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  • richardmitnick 5:20 pm on January 20, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A huge project is underway to sequence the genome of every complex species on Earth", , , , , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation: “A huge project is underway to sequence the genome of every complex species on Earth” 

    From The Conversation

    January 18, 2022
    Jenny Graves
    Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Vice Chancellor’s Fellow,
    La Trobe University (AU)

    1
    Chromosomes consist of long double-helical arrays of the four base pairs whose sequence specifies genes. DNA molecules are capped at the end by telomeres. Shutterstock.

    The Earth Biogenome Project, a global consortium that aims to sequence the genomes of all complex life on earth (some 1.8 million described species) in ten years, is ramping up.

    The project’s origins, aims and progress are detailed in two multi-authored papers published [PNAS] today. Once complete, it will forever change the way biological research is done.

    Specifically, researchers will no longer be limited to a few “model species” and will be able to mine the DNA sequence database of any organism that shows interesting characteristics. This new information will help us understand how complex life evolved, how it functions, and how biodiversity can be protected.

    The project was first proposed [PNAS] in 2016, and I was privileged to speak at its launch in London in 2018. It is currently in the process of moving from its startup phase to full-scale production.

    The aim of phase one is to sequence one genome from every taxonomic family on earth, some 9,400 of them. By the end of 2022, one-third of these species should be done. Phase two will see the sequencing of a representative from all 180,000 genera, and phase three will mark the completion of all the species.

    The importance of weird species

    The grand aim of the Earth Biogenome Project is to sequence the genomes of all 1.8 million described species of complex life on Earth. This includes all plants, animals, fungi, and single-celled organisms with true nuclei (that is, all “eukaryotes”).

    While model organisms like mice, rock cress, fruit flies and nematodes have been tremendously important in our understanding of gene functions, it’s a huge advantage to be able to study other species that may work a bit differently.

    Many important biological principles came from studying obscure organisms. For instance, genes were famously discovered by Gregor Mendel in peas, and the rules that govern them were discovered in red bread mould.

    DNA was discovered first in salmon sperm, and our knowledge of some systems that keep it secure came from research on tardigrades. Chromosomes were first seen in mealworms and sex chromosomes in a beetle (sex chromosome action and evolution has also been explored in fish and platypus). And telomeres, which cap the ends of chromosomes, were discovered in pond scum.

    Answering biological questions and protecting biodiversity

    Comparing closely and distantly related species provides tremendous power to discover what genes do and how they are regulated. For instance, in another PNAS paper, coincidentally also published today, my University of Canberra (AU) colleagues and I discovered Australian dragon lizards regulate sex by the chromosome neighbourhood of a sex gene, rather than the DNA sequence itself.

    Scientists also use species comparisons to trace genes and regulatory systems back to their evolutionary origins, which can reveal astonishing conservation of gene function across nearly a billion years. For instance, the same genes are involved in retinal development in humans and in fruit fly photoreceptors. And the BRCA1 gene that is mutated in breast cancer is responsible for repairing DNA breaks in plants and animals.

    The genome of animals is also far more conserved than has been supposed. For instance, several colleagues and I recently demonstrated [The International Journal of Developmental Biology] that animal chromosomes are 684 million years old.

    It will be exciting, too, to explore the “dark matter” of the genome, and reveal how DNA sequences that don’t encode proteins can still play a role in genome function and evolution.

    Another important aim of the Earth Biogenome Project is conservation genomics. This field uses DNA sequencing to identify threatened species, which includes about 28% of the world’s complex organisms – helping us monitor their genetic health and advise on management.

    No longer an impossible task

    Until recently, sequencing large genomes took years and many millions of dollars. But there have been tremendous technical advances that now make it possible to sequence and assemble large genomes for a few thousand dollars. The entire Earth Biogenome Project will cost less in today’s dollars than the human genome project, which was worth about US$3 billion in total.

    In the past, researchers would have to identify the order of the four bases chemically on millions of tiny DNA fragments, then paste the entire sequence together again. Today they can register different bases based on their physical properties, or by binding each of the four bases to a different dye. New sequencing methods [The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) (US)] can scan long molecules of DNA that are tethered in tiny tubes, or squeezed through tiny holes in a membrane.

    Why sequence everything?

    But why not save time and money by sequencing just key representative species?

    Well, the whole point of the Earth Biogenome Project is to exploit the variation between species to make comparisons, and also to capture remarkable innovations in outliers.

    There is also the fear of missing out. For instance, if we sequence only 69,999 of the 70,000 species of nematode, we might miss the one that could divulge the secrets of how nematodes can cause diseases in animals and plants.

    There are currently 44 affiliated institutions in 22 countries working on the Earth Biogenome Project. There are also 49 affiliated projects, including enormous projects such as The California Conservation Genomics Project (US), The Bird 10,000 Genomes Project (CN) and The Darwin Tree of Life Project (UK), as well as many projects on particular groups such as bats and butterflies.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:24 am on January 17, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Why the volcanic eruption in Tonga was so violent and what to expect next", , , , The Conversation,   

    From The Conversation : “Why the volcanic eruption in Tonga was so violent and what to expect next” 

    From The Conversation

    January 15, 2022
    Shane Cronin
    Professor of Earth Sciences,
    The University of Auckland (NZ)

    The Kingdom of Tonga doesn’t often attract global attention, but a violent eruption of an underwater volcano on January 15 has spread shock waves, quite literally, around half the world.

    2
    This picture taken on December 21, 2021 shows white gaseous clouds rising from the Hunga Ha’apai eruption seen from the Patangata coastline near Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. Photo: Mary Lyn Fonua.

    The volcano is usually not much to look at. It consists of two small uninhabited islands, Hunga-Ha’apai and Hunga-Tonga, poking about 100m above sea level 65km north of Tonga’s capital Nuku‘alofa. But hiding below the waves is a massive volcano, around 1800m high and 20km wide.

    3
    A massive underwater volcano lies next to the Hunga-Ha’apai and Hunga-Tonga islands. Author provided.

    The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades. During events in 2009 and 2014/15 hot jets of magma and steam exploded through the waves. But these eruptions were small, dwarfed in scale by the January 2022 events.

    Our research into these earlier eruptions suggests this is one of the massive explosions the volcano is capable of producing roughly every thousand years.

    4
    A newly formed volcanic cone between the Tonga islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha‘apai erupts on 15 January 2015, releasing dense, particle-rich jets from the upper regions and surges of water-rich material around the base. The monthlong Hunga eruption created a new island that is now the subject of study and promises to reveal new aspects of the region’s explosive volcanic past. Credit: New Zealand High Commission, Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

    Why are the volcano’s eruptions so highly explosive, given that sea water should cool the magma down?

    If magma rises into sea water slowly, even at temperatures of about 1200℃, a thin film of steam forms between the magma and water. This provides a layer of insulation to allow the outer surface of the magma to cool.

    But this process doesn’t work when magma is blasted out of the ground full of volcanic gas. When magma enters the water rapidly, any steam layers are quickly disrupted, bringing hot magma in direct contact with cold water.

    Volcano researchers call this “fuel-coolant interaction” and it is akin to weapons-grade chemical explosions. Extremely violent blasts tear the magma apart. A chain reaction begins, with new magma fragments exposing fresh hot interior surfaces to water, and the explosions repeat, ultimately jetting out volcanic particles and causing blasts with supersonic speeds.

    Two scales of Hunga eruptions

    The 2014/15 eruption created a volcanic cone, joining the two old Hunga islands to create a combined island about 5km long. We visited in 2016, and discovered these historical eruptions were merely curtain raisers to the main event.

    Mapping the sea floor, we discovered a hidden “caldera” 150m below the waves.

    5
    A map of the seafloor shows the volcanic cones and massive caldera. Author provided.

    The caldera is a crater-like depression around 5km across. Small eruptions (such as in 2009 and 2014/15) occur mainly at the edge of the caldera, but very big ones come from the caldera itself. These big eruptions are so large the top of the erupting magma collapses inward, deepening the caldera.

