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Updated: 3 hours 28 min ago

Three independent agencies agree first quarter of 2016 set global temperature records

20 April 2016

New York Times: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has joined NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency in reporting that each of the first three months of 2016 saw record-high temperatures that surpassed the previous records set during those months in 2015. March was also the 11th straight month to set a new monthly record. The warming has been tied to an extremely strong El Niño combined with the effects of climate change. The report from NOAA comes as the nations that agreed to the Paris climate agreement last year are meeting to formally sign the pact.

New Australian nanoscience building features state-of-the-art technology

20 April 2016
New Scientist: The University of Sydney has completed construction of its Sydney Nanoscience Hub, billed as one of the most environmentally controlled research complexes in the world. The building comprises nanofabrication facilities, teaching spaces, and multiple laboratories that are shielded from electromagnetic radiation by Faraday cages. Special filters keep the air ultraclean, and floating floors stabilize work areas to protect them from vibrations such as those created by people walking in the halls and pressure waves from closing doors. Research at the hub will range from the development of nanobatteries for renewable energy storage to biomedical research into the tiny bubbles released by the human immune system.

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20 April 2016

Russian spaceport ready for inaugural launch

20 April 2016
Ars Technica: After a quarter century without its own space launch site, Russia has completed construction of its Vostochny Cosmodrome. The country has been leasing launch facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2011 Russia began its ambitious plan to build the $3 billion spaceport. Despite numerous worker strikes and charges of corruption, the project has proceeded according to plan. President Vladimir Putin visited the site in October 2015, and a series of launch tests and checks were successfully carried out in March. Now 27 April has been set for the first launch at the new site: A Soyuz-2.1a rocket will carry the Aist-2D spacecraft and the Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite into orbit.

Leak worsens at Hanford nuclear site

19 April 2016
KGW-TV: Problems persist at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production complex in Washington State. Since the last reactor was shut down in the late 1980s, work at the site has focused on cleanup and disposal of the high-level radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks. However, the site has been plagued by leaks, the most recent of which was discovered on 17 April when alarms were triggered. Despite most of the liquid waste having been transferred in 2008 to double-shell tanks for added security, a leak had developed in tank AY-102 as early as 2011. The government contractor in charge of the tanks was slow to act, however, and had only recently begun to pump out the tank’s contents. It is believed that the pumping exacerbated the leak, and as of Sunday morning, 8.4 inches of radioactive and chemically toxic waste was found to have seeped into the two-foot-wide space between the inner and outer walls. Not only does the leak endanger the safety of the cleanup crew, but it also calls into question the viability of the other double-shell tanks.

<em>Cassini</em> detects interstellar dust around Saturn

19 April 2016

Space.com: Since 2004, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been sampling dust as it orbits Saturn. The vast majority of the dust particles have come from eruptions from Saturn's moon Enceladus, but 36 of the particles have been traced to the interstellar medium. The interstellar dust is believed to have come from the local interstellar cloud—the region of dust and gas that the Milky Way is currently moving through. The interstellar particles stand out from the local dust particles because of their direction and high speed. Both NASA's Galileo and the joint NASA–European Space Agency probe Ulysses have detected interstellar dust before, but Cassini was the first probe able to provide measurements of the concentrations of rock-forming elements in the dust. Although the concentrations matched what was expected, the particles were surprisingly uniform in composition. That uniformity may arise from the dust being destroyed and reformed repeatedly by supernova shock waves.

First gamma-ray sky map released by HAWC observatory

19 April 2016

New Scientist: Yesterday at the American Physical Society meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, researchers from the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory (HAWC) revealed their first map of the universe's gamma-ray signals. HAWC, which is located on a mountain in central Mexico, consists of 300 tanks, each filled with 200 000 L of purified water. They are used to detect the cascade of particles created when high-energy photons strike the atmosphere. As the particles pass through the tanks, they emit visible Cherenkov radiation, which the researchers use to calculate the particles' source. In the first year of data collection, HAWC identified 40 distinct gamma-ray sources, 10 of which had not previously been detected. The researchers are now trying to determine if those sources can be matched with known emitters at other wavelengths.

Dinosaurs were already in decline before asteroid impact

19 April 2016
Atlantic: Over the 180 million years that dinosaurs ruled Earth, many species came into existence and many died out. Researchers had long assumed that the reason all dinosaurs eventually went extinct was because of a single cataclysmic event—an asteroid that struck the Yucatán Peninsula some 66 million years ago. However, new research shows that dinosaur species may have already been in decline at least 40 million years before the asteroid struck. The researchers attribute the decline to Earth’s changing climate, which had been warm and wet but over time grew cooler. Those climate changes put dinosaurs under considerable stress for a long time, which may have made them more vulnerable when the asteroid struck.

Media observers find lots to like in annual White House Science Fair

18 April 2016
Scientists and engineers should be honored "side by side" with champion athletes, declares President Obama.

