Science & Technology


Researchers prove the existence of a magnetic field for light

© Nature Photonics
An illustration of the nonreciprocity of the dynamics of light propagating in the forward (a) and the backward (b) direction.
In electronics, changing the path of electrons and manipulating how they flow is as easy as applying a magnetic field.

Not so for light. "We don't have such a thing for light," said Michal Lipson, professor of electrical and computer engineering. "For the majority of materials, there is no such thing as something I can turn on, and apply this magic field to change the path of light."

Until now. Lipson, a leader in the emerging field of silicon photonics - sending light through waveguides instead of currents through wires - and colleagues have shown that an equivalent field for light does exist. Experiments led by graduate student Lawrence Tzuang, in collaboration with Paulo Nussenzveig of University of Sao Paulo and Kejie Fang and Shanhui Fan from Stanford University, are described in a recent issue of Nature Photonics.

This effective magnetic field has to do with the light's phase, which is a measure of a particular point in a light wave's cycle, quantified as an angle in degrees.
Solar Flares

​Geomagnetic storm approaching Earth

An X1.6 class solar flare flashes in the middle of the sun on Sept. 10, 2014. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows light in the 131 Angstrom wavelength, which is typically colorized in teal.
A powerful solar flare sparked on an Earth-facing section of the sun. A subsequent coronal mass ejection is expected to reach our planet later in the week, possibly causing disruptions of communication and power grids.

The flare was unleashed by the sun on Wednesday and was estimated at X1.6, putting it in the strongest 'extreme' class of solar flares. It was launched from a sunspot called Active Region 2158 and was caught on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, reports The same region produced a smaller flare a day before that.

The flare was accompanied by the release of superhot plasma, a coronal mass ejection, with the cloud expected to reach Earth later on Friday. Luckily, most of it is expected to pass north of Earth, causing a relatively week solar storm. Power grids may experience some fluctuations, as the plasma would affect the planetary magnetic field, but it poses little danger either to anyone down here or to crew members of the International Space Station.

Comment: Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection: The Secret History of the World - Book 3Even though an X1.6 is not that big of an eruption, our magnetosphere is currently very weak. This impact will test the Earth's magnetic shield. Also notice that there was a sun-diving comet before the flare. See:


6th Mass Extinction? Humans kill species faster than they are created!

© Credit: Copyright Save the Rhino International
Fewer than 250 Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are left in the wild.
Humans are killing off species thousands of times faster than nature creates them, new research finds.

The modern rate of extinction across species is 1,000 times that of the background rate before humans began altering the globe and thousands of times faster than the creation of new species, according to a new study in the journal Conservation Biology. The findings echo and expand on previous research published in the journal Science, which also suggested that humans are on the verge of causing a sixth mass extinction on Earth.

"We now know for certain how much faster species are going extinct," said Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University and president of the nonprofit conservation group Saving Species.

Comment: "We want to get on with the business of saving biodiversity". What about us humans? Perhaps we are on the cusp of extinction ourselves? After all, cyclic cometary bombardments have wiped out this planet before:

Forget About Global Warming: We're One Step From Extinction!


Untethered bio-inspired soft robot (VIDEO)

© Harvard
Soft Robotics / Whitesides Research Group
The latest in robotic design is leading to 'new creatures' that can move without constraint, withstand harsh temperature changes, ambulate over a variety of surfaces and even 'limbo'. The newest model has recently been let off the leash.

The latest 'soft' robot from Professor George M. Whitesides Research Group at Harvard uses embedded pneumatic networks that enable movement by pressurizing particular channels.

The work is possible because of collaborations happening across the sciences combining organic chemistry, soft materials science and robotics.

Hubble finds companion star hidden for 21 years in a supernova's glare

Supernova 1993J
Artist's impression of Supernova 1993J.
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a companion star to a rare type of supernova. This observation confirms the theory that the explosion originated in a double-star system where one star fueled the mass-loss from the aging primary star.

