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  • richardmitnick 9:54 am on June 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Smithsonian, We May Live in a Massive Cosmic Void   

    From Smithsonian: “We May Live in a Massive Cosmic Void” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    June 13, 2017
    Jason Daley

    1
    A simulation of the large-scale structure of the universe (Millennium Simulation Project)

    If the universe were a block of Swiss cheese, the Milky Way would sit within one of the cheesy holes.

    Earth is pretty insignificant. Though once thought to occupy the hallowed center of our universe, researchers now know our planet is just one of billions upon billions out there. But it gets worse. A new study strengthens the notion that our home galaxy is breathtakingly remote in the universe. As Ethan Siegel reports for Forbes, we are likely floating within a cosmic void that spans roughly one billion light years across.

    The idea that we live in the “celestial boondocks” was first proposed in 2013 when University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer Amy Barger and her then-student Ryan Keenan found that the density of the nearby universe is lower than other parts of the universe. As Siegel explains, when examined on the grandest scale, the density of the universe—all the galaxies, gas clouds and other space stuff—is pretty uniform. But if you zoom in on smaller and small sections of space, it is organized more like cosmic Swiss cheese, with matter pulled into dense filaments full of galaxies. Between these filaments are large voids which are not completely empty, but are much less densly packed. The giant cheese-hole that we may live in is called the KBC Void, named for Keenan, Barger and astronomer Lennox Cowie.

    The new research, presented last week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society by Barger’s student Ben Hoscheit, strengthens the evidence that we live in a big old hole. Hoscheit tells Smithsonian.com that to test this cheesy idea, he looked at the tension between two measurements of something called the Hubble Constant, which describes the rate at which the universe is expanding.

    As a physical constant, the number should be same throughout the universe. But when astronomers measure it by looking at the movement of type 1A supernovas—or exploding stars—relatively close to Earth they get one number, known as a “local” measurement. Whereas when they measure the constant using the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a leftover from the Big Bang that pervades the universe, they get another result, known as the “cosmic” measurement.

    CMB per ESA/Planck

    ESA/Planck

    Hoscheit says that the study, which he is currently preparing for publication, suggests that living in a giant void resolves the difference between the local and cosmic measurement. “The constant is higher using the supernova method,” he says. “This is in accordance with how we would expect a void to effect the Hubble Constant. Gravity from higher density areas is pulling things out of the void at a faster rate than we would otherwise expect.”

    Siegal explains that if we were located into a more metropolitan area of the universe, say along one of the filaments, the apparent expansion of the universe might look slower since higher amounts of gravity would effect how quickly local objects move.

    This study was a kind of quick check to ensure the void concept made sense with what we already know. “We were asking if this void is consistent with other things we’ve measured,” he says. “Does it disagree with anything we can see? ” It turns out the Hubble Constant observations make sense in the context of a void. “The study tells us we should be taking this data at face value.”

    According to a press release, the researchers believe the void is spherical and seven times larger than any other void measured so far, more than 1 billion light years across. The KBC void is believed to be surrounded by a shell of galaxies that increases in thickness the farther out it stretches. Our galaxy is a few hundred million light years from the center of the void in a supercluster of galaxies called Laniakea.

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    This diagram covers nearly a billion light years of space. Don’t forget where we parked. Illustration by Daniel Pomarède, from the Vimeo video.

    Without taking some sort of cosmic selfie, taking these measurements is the only way for astronomers to confirm the presence and define the structure of the universe. And Hoscheit says his team is continuing to refine previous observations and to take more measurements.

    So far, the research community has not strongly disputed the idea of the void. “I suppose it’s been generally accepted, which is surprising in one sense,” says Holsheit. “But it doesn’t seem as if anyone is able to say it’s flat out crazy.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:40 pm on June 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , China Turns On the World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm, Smithsonian, Solar Technology   

    From Smithsonian: “China Turns On the World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm” 

    smithsonian
    smithsonian.com

    Jason Daley
    June 7, 2017

    Floating on a lake over a collapsed coal mine, the power station in Anhui province can produce 40 megawatts of energy.

    1
    The floating solar power station in Anhui province (Sungrow)

    Last week, workers switched on a solar energy plant capable of producing 40 megawatts of power, which floats on a manmade lake in China’s Anhui province near the city of Huainan, reports Sarah Zheng at the South China Morning Post. The array is the largest floating solar project in the world, though at the brisk pace China is building new renewable projects it’s unlikely to hold that title very long.

    Built by the company Sungrow Power Supply, the power plant will produce enough energy to power 15,000 homes, Zheng reports. While the company has not revealed the exact size of the operation, it produces twice as much energy as the previous holder of the largest-floating-solar-plant title, which is located in the same area and was launched by the company Xinyi Solar in 2016.

    Anhui province is a coal-rich region, and the Sungrow plant is located on a lake that was once the site of intensive mining. Heavy rains filled the area with water. As Zhen reports, the depth of the lake varies from 12 feet to 30 feet.

