Science & Technology

Book 2

'Peer review ring' smashed: Scholarly journal retracts 60 articles

peer review
Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.

Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.

The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A "peer review and citation ring" was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.

You've heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there's a "peer review ring."

The publication is the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC). It publishes papers with names like "Hydraulic engine mounts: a survey" and "Reduction of wheel force variations with magnetorheological devices."

The field of acoustics covered by the journal is highly technical:
Analytical, computational and experimental studies of vibration phenomena and their control. The scope encompasses all linear and nonlinear vibration phenomena and covers topics such as: vibration and control of structures and machinery, signal analysis, aeroelasticity, neural networks, structural control and acoustics, noise and noise control, waves in solids and fluids and shock waves.
JVC is part of the SAGE group of academic publications.

Comment: Nothing out of the ordinary about Chen. Most scientists only care about getting published; they could care less whether their papers are actually legit or not. Peer review is a joke, a good idea on the surface, but which is easily and often abused.

Bizarro Earth

'Sonic boom' earthquake shatters expectations

Super-deep earthquakes
© Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The locations of two super-deep earthquakes offshore of Kamchatka in 2013.
One of the world's deepest earthquakes was also a rare supersonic quake, upending ideas about where these unusual earthquakes strike.

Only six supersonic (or supershear) earthquakes have ever been identified, all in the last 15 years. Until now, they all showed similar features, occurring relatively near the Earth's surface and on the same kind of fault. But last year, a remarkably super-fast and super-deep earthquake hit below Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, breaking the pattern.

"This was very surprising," said Zhongwen Zhan, lead author of the study, published today (July 10) in the journal Science. "It's not only deep, it's supershear, and it's also quite small."

The weird earthquake struck May 24, 2013, about 398 miles (642 kilometers) beneath the Sea of Okhotsk offshore of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The magnitude-6.7 quake was an aftershock to the largest deep earthquake on record, a magnitude 8.3 that also hit May 24.
Solar Flares

Solar neutrons observed on orbit around Mercury

solar flare 2011-06-11
© NASA/STEREO/Helioviewer
A solar flare erupted on the far side of the sun on June 4, 2011, and sent solar neutrons out into space. Solar neutrons don't last long enough to make it to Earth, but NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, orbiting around Mercury, was able to observe them, offering a new technique to study these giant explosions
Scientists using data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft have discovered part of the outer layer of the Sun that is sending out modestly energetic subatomic particles called fast neutrons.

MESSENGER's close proximity to the Sun - the spacecraft orbits Mercury at a distance as close as 28 million miles from the Sun, compared to Earth's 93 million miles - allowed instruments to detect solar neutrons as they flowed past Mercury into space, according to a paper in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

"To understand all the processes on the Sun we look at as many different particles coming from the Sun as we can - photons, electrons, protons, neutrons, gamma rays - to gather different kinds of information," said David Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, the first author on the paper. "Closer to Earth we can observe charged particles from the Sun, but analyzing them can be a challenge as their journey is affected by magnetic fields."

Comment: Reference: Lawrence, D. J., W. C. Feldman, J. O. Goldsten, P. N. Peplowski, D. J. Rodgers, and S. C. Solomon (2014), Detection and characterization of 0.5 - 8 MeV neutrons near Mercury: Evidence for a solar origin, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 119
Accessible here.


Human cells' protein factory has an alternate operating manual

© Bruce A. Shapiro and Wojciech K. Kasprzak
The human gene CCR5 is critical for HIV infection. A complex structure in its messenger RNA can cause the ribosome to slip at the area in green, making the ribosome read the remaining genetic code as nonsense RNA. This decreases the amount of CCR5 protein produced. A microRNA (miR-1224, in purple) increases stalling at that site. This causes more slippage, further reducing CCR5 production and helping to regulate the immune response.
Working with a gene that plays a critical role in HIV infection, University of Maryland researchers have discovered that some human genes have an alternate set of operating instructions written into their protein-making machinery. The alternate instructions can quickly alter the proteins' contents, functions and ability to survive.

