That looks like the “gods” are having a rave in the clouds

all hail the glow cloud

all hail the glow cloud

(Source: wilted-scenes)

Rings of Saturn - The Heavens Have Fallen

A new form of solar cloud has been identified by research into “space weather” led by Dundee University.

Dr Miho Janvier worked alongside colleagues in Paris and Buenos Aires to study a new kind of magnetic cloud emanating from the Sun.

The cloud is a smaller, distinct version of those caused by solar flares which produce aurora borealis on Earth.

The discovery comes as the Met Office launched a dedicated forecast centre to study solar storms.


New Exotic Particle Could Help Explain What Holds Matter Together

A new exotic particle has been hiding out amidst the gobs of data collected by the world’s largest atom smasher, physicists have discovered.

The new particle, called Ds3*, is a meson — a type of unstable particle made of one quark and one antiquark. Quarks are subatomic particles and are the most basic building blocks of matter that make up protons and neutrons. They’re held together by the strong interaction, or strong force, that is one of the four fundamental forces in nature. (Electromagnetism, weak interaction and gravity are the other three.) No stable form of matter would exist without the strong interaction holding it together.

To find the new particle, Tim Gershon, a professor of physics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, and his team used the Dalitz plot analysis. The technique involved waiting for the particle to decay into its most basic elements (quarks) and tracking their motion inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest atom smasher.

This is the first time the technique has been used on data from the LHC, located in a 17-mile-long (27 kilometers) underground tunnel on the border between France and Switzerland. The analysis is possible because physicists now have enough experience with the LHC data and can use it for more complicated analysis. Gershon said there could be even more new particles hidden in the data. [7 Strange Facts About Quarks]

"What we’ve shown here is that we can use the existing data to discover new particles," Gershon told Live Science. "Hopefully, we’ve opened a door to a whole new era of these types of studies."

An unusual particle

Quarks come in six different flavors known as up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom, and all six have their own antimatter counterpart called an antiquark. The Ds3* particle is made of one charm antiquark and one strange quark. Quarks also have certain degrees of spin that describe how fast they’re moving. Properties like the spin and mass of quarks determine the particle that they fuse together to create. The Ds3* particle is the first particle discovered with a spin of three that contains a charm quark. Its properties make it a highly predictable particle, and Gershon said that’s why it’s the perfect candidate for studying strong interaction.

Strong interaction is perfectly understood in principle, but physicists have yet to solve the equations that describe it, Gershon said. Strong interaction is such a powerful force that it accounts for more of the mass in an atom than the quarks themselves. The equation behind the force is incredibly complex. Physicists and mathematicians have grappled with it for years, and now, the most sophisticated computers are trying to crack it. The new particle could get scientists closer to solving the equation, Gershon said.

Solving the equation involves figuring out the relationship between a lattice of points of space and time. The idea is to calculate the effects of the interactions between these points. But the force is so strong that the equation has proved unsolvable so far. While calculations have gotten much better, scientists need a benchmark to tell if they’re going in the right direction.

"The new particle is more and less perfect for that purpose," Gershon said.

The particle’s three spin and inclusion of a charm quark mean it behaves in a predictable way in a lattice, and it’s easy to track. Scientists can use the measurements of the new particle and compare it with what they’ve predicted for the interactions, to see if they’re on the right track, Gershon said.

The new particle could also reveal more about the gaping difference between the amount of matter and antimatter in the universe. Antimatter has the opposite electric charge of regular matter, and after the Big Bang, matter and antimatter exploded into the universe in equal amounts, physicists think. But antimatter is rare, and physicists are not sure why matter came to dominate the cosmos. Some think the answer may lie in particles that physicists have yet to discover. These particles, they predict, don’t fit inside the realm of the standard model of physics — the laws that govern the universe as scientists understand it so far.