This detection is the first time astronomers have been able to put constraints on the properties of the companion star in an unusual class of supernova called Type IIb. They were able to estimate the surviving star's luminosity and mass, which provide insight into the conditions that preceded the explosion.

"A binary system is likely required to lose the majority of the primary star's hydrogen envelope prior to the explosion.

The problem is that, to date, direct observations of the predicted binary companion star have been difficult to obtain since it is so faint relative to the supernova itself," said lead researcher Ori Fox of the University of California (UC) at Berkeley.

Astronomers estimate that a supernova goes off once every second somewhere in the universe. Yet they don't fully understand how stars explode. Finding a "smoking gun" companion star provides important new clues to the variety of supernovae in the universe. "This is like a crime scene, and we finally identified the robber," quipped team member Alex Filippenko, professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley. "The companion star stole a bunch of hydrogen before the primary star exploded."

The explosion happened in the galaxy M81, which is about 11 million light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). Light from the supernova was first detected in 1993, and the object was designated SN 1993J. It was the nearest known example of this type of supernova, called a Type IIb, due to the specific characteristics of the explosion. For the past two decades astronomers have been searching for the suspected companion, thought to be lost in the glare of the residual glow from the explosion.

Angry birds show too much war is bad

Gouldian finches
© Sarah Pryke
Red-headed Gouldian finches are good at competing for nests but not such good parents.
A long-standing theory that excessive conflict is bad for society has been demonstrated in an animal population, researchers report.

Aggressive and peaceful Gouldian finches can live together as long as the aggressors are not too successful, suggest the findings which are based on game theory.

The research is published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Game theory is a branch of mathematics used to model the effects of different strategies through a series of games. It's widely used in economics. In the 1970s it was applied to biology in the form of the 'hawk-dove game' to explain why it is that animals don't fight all the time.

In this game, 'hawks' have a strategy of aggression while 'doves' have a more peaceful strategy. According to the theory, overall conflict is minimised because while hawks fight for a resource, doves backs down and let them have it.

"It means those individuals are avoiding conflict and that's good for both of them," says Associate Professor Simon Griffith, an evolutionary biologist at Macquarie University.

While this is an advantage to an individual hawk it may backfire in the long term. This is because hawks are generally too busy wearing themselves out fighting to look after themselves or the next generation.

"There is a trade off between how much time you spend fighting and how much time you spend at your nest looking after your chicks," says Griffith.

According to the hawk-dove theory, there is an optimal ratio of hawks to doves that allows for the fact that hawks aren't good at rearing chicks.

Saturn ring rapidly creates and destroys its moonlets

Saturn's F Ring
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Cassini spied just as many regular, faint clumps in Saturn's narrow F ring (the outermost, thin ring), like those pictured here, as Voyager did. But it saw hardly any of the long, bright clumps that were common in Voyager images.
We often view the solar system as constant and unchanging, at least over human time scales. This, of course, is not entirely accurate and astronomers have detected a surprisingly rapid phenomenon inside one of Saturn's rings: moonlets the size of mountains are created and destroyed over a matter of days or even hours.

This discovery centers around the gas giant's F-ring where, over the course of 30 years, has dramatically changed its morphology.

"The F ring is a narrow, lumpy feature made entirely of water ice that lies just outside the broad, luminous rings A, B, and C," said Robert French of the SETI Institute, at Mountain View, Calif., in a news release "It has bright spots. But it has fundamentally changed its appearance since the time of Voyager. Today, there are fewer of the very bright lumps."

French and co-investigator Mark Showalter (also from the SETI Institute) studied photographs of the F-ring taken by NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft when they encountered the ringed planet in the early 1980s.

On comparison with photographs from NASA's Cassini spacecraft that is currently in orbit around Saturn, the F-ring has changed appearance extensively.

Further investigations revealed that bright lumps in the ring come and go over periods of only hours or days - features that the researchers believe are small moons.

