Showing posts with label science news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science news. Show all posts

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Modern military guarantee against war: Modi

Terming military might as the biggest deterrent to war, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said the defence forces will be modernised to ensure that “nobody casts an evil eye” on the nation.
“Fighting a war and winning it has now become less difficult these days. But a modern military, armed with state of the art weaponry alone is a guarantee against war. When we are capable, no one can dare challenge us,” Mr. Modi said addressing a gathering after dedicating the largest indigenously built warship INS Kolkata to the nation. “When people have a sense of our military capability, nobody will ever dare to cast an evil eye on our nation,” he said.
Stressing the importance of maritime security in fast expanding global trade and commerce, the Prime Minister said India, with its vast coastline, was playing a major role in it. “In the coming days, INS Kolkata will inspire confidence to those involved in maritime trade,” he said.
Describing the building of the destroyer ship as a big achievement by India’s technicians, engineers and defence experts, Modi said the government was committed to modernising the defence forces so “our jawans don’t feel they are lagging behind in defending our nation.
“When I dedicate INS Kolkata to the nation, I am confident it will boost our military prowess and give confidence to our soldiers.”
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral RK Dhowan were present at the ceremony held at the Naval dockyard.
The warship, constructed by the Mazagon Dockyards Limited, has been designed by Navy’s design bureau. The 6,800 tonne warship is a technology demonstrator and will showcase a giant leap in shipbuilding technology in the country.smarttechies
The Prime Minister had dedicated India’s largest warship INS Vikramaditya to the nation in June in his first outing after taking charge.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NASA Dark-Energy Mission Could Spot 3,000 New Alien Planets

A mission NASA is designing to probe the nature of mysterious dark energy could discover thousands of alien planets as well.

NASA's proposed Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission aims to help researchers better understand dark energy, the puzzling stuff that makes up about three-quarters of the universe and drives its accelerating expansion.
But WFIRST — which is tentatively scheduled to launch in the early to mid-2020s — should also prove to be an adept planet hunter, complementing the activities of the space agency's prolific Kepler space telescope, researchers say. [Gallery: A World of Kepler Planets].

"We predict WFIRST will have 3,000 individual planet detections, the same order of magnitude as Kepler," Scott Gaudi, of Ohio State University, said in April during the Space Telescope Science Institute's Habitable Worlds Across Time and Space Symposium in Baltimore.
Gravitational microlensing
Scientists detect planets around other stars using several different methods. Kepler notes the tiny, telltale dimming of light that occurs when a planet crosses, or transits, the face of its host star from the spacecraft's perspective. But WFIRST would rely on gravitational microlensing.
In this technique, astronomers watch what happens when a big object passes between Earth and a background star. The foreground object's gravity bends and amplifies the light from the background star, acting like a magnifying glass.
If the foreground object is a star, and it has planets, the planets can affect the magnified light, creating a signal that astronomers can detect. The process behind this strategy was laid out in 1936 by Albert Einstein, based on his general theory of relativity.
Earth-based telescopes have already detected more than 20 exoplanets using microlensing. WFIRST will be a space-based telescope, which opens up greater detection abilities, researchers said.
"If you go to space, you can do a lot of great things," Gaudi said.
Because microlensing requires the correct lineup of foreground and background stars, the ability to follow up on WFIRST's finds will be limited. However, the process will expand the population of known alien planets, aiding scientists aiming to determine how rare Earth-size planets might be.
"This will dramatically improve our yield of planets," Gaudi said.

A census of worlds
WFIRST should provide a wealth of information about what types of planets exist, allowing stronger statistical conclusions to be drawn, researchers said. Such work would be a nice follow on from Kepler, which has discovered thousands of candidate exoplanets, many of them in solar systems very different than our own.
"If every solar system looked like ours, Kepler would have found very few or no planets," Gaudi said. "The solar systems we're learning about with Kepler are very different from our own."
Kepler has had a great deal of success spotting planets that orbit relatively close to their stars (because they transit frequently). WFIRST, on the other hand, will be more sensitive to larger bodies farther from their suns, researchers said.
In addition, WFIRST should be able to detect smaller distant planets, as well as free-floating "rogue planets" that have been ejected from their systems. Together, Kepler and WFIRST will cover virtually the entire plausible spectrum of planets in mass and orbits.
WFIRST will be able to capture information about Earth-size planets that lie farther from their suns than Earth does, as well as unbound planets the size of Mars. According to Gaudi, in favorable cases, the instrument should be able to detect a terrestrial moon orbiting a distant Earth, or a gas-giant satellite as large as Ganymede (Jupiter's largest moon), though both observations would be challenging. Unbound moons, like unbound planets, would also be detectable.
Of the 3,000 new planets expected to be found by WFIRST, scientists think about 300 will be Earth-size worlds and 1,000 will be "super-Earths," possibly rocky planets up to 10 times the mass of our own.  Such predictions are based on present-day understanding of the distribution of types of planets, knowledge that may be either strengthened or challenged by the wealth of data that WFIRST will bring.
With WFIRST, Gaudi said, "we'll measure the galactic distribution of the planets."
At present, the observatory is in the pre-formulation stage, where it will remain until 2016. In addition to creating a statistical catalog of exoplanets, WFIRST will also directly image previously confirmed planets, study black holes, and hunt for clues about dark energy.

