Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life on Mars Time: Like Traveling Three Time Zones Every Two Days

In a small corner of the world (Tucson, Arizona), a team of scientists on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Mission lives on Mars time. Life has certainly been unusual since the spacecraft landed two months ago. When the Mars Lander shuts down during the Martian night, mission controllers are awake analyzing data; with a typical workday ending sometime around 3 or 4am on Earth, at the dawn of the Martian day when the Lander wakes up.

As one can imagine, this schedule can eventually take its toll on the body, especially considering the fact that corresponding orbital motions of Mars and the Earth mean that start of the Martian day is always changing with respect to Earth time, in addition to the Martian day being 40 minutes longer than Earth's. Whew!

That's why 18 Phoenix team members living the Martian life are being monitored by a group of physiologists, who will study changes in the body that might develop from such an out-of-whack schedule. The results could help ease the fatigue of future astronauts on Mars missions.

They also provide helpful adjustment tools, like the blue LED light box scientist Morten Bo Madsen (pictured) sits next to as he works on the Lander's robotic arm camera. Previous research has shown that bright light, particularly short-wavelength or blue light can perk sleepyheads up as good as any jolt of coffee.

But the end of this bizarre yet intriguing ( and personally I think it sounds fun) way of life is near- Phoenix's main mission terminates in August.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The World's Best Particle Accelerator Rap!

Former PhysicsBuzz blogger, Alpinekat, is famous! Her Large Hadron Rap was picked up by the New York Times. Look for it in the sidebar of the article by Dennis Overbye.

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.
The Large Hadron Rap was Alpinekat's second physics-based rap video. Here's the first one she made.

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"Jets Off" to the Jetpacker

The jetpack is probably the most recognizable brainchild of science fiction to creep its way into reality.

A longtime symbol of the future (remember the Jetsons?) the jetpack continues to capture the imaginations of many, and society's fascination with personal flight never seems to cease.

While its not exactly the handy-dandy device that shoots fire and sends you skyrocketing, New Zealander Glenn Martin's jetpack will certainly get you in the air, as seen yesterday at EAA AirVenture OshKosh 2008, the annual aviation convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Wisconsin.

Fastening himself into the 250 pound apparatus, the inventor's 16 year old son Harrison suited up and flew about 3 feet off the ground, hovering for about 45 seconds, to much applause. You can check out the youtube video here.

Made of carbon fiber composite, the jetpack's inventor claims it can fly an average-sized pilot about 30 miles in 30 miles on a 5-gallon tank of gas although these predictions have yet to be tested. It is designed for the pilot to "get into", rather than strap on. Upward facing fans on both sides of the jetpack provide the thrust needed to take off.

Safety precautions should be a concern of every future jetpacker. This one has an emergency parachute that operates above 400 feet, and the bottom framework of the jetpack is impact absorbing, which can lessen the pain of a fall or rough landing.

Believe it or not, the Martin Jet pack conforms to Federal Aviation Administration standards (yes there are actually rules for jetpacks), as it weighs less than 254 pounds and is designed to carry only one passenger. The best part is you don't need a pilots license to fly one. Yet.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Gold Atom Weighs More Than Yours

Researchers at UC Berkley and Berkley Lab have developed a scale sensitive enough to measure, at room temperature, the mass of a single atom of gold, in a little over a second of time.

Although scientists can already measure the mass of a single atom using mass spectrometry, this new method is based on nanoelectromechanical (NEMS) technology, making it more sensitive and compact. So small is the sensor, researchers say it could eventually be put on a chip.

The mass sensor is made of a single carbon nanotube enclosed in two walls to increase rigidity and ensure uniform electrical properties, one end of the nanotube waves freely while the other is connected to an electrode near a counter electrode.

Appyling a DC voltage source allows researchers to create a negative electrical charge on the free end of the carbon nanotube, making it vibrate with a specific resonance frequency. Subsequently, the device works by measuring the change in resonance frequency of the carbon nanotube under the weight of the molecule or atom.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Light Tails and Magnetic Fields

Back after a three-day weekend! What better way to start off the week than with cool animations? The video above shows the Earth's magnetic field lines reconnecting with the magnetotail, a magnetic region with a shape similar to an empty sock filled with air on a windy day. The reconnection causes a vehement release of magnetic energy into the atmosphere, creating the famous display of color in the night sky known as the Northern Lights or polar auroras.

