By the fall of 1915, Albert Einstein was a bit grumpy. And why not? Cheered on, to his disgust, by most of his Berlin colleagues, Germany had started a ruinous world war. He had split up with his wife, and she had decamped to Switzerland with his sons.
He was living alone. A friend, Janos Plesch, once said, “He sleeps until he is awakened; he stays awake until he is told to go to bed; he will go hungry until he is given something to eat; and then he eats until he is stopped.”
Worse, he had discovered a fatal flaw in his new theory of gravity, propounded with great fanfare only a couple of years before. And now he no longer had the field to himself. The German mathematician David Hilbert was breathing down his neck.
So Einstein went back to the blackboard. And on Nov. 25, 1915, he set down the equation that rules the universe. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space.
Is Earth Growing a Hairy Dark Matter 'Beard'?
Dark matter is thought to be everywhere, literally, but we can’t see it; we can only detect its gravitational presence over large cosmic scales. Now, theoretical physicists are theorizing what configuration the dark stuff may take around Earth. And it’s becoming a bit of a hairy subject.
If we are to take the findings of a recent computer simulation to heart, it looks as if the planets in our solar system are growing rather trendy dark matter “beards,” an idea that not only reveals previously unknown interplanetary fashion trend, it could also provide a guide as to where to seek out direct evidence of the invisible matter that is thought to make up 85 percent of the mass of the entire universe.
Scientists caught a new planet forming for the first time ever
When a new star is born, it creates a disk full of gas and dust — the stuff of planetary formation. But it's hard to catch alien stars in the process of planetary baby-making, because the same dust that creates planets helps obscure these distant solar systems from our sight. We've found young planets and old ones alike, but none of them have actually been in the process of forming — until now.
This new study was led by University of Arizona graduate student Stephanie Sallum and Kate Follette, a former fellow graduate student who has since moved on to postdoctoral research at Stanford University. The two women were working on separate PhD projects, but had decided to focus on the same star — LkCa15, located 450 light years from Earth.
"The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process," Follette said in a statement. "It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there."
The women and their colleagues set high-powered telescopes to look at the system and used a new technique to look for protoplanets. They searched for the light emitted by hydrogen as the gas falls toward a newly forming planet. That process is hot — roughly 17,500 degrees Fahrenheit — and it produces a signature red glow.
Experiment records extreme quantum weirdness
An experiment in Singapore has pushed quantum weirdness close to its absolute limit. Researchers from the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at the National University of Singapore and the University of Seville in Spain have reported the most extreme 'entanglement' between pairs of photons ever seen in the lab. The result was published 30 October 2015 in Physical Review Letters.
The achievement is evidence for the validity of quantum physics and will bolster confidence in schemes for quantum cryptography and quantum computing designed to exploit this phenomenon. "For some quantum technologies to work as we intend, we need to be confident that quantum physics is complete," says Poh Hou Shun, who carried out the experiment at CQT. "Our new result increases that confidence," he says.
The researchers looked at 33.2 million optimized photon pairs. Each pair was split up and the photons measured separately, then the correlation between the results quantified.
In such a Bell test, the strength of the correlation says whether or not the photons were entangled. The measures involved are complex, but can be reduced to a simple number. Any value bigger than 2 is evidence for quantum effects at work. But there is also an upper limit.
Quantum physics predicts the correlation measure cannot get any bigger than 2sqrt(2) ~2.82843. In the experiment at CQT, they measure 2.82759 +/- 0.00051 - within 0.03% of the limit. If the peak value were the top of Everest, this would be only 2.6 metres below the summit.
Scientists look into hydrogen atom, find old recipe for pi
Published in 1655 by the English mathematician John Wallis, the Wallis product is an infinite series of fractions that, when multiplied, equal pi divided by 2. It has not appeared in physics at all until now, when University of Rochester scientists Carl Hagen and Tamar Friedmann collaborated on a problem set that Dr. Hagen had developed for his quantum mechanics class.
Instead of using Niels Bohr’s near-century-old calculations for the energy states of hydrogen, Hagen had his students use a method called the variational principle, just to see what might happen. Ultimately, the calculations demanded mathematical expertise, which came in the form of Dr. Friedmann, who is both a mathematician and a physicist.
“One of the things that I’m able to do is talk to both mathematicians and physicists, and that basically requires translating between two languages,” says Friedmann, who studied mathematics as an undergraduate student at Princeton, where she also earned a PhD. in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics.
Friedmann says that asking new questions in math from physics and seeking to understand the physical systems from a mathematical standpoint enriched her understanding of problems in both disciplines. Friedmann tends to take on problems that might not even have an answer; she thinks that’s the type of approach that can lead to new discoveries. “And when they happen,” Friedmann says, “it’s really amazing.”
Strong forces make antimatter stick
Antimatter is a shadowy mirror image of the ordinary matter we are familiar with. For the first time, scientists have measured the forces that make certain antimatter particles stick together. The findings, published in Nature, may yield clues to what led to the scarcity of antimatter in the cosmos today.
The forces between antimatter particles - in this case antiprotons - had not been measured before. If antiprotons were found to behave in a different way to their "mirror images" (the ordinary proton particles that are found in atoms) it might provide a potential explanation for what is known as "matter/antimatter asymmetry".
Birth of universe modeled in massive data simulation
Researchers are sifting through an avalanche of data produced by one of the largest cosmological simulations ever performed, led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.
The simulation, run on the Titan supercomputer at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, modeled the evolution of the universe from just 50 million years after the Big Bang to the present day - from its earliest infancy to its current adulthood. Over the course of 13.8 billion years, the matter in the universe clumped together to form galaxies, stars and planets; but we're not sure precisely how.
Modern Mystery: Ancient Comet Is Spewing Oxygen
The Rosetta spacecraft has detected molecular oxygen in the gas streaming off comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a curious finding that has scientists rethinking the ingredients that were present in the early solar system.
What's mystifying astronomers about the new find is why the oxygen wasn't annihilated during the solar system's formation. Molecular oxygen is extremely reactive with hydrogen, which was swirling in abundance as the sun and planets were created. Current solar system models suggest the molecular oxygen should have disappeared by the time 67P was created, about 4.6 billion years ago.
Ingredients for Life Were Always Present on Earth, Comet Suggests
The basic building blocks of life may have been present on Earth from the very beginning.
Astronomers detected 21 different complex organic molecules streaming from Comet Lovejoy during its highly anticipated close approach to the sun this past January. Many of these same carbon-containing compounds have also been spotted around newly forming sunlike stars, researchers said.
"This suggests that our proto-planetary nebula was already enriched in complex organic molecules (as disk models suggested) when comets and planets formed," study lead author Nicolas Biver, of the Paris Observatory, told Space.com via email.
Life May Have Begun 4.1 Billion Years Ago on an Infant Earth
Life may have emerged on Earth 4.1 billion years ago, much earlier than scientists had thought, and relatively soon after the planet formed, researchers say.
Previous research suggested life may have arisen on Earth 3.83 billion years ago. The new findings suggest life started 270 million years earlier, and only about 440 million years after Earth formed about 4.54 billion years ago.
If life on Earth did spring up relatively quickly, that suggests life could be abundant in the universe, scientists added.
Earth Bloomed Early: A Fermi Paradox Solution?
Our place in the universe is a conundrum — life on Earth evolved to create a technologically-savvy race that is now looking for other technologically-savvy intelligences populating our galaxy. But there’s a problem; it looks like humanity is the only “intelligent” species in our little corner of the universe — what gives?
This question forms the basis of the Fermi Paradox: given the age of the universe and the apparent high probability of life evolving on other planets orbiting other stars, where are all the smart aliens? According to a new study based on data collected by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, it might be that Earth (and all life on it) is an early bloomer. By extension, the logical progression from this new study is that we’re not hearing from advanced alien civilizations because, in short, the universe hasn’t had the time to spawn many more habitable worlds.