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Moon Bumps: Earth's Gravity Creates Lunar Bulges

Earth's gravitational pull is so powerful that it creates a small bulge on the surface of the moon. For the first time, scientists have observed this bump from orbit, using NASA satellites.
The gravitational tug-of-war between Earth and the moon is enough to stretch both celestial bodies, so they each end up having a slight oval shape, with the tapered ends facing each other.
On Earth, this gravitational tension shows up in the form of tides. The moon's pull has a strong effect on Earth's oceans because water has so much freedom of movement. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts]
The corresponding distorting effect on the moon, called the lunar body tide, is more difficult to see, because the moon is solid except for a molten core. But Earth's pull raises a small bulge about 20 inches (50 centimeters) from the surface on the near side of the moon and a matching bulge on the far side.
"The deformation of the moon due to Earth's pull is very challenging to measure, but learning more about it gives us clues about the interior of the moon," Erwan Mazarico, a scientist who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

The same side of the moon always faces Earth, but the bulge does move around a few inches over time, wobbling and following Earth's pull like a magnet, as the moon shifts slightly during its orbit.
Scientists observed the lunar body tide using NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite, which is mapping the height of features on the moon's surface, and NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory satellite, which is mapping the moon's gravitational field. The satellites measured the height of 350,000 locations spread across areas of the moon closest to Earth and areas of the moon on the opposite side from Earth. The satellites passed over each location several times, so scientists could compare the height of each spot from one satellite pass to the next. By identifying which spots changed height, the researchers could track the lunar tide.
Scientists have studied the lunar body tide phenomenon from Earth, but this is the first time satellites have captured images of the lunar tide from orbit. The findings confirm the calculations scientists had already made from ground observations.

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Harvard Scientists Send the First Transatlantic Smell via iPhone

NEW YORK — Did you hear about the latest iPhone app out of Harvard? It really stinks.
Harvard scientists successfully transferred the first scent from Paris to New York on Tuesday morning via an iPhone app. The champagne and passion fruit macaroon-scented message was transferred via a new communication platform called the oPhone.
It works like this: A custom-made app allows you to take a photo of something and “tag” it with a few aroma notes (from more than 3,000 scents). These smells — which range in category from “Paris Afternoon” to “Plantation” — are transferred via a pipe-like smelling station called an oPhone Duo and are controlled by an iPhone app called oSnap.
When you send an oNote, your recipient will click a link that leads him to a photo, as well as the specific aromatic notes you have chosen. When connected to the oPhone Duo, the hardware piece, it’ll emit slight scents from two separate pipes to be smelled in conjunction with the message. Otherwise, the app will just offer some vivid description of the scent your sender is trying to convey. 
You don’t have to own the oPhone hardware, which starts at $149 on the company’s Indiegogo page, to send or receive a smell. Anyone without the contraption will still be able to tag images using the oSnap app (out in the App Store now) and mark it with around 16 different high and low notes. Currently, user creations range from “Lady Gaga” to “My Room” to “Smoky Beach.”
Screenshots from the oSnap app.
The oPhone, available to purchase on Indiegogo for $149, will be available to test at certain hotspots in New York, Paris, and Cambridge. (Alyssa Bereznak/Yahoo Tech)
The device’s co-inventor, Harvard Professor David Edwards, hopes to spread this new technology to the hands of consumers over the next year via “hotspots.” The American Museum of Natural History, where the initial demonstration took place, will host the first oPhone hotspot in the United States for three consecutive weekends starting July 12. Other hotspots will be located in Paris cafes and in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anyone who has made an oSnap via the app will be able to access it and smell its aroma in real life, using a Duo device at any of these special locations. 
Edwards first began developing the idea for the his communication system in collaboration with a 23-year-old student, Rachel Field. The two hope to see it used in foodie cultures—to be paired with the images of meals that many already send to their friends, or share on social media sites like Instagram or Facebook.
“Say I’m a barista and I have these great coffees, and I have difficulty describing them,” Edwards said at the demonstration. “You come to the cafe, you’ve got the iPad, ask, ‘What kind of coffee is that? and you can play it, get the primary and secondary and the mixed notes. It’s an education; it helps you talk to the barista. From the retail point of view, it’s a real way of reaching out and saying, ‘Get some coffee.’ ”
Edwards documented the aromas of the above spread of food, using the oSnap app. (Alyssa Bereznak/Yahoo Tech)
The guts of the oPhone Duo consist of several small circular plastic pieces, what Edwards calls the “neurons” of the contraption. Inside each neuron are four air holes, three of which are packed with dry, aromatic material. When the oSnap app sends a signal to the oPhone, indicating which aromas to conjure, the machine spins the circular neurons so their holes align with an air current. The smell is then pulled up.
A pack of four neurons will sell for $20. Like an ink cartridge, these pieces supply a vast number of smells depending on what combinations you ask for.
Edwards admits that, “like playing the piano,” learning to identify aromatic notes is a process that takes time. “Once you get used to it, you get better at it,” he said at the event. “We’re really intrigued to see how people are using this.”
The oPhone isn’t the first gadget to enable an iPhone owner to experience smells. My colleague David Pogue reviewed a dongle from Pop Secret that attached to the iPhone and could puff out the scent of freshly popped popcorn. Oscar Mayer released a similar contraption that simulated the smell of bacon frying in the pan. 
The oPhone can produce more sophisticated scents, though it’s not nearly as mobile as those gimmicky dongles. And that’s where the Harvard team’s other invention in the pipeline comes in: the oPhone Uno, a contraption that would theoretically allow you to dock your mobile phone to constantly receive smells.
“Ultimately if there’s enough interest here, you want this to be with you in your pocket everywhere.”