    So why build solar plants on top of lakes and reservoirs? Fiona Harvey at The Guardian explains that building on bodies of water, especially manmade lakes that are not ecologically sensitive, helps protect agricultural land and terrestrial ecosystems from being developed for energy use. The water also cools the electronics in the solar panels, helping them to work more efficiently, reports Alistair Boyle for The Telegraph. For similar reasons Britain built a 23,000-panel floating solar farm on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near Heathrow airport in 2016 to help power the Thames Water treatment plant.

    The Sungrow solar farm is just one tiny piece in China’s push towards renewable energy. According to Irina Slav at Business Insider, the country recently announced it would invest $361 billion in renewable power by 2020, and by 2022 could produce 320 gigawatts of wind and solar power and 340 gigawatts of hydropower. Zheng reports that currently renewables are responsible for 11 percent of China’s energy and may reach 20 percent by 2030.

    While the floating solar plant is the largest in the world, it pales in comparison to some of China’s non-floating solar projects. The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park on the Tibetan plateau hosts 4 million solar panels that produce 850 megawatts of energy. Even that will soon be eclipsed by a project in the Ningxia Autonomous Region, which will have 6 million solar panels and produce 2 gigawatts of power.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:46 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Blending aviation and birds to bolster climate change records, Heather Wilson, Smithsonian, This Biologist Defies Gravity (and Glass Ceilings) to Document the Effects of Climate Change,   

    From Smithsonian: Women in STEM – “This Biologist Defies Gravity (and Glass Ceilings) to Document the Effects of Climate Change” Heather Wilson 

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    Smithsonian.com

    THE AGE OF HUMANS
    Living in the Anthropocene

    February 16, 2017
    Kristen A. Schmitt

    As one of five American women in this role, Heather Wilson blends aviation and birds to bolster climate change records.

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    Wilson works to band waterfowl in the summer to help track the birds. Hunters that harvest banded birds will report their harvest to state wildlife officials. (Courtesy Heather Wilson)

    Flying low across the Alaskan threshold, Heather Wilson counts ducks. She swoops her Amphibious Cessna 206 plane over waterfowl breeding grounds, keeping her eyes peeled for their colorful plumage. Cruising at a constant 150’ and navigating around mountain ranges, along coastlines and across the Alaskan bush, Wilson is performing one of the most critical tasks necessary for monitoring waterfowl: aerial surveys.

    These days it’s hard not to notice the vast changes taking over Alaska. In December 2016, temperatures soared to record highs, causing lakes to shrink, sea ice to erode and shrubs instead of lichen to spread across the tundra. The winter warm-up has been wreaking havoc on the ecosystems that support key native species like caribou, walruses and polar bears. “All Alaskans are seeing and feeling it,” says Wilson.

    Unlike most Alaskans, though, Wilson has had a front row seat on this profound transformation. As a pilot-biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Bird Management (FWS-DMBM), Wilson has been documenting the effects of climate change on birds in this change-prone region for nine years. “We see more subtle changes, like the advance of species northward and into areas we’ve never seen before: moose on the northern coastal fringes, previously ‘southern-only’ bird species showing up in the Arctic,” she says.

    Being a pilot-biologist allows her to merge two longtime passions: aviation and birds. “The concept of flying the plane and being the biologist counting the animals out the window is not what most folks think of when they envision a pilot,” says Wilson, who is one of just five American women in this role. Wilson’s current position is field project leader in Region 7, which covers all of Alaska; her route includes the Arctic Coastal Plain, the Yukon Delta and the Alaskan Peninsula.

    Many of the surveys Wilson flies have been flown for decades. Having that wealth of historical data allows researchers to examine patterns that species and landscapes may be undergoing. For example, pilot-biologists discovered the wintering grounds of Spectacled eiders, an Arctic sea duck, after a swift decline based upon aerial survey data. Once scientists put satellite transmitters on a few nesting ducks , they were able to track own the entire population on several large polynyas, or areas of open water surrounded by ice, in the Bering Sea.

    3
    Wilson flies her Amphibious Cessna 206 over an icy Alaskan gorge. (Heather Wilson)

    These kinds of waterfowl aerial surveys have been an integral part of wildlife management since they were initiated in the 1930s. However, the surveys weren’t consistently flown until 1947, following the end of World War II. That’s when FWS was able to hire military-trained pilots who already had wildlife or conservation experience as the first pilot-biologists. Now, with over 50 years of historical data, the waterfowl surveys help scientists understand how much has changed across the national landscape.

    The state government also uses this data each year to determine hunting regulations and policies. Those regulations “are linked to the population status of each individual species,” says Julian Fischer, FWS-DMBM’s supervisory wildlife biologist for Region 7 and Wilson’s manager. Based upon the tallies in each “flyway,” which is the ring of states that make up a migratory path of birds, each state then sets the number of birds of each species that hunters are allowed to harvest annually.