Perfectly accurate clocks turn out to be impossible
Can the passage of time be measured precisely, always and everywhere? The answer will upset many watchmakers. A team of physicists from the universities of Warsaw and Nottingham have just shown that when we are dealing with very large accelerations, no clock will actually be able to show the real passage of time, known as "proper time".
Our Universe: It's the 'Simplest' Thing We Know
Our universe is actually really simple, it's just our cosmological theories that are getting needlessly complex, argues one of the world's leading theoretical physicists.
This conclusion may sound counterintuitive; after all, to fully understand the true complexities of Nature, you need to think bigger, study things on finer and finer scales, add new variables to equations, and think up "new" and "exotic" physics. Eventually we'll discover what dark matter is; eventually we'll gain a grasp of where those gravitational waves are hiding – if only our theoretical models were more advanced and more... complex.
Baylor Physicist Appointed to Management Team of Major Scientific Experiment at CERN
They're Out There! Most People Believe in E.T.
Are humans alone in the universe? A majority of people, particularly guys, in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany say they believe that intelligent life is out there.
Fifty-six percent of Germans, 54 percent of Americans and 52 percent of people from the United Kingdom believe that alien life capable of communication lives somewhere among the stars, according to a new survey by the marketing research firm YouGov.
Salty Water Flows on Mars Today, Boosting Odds for Life
The enigmatic dark streaks on Mars — called recurring slope lineae (RSL) — that appear seasonally on steep, relatively warm Martian slopes are likely caused by salty liquid water, researchers said.
"Liquid water is a key requirement for life on Earth," study lead author Lujendra Ojha, of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told Space.com via email. "The presence of liquid water on Mars' present-day surface therefore points to environment[s] that are more habitable than previously thought." [Flowing Water on Mars: The Discovery in Pictures ]
Democracy suffers a blow—in particle physics
Upon learning of the discovery of the muon, I. I. Rabi famously quipped, “Who ordered that?” After all, the muon appeared to be identical to the electron except for its mass. Indeed, in the standard model of particle physics, the charged leptons—electron, muon, and tau—interact in the same way with the model’s gauge bosons, the particles that transmit force. As a consequence of that lepton democracy, the standard model prescribes the relative probabilities, or branching ratios, for a heavy particle to decay into one or another of the charged leptons plus other particles in common. Three years ago the BaBar collaboration at SLAC measured the branching ratios for B-meson decay to produce either a muon or a tau. For two slightly different decays, they found 2σ or greater deviations from the democratic standard-model expectation. Now the LHCb collaboration at CERN has confirmed the BaBar result for one of the decays. In a preprint, the Belle group at KEK in Japan has also announced results that show a similar though less strong deviation from the standard model. The figure below (from the Heavy Flavor Averaging Group) shows the branching ratios (R) measured by the groups for the two decays, denoted D and D*, along with the standard-model prediction. Taken together, the groups’ measurements have struck a 3.9-σ blow to the principle of lepton democracy. If they hold up, the standard model will have to be modified—perhaps by the addition of a new charged Higgs boson, whose interactions would depend on mass. (R. Aaij et al., LHCb collaboration, Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 111803, 2015.)
Evidence suggests subatomic particles could defy the standard model
The Standard Model of particle physics, which explains most of the known behaviors and interactions of fundamental subatomic particles, has held up remarkably well over several decades. This far-reaching theory does have a few shortcomings, however--most notably that it doesn't account for gravity. In hopes of revealing new, non-standard particles and forces, physicists have been on the hunt for conditions and behaviors that directly violate the Standard Model.
Now, a team of physicists working at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has found new hints of particles--leptons, to be more precise--being treated in strange ways not predicted by the Standard Model. The discovery, scheduled for publication in the September 4, 2015 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, could prove to be a significant lead in the search for non-standard phenomena.
The team, which includes physicists from the University of Maryland who made key contributions to the study, analyzed data collected by the LHCb detector during the first run of the LHC in 2011-12. The researchers looked at B meson decays, processes that produce lighter particles, including two types of leptons: the tau lepton and the muon. Unlike their stable lepton cousin, the electron, tau leptons and muons are highly unstable and quickly decay within a fraction of a second.
According to a Standard Model concept called "lepton universality," which assumes that leptons are treated equally by all fundamental forces, the decay to the tau lepton and the muon should both happen at the same rate, once corrected for their mass difference. However, the team found a small, but notable, difference in the predicted rates of decay, suggesting that as-yet undiscovered forces or particles could be interfering in the process.
"The Standard Model says the world interacts with all leptons in the same way. There is a democracy there. But there is no guarantee that this will hold true if we discover new particles or new forces," said study co-author and UMD team lead Hassan Jawahery, Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Gus T. Zorn Professor at UMD. "Lepton universality is truly enshrined in the Standard Model. If this universality is broken, we can say that we've found evidence for non-standard physics."
Extreme Conditions Create 'Perfect,' but Fleeting, Matter
US-based laboratory has produced tiny droplets of a state of matter that existed in the first few milliseconds after the Big Bang after slamming particles together at close to the speed of light.
The matter, known as a quark-gluon plasma (or QGP), is predicted to exist when temperatures and densities are so extreme that regular matter cannot exist. Instead, a “perfect liquid” exists for a short time before it cools and condenses into the regular stuff that forms the building blocks of matter.
Although physicists have announced the detection of this exotic state of matter before, new results from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York, appear to show the tiniest droplets of quark-gluon plasma appear, in a specific pattern, after colliding helium-3 nuclei with gold ions.
“These tiny droplets of quark-gluon plasma were at first an intriguing surprise,” said Berndt Mueller, Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics at Brookhaven, in a statement. “Physicists initially thought that only the nuclei of large atoms such as gold would have enough matter and energy to set free the quark and gluon building blocks that make up protons and neutrons. But the flow patterns detected by RHIC’s PHENIX (Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment) collaboration in collisions of helium-3 nuclei with gold ions now confirm that these smaller particles are creating tiny samples of perfect liquid QGP.”
Quantum weirdness proved real in first loophole-free experiment
It’s official: the universe is weird. Our everyday experience tells us that distant objects cannot influence each other, and don’t disappear just because no one is looking at them. Even Albert Einstein was dead against such ideas because they clashed so badly with our views of the real world.
But it turns out we’re wrong – the quantum nature of reality means, on some level, these things can and do actually happen. A groundbreaking experiment puts the final nail in the coffin of our ordinary “local realism” view of the universe, settling an argument that has raged through physics for nearly a century.
Teams of physicists around the world have been racing to complete this experiment for decades. Now, a group led by Ronald Hanson at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has finally cracked it. “It’s a very nice and beautiful experiment, and one can only congratulate the group for that,” says Anton Zeilinger, head of one of the rival teams at the University of Vienna, Austria. “Very well done.”
Astronomers discover the biggest thing in the Universe
There's some pretty big stuff out there in the Universe, but how big is the biggest? According to a team of Hungarian-US scientists led by Prof Lajos Balazs, the largest regular formation in the Universe is a ring of nine galaxies 7 billion light years away and 5 billion light years wide. Though not visible from Earth, the newly discovered feature covers a third of our sky.
The ring was revealed by nine Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRB) originating from the nine galaxies. GRBs are the brightest, most energetic events in the cosmos, putting out as much energy in seconds as the Sun will in its entire lifetime. They're caused by supernovae or hypernovae – supermassive stars collapse into neutron stars or black holes in times ranging from milliseconds to a few hours. Aside from their spectacular deaths, they also help astronomers to measure the distance of other galaxies.
In this case, the observed GRB's indicate that the nine galaxies are positioned in a ring shaped like a shell. They also show that the galaxies are all of a very similar distance from Earth – according to Prof Balazs, there's only a 1 in 20,000 chance that the ring's arrangement is accidental.
If it was visible to us, the ring would cover 36 percent of the sky, making it 70 times bigger than a full moon.
