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Updated: 4 hours 52 sec ago

Exoplanet stirs enthusiasm in scientists, press, and public

13 September 2016
Does the excitement generate too much overreach in the reporting?

A large galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter

12 September 2016
An as-yet unknown mechanism may have turned off the process of star formation.

Experimental black hole evaporation

9 September 2016
The physicist who 35 years ago proposed the construction of “dumb holes” to search for the analog of Hawking radiation is impressed by the recent experiment that looked for entangled thermal radiation from a tabletop horizon.

NASA probe begins its journey to asteroid Bennu

9 September 2016
Spaceflight Now: On 8 September, NASA successfully launched its OSIRIS-REx probe, destined for asteroid 101955 Bennu. The mission will last seven years, during which time the spacecraft will travel to Bennu, collect samples, and return them to Earth for analysis. The total distance traveled will be 4.4 billion miles. The launch marked the 111th for United Launch Alliance. Shortly after takeoff, OSIRIS-REx deployed its two solar arrays and communicated with ground control. If successful, the probe will return the largest amount of extraterrestrial material since the Apollo missions.

New theory argues heavy elements didn't immediately sink to Earth's core

9 September 2016
Science News: Gold, platinum, and other similar heavy elements are siderophile—when molten they tend to form alloys with iron. About 98% of Earth's siderophile elements are in the iron-dominated core, and the traditional view is that they sank to the core early in Earth's history. David Rubie of the University of Bayreuth in Germany and his colleagues are challenging that view. They argue that the bombardment of asteroids and comets that occurred during the first 100 million years of Earth's formation kept the planet's internal pressure and temperature high enough that siderophile elements were less likely to bond with iron. If that's true, then the heavy elements would have remained in Earth's mantle until they reacted with sulfur, crystallized, and fell toward the core. Rubie's group attributes the presence of precious metals in Earth's crust to the subsequent bombardment of asteroids, which deposited the elements on the surface.

US transport to space station is delayed again

9 September 2016
Problems with SpaceX and Boeing designs warrant a one-year extension to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program schedule, says a new report.

North Korea conducts fifth nuclear test

9 September 2016
Washington Post: On 9 September the US Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.3 earthquake near North Korea's nuclear test site. Shortly thereafter, North Korean news media announced that the country had detonated another nuclear weapon. The magnitude of the seismic activity suggests that the test was much larger than the country's four previous tests. The test was timed to coincide with the 68th anniversary of the formation of North Korea's communist regime by Kim Il Sung, and it comes just days after the country tested several ballistic missiles that landed in the ocean near Japan.

United Airlines CEO cites <em>Farmers' Almanac</em> for winter plans

8 September 2016

USA Today: The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, said in a radio interview that because "Farmers' Almanac is calling for a very nasty winter, particularly in Chicago ... our operating team is hard at work as to how are we going to accommodate passengers." Company spokesperson Charles Hobart said that United did not actually consult Farmers' Almanac and that Munoz was quoted out of context, but that has not stopped the company from receiving significant criticism. Several meteorologists have pointed out that the almanac does not have a good track record for its seasonal weather predictions; others compared consulting the almanac with consulting an astrologer. Hobart says the company actually has several aviation meteorologists on staff.

Analysis of cosmic microwave background radiation shows universe is isotropic

8 September 2016

Science: Cosmologists have long held that the universe is isotropic—fundamentally the same in all directions. A new study of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation as mapped by the Planck spacecraft supports that assumption in the most stringent test yet. Daniela Saadeh and Andrew Pontzen of University College London and their colleagues used a supercomputer to look for CMB temperature and polarization patterns that would indicate a special direction in space. Based on their findings, the researchers estimate there is only a 1 in 121 000 chance that the universe is anisotropic. Their work increases the confidence in isotropism by an order of magnitude over previous analyses.

Canadian research funding effort benefits a fortunate few

8 September 2016
Toronto Star: Thirteen Canadian postsecondary institutions are to share $900 million through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The fund was created in 2014 by Canada’s federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, to encourage big science in Canada to flourish and be competitive on the global front. However, the recent allocations have been criticized for favoring a few research institutes with very large grants rather than spreading the wealth among the many labs across the country that are starved for funds. Although the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has launched a federal review of science funding, the report is not due for completion until the end of the year.