Scientists recently observed the event for the first time, using a network of 5 satellites known as THEMIS. They discovered that the reconnection is caused by a build-up of magnetic energy into kinetic energy and heat inside the Earth's atmosphere. Charged particles then speed down the magnetosphere headed for Earth, where they collide with the atmosphere, bursting into bright flares.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Cool Stuff from the Blogosphere

A sampling of some of the cool science-y stuff zipping around the blogosphere this week:

SEED Magazine
Ever wonder what goes on at your lab after dark? This photo essay can tell you.

First Science
It's summer, so why not delve a little into the science of sandcastles? (via Swans on Tea)

A report on Michio Kaku's fascinating plenary talk at the AAPT meeting this past week.

Holy Juan
#4: Cross your arms and give your future self a disapproving look.

Science Fair
The ants go marching one by one, and now all those cars on the freeway can follow suit.

Twisted Physics
Hugh Everett III's rock musician son revisits his father's Many Worlds theory in upcoming NOVA special.

Bad Astronomy
Phil Plait answers an excellent question.

Cosmic Ray
Because every crowd has a Doubting Thomas...

Skulls in the Stars
New study finds evidence for the obvious.

Stefan celebrates the centenary of the first liquefaction of that most noble of gases, helium.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Black Hole Thursdays.

Astronomers have for the first time developed a technique to view rapidly spinning disks of gas found near black holes.

Their observations allowed them to confirm the that the electromagnetic spectra of these accretion disks match what astronomers have long predicted, giving a boost of hard evidence to current quasar formation theory.

The team of researchers gazed into the night on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, looking through the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope. They were able to measure the spectrum of the accretion disk by getting rid of extra, interfering light, using a polarizing filter attached to the telescope.

Why exactly are polarized filters so special? Well, they aren't. It is the way that accretion disks emit light that lets the filter do its job. Accretion disks emit non-polarized light that doesn't care how its electrical field is aligned, known as direct light. But a small amount of accretion disk light reflects off gas very close to the black hole- this light is polarized. By only analyzing polarized light, researchers are able to ignore all the direct-light emitting irrelevant stuff, like dust particles and ionized gas.

Quasars are extremely bright, distant objects that also emit frenzied, massive amounts of energy. They are powerful, but until now no one has been able show that accretion disks falling toward black holes, particular near the horizon or black hole boundary, is the source of much that power.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Side of Phobos

Today the camera eyes of the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft will scrutinize the oddly shaped and pockmarked Phobos, as it makes its closest ever pass by the largest of Martian moons, gliding a mere 60 miles above its surface.

The spacecraft will use all of its high-tech tricks to perform a thorough examination, taking 3-D images, mapping with a high-resolution camera, making precise measurements of the Phobos' mass and composition, and unleashing its subsurface probing radar to study the the moon's insides. But Mars Express isn't done yet. It will travel again pass Phobos two more times this summer, collecting a wealth of new data.

Researchers are interested in Phobos because it is seen as a feasible compromise between sending astronauts to the moon, an extremely difficult but already accomplished feat, and sending astronauts to Mars, in what is likely to be a very dangerous, long, and tedious mission.

But that doesn't mean that Phobos is the back-up guy, the stand-in for space exploration. Aside from a considerably less risky mission, Phobos may be more interesting than previously thought. Some Scientists believe the moon might be harboring ice underneath its cratered surface. Plus, the origins of Phobos (along with Deimos- the other Martian moon) still aren't clear.

It is unknown if the moons were created at the same time as Mars, or if they are asteroids that wandered into Martian orbit later, in which case Phobo's exploration would be especially fruitful. Asteroids are known for having have lots of rich metals like metallic iron and nickel.

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What do a Dwarf Planet and a Polynesian God Have in Common?

They both share the same name: Makemake ( say it with me, MAH-kay, MAH-kay). The planet naming authority of the International Astronomical Union recently decided on the name, which comes from the Polynesian god of fertility and and creator of humanity.

The dwarf planet, is a member of the newly created plutoid subclass, where it joins Pluto and Eris.
Like its plutoid brethren, Makemake is far off from the sun, lying beyond Neptune.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And Then There Was Light...Emitting Diodes

They've been around since the 1960s (mostly in traffic signals), but Light Emitting Diodes(LEDs) are lighting up the future.