The importance of the ring isn't just that it appears to be a record breaker – it raises questions about the architecture of the Universe. In particular, it casts doubts on the Cosmological Principle. First asserted by Sir Isaac Newton and developed based on observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation and the structure of the early universe in the past century, it states that at the largest scale, the Universe is uniform, so no matter where you are, it looks essentially the same.
Possible new particle hints that universe may not be left-handed
PHYSICS may be shifting to the right. Tantalising signals at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, hint at a new particle that could end 50 years of thinking that nature discriminates between left and right-handed particles.
Like your hands, some fundamental particles are different from their mirror images, and so have an intrinsic handedness or “chirality”. But some particles only seem to come in one of the two handedness options, leading to what’s called “left-right symmetry breaking”.
In particular, W bosons, which carry the weak nuclear force, are supposed to come only in left-handed varieties. The debris from smashing protons at the LHC has revealed evidence of unexpected right-handed bosons.
Stephen Hawking says he has a way to escape from a black hole
Stuff that falls into a black hole is gone forever, right? Not so, says Stephen Hawking.
“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up,” he told an audience at a public lecture in Stockholm, Sweden, yesterday. He was speaking in advance of a scientific talk today at the Hawking Radiation Conference being held at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “There’s a way out.”
You probably know that black holes are stars that have collapsed under their own gravity, producing gravitational forces so strong that even light can’t escape. Anything that falls inside is thought to be ripped apart by the massive gravity, never to been seen or heard from again.
What you may not know is that physicists have been arguing for 40 years about what happens to the information about the physical state of those objects once they fall in. Quantum mechanics says that this information cannot be destroyed, but general relativity says it must be – that’s why this argument is known as the information paradox.
Now Hawking says this information never makes it inside the black hole in the first place. “I propose that the information is stored not in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but on its boundary, the event horizon,” he said today.
COMETS COULD HAVE KICKSTARTED LIFE ON EARTH AND OTHER WORLDS
Comets are typically associated with extinction. However, there is growing evidence pointing to their ability to "seed" or create life on planets, a controversial idea, but one boosted by a groundbreaking experiment that re-created a comet impact as it would have occurred on a young Earth.
In Memoriam: Jacob Bekenstein (1947–2015) and Black Hole Entropy
Sad news reached Jen-Luc Piquant this morning via Jonathan Oppenheim's Twitter feed: physicist Jacob Bekenstein, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, passed away last night. I never had the honor of meeting Dr. Bekenstein in person, but I certainly know the name. He received many well-deserved honors during his long career, most recently the 2015 Einstein Prize from the American Physical Society, awarded "For his ground-breaking work on black hole entropy, which launched the field of black hole thermodynamics and transformed the long effort to unify quantum mechanics and gravitation." According to Oppenheim, he was "a gentle soul and a brilliant physicist," adding that Bekenstein's insights into black hole entropy were "mind bogglingly remarkable."
Wormhole Created in Lab Makes Invisible Magnetic Field
Ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, physicists have crafted a wormhole that tunnels a magnetic field through space.
"This device can transmit the magnetic field from one point in space to another point, through a path that is magnetically invisible," said study co-author Jordi Prat-Camps, a doctoral candidate in physics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain. "From a magnetic point of view, this device acts like a wormhole, as if the magnetic field was transferred through an extra special dimension."
The idea of a wormhole comes from Albert Einstein's theories. In 1935, Einstein and colleague Nathan Rosen realized that the general theory of relativity allowed for the existence of bridges that could link two different points in space-time. Theoretically these Einstein-Rosen bridges, or wormholes, could allow something to tunnel instantly between great distances (though the tunnels in this theory are extremely tiny, so ordinarily wouldn't fit a space traveler). So far, no one has found evidence that space-time wormholes actually exist. The new wormhole isn't a space-time wormhole per se, but is instead a realization of a futuristic "invisibility cloak" first proposed in 2007 in the journal Physical Review Letters. This type of wormhole would hide electromagnetic waves from view from the outside. The trouble was, to make the method work for light required materials that are extremely impractical and difficult to work with, Prat said.
Experiment attempts to snare a dark energy 'chameleon'
If dark energy is hiding in our midst in the form of hypothetical particles called "chameleons," Holger Muller and his team at the University of California, Berkeley, plan to flush them out.
The results of an experiment reported in this week's issue of Science narrows the search for chameleons a thousand times compared to previous tests, and Muller, an assistant professor of physics, hopes that his next experiment will either expose chameleons or similar ultralight particles as the real dark energy, or prove they were a will-o'-the-wisp after all.
Antarctica Scientists Confirm Existence of Cosmic Neutrinos
Buried deep in the Antarctic ice, an observatory has spotted ghostly, nearly massless particles coming from inside our galaxy and points beyond the Milky Way.
Finding these cosmic neutrinos not only confirms their existence but also sheds light on the origins of cosmic rays, the researchers said.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is made up of 86 shafts dug 8,000 feet into the ice near the South Pole. The shafts are equipped with detectors that look for the telltale light from high-energy particles plowing through the surrounding ice. Neutrinos have little mass, and zip through matter so easily that a block of lead a light-year across wouldn't stop them. These elusive particles come from high-energy sources: exploding stars, black holes and galactic cores among them.
Mystery Deepens: Matter and Antimatter Are Mirror Images
Matter and antimatter appear to be perfect mirror images of each other as far as anyone can see, scientists have discovered with unprecedented precision, foiling hope of solving the mystery as to why there is far more matter than antimatter in the universe.
Everyday matter is made up of protons, neutrons or electrons. These particles have counterparts known as antiparticles — antiprotons, antineutrons and positrons, respectively — that have the same mass but the opposite electric charge. (Although neutrons and antineutrons are both neutrally charged, they are each made of particles known as quarks that possess fractional electrical charges, and the charges of these quarks are equal and opposite to one another in neutrons and antineutrons.)
The known universe is composed of everyday matter. The profound mystery is, why the universe is not made up of equal parts antimatter, since the Big Bang that is thought to have created the universe 13.7 billion years ago produced equal amounts of both. And if matter and antimatter appear to be mirror images of each other in every respect save their electrical charge, there might not be much any of either type of matter left — matter and antimatter annihilate when they encounter each other
Are Aliens Trying To Contact Us? Mathematical Radio Waves From Deep Space Baffle Scientitsts.
In the 1997 film "Contact," which was an adaptation of a novel written by Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist played by Jodie Foster becomes the first human to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization after detecting a strong, patterned radio signal from outer space.
Though fictional, the movie may have been prophetic. For the last 15 years, scientists have been detecting strange radio bursts from deep space that appear mathematical in nature, reports New Scientist. The fact that they display a mathematical pattern is the linchpin: There are no known natural phenomenon capable of generating radio bursts with this kind of pattern.
So either these radio waves represent some yet undiscovered celestial event, or they are being produced by some kind of technology. In other words, if they do have a technological origin and they aren't being generated by us, that means they could be signals from an extraterrestrial intelligence. Yep, that's right: aliens.
The reason this may be the first you've heard about these potential alien radio broadcasts is that scientists still aren't entirely sure what to make of them. There are a lot of possible explanations that don't involve little green men. But the fact that scientists can't rule out the possibility of an alien origin is rather mind-blowing, if not downright frightening.
Earth-Like Alien World Could Have Vast Oceans
A small, rocky planet could host liquid water on its surface, if it also contains a carbon-dioxide atmosphere, researchers say.
The planet, which scientists have dubbed Kepler-62f, has a diameter 40 percent larger than that of Earth, and could contain oceans of water if its atmosphere keeps the planet warm.
"A high carbon-dioxide atmosphere is a reliable way to put liquid water on this planet," Aomawa Shields, a scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was involved in the new research, said at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Chicago in June. [The 6 Most Earth-like Alien Planets]
Super Strong Magnetic Fields Could Be the Key to Our Nuclear Fusion Future
The era of true nuclear fusion may be fast approaching thanks to some cutting-edge work from MIT. While fusion has been demonstrated before, it's always used more energy than it's created. But finding a new way to apply a strong magnetic field to a prototype device, the MIT team has learned how to better contain super-hot plasma, and that's a step towards practical application.
