NASA finds first ever particles of interstellar dust
A NASA spacecraft has brought back what could be the most exotic material on the planet - seven dust particles from beyond the Solar System.
The impact of a vaporised dust particle called Sorok can be seen as the thin black line in the upper corner of this aerogel sample. Image: Westphal et al. 2014, Science/AAAS
A team of scientists have NASA have reported finding seven tiny dust particles on detectors carried by their Stardust probe. These incredibly rare particles - some of which look like tiny, delicate snowflakes - might have been created by a supernova explosion outside the Solar System millions of years ago, and if confirmed, they’ll be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust we’ve ever found.
"They are very precious particles,” said one of the team Andrew Westphal, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, in a press release.
NASA’s Stardust probe was launched into space way back in 1999 to find particles like this from interstellar space - the region that exists between the star systems of a galaxy - and on the tail of the comet Wild-2. In 2006, Stardust flew past Earth, dropping its detectors by parachute for analysis.
It then took an international team of scientists and some 30,000 citizen scientists - nicknamed “Dusters” - to scan thousands and thousands of microscope images of the detectors to find the particles. “The largest of the particles was only a few thousandths of a millimetre across, considerably smaller than this full stop. Most of the specks weighed a few millionths of a millionth of a gram,” says Ian Sample at the Guardian.
While Westphal cautions that further analysis needs to be done to confirm the origin of these particles, he says they’re much more diverse in their chemical composition and structure than initially thought. The small particles are very different from the larger, fluffier ones, which suggests that they have different histories.
"The fact that the two largest fluffy particles have crystalline material – a magnesium-iron-silicate mineral called olivine – may imply that these are particles that came from the disks around other stars and were modified in the interstellar medium,” said Westphal in a press release. “We seem to be getting our first glimpse of the surprising diversity of interstellar dust particles, which is impossible to explore through astronomical observations alone.”
Fukushima studies are beginning to reveal the severe legacy of radiation leaks
A range of studies on the impact of the Fukushima disaster have revealed the major impact even low-dose exposure to ionising radiation can have on animals and plants.
Severe genetic mutations found in pale grass blue butterflies (Zizeeria maha) found in 2012 near the Fukushima disaster, with so-called eclosion failure (left) in which the butterfly can’t fight its way out of its cocoon, and bent wings (left)
The studies looked at a range of non-human organisms and show that genetic damage, mutations and populations declines have all resulted from the disaster.
"A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster," Timothy Mousseau from the University of South Carolina in the US, who led one of the studies, explained in a press release.
One thing that all of the published studies have in common is that they hypothesise that low-dose exposure to ionising radiation, like the kind that followed Fukushima, causes genetic damage and increases mutation rates in both reproductive and non-reproductive cells.
A study on the common pale grass blue butterfly, for example, found size reduction, slowed growth, high mortality and morphological abnormality both in butterflies from contaminated sites and their offspring. Some of their results also suggested that Fukushima butterflies might even have evolved radiation resistance.
Another paper showed that rice seedlings in a contaminated site had activated self-defence genes - which can be involved in DNA replication and repair, as well as cell death - in response to the low-level gamma radiation.
A review in the series looked at species from both Chernobyl and Fukushima and showed significant consequences of radiation, such as major popular declines in birds, butterflies and cicadas, as well as morphological changes in the feathers of birds.
While the studies can’t necessarily undo the damage, they most importantly act as a baseline that can be used in future research on the effects of radiation leaks in the environment - something that is needed to help protect the environment from future damage.
"Detailed analyses of genetic impacts to natural populations could provide the information needed to predict recovery times for wild communities at Fukushima as well as any sites of future nuclear accidents," Mousseau said in a press release. “There is an urgent need for greater investment in basic scientific research of the wild animals and plants of Fukushima."
For the first time a woman has won mathematics’ top prize
Clockwise from top left: Maryam Mirzakhani, Martin Hairer, Artur Avila and Manjul Bhargava. Image: International Mathematical Union
The Fields Medal, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is given out every four years to up to four mathematicians under the age of 40.
Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani is the first female winner out of all the 52 previous recipients of the prize. She’s a professor at Stanford University in California, US, and an expert on the behaviour of dynamical systems.
As Dana Mackenzie from New Scientist explains, she “studies the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe.”
The other winners this year are Artur Avila, a researcher in a dynamical systems from the National Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics in Brazil and the National Centre for Scientific Research in France; Manjul Bhargava from Princeton University in the US, who was recognised for new methods in the geometry of numbers; and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in England, who studies the effect of random noise on partial differential equations, which includes the effect of turbulence on ocean currents or the flow of air around airplane wings.
