Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Trampoline mirror may push laser pulse through fabric of the Universe 

September 14th, 2019
Pictured: Definitely not a possible universe-altering fancy trampoline.

Enlarge / Pictured: Definitely not a possible universe-altering fancy trampoline. (credit: Nazar Abbas Photography / Getty Images)

Scientists want to rip the Universe apart. At least that is what a Daily Mail headline might read. Lasers can now reach power in the petawatt range. And, when you focus a laser beam that powerful, nothing survives: all matter is shredded, leaving only electrons and nuclei.

But laser physicists haven’t stopped there. Under good experimental conditions, the very fabric of space and time are torn asunder, testing quantum electrodynamics to destruction. And a new mirror may be all we need to get there.

On average, the amount of power used by humans is about 18 terawatts. A petawatt is 1,000 times larger than a terawatt. The baddest laser on the planet (currently) produces somewhere between 5 and 10 petawatts, and there are plans on the drawing board to reach 100 petawatts in the near future. The trick is that the power is not available all the time. Each of these lasers produces somewhere between 5-5000 J of energy for a very very short time (between a picosecond—10-12s—and a few femtoseconds—10-15s). During that instant, however, the power flow is immense.

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Posted in petawatt lasers, plasma mirrors, quantum electrodynamics, science | Comments (0)

CDC refines definition of vaping-linked illnesses, lowers case count

September 13th, 2019
A man smokes an e-cigarette.

Enlarge / A man smokes an e-cigarette. (credit: Getty | Picture alliance)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated and revised the national tally of illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarettes, aka vaping, dropping the count from 450 possible cases to 380 confirmed and probable cases, the agency announced late Thursday.

The new figure follows a clearer clinical definition for the illness as well as further investigation into individual cases. The 380 confirmed and probable cases now span 36 states and still include six deaths, as reported earlier. The CDC added that the current number of cases “is expected to increase as additional cases are classified.”

While health investigators are clearing the air around the clinical aspect of the cases, the cause is still foggy. Though all the cases are associated with vaping, investigators have struggled to identify specific vape products or ingredients that tie all the cases and symptoms together.

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Posted in addiction, CDC, e-cigarettes, fda, lung illnesses, nicotine, outbreak, science, smoking, THC, tobacco, vaping | Comments (0)

Super Planetary-Motion Smackdown: Kepler v. Newton

September 13th, 2019
In science, progress is all about building a better model—explaining more with less.

Posted in science, Science / Physics and Math | Comments (0)

New comet is our second interstellar visitor

September 13th, 2019
Image of a fuzzy white object on a dark grey field specked with stars.

Enlarge / Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). Note the fuzzy appearance and faint tail. (credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

Due to complicated gravitational interactions with planets and each other, it's expected that our Solar System has ejected various small bodies like comets and asteroids. Since exosolar systems are likely to do the same, it's thought that the vast distances of interstellar space are sparsely populated by these small bodies. As such, we should expect one of these objects to wander through our Solar System, an expectation that was confirmed in 2017 with the arrival of 'Oumuamua, an odd, cigar-shaped object that shot through the Solar System at an extreme angle.

Now, just two years later, we seem to have our second. Officially termed C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), the comet is approaching the inner Solar System at an angle that almost certainly indicates it didn't originate here.

Hyperbolic orbits

Right now, there's not much public information about C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). A press release from the Jet Propulsion Lab provides some basic details. Discovered on August 30, it takes its name from Gennady Borisov, who spotted it from an observatory in the Crimea. Since then, observations have firmed up its orbit, indicating it will make its closest approach to the Sun in December, passing no closer than Mars' orbit.

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Posted in astronomy, comets, extrasolar objects, interstellar objects, science | Comments (0)

Mass Graves in Russia Tell the Grim Story of Mongol Invasion

September 13th, 2019
After years of digging, archaeologists discover nine medieval graves holding the remains of at least 300 people.

Posted in science, Science / Environment | Comments (0)

Meet a Mad Scientist Who Flies Into Hurricanes

September 13th, 2019
A hurricane bounces NOAA's sensor-packed plane around with such violence, the crew spends a good amount of time in zero G.