I could rave about all the neat characteristics these luminous materials have, but only two are really important: LED lights only need to be replaced every 15 years, and they could potentially reduce the amount of electricity we consume by 10 percent, if used widely.

What more could one want in a lighting source? Unfortunately, there is a "dark" side to LEDs. They are painstakingly expensive. That's because a layer of sapphire is currently used in manufacturing LEDs.

While the idea of lighting your living room with dazzling gems might be attractive, it certainly isn't conducive to mass production. Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have solved that problem, by developing a method to create LEDs on a thin disks of silicon coated in metal, making production a lot cheaper.

Gallium nitride is what causes light to be emitted in LEDs. While some of the light is projected up, some of it goes down and is lost. This accounts for part of the reason current LEDs are so costly- they require an additional reflector to bounce light back that would otherwise be lost.

The Purdue team managed to engineer an LED on a silicon layer, with a built-in metallic reflective layer, made of zirconium nitride. With these ingredients sprinkled onto the silicon, the disk is heated at extremely hot temperatures, causing a crystal structure to form that is key to functioning LEDs.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Large Hadron Collider: Colder Than Deep Space

Everyone's favorite particle smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has almost reached 1.9 Kelvin (-465F), colder than deep space. Never before has a physics experiment so enormous and complex been operated at such extremely low temperatures.

It contains 7,000 magnets that will be maintained at colder than space temperatures using liquid helium, in order to make them superconducting. The magnets are arranged in a ring that runs through the underground tunnel.

Cooling the Collider is a process that takes a couple of weeks, and that's only if everything goes as planned. If a sector has to be brought back up to room temperature for inspection and repairs and then recooled, the project is setback for months. Of the LHC's eight sectors, six are at temperatures between 4.5 and 1.9 kelvin.

To put perspective on just how frigid these temperatures are, desolate regions of outer space are about 2.7 Kelvin. Two sectors are not cold enough to undergo electrical testing, and so their cooling equipment will be moved to an area that offers better protecttion against super fast colliding particles.

Spanning the border between Switzerland and France at about 100 m underground, the machine will mimick the conditions right after the Big Bang, when an extremely hot and dense universe underwent some cosmic explosion that created space and time as we know it today.

When up and running the LHC will excite clusters of protons to record-breaking high energies, and then smash them into each other 30 million times a second.

Among the particle debris left over from these collisions, scientists hope to find the Higgs boson ( you know, the "god particle"), and the particle that makes up the identity of dark matter.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

This Week's Good Reads

In case you missed them:

You know you've always wanted to learn the trick to this. (h/t: A Blog Around the Clock)

Ptak Science Books
Revisiting a pivotal point in physics history.

A flock of starlings make pretty patterns in the sky.

A couple of guys from the University of Nottingham in the UK have created videos about each of the elements. Check out the oxygen pyrotechnics!

Conventional cameras are sooo 2007. The visuals for Radiohead's new video, "House of Cards," were created with lasers: specifically, LIDAR and Geometric Infomatics. (see pic)

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What Earth and Moon Look like to Aliens.

Check out this video NASA's Deep Impact Sapcecraft made, of the moon passing in front of Earth, viewed from 31 million miles away. Kind of cool to think that this is how aliens might see us from somewhere off in the distant universe.

The clip combines several images of the moon rotating around the Earth in color. According to NASA, Deep Impact is the only spacecraft to show the moon passing around the earth in detail: you can actually see our oceans and continents, and the moon's large craters.
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On the Moon and Need a Telescope? Make Your Own!

Hauling stuff up to the moon can get heavy and expensive. That's why Peter Chen and other NASA researchers (right down the road in Greenbelt, MD) have been working on a way to build telescopes using moon materials.

They have already managed to make a telescope mirror out of moon dirt (called "regolith" in space jargon), carbon nanotubes, and a pinch of epoxy. In something like lunar pottery, they spun the concrete-like mixture into a parabolic bowl shape, characteristic of a telescope mirror.

The bowl was placed into a vacuum chamber, thinly coated it with aluminum to make a mirror 1 foot in diameter. So far the method used by Chen and others is working, lunar telescope builders wouldn't even need a vacuum chamber, thanks to the moon's lack of atmosphere.