    “It’s not just population information that we’re getting,” says Sarah Yates, a fellow pilot-biologist with FWS who befriended Wilson during a pilot training session in Maine years ago. “Because they are such longstanding surveys … you can get information about climate change and how that might be affecting the distribution of waterfowl species. It’s been huge in developing management programs for waterfowl.”

    Climate cues are crucial to annual bird survival. “Temperature, snow melt and green up” all help predict when it’s time to nest, says Wilson. Without them, the probability of increased mortality among nestlings is likely. Birds with the longest migration will most likely feel these effects most. “Birds are highly mobile so they can take advantage of changing resources more easily than many other animals,” she says, “but only to a certain extent.”

    This weather shift has even altered when waterfowl surveys are conducted, since breeding season now begins earlier due to the birds’ earlier arrival to the breeding grounds. “Those species that are flexible enough to adjust their timing of migration to best match the timing of the landscape are showing up to breeding grounds well ahead of historic schedules,” says Wilson.

    Fischer notes birds have adapted gradually and matched their breeding time to the changing climate. “Waterfowl typically initiate nest building as soon as their nesting habitat is clear of snow and ice,” he says, adding that this is also when plenty of food is available. “With an advance in nesting initiation date, it is reasonable to assume that the birds are responding to a changing climate.”

    Positive news for now—but Wilson warns that the real danger lies in the future. “Population increases could lead to other problems, like increased competition among species or ecological traps if climate change results in more erratic, less predictable weather and habitat effects,” she says.

    4
    Chris Dau, a retired FWS pilot-biologist, and Wilson wear the coast-guard style immersion suits as they prepare for a long water crossing during one of the last winter waterfowl surveys of the year. (Heather Wilson)

    Wilson is now taking the lead of the mid-winter survey of Brant geese to document the increase in the over-wintering population and the overall increase of birds on northern nesting sites in general. While geese seem to be faring well so far under the shift in weather, this is one of the first species to show a population responding to climate change through the increased number of geese overwintering in Alaska. “We know that many of the Brant overwintering in Alaska are coming from Arctic-breeding colonies, where warming temperatures have resulted in increased habitat availability,” says Wilson.

    For Wilson, being a pilot-biologist is “unbelievably satisfying.” But although she always had an interest in aviation and birds, she never realized the two could fit together until she met Russ Oates, a FWS-DMBM supervisor, while she was completing her PhD field work in Fairbanks, Alaska. “I always thought learning to fly was for someone who was rich or in the military,” says Wilson. Her conversations with Oates convinced her to try it out and, soon, she was hooked.

    Still, the path wasn’t easy. To become a pilot-biologist with the FWS Migratory Bird Program, candidates must have a Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences or natural resources; most also have a Master’s or PhD. (Wilson has all three.) Pilot-biologists must also have a commercial pilot’s certificate with instrument flight privileges, which entails a minimum of 500 hours of flight time.

    While she didn’t have flight experience before her move to Alaska for graduate school, Wilson had already obtained her pilot’s license and required flight hours by the time she met Oates, who then put her on any aerial survey he could, giving her a taste of what her future would become.

    Wilson’s path is similar to those of her fellow female pilot-biologists. Like Wilson, Kara Hilwig, a pilot-biologist for FWS’s Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska, didn’t have flight experience prior to her interest in the job. Instead, she was drawn to the idea of Alaska’s wildness and spent time building up her flight hours after over 20 years in field biology.

    It took her more than six years to gain enough flight experience to qualify for her current position. “This unique job becomes part of your personal identity,” says Hilwig. “You’re passionate about the biology, you’re passionate about the flying, you’re passionate about the learning.”

    Wilson says that for her, her time in the air is more than just work. “Beyond being a scientist, I want to be able to tell my kids that we faced climate change head-on,” she says. “That we were strong enough to see it for what it was, and we tried our best to understand it, and do something about it.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:11 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Gondwana, Mauritius a continent?, , Smithsonian   

    From Smithsonian: “Researchers Think They’ve Found a Mini Continent in the Indian Ocean” 

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    Smithsonian.com

    February 2, 2017
    Jason Daley

    1
    The beautiful Mauritius island may be hiding a chunk of continent. (Sapsiwai via iStock)

    About 200 million years ago, the supercontinent of Gondwana—essentially an an agglomeration of Africa, South America, India, Australia and Antarctica—began slowly ripping apart into the continents recognizable today. But a new study suggests that Gondwana spun out another continent that is now lost beneath the Indian Ocean.

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    Assemblage of continents, which constitute Gondwana. Image Credit: Griem (2007)

    As Alice Klein reports for New Scientist, researchers studying the earth’s crust found that parts of the Indian Ocean’s seafloor had slightly stronger gravitaitonal fields, suggesting that the crust might be thicker there.

    The island of Mauritius exhibited this extra oomph, which led Lewis Ashwal, a geologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and his colleagues to propose that the island was sitting atop a sunken chunk of continent.

