Science & Technology
Map


Solar Flares

Astronomers catch monster sunspot that turns towards Earth

© NASA/SDO
The sun on Oct. 23 as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The dark sunspot cluster in AR2192 is obvious in the HMI Intensitygram (left), which represents the sun's photosphere -- known, colloquially, as the solar 'surface' -- whereas the EUV images to the right (at wavelengths 171A -- top -- and 304A) show emissions from the multimillion degree solar corona (where coronal loops shine bright) and chromosphere
Just as the US prepares to watch the partial solar eclipse today, nearly 100 million miles away on the sun a possible solar storm is brewing.

Amateur astronomers have been wowed by a vast sunspot that has rotated to face Earth, the largest since this solar cycle began in 2008, and solar observatories (on the ground and orbiting Earth) are closely monitoring the region.

The sunspot, a dark patch in the sun's photosphere, represents intense solar magnetism bursting from the sun's interior known as an active region. This particular active region, designated AR2192, has been rumbling with intense flare activity, recently exploding with 2 X-class flares, causing some short-lived high-frequency (HF) radio black outs around the globe.

Such blackouts are triggered by the intense extreme ultraviolet and X-ray radiation that solar flares can generate, causing ionization effects in the Earth's upper atmosphere - a region known as the ionosphere. HF radio can be strongly hindered by this activity, triggering blackouts that can effect air traffic and amateur radio operators.

Currently, the sunspot located at the base of AR2192 has swelled to over 80,000 miles across - Jupiter could almost fit inside the sunspot's mottled diameter.
Airplane

Europe postpones next month's launch of first 'space plane'

ESA's space plane

A replica of the ESA's space plane IXV is on display during the presentation at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, on September 9, 2014
Europe said Friday it was postponing the launch next month of its first-ever "space plane" to give scientists time to finetune the mission's flight plan.

Dubbed the IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane had been scheduled for launch on November 18 by a Vega light rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.

"The European Space Agency (ESA), in conjunction with the French space agency CNES, has decided to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses," said Arianespace, which markets services by ESA's launchers.

"A new launch date will be announced as soon as possible," it said in a press release..
Magnify

Ebola's evolutionary roots are more ancient than previously thought

Ebola virus
© Credit: Frederick A. Murphy, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of the Ebola virus.
A new study is helping to rewrite Ebola's family history. The research shows that filoviruses - a family to which Ebola and its similarly lethal relative, Marburg, belong - are at least 16-23 million years old.

Filoviruses likely existed in the Miocene Epoch, and at that time, the evolutionary lines leading to Ebola and Marburg had already diverged, the study concludes.

The research was published in the journal PeerJ in September. It adds to scientists' developing knowledge about known filoviruses, which experts once believed came into being some 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of agriculture. The new study pushes back the family's age to the time when great apes arose.

"Filoviruses are far more ancient than previously thought," says lead researcher Derek Taylor, PhD, a University at Buffalo professor of biological sciences. "These things have been interacting with mammals for a long time, several million years."

According to the PeerJ article, knowing more about Ebola and Marburg's comparative evolution could "affect design of vaccines and programs that identify emerging pathogens."

The research does not address the age of the modern-day Ebolavirus. Instead, it shows that Ebola and Marburg are each members of ancient evolutionary lines, and that these two viruses last shared a common ancestor sometime prior to 16-23 million years ago.
Blackbox

Do quantum effects emerge from Many Interacting [classical] Worlds?

many worlds bizarre
© Elena Kulikova/Getty Images
Parallel universes - worlds where the dinosaur-killing asteroid never hit, or where Australia was colonised by the Portuguese - are a staple of science fiction. But are they real?

In a radical paper published this week in Physical Review X, we (Dr Michael Hall and I from Griffith University and Dr Dirk-André Deckert from the University of California) propose not only that parallel universes are real, but that they are not quite parallel - they can "collide".

In our theory, the interaction between nearby worlds is the source of all of the bizarre features of quantum mechanics that are revealed by experiment.
Fireball 4

Asteroid 2014 SC324 zips by Earth Friday afternoon

Asteroid 2014 SC324
© Gianluca Masi/Software Bisque
Here comes another asteroid! 2014 SC324 will miss Earth by 1.5 times the distance to the Moon early Friday afternoon October 24, 2014.
What a roller coaster week it's been. If partial eclipses and giant sunspots aren't your thing, how about a close flyby of an Earth-approaching asteroid? 2014 SC324 was discovered on September 30 this year by the Mt. Lemmon Survey high in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona.

Based on brightness, the tumbling rock's size is estimated at around 197 feet (60-m), on the large side compared to the many small asteroids that whip harmlessly by Earth each year.
Info

Real-life tractor beam pulls in particles

The Millennium Falcon
© Fair Use, Screengrab/Lucas Film
The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
The invisible force that pulls in the Millennium Falcon spacecraft to the Death Star in Star Wars movies is still far from becoming a reality, but physicists have developed a miniature version of sorts: a tractor beam that can reel in tiny particles.

The laser-based retractor beam pulled the particles a distance of about 8 inches (20 centimeters), which is 100 times farther than any previous experiments with tractor beams.

"Because lasers retain their beam quality for such long distances, this could work over meters," study researcher Vladlen Shvedov, research fellow at the Australian National University, said in a statement. "Our lab just was not big enough to show it."

