Breaking science news and multimedia, heavy on astronomy and physics (and heavy on citing) New vids, pics, articles, and the occasional research post for ResearchBlogging.org.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Top Pics and Vids in Science News Today: Mar. 28, 2011

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ESA posted an awesome video today on the Cryosat orbiter.  This satellite gathers information about the thickness or thinning of ice in the polar regions.  The video's editing looks like a dossier cutscene from a shooter videogame.  To top it off, the music is really cool.



Video Credit: ESA | embedding thanks to YouTube user Duzsmogo


NASA's Earth Observatory Image of the Day is stunning!
"Central Tien Shan, China"
"The Tien Shan—“celestial mountains” in Chinese—is one of the largest continuous mountain ranges in the world, extending approximately 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) roughly east-west across Central Asia." -William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC
Click to embiggen.

Image Credit: NASA/JSC/ISS


Our Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn just released a new photograph of Saturn's moon Janus sitting in front Saturn's rings. 
"Janus in the Way"
"Saturn's moon Janus obscures part of the planet's A ring as the Cassini spacecraft looks toward the main rings and the thin F ring.  Janus (179 kilometers, or 111 miles across) appears as a dark oval to the left of the center of the image." -NASA
Picturesque!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


Universe Today just posted a beautiful pic in their article:
"Astrophoto: A Mexican Orion"
"This stunning new image of the Orion Nebula has a bit of salsa to it! César Cantú of the Chiledog Observatory in Monterrey, Mexico took this image earlier this month." -Universe Today

Image Credit: César Cantú


Last but not least, Hubble just released this week's new featured image, of Messier 12:
"Cluster’s Deceptive Serenity Hides Violent Past"
"The high concentration of stars within globular clusters, like Messier 12, shown here in an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, makes them beautiful photographic targets." -NASA/ESA/Hubble
Click to embiggen, this pic is huge!


Image Credit:ESA/Hubble & NASA


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Collection of Coolest Science Videos Recently: Mar. 26, 2011

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Yesterday on ScienceNews, an animation showing an almost hypnotic, fluid simulation based on a new theory of planetary development:
"Planets take shape in embryonic gas clouds"
"A radical new theory that planets are born within a massive veil of gas may help explain how recently discovered extrasolar planets developed their stunning diversity of sizes and locations." -ScienceNews


PLANETARY SWIRL from Science News on Vimeo.


Just Posted on Universe Today, a video from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, recent violent activity on the sun:
"Fireworks on the Sun"
"The Sun continues to be active! This movie from the Solar Dynamics Observatory starts at 11:35 UT on March 24, 2011 and goes through midnight." -Universe Today



Video Credit: NASA/SDO/YouTube user LittleSDOHMI


Astropixie shared a video with us today: a behind the scenes look at a telescope's instruments being built and the science behind their structure:
"KMOS on the very large telescope"
"A new telescope instrument called KMOS will use 24 tiny "pick off" mirrors to look at individual galaxies. It's being built in Scotland but will soon be fitted to the side of one of the giant telescopes at the VLT in Chile."-Backstage Science
7 minutes long.  If you have the spare time, it's fascinating.  Here's a still from it, showing the difference between infrared and visual light spectroscopy on an identical image:





Video Credit: Backstage Science


Hubble/ESA's Archive Video of the Day is an amazing 3d video. Short, sweet, and beautiful.
"Flying through a nebula (Artist's impression)"

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Doubt Arises Concerning New Scientist's Article on Trees Engulfed by Spiderwebs

Yesterday I posted the article by New Scientist: Short Sharp Science:
"Trees cocooned by spiders could reduce malaria risk

I noticed doubt has arisen
The blog Culturing Science expresses doubt concerning the veracity of the story that I posted yesterday.  New Scientist's article spoke of overwhelming numbers of spiders in the trees due to flooding, with a heartwarming end result (less malaria locally) that rounds out a formulaic structure.  Exaggeration from "acecdata," a word that Culturing Science is partial to (meaning data from anecdotes) may be to blame.  He explains how attractive news of this type can be.  The emotional draw, along with counter-intuitive results that seem sound, is a cocktail for interest.  Shaky data could be taken at face value by a journalist.  It's tempting, since this is a structure that can easily cause a story to spread quickly in popular news and social circles.

