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Sat, 13 Feb 2016
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Cassiopaea

Rare supernova 'impostor' found in nearby galaxy

© .Breanna Binder/NASA/Royal Astronomical Society
An image obtained by UW astronomer Breanna Binder’s group using the Hubble Space Telescope, showing the supernova impostor SN 2010da circled in green and the X-ray emission indicated by a white cross. Reproduced from a Royal Astronomical Society publication.
Breanna Binder, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astronomy and lecturer in the School of STEM at UW Bothell, spends her days pondering X-rays.

As she and her colleagues report in a new paper published Feb. 12 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, they recently solved a mystery involving X-rays — a case of X-rays present when they shouldn't have been. This mystery's unusual main character — a star that is pretending to be a supernova — illustrates the importance of being in the right place at the right time.

Such was the case in May 2010 when an amateur South African astronomer pointed his telescope toward NGC300, a nearby galaxy. He discovered what appeared to be a supernova — a massive star ending its life in a blaze of glory.

"Most supernovae are visible for a short time and then — over a matter of weeks — fade from view," said Binder.

After a star explodes as a supernova, it usually leaves behind either a black hole or what's called a neutron star — the collapsed, high-density core of the former star. Neither should be visible to Earth after a few weeks. But this supernova — SN 2010da — still was.

"SN 2010da is what we call a 'supernova impostor' — something initially thought to be a supernova based on a bright emission of light, but later to be shown as a massive star that for some reason is showing this enormous flare of activity," said Binder.

Many supernova impostors appear to be massive stars in a binary system — two stars in orbit of one another. Stellar astrophysicists think that the impostor's occasional flare-ups might be due to perturbations from its neighbor.

For SN 2010da, the story appeared to be over until September 2010 — four months after it was confirmed as an impostor — when Binder pointed NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory toward NGC300 and found something unexpected.

"There was just this massive amount of X-rays coming from SN 2010da, which you should not see coming from a supernova impostor," she said.

Ice Cube

New form of frozen water discovered?

© Chandler/University Communications/University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Researchers (from left) Chongqin Zhu, Yingying Huang and Xiao Cheng Zeng co-authored a study that has predicted the existence of a new form of ice.
Amid the season known for transforming Nebraska into an outdoor ice rink, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln-led research team has predicted a new molecular form of the slippery stuff that even Mother Nature has never borne.

The proposed ice, which the researchers describe in a Feb. 12, 2016 study in the journal Science Advances, would be about 25 percent less dense than a record-low form synthesized by a European team in 2014.

If the ice can be synthesized, it would become the 18th known crystalline form of water -- and the first discovered in the United States since before World War II.

"We performed a lot of calculations (focused on) whether this is not just a low-density ice, but perhaps the lowest-density ice to date," said Xiao Cheng Zeng, an Ameritas University Professor of chemistry who co-authored the study.

"A lot of people are interested in predicting a new ice structure beyond the state of the art."

This newest finding represents the latest in a long line of ice-related research from Zeng, who previously discovered a two-dimensional "Nebraska Ice" that contracts rather than expands when frozen under certain conditions.

Zeng's newest study, which was co-led by Dalian University of Technology's Jijun Zhao, used a computational algorithm and molecular simulation to determine the ranges of extreme pressure and temperature under which water would freeze into the predicted configuration. That configuration takes the form of a clathrate -- essentially a series of water molecules that form an interlocking cage-like structure.

Sun

A new Maunder Minimum? Solar cycle 24 activity continues to be lowest in nearly 200 years

It has been a couple of months since WUWT has checked in on the progress of solar cycle 24. Right now, the sun is in "cue ball" mode, with no large visible sunspots as seen below in the most recent Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) photo:
© Solar Dynamics Observatory
Since there is a new analysis out at Pierre Gosselin's website by Frank Bosse and Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, I thought it would be a good time to do an update. They write:
[The sun was] rather quiet in January. The determined solar sunspot number (SSN) was 56.6, which is 71% of the mean this far into the period, calculated using the 23 previously measured solar cycles.