    Looking at the chemistry of past eruptions, we now think the small eruptions represent the magma system slowly recharging itself to prepare for a big event.

    We found evidence of two huge past eruptions from the Hunga caldera in deposits on the old islands. We matched these chemically to volcanic ash deposits on the largest inhabited island of Tongatapu, 65km away, and then used radiocarbon dates to show that big caldera eruptions occur about ever 1000 years, with the last one at AD1100.

    With this knowledge, the eruption on January 15 seems to be right on schedule for a “big one”.

    What we can expect to happen now

    We’re still in the middle of this major eruptive sequence and many aspects remain unclear, partly because the island is currently obscured by ash clouds.

    The two earlier eruptions on December 20 2021 and January 13 2022 were of moderate size. They produced clouds of up to 17km elevation and added new land to the 2014/15 combined island.

    The latest eruption has stepped up the scale in terms of violence. The ash plume is already about 20km high. Most remarkably, it spread out almost concentrically over a distance of about 130km from the volcano, creating a plume with a 260km diameter, before it was distorted by the wind.

    6
    This demonstrates a huge explosive power – one that cannot be explained by magma-water interaction alone. It shows instead that large amounts of fresh, gas-charged magma have erupted from the caldera.

    The eruption also produced a tsunami throughout Tonga and neighbouring Fiji and Samoa. Shock waves traversed many thousands of kilometres, were seen from space, and recorded in New Zealand some 2000km away. Soon after the eruption started, the sky was blocked out on Tongatapu, with ash beginning to fall.

    All these signs suggest the large Hunga caldera has awoken. Tsunami are generated by coupled atmospheric and ocean shock waves during an explosions, but they are also readily caused by submarine landslides and caldera collapses.

    Our research into these earlier eruptions suggests this is one of the massive explosions the volcano is capable of producing roughly every thousand years.

    Why are the volcano’s eruptions so highly explosive, given that sea water should cool the magma down?

    If magma rises into sea water slowly, even at temperatures of about 1200℃, a thin film of steam forms between the magma and water. This provides a layer of insulation to allow the outer surface of the magma to cool.

    But this process doesn’t work when magma is blasted out of the ground full of volcanic gas. When magma enters the water rapidly, any steam layers are quickly disrupted, bringing hot magma in direct contact with cold water.

    Volcano researchers call this “fuel-coolant interaction” and it is akin to weapons-grade chemical explosions. Extremely violent blasts tear the magma apart. A chain reaction begins, with new magma fragments exposing fresh hot interior surfaces to water, and the explosions repeat, ultimately jetting out volcanic particles and causing blasts with supersonic speeds.

    It remains unclear if this is the climax of the eruption. It represents a major magma pressure release, which may settle the system.

    A warning, however, lies in geological deposits from the volcano’s previous eruptions. These complex sequences show each of the 1000-year major caldera eruption episodes involved many separate explosion events.

    Hence we could be in for several weeks or even years of major volcanic unrest from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano. For the sake of the people of Tonga I hope not.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:41 pm on December 26, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Somalayas are the biggest mountain range you will never see", 'Paleogeographic' reconstructions provide context to study the processes that shape our planet: the Earth’s engines of plate tectonics; volcanism; and mountain building., , , , Every geography schoolbook has them: maps that look like today’s Earth-but not quite-since all continents are merged into a single supercontinent., , , , , , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation : “The Somalayas are the biggest mountain range you will never see” 

    From The Conversation

    December 23, 2021
    Douwe van Hinsbergen, Chair in Global Tectonics and Paleogeography, Utrecht University [ Universiteit Utrecht] (NL).

    1
    Credit: The Conversation.

    “Every geography schoolbook has them: maps that look like today’s Earth-but not quite-since all continents are merged into a single supercontinent. Those maps were used to explain why dinosaurs in South America and Africa, or North America and Europe looked so alike.

    The Tectonic Plates of the world were mapped in 1996, Geological Survey (US).

    ‘Paleogeographic’ reconstructions like these provide context to study the processes that shape our planet: the Earth’s engines of plate tectonics, volcanism, and mountain building, and their interactions with the oceans, atmosphere, and sun that shape climate and life. In the past ten years software has been developed that means anyone who is interested can make these reconstructions.

    2
    200 million years ago, almost all the world’s land was in one supercontinent named Pangea. van Hinsbergen et al (2019), Author provided.

    But if paleogeographic maps were already in our primary school textbooks, then what are geologists like me trying to uncover? Just the details?

    To some extent: yes, working out the details of plate motions in the distant past may make all the difference. For instance, major ocean currents can suddenly change course when narrow oceanic corridors open or close, such as between the Americas or when water suddenly flooded through the Straits of Gibraltar and filled up the Mediterranean. And subtle differences in the timing or location of such corridors may support or falsify what we think caused past changes in climate.

    But the biggest problem for paleogeography is not the details: it’s that as much as 70% of the Earth’s crust that existed as “recently” as 150-200 million years ago, when dinosaurs were already roaming the planet, has been lost to subduction [Earth and Planetary Science Letters] into the Earth’s inner mantle. On paleogeographic maps, we have filled in those now-subducted areas, usually in broad brush strokes using the simplest possible scenarios without much detail. But there are relics of this subducted crust left in the geological record, and in my field of research we try to use these records to learn about Earth’s “lost” surface.

    Many mountains, most famously the Himalayas, are made of folded and stacked slices of rock that were scraped off the subducted plate. And the types of rock and the fossils and minerals they contain can tell us when and where these rocks formed. Geologists can then piece together how those continents and deep basins and volcanoes linked together in the distant past.

    Mountains 200 million years from now

    In recent years, when I explained how we make reconstructions of paleogeography from modern mountain ranges, I was sometimes asked if we could also predict future mountains. I always said ‘sure, but why would I? I’d have to wait a hundred million years to see if I’m right’.


    Mountains of the Future: applying experimental plate tectonics to understand our geological past.
    You could call it experimental plate tectonics. Predicting the Mountains of the Future requires developing ‘rules’ and ‘recipes’ of geological behaviour. Geologists at Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences drew up a series of such rules – the first in the world – to describe how mountain ranges will look in the future. Developing these rules allows using paleogeographic reconstruction to predict modern geological phenomena, such as ore deposits. Failure to predict correctly means the reconstructions and/or the rules and recipes contain errors, and drives targeted research and innovation.

    For more info visit the Faculty of Geosciences website:
    https://www.uu.nl/en/news/mountains-of-the-future-the-collision-of-india-somalia-and-madagascar
    Produced by: Dan Brinkhuis sciencemedia.nl
    Motion design: Sander Zwartepoorte pixelsinmotion.nl
    Sound design: Sander Houtman studioxander.nl
    Narrated by: Kirsten Lennox

    But then I realised that this could be an interesting thought experiment. Predicting the architecture of future mountain ranges would require formulating a set of “rules of mountain building”, which had not been done before. And we would have to predict how the geography we know well would transform into mountain belts, which would make us realise what the plates that were lost forever could have looked like, particularly the parts that subducted without leaving a record. And would we produce mountain belts that look much like the ones we have?

    So we did. I formulated the rules by comparing which features are commonly found in mountain belts. My then-MSc student Thomas Schouten used the rules to predict the geological architecture of a mountain belt that will form in the next 200 million years [American Journal of Science], if Somalia, as expected, breaks off from Africa and collides with India.

    3
    Indian Ocean tectonic plates today. Douwe van Hinsbergen, Author provided.

    The resulting mountain range, which we called the “Somalaya mountains”, might be the Himalayas of their day. And seeing such similarities between the Somalaya and known mountains today can us with provide possible solutions we never thought of for paleogeographic evolution.

    4
    200 million years from now Somalia and India will have collided, forming a large mountain range. Douwe van Hinsbergen, Author provided.

    For instance, according to our research, a mountain belt may form in the bay between Madagascar and Africa, and it would be strongly curved much like the Carpathians of Eastern Europe or the Banda islands of Indonesia and Timor. And northwest India will first get deeply buried 50 km or so below Somalia, but then Somalia will rotate and northwest India will re-emerge – this is a geological history that looks much like western Norway around 400 million years ago.