Red 'Harvest Moon' lights up night sky over the weekend

© Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
The rising full moon is seen from Valletta September 8, 2014.
This night was a real pleasure for moon lovers as it marks the third in a series of supermoons this summer. On Monday stargazers were able to view one of the biggest and brightest moons in 20 years - and with a reddened shade.

The supermoon was calculated to be about 50,000 kilometers closer to Earth than when it is at its furthest point, known as its "apogee."

"Because the moon is at perigee, or the closest point of its orbit, it's going to be about 13 or 14 percent bigger, optically, and ... about 30 percent brighter," Philip Erikson, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Haystack Observatory outside Boston, told Reuters.

This moon is also called the Harvest Moon, which means that the full moon is the closest to the autumn equinox, on September 23. The term Harvest Moon comes from the days when farmers relied on moonlight to tend to their crops during the night.

"Whether we call this a super Harvest Moon or a Harvest supermoon, and whether we fuss over the fact that lunar perigee happened just one night before this moon was full, there's no denying that it's the Harvest Moon," Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement, reported, space and astronomy news website.
Super Moon♥

- Shoko(쇼코) (@BLAQLady99) September 9, 2014
"This is the year's most famous full moon, and one of only two that even have a name. Yet it's bathed in myth and misconception even without all the extra 'supermoon' business. It will be fun to explore the true secrets of the Harvest Moon while watching it live," Berman added.

First evidence for water ice clouds found outside our solar system

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Penn State University
This artist's conception shows the object named WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
A team of scientists led by Carnegie's Jacqueline Faherty has discovered the first evidence of water ice clouds on an object outside of our own Solar System. Water ice clouds exist on our own gas giant planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune -- but have not been seen outside of the planets orbiting our Sun until now.

Their findings are published today by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

At the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, Faherty, along with a team including Carnegie's Andrew Monson, used the FourStar near infrared camera to detect the coldest brown dwarf ever characterized. Their findings are the result of 151 images taken over three nights and combined. The object, named WISE J085510.83-071442.5, or W0855, was first seen by NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission and published earlier this year. But it was not known if it could be detected by Earth-based facilities.

"This was a battle at the telescope to get the detection," said Faherty.

Chris Tinney, an Astronomer at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, UNSW Australia and co-author on the result stated: "This is a great result. This object is so faint and it's exciting to be the first people to detect it with a telescope on the ground."
Apple Green

Endless war in the Fertile Crescent threatens ancient food supply

Fertile crescent
Fertile Crescent, an essential food-production region, may be in jeopardy.
With climate change and rise in industrial monoculture farming, scientists and farmers increasingly dependent on wild crop species for sustainable crop development.

The ongoing conflicts raging across the Middle East are putting the Earth's essential food stocks at dire risk, a group of researchers from England's University of Birmingham announced Monday.

The scientists, presenting their findings at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, say they have identified key global 'hotspots' for wild crop species - known as crop wild relatives (CWRs) - which are distantly related to domesticated crops. According to the group, these species are most concentrated in the area of the Middle East known as the 'Fertile Crescent,' which arcs around the Arabian desert in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and ending in Iraq and Iran.

"The Middle East is where the basis of our future food security is located," Dr. Nigel Maxted of the University of Birmingham's School of Biosciences told the Independent. "Wheat is not a native UK species. It was brought from the Fertile Crescent centuries ago."

Globally, the highest concentration of CWR per unit area is found within the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, the scientists report. Ongoing conflicts in this region have increasingly threatened the conservation of these vital plants, as both access and protection are limited.

Comment: As agriculture and grazing lands produce less and less due to human manipulation, stripping soil viability and mineral content, GMO frankenstrains and increasingly unstable weather patterns, it seems the fertile Middle East may inherit another reason for conflict besides empirical land grabs and oil food shortages. Will humanity plan ahead and rise admirably to this crisis or will we create WMEs: weapons of mass extinction in order to have food for the few?
BTW, Please don't tell Monsanto about the CWRs.