Image Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Here's his take: 
"The danger of appealing stories: anecdata, expectations, and skepticism"
He saw shaky data and took it with a grain of salt.  That's a good thing to point out.  For good measure, his article in turn should be taken with a grain of salt.  Actually lets get a round of salt for everyone!
It's is always a great idea to have a bit of skepticism.  



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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ode to the Brain: Awesome New Carl Sagan Autotune

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From the guy who first autotuned Carl Sagan in his viral video sensation, John Boswell aka Symphony of Science comes with a new installment.  Ode to the Brain is arguably the best yet.  I'm already hooked!



Video Credit: Symphony of Science / MelodySheep

It puts a huge grin on my face.


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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vid: Human Mosaic of Space Shuttle / Pix: Mars and Synapses

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NASA employees last Friday gathered in the Kennedy Center's parking lot, making a Human Mosaic of a Space Shuttle.
I love stories like this, showing that scientists can have fun too. 



Video Credit: Found via Io9 | Posted by YouTube account NASAKennedy


An awesome image from NASA/JPL posted via PhysOrg's article:
"Image: Chasma Boreale, Mars"
"Chasma Boreale, a long, flat-floored valley, cuts deep into Mars' north polar icecap.  Its walls rise about 4,600 feet, or 1,400 meters, above the floor." -NASA/JPL

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU


Io9's article today, 
"The secret to making long-term memories" sports this artist's impression of synapses.  
Nice eye-candy!  Click to embiggen.  This is my current computer background.  It's a huge image, and works centered, scaled, or even stretched.  (mine is stretched and you can't tell)

Image Credit: TinEye Search points to Science Daily's Article giving credit to: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki



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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Looking at the Bending of Light Around the Multiple Galaxy Collisions in "Pandora's Cluster"

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A new arXiv paper has been released analyzing Pandora's Cluster of galaxies.
"Creation of cosmic structure in the complex galaxy cluster merger Abell 2744"

As you can see from the paper's title, the technical name for Pandora's Cluster is Abell 2744.  This area of the sky is in a state of extreme cosmic violence.  We're witnessing a rare situation where there are multiple galaxies smashing into each other with multiple collisions.

A team of scientists have just taken more precise measurements of Pandora's Cluster.  Updated analysis of the data is the core purpose of the paper.  This new data is essentially a playground for astrophysicists and mathematicians. 

Image: Embedded in cited arXiv pdf, Fig 1. "The central field of Abell 2744 as revealed by VLT VRI imaging..."


The bulk of this analysis was focused on Gravitational Lensing.  By examining very carefully the bending of light around massive objects, you can further calculate the mass and location of the matter causing the lensing.  When you hear that scientists have found indirect evidence for Dark Matter, the biggest phenomena they're referring to is quantifiable gravitational lensing.  Light bends around matter, so the (dark) matter therefore has to be there when light is seemingly bent by nothing.  It's sneakily hiding from the light that we use to gather our cosmic information.

This has been seen in Pandora's Cluster, as shown in the paper.  Using gravity lensing, they map out Pandora's Cluster in more detail, inferring where the dark matter is.  Both the green and red circles here shows the inferred presence of dark matter in Pandora's Cluster.