    Thought experiments like our look at the Somalayas help us to realise what we overlook when reconstructing the history of the Earth’s plates and surface. The better those reconstructions, the better we will predict Earth’s history and behaviour, its resources, and the effects of using them.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:53 am on November 12, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Weird weather-Metal rain and super-high temperatures on an ultra-hot exoplanet", , , , , , Liquid iron might literally be raining down from its skies., The Conversation, , WASP-76b - ultra-hot world   

    From The University of Toronto (CA) via The Conversation : “Weird weather-Metal rain and super-high temperatures on an ultra-hot exoplanet” 

    From The University of Toronto (CA)

    via

    The Conversation

    November 9, 2021

    Emily Deibert, The University of Toronto (CA)

    1
    An artist’s impression of the exoplanet WASP-76b, which is hot enough to vaporize metals. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ The European Southern Observatory [Observatoire européen austral][Europäische Südsternwarte](EU)(CL).

    Ultra-hot Jupiters — named as such because of their physical similarities to the planet Jupiter — are exoplanets that orbit stars other than the sun with temperatures so high that the molecules in their atmospheres are completely torn apart. They are among the most extreme environments in our galaxy.

    They also whip around their parent stars in orbits that only last a few days, and astronomers still aren’t sure how it’s possible for them to form [The Astrophysical Journal Letters].

    While these harsh conditions might sound like they’re as extreme as it gets, astronomers are starting to realize they may just be the tip of the (very hot) iceberg. In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, my colleagues and I discovered that one of these exotic worlds in particular is even more extreme than we’d ever thought.

    Ultra-hot worlds

    Discovered in 2016 [Astronomy & Astrophysics], WASP-76b is perhaps the most well-known of these ultra-hot worlds. At double the size of our own planet Jupiter, WASP-76b has day-side temperatures reaching a whopping 2,400 C, and takes less than two days to orbit its parent star. Its claim to fame, however, is a 2020 study suggesting that liquid iron might literally be raining down from its skies.

    More recent research, yet to be peer-reviewed, has called this result into question. But there’s no doubt that the conditions on WASP-76b are totally unlike anything here on Earth. WASP-76b can therefore offer us a window into the most extreme physical and chemical processes in our galaxy, and studying its harsh alien conditions can help us place our own solar system into context.

    Atmospheric knowledge

    Unfortunately, studying exoplanets — even massive ones like WASP-76b — is often easier said than done. The 4,500 exoplanets already discovered [Caltech IPAC-Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (US)] are incredibly far away from us, and their parent stars are so bright that light from the exoplanets themselves gets completely washed out.

    Rather than looking at the exoplanets directly, we often have to find ways to infer their presence instead. These indirect methods have actually been responsible for most of the exoplanets we’ve discovered. As a bonus, we can use these methods to peer into the exoplanets’ atmospheres as well.

    This is the idea behind transit spectroscopy. When an exoplanet passes in front of, or transits, its parent star, the light from the star gets filtered through the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Different atmospheric gases leave unique chemical imprints — like fingerprints — on the starlight, and by studying these fingerprints, we’re able to learn which gases are present. This can help us learn more about what conditions on the exoplanet are actually like.

    In theory, you can do this for any exoplanet with an atmosphere, but it’s easiest with atmospheres that are hot and puffed-up. Large, extended atmospheres leave stronger chemical imprints on their starlight, which makes them much easier for us to observe.

    This is precisely why our team chose WASP-76b as one of the first exoplanets to be observed by our new ExoGemS (Exoplanets with Gemini Spectroscopy) survey. Led by Jake Turner, Ray Jayawardhana and Andrew Ridden-Harper at Cornell University (US), the goal of the survey is to glimpse into the atmospheres of more than 40 exoplanets using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii.

    National Science Foundation(US) NOIRLab’s Gemini North Frederick C Gillett telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory Hawai’i (US) Altitude 4,213 m (13,822 ft)

    Extreme atmospheres

    In this particular study, we observed WASP-76b for a period of four hours as it transited in front of its parent star. We were searching for the chemical fingerprints of metals in its atmosphere, because at these extreme temperatures, metals will actually vaporize into gas.

    WASP-76b had already been observed many times in the past, but our observations from the Gemini North telescope reached redder wavelengths of light than previously published results. This meant that we could search for chemical fingerprints that previous studies didn’t have access to, shedding a much broader light on the exotic composition of this extreme world.

    What immediately stood out to us in our data was a series of three very strong absorption features at infrared wavelengths of light. We recognized these as the chemical fingerprint of ionized calcium — calcium atoms that have lost an electron — and the signal was so strong that we could actually see it moving around as the exoplanet orbited its parent star.


    A ‘fly to’ WASP-76, the star around which WASP-76b orbits.
    A video by the European Southern Observatory showing the ultra-hot giant exoplanet WASP-76b.

    Finding calcium in WASP-76b’s atmosphere wasn’t particularly surprising — a different set of calcium signals had already been detected earlier this year [Astronomy & Astrophysics]. What did surprise us was just how much ionized calcium we were seeing — much more than any of our theoretical models predicted we would.

    So what’s going on? One possibility is that WASP-76b’s atmosphere is even hotter than the 2,400 C we’d previously thought. These extreme temperatures would strip electrons off of regular calcium atoms and the hotter the temperature, the more frequently this is going to occur.

    Another possibility is that powerful winds are unearthing ionized calcium atoms from the exoplanet’s depths. A recent study actually suggested that WASP-76b may have winds as fast as 22 kilometres per second [Astronomy & Astrophysics]. For reference, the fastest winds ever measured on the Earth had a speed of less than one kilometre per second.

    In a fortunate coincidence, another team of astronomers used observations from the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain to detect this same ionized calcium signal in infrared light.

    Calar Alto Astronomical Observatory 3.5 meter Telescope, located in Almería province in Spain on Calar Alto, a 2,168-meter-high (7,113 ft) mountain in Sierra de Los Filabres(ES)

    Like us, their data showed more ionized calcium than expected. There’s clearly much more going on in WASP-76b’s atmosphere than we’d thought [Astronomy & Astrophysics].

    Weird, wild atmosphere

    WASP-76b has been observed by just about every major telescope out there, from the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii to the Very Large Telescope in Chile all the way up to the Hubble Space Telescope in outer space.

    European Southern Observatory(EU) , Very Large Telescope at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ) •KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ) •MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and •YEPUN (UT4; Venus – as evening star). Elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo.

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration(US)/European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne] [Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU) Hubble Space Telescope

    To fully piece together the puzzle of what’s going on its atmosphere, we’ll need to wait for observations from the powerful new James Webb Space Telescope set to launch in December 2021.

    National Aeronautics Space Agency(USA)/European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/ Canadian Space Agency [Agence Spatiale Canadienne](CA) Webb Infrared Space Telescope(US) James Webb Space Telescope annotated. Scheduled for launch in October 2021 delayed to December 2021.

    In the meantime, our ExoGemS survey will allow us to continue investigating the atmospheres of dozens of exoplanets — many of which have never been characterised — from right here on Earth. There’s no doubt that WASP-76b’s weird, wild atmosphere is just the beginning of what we’re going to uncover.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

    The The University of Toronto (CA) is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, located on the grounds that surround Queen’s Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King’s College, the oldest university in the province of Ontario.

    Originally controlled by the Church of England, the university assumed its present name in 1850 upon becoming a secular institution.

    As a collegiate university, it comprises eleven colleges each with substantial autonomy on financial and institutional affairs and significant differences in character and history. The university also operates two satellite campuses located in Scarborough and Mississauga.

    University of Toronto has evolved into Canada’s leading institution of learning, discovery and knowledge creation. We are proud to be one of the world’s top research-intensive universities, driven to invent and innovate.

    Our students have the opportunity to learn from and work with preeminent thought leaders through our multidisciplinary network of teaching and research faculty, alumni and partners.