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Deep underground, water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If you want to find Earth's vast reservoirs of water, you may have to look beyond the obvious places like the oceans and polar ice caps.
Scientists on Friday said massive amounts of water appear to exist deep beneath the planet's surface, trapped in a rocky layer of the mantle at depths between 250 miles and 410 miles (410 km to 660 km).
But do not expect to quench your thirst down there. The water is not liquid - or any other familiar form like ice or vapor. It is locked inside the molecular structure of minerals called ringwoodite and wadsleyite in mantle rock that possesses the remarkable ability to absorb water like a sponge.
"It may equal or perhaps be larger than the amount of water in the oceans," Northwestern University geophysicist Steve Jacobsen said in a telephone interview. "It alters our thoughts about the composition of the Earth."
"It's no longer liquid water that we're talking about at these great depths. The weight of hundreds of kilometers of rock and very high temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit) break down water into its components. And it's not accessible. It's not a resource in any way," Jacobsen added.
Jacobsen said water is taken down into the mantle with minerals during the process known as plate tectonics - the slow, inexorable movement of the colossal rock slabs that make up the Earth's surface.
When the minerals containing this water reach certain depths, they break down in a process called dehydration and release the water to form magmas. Such "dehydration melting" is common in the shallow mantle and forms the source for magmas in many volcanoes.
In a study published in the journal Science, the researchers present evidence that this is also occurring much deeper in the mantle in a region called the "transition zone" between Earth's upper and lower mantle.
The study combined lab experiments involving synthetic ringwoodite being exposed to conditions simulating the heat and pressure of the "transition zone" and observations of events in this zone based on seismic data from a network of more than 2,000 seismometers across the United States.
A team led by Jacobsen and University of New Mexico seismologist Brandon Schmandt identified deep pockets of magma, a likely signature of the presence of water at those depths.
"Melting of rock at this depth is remarkable because most melting in the mantle occurs much shallower, in the upper 50 miles (80 km)," Schmandt said in a statement. "If there is a substantial amount of H2O in the transition zone, then some melting should take place in areas where there is flow into the lower mantle, and that is consistent with what we found."
The research built on another study in March showing that a commercially worthless diamond found in Brazil contained ringwoodite that entrapped water amounting to more than 1 percent of its weight. Ringwoodite has been found in meteorites, but this was the first terrestrial sample because it normally is so deeply buried.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