The breakdown of what this image actually is, is fascinating:

Image: Embedded in cited arXiv pdf, Fig 7. 
"The different merging bodies in the field of Pandora’s cluster. The false-colour background is provided by HST/ACS, VLT and Subaru images..." "...Overlaid in cyan are the surface-mass density contours most concentrated in the ’core’ area and in magenta the more evenly-distributed X-ray luminosity contours. The positions of the dark matterclumps are indicated by the small circular green annuli, showing also an aggressive and a conservative error estimate on these positions. The small red circles show the position of the local overdensities in the gas distribution , associated with each individual dark matter clump. The white rulers show the separation between dark matter peaks and the bright clusters galaxies and local gas peaks."


 ArXiv is a publicly accessible website where scientists post academic papers.  New papers are submitted here for the world to see, often even before publication.  You can sometimes find a gem of a story on here a week or more before it pops up elsewhere online.  They are a 1st generation resource, written by the scientists themselves.  Let me point out that arXiv can be browsed over and read by non-academics.  True, some papers are incredibly dense with technical language, but others are almost entirely layman-friendly.  The more you learn about a certain field, the more you pick up and understand when reading these papers.  Plus, some of them, like this one, have really awesome pictures.

A final gem of a picture from the paper, illustrating the results of their strong lensing data:

Image: Embedded in cited arXiv pdf, Fig 2. "Shown as a continuous white line is the critical curve of the cluster as it is derived from the strong-lensing model. It assumes a source redshift zs = 2.0. Also shown are the approximate positions of the identified multiple-image systems..."





CITATION:
J. Merten, D. Coe, R. Dupke, R. Massey, A. Zitrin, E. S. Cypriano, N. Okabe, B. Frye, F. Braglia, Y. Jimenez-Teja, N. Benitez, T. Broadhurst, J. Rhodes, M. Meneghetti, L. A. Moustakas, L. Sodre Jr., J. Krick, & J. N. Bregman (2011). Creation of cosmic structure in the complex galaxy cluster merger Abell
2744 MNRAS arXiv: 1103.2772v1


ResearchBlogging.org

   
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Despite Mounting Fears, Our Future is Nuclear Fusion: Point and Counterpoint

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Nuclear fission reactors are building up quite a bad reputation at the moment.  Instead of dissecting the flaws and strengths of our current nuclear power plants, I like to focus on the near future, perhaps as close as the 2030's, where nuclear FUSION plants might reign.  With fusion technology, nuclear plants vastly different than the current fission nuclear plants will produce essentially no waste, and remove the global reliance on fossil fuels.  There's an overwhelming safety advantage in fusion reactors.  In case of emergency such as in Japan after the tsunami, stopping the fusion process is as easy as flipping a switch. 

The snowballing chance of nuclear meltdown that we're currently dealing with in the case of Japan's fission plants is only inherent with fission reaction, and not applicable with fusion.

Fission is the splitting of an atom's nucleus, where as fusion is literally fusing two separate nuclei into a single heavier atom.  This phenomenon is the same phenomenon that the Sun and other stars employ, causing them to shine.  The process releases a truly tremendous amount of clean energy.

A clear and succinct idea of the fission process can be found quoting from the Institute of Particle Physic's Michael Dittmar in his scientific paper on arXiv, "The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction: An update using 2009/2010 Data" Cite:See Bottom

Dittmar on Fission:
"Nuclear energy is released by the neutron induced fission of the uranium isotope U235, 0.71% of natural uranium, and the plutonium isotope Pu239. The released energy per nuclear fission reaction is about a hundred million times larger than in any chemical molecular reaction. The released fission energy is carried by the fission products and is then transferred to water molecules by elastic collisions within the reactor. The resulting heated water is used, similar to fossil fuel
power stations, to produce electric energy..."

Investment in fusion power plants is an investment in the holy grail to the energy crisis.  To quote the video posted below,
"As little as 2 liters of water and 250 grams of rock are enough to cover a European family's demand for electrical energy for an entire year."

Mind you, streamlined and finalized fusion plant technology is not quite there yet.  However, when it comes, it will be here to stay.  Research and development are making strides, but funding is causing problems.

