Physics Today Daily Edition
Gizmodo: The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck northern Virginia in 2011 was notable because of the extreme rarity of earthquakes in that region—it was the strongest earthquake east of the Rocky Mountains since 1944. The East Coast of the US is far from the edges of the North American tectonic plate, where interactions with neighboring plates trigger seismic activity. Now Berk Biryol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues believe they have found an explanation for the 2011 earthquake. Biryol's team used seismic activity from around the globe to construct a 3D map of the bottom of the North American plate. The researchers found that the southeastern part of the plate is heavily fractured and encompasses thin and thick sections of crust and mantle. Based on their map, the scientists argue that chunks breaking off the bottom of the plate could trigger earthquakes. The mechanism could explain other major seismic events such as the magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck New Madrid, Missouri, and the 7.0 earthquake that struck Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1800s.
Los Angeles Times: On Monday, Charles Elachi, the current director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), announced that Michael Watkins will succeed him beginning 1 July. Watkins, a 22-year veteran of JPL, is currently the director of the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin. While at JPL, Watkins served as mission manager for the Martian rover Curiosity and project manager for the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) missions. He was also manager of the lab's science division and chief scientist for the engineering and science directorate.
IEEE Spectrum: This morning, IBM announced it was making a five-qubit quantum processor available online for anyone to use. Jay Gambetta, manager of IBM's Theory of Quantum Computing and Information Group, says the project's goal is to get people thinking about how a quantum computer works. Toward that end, the IBM Quantum Experience includes tutorials and a visual programming interface; no knowledge of a particular programming language is required. Users will be able to learn about various algorithms and run actual operations on the quantum system. However, a classical simulation of this particular system is actually faster. The project expects to have the processor available 24/7, with intermittent downtime for maintenance.
Atlantic: An exoplanet is commonly found by the telltale dimming of the light of a star as the planet passes in front of it. Earth-sized planets orbiting bright, hot stars like the Sun are nearly impossible to detect, however, because they are so small they don't block much of the star's brightness. For that reason, Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium decided to look for planets in orbit around the smallest, dimmest stars. Most theories of planetary formation suggest that such stars should not have enough material around them to form planets, but Gillon argued that the theories are based on very few observations. Using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) located in Chile, Gillon and his colleagues have identified an ultracool red dwarf only 40 light-years away and orbited by three planets. Subsequent observations from TRAPPIST and other observatories have revealed that all three are Earth-sized and are located in the habitable zone—the region around a star where liquid water may exist. Because of the star's small size and dimness, its habitable zone is much closer to it than the Sun's habitable zone is to the Sun. The closest two planets orbit the star every 1.5 days and 2.4 days.
Ars Technica: Several past experiments have found that increasing people's knowledge of climate change doesn't necessarily raise their concern about the issue. However, a new paper argues that because those studies treated "knowledge about climate change" as a monolithic concept, they don't necessarily reflect reality. The researchers separated knowledge into three categories: physical knowledge, causes knowledge, and consequences knowledge. Physical knowledge includes understanding concepts such as how carbon dioxide is produced; causes knowledge includes comprehending the effect humans have had on climate change; and consequences knowledge includes grasping the predicted global and local effects of climate change. In a survey of 2495 people in six countries—the US, Canada, China, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK—participants were asked their level of concern about climate change; then they were given questions that tested the three categories of knowledge. Researchers found that although greater physical knowledge correlated with lower concern, greater causes knowledge correlated with greater concern. Greater consequences knowledge also correlated with greater concern, except in Canada and China. Although the new questionnaire has limitations, it provides groundwork for future surveys on the topic.
Sputnik International: Less than two months after the launch of the first part of ExoMars, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced that the launch of the second component will be delayed by two years, until 2020. ExoMars is a joint mission of Roscosmos and the European Space Agency. The first part of the mission, which will reach Mars orbit in October, includes an orbiter and a lander for studying the Martian atmosphere. Part two includes a rover that will drill into the Martian surface to search for life and perform geochemistry research. According to the team running the rover mission, the decision to postpone the second launch was made because of problems with the contractors and delays in production of the mission's scientific equipment.