    The researchers studied the geology of the island and rocks spewed out during periods of ancient volcanism. One particular mineral they were looking for are zircons, tough minerals that contains bits of uranium and thorium. The mineral can last billions of years and geologists can use these to acurately date rocks.

    The search paid off. The researchers recovered zircons as old as 3 billion years, Ashwal says in a press release. But the island rocks are no older than 9 million years old. The researchers argue that the old rock is evidence that the island is sitting on a much older crust that was once part of a continent. The zircons are remnants of this much older rock and were likely pushed up by volcanic activity. They published their results in the journal Nature Communications.

    According to Paul Hetzel at Seeker, researchers had previously discovered zircons on Mauritius’ beaches, but were unable to rule out the possibility that they were brought there by the ocean. The new finding confirms that the zircon comes from the island itself.

    Mauritia was likely a small continent, about a quarter the size of Madagascar, reports Klein. As the Indian plate and the Madagascar plate pulled apart, it stretched and broke up the small continent, spreading chunks of it across the Indian Ocean.

    3
    One of the 3-billion-year-old zircon crystals discovered on Mauritius (Wits University )

    “According to the new results, this break-up did not involve a simple splitting of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, but rather, a complex splintering took place with fragments of continental crust of variable sizes left adrift within the evolving Indian Ocean basin,” Ashwal says in the press release [phys.org].

    Klein reports that other islands in the Indian Ocean, including Cargados Carajos, Laccadive and the Chagos islands might also exist on top of fragments of the continent now dubbed Mauritia.

    Surprisingly, this may not be the only lost continent out there. In 2015, researchers at the University of Oslo found evidence that Iceland may sit on top of a sunken slice of crust. And in 2011, researchers found evidence that a micro-continent has existed off the coast of Scotland for about a million years.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on January 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , New Hubble Image Captures the Collision of Two Galaxies, Smithsonian   

    From Smithsonian: “New Hubble Image Captures the Collision of Two Galaxies” 

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    Smithsonian.com

    A beautiful look at a violent event

    1
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    January 12, 2017
    Danny Lewis

    More than a billion light years away from Earth, two galaxies are locked in a slow-motion collision, throwing countless stars out of whack and whirling about the void of deep space.

    This week, NASA shared a new album of images recently taken by the Hubble spacecraft—one of which captures this slow galactic collision, Christine Lunsford reports for Space.com. Known as IRAS 14348-1447, this whirling object appears to be just a glittery smudge of star stuff.

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    IRAS 14348-1447 http://inspirehep.net/record/1226780/plots

    “This doomed duo approached one another too closely in the past, gravity causing them to affect and tug at each other and slowly, destructively, merge into one,” NASA says in a statement.

    The two galaxies forming IRAS 14348-1447 are packed with gas, meaning that it has plenty of fuel to feed the massive emissions radiating from the event—enough to qualify it as an ultraluminous infrared galaxy, Brooks Hays reports for United Press International. In fact, nearly 95 percent of the energy emitted is in the far-IR range, Hays reports. The energy released by these gases also contributes to the object’s swirling appearance, as wisps of gas spiral out from the collision’s epicenter.

    “It is one of the most gas-rich examples known of an ultraluminous infrared galaxy, a class of cosmic objects that shine characteristically—and incredibly—brightly in the infrared part of the spectrum,” NASA says in a statement.

    While witnessing two galaxies collide in such great detail is a fascinating sight, it’s not a rarity in the cosmos. Galaxies collide all the time, with larger ones consuming smaller ones and incorporating new stars into their makeup. While galaxies are often destroyed in the process, these collisions can also fuel the creation of new stars, though that comes at a cost of depleting gas reserves, Matt Williams reports for Universe Today. In fact, this is the same fate our own Milky Way will face billions of years from now, when it eventually collides with the ever-nearing Andromeda Galaxy.

    NAOJ Milky Way merger with Andromeda
    Depiction of Milky Way merger with Andromeda. NAOJ.

    These collisions are dramatic, but it’s unlikely that individual stars are smashing together. Though galaxies may look solid from afar, stars, planets and other matter is so distantly distributed within them that they more often than not simply glide past each other, Williams reports. But even from this distance, the drama of watching two galaxies collide is undeniable.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:05 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: An Iceberg Larger Than Rhode Island Is Poised to Break From Antarctica, , , Smithsonian   

    From Smithsonian: “An Iceberg Larger Than Rhode Island Is Poised to Break From Antarctica” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    January 6, 2017
    Danny Lewis

    1
    A wide view of the rift in Larsen C as seen on November 10, 2016. The crack has since lengthened by about 12 miles. (John Sonntag/NASA)

    For years, scientists have watched as an enormous crack along Antarctica’s northernmost ice shelf has slowly grown wider and wider. But in the last few weeks, it suddenly grew by nearly 11 miles—and its break from the ice shelf could trigger a large-scale breakup of the frozen expanse.

    According to the United Kingdom-based Project MIDAS, which has spent years surveying the ice shelf, a 2,000-square-mile chunk of ice is hanging on by just a thread. If the crack continues to grow at its current rate, the ice shelf could collapse in just a matter of months, forming one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo.

