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?
NASA Rover Finds Mysterious Methane Emissions on Mars
Is there life on Mars? The answer may be blowing in the wind. NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected fluctuating traces of methane – a possible sign of life – in the thin, cold air of the Martian atmosphere, researchers announced today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Across Mars and within Gale Crater, where Curiosity is slowly climbing a spire of sedimentary rock called Mount Sharp, the methane exists at a background concentration of slightly less than one part per billion by volume in the atmosphere (ppb). However, for reasons unknown, four times across a period of two months the rover measured much higher methane abundances, at about ten times the background level. Further in-situ studies of the methane emissions could help pin down whether Mars has life, now or in its deep past, though it is unclear when or if those studies will ever take place. The findings are published in the journal Science.
Researchers use real data rather than theory to measure the cosmos
For the first time researchers have measured large distances in the Universe using data, rather than calculations related to general relativity. A research team from Imperial College London and the University of Barcelona has used data from astronomical surveys to measure a standard distance that is central to our understanding of the expansion of the universe. Previously the size of this 'standard ruler' has only been predicted from theoretical models that rely on general relativity to explain gravity at large scales. The new study is the first to measure it using observed data. A standard ruler is an object which consistently has the same physical size so that a comparison of its actual size to its size in the sky will provide a measurement of its distance to earth.
Superconductivity record breaks under pressure
For nearly 30 years, the search for a room-temperature superconductor has focused on exotic materials known as cuprates, which can carry currents without losing energy as heat at temperatures up to 164 Kelvin, or –109 ˚C. But scientists say that they have trumped that record using the common molecule hydrogen sulphide1. When they subjected a tiny sample of that material to pressures close to those inside Earth’s core, the researchers say that it was superconductive at 190 K (–83 ˚C)."If the result is reproduced, it will be quite shocking," says Robert Cava, a solid-state chemist at Princeton University in New Jersey. "It would be a historic discovery."
According to the established theory of superconductivity — dubbed BCS theory after the surnames of its creators, John Bardeen, Leon Cooper and Robert Schrieffer — vibrations in a crystal's atoms can lead electrons to form ‘Cooper pairs’ that can flow through the crystal without resistance. BCS theory was developed in the 1950s, but most physicists believe that it cannot explain superconductivity in cuprates, which was discovered in 1986, or in iron pnictides2, found in 2006.
New Dark Matter Detector Will Be 100 Times More Sensitive to Dark Matter
A team of scientists is building a super sized version of the dark matter detector Lux, called Lux-Zeplin, which will be roughly 100 times more sensitive to dark matter than its predecessor. “What really impressed me was the trip down,” said astrophysicist James Buckley, PhD, speaking of the vertical mile he traveled to get to the site of an underground dark-matter experiment. “You can see you’re moving at a pretty good clip, which, by the way, is three times slower than the cage used to drop when it was a mine. It took us 10 minutes to get down a mile. You just watch the earth flashing by and every once in a while you go past a boarded up tunnel.” The mine is the Homestake Mine, a played-out gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, that has been converted into a warren of underground chambers housing physics experiments that need to be shielded from cosmic radiation.One of these experiments is the Lux detector, designed to detect WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). WIMPs are hypothetical subatomic particles thought to make up dark matter in much the same way that electrons and quarks make up ordinary matter. But compared to other particles, WIMPs are elusive and interact only rarely with ordinary matter, and so far Lux hasn’t found any.
Researchers report possible dark matter signal
Researchers with the European Space Agency say they've detected a strange spike in X-rays coming from two cosmic locations -- the Andromeda Galaxy and the Perseus Cluster. The astronomers think the strange emissions could be the signal of dark matter. If confirmed, it would be first direct evidence of dark matter. Astronomers are confident dark matter exists, but it remains purely hypothetical. Still without it, everything scientists know about the universe falls apart -- their calculations for and modeling of various celestial behaviors wouldn't make any sense. It's estimated that as much as 80 percent of the universe is composed of dark matter -- exerting gravitational forces on its surroundings. Because dark matter neither emits nor absorbs light, it's nearly impossible to observe.