    The ideas, innovations and actions of more than 560,000 graduates continue to have a positive impact on the world.

    Academically, the University of Toronto is noted for movements and curricula in literary criticism and communication theory, known collectively as the Toronto School.

    The university was the birthplace of insulin and stem cell research, and was the site of the first electron microscope in North America; the identification of the first black hole Cygnus X-1; multi-touch technology, and the development of the theory of NP-completeness.

    The university was one of several universities involved in early research of deep learning. It receives the most annual scientific research funding of any Canadian university and is one of two members of the Association of American Universities (US) outside the United States, the other being McGill(CA).

    The Varsity Blues are the athletic teams that represent the university in intercollegiate league matches, with ties to gridiron football, rowing and ice hockey. The earliest recorded instance of gridiron football occurred at University of Toronto’s University College in November 1861.

    The university’s Hart House is an early example of the North American student centre, simultaneously serving cultural, intellectual, and recreational interests within its large Gothic-revival complex.

    The University of Toronto has educated three Governors General of Canada, four Prime Ministers of Canada, three foreign leaders, and fourteen Justices of the Supreme Court. As of March 2019, ten Nobel laureates, five Turing Award winners, 94 Rhodes Scholars, and one Fields Medalist have been affiliated with the university.

    Early history

    The founding of a colonial college had long been the desire of John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and founder of York, the colonial capital. As an University of Oxford (UK)-educated military commander who had fought in the American Revolutionary War, Simcoe believed a college was needed to counter the spread of republicanism from the United States. The Upper Canada Executive Committee recommended in 1798 that a college be established in York.

    On March 15, 1827, a royal charter was formally issued by King George IV, proclaiming “from this time one College, with the style and privileges of a University … for the education of youth in the principles of the Christian Religion, and for their instruction in the various branches of Science and Literature … to continue for ever, to be called King’s College.” The granting of the charter was largely the result of intense lobbying by John Strachan, the influential Anglican Bishop of Toronto who took office as the college’s first president. The original three-storey Greek Revival school building was built on the present site of Queen’s Park.

    Under Strachan’s stewardship, King’s College was a religious institution closely aligned with the Church of England and the British colonial elite, known as the Family Compact. Reformist politicians opposed the clergy’s control over colonial institutions and fought to have the college secularized. In 1849, after a lengthy and heated debate, the newly elected responsible government of the Province of Canada voted to rename King’s College as the University of Toronto and severed the school’s ties with the church. Having anticipated this decision, the enraged Strachan had resigned a year earlier to open Trinity College as a private Anglican seminary. University College was created as the nondenominational teaching branch of the University of Toronto. During the American Civil War the threat of Union blockade on British North America prompted the creation of the University Rifle Corps which saw battle in resisting the Fenian raids on the Niagara border in 1866. The Corps was part of the Reserve Militia lead by Professor Henry Croft.

    Established in 1878, the School of Practical Science was the precursor to the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering which has been nicknamed Skule since its earliest days. While the Faculty of Medicine opened in 1843 medical teaching was conducted by proprietary schools from 1853 until 1887 when the faculty absorbed the Toronto School of Medicine. Meanwhile the university continued to set examinations and confer medical degrees. The university opened the Faculty of Law in 1887, followed by the Faculty of Dentistry in 1888 when the Royal College of Dental Surgeons became an affiliate. Women were first admitted to the university in 1884.

    A devastating fire in 1890 gutted the interior of University College and destroyed 33,000 volumes from the library but the university restored the building and replenished its library within two years. Over the next two decades a collegiate system took shape as the university arranged federation with several ecclesiastical colleges including Strachan’s Trinity College in 1904. The university operated the Royal Conservatory of Music from 1896 to 1991 and the Royal Ontario Museum from 1912 to 1968; both still retain close ties with the university as independent institutions. The University of Toronto Press was founded in 1901 as Canada’s first academic publishing house. The Faculty of Forestry founded in 1907 with Bernhard Fernow as dean was Canada’s first university faculty devoted to forest science. In 1910, the Faculty of Education opened its laboratory school, the University of Toronto Schools.

    World wars and post-war years

    The First and Second World Wars curtailed some university activities as undergraduate and graduate men eagerly enlisted. Intercollegiate athletic competitions and the Hart House Debates were suspended although exhibition and interfaculty games were still held. The David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill opened in 1935 followed by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies in 1949. The university opened satellite campuses in Scarborough in 1964 and in Mississauga in 1967. The university’s former affiliated schools at the Ontario Agricultural College and Glendon Hall became fully independent of the University of Toronto and became part of University of Guelph (CA) in 1964 and York University (CA) in 1965 respectively. Beginning in the 1980s reductions in government funding prompted more rigorous fundraising efforts.

    Since 2000

    In 2000 Kin-Yip Chun was reinstated as a professor of the university after he launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against the university alleging racial discrimination. In 2017 a human rights application was filed against the University by one of its students for allegedly delaying the investigation of sexual assault and being dismissive of their concerns. In 2018 the university cleared one of its professors of allegations of discrimination and antisemitism in an internal investigation after a complaint was filed by one of its students.

    The University of Toronto was the first Canadian university to amass a financial endowment greater than c. $1 billion in 2007. On September 24, 2020 the university announced a $250 million gift to the Faculty of Medicine from businessman and philanthropist James C. Temerty- the largest single philanthropic donation in Canadian history. This broke the previous record for the school set in 2019 when Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman jointly donated $100 million for the creation of a 750,000-square foot innovation and artificial intelligence centre.

    Research

    Since 1926 the University of Toronto has been a member of the Association of American Universities (US) a consortium of the leading North American research universities. The university manages by far the largest annual research budget of any university in Canada with sponsored direct-cost expenditures of $878 million in 2010. In 2018 the University of Toronto was named the top research university in Canada by Research Infosource with a sponsored research income (external sources of funding) of $1,147.584 million in 2017. In the same year the university’s faculty averaged a sponsored research income of $428,200 while graduate students averaged a sponsored research income of $63,700. The federal government was the largest source of funding with grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council amounting to about one-third of the research budget. About eight percent of research funding came from corporations- mostly in the healthcare industry.

    The first practical electron microscope was built by the physics department in 1938. During World War II the university developed the G-suit- a life-saving garment worn by Allied fighter plane pilots later adopted for use by astronauts.Development of the infrared chemiluminescence technique improved analyses of energy behaviours in chemical reactions. In 1963 the asteroid 2104 Toronto was discovered in the David Dunlap Observatory (CA) in Richmond Hill and is named after the university. In 1972 studies on Cygnus X-1 led to the publication of the first observational evidence proving the existence of black holes. Toronto astronomers have also discovered the Uranian moons of Caliban and Sycorax; the dwarf galaxies of Andromeda I, II and III; and the supernova SN 1987A. A pioneer in computing technology the university designed and built UTEC- one of the world’s first operational computers- and later purchased Ferut- the second commercial computer after UNIVAC I. Multi-touch technology was developed at Toronto with applications ranging from handheld devices to collaboration walls. The AeroVelo Atlas which won the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition in 2013 was developed by the university’s team of students and graduates and was tested in Vaughan.

    The discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921 is considered among the most significant events in the history of medicine. The stem cell was discovered at the university in 1963 forming the basis for bone marrow transplantation and all subsequent research on adult and embryonic stem cells. This was the first of many findings at Toronto relating to stem cells including the identification of pancreatic and retinal stem cells. The cancer stem cell was first identified in 1997 by Toronto researchers who have since found stem cell associations in leukemia; brain tumors; and colorectal cancer. Medical inventions developed at Toronto include the glycaemic index; the infant cereal Pablum; the use of protective hypothermia in open heart surgery; and the first artificial cardiac pacemaker. The first successful single-lung transplant was performed at Toronto in 1981 followed by the first nerve transplant in 1988; and the first double-lung transplant in 1989. Researchers identified the maturation promoting factor that regulates cell division and discovered the T-cell receptor which triggers responses of the immune system. The university is credited with isolating the genes that cause Fanconi anemia; cystic fibrosis; and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease among numerous other diseases. Between 1914 and 1972 the university operated the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories- now part of the pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi-Aventis. Among the research conducted at the laboratory was the development of gel electrophoresis.

