Physics Today Daily Edition
Ars Technica: Light moves too quickly for computer chips to process it. By the time a chip has determined how to route data encoded in light, the pulse has already passed by. To prevent signal loss, chips divert the light pulses and store data electronically, but that is a slow and inefficient process. Now a team of Australian researchers has developed a way to briefly slow down the light: They convert the light pulses into sound pulses and then back again. The technique isn't new—it's commonly used in lasers—but adapting the idea for data transmission required finding a way to create and propagate the sound waves with minimal data loss. The researchers converted a standard light pulse and then collected the signal with the full data load 3.5 ns later, which is a significant slowdown in transmission that doesn't require storing the data electronically.
Washington Post: In May 2016, Arctic sea ice levels were lower than they were at the same time in 2012, which is the year levels dropped to the lowest minimum coverage ever recorded. That finding did not bode well for Arctic ice levels this year. However, increased cloud cover over the summer appears to have had a cooling effect on the region, as preliminary measurements of the minimum level for 2016 show it is only the second lowest ever recorded. The 2016 minimum, reached on 10 September, was 4.1 million km2 (1.6 million mi2).
BBC: The UK government has approved an £18 billion ($24 billion) project to construct a nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England. The project is being financed by the French and Chinese governments. As part of the agreement, the UK can prevent EDF, France's state-controlled energy firm, from selling its stake in the project. EDF is providing two-thirds of the funding for the project, which is expected to create more than 25 000 jobs. The Chinese investment also included an agreement for the development of a new nuclear plant at Sizewell in Suffolk and an understanding that the UK would approve another Chinese-led project at Bradwell in Essex. The 3.2 GW Hinkley Point power plant will satisfy roughly 7% of the UK's energy needs.
Nature: Researchers who want to collect data from published papers often rely on software to scrape the information. However, for researchers in the European Union (EU), paywalled content and copyright restrictions hamper their ability to do so. Now, the European Commission has proposed that text and data mining be exempted from copyright for research organizations, such as universities, that have legal access to the research. The proposal should alleviate the concerns of many European researchers, who, according to an EU report, perform less data mining than their American and Asian counterparts.
BBC: The European Space Agency has released the first full-sky maps from its Gaia space telescope. Launched in 2013, Gaia is a follow-up to the Hipparcos satellite, which in the 1980s and 1990s cataloged the position, brightness, distance, and proper motion of 100 000 stars. In just three years Gaia has created a catalog 20 times as large, with position and brightness measurements for more than 1 billion stars in the Milky Way. The database also includes distance and proper motion for 2 million stars. By the end of its five-year mission, Gaia is expected to have collected a full set of measurements for nearly all the stars in the database. Beyond the four characteristics measured by Hipparcos, Gaia will also be measuring stars' radial velocity—the motion of the stars toward or away from Earth as they sweep through the galaxy. The additional measurements will provide information about the structure and internal dynamics of the Milky Way, which should allow researchers to more accurately model the evolution of the galaxy.
Atlantic: Although it is well known that the Moon is responsible for Earth’s tides, researchers say it might also affect earthquakes. Based on two decades' worth of data, Satoshi Ide of the University of Tokyo and colleagues have determined that some of the largest earthquakes have occurred when Earth’s crust was under the highest tidal stress. Those include the earthquakes that struck Sumatra on 26 December 2004; Maule, Chile, on 27 February 2010; and Tohoku-Oki, Japan, on 11 March 2011. The reason may be that the tugging of the Moon on Earth’s crust, although relatively weak, causes tiny faults to grow into a giant rupture. If so, future earthquake prediction methods may need to take into account the Moon’s pull, especially in earthquake-prone areas.