"New mesons don’t teach us about extensions of the Standard Model [of physics]," Gershon said. "However, this same technique could be used to search for new particles and sources of asymmetry that are not included in the Standard Model," Gershon added, referring to the asymmetry between the amount of matter and antimatter in the universe.



This weekend, a rare and ancient comet is going to fly extremely close to Mars, and it’s predicted to put on quite a show.

In fact, it’ll pass Mars at a distance of 139,500 kilometres - just one third of the distance from here to the Moon. That’s much, much closer then any comet has ever flown by Earth, that we know of.

The comet’s being called the Siding Spring Comet, after the Australian observatory from where it was detected, and it’s a long way from home - it’s already spent millions of years travelling from the Oort cloud, a mass of icy comets that hangs frozen at the furthest reaches of our Solar System, at a mind-blowing speed of around 56 kilometres a second.

These Oort cloud comets are extremely rare, and astronomers are keen to find out more about them. Luckily, our Mars rovers and orbiters will be watching the fly-by closely - along with the Hubble Space Telescope and hundreds of other instruments on Earth.

As NASA explained in a press release:

Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.

There’s no danger to Curiosity on the surface of Mars as the rover is protected by the planet’s thin atmosphere. However, there’s the small chance that the dust and debris from the comet’s tail will damage the spacecraft orbiting Mars, such as Maven and India’s Mangalyaan. NASA is now “taking steps to protect is Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientfic data”. This all goes down around 2.27pm New York Time, or 5.27am on Monday in Australia.

Fingers crossed for our robot explorers out there, we’ll be thinking of you guys.



Scientists in the UK may have finally found direct evidence for dark matter pouring out of our Sun.

Dark matter is an invisible mass of unknown origin, that is believed to make up 85 percent of the Universe. But despite that, scientists have never been able to directly detect it - they only know it’s there because of its gravitational effect on regular light and matter.

Now scientists at the University of Leicester have identified a signal on the X-ray spectrum which appears to be a signature of ‘axions’ - a hypothetical dark matter particle that’s never been detected before.

While we can’t get too excited just yet - it will take years to confirm whether this signal really is dark matter - the discovery would completely change our understanding of how the Universe works. After all, dark matter is the force that holds our galaxies together, so learning more about it is pretty important.

The researchers first detected the signal while searching through 15 years of measurements taking by the European Space Agency’s orbiting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Unexpectedly, they noticed that the intensity of X-rays recorded by the spacecraft rose by about 10% whenever XMM-Newton was at the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field facing the Sun - even once they removed all the bright X-ray sources from the sky. Usually, that X-ray background is stable.

“The X-ray background - the sky, after the bright X-ray sources are removed - appears to be unchanged whenever you look at it,” said Andy Read, from the University of Leicester, one of the lead authors on the paper, in a press release. “However, we have discovered a seasonal signal in this X-ray background, which has no conventional explanation, but is consistent with the discovery of axions.”

Researchers predict that axions, if they exist, would be produced invisibly by the Sun, but would convert to X-rays as they hit Earth’s magnetic field. This X-ray signal should in theory be strongest when looking through the sunward side of the magnetic field, as this is where the Earth’s magnetic field is strongest.

And that’s exactly what the scientists found.

The research has now been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Sadly, the first author of the paper Professor George Fraser died earlier this year.

He writes in the paper: “The direct detection of dark matter has preoccupied physics for over 30 years … It appears plausible that axions – dark matter particle candidates - are indeed produced in the core of the Sun and do indeed convert to X-rays in the magnetic field of the Earth.”

The next step is for the researchers to get a larger dataset from XMM-Newton and confirm the pattern they’ve seen in X-rays. Once they’ve done that, they can begin the long process of proving that they have, in fact, detecting dark matter streaming out of our Sun’s core.

And that will take a lot of work, as physicist Christian Beck, who didn’t work on the project, told Ian Sample from The Guardian. “A true discovery of dark matter that is convincing for most scientists would require consistent results from several different experiments using different detection methods, in addition to what has been observed by the Leicester group,” said Beck.

