though, the temperature jumps to 10,000° C and then makes a sudden leap to millions of degrees. It’s a real puzzle why. Most materials transfer heat via atoms smacking into each other or through swirling, churning currents. In the corona, which is made of a diffuse charged gas called plasma, particles are so far apart that neither scenario seems likely.

    Solar physicists are pretty sure that the corona’s magnetic field is somehow to blame for the heat up (SN Online: 8/16/17), but it’s so weak that it has never been measured directly. So the team in Wyoming hopes to chip away at understanding that magnetic field. Their experiments will take steps toward measuring its strength and shape so that a future telescope can make a more complete measurement.

    The spectrometer will measure the corona in infrared wavelengths between 1 and 6 micrometers — the first time it has been measured fully in this range. Infrared light is a good probe of the magnetic field because stronger magnetic fields change the way light is emitted in that range. Atoms in the corona are so hot that they give up many of their electrons — iron atoms have been known to lose up to half of their original count. The remaining electrons are often excited to higher energy levels, and when they drop back into their original state, they emit a particle of light in a particular wavelength. That photon shows up as a peak in the spectrum.

    Magnetic fields make the higher energy levels split into two new levels, so electrons dive from two different platforms and emit different particles of light. That makes the peak split in two as well. The stronger the magnetic field, the farther the distance between the peaks.

    The spectrometer won’t directly view the sun — it’s inside a trailer. A hole in the trailer wall leads to an angled mirror, which will track the eclipsed sun as it moves across the sky and direct the light into the instrument.

    There, a beam splitter will split the light in two and direct it through a series of gold-plated mirrors. Ultimately, the light beams will be recombined. If all goes well, the shape of the light wave at the end will allow the team to calculate the sun’s infrared spectrum. They’re looking for already known peaks in the spectrum — one from silicon that has lost eight electrons, for instance, was observed in 2003 when the sun wasn’t eclipsed — and ones theorized in the 1990s but never observed.

    “We’re at the ragged edge of our signal to noise,” says James Hannigan, who’s in charge of the spectrometer. “I’m really not sure what we’re gonna see.”

    This eclipse is this instrument’s maiden voyage; it was designed in the 1990s but completed only a few months ago. It has had some last-minute headaches, too, Hannigan says. The beam splitter, a sort of half-transparent mirror, had to be polished until its height varied no more than 80 nanometers — or 80 billionths of a meter. It was so difficult to do that the piece of equipment arrived at Hannigan’s house only nine days before the eclipse. “It’s a little more harried than I would have liked,” Hannigan says. “I would have loved to have been testing this thing for the last month and a half, but so it goes.”

    Outside, Tomczyk and the rest of the crew are testing the three telescopes. One will take a picture of the entire corona in infrared wavelengths out to 10 solar radii away from the sun’s surface. That will provide context for the other measurements, letting the team figure out the strength of the field in different parts of the corona.

    Another is actually two telescopes linked together: one infrared and one that measures visible wavelengths. Both send data to a spectrograph, which splits light into all its component wavelengths. The visible light telescope’s job is to take a quick spectrum of the layers of the sun’s atmosphere between the photosphere and the corona, an area called the chromosphere.

    3
    FIRST LOOK The NCAR team’s visible light telescope captured the sun’s spectrum in the last few seconds of totality. This is an example of the data the team will sort through in the coming weeks. Solar physicist Philip Judge says he already sees some tantalizing features in it. P. Judge/NCAR.

    The chromosphere is only visible for a few seconds at the beginning and end of an eclipse. For those few seconds, the visible telescope will take a picture once every 1/125th of a second. “It will help us understand how the atmosphere is changing with height, which helps connect the corona to the surface,” says Philip Judge, one of the experiment’s principal investigators.

    The third telescope — a polarization camera that will measure the magnetic field’s shape — is the one that’s acting up.

    “We’ve been rehearsing this dance over the last couple of days,” says Ben Berkey, who works for NCAR in Hawaii. They’ve practiced every motion they’ll make during the eclipse: Check that the sun is in each telescope’s field of view; remove the lens caps at just the right moment, to get as much time watching the corona as possible without frying the delicate instruments; and so on.

    “If things are boring, that’s not a bad thing necessarily,” Tomczyk says during one run-through.

    “But you won’t be bored,” says Paul Bryans, one of the science leads. “You’ll be watching the partial eclipse.”

    By 4 p.m., the problem with the polarimeter is solved: The computer storing the data needed its hard drive reconfigured. The team is so nervous about losing the data that they plan to make four copies of the hard drives before leaving Casper Mountain, and send them back to NCAR in four different cars, just in case. “They’re precious,” Tomczyk says.

    The morning of the eclipse dawns cool and clear.

    It’s already getting chilly when Judge bellows, “Two-minute warning!” The team jumps into action, taking peeks at the last tiny slices of sunlight through eclipse glasses.