NASA spots worrisome Antarctic ice sheet melt

WASHINGTON (AP) — The huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow collapse in an unstoppable way, two new studies show. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured.
The worrisome outcomes won't be seen soon. Scientists are talking hundreds of years, but over that time the melt that has started could eventually add 4 to 12 feet to current sea levels.
A NASA study looking at 40 years of ground, airplane and satellite data of what researchers call "the weak underbelly of West Antarctica" shows the melt is happening faster than scientists had predicted, crossing a critical threshold that has begun a domino-like process.
"It does seem to be happening quickly," said University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, lead author of one study. "We really are witnessing the beginning stages."
It's likely because of man-made global warming and the ozone hole which have changed the Antarctic winds and warmed the water that eats away at the feet of the ice, researchers said at a NASA news conference Monday.
"The system is in sort of a chain reaction that is unstoppable," said NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot, chief author of the NASA study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "Every process in this reaction is feeding the next one."
Curbing emissions from fossil fuels to slow climate change will probably not halt the melting but it could slow the speed of the problem, Rignot said.
Rignot, who also is a scientist at the University of California Irvine, and other scientists said the "grounding line" which could be considered a dam that stops glacier retreat has essentially been breached. The only thing that could stop the retreat in this low-altitude region is a mountain or hill and there is none. Another way to think of it is like wine flowing from a horizontal uncorked bottle, he said.
Rignot looked at six glaciers in the region with special concentration on the Thwaites glacier, about the size of New Mexico and Arizona combined. Thwaites is so connected to the other glaciers that it helps trigger loss elsewhere, said Joughin, whose study was released Monday by the journal Science.
Joughin's study uses computer simulations and concludes "the early-stage collapse has begun." Rignot, who used data that showed a speed up of melt since the 1990s, said the word "collapse" may imply too fast a loss, it would be more the start of a slow-motion collapse and "we can't stop it."
Several outside experts in Antarctica praised the work and said they too were worried.
"It's bad news. It's a game changer," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, who wasn't part of either study. "We thought we had a while to wait and see. We've started down a process that we always said was the biggest worry and biggest risk from West Antarctica."
The Rignot study sees eventually 4 feet (1.2 meters) of sea level rise from the melt. But it could trigger neighboring ice sheet loss that could mean a total of 10 to 12 feet of sea level rise, the study in Science said, and Rignot agreed.
The recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change don't include melt from West Antarctic or Greenland in their projections and this would mean far more sea level rise, said Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. That means sea level rise by the year 2100 is likely to be about three feet, he said.
Even while the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting, the much larger East Antarctic ice sheet seems stable because it is cooler, Scambos said.
Climate change studies show Antarctica is a complicated continent in how it reacts. For example, just last month Antarctic sea ice levels — not the ice on the continent — reached a record in how far they extended. That has little or no relation to the larger more crucial ice sheet, Scambos and other scientists say.
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scientists pinpoint exotic new particle called quantum droplet

A microscopic ''quantum droplet'' - a new quasiparticle discovered by JILA physicists - is pictured in this artist's conception obtained by Reuters February 26, 2014. REUTERS/Baxley/JILA/HandoutIn the field of quantum physics, you could call this a droplet in the bucket.
Physicists in Germany and the United States said on Wednesday they have discovered an exotic new type of particle that they call a quantum droplet, or dropleton.
Writing in the journal Nature, they said it behaves a bit like a liquid droplet and described it as a quasiparticle - an amalgamation of smaller types of particles.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

The long and winding Colorado

Standing on a mesa high above the town of Rifle, Colo., Andres Aslan is having a hard time staying quiet. The lanky geologist from nearby Colorado Mesa University normally speaks in a low-key professorial drone. But here, looking down at a sprawling river valley blazing with autumnal cottonwoods, his enthusiasm cranks up his volume. “This could be it,” says Aslan, gesticulating wildly. “This may end up being the most important site anywhere.”
What’s important about this mesa, called Taughenbaugh, is the gravel under Aslan’s feet. It was laid down 1.75 million years ago by the Colorado River. The modern Colorado wends through the valley beneath. Over those millions of years, the river eroded away all the rock layers that once existed between the high mesa and the valley below.
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Jellyfish-like flying machine takes off

Hummingbirds do it, bees do it. But for tiny robots, hovering has proven a challenge.
Flapping-wing robots known as ornithopters can replicate insect wing motions, but these designs require complicated mechanisms to keep the machines stable. So mathematicians Leif Ristroph and Stephen Childress of New York University departed from insect mimicry. The pair designed a 2.1-gram, 10-centimeter-wide hovering machine that rises in air like a jellyfish in water.
Four teardrop-shaped flapping Mylar wings attached to a spherical shell create lift. A small motor drives a crankshaft attached by rods to each wing. Wings opposite each other flap simultaneously; the pairs are out of phase by a quarter cycle. The result, reported January 15 in theJournal of the Royal Society Interface, is the first flapping-wing craft with intrinsic stability, meaning it keeps itself right-side-up without sensors or feedback controls. 
The machine looks innocuous enough — even cute. But potential applications of automated hovering robots are serious stuff, with surveillance, environmental monitoring and search-and-rescue topping the list. 
STAYING UP  A flapping-wing machine ascends and hovers in stable flight without sensors or feedback controls. A closeup shows how a tiny motor drives the flapping mechanism, which resembles a jellyfish’s bell expelling water.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