This phenomenon, known as programmed ribosomal frameshifting, was discovered in viruses in 1985. But the UMD study, published online July 9, 2014 in the journal Nature, is the first to show that a human gene uses programmed ribosomal frameshifting to change how it assembles proteins, said senior author Jonathan Dinman, UMD professor of cell biology and molecular genetics.

In the immune system-related gene that Dinman and his colleagues studied, programmed ribosomal frameshifting triggers a process the body can use to eliminate some immune system molecules, thereby reining in potentially harmful side effects such as fever, inflammation and organ failure. The discovery could lead to better treatments for AIDS, allergies and rejection of transplanted organs, Dinman said.

"This has useful implications in situations where you want to shut down the immune response in one part of the body but not in another, or shut down one facet of the immune response," Dinman said. "It could lead to very specific therapies without side effects."

The ribosome, the protein factory in every living cell, gathers amino acids and assembles them into protein chains to make almost anything the cell needs. A strand of ribonucleic acid, or messenger RNA, is the template.

Each amino acid is represented by a group of three molecules called nucleotides; each triad is called a codon.

Specialized molecules called transfer RNAs "read" each codon and deliver the matching amino acids to the ribosome for assembly. Some codons act as stop signs, instructing the ribosome to release the finished protein chain.

Self-reliance: Russia launches first newly designed 'Angara' space rocket

Angara Rocket
© ITAR-TASS/Anton Novoderezhkin
Russia has launched the ecologically clean Angara rocket from the Plesetsk military сosmodrome in Russia's north on the second try. It is the first space booster designed in Russia from a scratch since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A Ministry of Defense statement says that the launch of Angara 1.2PP conducted by Russia's Airspace Defense troops has been a success.

"After the 21st minute from launch the second stage of the rocket with a full-scale mock-up payload has arrived to Kura range in the Kamchatka Peninsula, some 5,700km from the point of launch," Colonel Aleksey Zolotukhin, an official representative of Aerospace Defense command, told ITAR-TASS.

Fireball 4

Close approach of PHA asteroid 2014 MF6

The asteroid 2014 MF6 was discovered (at magnitude ~17.0) on 2014, June 23.3 by Catalina Sky Survey (MPC code 703) with a 0.68-m Schmidt + CCD.

According to the preliminay orbit, 2014 MF6 is an Apollo type asteroid. This class of asteroids are defined by having semi-major axes greater than that of the Earth (> 1 AU) but perihelion distances less than the Earth's aphelion distance (q < 1.017 AU). It is also flagged as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid". PHA are asteroids larger than approximately 100m that might have threatening close approaches to the Earth (they can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU).

2014 MF6 has an estimated size of 190 m - 420 m (based on the object's absolute magnitude H=20.7) and it will have a close approach with Earth at about 9.1 LD (Lunar Distances = ~384,000 kilometers) or 0.0233 AU (1 AU = ~150 million kilometers) at 1939 UT on 2014, July 09. This asteroid will reach the peak magnitude ~15.3 on the period from 06 to 09 July 2014.

We performed some follow-up measurements of this object on 2014, July 09.4, remotely from the Q62 iTelescope network (Siding Spring, AU) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + focal reducer). Below you can see our image taken with the asteroid at magnitude ~15.3 and moving at ~ 40.43 "/min. Click on the image below to see a bigger version. North is up, East is to the left (the asteroid is trailed in the image due to its fast speed).
PHA Asteroid 2014 MF6
© Remanzacco Observatory
Here you can see a short animation showing the movement of 2014 MF6 (three consecutive 60-second exposure). East is up, North is to the right.

Something in Big Dipper 'blob' is sending out cosmic rays, study says

Cosmic Ray
© K. Kawata, University of Tokyo Institute for Cosmic Ray Research
A map of cosmic ray concentrations in the northern sky, showing a “hotspot” (red) in the location of the Big Dipper.
Behind the Big Dipper is something pumping out a lot of extremely high-energy cosmic rays, a new study says. And as astronomers try to learn more about the nature of these emanations - maybe black holes, maybe supernovas - newer work hints that it could be related to how the universe is structured.

It appears that the particles come from spots in the cosmos where matter is densely packed, such as in "superclusters" of galaxies, the researchers stated, adding this is promising progress for tracking down the source of the cosmic rays.