Canadian Perimeter Institute funding confirmed by Prime Minister Trudeau

18 April 2016

CBC News: On 15 April, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau affirmed the country's 2016 budget allocation of Can$50 million over the next five years for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. An independent think tank established by entrepreneur Mike Lazaridis in 1999, the Perimeter Institute provides not just high-level theoretical research but also educational outreach and a popular series of lectures on physics. The Canadian government began including funding for the institute in its budget several years ago to help promote that research and education. While answering questions from the press, Trudeau impressed and surprised both the media and the researchers in attendance with his ability to give a clear explanation of the significance of the institute's research into quantum computing.

This is your brain on physics

18 April 2016
Functional MRI reveals how the human brain repurposes itself to learn abstract physics concepts.

William Gray

18 April 2016

ESA receives go-ahead to build gravitational-wave observatory

18 April 2016
BBC: In the wake of the first detection of a gravitational wave last year by the ground-based LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), the European Space Agency (ESA) has been granted permission to proceed with its €1 billion proposal to build a space-based observatory to seek the elusive signals. The project was given the green light by a panel of experts who had assessed it. In their report, they even suggested accelerating the project so that it could launch as soon as 2029 instead of the proposed 2034.

Nuclear weapon modernization increases tensions among nuclear powers

18 April 2016

New York Times: China, Russia, and the US are all actively working to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons that are smaller and more precise than previous devices. And because of each country's modernization efforts, no progress has been made on new arms-control treaties. In the US, the next generation of weapons is intended to reinforce nuclear deterrence by replacing older weapons with updated versions. That program, estimated to cost $1 trillion over 30 years, is prompting China and Russia to not just modernize weapons but also develop new types of warfare. For example, Russian news reports say that the country's navy is developing a drone that can spread radioactive contamination over a wide area. Independent analysts worry that Russia would be willing to violate the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as part of its development process. And China is developing a hypersonic missile similar to one that the US has tested unsuccessfully. Analysts are particularly worried that all those efforts may increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are used in a local conflict and that they weaken the concept of mutual assured destruction that has served to deter the use of nuclear weapons since the 1950s.

SpaceX hauls dirt as first step in building its Boca Chica launch site

18 April 2016
Valley Morning Star: In preparation for the construction of a launch site at Boca Chica Beach in Texas, private aerospace company SpaceX began last year to truck in some 310 000 cubic yards of soil. The soil is needed to raise and stabilize the area so that it will support heavy hangars, a launch pad, and rockets. Although the process, called soil surcharging, is more cost-effective than placing steel beams or pouring concrete pillars, it does take longer, so SpaceX has bumped back its first projected launch from the site to 2018.

Daniel A.S. D'Ippolito

15 April 2016

David A. Liberman

15 April 2016

Zika virus confirmed as causing brain defects at birth

15 April 2016
Los Angeles Times: This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the mosquito-borne Zika virus is responsible for the massive outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil. According to a detailed study published in the British Medical Journal, virtually all the infants involved in the study, who were born to mothers infected with the Zika virus, showed signs of some form of brain damage. The hallmarks of Zika damage include an abnormally small head, the absence of folds on the surface of the cerebral cortex, and the presence of calcifications, or damaging lesions, in the frontal lobes. Those abnormalities can cause developmental problems and may also affect vision and hearing. Although not all infants born to infected mothers will be affected, their risk is much greater. Therefore, pregnant women who live or travel in areas where Zika is prevalent are being urged to take precautions, including to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes.

NASA studies supersonic shock waves using schlieren imagery and the Sun

15 April 2016
ABC News: As part of NASA's effort to develop a quiet supersonic passenger jet, the agency is studying the flow phenomena of supersonic shock waves. To do that with a full-scale plane, they're turning to schlieren imagery and the Sun. Schlieren photography uses backlighting to track the movement of fluids of different densities and is widely used in aeronautics to understand the flow of air around objects. The agency recently released several images it has taken of a supersonic US Air Force T-38 as it passes in front of the Sun.

Astronomer crowdfunds telescope to solve 40-year-old radio wave mystery

15 April 2016
Guardian: On 15 August 1977, a powerful blast of radio waves lasting 72 seconds was detected coming from a group of stars called Chi Sagittarii by astronomer Jerry Ehman of the Ohio State University. Long thought to indicate the existence of an extraterrestrial intelligence, the so-called Wow! signal has not been observed since. Now Antonio Paris of St. Petersburg College in Florida may have a more mundane explanation. Paris found that two comets—266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs—were both near Chi Sagittarii the day the Wow! signal was detected. Comets are surrounded by clouds of hydrogen gas and can emit radio frequencies similar to those detected by Ehman. To test his hypothesis, Paris hopes to observe the next passage of the two comets past Chi Sagittarii in 2017 and 2018 and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the $13 000 needed to buy a radio telescope to do so.

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