    The moment of totality is sudden and absolute. The corona pops into view all at once, pointing its silvery arms at the treetops and the sky. People cheer; some children scream. Someone lends me a pair of binoculars, and through them I can see the chromosphere, glowing red and purple. I can see Mercury, nestled right up next to the corona.

    And just as suddenly, it’s over. Judge counts down the seconds to the end of totality, and right on schedule, the sun returns. It’s incredible how much light that tiny dot of sunlight provides. I had been told that a 99 percent eclipse is nothing at all like a total eclipse. I get it now.

    Tomczyk and the crew, meanwhile, are already backing up their data and taking the telescopes off their tripods. All the instruments worked, although they’ll have to take the data back to Boulder and process it to know if they got all they’d hoped for.

    “Who knows what we’ll see,” Tomczyk says. “I feel exhausted. And relieved.”

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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  • richardmitnick 12:45 pm on August 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eclipse Mob participants, Ionosphere, Science News, Using smartphones and radio kits researchers will track changes in how radio waves travel through the ionosphere, What happens in Earth’s atmosphere during an eclipse?   

    From Science News: “What happens in Earth’s atmosphere during an eclipse?” 

    ScienceNews bloc

    ScienceNews

    August 13, 2017
    Lisa Grossman

    Using smartphones and radio kits, researchers will track changes in how radio waves travel through the ionosphere.

    1
    DOWN FROM ABOVE Sunlight strips electrons from atoms in the atmosphere, creating a charged layer called the ionosphere. But that process stops without direct sunlight — like during a solar eclipse.

    As the moon’s shadow races across North America on August 21, hundreds of radio enthusiasts will turn on their receivers — rain or shine. These observers aren’t after the sun. They’re interested in a shell of electrons hundreds of kilometers overhead, which is responsible for heavenly light shows, GPS navigation and the continued existence of all earthly beings.

    This part of the atmosphere, called the ionosphere, absorbs extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun, protecting life on the ground from its harmful effects. “The ionosphere is the reason life exists on this planet,” says physicist Joshua Semeter of Boston University.

    It’s also the stage for brilliant displays like the aurora borealis, which appears when charged material in interplanetary space skims the atmosphere. And the ionosphere is important for the accuracy of GPS signals and radio communication.

    This layer of the atmosphere forms when radiation from the sun strips electrons from, or ionizes, atoms and molecules in the atmosphere between about 75 and 1,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. That leaves a zone full of free-floating negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions, which warps and wefts signals passing through it.

    Without direct sunlight, though, the ionosphere stops ionizing. Electrons start to rejoin the atoms and molecules they abandoned, neutralizing the atmosphere’s charge. With fewer free electrons bouncing around, the ionosphere reflects radio waves differently, like a distorted mirror.

    We know roughly how this happens, but not precisely. The eclipse will give researchers a chance to examine the charging and uncharging process in almost real time.

    “The eclipse lets us look at the change from light to dark to light again very quickly,” says Jill Nelson of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

    Joseph Huba and Douglas Drob of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., predicted some of what should happen to the ionosphere in the July 17 Geophysical Research Letters. At higher altitudes, the electrons’ temperature should decrease by 15 percent. Between 150 and 350 kilometers above Earth’s surface, the density of free-floating electrons should drop by a factor of two as they rejoin atoms, the researchers say. This drop in free-floating electrons should create a disturbance that travels along Earth’s magnetic field lines. That echo of the eclipse-induced ripple in the ionosphere may be detectable as far away as the tip of South America.

    Previous experiments during eclipses have shown that the degree of ionization doesn’t simply die down and then ramp back up again, as you might expect. The amount of ionization you see seems to depend on how far you are from being directly in the moon’s shadow.

    For a project called Eclipse Mob, Nelson and her colleagues will use volunteers around the United States to gather data on how the ionosphere responds when the sun is briefly blocked from the largest land area ever.

    2
    DO-IT-YOURSELF Participants in the crowdsourced Eclipse Mob experiment put together their own receivers from parts they received in a kit. This is the completed circuitry, which can plug into the headphone jack of a smartphone to record radio signals sent from transmitters in Colorado and California. K.C. Kerby-Patel.

    About 150 Eclipse Mob participants received a build-it-yourself kit for a small radio receiver that plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone. Others made their own receivers after the project ran out of kits. On August 21, the volunteers will receive signals from radio transmitters and record the signal’s strength before, during and after the eclipse.

    Nelson isn’t sure what to expect in the data, except that it will look different depending on where the receivers are. “We’ll be looking for patterns,” she says. “I don’t know what we’re going to see.”

    Semeter and his colleagues will be looking for the eclipse’s effect on GPS signals. They would also like to measure the eclipse’s effects on the ionosphere using smartphones — eventually.

