Physicists Discover Evidence of Early Gravitational Waves

Steffen Richter/Harvard University

Steffen Richter/Harvard University

Scientists working at Harvard University’s BICEP2 project at the South Pole announced this week that they have detected evidence of gravitational waves shortly after the Big Bang. This discovery supports recent theories pertaining to the universe’s birth and observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Albert Einstein predicted, through his model of general relativity, that the gravity of massive objects would cause ripples in space-time; however, this prediction had some inconsistencies when it was put up against observation. Alan Guth, now at MIT, made some modifications to his theory that accounted for these lapses. The current theory was proposed by Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde and was until this week unconfirmed.

The researchers reported a confidence level of greater than 5 sigma, which means that the chances of the signal reported being a mistake are less than 1 in 3.5 million.

These findings could help reconcile quantum physics, which describes the unimaginably small, and general relativity, which describes things on a scale that we are more familiar with. Quantum physics and general relativity seem to follow different rules, so it has been difficult thus far to describe how they work together to describe the universe.

The results have yet to be confirmed by another party, but most scientists working in the field are confident that they will be replicated. If the results are confirmed and published, the discoverers will likely win this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

Science Weekly Roundup 3/7/14

Wired/Nature

Wired/Nature

Astronomy

The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia (Ars Technica)

NASA’s Kepler mission announces 715 new worlds (Astronomy.com)

 –Jumbo Black Hole’s Dizzying Spin Twists Space (National Geographic)

Spin of distant black hole measured at half of speed of light (Reuters)

Carl Sagan: Astronomy Icon’s Legacy in Pictures (Gallery) (Space.com)

Expedition 38 (NASA)

Strange Signal From Galactic Center Is Looking More and More Like Dark Matter (Wired)

How big is space? – interactive version (BBC Future)

Space Research Pays for Itself, but Inspires Fewer People (Op-Ed) (Space.com)

Biology

Born To Swim? (Popular Science)

Five-tonne dinosaur species discovered (The Guardian)

There Are 10 Times More Fish In The Sea Than We Thought (Popular Science)

Scientists can now control flies’ brains with lasers (The Verge)

Geosciences

A Bright Year for Solar in the U.S.—But There Are Clouds on the Horizon (Time)

In The New Globalized Diet, Wheat, Soy And Palm Oil Rule (NPR)

Bizarre Organic Quasicrystal Accidentally Created in Lab (Wired)

Medicine

Scientists create accurate predictor of the next year’s flu virus (Ars Technica)

This Pacemaker Membrane Can Keep A Heart Beating Perfectly (Popular Science)

Baby born with HIV reported to be clear of virus after urgent treatment (The Guardian)

Screws Made From Silk Could Be Used In Surgical Implants (Popular Science)

Physics

British schoolboy, 13, becomes youngest to build nuclear fusion reactor (The Telegraph)

General

Not Exactly Rocket Science (National Geographic)

SAT overhaul to make essay optional, end penalty for wrong answers (LA Times)

Science Weekly Roundup 2/28/14

New Scientist

New Scientist

Astronomy

Kepler’s Exoplanetary Universe in a Nutshell: Video (Space.com)

NASA Will Unveil New Discoveries from Planet-Hunting Kepler Spacecraft Wednesday (Space.com)

Twin telescopes record video of meteoroid slamming into the moon (Ars Technica)

X-flare! Most intense flare of 2014 so far (EarthSky)

Father of big bang carries its hiss on his cellphone (New Scientist)

What Escapes a Black Hole? (Popular Science)

Biology

Pancreatic cancer’s killer trick offers treatment hope (New Scientist)

Neuroscience

How does your memory work? (BBC Future)

Physics

Scientists Make Largest Quark, Solving A 20-Year Mystery (Popular Science)

General

Science publishers withdraw more than 120 computer-generated papers (The Verge)

First Amputee Has Touch Restored With Bionic Hand (Forbes)

Science Weekly Roundup 2/21/14 (and 2/14/14)

Universe Today

Universe Today

Astronomy

Largest solar system moon detailed in geologic map (Astronomy.com)

Mars Rover Heads Uphill After Solving ‘Doughnut’ Riddle (NASA)

Are we alone in the Universe? (BBC Future)

Liquid Water on Mars? (Yahoo)

Set of NanoRacks CubeSats Deployed From International Space Station (NASA)