If confirmed, it’s hard to know just how profound the impact of this discovery could be.

“These exciting discoveries, in George’s final paper, could be truly ground-breaking, potentially opening a window to new physics, and could have huge implications, not only for our understanding of the true X-ray sky, but also for identifying the dark matter that dominates the mass content of the cosmos,” said Read in the press release.


I just want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we are living during truly exciting times in the field of Astronomy. Seriously!! There are so many unknowns still in 2014, yet our advancing technology is helping us understand dark matter more and more as the years progress. Just be patient! We’re going to learn A LOT about our universe in the next decade. All you gotta say is James Webb!! I cannot fathom what Hubble’s replacement is going to provide us in the years to come. Goodness….





I won’t be shutting up about this one. Sorry in advance. Im supposed to be sleeping in on my day off. Nah. This motherfucker is going off right now. Love my metal in the morning. Time to make some goddamn Duncan Hills coffee too.

Cannabis May Have Eased Breast Cancer Symptoms of Siberian Ice Princess

A 2,500-year-old mummy was extracted from the Altai Mountains in Russia in 1993. As it had been encased in permafrost and protected from the elements, the body was in exceptional condition. The mummy was identified as a female who died in her early 20s. Her body was decorated in tattoos that were still visible on her well-preserved skin and she was buried with meat, ornate clothing, and accessories. These clues indicate that she was a woman of importance during her life, leading to her nickname as the “Altai Princess.” She was identified as belonging to the Pazyryk culture.

Over 20 years after her discovery, researchers have found that the ice princess was plagued with metastatic breast cancer and may have used cannabis to self-medicate as a way to relieve the painful symptoms of her condition. The findings were published in the journal Science First Hand.

Recent MRI scans of the Altai Princess revealed that she had a host of maladies throughout her life. She showed signs of osteomyelitis, a bone infection, from her younger years. Increased bone density is an indicator of this illness. Nearer to the time of her death, her bones also showed signs of damage that hint that she fell from a height, such as falling off of a horse. As the Pazyryk people routinely rode horseback, this wasn’t altogether unexpected. However, there was one big surprise: the Altai Princess also had breast cancer which had spread throughout her body. 

“During the imaging of mammary glands, we paid attention to their asymmetric structure and the varying asymmetry of the MR signal,” researcher Andrey Letyagin told the Siberian Times. “We are dealing with a primary tumor in the right breast and right axial lymph nodes with metastases.”

Letyagin went on to describe the Altai Princess as emaciated at the time of her death. If she hadn’t been sick, he claims, her societal stature would have ensured that she had adequate food. Her weakened state likely contributed to her falling off of her horse and sustaining those injuries. At her death, her breast cancer had reached Stage 4. The fall, though it fractured her skull and dislocated her right shoulder and hip, did not kill her. The researchers were able to derive that she died 3-5 months later. 

The Altai Princess was found buried with cannabis, which she may have used to deal with her immeasurable pain. There is other archeological evidence that the Pazyryk people used cannabis, wine, and opium for analgesic purposes. 

“Probably for this sick woman, sniffing cannabis was a forced necessity,” Natalya Polosmak told the Siberian Times. Polosmak led the team of researchers that found the mummy in 1993. “And she was often in altered state of mind. We can suggest that through her could speak the ancestral spirits and gods. Her ecstatic visions in all likelihood allowed her to be considered as some chosen being, necessary and crucial for the benefit of society. She can be seen as the darling of spirits and cherished until her last breath.”

Certain features of the mummy’s burial indicate that the Pazyryk went above and beyond normal burial traditions, even among high-ranking members. This has led the researchers to believe that the Altai Princess may not have been a princess at all. In fact, the evidence suggests that she could have been a shaman; likely the most exalted member of her tribe.

As of now, it’s difficult to know whether her use of cannabis preceded her breast cancer, or whether visions induced by her increased use of the drug to cope with her illness led her kinsman to believe she could communicate with the spirits.