Figure 1: Plot of the monthly sunspot number so far for the current cycle (red line) compared to the mean solar cycle (blue line) and the similar solar cycle no. 5 (black).
The earlier peak occurring at month number 35 (fall 2011) signaled the time of the SSN maximum at the sun's northern hemisphere. The later peaks occurring at about month no. 68 (mid 2014) are the SSN maximum for the sun's southern hemisphere.They also have a prediction, read about it here. Full report (in German) here.
As you can see from the plots in Figure 1, the current level of activity of solar cycle 24 seems close to that of solar cycle number 5, which occurred beginning in May 1798 and ending in December 1810 (thus falling within the Dalton Minimum). The maximum smoothed sunspot number (monthly number of sunspots averaged over a twelve-month period) observed during the solar cycle was 49.2, in February 1805 (the second lowest of any cycle to date, as a result of being part of the Dalton Minimum), and the minimum was zero.(ref: Wikipedia)

Comment: Sunspots (or lack thereof) seem to have a strong historical correlation with climate states on Earth. It's not looking good.


Magnify

Neanderthal DNA found to impact human traits

Since 2010 scientists have known that people of Eurasian origin have inherited anywhere from 1 to 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals.

The discovery spawned a number of hypotheses about the effects these genetic variants may have on the physical characteristics or behavior of modern humans, ranging from skin color to heightened allergies to fat metabolism—and generated dozens of colorful headlines including "Neanderthals are to blame for our allergies" and "Did Europeans get fat From Neanderthals?"

Now, scientists have conducted the first study to directly compare Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of a significant population of adults of European ancestry with their clinical records.

Comment: For more on this topic see:


Alarm Clock

Physicists build the most accurate clock on earth

© Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
Physicists in Germany have built the most accurate timepiece on Earth, achieving unprecedented levels of accuracy with a new atomic clock that keeps time according to the movements of ytterbium ions.

Called an optical single-ion clock, the device works by measuring the vibrational frequency of ytterbium ions as they oscillate back and forth hundreds of trillions times per second between two different energy levels. These ions are trapped within an 'optical lattice' of laser beams that allows scientists to count the number of ytterbium 'ticks' per second to measure time so accurately, the clock won't lose or gain a second in several billion years.

Until very recently, our most accurate time-keepers were caesium atomic clocks - devices that contain a 'pendulum' of atoms that are excited into resonance by microwave radiation. It's on these clocks that the official definition of the second - the Standard International (SI) unit of time - is based.

Comment: Previous record holders in the atomic clock world:


Beaker

Don't tell the Banderites! Genetic tests show Ukrainians and Russians are the same

A leading representative of the scientific study of "DNA genealogy", doctor of chemical sciences, Professor of Moscow State University and Harvard University, Anatole Klyosov, gave an exclusive interview to KM.RU, in which he refuted claims about genetic differences between Russians and Ukrainians.

Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are a set of the same genera

The nationalist school of west Ukraine promotes the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are closely related people. This view is "based" on the fact that although once a long time ago the Russians resettled from the territory of modern Ukraine, then allegedly heavily intermingled with the representatives of the Mongoloid race and ceased to be Slavs.

There is practically no truth in this statement. Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are a set of the same genera, and are the same people from a genetic point of view. The origins they have also almost the same. The ethnic Russians are of three main kinds: R1a, I and N. The haplogroup R1a are 48% of Russians and 45% of Ukrainians. Haplogroup I are 22% Russians and 24% Ukrainians. Depending on the sample, these figures vary up to 4%.

Robot

NASA released 360-degree view of Mars from perspective of 'Curiosity' rover

If you want to go to Mars, you should probably hurry up and apply to be an astronaut. But if you want to explore Mars, there's another (much easier) way. The video above gives you a 360-degree view of Mars from the perspective of NASA's Curiosity rover.