"This puts us closer to finding out the sources - but no cigar yet," stated University of Utah physicist Gordon Thomson, co-principal investigator for the Telescope Array that performed the observations. "All we see is a blob in the sky, and inside this blob there is all sorts of stuff - various types of objects - that could be the source," he added. "Now we know where to look."

Scientists discover radio emissions from fireballs

Radio Emissions
© Phys Org
These images show the sky above the first LWA station. Each image shows the full sky, down to the horizon at the image's edge.
Streaking across the sky at more than 50 kilometers per second at atmospheric heights of more than a 90 kilometers high, researchers using the first station of University of New Mexico's Long Wavelength Array (LWA) saw something new that had never been seen before; something that could hold a treasure trove of new information in the world of physics.

The first station of the LWA, known as LWA1, is a unique telescope that consists of a collection of 256 dipoles combined into one massive array with a collective-area of a 100-meter dish. The LWA1, is a highly sensitive telescope that can create images of the entire sky. It allows researchers to keep eyes on the whole sky day and night, probing a relatively unexplored region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Within six months of turning LWA1 on, UNM Department of Physics Professor Greg Taylor and his team got the all sky imaging up and running. Shortly thereafter, they started to search for transients, brief pulses of radio waves coming from the sky. Ken Obenberger, a UNM graduate student, and colleagues searched for transients in more than 11,000 hours of all-sky images from the LWA at frequencies between 25 and 75 MHz. In this data he identified 49 long (30 seconds or longer) transients.

The photon underproduction crisis: Missing photons or missing electricity?

simulation of intergalactic ultraviolet
© Ben Oppenheimer and Juna Kollmeier
Computer simulations of intergalactic hydrogen in a "dimly lit" universe (left) and a "brightly lit" universe (right) that has five times more of the energetic photons that destroy neutral hydrogen atoms. Hubble Space Telescope observations of hydrogen absorption match the picture on the right, but using only the known astronomical sources of ultraviolet light produces the much thicker structures on the left, and a severe mismatch with the observations.
Something is amiss in the Universe. There appears to be an enormous deficit of ultraviolet light in the cosmic budget.

Comment: Not exactly. What the paper is about is that the actual models of intergalactic medium do not explain what is observed. Something is amiss with the models, the Universe is what it is.

The vast reaches of empty space between galaxies are bridged by tendrils of hydrogen and helium, which can be used as a precise "light meter." In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a team of scientists finds that the light from known populations of galaxies and quasars is not nearly enough to explain observations of intergalactic hydrogen. The difference is a stunning 400 percent.

"It's as if you're in a big, brightly-lit room, but you look around and see only a few 40-watt lightbulbs," noted Carnegie's Juna Kollmeier, lead author of the study. "Where is all that light coming from? It's missing from our census."

Strangely, this mismatch only appears in the nearby, relatively well-studied cosmos. When telescopes focus on galaxies billions of light years away (and therefore are viewing the universe billions of years in its past), everything seems to add up. The fact that this accounting works in the early universe but falls apart locally has scientists puzzled.

Comment: In other words, the models work fine for the less well-studied cosmos.

Comment: A preprint of the published paper can be found here.


Deep in the Antarctic ice, the history of planet's biggest volcanic explosions

© Independent
Scientists have been able to trace the history of volcanic eruptions over the last 2,000 years by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet

Some of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the last 2,000 years have left their indelible mark deep within the pristine ice sheet of the Antarctic, a study has found.

Scientists have been able to trace the most complete history of volcanic eruptions since the birth of Christ by analysing deposits of sulphate dust in a series of ice cores drilled deep into the West Antarctic ice sheet.

The time series from 26 separate ice cores drilled out from 19 different sites shows that there were 116 volcanic eruptions in the past two millennia that were big enough to result in plumes of volcanic sulphate dust being transported as far as the South Pole.

Most the eruptions cannot be identified, however the biggest, in 1257, was already hinted at from medieval chronicles and tree rings. Scientists identified the sulphate deposits as coming from the Samalas volcano on Lombok Island of Indonesia.