    For this year’s solar eclipse, they will observe radio signals using an existing network of GPS receivers in Missouri, and intersperse it with small, cheap GPS receivers that are similar to the kind in most phones. The eclipse will create a big cool spot, setting off waves in the atmosphere that will propagate away from the moon’s shadow. Such waves leave an imprint on the ionosphere that affects GPS signals. The team hopes to combine high-quality data with messier data to lay the groundwork for future experiments to tap into the smartphone crowd.

    “The ultimate vision of this project is to leverage all 2 billion smartphones around the planet,” Semeter says. Someday, everyone with a phone could be a node in a global telescope.

    If it works, it could be a lifesaver. Similar atmospheric waves were seen radiating from the source of the 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan (SN Online: 6/16/11). “The earthquake did the sort of thing the eclipse is going to do,” Semeter says. Understanding how these waves form and move could potentially help predict earthquakes in the future.

    Further reading
    See the full article with further references with links.

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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  • richardmitnick 8:08 am on June 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bones make hormones that communicate with the brain and other organs, , Science News   

    From Science News: “Bones make hormones that communicate with the brain and other organs” 

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    ScienceNews

    June 21, 2017
    Cassie Martin

    Mouse studies reveal bone-body connection in appetite, metabolism and more.

    1
    BONE UP The skeleton doesn’t just protect important bodily organs, it also talks to them, studies in mice show. Ted Kinsman/Science Source

    Long typecast as the strong silent type, bones are speaking up.

    In addition to providing structural support, the skeleton is a versatile conversationalist. Bones make hormones that chat with other organs and tissues, including the brain, kidneys and pancreas, experiments in mice have shown.

    “The bone, which was considered a dead organ, has really become a gland almost,” says Beate Lanske, a bone and mineral researcher at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “There’s so much going on between bone and brain and all the other organs, it has become one of the most prominent tissues being studied at the moment.”

    At least four bone hormones moonlight as couriers, recent studies show, and there could be more. Scientists have only just begun to decipher what this messaging means for health. But cataloging and investigating the hormones should offer a more nuanced understanding of how the body regulates sugar, energy and fat, among other things.

    Of the hormones on the list of bones’ messengers — osteocalcin, sclerostin, fibroblast growth factor 23 and lipocalin 2 — the last is the latest to attract attention. Lipocalin 2, which bones unleash to stem bacterial infections, also works in the brain to control appetite, physiologist Stavroula Kousteni of Columbia University Medical Center and colleagues reported in the March 16 Nature.

    2
    R.D. Palmiter/Nature 2017

    Researchers previously thought that fat cells were mostly responsible for making lipocalin 2, or LCN2. But in mice, bones produce up to 10 times as much of the hormone as fat cells do, Kousteni and colleagues showed. And after a meal, mice’s bones pumped out enough LCN2 to boost blood levels three times as high as premeal levels. “It’s a new role for bone as an endocrine organ,” Kousteni says.

    Clifford Rosen, a bone endocrinologist at the Center for Molecular Medicine in Scarborough, Maine, is excited by this new bone-brain connection. “It makes sense physiologically that there are bi­directional interactions” between bone and other tissues, Rosen says. “You have to have things to regulate the fuel sources that are necessary for bone formation.”

    Bones constantly reinvent themselves through energy-intensive remodeling. Cells known as osteoblasts make new bone; other cells, osteoclasts, destroy old bone. With such turnover, “the skeleton must have some fine-tuning mechanism that allows the whole body to be in sync with what’s happening at the skeletal level,” Rosen says. Osteoblasts and osteoclasts send hormones to do their bidding.

    Scientists began homing in on bones’ molecular messengers a decade ago (SN: 8/11/07, p. 83). Geneticist Gerard Karsenty of Columbia University Medical Center found that osteocalcin — made by osteoblasts — helps regulate blood sugar [NIH]. Osteocalcin circulates through the blood, collecting calcium and other minerals that bones need. When the hormone reaches the pancreas, it signals insulin-making cells to ramp up production, mouse experiments showed. Osteocalcin also signals fat cells to release a hormone that increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the body’s blood sugar moderator, Karsenty and colleagues reported in Cell in 2007. If it works the same way in people, Karsenty says, osteocalcin could be developed as a potential diabetes or obesity treatment.

    “Their data is fairly convincing,” says Sundeep Khosla, a bone biologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “But the data in humans has been less than conclusive.” In observational studies of people, it’s hard to say that osteocalcin directly influences blood sugar metabolism when there are so many factors involved.

    More recent mouse data indicate that osteocalcin may play a role in energy metabolism. After an injection of the hormone, old mice could run as far as younger mice. Old mice that didn’t receive an osteocalcin boost ran about half as far, Karsenty and colleagues reported last year in Cell Metabolism. As the hormone increases endurance, it helps muscles absorb more nutrients. In return, muscles talk back to bones, telling them to churn out more osteocalcin.