    “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed,” Swansea University researcher and Project MIDAS leader Adrian Luckman tells Matt McGrath for the BBC. “[I]t’s so close to calving that I think it’s inevitable.”

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    A map showing the crack’s path and when it has made significant leaps forward. (Project MIDAS)

    Since 2011, the crack separating the ice from the rest of the shelf has grown by about 50 miles and widened by more than 1,000 feet, Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post. “When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area,” Project MIDAS writes in a statement. “This event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.”

    This is the third section of the Larsen ice shelf to face collapse in the last few decades. The first section, known as Larsen A, collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B suddenly followed suit in 2002. Since then, researchers have watched the growing crack along Larsen C with trepidation, Mooney reports. Now that the crack appears to be gaining ground with increasing speed, it could mean the ocean will soon gain an iceberg—or, rather, ice island—larger than Rhode Island.

    “I think the iceberg will calve soon,” Daniela Jansen, a researcher with Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute who works with Project MIDAS, tells Mooney. “The jumps of the rift tip occurred in shorter time intervals the longer the rift got. This is probably due to the longer ‘lever’ for the forces acting to advance the rift, such as the up and down of the tides or strong winds towards the sea. Whether it will be months or maybe next year, I don’t know.”

    While it’s impossible to say when Larsen C will fall into the ocean, it’s likely that maps of Antarctica may soon need revision.

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/antarctica-about-spawn-one-largest-icebergs-recorded-history-180961720/#GzS5XFuK2IoroVj4.99
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    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:33 pm on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Case Western Reserve University, Magneto-Optical Detector (MOD), , Smithsonian, This Device Could Revolutionize How Malaria Is Detected Around the World   

    From Smithsonian: “This Device Could Revolutionize How Malaria Is Detected Around the World” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    December 12, 2016
    Randy Rieland

    1
    The Magneto-Optical Detector (MOD) combines magnets and laser light to determine, in less than a minute, if a drop of blood contains malaria parasites.
    (Case Western Reserve University)

    It’s a medical breakthrough story that begins with a long line.

    Brian Grimberg was working at a clinic in Papua New Guinea, watching in frustration as the queue of people hoping to get tested for malaria stretched out the door. It took almost an hour to analyze each person’s blood. Clearly, they wouldn’t get to everyone.

    There had to be a better way, he thought.

    That led to conversations with Robert Brown, who, like Grimberg, is a researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Brown is a physics professor there, while Grimberg is an assistant professor of international health at Case Western’s School of Medicine, but they ended up collaborating on a research project that resulted in a device that could revolutionize how malaria is detected and treated around the world.

    “We tried a lot of ideas,” says Grimberg, “but the last one is both the cheapest and the most effective.”

    A few magnets and a laser

    What they and their team—including senior researcher Robert Deissler and mechanical designer Richard Bihary—invented is called a Magneto-Optical Detector (MOD), and it combines magnets and laser light to determine, in less than a minute, if a drop of blood contains malaria parasites.

    Grimberg knew that infected blood is more magnetic than healthy blood. As the parasites consume red blood cells, they leave behind a byproduct called hemozoin that contains iron particles. Could that, he wondered, be the key to helping scientists quickly and more accurately identify blood with malaria?

    So he started working with Brown, whose department has been researching magnetic fields for many years. That was back in 2009, and, as with much scientific research, they tested a number of approaches that didn’t pan out. Then, they discovered the missing component: laser light.

    Because of the iron in the parasites’ waste, the researchers could use magnets to manipulate the tiny crystals and rotate them. And when they were aligned a certain way, the blood absorbed a laser’s light, whereas the beam easily passed through a sample from a healthy person.

    The team continued to refine their invention and now have an instrument that’s not only much faster in detecting malaria than existing methods, but it’s also portable and very cheap—two crucial qualities when you’re working in remote villages. Each test costs only about a dollar, which is roughly 50 percent less than those relying on a microscope. The MOD itself, not much bigger than a shoebox, costs about $500 to make.

    “A long time ago, we came to the conclusion that if we create a device that could detect everything, but cost $100,000, it was basically useless,” Grimberg notes. “If you can’t move it around and go out and help people, nobody’s going to buy it. We wanted it to be great, but it also had to be realistic.”

    Still a killer

    While malaria is no longer a major public health threat in most developed countries, it remains a devastating disease in as many as 100 countries, with half the world’s population at risk. According to the World Health Organization, it’s responsible for more than 400,000 deaths a year, including many young children.

    Grimberg believes a big reason the disease remains so persistent is that the focus has been on eradicating mosquitoes that spread it, rather than on humans who have become infected. The pests aren’t born with the parasite. They simply transmit it from human carriers—many who don’t even know they’re sick—to other people.

