Scientists glimpse most distant supermassive black hole in the known universe

December 7, 2017 by  
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A team of scientists has discovered the known universe’s most distant supermassive black hole . The black hole is so far from Earth, it has taken over 13 billion years for light from the object to reach our planet. Given the universe’s age of approximately 13.8 billion years, observations of this newly discovered black hole offer scientists a glimpse into a much younger universe. “This is the only object we have observed from this era,” Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in MIT ‘s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, told Phys.org . “It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn’t exist. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It’s very puzzling.” Approximately 800 times larger than our sun , the supermassive black hole, also known as a quasar, was first discovered by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at Carnegie Institution for Science, while browsing through maps of the distant universe. Bañados was specifically in search of quasars, among the brightest objects in the universe , which are composed of a supermassive black hole orbited by swirling, accumulating matter. “Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole,” said Simcoe. The research team, which includes scientists from MIT and whose work was published in the journal Nature ,  used the object’s “redshift,” the phenomenon in which objects farther away emit light that is closer to the infrared end of the light spectrum, to identify its mass and age. Related: Scientists find a massive black hole swirling in the Milky Way The supermassive black hole seems to have formed at a pivotal time in the universe’s formation. “What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50—it’s a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out,” said Simcoe. “This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on.” While the supermassive black hole has offered some insight into the early universe, how such an object formed in those conditions remains a mystery. “If you start with a seed like a big star, and let it grow at the maximum possible rate, and start at the moment of the Big Bang, you could never make something with 800 million solar masses—it’s unrealistic,” said Simcoe. “So there must be another way that it formed. And how exactly that happens, nobody knows.” Via Phys.org Images via  Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science

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Scientists glimpse most distant supermassive black hole in the known universe

Newly discovered property of graphene could lead to infinite clean energy

November 30, 2017 by  
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Physicists at the University of Arkansas have discovered a new property of graphene that could be exploited to generate endless, clean energy . While investigating the simple phenomenon of graphene’s ability to ripple and shake, physicist Paul Thibado and a group of graduate students uncovered a previously unknown behavior in which the wonder material buckles and twists in small, random fluctuations, potentially allowing graphene to be used as an ambient power source. When two electrodes are added on either side of a subtly shaking sheet of graphene, a small shifting voltage is produced, one that can could be magnified for practical use through layering. This new discovery was made over the course of a fairly mundane exploration of graphene’s known tendency to jiggle. It is this random movement of atoms that allows the nearly 2D graphene to function as a 3D material. To study this behavior, students laid sheets of graphene on a copper grid and observed the atomic movement through a scanning tunneling microscope . “The students felt we weren’t going to learn anything useful,” said Thibado , “but I wondered if we were asking too simple a question.” The students then searched for a pattern in graphene’s movement. “Looking at large-scale averages hid the different patterns. Each region of a single image, when viewed over time, produced a more meaningful pattern,” said Thibado. Related: New graphene sieve can remove even small salts from seawater This meaningful pattern of small, random fluctuations that result in dramatic shifts is known as a Lévy flight. Although the phenomenon had been previously observed in biology and climate studies , this marks the first instance in which it was observed on an atomic level. These movements allowed for the production of a small voltage within the graphene. Thibado estimates that a single ten micron by ten micron piece of graphene may produce ten microwatts of power. While this may not seem like much, graphene’s ability to be layered heavily even in a small space could result in a practical electrical charge, one that may be used to power bioimplants. Thibado is working with the US Naval Research Laboratory to further investigate and develop the concept. Via Futurism Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Newly discovered property of graphene could lead to infinite clean energy

