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Sat, 27 Aug 2016
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Microscope 2

Looking for the mysterious missing magnetic monopole

© Shutterstock
You've probably heard of the Higgs boson. This elusive particle was predicted to exist long ago and helped explain why the universe works the way it does, but it took decades for us to detect.

Well, there's another elusive particle that has also been predicted by quantum physics, and it's been missing for an even longer time. In fact, we still haven't spotted one, and not through lack of trying.

It's called the magnetic monopole, and it has a few unique properties that make it rather special.

Comment: See also: Large-Scale Cousin of Elusive 'Magnetic Monopoles' Found


Galaxy

Astronomers discover mysterious trans-Neptunian object with unexplained weird orbit

© ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger
"I hope everyone has buckled their seatbelts because the outer solar system just got a lot weirder." That's what Michele Bannister, an astronomer at Queens University, Belfast tweeted on Monday.

She was referring to the discovery of a TNO or trans-Neptunian object, something which sits beyond Neptune in the outer solar system. This one is 160,000 times fainter than Neptune, which means the icy world could be less than 200 kilometres in diameter. It's currently above the plane of the solar system and with every passing day, it's moving upwards - a fact that makes it an oddity.

The TNO orbits in a plane that's tilted 110 degrees to the plane of the solar system. What's more, it swings around the sun backwards unlike most of the other objects in the solar system. With this in mind, the team that discovered the TNO nicknamed it "Niku" after the Chinese adjective for rebellious.

Arrow Down

US Airforce wants to detonate plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere

© U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt
HAARP of Alaska: making the ionosphere more reflective.
Can you hear me now? The US Air Force is working on plans to improve radio communication over long distances by detonating plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere using a fleet of micro satellites.

Since the early days of radio, we've known that reception is sometimes better at night. Radio stations that cannot be picked up by day may be heard clearly at night, transmitting from hundreds of kilometres away.

This is down to changes in the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles in the atmosphere that starts around 60 kilometres up. The curvature of Earth stops most ground-based radio signals travelling more than 70 kilometres without a boost.

But by bouncing between the ionosphere and the ground they can zigzag for much greater distances. At night the density of the ionosphere's charged particles is higher, making it more reflective.

This is not the first time we've tinkered with the ionosphere to try to improve radio communication and enhance the range of over-the-horizon radar. HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska, stimulates the ionosphere with radiation from an array of ground-based antennas to produce radio-reflecting plasma.

Display

Fed up with big business, Minnesota towns create their own internet

Over two dozen rural towns in southern Minnesota, fed up with waiting for corporate high-speed Internet to reach them, have taken it upon themselves to build a fiber optic network of their own — and they're doing it entirely without federal funding.

Last July, POLITICO highlighted the disaster that became of a federal program, signed into life by President Obama in 2009, designed to bring high-speed Internet to rural communities. That program was plagued by mishandling of funds by the department overseeing it, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

"A POLITCO investigation has found that roughly half of the nearly 300 projects RUS approved as part of the 2009 Recovery Act have not yet drawn down the full amounts they were awarded," the news agency writes. "More than 40 of the projects RUS initially approved never got started at all, raising questions about how RUS screened its applicants and made its decisions in the first place."

Ice Cube

Solar physicist's research discovers second solar cycle - sees global cooling ahead

© screen capture/Global Warming Policy Forum
Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University and colleagues, discovered that the sun’s dynamo is actually made of two components – coming from different depths inside the sun.
Recent research by Professor Valentina Zharkova (Northumbria University) and colleagues has shed new light on the inner workings of the Sun. If correct, this new discovery means that future solar cycles and variations in the Sun's activity can be predicted more accurately.

The research suggests that the next three solar cycles will see solar activity reduce significantly into the middle of the century, producing conditions similar to those last seen in the 1600s - during the Maunder Minimum. This may have implications for temperatures here on Earth. Future solar cycles will serve as a test of the astrophysicists' work, but some climate scientists have not welcomed the research and even tried to suppress the new findings.

New Solar Research Raises Climate Questions, Triggers Attacks

To most of us the sun seems unchanging. But if you observe its surface, it is seething with vast explosions and ejections. This activity has its origin in intense magnetic fields generated by swirling currents in the sun's outer layer - scientists call it the solar dynamo.

It produces the well-known 11-year solar cycle which can be seen as sunspots come and go on the sun's surface.

But models of the solar dynamo have only been partially successful in predicting the solar cycle - and that might be because a vital component is missing.

Comment: Professor Zharkova has run up against the need to protect the official global warming narrative.


Galaxy

Scientists: Mysterious supernovas explode twice, giving birth to powerful magnets

© NASA
This artist's illustration of a supernova shows a shell of material being expelled from the dying star, as well as a burst of bright light.
A mysterious kind of supernova that appears to explode twice may be giving birth to some of the most powerful magnets in the universe, a new study finds. Supernovas are explosions that occur when certain types of stars run out of fuel and "die." These outbursts can briefly outshine all of the millions of other stars in their galaxies.