    He points out that it has always been much easier to go after the mosquitoes by spraying pesticides over fields and swamps or inside houses, rather than identifying and treating all the human carriers. But the insects have largely adapted and now tend to stay outside sprayed houses, he says. To Grimberg, a more effective approach would be to test whole communities.

    “With the device we’ve developed we can, for the first time, go into villages and screen everybody and be able to tell people, ‘You have a little bit of malaria and we want to get you treated,” Grimberg says. “We’d be eliminating that reservoir of the disease, so you can have as many mosquitoes as you want and they wouldn’t be able to transmit malaria.”

    The MOD is already being tested in the field in Kenya and Peru, and beginning next month, it will be used to screen three entire villages in Kenya. All malaria carriers will be identified and treated, and the results will then be compared to similar villages where the device isn’t used.

    It’s hard to say when the device could be widely used to fight malaria. A big step was taken last spring when Hemex Health, an Oregon firm focused on global health issues, purchased the license for the technology. But there’s still much testing to be done, and Grimberg knows he will have to do a lot of demos in field clinics to convince health officials of its efficacy.

    “There’s always some resistance to a new approach,” he acknowledges. “But the speed of our device is really the key. If you want to eliminate malaria, you need to be able to find that last infected person. And that’s hard to do right now.”

    Their work on the MOD, however, has already earned notable public recognition. This fall, they received a Patents for Humanity Award from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and in November were honored at a ceremony in the White House. The team has applied for a patent for the device.

    But the two lead researchers take as much satisfaction in how well their long collaboration has worked. Grimberg points out that Brown’s knowledge and background with magnetic fields allowed them to explore a number of different ideas before they had one concrete enough to apply for a grant. And Brown says the MOD project has led to research into new applications of magnetic crystals in other diseases.

    “It’s been a wonderful story about basic research in a university and its ability to apply it to a lot of things,” he says. “What’s great is that we sit here working on basic things and from time to time, they can be applied to solving big problems in society. That’s a wonderful thing for us.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:32 pm on October 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Smithsonian, , Uranus May Have Been Hiding Two Moons   

    From Smithsonian: “Uranus May Have Been Hiding Two Moons” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    October 18, 2016
    Jason Daley

    1
    NASA

    2
    A recent Hubble Space Telescope view reveals Uranus surrounded by its four major rings and by 10 of its known satellites. The new moons would be between 2.5 and 8.6 miles (4 and 14 kilometres) in diameter, if they did exist

    In 1986, when the Voyager 2 probe flew past Uranus, it detected ten previously undiscovered moons orbiting the blue-green gas giant.

    NASA Voyager 2
    NASA Voyager 2

    Uranus’ moon total currently stands at 27, but if analysis by planetary scientists at the University of Idaho, Moscow, is correct, Voyager missed two moons during its historic fly-by, reports Ken Croswell at New Scientist.

    Reexamining the Voyager data, planetary scientists Rob Chancia and Matthew Hedman noticed that two of Uranus’ rings, Alpha and Beta, had a wavy pattern. Previously scientists observed similar ripples with the rings caused by two of the planet’s other moons, Cordelia and Ophelia. The gravity of these two moons and the couple other dozen orbs zipping around the planet, force the space dust and particles into narrow rings.

    Researchers believe these latest wobbly rings have a similar source: another two moons around Uranus. Their research will appear in the Astronomical Journal.

    “These moons are pretty tiny,” Chancia tells Croswell. In fact, if they exist they are between 2.5 and 8.5 miles across. The moons are so small that even if Voyager 2’s cameras did pick them up, they were probably just considered background noise, reports Charlotte England at The Independent. Even so, as Croswell points out, two of Saturn’s moons are even smaller.

    Based on the colors of Uranus’s other moons, the new satellites are probably also dark in color. “Not only are Uranus’s rings dark, so are most of the little satellites that are in that region,” Hedman tells Croswell.

    Confirming the moons would require using the Hubble Space Telescope to survey the area. In fact, in 2005, Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute discovered several rings and two new moons around Uranus, which were named Mab and Cupid, using Voyager data and Hubble images.

    “The new discoveries demonstrate that Uranus has a youthful and dynamic system of rings and moons,” Showalter said at the time. Showalter tells Croswell that he and his colleagues will be examining Hubble data looking at Uranus in the coming months, which may help confirm the new moons.

    If the moons don’t show up during that survey, the final option is waiting for a probe to visit the distant planets. While there are no firm plans to send an orbiter to explore the area, last year NASA asked the science community to think about the types of robotic orbiters needed to visit Neptune and Uranus—the only two planets in the solar system that have not been orbited by probes. If NASA does green light a mission, it likely won’t get off the ground until the late 2020s or early 2030s.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:37 pm on October 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Smithsonian,   

    From Smithsonian: “Predicting Chaos: New Sensors Sniff Out Volcanic Eruptions Before They Happen” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    October 13, 2016
    Laura Poppick

    1
    Mount Etna, Italy, erupts at night. (Alessandro Aiuppa, University of Palermo, Italy)

    Volcanoes have blindsided humans for millennia, leaving entire cities at the whim of their devastating eruptions. But compared to other forms of natural disaster, volcanoes actually offer a variety of quiet clues leading up to their destruction. Now, new developments in volcano monitoring systems allow scientists to sniff out, forecast and plan for eruptions with more precision than ever before.