There are a few challenges however, such as lunar dust contamination that builders would have to somehow prevent while working. Plus, a spinning table would still have to be loaded onto rockets from earth and carried up to make the parabolic bowl.

The next part of the project aims to solve the problems of lunar dust, by creating an even larger mirror (1.64 foot by 3.23 foot) using simulated lunar dust. Improving the quality of the mirror and perfecting it's surface are also goals.
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Space is Like, Crazy.

To know the Onion is to love the Onion. According to America's finest news source, the Crab Nebula actually looks like the image above. Read about the Hubble Kaleidoscope here.
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When Lightning Strikes

Lightning has been flashin' around forever- and yet scientists just can't seem to figure it out. Granted, we have made progress since times of the early Greeks, who believed that lightning was a weapon of Zeus.

Fast forward centuries later to Ben Franklin's kite experiment, and lightning became less of a scary God-power trip, and more like a giant electrical current.

Recently in (2001 and 2002), scientists proved that lightning actually produces large amounts of X-rays. No one understands how lightning makes X-rays, but physicists at University of Florida and Florida Institute of Technology Engineering are on the brink of discovering the source of x-rays emitted by lightning. According to scientists heading the research, knowing the source of x-rays could one day help predict where lightning will strike.

The problem is temperature. Lightning is really really hot-The temperature of the air around a bolt of is about 54000° Fahrenheit. That's about 5-6 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Even so, lightning is still much to cold to produce the X-rays observed. But somehow they are being produced, the question is how.

Data from electric field and X-ray detectors, lead researchers to conclude that as lightning emerges from a cloud and hurdles to the ground in a series of 30 to 60 foot "steps", X-rays almost instantly shoot out just below each step.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Paucity of Pee.

"Valuable" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when prompted to describe urine, but the stuff is in high demand at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Developers of the Orion Space Capsule are working on a new-and-improved space toilet. Reliability is essential, as the Orion will remain stationed in unoccupied space for up to 6 months while scientists are busy working on the moon.

More specifically, scientists are trying to figure out how to the solve the difficult problems of urine acidity and elimination of stored urine. Naturally, they need authentic samples to ensure optimal design. About 8 gallons a day, 7 days a week's worth of urine is need.

Obtaining copious amounts of pee is apparently not easy. NASA recently sent out an internal memo asking workers to do their part for space toilet technology, by giving daily contributions of urine from July 21 to 31.
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Tiniest Bolometer Ever

If you've never seen a bolometer before, its unlikely you will get a glimpse of the new nano-sized electronic detector created by a team of physicists at Rutgers University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

That's because the minuscule device is about 500 nanometers long and 100 nanometers wide; an astonishing 100 times smaller than the thickness of a strand of your hair.

Bolometers act as detectors of infrared waves by absorbing photons or packets of light, and measuring the heat generated. But the newly developed "hot-electron nanobolometer" is no mere imitator.

According to a lead scientist of the project, it is potentially 100 times more sensitive than current bolometers, and absorbs far-infrared light much faster. While it works by measuring heat, the circuit itself operates at extremely cold temperatures, around 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Brrr!

Astronomers are no doubt grateful for the new technology, as it helps them inch closer towards the ability to see invisible light created during the inchoate days of the early universe. Both abundant and significant, invisible light comprises about 98% of the light emitted since the big bang 14 billion years ago.

Many believe that exploring invisible light may provide clues into star and galaxy formation. The scientists working on the nanobolometer predict that it be widely applied to future satellite-based far infrared telescopes in space.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Avalanches: Not All Their Cracked Up to Be

Skiers recently gained useful, (possibly life-saving) new knowledge about the causes of avalanches, thanks to a new study by physicists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

According to the authors, the particular ways that snow cracks and collapses is a telltale sign of avalanche formation. Certain crack patterns can foreshadow whether or not a slab of snow will cascade down the slope in a tumbling mass of disaster, or simply collapse onto itself.

This means that contrary to popular belief, crack sizes don't necessarily increase as the slope angle decreases. Rather, snow slides can happen at any slope angle, there is no is minimum requirement.

Researchers modeled the most common type of avalanche, known as slab avalanches, where a giant chunk of snow breaks off and meets its fate at the foot of a mountain. They found that compression, or how packed the snow is, plays a greater role in avalanche dynamics than gravity pulling down along the slope does.