Sharks use Twitter to warn swimmers

Sharks in Western Australia swimming close to popular beaches are using Twitter to send warning messages to surfers and swimmers.
The unique project means beach goers can make an informed decision about whether to go in the water knowing a shark is nearby.
Scientists have attached transmitters to more than 320 sharks, including great whites, which monitor their movements up and down the coast.
When a tagged shark swims within about a half mile of a beach, it triggers an alert which is picked up by computer. That computer then instantly turns the shark's signal into a short message on Surf Life Saving Western Australia's (SLSWA) Twitter feed.
The tweet gives the size and breed of the shark, and its approximate location.
Chris Peck, from SLSWA, told Sky News the system is far quicker than traditional warnings on local radio and in newspapers.
"You might not have got some of that information until the following day in which case the hazard has long gone and the information might not be relevant.
"Now it's instant information and really people don't have an excuse to say we're not getting the information, it's about whether you are searching for it and finding it," he said.
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Alien planet may lurk near failed stars

Astronomers have spotted signs of a possible exoplanet in a nearby system of twin failed stars. If confirmed, the alien world would be one of the closest to our sun ever found.
Scientists only discovered the pair of failed stars, known as brown dwarfs, last year. At just 6.6 light-years from Earth, the pair is the third closest system to our sun. It's actually so close that "television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there," Kevin Luhman, of Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, noted when their discovery was first announced in June.
The brown dwarf system, which has been dubbed Luhman 16AB and is officially classifed as WISE J104915.57-531906, is slightly more distant than Barnard's star, a red dwarf 6 light-years away that was first seen in 1916. Even closer to our sun is Alpha Centauri, whose two main stars form a binary pair about 4.4 light-years away. The alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb is known to orbit one of the stars in the Alpha Centauri system, and currently holds the title of closest exoplanet to our solar system. [The Strangest Alien Planets Ever Found (Gallery)]
The brown dwarfs were spotted in data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft, which took about 1.8 million images of asteroids, stars and galaxies during its ambitious 13-month mission to scan the entire sky. Brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars because they are bigger than planets but don't enough mass to kick-off nuclear fusion at their core.
Henri Boffin of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) led a team of astronomers seeking to learn more about our newfound dim neighbors. The group used the very sensitive FORS2 instrument onESO's Very Large Telescope at Paranal in Chile to take astrometric measurements of the objects during a two-month observation campaign from April to June 2013. (Astrometry involves tracking the precise motions of a star in the sky.)
"We have been able to measure the positions of these two objects with a precision of a few milli-arcseconds," Boffin said in a statement. "That is like a person in Paris being able to measure the position of someone in New York with a precision of 10 centimeters."
The group discovered that both brown dwarfs in the system have a mass 30 to 50 times the mass of Jupiter. (By comparison, our sun's mass is about 1,000 Jupiter masses.) Because their mass is so low, they take about 20 years to complete one orbit around each other, the astronomers said.
Boffin's team also discovered slight disturbances in the orbits of these objects during their two-month observation period. They believe the tug of a third object, perhaps a planet around one of the two brown dwarfs, could be behind these slight variations.
"Further observations are required to confirm the existence of a planet," Boffin aid in a statement. "But it may well turn out that the closest brown dwarf binary system to the sun turns out to be a triple system!"
So far, only eight exoplanets have been discovered around brown dwarfs, and they were found through microlensing and direct imaging, the astronomers say. The team added that the potential planet in Luhman 16AB could be the first alien discovered using astrometry if confirmed.
The research was detailed in a letter to the editor in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. It is available online on the preprint siteArxiv.
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Friday, December 20, 2013