A fusion reactor works like a mini-star, fusing hydrogen atoms into helium just as the sun does. But without the immense gravity of a star, the plasma escapes, requiring more energy to keep it in place. This new magnetic field keeps the core together, and maximizes the energy output of the tiny star.
New study predicts the slow, inevitable death of the universe
Like all good things, our universe will one day come to an end. Just how that end will look is still something of a mystery. But one new study suggests that our universe won't go out with a bang, but with a whimper: According to these scientists, stars are growing dim.
Researchers presented their findings on Monday at the International Astronomical Union XXIX General Assembly. The survey, which is part of the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, used several powerful telescopes to measure the energy output of some 200,000 galaxies, some far enough away to give us a glimpse into the past -- because of how long it takes the light from those stars to reach our telescopes.
NASA estimates 1 billion ‘Earths’ in our galaxy alone
There are a billion Earths in this galaxy, roughly speaking. Not a million. A billion. We’re talking 1 billion rocky planets that are approximately the size of the Earth and are orbiting familiar-looking yellow-sunshine stars in the orbital “habitable zone” where water could be liquid at the surface.
A SIMPLE WAY TO RETRIEVE INFO YOU LOST IN A BLACK HOLE
Black holes are full of conundrums. Like, what would happen if you threw a book inside one of these gravity wells? The theory of general relativity (the physics laws that govern really big things in the universe) predicts that the book would disappear forever. But quantum mechanics (the laws that govern really small things) says that's impossible--that energy, matter, and information can neither be created nor destroyed. They can get transformed, but the total amount has to stay the same.
To try to solve this paradox, a team of physicists has come up with a way that someone could theoretically recover information from a black hole. There’s a catch though: the experiment only works on one bit of quantum information (or qubit) at a time. That’s not a lot of information.
Although the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, it is posted on arXiv so the researchers could collect feedback from their colleagues before submitting it to a journal. It’s also not the kind of experiment scientists are likely to try out--it’s just meant to be a fun thought experiment. “In essence, our protocol amounts to a teleportation scheme,” they write.
Ancient Galaxy Is Most Distant Ever Found
Astronomers have spotted the farthest-flung galaxy in the known universe. The newfound galaxy, known as EGSY8p7, lies about 13.2 billion light-years from Earth — meaning astronomers are now seeing the mass of stars as it existed just 600 million years or so after the Big Bang that created the universe.
LHC Keeps Bruising 'Difficult to Kill' Supersymmetry
In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.
New data from ultra high-speed proton collisions at Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) showed an exotic particle dubbed the "beauty quark" behaves as predicted by the Standard Model, said a paper in the journal Nature Physics.
Previous attempts at measuring the beauty quark's rare transformation into a so-called "up quark" had yielded conflicting results. That prompted scientists to propose an explanation beyond the Standard Model -- possibly supersymmetry.
Dark Pion Particles May Explain Universe's Invisible Matter
Dark matter is the mysterious stuff that cosmologists think makes up some 85 percent of all the matter in the universe. A new theory says dark matter might resemble a known particle. If true, that would open up a window onto an invisible, dark matter version of physics.
Is the universe ringing like a crystal glass?
two physicists at The University of Southern Mississippi, Lawrence Mead and Harry Ringermacher, have discovered that the universe might not only be expanding, but also oscillating or "ringing" at the same time. Their paper on the topic has been published in the April 2015 issue of the Astronomical Journal.
NASA Finds Closest Earth Twin Yet in Haul of 500 Alien Planets
NASA's Kepler space telescope has spotted the most Earth-like alien planet yet discovered — a world called Kepler-452b that's just slightly bigger than our own and orbits a sunlike star at about the same distance Earth circles the sun.
"This is the first possibly rocky, habitable planet around a solar-type star," Jeff Coughlin, Kepler research scientist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California, said during a news briefing July 23.
Physicists Observe Weyl Points for the First Time
Part of a 1929 prediction by physicist Hermann Weyl — of a kind of massless particle that features a singular point in its energy spectrum called the “Weyl point” — has finally been confirmed by direct observation for the first time, says an international team of physicists led by researchers at MIT. The finding could lead to new kinds of high-power single-mode lasers and other optical devices, the team says.
For decades, physicists thought that the subatomic particles called neutrinos were, in fact, the massless particles that Weyl had predicted — a possibility that was ultimately eliminated by the 1998 discovery that neutrinos do have a small mass. While thousands of scientific papers have been written about the theoretical particles, until this year there had seemed little hope of actually confirming their existence.
A Dark Matter bridge in our cosmic neighborhood
By using the best available data to monitor galactic traffic in our neighborhood, Noam Libeskind from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) and his collaborators have built a detailed map of how nearby galaxies move.
In it they have discovered a bridge of Dark Matter stretching from our Local Group all the way to the Virgo cluster - a huge mass of some 2,000 galaxies roughly 50 million light years away, that is bound on either side by vast bubbles completely devoid of galaxies. This bridge and these voids help us understand a 40 year old problem regarding the curious distribution of dwarf galaxies.
Neutrons find 'missing' magnetism of plutonium
Finally, after seven decades, this scientific mystery on plutonium's "missing" magnetism has been resolved. Using neutron scattering, researchers from the Department of Energy's Los Alamos and Oak Ridge (ORNL) national laboratories have made the first direct measurements of a unique characteristic of plutonium's fluctuating magnetism.
Superconductor could be realized in a broken Lorenz invariant theory
Today theoretical physicists are facing the difficulty that General Relativity is not (pertubatively) renormalizable, and find that it is very hard to construct the quantum theory of gravity with LI. A possible solution is to break the LI in the ultraviolet (UV) region, so that the theory is renormalizable and unitary. However, the invariance should be recovered in the infrared (IR), so that all of the gravitational experiments in the IR can be satisfied.
According to this idea, Horava proposed a Horava-Lifshitz (HL) gravity without LI [P. Horava, Phys. Rev. D 79 (2009) 084008], and recently it was shown that LI can be broken at very high energy scale [K. Lin, S. Mukohyama, A. Wang and T. Zhu, Phys. Rev. D 89 (2014) 084022], without causing conflict with observations [M. Pospelov and C. Tamarit, J. High Energy Phys. 01 (2014) 048]. Therefore, it would be very interesting to study effects due to the broken LI, and we find that it is possible to realize the holographic superconductor in HL gravity. This work was a generalization of the AdS/CFT correspondence proposed by Hartnoll, Herzog and Horowitz [S. A. Hartnoll, C. P. Herzog and G. T. Horowitz, Phys.Rev.Lett. 101 (2008) 031601]. They used AdS/CFT correspondence to explain the phase change in black hole spacetime, and successfully obtained the holographic superconductor curve lines of a black hole.
Rare system of five stars discovered
Astronomers have discovered a very rare system of five connected stars.
The quintuplet consists of a pair of closely linked stars - binaries - one of which has a lone companion; it is the first known system of its kind.
The pair of stars orbit around a mutual centre of gravity, but are separated by more than the distance of Pluto's orbit around the Sun. The findings have been presented at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno.
The unusual system lies 250 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. It was discovered in data gathered by the SuperWASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) project.
Dark matter map begins to reveal the universe's early history
Researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the University of Tokyo and other institutions have begun a wide-area survey of the distribution of dark matter in the universe using Hyper Suprime-Cam, a new wide-field camera installed on the Subaru Telescope in Hawai'i. Initial results from observations covering an area of 2.3 square degrees on the sky toward the constellation Cancer revealed nine large concentrations of dark matter, each the mass of a galaxy cluster. Surveying how dark matter is distributed and how the distribution changes over time is essential to understanding the role of dark energy that controls the expansion of the universe. These first results demonstrate that astronomers now have the techniques and tools to understand dark energy. The next step is for the research team to expand the survey to cover a thousand square degrees on the sky, and thereby unravel the mystery of dark energy and the expansion of the universe.