It’s a fantastic achievement for all the winners, but given that 70 percent of the PhDs in mathematics still go to men, this is also good news for the field.
“This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said in a Stanford University press release. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
“All researchers in mathematics will tell you that there is no difference between the math done by a woman or a man, and of course the decision of the Fields Medal committee is based only on the results of each candidate … That said, I bet the vast majority of the mathematicians in the world will be happy that it will no longer be possible to say that ‘the Fields Medal has always been awarded only to men.’”
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”—John Keating (played by Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society)
In a shocking development, Oscar-winning actor/comic Robin Williams was found dead in his California home Monday, a possible suicide, according to investigators. He was 63.
The sheriff’s press release identified him by his full name, Robin McLaurin Williams. Investigators also said they will hold a press conference Tuesday at 11 am, PT.
The county coroner suspects the death was “a suicide due to asphyxia,” which could mean death by hanging. But a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made; an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, the press release said.
Williams’ rep confirmed the death to USA TODAY.
"Robin Williams passed away this morning," said Mara Buxbaum, president of his PR firm. "He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time."
His wife, Susan Schneider, issued a brief statement: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” she said.
The news of his death sent shock waves through Hollywood and the nation, and prompted an outpouring of grieving tweets and statements from everyone from the President of the United States to the Sesame Street gang.
"Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between," President Obama said in a statement. "But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams."
CNN reported a statement from Pam Dawber, Williams’ co-star in the wacky Mork & Mindy of the late 1970s, which introduced Williams to an amazed nation. “I am completely and totally devastated. What more can be said?!” Dawber said.
"We mourn the loss of our friend Robin Williams, who always made us laugh and smile," the Sesame Street tweet read.
"I saw him on stage the very first time he auditioned at The Improv in Los Angeles," said Jay Leno in a statement. "And we have been friends ever since. It’s a very sad day."
Williams’ last tweet and Instagram was on July 31, when he wished his daughter, Zelda Rae, a happy 25th birthday and posted a picture of himself with her as a child. “Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl,” he captioned the photo.
In San Francisco, where Williams for a while lived in the fog-shrouded ocean-side Sea Cliff neighborhood, residents were shocked and saddened.
"He seemed like a good San Franciscan," said Griff Behncke, 35, who was waiting to take the ferry ride back to Sausalito, near Tiburon. He remembers Williams donating blood after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and then entertaining the long line of people waiting to donate.
"There really are no words to describe the loss of Robin Williams. He was immensely talented, a cherished member of our community, and part of the Fox family. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and fans. He will be deeply missed."
Williams, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting, also recently signed on to reprise his beloved role as Mrs. Doubtfire in a sequel to be directed by Chris Columbus, according to EW.
Williams has battled health problems and struggled with substance abuse for decades. Only last month he went into rehab at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota, and was expected to stay there for several weeks.
Hawaiians, please don’t be complacent. Not many places get hit by two storms in a matter of days. Hurricane Julio is a category 2 hurricane with 105mph sustained winds. It is currently heading west, but is expected to curve to the north. This part is important as well:
The dynamical models forecast Julio to remain in a light vertical wind shear environment during the next 2-3 days as the cyclone passes over sea surface temperatures of 25C-26C. The intensity guidance is in excellent agreement in showing a gradual weakening during that time, and the intensity forecast follows this scenario.The agreement breaks down after 72 hours as Julio starts moving over warmer sea surface temperatures. During that period, the SHIPS/LGEM models forecast Julio to be a moderate strength tropical storm, while the GFDL/HWRF models forecast it to be a hurricane.
HURRICANE JULIO DISCUSSION NUMBER 16
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL EP102014
200 PM PDT THU AUG 07 2014
Julio has changed little in organization during the past several
hours. The eye has become a little better defined in visible
imagery. However, the temperature and symmetry of the eyewall
cloud tops are about the same as they were 6 hours ago. Satellite
intensity estimates remain 90 kt from TAFB and 77 kt from SAB. In
addition, UW-CIMSS ADT/SATCON estimates are near 100 kt, and there
was a recent AMSU intensity estimate of 98 kt. The initial
intensity remains at a possibly conservative 90 kt. The cirrus
outflow is good to excellent over the western semicircle and poor
The initial motion is now 280/15. Julio is expected to remain south
of the subtropical ridge for the next few days, which will keep it
on a westward to west-northwestward path. During the first 72
hours, the track guidance remains tightly clustered near the new
forecast track with the notable exception of the outlier GFDL model,
which still forecasts a track near the Hawaiian Islands. After 72
hours, the guidance has come into better agreement that the
subtropical ridge north of Hawaii will be stronger than earlier
forecast, and that Julio should turn more westward. However, there
is still some spread in the guidance, with the UKMET forecasting a
continued west-northwestward motion and the ECMWF forecasting a turn
toward the west-southwest. The multi-model consensus lies near the
previous forecast track, so the new track is just an update of the
previous advisory. The NOAA G-IV jet is currently flying a synoptic
surveillance mission for Julio.