Dittmar speaks negatively on a leading project in the field, the ITER plasma physics project:
"The 2009 and 2010 news about the ITER plasma physics project, known also as the path to commercial nuclear fusion energy, a multi billion dollar/euro dream project of all larger countries, demonstrates that it is becoming nothing short of a financial nightmare for high level powerful bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels and elsewhere."

Variety of Projects:
As he points out though, there are other projects running with the same basic goal.  Different developing technologies employ an interesting variety of resources, from extraction of materials from simple water and stone found everywhere, (which you will see in the video posted below) to the extraordinarily rare Helium 3, found most plentifully on the moon of all places.

Dittmar has little faith in nuclear fusion.  The paper focuses on fission reactors of many different flavors and corresponding analysis of input/output.  In regards to fusion, he provides a cynical counter-opinion to mine:
"We can thus safely predict that the belief in commercial nuclear fusion on our planet will end once the younger generation of scientists sees that plasma fusion research is a dead end career path and turns its talents to other research projects."

With optimism for fusion's potential, this 10 minute video by the German Institute for Plasma Physics shows the research in progress and explains a great deal.
After watching it, it's hard to imagine Dittmar's vision of our future scientists adopting a defeatist attitude toward the technology.



Video Credit: Institute for Plasma Physics, Germany. | YouTube user stevibd1

Mounting fear is rising surrounding nuclear technology.  In coming years, we will have to educate the public in the phenomenal difference between fusion and fission in order for politics and funding to continue with confidence and turn the vision of this new technology into a reality.

If all goes right...
Bye bye fossil fuel!  Bye bye nuclear fission!
Hello Nuclear Fusion!
Let's stride forward.  Our future is as bright as the sun!

CITATION:
Michael Dittmar (2011). The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction: An update using
2009/2010 Data arXiv arXiv: 1101.4189v1



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ResearchBlogging.org

Monday, March 14, 2011

In Physics, Is Everything Predictable? Actually No.

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My awesome barista Devin Elise, this is for you!

When the science of quantum mechanics really solidified in the 1920's, there was a huge upheaval in science.  Everything has a cause and effect in macroscopic physics, and results are totally able to be calculated and predicted (if you know all values for environmental factors).  The upheaval was that, on a quantum level, this was shown not to apply.  Instead of predictably, at this scale there's only probability (as a wave function) that a particle will be located at any specific spot.  It's one of my favorite science facts, partly because it's so counter intuitive.

This video by Sixty Symbols explains the Wave Function wonderfully.



Video Credit: Sixty Symbols (I'm a huge fan of that site)
 
This is a great example of a provable scientific concept that provides me with more wonder than any pseudoscience used to, when growing up as a wee gullible lad. 



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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Richard Feynman and Uncertainty

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There are science celebrities, and then there are celebrities amongst scientists.  
 

Einstein fell into both categories. 









 Richard Feynman fell more into the latter category.

We look back at Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant scientific minds ever, with the greatest respect possible.  Still seen as a hero by modern physicists, his brilliance wasn't his only gift.  He had a magnetic personality and a true gift for communication.
Currently, in my opinion, #1 on the current list of science celebrities is Brian Cox.  (whose material I eat up like candy)  Brian speaks on Feynman in this eloquent and touching podcast tribute, The Feynman Variations.
Its link in the BBC iPlayer is HERE.


I noticed a fellow blogger, Astropixie, sports this under her picture: "I prefer the hard truth, not a comforting fallacy."  Part of the path leading away from self-deception is embracing uncertainty.  In this video, Feynman clearly and succinctly describes uncertainty, and how it's ever-present in his and many people's lives.



One could even say that there's no such thing as truth, just the best answer we have, given all the evidence at the specific time. 
 
Here's to science!!


