Science & Technology


Tiny Star Unleashes Huge Explosion

A tiny star recently unleashed what is considered the brightest burst of light ever seen in the universe from a normal star, astronomers announced today.

Shining with only 1 percent of the sun's light and boasting just a third of the sun's mass, this run-of-the-mill star previously was nothing to write home about. On April 25, the red dwarf star, known as EV Lacertae, unleashed a mega-flare, packing the power of thousands of solar flares. Since the star is located 16 light-years away, in reality, the flare actually occurred 16 years ago.


NASA spacecraft successfully lands on Mars

Pasadena, Calif. - A NASA spacecraft plunged into the atmosphere of Mars and successfully landed in the Red Planet's northern polar region on Sunday, where it will begin 90 days of digging in the permafrost to look for evidence of the building blocks of life.

Cheers swept through mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory when the touchdown signal from the Phoenix Mars Lander was detected after a nailbiting descent. Engineers and scientists hugged and high-fived one another.

Magic Wand

Europeans unite to tap early universe for secrets of fundamental physics

The future of fundamental physics research lies in observing the early universe and developing models that explain the new data obtained. The availability of much higher resolution data from closer to the start of the universe is creating the potential for further significant theoretical breakthroughs and progress resolving some of the most difficult and intractable questions in physics. But this requires much more interaction between astronomical theory and observation, and in particular the development of a new breed of astronomer who understands both.

This was the key conclusion from a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF), bringing together experts in cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics. "I think the realization of how important this is, and of how much needs to be done to get to that stage, will be the main long-term legacy of the workshop," noted Carlos Martins, convenor of the ESF workshop. "In particular, a lot of work needs to be done in order to provide a stronger 'theoretical underpinning' for future observational work. Ultimately this means that when training the next generation of researchers in this area, a lot more effort needs to be put into forming 'bilingual' researchers, that are fluent both in the language of observations and in that of theory."


Archaeologists try to solve mystery of Nazca Lines in Peru

Two British archaeologists are trying to solve the mystery of the Nazca Lines in Peru by locating and measuring the lines with high-precision GPS, photographing the distribution of 1,500-year old pottery, and working out the chronological sequence of overlying lines and designs.

The archaeologists, who are doing the research, are Dr Nick Saunders from Bristol University and Professor Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester.

Funded by the Anglo-Peruvian Cultural Association in Lima, their research hopes to unlock the purpose of the dazzling but confusing array of desert drawings.


The jet fuel; how hot did it heat the World Trade Center?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report into collapse of the WTC towers, estimates that about 3,500 gallons of jet fuel burnt within each of the towers. Imagine that this entire quantity of jet fuel was injected into just one floor of the World Trade Center, that the jet fuel burnt with perfect efficency, that no hot gases left this floor, that no heat escaped this floor by conduction and that the steel and concrete had an unlimited amount of time to absorb all the heat. With these ideal assumptions we calculate the maximum temperature that this one floor could have reached.

Evil Rays

What Your Cell Phone Knows About You

Can your cell phone tell if you're happy or overworked?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think it can do that and more--separate the rich from the poor, the sick from the healthy, even the outgoing from the introverted. Sandy Pentland, director of MIT's Human Dynamics Research program, has focused his work on that unlikely task: using gadgets as simple as a cell phone to better understand the quirks and patterns of human behavior.


Is Indy Chasing A Fake?

As Indiana Jones races against time to find an ancient crystal skull in his new movie adventure, he should perhaps take a moment to check its authenticity.

New research suggests that two well-known crystal skulls, in the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, did not, after all, come from ancient Mexico. Academics now believe the British skull was made in 19th century Europe and the American one even more recently.

crystal skulls
©British Museum
Two well-known crystal skulls, in the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, did not, after all, come from ancient Mexico.


New Family Of Gecko Discovered

Researchers at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History and Pennsylvania's Villanova University have discovered a new family of gecko, the charismatic large-eyed lizard popularized by car insurance commercials.

tropical gecko
The new family of gecko consists of 103 species found in semiarid and tropical regions of North Africa, the Middle East, North and South America and the Caribbean. Shown above: a tropical gecko and member of the genus Tarentola -- one of eight genera that make up the new family.


US probe to make perilous landing on Martian arctic

The historically less-than-50 percent odds of success loomed heavily as NASA scientists readied Saturday for the landing of the 420-million-dollar Phoenix spacecraft near Mar's frigid north pole.

"I'm a little nervous on the inside. ... This is not an easy thing to do," said Phoenix scientist Peter Smith of the landing planned for late Sunday.

"There's a lot of uncertainties left. ... Mars is always there to throw those uncertainties at us," added Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration Program Director, of what NASA calls "the scariest seven minutes of the mission" -- the period of hyper-deceleration and descent onto the Red Planet.


Canyons on Mars formed by 'megafloods'

Martian canyons may have been sculpted by "megafloods" that took place on the red planet more than three billion years ago, writes Roger Highfield.

There is abundant evidence for Mars being warm and wet in the past but today it appears relatively dry, with water ice confined to the planet's polar caps.

Now new evidence of Martian floods in the distant past has come from a study of a canyon in Idaho, America, that from space looks like a blue snake.

Idaho's Box Canyon is similar to canyons on Mars and may shake up our view of how water shaped the landscape on the Red Planet, reports a study in the journal Science.

High-resolution topographic map of Box Canyon, Idaho. Image courtesy of Michael P. Lamb