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Updated: 4 days 12 hours ago

Italy and UK vie to provide headquarters for giant telescope

9 March 2015
Nature: The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a large radio telescope to be built in Australia and South Africa. Although construction won’t begin until 2018, two countries are currently contending to serve as its headquarters. Until now, the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK, has been serving as the project’s provisional headquarters. However, Padua, Italy, has also put forth a proposal to host it, in a medieval castle, Castello Carrarese. The SKA headquarters will be responsible for allocating observation time on the telescope, making decisions on upgrades, and managing other policy areas. Both sites meet SKA’s needs, but Padua is said to support a larger community of astronomers, whereas Manchester has a stronger radio astronomy tradition. After further discussion of the two proposals, the SKA organization says it should reach a decision in a few weeks.

Why light sensors in human eye are located at the back

9 March 2015
BBC: Scientists have known for some time that the optical structure in the retina of vertebrates is built backward, with the neurons in front of the photoreceptors rather than behind them. Now Erez Ribak of the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and colleagues propose one possible explanation. Through the use of in vitro experiments in a mouse model, computer simulations, and three-dimensional scans created with confocal microscopy, the researchers show that the neurons function like optical fibers to funnel red and green light into the eye’s cone cells while allowing blue light to spill over to the rod cells. Red and green light allow humans to see color during the daytime, and blue light allows humans to see in black-and-white under low-light conditions. Thus the eye's structure is "optimized for our vision purposes," according to Ribak. The researchers presented their findings at last week’s American Physical Society meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

NASA unveils evidence of ancient Martian ocean

9 March 2015

Guardian: A team of researchers led by Geronimo Villanueva of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, reports that Mars used to have an ocean that held more than 20 million km3 of water. The team used several IR telescopes to study the Martian atmosphere for six years; they looked specifically at seasonal and regional changes in water molecules. Normal water molecules in the atmosphere are able to escape Mars's gravitational pull, but heavy water molecules, in which one or both hydrogen atoms have been replaced by deuterium, are not. Consequently, the concentration of deuterium in the planet's atmosphere and in ice can be used to infer historical water levels on the planet's surface. According to the researchers' calculations, if Mars were smooth, it would have been inundated to a depth of 137 m. Given its terrain, however, the researchers suggest that the water pooled into an ocean that covered 20% of the planet's surface. As Mars lost its atmosphere, much of its water vaporized and was then lost to space. The remaining water, which is frozen in the polar ice caps, is only 13% of the volume of the ancient ocean.

Strong correlation found between climate change and California drought

9 March 2015

Ars Technica: A comparison of historical climate data from California with different climate models has shown the influence of human-driven climate change. Noah Diffenbaugh, Daniel Swain, and Danielle Touma of Stanford University examined the state's records of temperature, rainfall, and drought conditions and evaluated the severity of different periods of warming and drought using the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index and the Palmer Drought Severity Index. They then compared those periods with a range of global climate models. The models that included only naturally occurring variations did not accurately depict California's warm periods, but the models that included anthropogenic warming did. The researchers believe that anthropogenic warming has increased the simultaneous occurrence of periods of both warming and decreased rainfall, which has resulted in an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts across the state.

Nanobubbles distinguish themselves from impostors

6 March 2015
Snapshots of the way the tiny bubbles die hint at the origins of their Methuselah-like longevity.

Physicists in novels

6 March 2015
Why did Ian McEwan choose a physicist as the main character of his 2010 novel Solar?

Science has a new fact advocate for media and other public discourse

4 March 2015
SciCheck monitors, researches, and corrects faulty science statements by “major US political players” of any party.

(Basil) John Mason

4 March 2015

Brian Manley

4 March 2015

Australian research facilities face funding threat

4 March 2015

Sydney Morning Herald: A budget fight in Australia's federal government threatens the funding for a number of the nation's research institutes. According to a letter written by the National Research Alliance to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy's 27 agencies will be forced to shut down if their funding is delayed. The facilities require just $150 million in annual operating costs, but that money supports more than $2 billion worth of infrastructure and equipment.

Galaxy formed in early universe is dustier than expected

4 March 2015

Los Angeles Times: Gravitational lensing has revealed a galaxy that, despite being just 700 million years old, has a dust-to-gas ratio similar to that of the Milky Way, which is 13 billion years old. Darach Watson of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues were able to examine the distant galaxy because its light gets amplified by passing through a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 1689. Galaxies that formed early in the universe's history had not been expected to have collected much dust because most early dust would have been reused to form new stars.