Groundbreaking quark fusion generates 10 time as much energy as nuclear fusion

November 8, 2017 by  
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Physicists at Tel Aviv University and University of Chicago have discovered that quark fusion, involving the tiny particles known as quarks of which protons and neutrons are made, is an even more potentially energy-packed reaction than much-touted nuclear fusion . Although the scientists were originally concerned about quark fusion’s potential destructive power and had considered keeping the discovery secret, they came to learn that the process, still theoretical, would most likely be safe for civilian use. The newly identified kind of reaction, which could yield up to ten times as much energy as nuclear fusion, could be the answer to endless clean energy someday. A fusion reaction, whether nuclear or quark, occurs when two or more atomic nuclei are close enough to each other to form at least one different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. In fusing, the involved reactants and products release an enormous amount of energy, which could theoretically be harvested as nearly-infinite clean energy , the holy grail of renewable technology. A quark reaction, which could yield up to ten times as much energy as nuclear fusion, involves the fusion of bottom quarks, subsequently resulting in a larger subatomic particle, a spare particle known as a nucleon, and an enormous output of energy.  It’s reaction is so potent that it is potentially more powerful than the reaction at the center of an exploding hydrogen bomb. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 “I must admit that when I first realized that such a reaction was possible, I was scared,” said Marek Karliner, quark fusion co-researcher at Tel Aviv University, “but, luckily, it is a one-trick pony.” Nuclear explosions in hydrogen bombs gain their destructive power from chain reactions. Quark fusion, it seems, could not possibly be dangerous because bottom quarks disappear only a picosecond (1/1,000,000,000,000 of a second) after they form. There simply is not enough time for these subatomic particles to form a chain reaction. “If I thought for a microsecond that this had any military applications , I would not have published it,” Karliner said, according to Live Science. Although quark fusion remains in the theoretical stage, the researchers state that it could be achieved at the Large Haldron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider located in France . Via Live Science / Engadget Images via CERN , lead image via Deposit Photos

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Groundbreaking quark fusion generates 10 time as much energy as nuclear fusion

Scientists witnessed a neutron star mashup for the first time – and it transformed our understanding of the universe

October 16, 2017 by  
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For the first time, scientists have detected gravitational waves stemming from the crash of two ultra-dense neutron stars – and the event has spawned a new era of astronomy known as “multi-messenger astronomy.” It is believed that cataclysmic events such as these generated at least half of the gold in the Universe. Though astronomers have witnessed ripples in the fabric of space in time before (created by objects moving in the Universe), this is the first time in history the event was detectable by regular light telescopes. As a result, researchers have gained new insight into massive cosmic collisions. A neutron star is the burnt-out core of a massive star that ran out of fuel , blew up and died. Typically 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter, a neutron star is radioactive and has a mass slightly more dense than the sun in our solar system. Reportedly, a handful of neutron star material weighs as much as Mount Everest ! When two neutron stars combine, they spiral around each other, growing closer and closer over time. The spinning intensifies until the two objects revolve around each other several times per second. Then, a forceful impact takes place and a gargantuan gravitational wave is emitted into the Universe at the speed of light. On August 18th, astronomers witnessed the remains of a neutron star mash-up, which traveled 130 million light years before it was seen by Earthly detectors. The phenomena resulted in dozens of scientific papers being published in top academic journals. As Phys.org reports, the observation also solved several physics riddles – including how much of the universe’s gold , platinum, mercury and other heavy elements were formed. Related: Einstein’s gravitational wave theory proven by the sound of two black holes colliding Said co-discoverer Benoit Mours of France’s CNRS research institute, “We witnessed history unfolding in front of our eyes: two neutron stars drawing closer, closer… turning faster and faster around each other, then colliding and scattering debris all over the place.” Days before the highly-anticipated event, three different gravitational wave observatories based around the world picked up gravitational waves. Astronomers worked together to locate the area where the merger occurred. After narrowing it down to a very small patch in the southern sky, the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) mobilized the rest of the astronomy community, reports The Verge. Within hours, thousands of astronomers searched the sky , eventually spotting the explosive leftovers of the neutron star mashup. Telescopes witnessed newly-forged material in the fallout. This confirmed that “maybe half, maybe more, of the heavy elements in the Universe are actually produced by this kind of collision,” said physicist Patrick Sutton, a member of LIGO. “This is a revolution in astronomy, of having thousands of astronomers focus on one source for weeks and having this collaboration unravel in seconds, in hours, then days, and weeks,” said Vicky Kalogera, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University and a LIGO collaborator. “For us, that’s the Holy Grail.” The development comes two years after the first gravitational wave was detected (also by LIGO). For the past century, astronomers have been trying to figure out how to detect the ripples, which were predicted by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity . Via Phys , The Verge Images via Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science , NSF LIGO Sonoma State University / A. Simonnet , Tony Piro, Carnegie Institution for Science

