Science & Technology


Plan To Send A Probe To The Sun

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is sending a spacecraft closer to the sun than any probe has ever gone - and what it finds could revolutionize what we know about our star and the solar wind that influences everything in our solar system.

NASAs Solar Probe
©NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Artist's concept of NASA's Solar Probe spacecraft making its daring pass toward the sun, where it will study the forces that create solar wind. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., will design and build the spacecraft, on a schedule to launch in 2015. Preliminary designs include a 9-foot-diameter, 6-inch-thick, carbon-foam-filled solar shield atop the spacecraft body, and two sets of solar arrays that would retract or extend as the spacecraft swings toward or away from the sun -- making sure the panels stay at proper temperatures and power levels.

NASA has tapped APL to develop the ambitious Solar Probe mission, which will study the streams of charged particles the sun hurls into space from a vantage point within the sun's corona - its outer atmosphere - where the processes that heat the corona and produce solar wind occur. At closest approach Solar Probe would zip past the sun at 125 miles per second, protected by a carbon-composite heat shield that must withstand up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit and survive blasts of radiation and energized dust at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft.

Better Earth

Coherent Description Of Earth's Inaccessible Interior Clarifies Mantle Motion

A new model of inner Earth constructed by Arizona State University researchers pulls past information and hypotheses into a coherent story to clarify mantle motion.

mantle of the Earth
The image is shown from space, centered over the Pacific Ocean, with a cut-away displaying anomalous heterogeneities in the mantle of the Earth: red and blue regions depict zones where seismic waves propagate slower or faster than average, respectively. Distant earthquakes (e.g., the red star) send seismic energy throughout the planet, which traverses anomalous structure and brings information about Earth's internal structure to the planet's surface. The large red region beneath the Pacific Ocean sits atop the hot molten iron core (orange ball), is best explained as chemically distinct from the rest of the mantle, and possibly plays an important role in guiding convection currents in the mantle over geologic time scales. The blue regions underlay subduction zones at Earth's surface, where cold and dense material falls into the planet in the recycling of Earth's surface as part of plate tectonics. Thus the fields of seismology coupled with geodynamics are providing a self-consistent framework for depicting the evolution and dynamics of Earth's interior.

"The past maybe two or three years there have been a lot of papers in Science and Nature about the deep mantle from seismologists and mineral physicists and it's getting really confusing because there are contradictions amongst the different papers," says Ed Garnero, seismologist and an associate professor in Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration.


China experts identify gene for yield, height in rice

KABUL - Scientists in China have identified a single gene that appears to control rice yield, as well as its height and flowering time, taking what may be a crucial step in global efforts to increase crop productivity.

In an article published in Nature Genetics, the researchers said they were able to pinpoint a single gene, Ghd7, which appears to determine all three traits.

 farmer plants rice sprouts
©REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
A farmer plants rice sprouts in a paddy field in Nakhon Sawan province, north of Bangkok May 4, 2008.

Magic Wand

Apple that's in the pink

Australian scientists have created an apple that does not go brown when cut open. The new variety - called Enchanted - stays pale pink for several hours after being exposed to air. The apple was bred naturally in Australia from the varieties Lady Williams and Golden Delicious without genetic modification.


Sun's Movement Through Milky Way Regularly Sends Comets Hurtling, Coinciding With Mass Life Extinctions

The sun's movement through the Milky Way regularly sends comets hurtling into the inner solar system -- coinciding with mass life extinctions on earth, a new study claims. The study suggests a link between comet bombardment and the movement through the galaxy.


Treasure-Laden Shipwreck Found off African Coast

A 500-year-old shipwreck has been found off the coast of southern Africa, laden with tons of copper ingots, elephant tusks, gold coins, and cannons to fend off pirates.

The wreck and its treasure were recently discovered by geologists prospecting for diamonds off the coast of Namibia.

Heart - Black

Lions, Hippos Poisoned in Famous Kenya Park

Poisoned lion
A lion that ate a pesticide-laced hippo carcass stumbles in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya in this undated photo. Several hippopotamuses and at least four lions in the park have died after ingesting carbofuran, a powerful insecticide, conservationists say. Wildlife groups are concerned that pastoralists are increasingly using the compound to get rid of carnivores that prey on their livestock.

Several hippopotamuses and at least four lions in Kenya's famed Masai Mara National Reserve have died after ingesting a powerful insecticide, conservationists say.

The hippos ate grass contaminated by the pesticide, called carbofuran, and the lions became partially paralyzed after eating a hippo carcass, according to the conservation nonprofit WildlifeDirect.

"It's very unfortunate that people are talking about things that have not happened the way they say things have happened," Sikuku said.
Yes, it is. But it is also unfortunate that certain people accuse others of what they, themselves are doing.


Supercomputer To Simulate Extreme Stellar Physics

Robert Fisher and Cal Jordan are among a team of scientists who will expend 22 million computational hours during the next year on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, simulating an event that takes less than five seconds.

snapshot of a three-dimensional simulation of a Type Ia supernova
©DOE NNSA ASC/Alliance Flash Center at the University of Chicago
A snapshot of a three-dimensional simulation of a Type Ia supernova, shortly after the nuclear flame bubble that initiates the Ia event is ignited slightly off-center from the progenitor white dwarf star (shown here as a light blue surface). Buoyancy forces drive the bubble (shown in yellow and red) rapidly to the surface of the white dwarf. The bubble, consisting of nuclear ash heated to hundreds of millions of degrees, reaches a speed of nearly 2 million miles per hour before erupting from the surface roughly a second after ignition.

Fisher and Jordan require such resources in their field of extreme science. Their work at the University of Chicago's Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes explores how the laws of nature unfold in natural phenomena at unimaginably extreme temperatures and pressures. The Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory will serve as one of their primary tools for studying exploding stars.

"The Argonne Blue Gene/P supercomputer is one of the largest and fastest supercomputers in the world," said Fisher, a Flash Center Research Scientist. "It has massive computational resources that are not available on smaller platforms elsewhere."

Evil Rays

Roaring Bats: New Scientific Results Show Bats Emitting More Decibels Than A Rock Concert

Researchers studying the echolocation behavior in bats have discovered that the diminutive flying mammals emit exceptionally loud sounds -- louder than any known animal in air.

Annemarie Surlykke from the Institute of Biology, SDU, Denmark, and her colleague, Elisabeth Kalko, from the University of Ulm, Germany, studied the echolocation behavior in 11 species of insect-eating tropical bats from Panamá, the findings of which are reported in this weeks' PLoS ONE.

©iStockphoto/Alexei Zaycev
Bats emit their echolocation calls at ultrasonic frequencies in order to get echoes from small insects.

The researchers used microphone arrays and photographic methods to reconstruct flight paths of the bats in the field when these nocturnal hunters find and capture their insect prey in air using their sonar system. Surlykke and Kalko took this information as a base to estimate the emitted sound intensity and found that bats emit exceptionally loud sounds exceeding 140 dB SPL (at 10 cm from the bat's mouth), which is the highest level reported so far for any animal in air. For comparison, the level at a loud rock concert is 115-120 dB and for humans, the threshold of pain is around 120 dB.


Has the heaviest element been found?

Could a superheavy element - heavier than anything previously found in nature or made in the lab - exist naturally in the rocks of Earth? A team of physicists says they have detected a few exceptionally massive atoms - which they say could be element 122 - in a solution prepared from natural minerals. But other scientists are highly sceptical of the claim.