US Defense Department promotes international collaboration with UK

4 March 2015
Science: Since the mid 1980s the US Department of Defense has been funding the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) program, which encourages researchers from different disciplines and universities to collaborate on specific research topics determined by the participating defense agencies. Now for the first time, DOD has extended the estimated $250 million in basic research funding to collaborations among US researchers and their UK counterparts. The goal is to “accelerate progress in some key research areas,” according to Robin Staffin, director of DOD’s Basic Research Office. MURI applications are currently being considered by DOD reviewers, who will announce the recipients later this year.

Report assesses risk posed by volcanic eruptions

4 March 2015
Nature: Indonesia is one of the countries most threatened by volcanic activity, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. As part of a larger international hazard assessment, researchers looked at some 9500 eruptions that have occurred over the past 10 000 years. They determined that about 800 million people live within 100 km of a potentially active volcano and that the risk involved varies depending on the landscape. Eruptions can result in heavy lava flows, mudslides, ash fall, or floodwaters from melted ice. With modern scientific monitoring equipment, however, local residents can be forewarned and much of the risk can be mitigated. Some countries even use human volunteers to watch a volcano and report on any changes.

Syrian conflict linked to drought exacerbated by climate change

3 March 2015

New York Times: From 2006 through 2009, Syria suffered its most extreme drought in modern times. According to a new computer-modeling study by Colin Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the drought's unusual severity was most likely due to the effects of climate change. Whether the drought contributed to the outbreak in 2011 of Syria's continuing civil war is controversial. Crop failures prompted up to 1.5 million people to move from rural areas to Syria's towns and cities, intensifying social tensions. However, the initial protests that sparked the war were largely for political, not economic, reforms.

New Ikea furniture line includes wireless charging stations

3 March 2015

Wall Street Journal: On 1 March Ikea announced a new line of furniture that features Qi-standard wireless charging stations. Wireless charging uses induction to provide energy to smartphones and other electronics that have the capability enabled. The furniture will be available in stores in Europe and the US on 15 April. The wireless charging marketplace is hotly contested with three different standards competing for global dominance. The Qi standard that Ikea chose is run by the Wireless Power Consortium and is supported by phone makers such as Samsung, HTC, and Microsoft. The Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard is most common in the US and has recently partnered with Starbucks. The third standard is the Alliance For Wireless Power (A4WP).

Science funding in India to remain flat

3 March 2015

Nature: India's 2015–16 budget, announced last Friday, disappointed many of the country's scientists because it did not include an overall boost in science funding. Although India's principal science funding agency, the Ministry of Science and Technology, received an 8% budget increase, other agencies had their budgets cut, among them the Ministry for Earth Sciences, whose allocation fell by 4.6%. Despite the flat science budget, India will expand its Indian Institutes of Technology system. Two new IIT centers now have funding.

Proposed experiment using Casimir effect could reveal quantum gravity

3 March 2015

New Scientist: The Casimir effect arises when metal plates held parallel and extremely close together in a vacuum attract each other. It happens because the metal sheets damp quantum fluctuations between the plates but not outside them. Because the effect is generic to quantum fields, it could have counterparts in other forces. In a new paper, James Quach of the University of Tokyo proposes that detecting a gravitational Casimir effect would constitute evidence of gravity's quantum nature. Confining quantum fluctuations in a gravitational field could be done, says Quach, by using plates made from supercooled superconductors.

Your questions answered about job interviews, part 1

3 March 2015
Spousal hires, panel interviews, and first impressions were among the topics raised in a recent webinar about careers.

Great white sharks exploit Sun's glare when they attack

2 March 2015

New Scientist: Great white sharks favor dawn and dusk for their attacks. Suspecting that the Sun's low position on the horizon might be behind that preference, Charlie Huveneers of Flinders University in Australia and his colleagues conducted an experiment at sea. They lured great white sharks to their boat using fish oil and minced fish. They then tossed chunks of tuna into the water and observed how the sharks attacked their "prey" at different times of day. When they attacked at dawn and dusk, the sharks invariably approached the tuna chunks with the Sun behind them. Huveneers speculates that the sharks use the Sun's glare to hide their attacks.