Mapping dark matter over a wide region is key to understanding the properties of dark energy, which controls the expansion of the universe. These early results demonstrate that with current research techniques and Hyper Suprime-Cam, the team is now ready to explore how the distribution of dark matter in the universe has changed over time, unravel the mystery of dark energy, and explore the universe?s expansion history with great detail.
Astronomers Discover Hundreds of Weird Galaxies Filled With Dark Matter
Last year, astronomers were surprised to detect 47 galaxies in the Coma Cluster that were made almost entirely of dark matter. So how much more surprised are they to see 800 more dark galaxies in the same cluster? Even that many concentrations of mysterious dark matter may be merely the "tip of the iceberg," said Jin Koda, an astrophysicist at Stony Brook University in New York. "We may find more if we look for fainter galaxies embedded in a large amount of dark matter," Koda said in a news release about the latest find. The discovery, detailed in the June issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, is based on observations from the 8.2-meter (27-foot) Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.
NASA Telescopes Set Limits on Space-time Quantum "Foam"
A team of scientists has used X-ray and gamma-ray observations of some of the most distant objects in the Universe to better understand the nature of space and time. Their results set limits on the quantum nature, or "foaminess" of space-time at extremely tiny scales.
Forget Space-Time: Information May Create the Cosmos
What are the basic building blocks of the cosmos? Atoms, particles, mass energy? Quantum mechanics, forces, fields? Space and time — space-time? Tiny strings with many dimensions?
A new candidate is "information," which some scientists claim is the foundation of reality. The late distinguished physicist John Archibald Wheeler characterized the idea as "It from bit" — "it" referring to all the stuff of the universe and "bit" meaning information.
It's no revelation that information is changing society. What's novel is that information is changing science. So, the question then becomes how to understand "information," a common term whose technical or scientific sense can be disruptive.
Left-handed cosmic magnetic field could explain missing antimatter
The discovery of a 'left-handed' magnetic field that pervades the universe could help explain a long standing mystery -- the absence of cosmic antimatter. A group of scientists, led by Prof Tanmay Vachaspati from Arizona State University in the United States, with collaborators at Washington University and Nagoya University, announce their result in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Electron pairing without superconductivity seen at long last
Electron pairing without superconductivity has been seen for the first time by a team of physicists in the US. Confirming a prediction made in 1969, the electron pairs were spotted in strontium titanate using a single-electron transistor. The observation could provide useful insights into the nature of superconductivity, and perhaps even help in the design of new high-temperature superconductors.
Atomic gas puts the brakes on light in optical fibres
Light in an optical fibre has been slowed to a virtual standstill for the first time by a team of physicists in France and Austria. The technique makes use of an effect called electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT), which normally occurs in clouds of atomic gases. The discovering could provide a practical solution to the vexing problem of how to build quantum memories for use in quantum-information networks.
Black Holes Might Make Dark Matter Shine
Dark matter circling the drain of a massive black hole could radiate gamma-rays that might be visible from Earth, according to new research. Dark matter is five times more plentiful in the universe than regular matter, but it does not emit, reflect or absorb light, making it not just dark but entirely transparent. But if dark-matter particles around black holes can produce gamma-rays (high-energy light), such emissions would give scientists a new way to study this mysterious material.
Ancient star raises prospects of intelligent life
Can life survive for billions of years longer than the expected timeline on Earth? As scientists discover older and older solar systems, it's likely that before long we'll find an ancient planet in a habitable zone. Knowing if life is possible on this exoplanet would have immense implications for habitability and the development of ancient life, one researcher says.In January, a group led by Tiago Campante—an astroseismology or "starquake" researcher at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom—announced a discovery of five tiny, likely rocky worlds close to an ancient star. The star is named Kepler-444 after NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission, which first made a tentative discovery. Campante's contribution was narrowing down the age of Kepler-444 and its planets to an astounding 11.2 billion years old. That's nearly 2.5 times as old as our solar system. None of Kepler-444's planets are thought to be habitable, as they circle the star at a scorchingly-close distance. However, Campante said that finding those planets is a great stride forward in the search for older, habitable worlds and the best may be yet to come.
Evidence Found in Asteroid Debris For How Water Reached Earth
Water delivery via asteroids or comets is likely taking place in many other planetary systems, just as it happened on Earth, new research strongly suggests.
Published by the Royal Astronomical Society and led by the University of Warwick, the research finds evidence for numerous planetary bodies, including asteroids and comets, containing large amounts of water.
The research findings add further support to the possibility water can be delivered to Earth-like planets via such bodies to create a suitable environment for the formation of life.
A Hot Start to the Origin of Life?
DNA is synonymous with life, but where did it originate? One way to answer this question is to try to recreate the conditions that formed DNA's molecular precursors.
These precursors are carbon ring structures with embedded nitrogen atoms, key components of nucleobases, which themselves are building blocks of the double helix.
Now, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Hawaii at Manoa have shown for the first time that cosmic hot spots, such as those near stars, could be excellent environments for the creation of these nitrogen-containing molecular rings.
In a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal, the team describes the experiment in which they recreate conditions around carbon-rich, dying stars to find formation pathways of the important molecules.
This Galaxy Far, Far Away Is the Farthest One Yet Found
A galaxy far, far away — farther, in fact, than any other known galaxy — has been measured by astronomers. The galaxy EGS-zs8-1 lies 13.1 billion light-years from Earth, the largest distance ever measured between Earth and another galaxy. The universe is thought to be about 13.8 billion years old, so galaxy EGS-zs8-1 is also one of the earliest galaxies to form in the cosmos. Further studies could provide a glimpse at how these early galaxies helped produce the heavy elements that are essential for building the diversity of life and landscapes we see on Earth today.
Physicists detect radio waves from a single electron
Physicists have long known that charged particles like electrons will spiral in a magnetic field and give off radiation. But nobody had ever detected the radio waves emanating from a single whirling electron—until now. The striking new technique researchers used to do it might someday help particle physicists answer a question that has vexed them for decades: How much does a ghostly particle called the neutrino weigh?
A Cold Cosmic Mystery Solved
n 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky.
The physics surrounding the Big Bang theory predicts warmer and cooler spots of various sizes in the infant universe, but a spot this large and this cold was unexpected.
Now, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Istvan Szapudi of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa may have found an explanation for the existence of the Cold Spot, which Szapudi says may be "the largest individual structure ever identified by humanity."
Biggest void in space is 1 billion light years across
Radio astronomers have found the biggest hole ever seen in the universe. The void, which is nearly a billion light years across, is empty of both normal matter and dark matter. The finding challenges theories of large-scale structure formation in the universe.
This Molecule Could've Created the Backbone of DNA and Helped to Kick-Start Life
In a new study out today, scientists may have taken another key step toward explaining how genetic materials—and life—may have first formed on the Earth.
The molecule is question is called formamide. It's pretty simple; the molecular formula is NH2CHO. It's incredibly abundant in our universe, appearing in absurdly huge interstellar clouds, and is believed to be a vital component of almost all infantile, planet-forging star systems. And some researchers think formamide could have a key player in the origin of life. Last December, for example, a team of Czech researchers discovered that the energy you'd get form a comet or asteroid impact would be enough to instantaneously transform formamide into many of the molecular letters of our genetic alphabet.
That surprising discovery had pretty profound implications, leaving many to wonder if such impacts on our young Earth could have heralded the dawn of life. But the puzzle was incomplete: While the Czech researchers could account for the genesis of the letters inside DNA, they couldn't account for the spine of the molecule—the sugars and phosphate groups that hold everything together to form the iconic double helix.