    The University of Toronto is the primary research presence that supports one of the world’s largest concentrations of biotechnology firms. More than 5,000 principal investigators reside within 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the university grounds in Toronto’s Discovery District conducting $1 billion of medical research annually. MaRS Discovery District is a research park that serves commercial enterprises and the university’s technology transfer ventures. In 2008, the university disclosed 159 inventions and had 114 active start-up companies. Its SciNet Consortium operates the most powerful supercomputer in Canada.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:18 pm on November 1, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A small telescope past Saturn could solve some mysteries of the universe better than giant telescopes near Earth", , , , , , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation : “A small telescope past Saturn could solve some mysteries of the universe better than giant telescopes near Earth” 

    From The Conversation

    11.1.21
    Michael Zemcov

    “Dozens of space-based telescopes operate near Earth and provide incredible images of the universe. But imagine a telescope far away in the outer solar system, 10 or even 100 times farther from the Sun than Earth. The ability to look back at our solar system or peer into the darkness of the distant cosmos would make this a uniquely powerful scientific tool.

    I’m an astrophysicist who studies the formation of structure in the universe. Since the 1960s, scientists like me have been considering the important scientific questions we might be able to answer with a telescope placed in the outer solar system.

    So what would such a mission look like? And what science could be done?

    1
    Where a telescope is located matters nearly as much as its power. In many cases, the farther from the Sun, the better. Beinahegut/WikimediaCommons.

    A tiny telescope far from home

    The scientific strength of a telescope far from Earth would come primarily from its location, not its size. Plans for a telescope in the outer solar system would put it somewhere beyond the orbit of Saturn, roughly a billion or more miles from Earth.

    We’d need only send a very small telescope – with a lens roughly the size of a small plate – to achieve some truly unique astrophysical insights. Such a telescope could be built to weigh less than 20 pounds (9 kilograms) and could be piggybacked on virtually any mission to Saturn or beyond.

    Though small and simple compared with telescopes like Hubble or James Webb, such an instrument operating away from the bright light of the Sun could make measurements that are difficult or outright impossible from a vantage point near the Earth.

    2
    The Sun has a disc of dust and gas surrounding it, much like the pinkish haze seen in this image and graphical representation of a nearby red dwarf star and its dust cloud. Credit: J. Debes/The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (US)/The European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU).

    Outside looking in

    Unfortunately for astronomers, getting a selfie of the solar system is a challenge. But being able to see the solar system from an outside vantage point would reveal a lot of information, in particular about the shape, distribution and composition of the dust cloud that surrounds the Sun.

    Imagine a street lamp on a foggy evening – by standing far away from the lamp, the swirling mists are visible in a way that someone standing under the streetlight could never see.

    For years astrophysicists have been able to take images of and study the dust discs in solar systems around other stars in the Milky Way. But these stars are very far away, and there are limits to what astronomers can learn about them. Using observations looking back toward the Sun, astronomers could compare the shape, features and composition of these distant dust clouds with detailed data on Earth’s own solar system. This data would fill gaps in knowledge about solar dust clouds and make it possible to understand the history of production, migration and destruction of dust in other solar systems that there is no hope of traveling to in person.

    Deep darkness of space

    Another benefit of placing a telescope far from the Sun is the lack of reflected light. The disc of dust in the plane of the planets reflects the Sun’s light back at Earth. This creates a haze that is between 100 and 1,000 times brighter than light from other galaxies and obscures views of the cosmos from near Earth. Sending a telescope outside of this dust cloud would place it in a much darker region of space making it easier to measure the light coming from outside the solar system.

    Once there, the telescope could measure the brightness of the ambient light of the universe over a wide range of wavelengths. This could provide insights into how matter condensed into the first stars and galaxies. It would also enable researchers to test models of the universe by comparing the predicted sum of light from all galaxies with a precise measurement. Discrepancies could point to problems with models of structure formation in the universe or perhaps to exotic new physics.

    Into the unknown

    Finally, increasing a telescope’s distance from the Sun would also allow astronomers to do unique science that takes advantage of an effect called gravitational lensing, in which a massive object distorts the path light takes as it moves past an object.

    Gravitational Lensing Gravitational Lensing National Aeronautics Space Agency (US) and European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU).

    One use of gravitational lensing is to search for and weigh rogue planets – planets that roam interstellar space after being ejected from their home solar systems. Since rogue planets don’t emit light on their own, astrophysicists can look for their effect on the light from background stars. To differentiate between the distance of the lensing object and its mass requires observations from a second location far from Earth.

    In 2011, scientists used a camera on the EPOXI mission to the asteroid belt to discover and weigh a Neptune-sized object floating free among stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Only a few rogue planets have been found, but astronomers suspect they are very common and could hold clues to the formation of solar systems and prevalence of planets around stars.

    But perhaps the most interesting use for a telescope in the outer solar system would be the potential to use the gravitational field of the Sun itself as a giant lens. This kind of measurement may allow astrophysicists to actually map planets in other star systems. Perhaps one day we will be able to name continents on an Earth-like planet around a distant star.

    Coming soon?

    Since Pioneer 10 became the first human-made object to cross Jupiter’s orbit in 1973, there have been only a handful of astrophysical studies done from beyond the orbit of Earth.

    Missions to the outer solar system are rare, but many teams of scientists are doing studies to show how an extrasolar telescope project would work and what could be learned from one.

    Every 10 years or so, leaders in the astrophysics and astronomy fields gather to set goals for the following decade. That plan for the 2020s is scheduled to be released on Nov. 4, 2021. In it, I expect to see discussions about the next telescope that could revolutionize astronomy. Taking a telescope to the outer solar system, while ambitious, is well within the technological ability of NASA or other space agencies. I hope that one day soon a tiny telescope out on a lonely mission in dark reaches of the solar system will provide us incredible insights into the universe.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:50 am on October 12, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Electron-Ion Collider- new accelerator could solve the mystery of how matter holds together", , , The Conversation,   

    From The Conversation : “The Electron-Ion Collider- new accelerator could solve the mystery of how matter holds together” 

    From The Conversation

    October 11, 2021
    Daria Sokhan

    1
    DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (US) campus. Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

    When the Nobel Prize-winning US physicist Robert Hofstadter and his team fired highly energetic electrons at a small vial of hydrogen at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in 1956, they opened the door to a new era of physics. Until then, it was thought that protons and neutrons, which make up an atom’s nucleus, were the most fundamental particles in nature. They were considered to be “dots” in space, lacking physical dimensions. Now it suddenly became clear that these particles were not fundamental at all, and had a size and complex internal structure as well.

    What Hofstadter and his team saw was a small deviation in how electrons “scattered”, or bounced, when hitting the hydrogen. This suggested there was more to a nucleus than the dot-like protons and neutrons they had imagined. The experiments that followed around the world at accelerators – machines that propel particles to very high energies – heralded a paradigm shift in our understanding of matter.

    Yet there is a lot we still don’t know about the atomic nucleus – as well as the “strong force”, one of four fundamental forces of nature, that holds it together. Now a brand-new accelerator, the Electron-Ion Collider, to be built within the decade at the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (US), with the help of 1,300 scientists from around the world, could help take our understanding of the nucleus to a new level.

    Strong but strange force

    After the revelations of the 1950s, it soon became clear that particles called quarks and gluons are the fundamental building blocks of matter. They are the constituents of hadrons, which is the collective name for protons and other particles. Sometimes people imagine that these kinds of particles fit together like Lego, with quarks in a certain configuration making up protons, and then protons and neutrons coupling up to create a nucleus, and the nucleus attracting electrons to build an atom. But quarks and gluons are anything but static building blocks.