Sparkling discovery: Antarctica may contain diamonds

Antarctica might have a new kind of ice diamonds might exist there, a new study finds,
The finding, detailed online Dec. 17 in the journal Nature Communications, suggests the gems could be found on every continent, researchers say.
Diamonds form under the immense heat and pressure found nearly 100 miles below Earth's surface, in the planet's mantle layer, which is sandwiched between the outer crust and the core. Powerful volcanic eruptions bring these precious stones to Earth's surface, where they are embedded in blue-tinged rocks known as kimberlites.
Kimberlites can range from 10,000 to 2.1 billion years in age, and can have the deepest sources of any rocks on Earth's surface.
"Kimberlites in general inform us about conditions in the Earth's interior," said study lead author Gregory Yaxley, a geologist at Australian National University in Canberra. "Their geochemistry holds clues about the nature of the source rocks at these extreme depths."
Until now, kimberlites were found on every continent except Antarctica. Now, scientists have discovered these rocks on the southernmost continent.
Kimberlites on every continentResearchers analyzed geological samples from boulders on the southeastern slopes of Mount Meredith, part of the vast Prince Charles mountain range in East Antarctica. The scientists found three kimberlite samples that were about 120 million years old; they formed around the time when the area that is now India was drifting away from the combined landmass of Australia and Antarctica. [Antarctica: Solving Geologic Mysteries (Video)]
The kimberlites lie near the margins of the Lambert rift, an enormous, transcontinental rift that crosses much of Antarctica.
"It is likely that this rift was critical to the formation of the kimberlite, as it may have been reactivated during separation of Australia and Antarctica from India," Yaxley told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet in an email. The presence of the kimberlite may, therefore, be "a direct manifestation of large, continent-scale tectonics."
The age of the Antarctic kimberlites and their chemical, mineral and physical features suggest they are part of a huge Cretaceous kimberlite province. This vast region is responsible for many of the world's diamonds, and is now apparently spread across most of the continents that were once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, Yaxley said.
No Antarctic diamond minesOnly about 1 to 2 percent of kimberlites contain valuable grades of diamond, Yaxley cautioned, and of these, most are "much, much less than 1 carat of diamond per ton of kimberlite," Yaxley said.
Establishing the viability of any clump of kimberlite as a potential diamond mine requires processing several tons of kimberlite to establish its grade, "and this is clearly unviable in the Antarctic environment," he wrote. "Additionally, mining activity is prohibited in Antarctica under the Madrid Protocol, to which 50 nations are signatories. So, this discovery will not lead to a diamond-mining industry in the southern continent, and this is how it should be."
Incidentally, although diamonds are often thought of as nature's hardest material, it turns out two other rare natural substances are harder wurtzite boron nitride, which is formed during intense volcanic eruptions, and lonsdaleite, which is sometimes created when meteorites hit Earth.
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Critics blast Reddit over climate-change skeptic ban

Critics are slamming Reddit over a single moderator's decision to ban climate-change skeptics from contributing to its science forum, attacking the move as “political censorship.”
In an op-ed titled “Reddit’s science forum banned climate deniers. Why don’t all newspapers do the same?” Nathan Allen -- who described himself a Ph.D. chemist for a major chemical company and a moderator on Reddit’s “/r/science” forum -- explained his decision to wipe comments from some users he dismissed as “problematic.”
“These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking,” Allen said in his article, which is posted on “They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong.”
Allen went on to attack climate-change skeptics further, saying that evidence to support their position “simply does not exist” and that such people are “enamored by the emotionally charged and rhetoric-based arguments of pundits on talk radio and Fox News.”Finally, Allen called for other news outlets to follow his example, asking “if a half-dozen volunteers can keep a page with more than 4 million users from being a microphone for the antiscientific, is it too much to ask for newspapers to police their own editorial pages as proficiently?”
The move has drawn accusations of hypocrisy, as Reddit claims to be a haven for free speech and debate. The site describes itself as a place “friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.”
Brendan O’Neill, in a blog post for the UK Daily Telegraph, said Reddit has “ripped its own reputation to shreds,” and described the move as “political censorship, designed to silence the expression of dissent about climate-change alarmism on one of the Internet’s most popular user-generated forums.”
James Delingpole, columnist, climate skeptic and author of “The Little Green Book Of Eco Fascism,” was even louder in his criticism.
“The greenies -- and their many useful idiots in the liberal media -- are terrified of open debate on climate-change because the real world evidence long ago parted company with their scientifically threadbare theory,” Delingpole told, arguing that Allen’s tactic is part of a “classic liberal defense mechanism: If the facts don't support you, then close down the argument.”
Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s director of communications, told that while it was Allen’s prerogative to ban climate-change skeptics from “/r/science,” his statements “do not reflect the views of Reddit as a whole, or other science or climate-oriented subreddits.”
“Each subreddit community is entitled to its own views, and anyone who wants to start their own subreddit is welcome to do so devoted to their views, opinions or interests,” Taylor said.
While there is a subreddit dedicated to climate skeptics, it has far less research than the larger science board.
The move follows an October decision by Paul Thornton -- the letters section editor for the Los Angeles Times -- who said he wouldn’t publish some letters from those skeptical of man’s role in the planet’s warming climate, saying that denying climate-change “is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”
Kelly McBride, who studies media ethics and is a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, defended the LA Times decision, telling in November she was “all in favor” of Thornton refusing skeptics.
“One of our ethical imperatives as journalists is to speak the truth,” McBride said. “And when we constantly allow people to say things that are known falsehoods, we undermine the public perception and the facts of an issue.”
“It’s not like we in society want these voices to go away,” she said. “We just want them in proper tone and context.”
Allen’s climate-change comments are not the first time that Reddit’s moderation has been the subject of controversy. Earlier this year Reddit’s “/r/politics” forum banned a variety of sites, including Fox Nation, Huffington Post and National Review, in what it claimed was a move to avoid sensationalized headlines and “bad journalism.” 
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New island off Japan keeps growing and growing