How NASA Prints Trees (TechCrunch)

Anthropology

Modern Genes Reveal 100 Major Population Shifts In Human History (Popular Science)

Ancient statue of Greek god Apollo discovered in Gaza strip (The Verge)

Biology

US grants patent for disgraced scientist’s fraudulent cloning research (The Verge)

Energy

Nuclear Fusion Achieves Energy Gain (TechSci)

Why People Resist the Notion of Climate Change (Universe Today)

Physics

A computer made a math proof the size of Wikipedia, and humans can’t check it (The Verge)

Neutrino beam ‘major physics experiment’ (BBC Future)

General

Spellbound Valentines: DIY Art from 3D Printed Sound (Bioinformatics/Wolfram Blog)

Nuclear Fusion Achieves Energy Gain

Popular Science

Popular Science

For the first time, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California have successfully produced more energy with a fusion reaction than was used to start it.

Fusion is the process that hydrogen nuclei undergo inside of stars due to the intense heat and pressure found there; if fusion reactions could be mastered for commercial use, the technique would be incredibly efficient and entirely renewable, providing us with enough energy to sustain our current usage for billions of years. Scientists have been trying for decades to create a self-sustaining fusion reaction with an overall gain in energy, a process called ignition.

NIF is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and has been in operation since 2009. The facility describes how its laser-driven approach begins on its website:

A weak laser pulse—about 1 billionth of a joule—is created, split, and carried on optical fibers to 48 preamplifiers that increase the pulse’s energy by a factor of 10 billion, to a few joules. The 48 beams are then split into four beams each for injection into the 192 main laser amplifier beamlines.

From there, the 192 laser beams are split into quads of 2×2 arrays and pass through a final optics assembly, where they are converted from infrared to ultraviolet light and aimed at a gold chamber, which converts the lasers’ energy into X-rays. Four of these pulses squeeze a small fuel pellet containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen), causing the pellet to implode and undergo fusion. By the time the process has completed, the original lasers have traveled 1500 meters over the course of 1.5 microseconds.

Though NIF researchers have successfully achieved an energy gain by adjusting the laser setup to hit the gold chamber in three pulses, heating it faster, there are still a few roadblocks ahead. While their experiment, which produced 15 kJ of energy, used 10kJ of fuel, the laser setup itself, the total energy input was around 2 MJ (yes, megajoules). Much of the energy is lost along the way in the conversion of light, so the team still has a long way to go, but this is an important milestone on the road toward ignition.

Even if the team does reach its goal of ignition, there are still engineering issues that need to be resolved to make it a practical energy source: creating the fuel and setting up the lasers is a burdensome process and the intense laser blasts degrade the machine too quickly for long-term commercial use.

If all of the above issues can be solved, the world certainly has a brighter energy future ahead than would otherwise be the case.

Science Weekly Roundup 2/7/14

Red-brown-dwarf-large-580x526

Centre for Astrophysics Research, University of Hertfordshire

Astronomy

Lunar law row hots up as NASA enters private moon rush (New Scientist)
Olympic Torch Completes Longest Relay in History (YouTube/NASA)
Surprise! Brown Dwarf Star Has Dusty Skies, Appearing Strangely Red (Universe Today/Royal Astronomy Society)
Universe’s 10 Greatest Unsolved Mysteries (YouTube/Hybrid Librarian)

Biology

Bill Nye debates creationist at Kentucky museum (Circa)

Medicine

Bionic hand lets wearer feel what they’re holding (The Verge)

Nature

Amazon ‘exhales’ more carbon dioxide in dry years (Futurity)

General

Seeing science: The year’s best visualizations (Ars Technica)

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies—As Chosen By Scientists (Popular Mechanics)

Science Weekly Roundup 1/31/14

New Scientist

New Scientist

Astronomy

Star next door may host a ‘superhabitable’ world (New Scientist)

Spirit and Opportunity Top 10 Decade 1 Discoveries (Universe Today)

Hawking timeline: A brief history of black holes (New Scientist)

Biology

Scientists Make Hair-Growing Cells From Ordinary Skin Cells (Popular Science)

Genetically modified monkeys created with cut-and-paste DNA (The Guardian)

Stem Cells (New Scientist)

Simple way to make stem cells in half an hour hailed as major discovery (The Guardian)

Physics

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark – review (The Guardian)