    A theory called quantum chromodynamics describes how the strong force works between quarks, mediated by gluons, which are force carriers. Yet it cannot help us to analytically calculate the proton’s properties. This isn’t some fault of our theorists or computers — the equations themselves are simply not solvable.

    This is why the experimental study of the proton and other hadrons is so crucial: to understand the proton and the force that binds it, one must study it from every angle. For this, the accelerator is our most powerful tool.

    Yet when you look at the proton with a collider (a type of accelerator which uses two beams), what we see depends on how deep — and with what — we look: sometimes it appears as three constituent quarks, at other times as an ocean of gluons, or a teeming sea of pairs of quarks and their antiparticles (antiparticles are near identical to particles, but have the opposite charge or other quantum properties).

    2
    How an electron colliding with a charged atom can reveal its nuclear structure. Brookhaven National Lab/Flickr, CC BY-NC.

    So while our understanding of matter at this tiniest of scales has made great progress in the past 60 years, many mysteries remain which the tools of today cannot fully address. What is the nature of the confinement of quarks within a hadron? How does the mass of the proton arise from the almost massless quarks, 1,000 times lighter?

    To answer such questions, we need a microscope that can image the structure of the proton and nucleus across the widest range of magnifications in exquisite detail, and build 3D images of their structure and dynamics. That’s exactly what the new collider will do.

    Experimental set up

    The Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) will use a very intense beam of electrons as its probe, with which it will be possible to slice the proton or nucleus open and look at the structure inside it. It will do that by colliding a beam of electrons with a beam of protons or ions (charged atoms) and look at how the electrons scatter. The ion beam is the first of its kind in the world.

    Effects which are barely perceptible, such as scattering processes which are so rare you only observe them once in a billion collisions, will become visible. By studying these processes, myself and other scientists will be able to reveal the structure of protons and neutrons, how it is modified when they are bound by the strong force, and how new hadrons are created. We could also uncover what sort of matter is made up of pure gluons — something which has never been seen.

    The collider will be tuneable to a wide range of energies: this is like turning the magnification dial on a microscope, the higher the energy, the deeper inside the proton or nucleus one can look and the finer the features one can resolve.

    Newly formed collaborations of scientists across the world, which are part of the EIC team, are also designing detectors, which will be placed at two different collision points in the collider. Aspects of this effort are led by UK teams, which have just been awarded a grant to lead the design of three key components of the detectors and develop the technologies needed to realise them: sensors for precision tracking of charged particles, sensors for the detection of electrons scattered extremely closely to the beam line and detectors to measure the polarisation (direction of spin) of the particles scattered in the collisions.

    While it may take another ten years before the collider is fully designed and built, it is likely to be well worth the effort. Understanding the structure of the proton and, through it, the fundamental force that gives rise to over 99% of the visible mass in the universe, is one of the greatest challenges in physics today.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on January 31, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Answering the biggest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing?", , , , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation: “Answering the biggest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing?” 

    From The Conversation

    November 11, 2016 [Brought forward today, a never answered question, the most important question.]
    Lloyd Strickland

    1
    Credit: nienora/Shutterstock.

    In an ideal world, every extraordinary philosophical question would come with an extraordinary story telling the tale of how someone first thought of it. Unfortunately, we can only guess at what led a German philosopher, perhaps today best known for the Choco Leibniz biscuits later named after him, to come up with what is often described as the greatest philosophical question of all, namely: why is there something rather than nothing?

    The philosopher was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the man who also bequeathed us calculus and the binary system at the heart of modern computers. He died 300 years ago, on November 14, 1716.

    Many earlier thinkers had asked why our universe is the way it is, but Leibniz went a step further, wondering why there is a universe at all. The question is a challenging one because it seems perfectly possible that there might have been nothing whatsoever – no Earth, no stars, no galaxies, no universe. Leibniz even thought that nothing would have been “simpler and easier”. If nothing whatsoever had existed then no explanation would have been needed – not that there would have been anyone around to ask for an explanation, of course, but that’s a different matter.

    Leibniz thought that the fact that there is something and not nothing requires an explanation. The explanation he gave was that God wanted to create a universe – the best one possible – which makes God the simple reason that there is something rather than nothing.

    The philosopher was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the man who also bequeathed us calculus and the binary system at the heart of modern computers. He died 300 years ago, on November 14, 1716.

    Many earlier thinkers had asked why our universe is the way it is, but Leibniz went a step further, wondering why there is a universe at all. The question is a challenging one because it seems perfectly possible that there might have been nothing whatsoever – no Earth, no stars, no galaxies, no universe. Leibniz even thought that nothing would have been “simpler and easier”. If nothing whatsoever had existed then no explanation would have been needed – not that there would have been anyone around to ask for an explanation, of course, but that’s a different matter.

    Leibniz thought that the fact that there is something and not nothing requires an explanation. The explanation he gave was that God wanted to create a universe – the best one possible – which makes God the simple reason that there is something rather than nothing.

    In the years since Leibniz’s death, his great question has continued to exercise philosophers and scientists, though in an increasingly secular age it is not surprising that many have been wary of invoking God as the answer to it.

    Quantum gods

    One kind of answer is to say that there had to be something; that it would have been impossible for there to have been nothing. This was the view of the 17th century philosopher Spinoza, who claimed that the entire universe, along with all of its contents, laws and events, had to exist, and exist in the way it does. Einstein, who counted himself a follower of Spinoza’s philosophy, appears to have held a similar view.

    Other scientists, such as theoretical physicist Laurence Krauss in his populist book A Universe from Nothing (2012), offer a more nuanced version of this answer to Leibniz’s great question. Krauss claims that our universe arose naturally and inevitably from the operation of gravity on the quantum vacuum, empty space teeming with virtual particles that spontaneously pop into existence before disappearing again. Krauss’s theory implies that there could not have been nothing because there has always been something: first there was gravity and the quantum vacuum, and out of that was born the universe as we know it.

    Other theories in cosmology also seem to presuppose that there must always have been something in existence from which our universe arose, such as strings or membranes.

    The trouble with such scientific answers to the question of “why there is something and not nothing” is that it is not clear why we should think that there had to be gravity, or the quantum vacuum, or strings, or even a universe at all. It seems entirely possible that instead of these things there could have been absolutely nothing.

    What question?

    Another response to Leibniz’s great question is simply to deny that it has an answer. The philosopher Bertrand Russell took this line in a famous radio debate in 1948. He was asked why he thought the universe exists, and responded I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.

    On this account, the universe would be what philosophers call a brute fact – something that does not have an explanation. Russell’s point was not that humans hadn’t yet explained why there is something rather than nothing but that there is no possible explanation. Those who believe that our universe is part of the larger multiverse also take this line, suggesting that the multiverse – and hence our universe – has no ultimate explanation. Although it is now a popular response to Leibniz’s great question to say the universe is ultimately inexplicable, it does have the drawback of being intellectually unsatisfying (though of course that does not mean the response is false).

    The most novel answer to Leibniz’s great question is to say that our universe exists because it should. The thinking here is that all possible universes have an innate tendency to exist, but that some have a greater tendency to exist than others. The idea is actually Leibniz’s, who entertained the thought that there may be a struggle for existence between possible worlds, with the very best one coming out on top as if through a process of virtual natural selection. In the end he did not accept the idea, and retreated instead to the more traditional view that the universe exists because God chose to make it so.

    But the idea of a virtual struggle among possible universes has appealed to some modern philosophers, who have followed it to its logical conclusion and claimed that the possible universe with the greatest tendency to exist – which might be because it is the best, or because it contains some important feature such as the conditions that permit life to arise – will actually bring itself into existence.

    According to this theory, our universe becomes actual not because God or anything else made it so but because it literally lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual. Weird? Yes. But we shouldn’t let that put us off. After all, an extraordinary philosophical question might just require an extraordinary answer.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:07 pm on December 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Quantum philosophy- 4 ways physics will challenge your reality", , Physicists Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein famously disagreed about what quantum mechanics meant for the nature of reality., , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation: “Quantum philosophy- 4 ways physics will challenge your reality” 

    From The Conversation

    December 24, 2020
    Peter Evans, The University of Queensland (AU)

    1
    Credit: Shutterstock

    Imagine opening the weekend paper and looking through the puzzle pages for the Sudoku. You spend your morning working through this logic puzzle, only to realise by the last few squares there’s no consistent way to finish it.