By investigating the structure of snow layers, which are comprised of hollowed-out ice grains that form cavities, researchers determined that patterned cracks in the snow can spread over large areas, triggering avalanches.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

6 Billion Year Old Particles Maintain Weight

In the case of subatomic particles, the phrase "still the same after all these years" should be taken literally. As German astrophysicists recently discovered, the mass ratio of the proton and the electron is the same as it was 6 billion years ago.

Specifically, protons weighed 1,836 times more than electrons back then, and they still do!The researchers who performed the study had originally detected ammonia in a very far off galaxy, by observing its absorption of radio waves from a powerful bundle of energy called a quasar, located behind the galaxy.

Because light from such a distant object takes time to travel to us here on earth, the farther away scientists probe the universe, the farther back into the past they see. Therefore, they actually viewed ammonia as it was millions and millions of years ago.

Because of its pyramid-like structure, ammonia behaves differently than other molecules when absorbing the energy from radio waves. In a feat of subatomic gymnastics, an ammonia molecule actually flips inside out, its three hydrogens moving from the bottom of the pyramid to the top, while its nitrogen resumes the base position.

As researchers knew, the key to the flip lies in the ratio between the mass of the proton and the electron. They compared the ammonia absorption data to other molecules within the same galaxy and found that absorption was basically the same, indicating that the proton/electron mass ratio had not changed.

We all know subatomic particles are really, really tiny, so who cares what they weigh? Turns out that question is a loaded one. Many scientists believe that changes in particle masses provide evidence that universal constants like the speed of light, are well, not so constant after all. This idea might provide explanations for dark energy, and hidden extra dimensions proposed by string theory.
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Good Reads from the Blogosphere

"GLAST Mission Inspires Classical Music Composer"

Science Fair
Nolan Gasser has created a new work inspired by NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) mission.

Swans on Tea
Cool video showing how to destroy expensive glassware using only the power of sound.

What Brendon Fraser and cohorts would see if they ventured into the real core of our planet.

Bad Astronomy
Uber-cool visualization of the magnetic fields that are all around us.

Greg Laden's Blog
The marine biologist-turned documentary filmmaker talks about his latest film.

Not Exactly Rocket Science
A new study shows the mutual antagonism isn't as bad as some folks believe. Bonus: some helpful tips for scientists on dealing with the media.

Video pairs Edgar Allan Poe's "Sonnet: To Science" with music and nifty techno-visuals.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Weekend Satellite Sighting

If you are living in North America or Europe, tis the season for spotting the International Space Station (ISS)!

Websites like NASA's Skywatch can tell you the viewing schedule for your area by entering a zip code.

High altitude- satellites like the ISS are lit up by reflecting sunlight, making them visible against a dark night sky. Only at this time of year are the nights short enough to view orbiting objects that remain close to earth.

Luckily, the ISS is enormous (when completed it will have a mass of 250 tons), making it much easier to see than most other artificial satellites. It also circles the earth about every 90 minutes, so those living in optimal locations might be able to see the station up to 6 times in one night.

July 17 through the 21 is the best time frame for viewing, either 45 to 90 minutes before sunrise, or 45 to 90 minutes after the sunset, when the ISS appears at a high arc across the sky. You might even see a super-bright satellite flare, giving the impression that a trail of is light streaking across the sky.
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Moon Glass Pebbles Reveal Water

A wise man once said, "Keep yer' moon pebbles, they may be important someday". All right, so maybe no one at NASA actually uttered those words, but I'm sure scientists are thankful they were heeded.

A team of scientists has found extremely tiny amounts of water, around 46 parts per million in glass pebbles from the moon, brought to earth by Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These watery gems provide strong evidence that the inside of the moon was once gushing with liquid water. That's in stark contrast to how most of us think about our dear old piece of cheese, as dusty and dry. So how much is a part per million? Parts per million ( or billion or trillion) are measures of concentration. They allow scientists to determine how much of a substance is in another substance, using a limited sample.

If the glass pebble were cut into a million pieces, only about 46 of them would be made of water. While this may seem mind-bogglingly small, the finding is tantalizing proof of water that must have once existed on the moon in ample supply.

Scientists detected the water by using a technique called secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), and then confirmed then presence of hydrogen in the samples through rigorous testing.