Quantum Teleportation Reaches Farthest Distance Yet
A new distance record has been set in the strange world of quantum teleportation. In a recent experiment, the quantum state (the direction it was spinning) of a light particle instantly traveled 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) across an optical fiber, becoming the farthest successful quantum teleportation feat yet. Advances in quantum teleportation could lead to better Internet and communication security, and get scientists closer to developing quantum computers.
Mars Rover Finds Stronger Potential for Life
For lifeless chemical compounds to organize themselves into something alive, scientists generally agree, three sets of things must be present:
â- Standing water and an energy source.
â- Five basic elements: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus and nitrogen.
â- And time, lots of time.
In its search for environments where life might have started on Mars, the Curiosity rover has found the standing water, the energy and the key elements with the right atomic charges. As a result, scientists have concluded that at least some of the planet must have been habitable long ago. But the period when all conditions were right was counted in hundreds to thousands of years, a very small opening by origin-of-life standards.
Continue reading the main story
Some scientists think Gale Crater was once fully buried with sediment and that winds excavated most of it, leaving an 18,000-foot mountain in the middle. (The colors represent different elevations.)Curiosity Rover’s Quest for Clues on MarsDEC. 8, 2014
A painting of early Mars, showing shallow seas across the northern lowlands and weather systems drifting in a denser atmosphere than today's.Looking to Mars to Help Understand Changing ClimatesDEC. 8, 2014
Something to Say About Mars Clockwise from top left: Carl Sagan, President Obama, President Ronald Reagan, Wanda Sykes, Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, Orson Welles, Maya Angelou, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elton John. In the center is a view of a sandstorm on the Martian surface.Mars, ObservedDEC. 8, 2014
First Person: Covering Mars Opened a New WorldDEC. 8, 2014
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity obtained this image using its Left Navigation Camera on the rover's 832 Martian day, called a Sol. Explore Mars for YourselfDEC. 9, 2014
interactive Mars Curiosity Rover TrackerAUG. 5, 2013
That has now changed. John P. Grotzinger of Caltech, the project scientist for the mission, reported at a news conference on Monday that the rover’s yearlong trek to Mount Sharp provided strong new evidence that Gale Crater had large lakes, rivers and deltas, on and off, for millions to tens of millions of years. The geology shows that even when the surface water dried up, plenty of water would have remained underground, he said.
Quantum computer quest
When asked what he likes best about working for Google, physicist John Martinis does not mention the famous massage chairs in the hallways, or the free snacks available just about anywhere at the company's campus in Mountain View, California. Instead, he marvels at Google's tolerance of failure in pursuit of a visionary goal. “If every project they try works,” he says, “they think they aren't trying hard enough.” Martinis reckons that he is going to need that kind of patience. In September, Google recruited him and his 20-member research team from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and set them to work on the notoriously difficult task of building quantum computers: devices that exploit the quirks of the quantum world to carry out calculations that ordinary computers could not finish in the lifetime of the Universe.
See it, touch it, feel it: Team develops invisible 3-D haptic shape
Technology has changed rapidly over the last few years with touch feedback, known as haptics, being used in entertainment, rehabilitation and even surgical training. New research, using ultrasound, has developed an invisible 3-D haptic shape that can be seen and felt. The research paper, published in the current issue of ACM Transactions on Graphics and which will be presented at this week's SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference [3-6 December], demonstrates how a method has been created to produce 3D shapes that can be felt in mid-air. The research, led by Dr Ben Long and colleagues Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol's Department of Computer Science, could change the way 3D shapes are used. The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback.
The method uses ultrasound, which is focussed onto hands above the device and that can be felt. By focussing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3D shapes. Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp. The system generates an invisible 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to create something that can be seen and felt. The research team have also shown that users can match a picture of a 3D shape to the shape created by the system.
