Physics Today Daily Edition
Wired: Established as a site for scientists to share and discuss their work before publication in peer-reviewed journals, arXiv now stores more than 1 million scientific papers and supports more than 125 million downloads per year. But the site's front-facing design has not changed much over the past 25 years, and its back end is running on a lot of legacy code, so site operators are planning on some refurbishment. In April arXiv asked users for design and functionality requests. The survey also asked whether the site should change how it handles checking the quality of uploaded papers and whether it should allow users to directly comment on and annotate papers. Any of these changes could significantly alter how the site, often viewed as a bastion of open-access research, fits into the larger realm of scientific publishing.
Ars Technica: In the 1970s NASA's Viking lander found that Mars's atmosphere was 95% carbon dioxide, with only minuscule levels of the nitrogen and oxygen that are a significant part of Earth's atmosphere. Over the past 40 years, no subsequent measurements of those trace gases in the Martian atmosphere have been made. Now NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has taken a look at Mars's upper atmosphere, where it measured levels of oxygen that were about half of what Viking measured. SOFIA is a Boeing 747 that is specially modified to fly at an altitude of 45 000 ft (13.7 km) and is equipped with a highly sensitive spectrometer that enables measurements in the far-IR. The SOFIA team says the lower-than expected oxygen levels are likely the result of an uneven distribution of the gas in the atmosphere caused by localized releases of oxygen from chemical reactions in the Martian soil.
BBC: The Solomon Archipelago is a lightly populated chain of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. A survey of aerial and satellite images collected between 1947 and 2014 has revealed that five of the islands have been swallowed by the ocean through a combination of rising sea levels and erosion. The islands were vegetated reefs that were unpopulated and relatively small—the largest was only 12 acres (0.05 km2). However, larger, populated islands are also being damaged. One of them, Nuatambu, has lost half its inhabitable area and 11 houses since 2011. The study notes that although the islands have seen sea levels rise as much as 10 mm/year over the last two decades, extreme weather events and inappropriate development are also responsible for some of the damage.
Los Angeles Times: On 10 May, the team running NASA's Kepler space telescope announced that the spacecraft had identified another 1284 extrasolar planets, which brings the total number to 2325. The majority of the newly discovered planets are super-Earths or mini-Neptunes—both defined as planets roughly 1.25 to 10 times the mass of Earth. Nine of the planets orbit in the habitable zone of their parent star. The new planet haul resulted not from more data but from a new algorithm that determined how likely a signal detected by Kepler was a planet rather than a false positive. The algorithm was applied to the full dataset of 4302 candidate planets identified by the telescope, including the 984 previously confirmed exoplanets. The algorithm correctly identified the previously confirmed planets and pulled out the 1284 other signals that the team presented.
CNN: India is experiencing its worst drought in decades. Exceptionally high temperatures some 3–5 °C above average over the past year and two years of below-average rainfall have severely reduced groundwater levels. According to India's Central Water Commission, the country's major water reservoirs are 79% empty, and three-quarters of the country's basins have less water than the 10-year average. They are so depleted that the next monsoon season, which begins in June, will likely not be enough to fully replenish them, says Nitya Jacob of WaterAid India.
Mashable: On Friday, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory released the first full-planet mapping of elevations on Mercury. The map was produced from data collected by the MESSENGER spacecraft, which finished its mission roughly one year ago. To produce the map, the scientists used more than one-third of the 300 000 images of Mercury taken by MESSENGER. From the images, the researchers calculated the average ground level and then measured the lowest and highest points on the planet, with the lowest point being 5.38 km below the average and the highest point 4.48 km above the average.
New York Times: Generally a postdoctoral position is a stepping stone to a full-time position in academia, but academic positions are hard to come by because of low turnover and high competition. So why do so many doctoral students in the sciences pursue postdocs? In 2010 and again in 2013, Henry Sauermann of Georgia Tech and colleagues surveyed PhD students studying biological and life sciences, physics, chemistry, engineering, or computer science at 39 universities across the US. They found that more than three-quarters of the biological and life sciences students believed at least one year of postdoctoral research was necessary to apply for a faculty position, and by 2013, 74% had taken a postdoc position. In the other fields, 42% thought a postdoc was necessary for a faculty position, and 46% took a postdoc by 2013. The most common reason cited by students for taking a postdoc was to increase their chances of getting a desired job.