News Update 17
Could plasma jet thrusters ‘kickstart’ interplanetary travel?
A great offshoot from commercial space companies getting a foothold in real missions to orbit is that the old entrepreneurial space spirit seems to have been revived. People are attempting to develop and build what could be breakout space technologies, sometimes in their garages or basements. A new Kickstarter project is especially exciting, as it is looking to build a prototype electric pulsed plasma jet thruster, and the engineers behind the project say this could be used for reliable, high performance, low cost interplanetary space transportation.
‘One real mystery of quantum mechanics’: Physicists devise new experiment
What is light made of: waves or particles? This basic question has fascinated physicists since the early days of science. Quantum mechanics predicts that photons, particles of light, are both particles and waves simultaneously. Reporting in Science, physicists from the University of Bristol give a new demonstration of this wave-particle duality of photons, dubbed the ‘one real mystery of quantum mechanics’ by Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman.
Why seas are rising ahead of predictions
Sea levels are rising faster than expected from global warming, and University of Colorado geologist Bill Hay has a good idea why. The last official IPCC report in 2007 projected a global sea level rise between 0.2 and 0.5 meters by the year 2100. But current sea-level rise measurements meet or exceed the high end of that range and suggest a rise of one meter or more by the end of the century.
International study suggests a massive black hole exists in the Sword of Orion
(Phys.org)—An international team of astrophysicists, including UQ’s Dr Holger Baumgardt, has shed light on the long-standing mystery of the binding force behind a cluster of unruly and rapidly swirling stars located in the famous Sword of Orion.
Using the world’s rarest element to study the world’s rarest force
In September 2012 an experiment at the TRIUMF accelerator complex reached a milestone. The FrPNC collaboration —-short hand for Francium Parity Non-conservation—-succeeded in trapping several kinds of francium, including the isotope Fr-207, which had never before been trapped. There is less than a gram of Fr at any given time in the whole earth. With a halflife of mere seconds, and existing only briefly at particle accelerators, francium is the rarest species in the periodic table of elements up to uranium.
Super-massive black hole inflates giant bubble
Like symbiotic species, a galaxy and its central black hole lead intimately connected lives. The details of this relationship still pose many puzzles for astronomers. Some black holes actively accrete matter. Part of this material does not fall into the black hole but is ejected in a narrow stream of particles, traveling at nearly the speed of light. When the stream slows down, it creates a tenuous bubble that can engulf the entire galaxy. Invisible to optical telescopes, the bubble is very prominent at low radio frequencies. The new International LOFAR Telescope - designed and built by ASTRON in an international collaboration - is ideally suited to detect this low frequency emission.
Biofuel breakthrough: Quick cook method turns algae into oil (w/ Video)
(Phys.org)—It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can “pressure-cook” algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude.
The biggest expansion of man in prehistory?
DNA sequencing of 36 complete Y chromosomes has uncovered a previously unknown period when the human population expanded rapidly. This population explosion occurred 40 to 50 thousand years ago, between the first expansion of modern humans out of Africa 60 to 70 thousand years ago and the Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10 thousand years ago.
As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon stored in arctic permafrost, or frozen ground, could be released into the environment as the region begins to thaw over the next century as a result of a warmer planet according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. This nitrogen and carbon are likely to impact ecosystems, the atmosphere, and water resources including rivers and lakes. For context, this is roughly the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere today.
Brain may ‘see’ more than the eyes, study indicates
(Medical Xpress)—Vision may be less important to “seeing” than is the brain’s ability to process points of light into complex images, according to a new study of the fruit fly visual system currently published in the online journal Nature Communications.
An elephant that speaks Korean (w/ Video)
An Asian elephant named Koshik can imitate human speech, speaking words in Korean that can be readily understood by those who know the language. The elephant accomplishes this in a most unusual way: he vocalizes with his trunk in his mouth.