In this new study, a team of Italian and Russian scientists has solved half that problem. In a science paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found that simply bombarding formamide (alongside various ground-up meteorites) with solar wind—the stream of charged particles from the sun—could spawn a veritable alphabet soup of life's necessary molecules, including the sugary half of that missing genetic spine.
First Signs of Self-interacting Dark Matter?
Using the MUSE instrument on ESO's VLT in Chile, along with images from Hubble in orbit, a team of astronomers studied the simultaneous collision of four galaxies in the galaxy cluster Abell 3827.
The team could trace out where the mass lies within the system and compare the distribution of the dark matter with the positions of the luminous galaxies.
Although dark matter cannot be seen, the team could deduce its location using a technique called gravitational lensing. The collision happened to take place directly in front of a much more distant, unrelated source. The mass of dark matter around the colliding galaxies severely distorted spacetime, deviating the path of light rays coming from the distant background galaxy -- and distorting its image into characteristic arc shapes.
Our current understanding is that all galaxies exist inside clumps of dark matter. Without the constraining effect of dark matter's gravity, galaxies like the Milky Way would fling themselves apart as they rotate. In order to prevent this, 85 percent of the Universe's mass  must exist as dark matter, and yet its true nature remains a mystery.
In this study, the researchers observed the four colliding galaxies and found that one dark matter clump appeared to be lagging behind the galaxy it surrounds. The dark matter is currently 5000 light-years (50 000 million million kilometres) behind the galaxy -- it would take NASA's Voyager spacecraft 90 million years to travel that far.
A lag between dark matter and its associated galaxy is predicted during collisions if dark matter interacts with itself, even very slightly, through forces other than gravity . Dark matter has never before been observed interacting in any way other than through the force of gravity.
Dark matter map unveils first results
A huge effort to map dark matter across the cosmos has released its first data.
Dark matter is the invisible "web" that holds galaxies together; by watching how clumps of it shift over time, scientists hope eventually to quantify dark energy - the even more mysterious force that is pushing the cosmos apart.
The map will eventually span one-eighth of the sky; this first glimpse covers just 0.4%, but in unprecedented detail.
It shows fibres of dark matter, studded with galaxies, and voids in between.
The international collaboration, known as the Dark Energy Survey (DES), will present its preliminary findings on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Physical Society and publish them on the Arxiv preprint server.
The survey involves more than 300 scientists from six countries and uses images taken by one of the best digital cameras in the world: a 570-megapixel gadget mounted on the Victor Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Chilean Andes.
Accelerating Universe? Not So Fast
Certain types of supernovae, or exploding stars, are more diverse than previously thought, a University of Arizona-led team of astronomers has discovered The results, reported in two papers published in the Astrophysical Journal, have implications for big cosmological questions, such as how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang. Most importantly, the findings hint at the possibility that the acceleration of the expansion of the universe might not be quite as fast as textbooks say.
The team, led by UA astronomer Peter A. Milne, discovered that type Ia supernovae, which have been considered so uniform that cosmologists have used them as cosmic "beacons" to plumb the depths of the universe, actually fall into different populations. The findings are analogous to sampling a selection of 100-watt light bulbs at the hardware store and discovering that they vary in brightness. "We found that the differences are not random, but lead to separating Ia supernovae into two groups, where the group that is in the minority near us are in the majority at large distances -- and thus when the universe was younger," said Milne, an associate astronomer with the UA's Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. "There are different populations out there, and they have not been recognized. The big assumption has been that as you go from near to far, type Ia supernovae are the same. That doesn't appear to be the case."
The discovery casts new light on the currently accepted view of the universe expanding at a faster and faster rate, pulled apart by a poorly understood force called dark energy. This view is based on observations that resulted in the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to three scientists, including UA alumnus Brian P. Schmidt.
Complex Organic Molecules Discovered in Infant Star System
For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star, indicating that the conditions that spawned our Earth and Sun are not unique in the universe.
This discovery, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), reveals that the protoplanetary disk surrounding the million-year-old star MWC 480 is brimming with methyl cyanide (CH3CN), a complex carbon-based molecule. Both this molecule and its simpler cousin hydrogen cyanide (HCN) were found in the cold outer reaches of the star's newly formed disk, in a region that astronomers believe is analogous to our own Kuiper Belt - the realm of icy planetesimals and comets beyond Neptune.
Scientists understand that comets retain a pristine record of the early chemistry of our solar system, from the period of planet formation. As the planets evolved, it's believed that comets and asteroids from the outer solar system seeded the young Earth with water and organic molecules, helping set the stage for life to eventually emerge.
Black holes don’t erase information, scientists say
Shred a document, and you can piece it back together. Burn a book, and you could theoretically do the same. But send information into a black hole, and it’s lost forever. That’s what some physicists have argued for years: That black holes are the ultimate vaults, entities that suck in information and then evaporate without leaving behind any clues as to what they once contained.
But new research shows that this perspective may not be correct. “According to our work, information isn’t lost once it enters a black hole,” says Dejan Stojkovic, PhD, associate professor of physics at the University at Buffalo. “It doesn’t just disappear.” Stojkovic’s new study, “Radiation from a Collapsing Object is Manifestly Unitary,” appeared on March 17 in Physical Review Letters, with UB PhD student Anshul Saini as co-author. The paper outlines how interactions between particles emitted by a black hole can reveal information about what lies within, such as characteristics of the object that formed the black hole to begin with, and characteristics of the matter and energy drawn inside.
Two Earth-sized exoplanets may exist in closest star system, Hubble observations reveal
The closest star system to our own Sun may have two Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting it, a new study has shown based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. If confirmed, the discovery would help to illustrate just how common exoplanets are; data from Kepler and other telescopes has also already shown that the vast majority of stars have exoplanets orbiting them, and the number of exoplanets in our galaxy alone is now thought to number in the billions. Both candidate exoplanets, if real, orbit Alpha Centauri B, one of two stars in the Alpha Centauri binary star system, the closest star system to Earth at only 4.3 light-years away. That would be an exciting find, since most exoplanets have so far been found orbiting stars much farther away, due to the nature of observations required for different kinds of searches. A third star, Alpha Centauri C (or Proxima Centauri), may or may not be gravitationally associated with the first two stars.
New Research Suggests Solar System May Have Once Harbored Super-Earths
Long before Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars formed, it seems that the inner solar system may have harbored a number of super-Earths—planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. If so, those planets are long gone—broken up and fallen into the sun billions of years ago largely due to a great inward-and-then-outward journey that Jupiter made early in the solar system's history.
This possible scenario has been suggested by Konstantin Batygin, a Caltech planetary scientist, and Gregory Laughlin of UC Santa Cruz in a paper that appears the week of March 23 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The results of their calculations and simulations suggest the possibility of a new picture of the early solar system that would help to answer a number of outstanding questions about the current makeup of the solar system and of Earth itself. For example, the new work addresses why the terrestrial planets in our solar system have such relatively low masses compared to the planets orbiting other sun-like stars.
Dark matter 'ghosts' through galactic smash-ups
Dark matter is the mysterious, invisible stuff that makes up 85% of the matter in the cosmos - and these results rule out several theoretical models put forward to explain it. This is because it barely interacts with anything at all, including the dark matter in the oncoming galaxies.
The work appears in Science magazine.
Astronomers Discover Dwarf Galaxies Orbiting the Milky Way
Astronomers have discovered a ‘treasure trove’ of rare dwarf satellite galaxies orbiting our own Milky Way. The discoveries could hold the key to understanding dark matter, the mysterious substance which holds our galaxy together.
Terraforming Mars by Polluting its Atmosphere
Four University of Leicester physics students have co-written a paper which highlights a problematic concept when planning a human colony on Mars. Colonizing the Red Planet is exactly the kind of goal that the privately funded Mars One program me has set for itself and hopes to achieve by 2025. It has recently announced the penultimate stage of its colonist selection program.