Rings of Saturn - Unsympathetic Intellect

I’ve been waking up to this song the last two days hahaha. YESSSS.

Lockheed Martin’s new fusion reactor might change humanity forever

Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor might change humanity forever

This is an invention that might change civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor developed by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology division of Lockheed Martin. It’s the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, spaceships, and cities. Skunk Works claims it will be operative in 10 years.

Aviation Week had exclusive access to their secret laboratories and talked to Dr. Thomas McGuire, the leader of Skunk Work’s Revolutionary Technology division. And revolutionary it is, indeed: Instead of using the same design that everyone else is using—the Soviet-derived tokamak, a torus in which magnetic fields confine the fusion reaction with a huge energy cost and thus little energy production capabilities—Skunk Works’ Compact Fusion Reactor has a radically different approach to anything people have tried before. Here are the two of them for comparison:

Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor might change humanity forever

Above: The traditional Soviet tokamak design of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a gigantic installation being built in France.

Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor might change humanity forever

Above: The Skunk Works’ new compact fusion reactor design.

The key to the Skunk Works system is their tube-like design, which allows them to bypass one of the limitations of classic fusion reactor designs, which are very limited in the amount of plasma they can hold, which makes them huge in size—like the gigantic International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. According to McGuire:

[The traditional tokamak designes] can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit. [Their plasma ratio is] 5% or so of the confining pressure. […] We should be able to go to 100% or beyond.

This architecture allows it to be 10 times smaller at the same power output of something like the ITER, which is expected to generate 500 MW in the 2020s. This is crucial for the use of fusion in all kind of applications, not only in giant, expensive power plants.

Skunk Works is convinced that their system—which will be the size of a jet engine—will be able to power everything, from spaceships to airplanes to vessels—and of course scale up to a much larger size. At the size of the ITER, it will be able to produce 10 times more energy, McGuire claims:

It’s one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics. Ten times smaller is the key. But on the physics side, it still has to work, and one of the reasons we think our physics will work is that we’ve been able to make an inherently stable configuration. In our case, it is always in balance. So if you have less pressure, the plasma will be smaller and will always sit in this magnetic well.

The road ahead

But we all know that the road to the dream of clean, unlimited energy is paved with failed inventions. The situation here seems different. First, Lockheed Martin is not a crazy dude working in a garage. It’s one of the world’s largest aerospace and military companies.

McGuire knows that they are just starting now, but he claims the design is sound and they will advance quickly until its final implementation in just a decade:

We would like to get to a prototype in five generations. If we can meet our plan of doing a design-build-test generation every year, that will put us at about five years, and we’ve already shown we can do that in the lab. So it wouldn’t be at full power, like a working concept reactor, but basically just showing that all the physics works.

Five years after that, they expect to have a fully operative model ready to go into full-scale production, capable of generating 100MW—enough to power a large cargo ship or a 80,000-home city—and measure 23 x 42 feet, so you “could put it on a semi-trailer, similar to a small gas turbine, put it on a pad, hook it up and can be running in a few weeks.”

I really hope this works out.


3D Printer Builds Homes From Mud In Impoverished Areas

Nearly one billion people around the globe are homeless or live in substandard housing. In the era of 3D printing, some have addressed this crisis through quickly built concrete buildings. While this method would create a secure dwelling, delivering the raw materials and bulky printer increases the cost significantly, reducing its feasibility. The Italian 3D printing company WASP may have solved this problem by developing an easily-transportable machine that can quickly create dwellings out of mud and natural fibers—materials already available where the houses will be built.

Making houses out of mud is not anything new. In fact, humans have been constructing with mud and fiber binders for over 9,000 years. However, this new technique offers some extreme advantages. Extruding the mud in this manner drastically increases the amount of surface area, making it habitable much sooner than waiting for thick bricks to dry before construction can begin. Additionally, the triangular shapes between the walls make it stronger and capable of bearing more weight than traditional methods, all while using less material. It can make homes that are 10 feet (3 meters) tall, creating a spacious home.