The dynamical models forecast Julio to remain in a light vertical
wind shear environment during the next 2-3 days as the cyclone
passes over sea surface temperatures of 25C-26C. The intensity
guidance is in excellent agreement in showing a gradual weakening
during that time, and the intensity forecast follows this scenario.
The agreement breaks down after 72 hours as Julio starts moving over
warmer sea surface temperatures. During that period, the SHIPS/LGEM
models forecast Julio to be a moderate strength tropical storm,
while the GFDL/HWRF models forecast it to be a hurricane. In
addition, the large-scale models have some disagreement on how
much shear Julio will encounter. The later part of the forecast is
still a compromise between the two model camps, and the new forecast
lies close to the intensity consensus. It is possible that Julio
could get a little stronger than forecast during the next 6-12
FORECAST POSITIONS AND MAX WINDS
INIT 07/2100Z 17.1N 137.7W 90 KT 105 MPH
12H 08/0600Z 17.5N 140.0W 90 KT 105 MPH
24H 08/1800Z 18.1N 143.0W 85 KT 100 MPH
36H 09/0600Z 18.8N 146.0W 75 KT 85 MPH
48H 09/1800Z 19.8N 148.9W 65 KT 75 MPH
72H 10/1800Z 22.0N 154.0W 60 KT 70 MPH
96H 11/1800Z 24.0N 159.0W 55 KT 65 MPH
120H 12/1800Z 24.5N 163.0W 55 KT 65 MPH
At around 09:30 UTC this morning, the Rosetta spacecraft completed its decade-long trek throughout the solar system as it finally reached its intended target of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft will orbit the comet as it makes its way into the inner solar system, studying how the nucleus is affected by the heat of the Sun.
The comet is currently about 450 million kilometers (251 million miles) from Earth and is currently headed toward the inner solar system as part of its 6.45-year-long orbit. The orbit extends past Jupiter and comes roughly halfway between the orbits of Mars and Earth. Rosetta is currently studying the comet, trying to find the best place for the lander when it launches in November.
If you want to keep track of Rosetta throughout its journey and see how it has been navigating the solar system for the last decade, ESA has an interactive website that will show the past, present, and future position of the spacecraft.
Check out some of the images leading up to Rosetta’s rendezvous:
Image taken August 2 at a distance of 550 km. The long exposure helps illustrate the comet’s activity:
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Image taken August 3 at a distance of 285 km:
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Image taken August 3 at a distance of 285 km. The comet’s rotation gives a new perspective:
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The snow doughnut is a rare phenomenon that appears only when a very particular set of weather conditions come together at the right time.
Found mostly in the open prairies of North America and some remote regions of Northern Europe, snow doughnuts might look like icy man-made structures, but these tyre-shaped curiosities are entirely natural. They’re very rarely seen because the number of weather conditions that need to be just right for them to form - including wind, temperature, snow, ice, and moisure - is pretty astonishing.
Snow doughnuts start out as a thick slab of snow with a surface layer that’s super-close to its melting point, according to Frank Barrow, a lecturer in meteorology at the Met Office in the UK, which publishes weather and climate change forecasts. This means the weather has to be bright and sunny enough for the surface layer to be wet and lose, but not so warm that it starts melting away. “The top snow layer becomes a bit sticky, and you then need a fairly strong wind,”Barrow told Heidi Blake at the Telegraph. “The sticky layer can be peeled off the colder and more powdery snow underneath by the wind, forming a roll.”
Depending on how strong the wind is, how smooth the surface of the snow is, and how far it’s permitted to roll, a snow doughnut can range in size from no bigger than a tennis ball to more than half a metre tall. It’s tough for them to get this big, though, because the snow needs to have just the right amount of elasticity, and due to their hollow shape, a newly formed snow doughnut can be easily blown away and destroyed if the wind is too strong.
Found in 2007 and photographed by avalanche supervisor Mike Stanford in the state of Washington in the US, the snow doughnut pictured above achieved a height that ordinary snow doughnuts could only dream of - a whopping 66 cm.
"Mike Stanford, who has worked as an avalanche forecaster and control technician at the Washington State Department of Transportation for more than 30 years, says he’s never seen a snow doughnut as large as the one in this photo,” Robert Siegel at NPR reported at the time.