    “We are now able to put really precise instruments on volcanoes to monitor the types of gases that are emitted, and that gives us a clue as to where magma is in the system,” says Marie Edmonds, a volcanologist at the University of Cambridge who has been working amongst fuming volcanoes for about 15 years. “We can see trends in the data relating to eruptions that are just about to happen.”

    Edmonds is part of an international group called the Deep Carbon Observatory that is working to place newly developed gas sensors on 15 of the 150 most active volcanoes on Earth by 2019, to improve their capacity to forecast different types of eruptions worldwide. Last week the Deep Carbon Observatory released an interactive visualization, supported in part by the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, that allows the public to watch visualizations of historic volcanic data evolve through time.

    The visualization also lets viewers follow along as new sensors are deployed. These sensors continuously measure carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and water vapor fuming out of volcanoes, and are placed within large boxes and buried underground with antennae on the surface. In recent years, advancements in electronics have made them more precise and affordable, allowing scientists to use them more prevalently around he world.

    Yet placing these sensors on top of active volcanoes isn’t without risk. Researchers must wear reflective suits to protect their skin from excess heat, and gas masks to protect their lungs from getting singed by corrosive gases—sometimes after hiking long distances through remote regions to reach a site. But Edmond says the potential good such work can do for populations at risk makes the more dangerous parts of the job worthwhile.

    “It’s brilliant to know that you are doing something to actually help people,” says Edmonds. “You do think about what you’re doing because it is sometimes dangerous, but I really do enjoy it.”

    2
    Volcanologist Tobias Fischer of the University of New Mexico hikes down the steep crater wall of the vigorously degassing Gareloi volcano in the Western Aleutian Islands to collect a volcanic gas sample. (Taryn Lopez, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

    In the past month, researchers from Edmonds’ team attached one of their sensors on a drone and measured emissions from a remote volcano in Papau New Guinea over a short period of time, demonstrating another recently-developed technique used to collect snapshots of volcanic activity. When collected over a range of different types of volcanoes, these snapshots help scientists better understand the complexities of the activities leading up to an eruption. (What drones can’t do, however, is take long-term measurements.)

    Gas sensors help forecast eruptions because, as magma rises up, the resulting release of pressure overhead uncorks gases dissolved within the magma. Carbon dioxide billows out relatively early on and, as magma slithers higher up, sulfur dioxide begins to fume out. Researchers use the ratio of these two gases to determine how close the magma is getting to the earth’s surface, and how imminent an eruption may be.

    As magma rises, it also pushes through rock in the crust and causes tiny earthquakes not usually felt by humans above, but detectable with sensitive seismic equipment. Edmonds’ team often pairs gas sensors with seismic stations and uses the data in tandem to study volcanoes

    Robin Matoza, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara who is not involved in Edmond’s research, agrees that technological advancements in recent years have drastically improved researchers’ ability to understand the inner workings of volcanoes and the behaviors leading up to eruptions. In places where his team once had just a few seismic stations, they can have now installed 10 or more due to the smaller size and increasing affordability of the technology. The ability to compute the collected data has also improved in recent years, Matoza says.

    “Now we are easily able to store years worth of seismic data just on a small flash drive,” says Matoza, who studies seismic signals released by volcanoes prior to eruptions. “So we can easily query that large data and learn more about the processes contained in it.”

    To supplement gas and seismic information on a broader scale, researchers use satellites to study eruptions from above. Volcanologists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage and Fairbanks collect this suite of gas, seismic and satellite data to on a regular basis, monitoring roughly 25 volcanoes across the state and offer early warnings to residents.

    For example, they released a series of warnings in the months leading up to the 2009 eruption of Mount Redbout, about 110 miles (180 km) southwest of Anchorage. They also work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to help detect aviation hazards during eruptions.

    Over time, the researchers agree that satellites will become increasingly useful in collecting data over large regions. But at the moment, satellites are less precise and not as reliable as the other tools, in part because they don’t collect data as rapidly and don’t function well during cloudy weather.

    “You can have a satellite pass over a volcano and it can be obscured by clouds,” says Matt Haney, a volcanologist at the Alaska Volcanic Observatory. “I imagine in the future there will be new satellites that are launched that will be even more powerful.”

    Despite the challenges of this work, Edmonds says it can be easier to forecast volcanic eruptions than some other hazards because of the array of warning signs preceding eruptions compared to certain earthquakes and other abrupt disasters. And while the researchers may not be able to forecast to the exact day or hour that an eruption will occur yet, rapidly advancing technology is moving them in that direction.