    There are hints that this feedback loop works in humans, too. Women’s blood levels of osteocalcin increased during exercise [Cell], the team reported.

    Mounting evidence from the Karsenty lab suggests that osteocalcin also could have more far-flung effects. It stimulates cells in testicles to pump out testosterone — crucial for reproduction and bone density — and may also improve mood and memory, studies in mice have shown. Bones might even use the hormone to talk to a fetus’s brain before birth. Osteocalcin from the bones of pregnant mice can penetrate the placenta and help shape fetal brain development, Karsenty and colleagues reported in 2013 in Cell. What benefit bones get from influencing developing brains remains unclear.

    Another emerging bone messenger is sclerostin. Its day job is to keep bone growth in check by telling bone-forming osteoblasts to slow down or stop. But bones may dispatch the hormone to manage an important fuel source — fat. In mice, the hormone helps convert white (or “bad”) fat into more useful energy-burning beige fat, molecular biologist Keertik Fulzele of Boston University and colleagues reported in the February Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

    Osteocalcin, sclerostin and LCN2 offer tantalizing clues about bones’ communication skills. Another hormone, fibroblast growth factor 23, or FGF-23, may have more immediate medical applications.

    Bones use FGF-23 to tell the kidneys to shunt extra phosphate that can’t be absorbed. In people with kidney failure, cancer or some genetic diseases, including an inherited form of rickets called X-linked hypophosphatemia, FGF-23 levels soar, causing phosphate levels to plummet. Bones starved of this mineral become weak and prone to deformities.

    In the case of X-linked hypophosphatemia, or XLH, a missing or broken gene in bones causes the hormone deluge. Apprehending the molecular accomplice may be easier than fixing the gene.

    In March, researchers, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Ultragenyx, completed the first part of a Phase III clinical trial in adults with XLH [Clinical Research at Yale] — the final test of a drug before federal approval. The scientists tested an antibody that latches on to extra FGF-23 before it can reach the kidneys. Structurally similar to the kidney proteins where FGF-23 docks, the antibody is “like a decoy in the blood,” says Lanske, who is not involved in the trial. Once connected, the duo is broken down by the body.

    Traditionally, treating XLH patients has been like trying to fill a bathtub without a plug. “The kidney is peeing out the phosphorus, and we’re pouring it in the mouth as fast as we can so bones mineralize,” says Suzanne Jan De Beur, a lead investigator of the clinical trial and director of endocrinology at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Success is variable, and debilitating side effects often arise from long-term treatment, she says. The antibody therapy should help restore the body’s ability to absorb phosphate.

    Unpublished initial results indicate that the antibody works. Of 68 people taking the drug in the trial, over 90 percent had blood phosphate levels reach and stay in the normal range after 24 weeks of treatment, Ultragenyx announced in April. People taking the antibody also reported less pain and stiffness than those not on the drug.

    Osteocalcin, sclerostin and LCN2 might also be involved in treating diseases someday, if results in animals apply to people.

    In the study recently published in Nature, Kousteni’s team found that boosting LCN2 levels in mice missing the LCN2 gene tamed their voracious feeding habits. Even in mice with working LCN2 genes, infusions of the hormone reduced food intake, improved blood sugar levels and increased insulin sensitivity.

    Researchers traced the hormone’s path from the skeleton to the hypothalamus — a brain structure that maintains blood sugar levels and body temperature and regulates other processes. Injecting LCN2 into mice’s brains suppressed appetite and decreased weight gain. Once the hormone crosses the blood-brain barrier and reaches the hypothalamus, it attaches to the surface of nerve cells that regulate appetite, the team proposed.

    Mice with defective LCN2 docking stations on their brain cells, however, overate and gained weight just like mice that couldn’t make the hormone in the first place. Injections of LCN2 didn’t curb eating or weight gain.

    (Two mouse studies by another research group published in 2010, however, found that LCN2 had no effect on appetite. Kousteni and colleagues say that inconsistency could have resulted from a difference in the types of mice that the two groups used. Additional experiments by Kousteni’s lab still found a link between LCN2 and appetite.)

    In a small group of people with type 2 diabetes, those who weighed more had less LCN2 in their blood, the researchers found. And a few people whose brains had defective LCN2 docking stations had higher blood levels of the hormone.

    If the hormone suppresses appetite in people, it could be a great obesity drug, Rosen says. It’s still too early, though, to make any definitive proclamations about LCN2 and the other hormones’ side hustles, let alone medical implications. “There’s just all sorts of things that we are uncovering that we’ve ignored,” Rosen says. But one thing is clear, he says: The era of bone as a silent bystander is over.

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
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