GREAT BALL OF FIRE Pictured is an an exploding star, known as Type 1a supernova — the type used by physicists Adam Riess, Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt to measure the expansion of the universe. The trio were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics and will share a $1.4 million prize. (Photos via the New York Times)
Physics Nobel Explainer: Why Is Expanding Universe Accelerating?
More than a decade after prize-worthy find, dark energy still baffles.
What goes up must come down. Few on Earth would argue with the fundamental law of gravity. But today the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists who uncovered a dark side of the force.
The finding led to the now widely accepted theory of dark energy, a mysterious force that repels gravity. Measurements show that dark energy accounts for about 74 percent of the substance of the universe.
Magnetic activity on the sun has really been running on high gear recently and while it hasn’t caused any problems so far, skywatchers around the world are being treated to some exceptionally energetic aurorae — and the same goes for the skywatchers in orbit!
That’s so like the Southern Hemisphere to steal all the really awesome views and not send any beautiful magnetic storms up here. Gah.
NASA’s WISE Mission Captures Black Hole’s Wildly Flaring Jet
Astronomers using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have captured rare data of a flaring black hole, revealing new details about these powerful objects and their blazing jets.
Scientists study jets to learn more about the extreme environments around black holes. Much has been learned about the material feeding black holes, called accretion disks, and the jets themselves, through studies using X-rays, gamma rays and radio waves. But key measurements of the brightest part of the jets, located at their bases, have been difficult despite decades of work. WISE is offering a new window into this missing link through its infrared observations.
Deadly accidents involving nuclear reactors, oil rigs and coal mines in recent months remind us that all forms of energy generation carry risks. In developed countries, coal is the most hazardous (bottom left), according to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, which studied more than 1,800 accidents worldwide over nearly 30 years. For coal, mining tends to be the most dangerous step; for oil and gas, most accidents occur during distribution; and for nuclear, generating plants are on the hot seat (orange bars).
Developing nations tend to have higher fatality rates, experts say (although reporting is less comprehensive, so no numbers are shown). “Regulations may be less strict,” explains Peter Burgherr, head of technology assessment at the energy systems analysis laboratory at the institute. “Working conditions are also poorer,” and less mechanization means more people are doing manual labor in harm’s way.
The lion’s share of human costs, however, comes not from accidents but from pollution, which makes fossil fuels the most dangerous form of energy generation (below). As Burgherr notes, “People are often not aware of what is happening to them in daily life.”
An analysis of 2 million-year-old bones found in South Africa offers the most powerful case so far in identifying the transitional figure that came before modern humans—findings some are calling a potential game-changer in understanding evolution.
Back in July, a climate researcher named Roy Spencer published a paper that was hyped by climate skeptics to blow a hole in warming models that would sink the Titanic. He used satellite data to make a case that far more heat was escaping into space than we currently think, and that this was prime evidence that climate change is being overblown as a risk.
It gets even better! That work from July that was so hyped and was supposed to sink the threat of global warming? The editor of the journal it was published in resigned on Friday, apologizing that the work was ever published under his watch. He clearly stated that it did not receive proper peer review and should be viewed as such.
It’s sad that this news comes on a holiday weekend here in the U.S., and that the news outlets so eager to publish the hype will make no such effort for the rebuttal and discrediting of that work. We saw this last month when Dr. Michael Mann was cleared of wrongdoing in the “ClimateGate” non-controversy (again).
It’s up to us to spread the word and report, I guess. Climate science is a danger, and the world deserves better effort from the media than this.
Bullied birds tend to grow up to be bullies themselves
Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have now learned that Nazca boobies perpetuate a “cycle of violence”: bullied chicks tend to become bullies and pass on the pain. When parent birds leave their nests to eat, baby boobies are often visited by sexually and physically abusive non-breeding adults; the chicks, when grown, are more likely to abuse unrelated chicks. “The link we found indicates that nestling experience, and not genetics, influences adult behaviour,” lead researcher David Anderson told BBC.
This behavior may have to do with hormone levels in the brain, according to another recent study out of Wake Forest University. Researchers found that concentrations of the stress hormone corticosterone in Nazca booby chicks increased five-fold during bullying events. The team believes that the spike in hormonal levels could have a long-term effect on the boobies’ brains, causing aggressive behavior later in life.