    “I must have made a mistake,” you think. So you try again, this time starting from the corner you couldn’t finish and working back the other way. But the same thing happens again. You’re down to the last few squares and find there is no consistent solution.

    Working out the basic nature of reality according to quantum mechanics is a little bit like an impossible Sudoku. No matter where we start with quantum theory, we always end up at a conundrum that forces us to rethink the way the world fundamentally works. (This is what makes quantum mechanics so much fun.)

    Let me take you on a brief tour, through the eyes of a philosopher, of the world according to quantum mechanics.

    1. Spooky action-at-a-distance

    As far as we know, the speed of light (around 300 million metres per second) is the universe’s ultimate speed limit. Albert Einstein famously scoffed at the prospect of physical systems influencing each other faster than a light signal could travel between them.

    Back in the 1940s Einstein called this “spooky action-at-a-distance”. When quantum mechanics had earlier appeared to predict such spooky goings-on, he argued the theory must not yet be finished, and some better theory would tell the true story.

    We know today it is very unlikely there is any such better theory. And if we think the world is made up of well-defined, independent pieces of “stuff”, then our world has to be one where spooky action-at-a-distance between these pieces of stuff is allowed.

    2. Loosening our grip on reality

    “What if the world isn’t made of well-defined, independent pieces of ‘stuff’?” I hear you say. “Then can we avoid this spooky action?”

    Yes, we can. And many in the quantum physics community think this way, too. But this would be no consolation to Einstein.

    Einstein had a long-running debate with his friend Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist, about this very question. Bohr argued we should indeed give up the idea of the stuff of the world being well defined, so we can avoid spooky action-at-a-distance. In Bohr’s view, the world doesn’t have definite properties unless we’re looking at it. When we’re not looking, Bohr thought, the world as we know it isn’t really there.

    2
    Physicists Niels Bohr (left) and Albert Einstein famously disagreed about what quantum mechanics meant for the nature of reality. Credit: Paul Ehrenfest

    But Einstein insisted the world has to be made of something whether we look at it or not, otherwise we couldn’t talk to each other about the world, and so do science. But Einstein couldn’t have both a well-defined, independent world and no spooky action-at-a-distance … or could he?

    3. Back to the future

    The Bohr-Einstein debate is reasonably familiar fare in the history of quantum mechanics. Less familiar is the foggy corner of this quantum logic puzzle where we can rescue both a well-defined, independent world and no spooky action. But we will need to get weird in other ways.

    If doing an experiment to measure a quantum system in the lab could somehow affect what the system was like before the measurement, then Einstein could have his cake and eat it too. This hypothesis is called “retrocausality”, because the effects of doing the experiment would have to travel backwards in time.

    If you think this is strange, you’re not alone. This is not a very common view in the quantum physics community, but it has its supporters. If you are faced with having to accept spooky action-at-a-distance, or no world-as-we-know-it when we don’t look, retrocausality doesn’t seem like such a weird option after all.

    4. No view from Olympus

    Imagine Zeus perched atop Mount Olympus, surveying the world. Imagine he were able to see everything that has happened, and will happen, everywhere and for all time. Call this the “God’s eye view” of the world. It is natural to think there must be some way the world is, even if it can only be known by an all-seeing God.

    Recent research [Nature Physics] in quantum mechanics suggests a God’s eye view of the world is impossible, even in principle. In certain strange quantum scenarios, different scientists can look carefully at the systems in their labs and make thorough recordings of what they see – but they will disagree about what happened when they come to compare notes. And there might well be no absolute fact of the matter about who’s correct – not even Zeus could know!

    So next time you encounter an impossible Sudoku, rest assured you’re in good company. The entire quantum physics community, and perhaps even Zeus himself, knows exactly how you feel.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:37 pm on December 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "CERN: discovery sheds light on the great mystery of why the universe has less ‘antimatter’ than matter", , , CERN LHCb (CH), , , , , The Conversation   

    From The Conversation: “CERN- discovery sheds light on the great mystery of why the universe has less ‘antimatter’ than matter” 

    From The Conversation

    December 21, 2020 [Catching up.]
    Lars Eklund

    1
    There’s a lot of matter in the universe, here the cat paw nebula of dust and gas. Credit: NASA.

    It’s one of the greatest puzzles in physics. All the particles that make up the matter around us, such electrons and protons, have antimatter versions which are nearly identical, but with mirrored properties such as the opposite electric charge. When an antimatter and a matter particle meet, they annihilate in a flash of energy.

    If antimatter and matter are truly identical but mirrored copies of each other, they should have been produced in equal amounts in the Big Bang. The problem is that would have made it all annihilate. But today, there’s nearly no antimatter left in the universe – it appears only in some radioactive decays and in a small fraction of cosmic rays. So what happened to it? Using the LHCb experiment at CERN to study the difference between matter and antimatter, we have discovered a new way that this difference can appear [Observation of CP violation in two-body B0(s)-meson decays to charged pions and kaons].

    CERN (CH) /LHCb detector.

    The existence of antimatter was predicted by physicist Paul Dirac’s equation describing the motion of electrons in 1928. At first, it was not clear if this was just a mathematical quirk or a description of a real particle. But in 1932 Carl Anderson discovered an antimatter partner to the electron – the positron – while studying cosmic rays that rain down on Earth from space. Over the next few decades physicists found that all matter particles have antimatter partners.

    Scientists believe that in the very hot and dense state shortly after the Big Bang, there must have been processes that gave preference to matter over antimatter. This created a small surplus of matter, and as the universe cooled, all the antimatter was destroyed, or annihilated, by an equal amount of matter, leaving a tiny surplus of matter. And it is this surplus that makes up everything we see in the universe today.

    Exactly what processes caused the surplus is unclear, and physicists have been on the lookout for decades.

    Known asymmetry

    The behaviour of quarks, which are the fundamental building blocks of matter along with leptons, can shed light on the difference between matter and antimatter. Quarks come in many different kinds, or “flavours”, known as up, down, charm, strange, bottom and top plus six corresponding anti-quarks.

    The up and down quarks are what make up the protons and neutrons in the nuclei of ordinary matter, and the other quarks can be produced by high-energy processes – for instance by colliding particles in accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

    Particles consisting of a quark and an anti-quark are called mesons, and there are four neutral mesons (B0S, B0, D0 and K0) that exhibit a fascinating behaviour. They can spontaneously turn into their antiparticle partner and then back again, a phenomenon that was observed for the first time in the 1960. Since they are unstable, they will “decay” – fall apart – into other more stable particles at some point during their oscillation. This decay happens slightly differently for mesons compared with anti-mesons, which combined with the oscillation means that the rate of the decay varies over time.

    The rules for the oscillations and decays are given by a theoretical framework called the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa (CKM) mechanism. It predicts that there is a difference in the behaviour of matter and antimatter, but one that is too small to generate the surplus of matter in the early universe required to explain the abundance we see today.

    This indicates that there is something we don’t understand and that studying this topic may challenge some of our most fundamental theories in physics.

    New physics?

    Our recent result from the LHCb experiment is a study of neutral B0S mesons, looking at their decays into pairs of charged K mesons. The B0S mesons were created by colliding protons with other protons in the Large Hadron Collider where they oscillated into their anti-meson and back three trillion times per second. The collisions also created anti-B0S mesons that oscillate in the same way, giving us samples of mesons and anti-mesons that could be compared.

    We counted the number of decays from the two samples and compared the two numbers, to see how this difference varied as the oscillation progressed. There was a slight difference – with more decays happening for one of the B0S mesons. And for the first time for B0S mesons, we observed that the difference in decay, or asymmetry, varied according to the oscillation between the B0S meson and the anti-meson.