The video is made from stitched-together images taken by the rover on Dec. 18. You can see the still version here. According to NASA, the image shows the downwind face of Namib Dune. Curiosity is investigating these dunes — the first studied anywhere other than Earth — on its way to Mount Sharp. Namib is about 23 feet away from the rover in the video and rises about 16 feet off the ground.

Orbiter photos suggest that the dunes in this field move as much as three feet every Earth year.

Launched in 2012, the Curiosity rover had a two-year primary science mission. At this point it has just about doubled its expected lifespan and will continue to carry out scientific missions indefinitely.


Bulb

'We proved Einstein right!': Gravitational waves confirmed in breakthrough research

© Michael Koppitz / aei
Gravitational waves are invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time caused by the movement of dense objects, like black holes. These waves spread out across the universe but have never been seen by scientists. Fresh rumours, however, suggest detectors in the US have picked up signals that may be gravitational waves
Scientists at Washington's National Science Foundation and Moscow State University have confirmed the discovery of Albert Einstein's gravitational waves. The breakthrough, possibly the biggest in physics in a century, could be the key to new understanding of the universe. Recent rumors of the success in detecting gravitational waves, or as some scientists put it "very weak space-time wiggles which propagate at the speed of light" were officially confirmed Thursday.


These ripples in the fabric of space-time are one of the most important variables in Einstein's theory of relativity and it took astronomers decades to detect them, although they were pretty sure that gravitational waves existed.

Comment: About a hundred years ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but until now, they were undetectable.See also:Gravity Probe B Confirms Two of Einstein's Space-Time Theories


Sun

Newborn star puts on a stunning light show

© European Southern Observatory
A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631. Although HD 97300 is in the spotlight for now, the very dust that makes it so hard to miss heralds the birth of additional, potentially scene-stealing, future stars.
The glowing region in this new image from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope is a reflection nebula known as IC 2631. These objects are clouds of cosmic dust that reflect light from a nearby star into space, creating a stunning light show like the one captured here. IC 2631 is the brightest nebula in the Chamaeleon Complex, a large region of gas and dust clouds that harbours numerous newborn and still-forming stars. The complex lies about 500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Chamaeleon.

IC 2631 is illuminated by the star HD 97300, one of the youngest — as well as most massive and brightest — stars in its neighbourhood. This region is full of star-making material, which is made evident by the presence of dark nebulae noticeable above and below IC 2631 in this picture. Dark nebulae are so dense with gas and dust that they prevent the passage of background starlight.

Document

Scientists find new cause of strong earthquakes

© Christelle Wauthier/Penn State
Nyiragongo volcano (2002)
A geologic event known as diking can cause strong earthquakes -- with a magnitude between 6 and 7, according to an international research team.

Diking can occur all over the world but most often occurs in areas where the Earth's tectonic plates are moving apart, such as Iceland, Hawaii and parts of Africa in the East African Rift System. As plates spread apart, magma from beneath the Earth's surface rises into the space, forming vertical magma intrusions, known as dikes. The dike pushes on the surrounding rocks, creating strain.

"Diking is a known phenomenon, but it has not been observed by geophysical techniques often," said Christelle Wauthier, assistant professor of geosciences, Penn State who led the study. "We know it's linked with rift opening and it has implications on plate tectonics. Here, we see that it also could pose hazards to nearby communities."

The team investigated ties between two natural disasters from 2002 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East African Rift System. On Jan. 17, the Nyiragongo volcano erupted, killing more than 100 people and leaving more than 100,000 people homeless. Eight months later a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the town of Kalehe, which is 12 miles from the Nyiragongo volcano. Several people died during the Oct. 24 earthquake, and Kalehe was inundated with water from nearby Lake Kivu.

"The Kalehe earthquake was the largest recorded in the Lake Kivu area, and we wanted to find out whether it was coincidence that, eight months before the earthquake, Nyiragongo erupted," said Wauthier.

The researchers used a remote sensing technique, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, to measure changes to the Earth's surface before and after both natural disasters.