A volcanic eruption 600 miles south of Tokyo has created a new island, a 14-acre mass along the western edge of the “Ring of Fire” in the South Pacific. And far from sinking back into the sea, this bundle of joy looks like its here to stay.
The island is named Niijima and sits off the coast of Nishino-shima, a small, uninhabited island in the "Ring of Fire" chain of volcanoes in the western Pacific. It first appeared in late November, when heavy black smoke, ash and rocks exploded from the seas and steam poured forth from the eruption.
New images released by NASA show that the island looks likely to stay, unlike past tiny bits of territory that have appeared and later disappeared, according to Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief government spokesman.
"This has happened before and in some cases the islands disappeared," Yoshihide Suga said when asked if the government was planning on naming the new island.
"If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory."
According to news reports, Niijima is still erupting and growing. Scientists from the Japan Meteorological Agency think the island is large enough to survive for at least several years, if not permanently, NASA said. By early December, the island had grown to 56,000 square meters (13.8 acres), about three times its initial size. It stands 20 to 25 meters above the sea level.
The new island sits about a third of a mile from Nishino-shima, another volcanic island that last erupted and expanded in 1973–74, NASA said.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

SpaceShots: The best new 83 photos of our universe

This still image was taken from a new NASA movie of the sun based on data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, showing the wide range of wavelengths invisible to the naked eye that the telescope can view. SDO converts the wavelengths into an image humans can see, and the light is colorized into a rainbow of colors.
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Europe launches satellite that will map 1 billion stars, hunt for new planets

The European Space Agency successfully launched its star-surveying satellite Gaia into space Thursday in a bid to produce the most accurate three-dimensional map of the Milky Way, and provide an insight into the evolution of our galaxy.
The satellite was lifted into space from French Guiana at 6:12 a.m. (0912 GMT; 4:12 a.m. EST) aboard a Russian-made Soyuz rocket, the agency said. It is heading to a stable orbit on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, known as Lagrange 2, where it will arrive in about a month's time.
Timo Prusti, ESA's project scientist, likened the mission's goal to the switch from two-dimensional movies to 3D. At the moment, scientists are working with a largely "flat" map of the galaxy. "We want to have depth," he said.
Once Gaia arrives at the Lagrange 2 point some 930 million miles from Earth, the satellite will unfold a 33-feet circular sun shield. This will protect Gaia's sensitive instruments from the rays of the sun, while simultaneously collecting solar energy to power the spacecraft.
Using its twin telescopes, Gaia will study the position, distance, movement, chemical composition and brightness of a billion stars in the galaxy, or roughly 1 percent of the Milky Way's 100 billion stars.
The data will help scientists determine the Milky Way's origin and evolution, according to Jos de Bruijne, deputy project scientist for the Gaia program.
"The prime importance of this mission is to do galactic archaeology," he said in a phone interview from French Guiana. "It will reveal the real history of our galaxy."
The project is the successor to ESA's Hipparcos satellite, which was launched in 1989 and measured the position of 100,000 stars in the Milky Way.
Gaia, which is named after an ancient Greek deity, will go far beyond that. Scientists have compared its measuring accuracy to measuring the diameter of a human hair from 600 miles away.
"There is still a lot that we don't understand about the Milky Way," said Andrew Fox, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. He is not involved in the project, but his position at the science center is funded by the European Space Agency.
ESA has dubbed Gaia the "ultimate discovery machine" because its sophisticated instruments will allow scientists to look for small wobbles in stars' movements that indicate the presence of nearby planets.
"Those are the stars that people are going to go out and look for planets around, and ultimately for signs of life," said Fox.
Equipped with dozens of cameras capable of piecing together 1,000-megapixel images, scientists also expect to find hundreds of thousands of previously undiscovered asteroids and comets inside our solar system.
Beyond that, scientists hope that Gaia can also be used to test a key part of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity that predicts "dips" and "warps" in space caused by the gravity of stars and planets.
Carmen Jordi, an astronomer at the University of Barcelona who is involved in the mission, said the satellite's findings would become the main reference for scientists in the years to come.
"Almost all the fields of astrophysics will be affected," said Jordi.
Science operations will begin in about 4 1/2 months. The 740 million-euro ($1-billion) mission, which was delayed by about a month due to a technical problem with another satellite, has a planned lifetime of five years.
If Gaia is still operational after that, scientists say they might extend its mission for up to two years.
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Jupiter's icy moon Europa 'spouts water'