Recently, scientists detected a very rare class of supernova, known as superluminous supernovas. These star explosions are up to 100 times brighter than other supernovas. The superluminous variety account for less than a thousandth of all supernovas, and only about 30 examples have been studied well.

"They are extremely bright and can be seen for up to a year but are incredibly rare, so [they] are difficult to find and measure," said study lead author Mathew Smith, an astrophysicist at the University of Southampton in England. "We don't yet know the physical origin of these cosmic explosions that can be seen out to the beginning of the universe; that's the main focus of current and future searches."

Mysteriously, previous research suggested that some superluminous supernovas appear to explode twice. Before their main explosions, each of these supernovas experience a spike in brightness that lasts a few days.

Now, Smith and his colleagues have analyzed such a "double-peaked" superluminous supernova from almost the moment it occurred, shedding light on its origins. In their new paper, they said most superluminous supernovas may actually be double-peaked.
© Matthew Smith
This graph shows the change in the apparent brightness of a superluminous supernova detected by the Dark Energy Survey. The graph shows an initial bump in brightness, followed by a major spike that represents the main supernova explosion.

Hearts

Humpback whales around the globe are rescuing other animals from orcas

© Wiki Commons
Humans might not be the only creatures that care about the welfare of other animals. Scientists are beginning to recognize a pattern in humpback whale behavior around the world, a seemingly intentional effort to rescue animals that are being hunted by killer whales.

Marine ecologist Robert Pitman observed a particularly dramatic example of this behavior back in 2009, while observing a pod of killer whales hunting a Weddell seal trapped on an ice floe off Antarctica. The orcas were able to successfully knock the seal off the ice, and just as they were closing in for the kill, a magnificent humpback whale suddenly rose up out of the water beneath the seal.

This was no mere accident. In order to better protect the seal, the whale placed it safely on its upturned belly to keep it out of the water. As the seal slipped down the whale's side, the humpback appeared to use its flippers to carefully help the seal back aboard. Finally, when the coast was clear, the seal was able to safely swim off to another, more secure ice floe.

Info

New retrograde trans-Neptunian object, Niku discovered

© NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
This is an artist's concept of a craggy piece of Solar System debris that belongs to a class of bodies called trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs).
Although the majority of Centaurs are thought to have originated in the scattered disk, with the high-inclination members coming from the Oort cloud, the origin of the high inclination component of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) remains uncertain. We report the discovery of a retrograde TNO, which we nickname "Niku", detected by the Pan-STARRS 1 Outer Solar System Survey.

Our numerical integrations show that the orbital dynamics of Niku are very similar to that of 2008 KV42 (Drac), with a half-life of ∼500 Myr. Comparing similar high inclination TNOs and Centaurs (q>10 AU, a<100 AU and i>60∘), we find that these objects exhibit a surprising clustering of ascending node, and occupy a common orbital plane.

This orbital configuration has high statistical significance: 3.8-σ. An unknown mechanism is required to explain the observed clustering. This discovery may provide a pathway to investigate a possible reservoir of high-inclination objects.

Reference:
Discovery of A New Retrograde Trans-Neptunian Object: Hint of A Common Orbital Plane for Low Semi-Major Axis, High Inclination TNOs and Centaurs

Camera

New faceless recognition system can identify obscured individuals in photos

© Motherboard
With widespread adoption among law enforcement, advertisers, and even churches, face recognition has undoubtedly become one of the biggest threats to privacy out there.

By itself, the ability to instantly identify anyone just by seeing their face already creates massive power imbalances, with serious implications for free speech and political protest. But more recently, researchers have demonstrated that even when faces are blurred or otherwise obscured, algorithms can be trained to identify people by matching previously-observed patterns around their head and body.

In a new paper uploaded to the ArXiv pre-print server, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany demonstrate a method of identifying individuals even when most of their photos are un-tagged or obscured. The researchers' system, which they call the "Faceless Recognition System," trains a neural network on a set of photos containing both obscured and visible faces, then uses that knowledge to predict the identity of obscured faces by looking for similarities in the area around a person's head and body.

The accuracy of the system varies depending on how many visible faces are available in the photo set. Even when there are only 1.25 instances of the individual's fully-visible face, the system can identify an obscured faced with 69.6 percent accuracy; if there are 10 instances of an individual's visible face, it increases to as high as 91.5 percent.

In other words, even if you made sure to obscure your face in most of your Instagram photos, the system would have a decent chance identifying you as long as there are one or two where your face is fully visible.

Satellite

SkyFire cubesat: Tiny cube satellites to probe Moon mysteries

© lockheedmartin.com
Artistic rendering of the SkyFire cubesat orbiting the moon.
A tiny probe armed with new infrared scanning technology will be on board NASA's 2018 exploration mission to the moon, along with a dozen similar "cube satellites." Dubbed SkyFire, it is a joint venture between the US space agency and Lockheed Martin.

On Monday, Lockheed announced that NASA has given final approval for SkyFire, securing its slot aboard the first Exploration Mission (EM-1). The primary mission, scheduled for September 2018, will be a test of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. SkyFire and other "cubesats" will be part of the secondary payload.