Posted in science, Science / Environment | Comments (0)

Cubed wombat poop, why your left scrotum runs hot, among Ig Nobel winners

September 12th, 2019
A "Moment of Science" in the 2017 Ig Nobel ceremony: Daniel Davis faces a Tesla coil.

Enlarge / A "Moment of Science" in the 2017 Ig Nobel ceremony: Daniel Davis faces a Tesla coil. (credit: Mike Binveniste/Improbable Research)

Over the years, curious intrepid scientists have gleaned insight into why the wombat's poo is cube-shaped, explored the magnetic properties of living and dead cockroaches, and determined that a man's left testicle really does run hotter than the right. These and other unusual research topics were honored tonight in a ceremony at Harvard University's Sanders Theater to announce the 2019 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes.

Established in 1991, the Ig Nobels are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes and honor "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." The unapologetically campy award ceremony features mini-operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures, whereby experts must explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds, and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds. And as the motto implies, the research being honored might seem ridiculous at first glance, but that doesn't mean it is devoid of scientific merit.

The winners receive eternal Ig Nobel fame and a ten-trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe. It's a long-running Ig Nobel gag. Zimbabwe stopped using its native currency in 2009 because of skyrocketing inflation and hyperinflation; at its nadir, the 100-trillion dollar bill was roughly the equivalent of 40 cents US. (Earlier this year the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced the "zollar" as a potential replacement.) The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for Mathematics was awarded to the then-head of the RBZ, Gideon Gono, "for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000)."

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Posted in Biology, Ig Nobel Prizes, medicine, Physics, science, science humor | Comments (0)

First water detected in the atmosphere of a habitable-zone planet

September 12th, 2019
Graphic of a cloudy blue planet and its host star.

Enlarge / An artist's impression of the planet K2-18b and its clouds. (credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser)

On Wednesday, astronomers announced the first detection of water in the atmosphere of a planet that orbits within the habitable zone of its host star. The planet, K2-18b, is certainly not habitable by us, as it's a mini-Neptune that may not have any solid surface and is likely to have a hydrogen/helium-rich atmosphere. But the discovery of water vapor and clouds confirms expectations that the Earth isn't necessarily special in having water at a distance from its star where that water could be liquid.

Big planet, small star

As the planet's designation indicates, K2-18b was discovered during the extended second mission of the Kepler space telescope. After the failure of some of the telescope's pointing hardware, NASA figured out how to keep the optics stable by using its solar panels. This allowed Kepler to examine additional areas of the sky during what was termed the K2 mission.

K2-18b is a large planet, as follow-on observations have indicated its mass is over eight times that of Earth's. It's close enough to its host star that it only takes 33 days to complete an orbit. But, because the host star is much smaller and cooler than the Sun, that means K2-18b only gets slightly more light than Earth does (1441 Watts/square meter versus 1370 for Earth). That's consistent with the planet having a temperature that allows liquid water to exist.

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Posted in astronomy, exoplanets, habitable zone, planetary science, science, water vapor | Comments (0)

SpaceX says it will deploy satellite broadband across US faster than expected

September 12th, 2019
An illustration of the Earth, with lines circling the globe to represent a telecommunications network.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Olena_T)

SpaceX says it plans to change its satellite launch strategy in a way that will speed up deployment of its Starlink broadband service and has set a new goal of providing broadband in the Southern United States late next year.

In a filing on August 30, SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to "adjust the orbital spacing of its satellites." With this change, each SpaceX launch would deploy satellites in "three different orbital planes" instead of just one, "accelerating the process of deploying satellites covering a wider service area."

"This adjustment will accelerate coverage to southern states and US territories, potentially expediting coverage to the southern continental United States by the end of the next hurricane season and reaching other US territories by the following hurricane season," SpaceX told the FCC. The Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons each begin in the spring and run to November 30 each year.

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Posted in Biz & IT, satellite broadband, science, spacex, starlink | Comments (0)

The Riddle, and Controversy, of All That Missing Plastic

September 12th, 2019
The contentious Ocean Cleanup campaign has an idea where marine plastic ends up. But it's already stirring debate.

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