Water may be spouting from Jupiter's icy moon Europa - considered one of the best places to find alien life in the Solar System.
Images by the Hubble Space Telescope show surpluses of hydrogen and oxygen in the moon's southern hemisphere, say astronomers writing in Science journal.
If confirmed as water vapour plumes, it raises hopes that Europa's underground ocean can be accessed from its surface.
Future missions could probe these seas for signs of life.
Nasa's planetary science chief Dr James Green told BBC News: "The presence of the water has led scientists to speculate that the Europa we know today harbours life.
"The plumes are incredibly exciting if they are there - they are bringing up material from the ocean. Perhaps there are organic molecules lying there on the surface of Europa."
The findings were reported at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California.
Scientists discovered the enormous fountains in images taken by Hubble in November and December of last year, as well as older images from 1999.
"They are consistent with two 200-km-high (125 mile-high) plumes of water vapour," said lead author Lorenz Roth, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.They saw evidence of water being broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen over the south polar regions of Europa.
Every second, seven tonnes of material is ejected from the moon's surface.
Dr Kurt Retherford, also of the Southwest Research Institute, told the AGU meeting: "This is just an amazing amount.
"It is travelling at 700m a second... All of this gas comes out, and almost all falls back towards the surface - it doesn't escape out into space."
These plumes appear to be transient - they arise for just seven hours at a time.
They peak when Europa is at its farthest from Jupiter (the apocentre of its orbit) and vanish when it comes closest (the pericentre).
This means that tidal acceleration could be driving water spouting - by opening cracks in the surface ice, the researchers propose.
The team is not yet sure whether these fissures go all the way down to the liquid water beneath the moon's icy crust, or whether some other mechanism is bringing the vapour to the surface.
The researchers also want to investigate whether the plumes are similar to those seen on Saturn's moon Enceladus, where high-pressure vapour emissions escape from very narrow cracks on the body's surface.
"We have a lot of questions about how this works," said Dr Retherford.
"How thick is the ice crust? Are there lakes and ponds embedded within the layers of the ice? Do these cracks go down really deep, do they really touch the liquid water down below?
"We don't know all of these things."
The team said exploration for Europa should now be made a priority.
The US Space Agency has made some preliminary plans for a mission to the moon - the Europa Clipper, which could fly past the plumes.
However, budgetary constraints mean it may not happen for some time.
Dr Green said: "The Europa Clipper is a very expensive venture. It is expensive because it is designed to last for a fairly long period of time, potentially a year or a number of years in a very harsh radioactive environment.
"So consequently that is what we would call a flagship.
"And right now, the budget horizon is such that we are deferring that kind of mission later into the decade."
The next realistic opportunity to study the jets up close is therefore the European Space Agency's Juice mission.
Due to launch to the Jovian system in 2022, the satellite will make two close flybys of the ice-encrusted moon in the 2030s. With luck, its instrumentation will get close enough to directly sample the plumes.
Dr Retherford, who is also an investigator on a US instrument on Juice, cautioned that the European flybys would go close to the equator, whereas the Hubble data had only seen the plume activity at the southern pole so far: "We have probably observed only one of the largest plumes on Europa.
"There could be a lot of plumes, more like 10-50km high, and we're just not seeing them with our current data-sets. So it's not improbable that the Juice mission could be flying through some sort of plume near the equator, in which case we'd still have a chance to sniff out the composition of the gases coming off and do all sorts of other interesting studies,
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Friday, November 29, 2013

Starstruck: Three Little Exoplanets All in a Row

In a universe that exists in at least three dimensions and perhaps many more, our solar system remains an oddly 2-D place. At the center sits the Sun, with the eight planets spinning around it in a tidy plane, parallel to the solar equator. This is a function of the way the planets swirled into existence from the same cloud of dust and gas that gave rise to the sun itself — and is one of the things that got poor Pluto booted from the planet club altogether back in 2006. The ex-ninth planet travels in a steeply inclined orbit, rising above and diving below the solar plane — a clear indication that it's merely an escapee from the vast belt of comet-like objects that circle the solar system.
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Cancer meets its nemesis in reprogrammed blood cells

"THE results are holding up very nicely." Cancer researcher Michel Sadelain is admirably understated about the success of a treatment developed in his lab at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
In March, he announced that five people with a type of blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) were in remission following treatment with genetically engineered immune cells from their own blood. One person's tumours disappeared in just eight days.
Sadelain has now told New Scientist that a further 11 people have been treated, almost all of them with the same outcome. Several trials for other cancers are also showing promise.
What has changed is that researchers are finding ways to train the body's own immune system to kill cancer cells. Until now, the most common methods of attacking cancer use drugs or radiation, which have major side effects and are blunt instruments to say the least.
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Saturday, November 23, 2013

India ahead of China, Pakistan in Internet freedom: Study

New Delhi: India has scored higher than neighbouring China and Pakistan in terms of Internet freedom and openness, says a study by World Wide Web Foundation.

India's web index score at 32.4 is ahead of China (31.1) and Pakistan (10.4), shows the 2013 study by World Wide Web Foundation. The organisation was established in 2009 by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The Web Index is a composite measure that summarises in a single (average) number the health and social utility of the Web in various countries. The index score captures universal access, freedom and openness, relevant content and empowerment in the context of Internet.
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