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Showing posts from July, 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 fatig…

"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 predict…

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 w…

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.

Cool Stuff from the Blogosphere

A sampling of some of the cool science-y stuff zipping around the blogosphere this week:
"Labs at Night" SEED Magazine Ever wonder what goes on at your lab after dark? This photo essay can tell you.
"Sandcastle Science" First Science It's summer, so why not delve a little into the science of sandcastles? (via Swans on Tea)
"The Physics of the Impossible" Sciencegeekgrrl A report on Michio Kaku's fascinating plenary talk at the AAPT meeting this past week.
"Tips for Meeting Your Future Self" Holy Juan #4: Cross your arms and give your future self a disapproving look.
"How Ants Can Help Us Direct Traffic" Science Fair The ants go marching one by one, and now all those cars on the freeway can follow suit.
"Splitting Image" Twisted Physics Hugh Everett III's rock musician son revisits his father's Many Worlds theory in upcoming NOVA special.
"Is the LHC Colder Than Space?" Bad Astronomy Phil Plait answers an excellent questi…

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 polarize…

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…

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.

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 …

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 c…

This Week's Good Reads

In case you missed them:
"Science, Schmience: How To Make Sense of a Published Study Blogrivet You know you've always wanted to learn the trick to this. (h/t: A Blog Around the Clock)
"Trinity + 1: The Decision to Use the Bomb" Ptak Science Books Revisiting a pivotal point in physics history.
"The Birds and Their Creepy Hive Mind" Bioephemera A flock of starlings make pretty patterns in the sky.
"The Periodic Table of Elements, in Videos" io9 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!
"No Camera Used in New Radiohead Video" Core77 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)

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.

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 carri…

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.

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 …

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.

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 n…

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 str…

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…

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.
"What's Opera, Doc?" Swans on Tea Cool video showing how to destroy expensive glassware using only the power of sound.
"Journey to the REAL Center of the Earth" io9 What Brendon Fraser and cohorts would see if they ventured into the real core of our planet.
"Magnetic Movie" Bad Astronomy Uber-cool visualization of the magnetic fields that are all around us.
"An Interview with Randy Olson, Maker of Sizzle!" Greg Laden's Blog The marine biologist-turned documentary filmmaker talks about his latest film.
"Scientists Heart Journalists?" 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.
"'I Love Science, I Love It Not,' Quoth the Rav…

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 impressio…

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 ta…

Acoustics 2008: Burglar Alarm for Ancient Shipwrecks

For all those interested in great naval disasters, lost underwater cities, shipwrecks, orThe 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 d…

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…

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.


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 …

Highlights from the Blogosphere

The Top Ten Posts you might have missed this past holiday weekend:
"Candid Camera" Cocktail Party Physics Does the camera really add 10 pounds?
"Solar Green Flash, Ahoy!" Space Disco Next time you're gazing at a sunset, watch for Nature's nod to Roy G Biv.
"World in a Grain of Sand" Dynamics of Cats Everything we are could be stored in a mere million terabytes.

"Occupational Arrows of Time" The Quantum Pontiff His Holiness offers a tongue-in-cheek account of his personal experiences with the direction of time.
"Standards and Practices" Built on Facts Why we need precision tests of our units of measurement.
"What Makes an Experiment Good?" Nanoscale Views What's the difference between good and bad scientific results?
"Massive Bosons Blew My Unit" The Guardian UK "Lapsed scientist" Chris Morris's amusing account of his field trip to the LHC. (h/t: Bad Astronomy)
"Lawn Chair Ballooning Lives On!" Skulls in …

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 ye…

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 reachi…

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…