    In addition to being a milestone in the study of matter-antimatter differences, we were also able to measure the size of the asymmetries. This can be translated into measurements of several parameters of the underlying theory. Comparing the results with other measurements provides a consistency check, to see if the currently accepted theory is a correct description of nature. Since the small preference of matter over antimatter that we observe on the microscopic scale cannot explain the overwhelming abundance of matter that we observe in the universe, it is likely that our current understanding is an approximation of a more fundamental theory.

    Investigating this mechanism that we know can generate matter-antimatter asymmetries, probing it from different angles, may tell us where the problem lies. Studying the world on the smallest scale is our best chance to be able to understand what we see on the largest scale.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:44 pm on December 16, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Where does the Earth’s heat come from?", , , Detecting neutrinos generated by radioactive decay within the Earth-geoneutrinos- should give us an idea of what is happening at its deepest levels., Earth generates heat. The deeper you go the higher the temperature., Everything on earth is radioactive., Experimental searches for geoneutrinos way underground: KamLAND in Japan; Borexino in Italy; SNO+ in Canada; and Juno in China., , , Here we will be talking about “beta” decay where an election and a neutrino are emitted., Other heavier nuclei like deuterium and helium formed at the same time in a process called Big Bang nucleosynthesis., , , Scientific knowledge of deeper levels has been obtained through seismic measurements., The Big Bang produced matter in the form of protons; neutrons; electrons and neutrinos., The Conversation, When the stars died in supernovae these heavy elements spread out across space to be captured in the form of planets.   

    From The Conversation: “Where does the Earth’s heat come from?” 

    From The Conversation

    December 15, 2020
    François Vannucci

    1
    The Piton de la Fournaise in eruption, 2015. Credit: Greg de Serra/Flickr, CC BY

    Earth generates heat. The deeper you go, the higher the temperature. At 25km down, temperatures rise as high as 750°C; at the core, it is said to be 4,000°C. Humans have been making use of hot springs as far back as antiquity, and today we use geothermal technology to heat our apartments. Volcanic eruptions, geysers and earthquakes are all signs of the Earth’s internal powerhouse.

    The average heat flow from the earth’s surface is 87mW/m^2 – that is, 1/10,000th of the energy received from the sun, meaning the earth emits a total of 47 terawatts, the equivalent of several thousand nuclear power plants. The source of the earth’s heat has long remained a mystery, but we now know that most of it is the result of radioactivity.

    The birth of atoms

    To understand where all this heat is coming from, we have to go back to the birth of the atomic elements.

    The Big Bang produced matter in the form of protons, neutrons, electrons, and neutrinos. It took around 370,000 years for the first atoms to form – protons attracted electrons, producing hydrogen. Other, heavier nuclei, like deuterium and helium, formed at the same time, in a process called Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

    The creation of heavy elements was far more arduous. First, stars were born and heavy nuclei formed via accretion in their fiery crucible. This process, called stellar nucleosynthesis, took billions of years. Then, when the stars died, these elements spread out across space to be captured in the form of planets.

    The earth’s composition is therefore highly complex. Luckily for us, and our existence, it includes all the natural elements, from the simplest atom, hydrogen, to heavy atoms such as uranium, and everything in between, carbon, iron – the entire periodic table. Inside the bowels of the earth is an entire panoply of elements, arranged within various onion-like layers.

    2
    Our planet contains all the elements of the periodic table. Credit: Sandbh/Wikipedia, CC BY

    We know little about the inside of our planet. The deepest mines reach down 10km at the most, while the earth has a radius of 6,500km. Scientific knowledge of deeper levels has been obtained through seismic measurements. Using this data, geologists divided the earth’s structure into various strata, with the core at the center, solid on the inside and liquid on the outside, followed by the lower and upper mantles and, finally, the crust. The earth is made up of heavy, unstable elements and is therefore radioactive, meaning there is another way to find out about its depths and understand the source of its heat.

    3
    Drugs and cosmetics containing a small dose of radium, early 20th century. Credit: Rama/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

    What is radioactivity?

    Radioactivity is a common and inescapable natural phenomenon. Everything on earth is radioactive – that is to say, everything spontaneously produces elementary particles (humans emit a few thousand per second). In Marie Curie’s day, no one was afraid of radioactivity.

    On the contrary, it was said to have beneficial effects: beauty creams were certified radioactive and contemporary literature extolled the radioactive properties of mineral water. Maurice Leblanc wrote of a thermal spring saving his protagonist Arsène Lupin during one of his adventures:

    “The water contained such energy and power as to make it a veritable fountain of youth, properties arising from its incredible radioactivity.” (Maurice Leblanc, “La demoiselle aux yeux verts”, 1927)

    There are various kinds of radioactivity, each involving the spontaneous release of particles and emitting energy that can be detected in the form of heat deposits. Here, we will be talking about “beta” decay, where an election and a neutrino are emitted. The electron is absorbed as soon as it is produced, but the neutrino has the surprising ability to penetrate a wide range of materials. The whole of the Earth is transparent to neutrinos, so detecting neutrinos generated by radioactive decay within the Earth should give us an idea of what is happening at its deepest levels.

    These kinds of particles are called geoneutrinos, and they provide an original way to investigate the depths of the Earth. Although detecting them is no easy matter, since neutrinos interact little with matter, some detectors are substantial enough to perform this kind of research.

    Geoneutrinos mainly arise from heavy elements with very long half-lives, whose properties are now thoroughly understood through lab studies: chiefly uranium, thorium and potassium. The decay of one uranium-238 nucleus, for example, releases an average of 6 neutrinos, and 52 megaelectronvolts of energy carried by the released particles that then lodge in matter and deposit heat. Each neutrino carries around two megaelectronvolts of energy. According to standardized measures, one megaelectronvolt is equivalent to 1.6 10^-13 joules, so it would take around 10^25 decays per second to reach the earth’s total heat. The question is, can these neutrinos be detected?

    Detecting geoneutrinos

    In practice, we have to take aggregate measurements at the detection site of flows coming from all directions. It is difficult to ascertain the exact source of the flows, since we cannot measure their direction. We have to use models to create computer simulations. Knowing the energy spectrum of each decay mode and modeling the density and position of the various geological strata affecting the final result, we get an overall spectrum of expected neutrinos which we then deduct from the number of events predicted for a given detector. This number is always very low – only a handful of events per kiloton of detector per year.

    Two recent experiments have added to the research: KamLAND, a detector weighing 1,000 metric tons underneath a Japanese mountain, and Borexino, which is located in a tunnel under the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy and weighs 280 metric tons.

    KamLAND at the Kamioka Observatory in located in a mine in Hida, Japan.

    Borexino detector. Image INFN.


    INFN/Borexino Solar Neutrino detector, at Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, situated below Gran Sasso mountain in Italy.

    Both use “liquid scintillators”. To detect neutrinos from the earth or the cosmos, you need a detection method that is effective at low energies; this means exciting atoms in a scintillating liquid. Neutrinos interact with protons, and the resulting particles emitted produce observable light.

    KamLAND has announced more than 100 events and Borexino around 20 that could be attributed to geoneutrinos, with an uncertainty factor of 20-30%. We cannot pinpoint their source, but this overall measurement – while fairly rough – is in line with the predictions of the simulations, within the limits of the low statistics obtained.

    Therefore, the traditional hypothesis of a kind of nuclear reactor at the center of the earth, consisting of a ball of fissioning uranium like those in nuclear power plants, has now been excluded. Fission is not a spontaneous radioactivity but is stimulated by slow neutrons in a chain reaction.

    There are now new, more effective detectors being developed: Canada’s SNO+, and China’s Juno, which will improve our knowledge of geoneutrinos.

    4
    The Sno+ experiment uses the SnoLab detector in Canada, to detect geoneutrinos, among other things. Credit: SNOLAB.

    JUNO Underground Observatory, at Kaiping, Jiangmen in Southern China.


    JUNO Chinese Neutrino Experiment, at Kaiping, Jiangmen in Southern China.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Conversation launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
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