The discovered water sheds new light on a widely accepted theory of moon formation, that a giant object slammed into the earth some 4.5 billion years ago, breaking off a molten chunk that cooled and created the moon. The impact of this collision would have quickly vaporized any water. Moreover, the findings indicate that water must have been present on earth before the collision.
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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Acoustics 2008: Burglar Alarm for Ancient Shipwrecks

For all those interested in great naval disasters, lost underwater cities, shipwrecks, or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you might be interested in SEA-GUARD, an underwater intruder alarm system developed by Turkish scientists and presented at this year's Acoustical Society of America (ASA) meeting in Paris.

According to the authors of the paper, it is estimated that there are still about 1 million undiscovered ancient shipwrecks settled over the vast ocean floor. As more and more discoveries are made in the future, the potential for theft of valuable artifacts and damage to found vessels and cargo presents a challenge to those seeking to preserve these deep sea relics.

SEA-GUARD aims to protect these archaeological sites from unwanted or unauthorized visitors. It works by monitoring the underwater acoustic field, or sound waves surrounding the archaeological site.

Comprised of two sensor packages (one on the sea floor at the site, the other at a surface buoy), the device can detect unusual activity from disruptions in nearby sound waves. Not only that, artificial intelligence allows SEA-GUARD to analyze the specific behavior of an intruder, hence it is unlikely to confuse 5 grown men with a school of fish. Finally, once a genuine threat is confirmed, the system can send an alarm to authorities on land, via cable. Time to start searching for that buried treasure!

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MEDUSA's Sound Inside Your Brain

The sounds of MEDUSA do not come from the vehement, shrill cries of a woman whose head is covered in snakes, but are created by Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio (MEDUSA), a device that uses microwaves to beam sounds into your brain. And only you can hear them.

The U.S. military has been dabbling with the idea of a "microwave ray gun" for the past decade, but there has never been any attempt at laboratory development until recently.

The gun works by shooting short pulses of microwaves into your head, which quickly heat up brain tissue (much like how they heat up your leftovers). This causes a shock wave, which reverberates throughout the skull and is picked up by the ears. The sound produced is completely "inside your head", no one can hear it except for you, unless the pulses are aimed at multiple targets.

MEDUSA is touted as a non-lethal method of control by inescapable discomfort and irritation. For example, the device could be used to beam sounds at a rowdy crowd of people (er, or peaceful protesters, take your pick). Although research with more powerful microwaves is needed, scientists working on the device say MEDUSA might have serious harmful effects. The force from the shock wave could cause brain damage, or even death, making it an effective (and far less messy) military weapon.

Far-fetched commerical uses for MEDUSA have also been proposed, such as beaming subliminal advertising messages into people's brains, say, while shopping. Creepy.
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Monday, July 07, 2008

Message to Cartoonists: Learn Physics!

"Toons learn Physics, The Better to Break Its Rules"

Physicist Alejandro Garcia is teaching the first ever physics of animation class this sumer at San Jose University. The goal of the course is to teach cartoonists some physics, in the hopes that they will be able to create more realistic cartoons. You scoff (who wants realistic cartoons?!), but its a cool idea nonetheless. Check out the article.

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Snakes on a Wave

Who would have thought the next promising development in the quest for clean energy would come from something that resembles the rubber hose lying in your backyard? The "Anaconda" so named by the British experimental physicists that created it, isn't just any old hose.

Their design is (well, at least appears) refreshingly simple: An enormous snake-like rubber valve sucks energy out of ocean waves, and channels it through a turbine, producing power that is transported to land through cables. The Anaconda would be stationed just below the ocean's surface, with one end facing the oncoming waves.

The energy stored in waves is actually a form of solar energy. The wind that creates waves by blowing over the ocean's surface is produced by changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature, caused by the way the sun's rays strike the surface of the Earth. Waves are chock-full of energy, which they transport for miles and miles (long after the winds that initially created them are gone). Waves release most of their energy when they crash into the shore, beaches, and cliffs. While scientists have known for quite some time that waves are one of the most abundant and consistent sources of renewable energy, attempts to harness their power didn't develop until the 1970s.