    “The more instruments and the more sensors just contribute to our toolbox,” says Edmonds. “We are one step closer.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:49 am on October 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian,   

    From Smithsonian: “How Earthquakes and Volcanoes Reveal the Beating Heart of the Planet” 

    smithsonian
    Smithsonian.com

    October 6, 2016
    Rachel E. Gross

    Your face looks fine. Trust me. But if you zoom in and take a time-lapse, you’ll see a landscape in motion: zits erupting, pore-craters forming, ridges of skin stretching apart and squashing together as you smile and frown. Similarly, the Earth outside your window might appear quiet. But that’s because you’re looking at a tiny slice in time and space. Expand your view and you’ll see plates shift, earthquakes ripple and volcanoes erupt along tectonic boundaries. The world snaps, crackles and tears asunder. Nothing stays the same.

    To illustrate these dynamic patterns, the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, hosted within the National Museum of Natural History, has created a time-lapse animation of the world’s earthquakes, eruptions and emissions since 1960. Drawing from the first compiled database of sulfur emissions dating to 1978, the animations show how the seemingly random activity of volcanoes and earthquakes form consistent global patterns over time. Understanding those patterns gives researchers insight into how these dramatic events are entwined with the inner workings of our planet.

    Earthquakes and volcanoes can conjure up images of widespread destruction. But for those who study Earth’s deepest reaches, like Elizabeth Cottrell, a research geologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and director of the Global Volcanism Program, volcanoes are also “windows to the interior.” Their activity and emissions provide a taste of what’s inside, helping researchers to untangle the composition and history of the planet’s core. That’s crucial, because we still don’t know exactly what the inside of our planet is made of. We need to understand the interior if we are to disentangle the global carbon cycle, the chemical flux that influences our planet’s past and future.

    We know a lot about carbon, the element that forms the chemical backbone of life, in our crust and oceans. We know far less about it in Earth’s core and mantle. It’s so far proved challenging to sample the Earth’s mantle, which extends up to 1,800 miles below the surface. This means that Earth’s interior plays a huge—and mysterious—role in the global carbon cycle. The interior contains perhaps 90 percent of our planet’s carbon, bound up in pure forms like graphite or diamonds. Gleaning the movements of this elusive deep-earth carbon has been called “one of the most vexing problems” in our quest to understand the global carbon cycle.

    Fortunately, we have volcanoes. As a planetary geologist, Cottrell thinks of these magma-makers as a “sample delivery system” that gives us a peek into the planet’s core. “Earthquakes and eruptions are the heartbeat of the planet,” she says. The emissions from these events, which have influenced global climate, are the planet’s respiration. (Worldwide, volcanoes release about 180 to 440 million tons of carbon dioxide.) By studying the chemistry of lava and the makeup of volcanic gases, Cottrell and others can get an idea of what lies within—like studying human burps to figure out what’s in your stomach.

    Volcanoes belch out about mostly water vapor in the form of steam, along with carbon dioxide and some sulfur (by contrast, humans breathe out about 16 percent oxygen, 4 percent CO2 and 79 percent nitrogen). Understanding the “normal” levels of these volcano emissions would help scientists determine what the baseline is—and thus, how drastically human activity is impacting it. Yet pinning down those emissions is a tricky business. Collecting volcanic gas is downright dangerous, requiring researchers to get up close and personal to hot, pressurized emissions. When it erupts from the mantle, molten lava is a searing 1000 to 1300 degrees Celsius.

    No wonder scientists would rather read gas signatures in the atmosphere using satellites from space. Unfortunately, that technique also has its problems. In the past three centuries, anthropogenic emissions from sources like factory farming and burning fossil fuels have drastically overtaken the emissions from volcanoes—meaning that volcanic CO2 gets lost in the background noise. As a workaround, scientists use sulfur, which is easier to measure from space, as a proxy for carbon. In the past decade, technological advancements have also made us possible to tease apart some of these emissions.

    “Global satellite monitoring of volcanoes will transform our understanding of gas fluxes from Earth’s interior to exterior in the coming decade,” says Cottrell, who has been working along with Michigan Tech researcher Simon Carn and data manager Ed Venzke to incorporate volcanic emissions into the Smithsonian database since 2012.

    In the visualization above, you can see earthquakes and volcanic eruptions not just as individual events, but as indicators of those regions of frenzied activity in Earth’s crust where plates push up against each other and are torn asunder. The key is timescale. By zooming out to the past 50 years, you can see that volcanoes aren’t merely catastrophic blips, but a steady pattern: the living heartbeat of a dynamic planet. “When we look on a long timescale, we see the constant pulse of the planet,” says Cottrell, who recommends watching the animation with the sound on to get the full effect. It is a “constant unrelenting beat punctuated by periods of high and low activity.”

    Zoom in again, and you can see how volcanoes link us all on a very personal level. Every time you breathe, you inhale volcanic gas, which rapidly mixes with the atmosphere and diffuses. By knowing when and where recent volcanic eruptions have occurred, you can even pinpoint the volcano that flavored your last inhalation. Now that’s intimate.

    See the full article here .

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