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Thu, 29 Jul 2021
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Russia's hypersonic missile tests, rocket missions & new stealth fighter reflect its position as world leader in breakthrough technology

Russia's missile

Russian Navy test fires Tsirkon hypersonic missile 2021
July has been a remarkable month for Russian rockets, with Moscow announcing a handful of successful missile tests, the country showing off its warplanes at the MAKS international airshow, and launching the new Nauka space module.

Bringing together arms manufacturers from across the country and customers from across the world, the annual MAKS air show, outside the capital, saw the unveiling of the new Su-75 light combat aircraft, codenamed Checkmate. By all accounts, the presentation of the new fifth-generation light fighter jet was the pinnacle of the exposition, with developers promising Checkmate would make its maiden flight before next year's event.

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Microscope 2

China: Scientists discover giant viruses in the deepest place on Earth

© handout
Electron micrograph of a mimivirus
The first known batch of viruses retrieved from the deepest point in the Mariana Trench includes giant species bigger than some bacterium, according to a research team in Shanghai.

The many legends of giant sea creatures have been largely debunked because of the challenges to large, complex life forms at the greatest ocean depths.

But the researchers discovered several giant viral species, including mimiviruses - which typically use amoeba as their hosts - in sediments taken from a seabed nearly 11,000 metres (36,000 feet) below sea level at Challenger Deep.

And, while giant viruses have been found elsewhere, they appeared to be more abundant at the extreme depth, where pressure is 1,100 times that of the atmosphere, than in other conditions, where they are usually rare.


Physicists have developed a new way to levitate objects using sound

© Kondo and Okubo, JJAP, 2021
Levitating an object (l) and a schematic of the array.
A newly developed method of levitating and manipulating tiny objects using sound waves could represent a major step forward for the technology.

Engineers in Japan have figured out how to pick up objects from reflective surfaces using acoustic levitation. Although they can't yet do so reliably, the advance could help unlock the full potential of the manipulation of physical objects using nothing but sound.

Biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and the development of pharmaceuticals are some of the fields in which manipulating objects without touching them is potentially really useful. We can already do this with a technology called optical tweezers, which use lasers to generate sufficient radiation pressure to levitate and move extremely small particles.

Acoustic tweezers - where pressure generated with sound waves can be used to move particles - have the potential to be an even more powerful tool. They could be used to manipulate a wider range of materials, and at larger sizes - up to the millimeter scale.

However, despite being first discovered in the 1980s, there are significant limitations hindering acoustic tweezers from broad practical application. To start off, you need a reliable 'trap' made up of sound waves.


Even seagrass affected by noise pollution says new study

Seagrass may not have ears, but that doesn't stop noise pollution from causing serious damage to the plant's other structures.
© Shane Gross/NPL/Minden Pictures
Noise pollution affects the structures within seagrass that help the marine plant detect gravity and store energy.
From the whirring propellers that power our ships, to the airguns we use to search for oil, we humans have created a cacophony in the ocean. For years, scientists have known that human-generated noise pollution can hurt marine animals, including whales, fishes, and scallops. However, the damaging effect of noise pollution is, apparently, not limited to animals with ears, or even animals at all. A first-of-its-kind study has shown that at least one species of seagrass, a marine plant found off the coast of nearly every continent, also suffers when subjected to our acoustic chaos.

Scientists have recently discovered that Neptune grass, a protected seagrass species native to the Mediterranean Sea, can experience significant acoustic damage when exposed to low-frequency artificial sounds for only two hours. The damage is especially pronounced in the parts of the plant responsible for detecting gravity and storing energy.

The research was led by bioacoustician Michel André, director of the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain, who says he was inspired to conduct this research a decade ago after he and many of the same colleagues who worked on the current study revealed that cephalopods suffer massive acoustic trauma when exposed to low-frequency noise. Cephalopods lack hearing organs, but they do have statocysts — sensory organs used for balance and orientation. Similar to a human's inner ear, statocysts sense the vibrational waves we interpret as sound.


The insect apocalypse that never was

Australian sand nesting bee
Australian sand nesting bee
For the past four years, journalists and environmental bloggers have been churning out alarming stories that insects are vanishing, in the United States and globally. Limited available evidence lends credence to reasonable concerns, not least because insects are crucial components of many ecosystems. But the issue has often been framed in catastrophic terms, with predictions of a near-inevitable and imminent ecological collapse that would break ecosystems, destroy harvests, and trigger widespread starvation. Most of the proposed solutions would require a dramatic retooling of many aspects of modern life, from urbanization to agriculture.

