Physics Today Daily Edition
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are able to escape Mars's gravitational pull, but heavy water molecules, in which one or both hydrogen atoms have been replaced by deuterium, are not.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
BBC: A £1 billion ($1.54 billion) plan to build a tidal-lagoon-driven power plant has won the approval of UK energy secretary Ed Davey, although the government is still in negotiations with the company behind the proposal. Tidal Lagoon Power wants to build an artificial lagoon off the coast of Swansea and use giant turbines embedded in seawalls to capture energy from the tides. It also proposes to expand to six more sites throughout the UK and says the combined plants could produce 8% of the country's energy at a cost of £30 billion. The initial cost of the electricity generated by the Swansea plant would be £168 per kilowatt hour but would drop to £90 when a second plant opened. That reduced cost would be in the same range as the predicted cost for the power from a planned nuclear plant, but the lagoon plant would also have a longer lifetime and be safer than the nuclear one. The plan, however, is facing some environmental challenges because of the impact the seawalls could have on local shorelines and wildlife.
Nature: The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just months after releasing its fifth climate assessment, is already organizing for the next edition of the report. At a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of February, the group approved roughly the same framework used to guide the fifth report. The mostly minor changes are primarily focused on obtaining wider input and more effective sharing of the study results. The panel wants to increase the representation of scientists from the developing world, particularly by using more non-English scientific literature. It also wants to include more science communicators in the process to better reach the nonscientific public. To assist in that, the panel intends to open some of its closed-door meetings to researchers. The panel is also trying to find a new chairperson following the resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, who stepped down in response to allegations he sexually harassed a colleague at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, India.