Recent Louisiana flooding linked to climate change

8 September 2016
New York Times: In mid-August, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, experienced record rainfall and flooding that killed 13 people and damaged about 55 000 homes. Rather than being an anomaly, however, such severe weather is occurring much more frequently because of climate change. In fact, similar torrential downpours along the US Gulf Coast are 40% more likely now than they were before the Industrial Revolution, according to World Weather Attribution. WWA is an international effort that uses historical rainfall records, statistical analysis, and computer modeling to analyze the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. Its goal is to provide rapid assessments and more accurate forecasts of future events. WWA provided similar analyses that linked the heavy May flooding in France to climate change.

Water flows freely through carbon nanotubes

8 September 2016
A new experiment confirms the slipperiness of the minuscule carbon cylinders but not their boron nitride counterparts.

Pushing back smartly against vaccine antiscience

7 September 2016
News media report—and support—new resolve and new thinking from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Obama unlikely to adopt no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons

7 September 2016

New York Times: At the start of President Obama's first term, he pledged to make progress toward a world without nuclear weapons. However, his administration has overseen the establishment of a nuclear weapons modernization plan that is expected to cost $1 trillion over the next two decades. In response to criticisms by nuclear-reduction advocates, Obama has been considering adopting a no-first-use policy whereby the US would promise  not to be the first to escalate from conventional war to nuclear war. Doing so would formalize what has been the government's unofficial position for decades. However, it now appears that Obama's advisers have persuaded him to drop the proposal, arguing that it would undermine US allies and embolden nations such as Russia and China.

Congress starts new session with two bills on science funding

7 September 2016

Science: Congress returned to session on 6 September after its two-month summer break. Atop the agenda is passing a spending bill for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. However, it is more likely that Congress will approve a continuing resolution to extend 2016 spending levels until late December, which will provide extra time for finalizing the 2017 spending bill. A continuing resolution effectively freezes the budgets of government agencies and prevents them from starting new projects or taking advantage of planned budget increases. Major funding increases were slated for a range of National Institutes of Health research programs, Zika research, a NASA mission to Jupiter's moons, two new NSF research vessels, fusion research, and much more.

Thousands of Turkish academics fired in aftermath of coup attempt

7 September 2016
Nature: Since the violent coup d’état attempt in Turkey in July, 2346 university staff members have been fired for suspected collusion. They are part of a larger purge, of some 40 000 civil servants, initiated by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Academics have protested the firings, saying the university personnel who have been let go were not part of the Gülen movement that the government holds responsible for the attempted overthrow. Rather, the fired staff simply disagreed with particular government policies. They are among the more than 2000 Turkish scholars who signed a petition seeking to end the violence between the government and Kurdish separatists. Turkey’s Association of University Councils has decried the government’s actions after the coup and has said that Erdoğan's administration is “systematically harming science in Turkey.”

LHC’s failure to find new particles casts doubt on supersymmetry

7 September 2016
Science News: Despite exposing the Higgs boson in 2012, the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator, has so far failed to turn up evidence of any of the new particles predicted by the theory of supersymmetry. According to the theory, all the known fundamental particles have more massive counterparts. The failure to turn up evidence of those larger particles does not necessarily disprove supersymmetry, some scientists say. It’s possible that the particle predictions may simply need to be modified; the new particles may be much heavier than expected. For other physicists, the lack of data indicates that new theories, such as the relaxation hypothesis or neutral naturalness, should be considered.

A profile of John Trump, Donald’s accomplished scientist uncle

7 September 2016
The MIT professor made his mark on high-voltage generators, World War II radars, and cancer therapy. His cerebral, collaborative approach to his work stands in striking contrast to his nephew’s brash presidential campaign.

SpaceX accident has repercussions for Israeli space company

6 September 2016
Reuters: As the result of last week’s explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a static test fire, Israeli company Space Communication may seek up to $50 million for the loss of the communications satellite it had onboard. The company says last week’s incident has affected it in other ways as well: Its shares have dropped by 43%, and a planned merger with Beijing Xinwei Technology Group may now be up in the air. Although SpaceX has achieved more than 70 successful missions to date, the recent failure is the second in the past 14 months.

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