Because it is made primarily of rubber, the Anaconda is much lighter, therefore cheaper and easier to manufacture than most other wave power designs. It is estimated that wave power could one day supply up to 20% of the UK's energy. Although it hasn't been built to scale yet, scientists calculate that a 200 meter long and 7 meter wide Anaconda could generate about 1 megawatt of power; enough to meet the consumption demands of 2,000 houses.

A lot more work must be done before that level of power is reached. The design has only been tested in very small laboratory experiments, but scientists are now looking forward to much larger scale tests.
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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Highlights from the Blogosphere

The Top Ten Posts you might have missed this past holiday weekend:

Cocktail Party Physics
Does the camera really add 10 pounds?

Space Disco
Next time you're gazing at a sunset, watch for Nature's nod to Roy G Biv.

Dynamics of Cats
Everything we are could be stored in a mere million terabytes.

The Quantum Pontiff
His Holiness offers a tongue-in-cheek account of his personal experiences with the direction of time.

Built on Facts
Why we need precision tests of our units of measurement.

Nanoscale Views
What's the difference between good and bad scientific results?

The Guardian UK
"Lapsed scientist" Chris Morris's amusing account of his field trip to the LHC.

Skulls in the Stars
The title pretty much says it all. You celebrate the Fourth your way, he'll celebrate it his way.

Utne Reader
They got your "Two Cultures" right here...

Centauri Dreams
Space propulsion without the propellant, using momentum from the sun's photons.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Thursday, July 03, 2008

First Ever "Flat Atom"

Scientists have discovered an exotic "flat atom", artificially created by an electrical current. The exotic atom is the world's first quantum state-manipulable atom.

Manipulable atoms, or atoms capable of containing multiple quantum states, are essential to the development of ultra fast quantum computers.

Researchers had previously been unable to control how electrons occupy quantum states. But the flat atom allows scientists to keep track of the electron inside it, and consequently control the quantum-state using an electrical field.

The breakthrough happened like scientific breakthroughs often do, accidentally. While experimenting with impurities in nano-transistors, scientists stumbled across a mysterious atom that formed a molecule with an arsenic atom by sharing an electron, stretched across both ends.

The computerized model above conveys the flat, saucer-like appearance of the atom. The dots in the center represent bonding locations for a single electron, while the yellow dots seen on the upper rim are quantum state bonding locations.

Perhaps its most striking feature, the exotic atom is completely manmade-its flat surface is contrived when an electrical current is applied across the transistor.
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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Earth is Screaming

Astronomers have recently confirmed that the earth sounds like a three year old throwing a tantrum.

Recordings from space have captured the unpleasant noise, which may be heard by extraterrestrials.

We already know the planet emits a quiet hum, most likely caused by our continuously moving oceans, or our turbulent atmosphere. The radio waves that cause the screeching sounds are created by particles that collide as the solar wind passes through the earth's magnetic field.

New data from the European Space Agency's Cluster mission show that the radio waves, called Auroral Kilometric Radiation, burst into space from the earth in narrow, flat beams.

New technology has enabled researchers to pinpoint exactly where the noise is coming from. Scientists located 12,000 spots around the earth that send out the radio waves, each is about the size of a large city.

So why don't we hear them? A charged atmospheric layer called the ionosphere blocks the radio waves, preventing them from reaching the earth. But that doesn't mean the waves aren't strong.-they are 10,000 times greater that the strongest military signal, that's enough to drown out every radio station on the planet.
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Acoustics 2008: Noisy Red Cars

The acoustics folks are meeting in Paris this week for the Acoustical Society of America's (ASA) 15th annual meeting, and I'll be covering all the coolest (er, what I deem as cool) research here on the blog. Simply put, acoustics is the study of sound. But the field is widely diverse and aside from music, applied to countless other areas like oceanography, architecture, and medicine.

In one of the many interesting papers being presented at the conference, German scientists designed an experiment to test whether different colored images influence how loud a sound is perceived to be. Visual and audio stimulation often go hand in hand, for example, as you glance at car driving down the street you also likely hear the noise its motor makes.

The authors had participants look at pictures of red, light green, blue, and dark green sports cars while listening to the sounds of an accelerating sports car. Based on participants ratings, the study found that the sound coupled to the red car was perceived to be about 5% louder than the same sound coupled to a light-green car. Interestingly enough, dark green cars seemed louder to participants than light green or blue.
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