Science & Technology


Mission to the Forgotten Planets

Sometime in August 2011, a boxy space probe called Dawn will settle into orbit around one of the most underrated and overlooked objects in the solar system, a giant oblong asteroid named Vesta. After lingering for almost 10 months of study, Dawn will depart for Ceres, the biggest asteroid of all. Ceres is so large that it was recently promoted to the rank of dwarf planet, putting it on a par with Pluto and highlighting its status as a key planetary missing link.

Dawn Probe
Dawn Probe

Utah Crater Mystery Cracked

One of the longest-running mysteries in the U.S. National Parks has been solved: The crater-like Upheaval Dome in Utah's Canyonlands National Park was caused by a meteor impact, say German researchers.

Utah crater
For decades geologists have debated whether Upheaval Dome in Utah's Canyonlands National Park, pictured here, was created by a volcanic outburst, an eruption of salt or a meteor impact. The crucial clue was the discovery there of "shocked quartz," which can be created only by the intense pressures of a violent meteor impact, say researchers.

Bipolar Disorder: Manic Mouse Made With One Gene Missing

Bipolar Disorder (BPD or manic-depressive illness) is one of the most serious of all mental disorders, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. Affected individuals alternate between states of deep depression and mania. While depression is characterized by persistent and long-term sadness or despair, mania is a mental state characterized by great excitement, flight of ideas, a decreased need for sleep, and, sometimes, uncontrollable behavior, hallucinations, or delusions. BPD likely arises from the complex interaction of multiple genes and environmental factors. Unlike some brain diseases, no single gene has been implicated in BPD.

Mice that were missing the GluR6 gene underwent a series of tests designed to approximate the symptoms of mania. These mice showed many of the symptoms of mania, including hyperactivity, aggressiveness, driven or increased goal-directed pursuits, risk-taking, and super-sensitivity to amphetamine.

Stunt Doubles: Ultracold Atoms Could Replicate The Electron 'Jitterbug

Ultracold atoms moving through a carefully designed arrangement of laser beams will jiggle slightly as they go, two NIST scientists have predicted.* If observed, this never-before-seen "jitterbug" motion would shed light on a little-known oddity of quantum mechanics arising from Paul Dirac's 80-year-old theory of the electron.

atomic cloud
A) Optical lattice of five laser beams trapping an atomic cloud. Color scale indicates cloud density: black is low, white high. B) Jittering motion of the atomic cloud in the optical lattice. The horizontal axis represents the spatial distribution of the cloud along one direction, while the vertical axis shows the variation of cloud density with time.
Evil Rays

NOAA Launches Final Two Buoys To Complete U.S. Tsunami Warning System

NOAA deployed the final two tsunami detection buoys in the South Pacific this week, completing the buoy network and bolstering the U.S. tsunami warning system. This vast network of 39 stations provides coastal communities in the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico with faster and more accurate tsunami warnings.

NOAA DART II buoy system.

Startling Discovery About Photosynthesis: Many Marine Microorganism Skip Carbon Dioxide And Oxygen Step

A startling discovery by scientists at the Carnegie Institution puts a new twist on photosynthesis, arguably the most important biological process on Earth. Photosynthesis by plants, algae, and some bacteria supports nearly all living things by producing food from sunlight, and in the process these organisms release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

©Richard W. Castenholz, University of Oregon
Sausage-shaped cells are unicellular cyanobacteria (Synechococcus) and filaments are green nonsulfur bacteria.

How The Peruvian Meteorite Made It To Earth

It made news around the world: On Sept. 15, 2007, an object hurtled through the sky and crashed into the Peruvian countryside. Scientists dispatched to the site near the village of Carancas found a gaping hole in the ground.

Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and an expert in extraterrestrial impacts, went to Peru to learn more. Brown graduate student Robert "Scott" Harris collaborated on the research, joined by Jose Ishitsuka, a Peruvian astrophysicist, and Gonzalo Tancredi, an astronomer from Uruguay.
Arrow Down

"Giant Fireball" Impact in Peru Upends Meteorite Theory

A meteorite that smacked into the Peruvian highlands last September may have punched holes into long-held theories about how such meteorites, called chondrites, interact with Earth's atmosphere.

Chondrites are stony chunks of asteroid, likely common in space, that contain materials similar to those found in Earth's crust.

©Reuters/STR New
A meteor slammed into the southern Peruvian town of Carangas on September 16, 2007, leaving a 50-foot-deep (15-meter-deep) crater, seen here two days after the impact.

New investigations of the crash site reveal that the meteor stayed as one piece during its journey through Earth's atmosphere, challenging previous views that such objects break apart and scatter before hitting the ground, experts say.
Better Earth

Stratospheric Ozone Chemistry Plays An Important Role For Atmospheric Airflow Patterns

Interactions between the stratospheric ozone chemistry and atmospheric air flow lead to significant changes of airflow patterns from the ground up to the stratosphere. Scientists at the Research Unit Potsdam of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have investigated this fundamental process for climate interactions in the Arctic, and for the first time, incorporated it into climate models. Until now, it was not known what caused the natural variations of atmospheric air flow patterns which have played an important role for climate changes in the last decades.

©Sascha Brand / Alfred Wegener Institute
Difference of the sea level pressure between simulations with the new model including interactive stratospheric ozone chemistry relative to the standard model. There is an increase of air pressure above the Arctic (positive difference) and a decrease of air pressure in mid-latitudes (negative difference). This pattern is similar to the air pressure pattern of the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation.

Finally, The 'Planet' In Planetary Nebulae?

Astronomers at the University of Rochester, home to one of the world's largest groups of planetary nebulae specialists, have announced that low-mass stars and possibly even super-Jupiter-sized planets may be responsible for creating some of the most breathtaking objects in the sky.

Ant Nebula
Ant nebula.