European probe shoots down dark-matter claims
The first full analysis of the data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft has resolved some conundrums raised by earlier cosmology studies — but has made the riddle of dark matter more obscure. The Planck team did not yet address a controversy over the gravitational waves from the Big Bang announced in March, but plans to do so in an upcoming study.The space observatory has produced the most detailed full-sky survey yet of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), radiation left over from the explosive birth of the Universe some 13.8 billion years ago. The maps are based on all four years of Planck observations, from launch in 2009 to decommissioning in 2013, and include both the temperature and the polarization of the CMB.
Gravity may have saved the universe after the Big Bang
New research by a team of European physicists could explain why the universe did not collapse immediately after the Big Bang. Studies of the Higgs particle - discovered at CERN in 2012 and responsible for giving mass to all particles - have suggested that the production of Higgs particles during the accelerating expansion of the very early universe (inflation) should have led to instability and collapse.
How to estimate the magnetic field of an exoplanet
Scientists developed a new method which allows to estimate the magnetic field of a distant exoplanet, i.e., a planet, which is located outside the Solar system and orbits a different star. Moreover, they managed to estimate the value of the magnetic moment of the planet HD 209458b.
Parallel Worlds Could Explain Wacky Quantum Physics
The idea that an infinite number of parallel worlds could exist alongside our own is hard to wrap the mind around, but a version of this so-called Many Worlds theory could provide an answer to the controversial idea of quantum mechanics and its many different interpretations. Bill Poirier, a professor of physics at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, proposed a theory that not only assumes parallel worlds exist, but also says their interaction can explain all the quantum mechanics "weirdness" in the observable universe.
GPS satellites might be able to detect elusive dark matter
The everyday use of a GPS device might be to find your way around town or even navigate a hiking trail, but for two physicists, the Global Positioning System might be a tool in directly detecting and measuring dark matter, so far an elusive but ubiquitous form of matter responsible for the formation of galaxies.
Andrei Derevianko, of the University of Nevada, Reno, and his colleague Maxim Pospelov, of the University of Victoria and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have proposed a method for a dark-matter search with GPS satellites and other atomic clock networks that compares times from the clocks and looks for discrepancies.
Frigid matter powers first quantum circuits
Move over, electrons – circuits could one day be powered by frigid quantum matter. Ultra-cold clouds of atoms called Bose-Einstein condensates act as a single quantum object, and the goal has been to build "atomtronic" circuits with them. But the condensate's delicate quantum state can easily fall apart. Now Changhyun Ryu and Malcolm Boshier of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have found a way to do it. Their circuits are built from two laser beams, one that creates a horizontal sheet of light to act as a circuit board, and another vertical laser that traces out the path of the circuit. The condensate, which is made from around 4000 cooled rubidium atoms, is trapped inside the beams by the same forces used to create optical tweezers, which can manipulate particles on a small scale. The condensate is set in motion by creating a slightly sloped path. The team ran the condensate along straight lines, in a circle and through a Y junction – all essential components of a circuit. Since the circuits are just made from light, they can be reconfigured as the atoms are moving, letting you squeeze a complex circuit into a small space, says Boshier.
Dark Matter's New Wrinkle: It May Behave Like Wavy Fluid
The mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the matter in the universe may behave more like wavy fluids than solid particles, helping to explain the shapes of galaxies, a new study suggests. Dark matter is one of the greatest mysteries in the cosmos. It is thought to be an invisible and mostly intangible substance that makes up five-sixths of all matter in the universe. The scientific consensus is that dark matter is composed of a new type of particle, one that interacts very weakly with all the known forces of the universe and is mostly only detectable via the gravitational pull it exerts. However, what kind of particle dark matter consists of remains unknown.
Dark Matter Black Holes Could Be Destroying Stars at the Milky Way’s Center
Dark matter may have turned spinning stars into black holes near the center of our galaxy, researchers say. There, scientists expected to see plenty of the dense, rotating stars called pulsars, which are fairly common throughout the Milky Way. Despite numerous searches, however, only one has been found, giving rise to the so-called “missing pulsar problem.” A possible explanation, according to a new study, is that dark matter has built up inside these stars, causing the pulsars to collapse into black holes. (These black holes would be smaller than the supermassive black hole that is thought to lurk at the very heart of the galaxy.)
Why a Physics Revolution Might Be on Its Way