WASP featured a scaled-down version of the project earlier this month at Maker Faire Rome, a huge event showcasing innovative technology from all over the globe. Due to the constraints of space and time, they were not actually able to finish the house on site, but they were able to demonstrate a proof of concept and showcase a palm-sized model.

Image credit: WASP

The printer itself is fairly minimalist in its design. The extruder head is supported by a tripod structure and it is fed a blend of mud and natural fiber, such as wool. This method also allows for the homes to take on attractive, architecturally-interesting shapes; owners can proudly flex their creative muscles.

WASP, which stands for World’s Advanced Saving Project, is committed to providing independent housing to impoverished people all over the world, while blending art and science. While it might seem odd for a company to invest in technology they don’t intend to profit from, this altruistic endeavor is being funded from their commercial sales of 3D printers which work with a variety of materials, from traditional plastic to ceramic which can be glazed and fired in a kiln.

The company claims to have gained inspiration from the potter wasp, which build nests shaped like clay pottery. The wasps blend mud and hair to create sturdy nests that protect their young from the elements.

WASP tentatively plans on building the first 3D printed home sometime next year. Though no official plans have been set for location, they are considering Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Though this is not the neediest place in the world, it’s situated close to the company. This will help them work out all the kinks in the process before they move on to more remote locations.

Want to know about other awesome 3D printed buildings? Check out the 3D printed castle a Minnesota man made in his back yard and robots that could build infrastructure on Mars prior to astronauts’ arrival.


Turn Your Phone Into A Cosmic Ray Detector

Did you know that your phone is capable of detecting high-energy particles from the farthest regions of space? Oh yeah. And now, physicists studying the origin of exotic space particles have developed a new app called CRAYFIS that could turn our global network of smartphones into the world’s largest telescope. 

Cosmic rays are ultra-high-energy particles from space that rain down on Earth. When they crash into our atmosphere, the particles break up and fall on us as even smaller particles: electrons, photons, and muons. Even though they were discovered decades ago, cosmic rays are rare and we still don’t know their source. And since they arrive so infrequently, a very large detector — say, a global network of phones — is needed to pinpoint where in the universe they originate.

“Whole square kilometers can be drenched in these particles for a few milliseconds,” says Daniel Whiteson from University of California at Irvine in a news release. “The mystery is nobody knows where these crazy, high-energy particles are coming from or what’s making them so energetic. But they can be captured by technology in smartphones’ cameras.”

The silicon-based, digital sensors in our camera phones aren’t all that different in principle from the particle detectors at CERN. The sensors we carry in our pockets and bags can all detect visible light, Gizmodo explains, turning it into an image on the screen for us to see, and as it turns out, they’re also sensitive to the particles in a cosmic ray shower. 

Whiteson’s team conducted tests with radioactive isotopes of radium, cobalt, and cesium, and found that smartphone cameras can easily pick up gamma rays — even when they’re not pointed at the source, Ars Technica reports. Their paper was posted on arXiv last week. 

There are already 1.5 billion active smartphones pre-positioned around the world. Just 1,000 active phones within a square kilometer could detect nearly all of the high energy cosmic rays striking the atmosphere above it, Ars Technica explains, despite the low efficiency of each.

Called CRAYFIS for Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones, the app records when and where the GPS-equipped camera on your phone senses high-energy particles and their levels. The app works like a screensaver reminiscent of SETI@home. So as not to interfere with normal phone usage or drain the battery, the app collects data when your Android or iOS device is connected to a power source and hasn’t been used for several minutes. That means that after you install the app, you don’t really need to actively participate much. Data will be sent to the researchers over wi-fi, and if your phone helped gather data that are ultimately used in a scientific paper, you could be a study author. Or if you prefer, the app can also run in anonymous mode.