So undergraduates Alex Longman, 22, Kieran Flatt, 21, Sam Turnpenney, 32, and Maria Garreffa, 22, got together to look at the possibility of terraforming Mars in preparation for its first human settlers. As part of a course module which invites them to consider alternative and off-the-wall suggestions based on real scientific principles, the groups looked at burning copious amounts of coal on Mars to create enough carbon dioxide to alter the Martian atmosphere. The process would increase the atmospheric density and eliminate the need for pressurized spacesuits making the Red Planet more habitable. However, the group performed some short calculations to demonstrate that, unsurprisingly, there are some major difficulties with this proposal. Lead author Alex said: "The paper found that terraforming Mars was unfeasible and unlikely to happen any time soon due to the large values of coal being needed to produce a greenhouse effect.
Fresh hint of dark matter seen in neutrino search
Flashes of X-rays from crowded galaxy clusters could be the long-awaited sign that we have found particles of dark matter – the elusive substance thought to make up the bulk of all matter in the universe.
If the results stand up, dark matter would consist of ghostly particles called "sterile" neutrinos. These tantalising particles would be the first kind found beyond the standard set known to science.
Dark matter interacts with ordinary matter via gravity but otherwise scarcely makes itself known. Physicists think its mass could be tied up in an unknown particle. The leading theoretical candidate is a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP), but our best detectors have yet to yield a confirmed sighting.
Gamma Rays May Be Clue on Dark Matter
A small, newly discovered galaxy orbiting the Milky Way is emitting a surprising amount of electromagnetic radiation in the form of gamma rays, astronomers reported Tuesday. The finding may be the latest in a long string of cosmic false alarms, they said, or it might be that the mysterious dark matter that permeates the universe is finally showing a bit of leg. If confirmed, the results could mean that most of the matter of the universe is in the form of as-yet-unidentified elementary particles, 20 to 100 times as heavy as a proton, that have been drifting and clumping like fog in space ever since the Big Bang.
Nasa finds evidence of a vast ancient ocean on Mars
A massive ancient ocean once covered nearly half of the northern hemisphere of Mars making the planet a more promising place for alien life to have gained a foothold, Nasa scientists say. The huge body of water spread over a fifth of the planet’s surface, as great a portion as the Atlantic covers the Earth, and was a mile deep in places. In total, the ocean held 20 million cubic kilometers of water, or more than is found in the Arctic Ocean, the researchers found.
'Life Not As We Know It': New Research Shows How Exotic Biology May Be Possible on Titan
The search for life elsewhere has long focused on what we are most familiar with on Earth—in other words, “life as we know it,” or organisms which are carbon-based and require water to survive. However, a growing number of scientists are now thinking that alternative forms of life are possible, ones which have never been seen on Earth, but could flourish in other types of alien environments. A new study from Cornell University addresses this very question, demonstrating a form of microscopic life which would be possible on Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
Why isn’t the universe as bright as it should be?
A handful of new stars are born each year in the Milky Way, while many more blink on across the universe. But astronomers have observed that galaxies should be churning out millions more stars, based on the amount of interstellar gas available. Now researchers from MIT, Columbia University, and Michigan State University have pieced together a theory describing how clusters of galaxies may regulate star formation. They describe their framework this week in the journal Nature.
Here’s The First-Ever Photo of Light Behaving as Both a Wave and a Particle
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in Switzerland have captured the first photograph of light behaving as both a wave and a particle. “This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics—and its paradoxical nature—directly," Fabrizio Carbone, who led the research team that designed the technique to capture the breakthrough image, said in a statement. "Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing."
Scientists discover black hole so big it contradicts growth theory
Scientists say they have discovered a black hole so big that it challenges the theory about how they grow. Scientists said this black hole was formed about 900 million years after the Big Bang. But with measurements indicating it is 12 billion times the size of the Sun, the black hole challenges a widely accepted hypothesis of growth rates. "Based on previous research, this is the largest black hole found for that period of time," Dr Fuyan Bian, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University (ANU), told Reuters on Wednesday. "Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory." The creation of supermassive black holes remains an open topic of research. However, many scientists have long believed the growth rate of black holes was limited.
The Hills Have Ice... on Mars, That Is
Scientists have been hunting for evidence of water on Mars ever since they started looking at the Red Planet through telescopes. But Mars does have water, and lots of it; solid water in the form of ice locked up in its polar caps and buried under its surface. And, if observations made by ESA’s Mars Express are indicative of similar processes seen on Earth, these ancient hills may also hide hidden deposits of ice.
Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs?
Every so often, the fossil record shows, ecological disasters wipe large numbers of species off the face of Earth. These mass extinctions occur roughly every 26 million to 30 million years—about the same interval at which our solar system passes through the plane of the Milky Way. Putting two and two together, some researchers have proposed that clouds of dust and gas in the galactic plane might disrupt the orbits of far-flung comets and trigger planet-smacking collisions. A new study suggests an additional culprit may lie behind those times of woe: dark matter.
Dark Matter Influences Supermassive Black Hole Growth
Using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the ROSAT X-ray satellite’s all-sky survey, researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detail a distinct relationship between the mass of a dark matter halo and the mass of a black hole.
'Golden stars' pulsate in a strange, non-chaotic way
The first stars known to pulsate in a fractal manner have been discovered by physicists in the US and Germany. According to the researchers, the variable stars may be the first "strange non-chaotic attractors" seen outside the laboratory. The objects were found in data from the Kepler space telescope by looking for stars with two characteristic pulsation frequencies that have a "golden ratio" of approximately 1.62. The discovery could shed light on the physics that drives variable stars and also help astronomers come up with better classification systems for these objects. A variable star dims and brightens as its size and sometimes its shape oscillates at one or more frequencies. Since it was launched in 2009, NASA's Kepler mission has been a boon to astronomers studying variable stars because the telescope has been monitoring the brightness of more than 100,000 stars in its search for distant planets. However, John Learned of the University of Hawaii and Michael Hippke of the Institute for Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn in Germany noticed the first strange non-chaotic "golden star" when searching the Kepler data for evidence that advanced extraterrestrial civilizations modulate variable stars to communicate between galaxies.
Slimy Microbes May Have Carpeted Earth 3.2 Billion Years Ago
A layer of living scum only a cell thick may have covered parts of Earth more than 3 billion years ago, surviving with the help of nitrogen that these slimy microbes pulled from the atmosphere, a new study finds. This finding suggests that nitrogen may have helped some planets, such as Mars, support life, researchers say.
Although life can exist without oxygen — and did, in the earliest days of life on Earth — without nitrogen, such organisms would be scarce. Nitrogen is needed to create proteins, DNA and RNA, and necessary for plants to grow and photosynthesize. It is an essential nutrient for all life on Earth and must have been available since its origins, researchers said. [7 Theories for the Origin of Life on Earth]
'Shadow biosphere' might be hiding strange life right under our noses
If we came across alien life, would we even know it was alive? That was a central question posed at a session here yesterday at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science). All known life on Earth fits a particular mold, but life from other planets might break free from that mold, making it difficult for us to identify. We could even be oblivious to unfamiliar forms of life right under our noses. All life as we know it follows a standard protocol, known as the “central dogma,” using DNA and RNA to store genetic information, and translating that into proteins. And all living things rely on the same handful of chemical elements. So, when searching for life in remote or extreme environments scientists typically look for signs of the kind of life we’re familiar with. But, “if we have other organisms out there that do things just slightly differently, we might miss the boat,” geobiologist Victoria Orphan of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena told attendees.
Cosmic "Reionization" Is More Recent than Predicted
The highly anticipated update of the analysis of data from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite starts with a first paper published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, which already holds in store a few major surprises.
The first article in fact "rejuvenates" the stars of our universe. Thanks to new maps of cosmic background radiation (in particular, those containing "polarization anisotropies" of radiation) scientists have found that the "reionization" process could be more recent than estimated until now.