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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Science Videos in the News: Volcanoes in Hawaii / Cassini Movie for IMAX

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A lil' Geology for you today:
Mount Kilauea in Hawaii has been erupting for 28 years straight.  Recently it's been getting especially grumpy and unruly.
Here are two awe-inspiring videos of the volcanic activity in the area.  From Reuters: 
"Scientists monitor eruptions at Hawaii volcano"
"Saturday, one of the volcano's crater floors, which is named Pu'u 'O'o, collapsed 370 feet, the Geological Survey said. The event was accompanied by 150 small earthquakes, which were all confined to the volcanic area.  Separately, on the volcano's eastern side, a 535 yard-long fissure in the ground opened, spewing lava 65 feet in the air, the Geological Survey said." -Reuters
The Earth can be pretty violent.



Video Credit: Reuters

More footage of the lava awesomeness today On New Scientist
"Time-lapse Tuesday: Hawaiian volcano light show"



Video Credit: New Scientist / USGS



Cassini, our spacecraft orbiting Saturn, was launched in '97, fell into Saturn's orbit in '04, and has been taking ridiculously amazing photographs of Saturn, its moons, and rings ever since.  
A movie is being made by Stephen Van Vuuren, for IMAX, called Outside In. It's essentially a high definition montage of the photographs taken by Cassini in sequential order, providing a visual journey through the eyes of our orbiter.
Here's a sample:  



5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.
Video Credit: Stephen Van Vuuren/NASA



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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Collection of Some New Exceptional Science and Tech Videos

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PLoS Blogs: Speakeasy Science posted two really cool videos today of science experiments in the classroom "The Amazing Exploding Classroom":
"Water Cooler Bottle Methanol Fireball"
Short and awesome.



Video Credit: Mad Physics

"Potassium Chlorate and Gummy Bear"
CAUTION: This video is quite loud once the experiment is underway.  You might want to turn down the volume.  It's worth it.



Video Credit: Wallsacc



Discover Blogs: Cosmic Variance posted an article today, 
"14 billion years in 7 minutes" featuring this video from TEDxYouth Castellija.  
This is a succinct presentation on cosmology, outlining the the basics with nice visuals and a focus on wonder.
"TEDxYouth@Castilleja - RISA WECHSLER"



Video Credit: YouTube User TedXYouth



BoingBoing posted a stunning video in their recent article: 
"Waterfall in Yosemite looks like it's on fire"
At first I was extremely skeptical.  As the video progresses, it's clearer that this seems to be a true phenomenon, and quite beautiful.



Video Credit: Yosemite National Park



Technical marvels abound these days.  Here's a video of an aerial drop of military trucks, flying off the back of an airplane.
Very intense.



Video Credit: Found on Gizmodo, "Trucks Flying Out of the Back of an Airplane Are Just as Awesome as They Sound"




Yesterday on Wired, Boston Dynamics does it again!  Petman, a bipedal version of BigDog.  
"Why Do We Love the Robotic Packmule?"
This thing is incredible, and more than a little bit creepy.



Video Credit: Boston Dynamics



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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Science Videos Round the Web: Mar. 2, 2011

The Sagan Series (pt. 1)  Beautiful.



Video Credit: NASA/ YouTube user Damewse | Found via Io9



Discovery News: Doomsday Asteroid



Video Credit: Discvoery News article "SHOULD THE CLUTTERED SKIES DEMOTE EARTH?"



VIDEO of that recent Solar Flare captured by NASA/SDO
"When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011)"



Video Credit: NASA/SDO | Found on their Flickr Site | directed there from Bad Astronomy

AGAIN, from a different perspective and different filtering:


TWINKLE from Science News on Vimeo.
The most powerful solar flare to erupt from the sun in more than four years can be seen in this video taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The flare appears as a brief flash just below and to the right of center, about two seconds into the video.
Credit: NASA/SDO/SOHO



BBC has a great video on perspective, explaining just how small a nanometer is.  It's REALLY cool, but they won't allow me to embed it here.  Just go the their article, it's near the bottom: "Microscope with 50-nanometre resolution demonstrated"



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