Science & Technology


Mysterious dance of dwarf galaxies may force a cosmic rethink

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
At approximately 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda galaxy, or M31, is our Milky Way's largest galactic neighbor.
The discovery that many small galaxies throughout the universe do not 'swarm' around larger ones like bees do but 'dance' in orderly disc-shaped orbits is a challenge to our understanding of how the universe formed and evolved.

The finding, by an international team of astronomers, including Professor Geraint Lewis from the University of Sydney's School of Physics, is announced today in Nature.

"Early in 2013 we announced our startling discovery that half of the dwarf galaxies surrounding the Andromeda Galaxy are orbiting it in an immense plane" said Professor Lewis. "This plane is more than a million light years in diameter, but is very thin, with a width of only 300,000 light years."

The universe contains billions of galaxies. Some, such as the Milky Way, are immense, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most galaxies, however, are dwarfs, much smaller and with only a few billion stars.

For decades astronomers have used computer models to predict how these dwarf galaxies should orbit large galaxies. They had always found that they should be scattered randomly.

Brain power: It's a myth that we only use 10% of our brains

© Alamy
It's a common conversation starter to assert that we only use 10% of our brains. In Lucy, the soon-to-be-released thriller about a woman forced to work as a drug mule for the Taiwanese mob, Professor Norman lectures, "It is estimated most human beings only use 10% of their brain's capacity. Imagine if we could access 100%. Interesting things begin to happen."

Now, I know Morgan Freeman is well versed in playing the wise sage, and I know that I haven't earned my PhD yet - but professor, I beg to differ. You see, we all access 100% of our brains every day. And we don't have to be telekinetic or memorise an entire deck of cards to do it.

In the film, the drugs implanted into Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson) leak into her system, allowing her to "access 100%" of her brain. Among other things, Lucy can move objects with her mind, choose not to feel pain, and memorise copious amounts of information. In a way, the idea that we only use 10% of our brains is rather inspiring. It may motivate us to try harder or tap into some mysterious, intact reservoir of creativity and potential. There are even products that promise to unlock that other 90%.

As ludicrous as the claim is, however, two-thirds of the public and, get this, half of science teachers reportedly still believe the myth to be true. The notion is so widespread that when University College London neuroscientist Sophie Scott attended a first aid course, her instructor assured the class that head injuries weren't dangerous because "90% of the brain [doesn't] do anything".

Comment: While it certainly is true that we use more than 10% of our brain just to maintain normal body processes, it is also true that humanity has been dumbed down and is not living up to its potential. Instead the populace tolerates incessant lies, senseless wars and the progressive destruction of our planet with a mere shrug. If looked at from this angle, one can very well argue, that we only use "10% of our brain".

Red Flag

Trashing our Oceans? First of its kind map reveals extent of plastic debris

When a research team set sail on a nine-month, worldwide expedition in 2010 to study the impact of global warming on Earth's oceans, one of their projects was to locate the accumulations of plastic.

They found plenty. They explored the five huge gyres, which collectively contain tens of thousands of tons of plastic. The result was the creation of a compelling, first-of-its-kind map of this debris.

But in the process, they realized that the plastic in the gyres didn't begin to account for the enormous amount of plastic that's been manufactured since the mass production of plastic began in the mid 1940s.

In a National Geographic report, marine biologist Andres Cozar Cabañas, who was part of the Malaspina expedition led by the Spanish National Research Council, said:
"Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimeters, are unaccounted for in the surface loads. But we don't know what this plastic is doing. The plastic is somewhere - in the ocean life, in the depths or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets."

Comment: Additional reading about the Plague of Plastic killing the world's oceans:


The multiverse hypothesis: Can the idea of other universes be scientifically tested?

© Reuters
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has produced a new, more detailed picture of the infant universe shown in this image released on March 16, 2006. Colors indicate "warmer" (red) and "cooler" (blue) spots. The white bars show the "polarization" direction of the oldest light. This new information helps to pinpoint when the first stars formed and provides new clues about events that transpired in the first trillionth of a second of the universe.
The question of the size and limits of our universe can fry our mind without reading into it. Still more amazing, some among us always believed that we live in multiple, parallel universes. Now scientists think they can prove the fantastic hypothesis.

There is testable science, and then there is fantasy and beautiful fairytales. Mathew Johnson of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, has a mission to take on one of the most impossible beliefs of the latter and place it firmly in the former category.

Johnson's tactic is quite simply to establish a way of testing for different scenarios of how universes might collide, if they exist. He develops a computer model that simulates collision of physical bubble-like objects on a small, workable scale.

The metaphor for the multiverse used in the study is then quite similar to ordinary, observable processes here on Earth.

Imagine watching a pot of boiling water slowly simmer and form bubbles. Some of these bubbles grow into bigger ones, others split up, bump into each other, interact etc. This is what proponents of the multiverse theory believe about the vacuum, which they say came before the Big Bang: an empty field full of energy that had nowhere to go, and thus began creating bubbles - universes, that began to collide with each other and interact in different ways. They represented the totality of every dimension we have come to know - space, time, all the constants and physical laws.

Bizarro Earth

Mapping the deep magma reservoir below Washington's Mt. Rainier

© R. Shane McGary / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Map shows, in purple and pink, the west-east line of magnetotelluric sensors that were placed north of Mount Rainier.
Experts have mapped a huge magma reservoir below Mount Rainier in Washington state that begins melting deep in the Earth's mantle before pushing upwards to where it will eventually be tapped for eruption. Researchers from the United States and Norway used seismic imaging and the measurement of variations in electrical and magnetic fields to create a detailed road map of the pathway molten rock takes to the surface.

Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature, are aimed at helping experts understand the volcano's inner workings, and eventually determine when it might again erupt. A state landmark, Mount Rainier last erupted in the 19th century. It is widely expected to erupt again, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

The tallest volcano and fifth-highest peak in the contiguous United States, it towers some 14,410-feet (4,392 meters) about 58 miles (93 km) southeast of Seattle, from most of which it is visible.

Comment: No such thing as a dormant volcano: Magma chambers awake sooner than thought


Scientists discover most distant stars ever detected in the halo of Milky Way galaxy

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / ESO / R. Hurt
This artist’s impression shows the structure of our Milky Way Galaxy, including the location of the spiral arms and other components such as the bulge.
A team of astronomers using the Red Channel spectrograph at the MMT Observatory on Mt. Hopkins in Arizona has discovered the most distant Milky Way stars known to date - ULAS J001535.72+015549.6 and ULAS J074417.48+253233.0. These cool red giants are extremely far away, at distances of 775,000 and 900,000 light years, respectively.

The distant outskirts of our Milky Way Galaxy harbor valuable clues for understanding the formation and evolution of the Galaxy.

Yet, due to overwhelming distances and an extremely sparse population of stars, many objects have not been identified beyond 400,000 light years, with only seven stars known to date beyond this limit.

The team led by Prof John Bochanski of Haverford College has now discovered two stars in the Milky Way's outer halo that are the most distant ever discovered in our Galaxy.

Detailed Mars landscapes revealed on new map

mars map
USGS’s new geologic map of Mars is the most thorough representation yet of the red planet’s surface. The map will help guide scientists as they investigate the possibility of a human expedition to Mars.
Every experienced traveler knows never to leave home without a trusty map. Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), stargazers and future explorers now have the most detailed map of Mars ever made.

The high-resolution map showcases in vivid color the planet's geologic terrain. Scientists expect it to offer clues to the geologic processes that shaped the red planet's barren, windswept landscape as well as to guide any future human expeditions.

Humans have been sending robotic emissaries to our neighbor for more than five decades now, but only since the 1990s have orbiters had the ability to map out the minerals, water, and subsurface geology of Mars. The oldest regions of the planet, nearly four billion years old, are colored dark brown. The youngest areas are colored orange and red.

U.S.Geologic Survey: Earthquake risk increased for half of U.S.

A new federal earthquake map dials up the shaking hazard just a bit for about half of the United States and lowers it for nearly a quarter of the nation.

The U.S. Geologic Survey updated Thursday its national seismic hazard maps for the first time since 2008, taking into account research from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast and the surprise 2011 Virginia temblor.

Most of the changes are slight. Project chief Mark Petersen said parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee moved into the top two hazard zones.

Forming new circuits? Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

 Video: Electric bacteria connect to form wires

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form - they eat and breathe electrons - and they are everywhere

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form - naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

Comment: For more on electric universe and information theory and how they may relate to these new scientific discoveries, see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Fireball 3

Close-Earth pass of 4 huge asteroids coming in August

Get ready for some huge asteroid whizzing action, because this summer we'll be witnessing 4 large space rocks passing by Earth. In August, kilometer-wide asteroids are slated to miss our home planet, luckily at a safe distance, so the armageddon isn't scheduled and Bruce Willis can stay home. First of the Near Earth Objects (NEO), asteroid 2002 JN97, discovered in May 2002 will pass our planet by 61 lunar distances (LD) on August 2. The rock is estimated to be nearly 3 kilometers wide. It will fly by the Earth at a velocity of 21 km/s
earth asteroid
We don't witness asteroids that big, passing by very often. In July there is only one asteroid that could have at least 1 km in diameter predicted to fly by Earth. It is estimated that the July 20 object, 2014 ER49 won't have more than 1200 m. Scientists estimate that several dozen asteroids in the 6-to-12-meter size range fly by Earth at a distance even closer than the moon every year. But only a fraction of these are actually detected.

Mark your calendars for August 17, because this is the day of a real asteroid frenzy. 2001 RZ11 has about 3 km in diameter and among with its 1 kilometer-wide companion, 2013 WT67, will make the day. The rocks will pass the Earth at a safe distance, of course. The first one at 34 LD and the second much closer, but still 16 LD. What is significant, 2001 RZ11 is enlisted as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Those objects have the potential to make close approaches to the Earth and are of a size large enough to cause significant regional damage in the event of impact. PHAs are space rocks larger than approximately 100 m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU (about 20 LD). There are currently 1489 known PHAs.

Last but not least, on August 30, about 1 kilometer-wide asteroid 2002 CU11 will swing by. At a velocity of 26 km/s, the rock will fly at the closest distance of all the asteroids mentioned above, 13.5 LD. So we can call it potentially hazardous. Next time to see it so close? Aug. 31, 2080, the 2002 CU11 will come closer than 2 LD.

As of July 04, 2014, 11209 Near-Earth objects have been discovered. Some 865 of these NEOs are asteroids with a diameter of approximately 1 kilometer or larger.

Comment: "We don't witness asteroids that big, passing by very often."

But that could change in the very near future.