During the experiment, the researchers used a laser that projected a doughnut-shaped beam of light with a hot outer ring and cool center. They used the light beam to suck in tiny glass spheres, each of which measured about 0.2 millimeters (0.008 inches) wide.

Not only did the researchers move the glass spheres farther than had been demonstrated in previous experiments, but they used a different technique altogether. Other retractor beams rely on the momentum of light particles in the laser beam to reel in mass. In those experiments, the momentum from the light particles shooting out of the laser is transferred to the target that the laser is hauling in. However, that technique works well only in a vacuum that is shielded from other free-floating particles that can interfere with the momentum transfer.
Bulb

Electrostatic force microscopy (EFM) shows electric charge propagating along microbial nanowires

Geobacter
© Credit: UMass Amherst
UMass Amherst researchers recently provided stronger evidence than ever before to support their claim that the microbe Geobacter produces tiny electrical wires, called microbial nanowires, along which electric charges propagate just as they do in carbon nanotubes, a highly conductive man-made material.
The claim by microbiologist Derek Lovley and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that the microbe Geobacter produces tiny electrical wires, called microbial nanowires, has been mired in controversy for a decade, but the researchers say a new collaborative study provides stronger evidence than ever to support their claims.

UMass Amherst physicists working with Lovley and colleagues report in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology that they've used a new imaging technique, electrostatic force microscopy (EFM), to resolve the biological debate with evidence from physics, showing that electric charges do indeed propagate along microbial nanowires just as they do in carbon nanotubes, a highly conductive man-made material.

Physicists Nikhil Malvankar and Sibel Ebru Yalcin, with physics professor Mark Tuominen, confirmed the discovery using EFM, a technique that can show how electrons move through materials. "When we injected electrons at one spot in the microbial nanowires, the whole filament lit up as the electrons propagated through the nanowire," says Malvankar.

Yalcin, now at Pacific Northwest National Lab, adds, "This is the same response that you would see in a carbon nanotube or other highly conductive synthetic nanofilaments. Even the charge densities are comparable. This is the first time that EFM has been applied to biological proteins. It offers many new opportunities in biology."

Comment: see also: Forming new circuits - Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

Magnify

Ten years on, scientists still debating the origins of Homo floresiensis - the 'Hobbit'

Homo floresiensis
© John Gurche/National Museum of Natural History
Homo floresiensis adult female - model of head.
It's been ten years since the bones of Homo floresiensis, aka, the "hobbit" were uncovered in Liang Bua, a cave, on the island of Flores in Indonesia, and scientists still can't agree on the diminutive hominin's origins.

This month, the journal Nature has printed a comment piece by Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and two pieces by Ewen Callaway, one a retrospective with interviews with the central players, and the other a podcast with the four principle scientists involved in the find - Bert Roberts, Thomas Sutikna, Dean Falk, and Stringer.

Did H. floresiensis descend from Australopithecus, leaving Africa and somehow settling on Flores, or was it a case of an early member of our family tree finding its way to the island and then because of limited resources, evolving into a much smaller size? That's the central question in the debate.

The majority opinion has sided with the island effect, mostly because of the time frame - H. floresiensis existed a mere 13,000 years ago, which means it was alive when other Homo sapiens were about, thus it seemed to make sense that H. floresiensis was also a member that had become stranded on an island. But Stringer doesn't agree. In his commentary piece he notes the chin and jaw are more reminiscent of pre-human fossils, dating back approximately two million years.

Also, the body shape and tiny brain appear to be more primitive than humans. He says taken together, the evidence suggests a closer match with Australopithecus, a pre-human group living in Africa which also includes the remains of the famous "Lucy" - and which also date back to approximately 1.2 million years ago.
Sun

North America to experience spectacular sunset due to partial solar eclipse October 23

solar eclipse
© Reuters / Abdel-Halim Shahaby
Much of North America will experience a solar eclipse on Thursday, with the moon covering up to 70 percent of the sun in the late afternoon. Along most of the East Coast and Midwest, the event will occur during sunset, allowing for dramatic photography.

"Sunsets are always pretty. One sunset this month could be out of this world. On Thursday, Oct. 23rd, the setting sun across eastern parts of the USA will be red, beautiful and... crescent-shaped," NASA Science wrote. The alignment of the two orbs on the East Coast at the end of the day "will be especially beautiful... transforming the usual sunset into something weird and wonderful."

The farther north viewers are, the deeper the eclipse they'll see, and the farther west they are, the higher the sun and moon will be in the sky. Thus the comparatively later dusk of the Midwest may provide the most spectacular views of sunset-enhanced phenomenon.

"Observers in the Central Time zone have the best view because the eclipse is in its maximum phase at sunset," longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak said. "They will see a fiery crescent sinking below the horizon, dimmed to human visibility by low-hanging clouds and mist."
Health

New study suggests 21-day Ebola quarantine is off-base, virus could incubate longer

Hospital workers and public health officials in the U.S. have come under fire for a series of missteps in their response to the Ebola crisis, from initially misdiagnosing Thomas Eric Duncan to allowing a nurse who cared for him at a Dallas hospital to fly on a commercial airliner shortly before she too was diagnosed with the deadly illness.

Now an engineering professor with expertise in assessing the risks posed by pathogens claims he's identified another big problem with authorities' response to the crisis.

In a paper published Oct. 14 in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks, Drexel University's Dr. Charles N. Haas argues that there's not enough evidence to support the recommended 21-day quarantine period for people suspected of harboring the virus.
Top