Considering the disruptive economic and social trade-offs being demanded by some of those promoting the crisis hypothesis, it's prudent to separate genuine threats from agenda-driven hyperbole. Are insect declines really threatening to precipitate a catastrophic ecological crisis? And, given the available data, what should a responsible society be doing?

Roots of the crisis narrative

The recent hyper-focus on insects can be traced back to a 2017 study conducted by an obscure German entomological society, which claimed that flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 76 percent over just 26 years. The study, co-authored by 12 scientists, lit a fire in advocacy circles and became the sixth-most-discussed scientific paper of that year. It remains popular today.


What do flies think about?

housefly computer render
© CutCat
UQ research reveals how much we can learn about human consciousness by looking inside the brain of a fly.

You could be forgiven for thinking the humble fruit fly is a brainless drone, programmed only to fly around your kitchen in search of the bin.

However, UQ research is revealing there are more similarities between our minds and those of fruit flies than you might have imagined.

The work of Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen from UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) has been key in bringing this to the world's attention - from showing flies have sleep stages similar to ours, to evidence they could even have a form of self-awareness.

Most recently, his research examining the brains of flies has revolutionised our understanding of how general anaesthetics affect human consciousness.


Black holes warp the universe into a grotesque hall of mirrors

black hole mirror distortion space
© Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library
Artist's conception of the latest theories of a black hole's appearance
Imagine a galaxy reflected in a fun house hall of mirrors. You'd see the galaxy, repeated again and again, with each image becoming more grotesque and distorted. That's how the universe looks near the event horizon of a black hole, one of the most warped places in the cosmos.

While physicists had some previous ideas about what such regions looked like, a new calculation has shown exactly what you would see around black holes, opening up potential new ways to test Einstein's theory of general relativity.


Researchers propose new theory to explain the transparency of metallic oxides

transparent mettalic oxides strontium vanadium oxide
A collection of strontium and vanadium oxide (SrVO3) metallic films of increasing thickness.
The electrons of some metal oxides, due to their large effective mass when coupled with the ionic lattice of the material, cannot follow the electric field of light and allow it to pass through the material. Transparent and conductive materials are used in smartphone touch screens and solar panels for photovoltaic energy.

Researchers from the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), propose a new theory to explain the transparency of metal oxides, which are used in the touch screens of smartphones and tablets as well as on the solar cells used in photovoltaic energy. Scientists point out that the effective mass of electrons in these types of materials is large due to the formation of polarons or couplings between the electrons in motion and the ionic lattice of the material, which is distorted around it. These electrons cannot rapidly oscillate following the electric field of light and let it pass rather than reflect it. Until now, the accepted theory to explain this transparency pointed to the interactions between the electrons themselves. The study has been published in the journal Advanced Science.

Comet 2

New Comet C/2021 N3 (PANSTARRS)

CBET 5003 & MPEC 2021-O39, issued on 2021, July 22, announce the discovery of a new comet (magnitude ~20.5) on CCD images taken on July 13.5 UT with the Pan-STARRS1 1.8-m Ritchey-Chretien reflector at Haleakala (numerous pre-discovery observations going back an additional month were later identified). The new comet has been designated C/2021 N3 (PANSTARRS).

Stacking of 16 unfiltered exposures, 180 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2021, July 14.3 from X02 (Telescope Live, Chile) through a 0.61-m f/6.5 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a compact coma about 9" arcsecond in diameter elongated toward PA 230 (Observers E. Guido, M. Rocchetto, E. Bryssinck, M. Fulle, G. Milani, C. Nassef, G. Savini, A. Valvasori).

Our confirmation image (click on the images for a bigger version; made with TYCHO software by D. Parrott)

Comet C/2021 N3 Panstarrs
© Remanzacco Blogspot

Comet 2

New Comet P/2021 N2 (Fuls)

CBET 5000 & MPEC 2021-N137, issued on 2021, July 15, announce the discovery of a new comet (magnitude ~18.3) on CCD images taken on July 09.4 UT with the Catalina Sky Survey's 0.68-m Schmidt reflector (pre-discovery Catalina observations from June 27 were identified later). The new comet has been designated P/2021 N2 (Fuls).

Stacking of 28 unfiltered exposures, 60 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2021, July 10.1 from Z08 (Telescope Live, Oria) through a 0.7 m f/8 Ritchey Chretien + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a compact coma about 8" arcsec in diameter and a tail 10" long in PA 250 (Observers E. Guido, M. Rocchetto, E. Bryssinck, M. Fulle, G. Milani, C. Nassef, G. Savini, A. Valvasori).

Our confirmation image (click on the images for a bigger version; made with TYCHO software by D. Parrott)
Comet P/2021 N2 (Fuls)
© Remanzacco Blogspot
Comet P/2021 N2 (Fuls)