Evidence for the Presence of Dark Matter in the Innermost Part of the Milky Way
A new study from astrophysicists at Stockholm University provides evidence for the presence of dark matter in the innermost part of the Milky Way, including in our own cosmic neighborhood and the Earth’s location. The study demonstrates that large amounts of dark matter exist around us, and also between us and the Galactic center. The result constitutes a fundamental step forward in the quest for the nature of dark matter.
Dark matter found in Milky Way’s core
Most of the material of the universe is dark matter—stuff we can’t see, though we can still feel its gravity. It was discovered in the 1970s when astronomer Vera Rubin showed that stars in the outer regions of spiral galaxies, far from the center, were moving faster than they should be. This suggested there was some sort of unseen mass in a “halo” around the galaxy. But physicists disagree over whether all this dark matter is at the margin or if there is some in a galaxy’s core. Now, a team of researchers has attempted to answer that question for the Milky Way (pictured). They collected all the data they could find about stellar speeds in the inner regions of our home galaxy to see how they varied with distance from the center, they report online today in Nature Physics. Then they took the best models for how much normal matter there is throughout the galaxy and calculated how fast you would expect stars to be moving if only that normal matter was pulling on them. They found that the measured speeds and calculated speeds didn’t agree, demonstrating that dark matter does indeed play a role in the inner galaxy. The researchers hope their studies will help narrow down searches for the nature of dark matter as well as aid the understanding of galaxy formation.
Planck: Gravitational Waves Remain Elusive
Despite earlier reports of a possible detection, a joint analysis of data from ESA’s Planck satellite and the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments has found no conclusive evidence of primordial gravitational waves.
Ancient miniature solar system hints at existence of alien life
A miniature version of solar system with planets like Earth existed 11 billion years ago and could have held ancient life, say scientists.A miniature solar system with five Earth-sized planets existed 11 billion years ago, at the dawn of the universe, scientists have discovered. The planets clustered around a Sun-like star and could point to the existence of life billions of years before the first amoeba existed on our planet. “There are far-reaching implications for this discovery,” said Dr Tiago Campante, from the University of Birmingham's School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the research.
Cosmic 'Nuclear Pasta' May Be Stranger Than Originally Thought
The crusts of neutron stars — cosmic cousins of black holes — possess a weird form of matter known as "nuclear pasta." Now, scientists have found that nuclear pasta may be even stranger than previously thought, forming defects that bond pieces together into complex, disorderly shapes. This complex nuclear pasta could ultimately doom the powerful magnetic fields seen from neutron stars, researchers say.
How the Earth got its nitrogen
Nitrogen may have arrived on Earth in ancient meteorites after the planet had already formed, according to a new study. Reported in the journal Nature Geoscience, the research illustrates how meteorites - often portrayed as portents of doom and destruction - may actually have been key to the development of life on Earth.
Three nearly Earth-size planets found orbiting nearby star
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, despite being hobbled by the loss of critical guidance systems, has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" zone, a region where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water and perhaps life, to exist. The star, EPIC 201367065, is a cool red M-dwarf about half the size and mass of our own sun. At a distance of 150 light years, the star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets. The star's proximity means it's bright enough for astronomers to study the planets' atmospheres to determine whether they are like Earth's atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.
How 'Quantum Dots' Could Probe Mysteries of Entanglement
A microwave laser built using tiny particles that act as semiconductors could be used to explore strange phenomena such as quantum entanglement. Researchers at Princeton University used quantum dots — tiny particles of light-emitting nanocrystals that can absorb light from one wavelength and convert it to highly saturated light at specific wavelengths — to build a so-called "maser" that emits light at longer wavelengths than the traditional lasers that we can see. The device could also lead to advances in quantum computing.
Space chemistry could be cooking up icy building blocks of life, study says
Where did the ingredients for life on Earth come from? Many scientists think the basic chemical building blocks for biology were delivered via comet, but the building blocks -- and the building process -- remain a mystery. Now, a team led by French researchers thinks they may have found lab-based evidence that a class of complex organic molecules could have evolved in the ice of star-forming clouds -- and could be a potential source for the organic matter that allowed life on Earth to emerge.
Using a Vanishing Neutron Star to Measure Space-time Warp
In an interstellar race against time, astronomers have measured the space-time warp in the gravity of a binary star and determined the mass of a neutron star--just before it vanished from view.
The international team, including University of British Columbia astronomer Ingrid Stairs, measured the masses of both stars in binary pulsar system J1906. The pulsar spins and emits a lighthouse-like beam of radio waves every 144 milliseconds. It orbits its companion star in a little under four hours. "By precisely tracking the motion of the pulsar, we were able to measure the gravitational interaction between the two highly compact stars with extreme precision," says Stairs, professor of physics and astronomy at UBC.
Did Gravity Save the Universe from 'God Particle' Higgs Boson?
The recently discovered Higgs boson, which helps give particles their mass, could have destroyed the cosmos shortly after it was born, causing the universe to collapse just after the Big Bang. But gravity, the force that keeps planets and stars together, might have kept this from happening, scientists say.
8 Newfound Alien Worlds Could Potentially Support Life
astronomers have discovered eight new exoplanets that may be capable of supporting life as we know it, including what they say are the two most Earthlike alien worlds yet found. All eight newfound alien planets appear to orbit in their parent stars' habitable zone — that just-right range of distances that may allow liquid water to exist on a world's surface — and all of them are relatively small, researchers said.
Planet hunters plot course for habitable worlds
Scott Gaudi is tired of the fighting. An astronomer at Ohio State University in Columbus, he specializes in the notoriously fractious field of exoplanet research, in which battles have included bitter fights over data access and epic rifts between teams searching for planets outside our Solar System. On 4 January in Seattle, Washington, Gaudi will take a tentative first step towards corralling this rowdy bunch. As chair of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group, he will try to nudge a roomful of US exoplanet scientists into generating a coherent, specific vision for where the field should go. The time is right. Researchers have almost finished combing through the thousands of leads that were produced by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft between 2009 and 2013, and are squeezing some more data out of the craft’s limited ‘K2’ mission extension (see Nature 514, 414–415; 2014). By the mid-2020s, budgets permitting, astronomers expect to have a satellite called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) busy cataloguing planets that are too far away from their host stars for Kepler to have spotted them. Together, Kepler and WFIRST will produce a rough census of how many planets there are in our Galaxy. But NASA has yet to work out how to tackle the next, more crucial questions: could anything actually live on any of these planets? And what will it take to understand a given world’s chances of being habitable?
The Stellar Origins of Your Toothpaste
It may only take brushing your teeth to help you feel connected to the cosmos. New research suggests that fluorine, an element in toothpaste, may have been forged billions of years ago inside stars that are now long dead. Fluorine is commonly found in products like toothpaste, refrigerants and pharmaceuticals, and it's the 13th most abundant element on Earth. Astronomers already knew that most elements have a stellar origin, but multiple theories speculate on the birth of cosmic fluorine.The new study suggests that red giant stars may be the main creators of fluorine, and the element likely originated in the high pressure cores of these sun-like stars.
The world of physics in 2015
The science story of 2014, which Physics World picked as its Breakthrough of the Year, simply had to be the successful landing of a man-made probe onto a comet, for the first time. Philae dropped on to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November after a 10-year journey aboard the Rosetta craft – triggering scenes of wild jubilation among scientists and engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA), who had lived through a nail-biting final hour as they waited for radio signals to travel the 511 million kilometres from the comet to Earth after its scheduled landing time. Data from the mission are likely to keep astronomers busy for years to come, including signs that water on Earth came not from comets, as was previously thought, but from asteroids. In fact, 2014 was quite a year for space science, with India putting its Mangalyaan craft in orbit around Mars for the first time and Japan launching the country's second asteroid sample-return mission, Hayabusa 2. Further new findings also came in from the Planck mission, confirming the standard model of cosmology and further constraining what dark matter could be. But what of 2105? What will be the key events in physics and who will have taken the accolades in 12 months' time?