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Scientists witnessed a neutron star mashup for the first time – and it transformed our understanding of the universe

Harvard scientists claim they’ve made Earth’s first metallic hydrogen

January 27, 2017 by  
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For 80 long years, scientists have attempted in vain to produce a metal from hydrogen . A super substance thought to be present on other planets , metallic hydrogen could generate a rocket propellant around four times more powerful than what we possess now, allowing us to make advanced technologies like super-fast computers. Now two scientists at Harvard University say they have achieved the near miraculous. But other scientists are skeptical – the sensational discovery may just be too good to be true. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qitm5fteL0 Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera of Harvard University say they’ve been able to create metallic hydrogen in the laboratory by squeezing hydrogen between diamonds inside a cryostat, at a pressure even greater than that at the Earth’s center. The journal Science published their astonishing findings this week. In a Harvard press release, Silvera said, “This is the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics . It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.” Related: MIT’s new carbon-free supercapacitor could revolutionize the way we store power But other scientists aren’t so sure. A string of failed tries, from scientists around the world, precede the Harvard news. One physicist from France’s Atomic Energy Commission even said, “I don’t think the paper is convincing at all.” The Harvard scientists maintain they were able to polish the diamonds better, to remove any potentially damaging irregularities, and were able to crush the hydrogen gas at pressures greater than others have. Silvera said they produced a “lustry, reflective sample, which you can only believe is a metal .” But that shiny substance could be nothing more than alumina (aluminium oxide), according to geophysicist Alexander Goncharov from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. That material coats the diamonds’ tips, and could act differently under the pressure. Silvera said they wanted to break the news before starting confirmation tests, which could ruin their sample. Now that their paper is out, they plan to perform more experiments. Stay tuned. Via Scientific American and The Independent Images via screenshot and Isaac Silvera/Harvard University

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Scientists turn eggshells into eco-friendly data-storage devices

January 23, 2017 by  
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Walk on eggshells? Not these scientists. A team from Guizhou Institute of Technology is working on a way to turn ground-up bits of the breakfast byproduct into a data-storage device that could pave the way for eco-friendlier computers. The device itself uses something called resistive random-access memory , ReRAM for short, a type of non-volatile, high-density yet energy-sipping memory system that could soon supplant your flash drive as a data silo. Instead of storing a charge, like conventional memory does, ReRAM works by creating electrical resistance across a dielectric solid-state material that transmits voltage without conducting it, essentially serving as an insulator. As it turns out, eggshells have a “large resistive-switching memory,” as the scientists noted in the February 2017 issue of Current Applied Physics , where they published their findings. But don’t start sticking eggs in your USB port just yet. To create the device, they first pulverized the shells for hours into an ultra-fine, nanoscale powder, which they then dissolved in solution. Related: Scientists invent the world’s first microchip powered by biological systems The resulting paste, coated onto a substrate, became the electrolyte portion of a memory chip, that is, the part that carries the electrical charge. Whatever they did worked. The eggshell-based device was able to write 100 bits of binary code into its memory before it broke down. It’ll take some tinkering before the device can stack up against materials that can manage billions of cycles, but the promise is there. “This discovery provides for the possibility of an environmentally friendly, low-cost and sustainable material application in the next-generation nonvolatile date storage device,” the scientists said. Egg -citing. Via New Scientist Photos by Kullez and Bruce Guenter

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Scientists turn eggshells into eco-friendly data-storage devices

Al Gore fights climate change with "An Inconvenient Sequel"

January 23, 2017 by  
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When Al Gore ‘s landmark climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, the administration in Washington was averse to climate change action. Eleven years later Gore has debuted his follow up film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” at Sundance — just as Donald Trump takes office as the nation’s 45th president. Despite the dire prospects for the climate under Trump after eight years of modest gains under former President Barack Obama, Gore was upbeat in comments to the crowd after two standing ovations followed the Sundance screening. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2unzHvFPtY0 “Now we are undergoing a time of challenge, but we are going to prevail,” the former vice president said at the post-screening Q&A, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m not going to give all the evidence of why I’m so confident. Always remember that the will to act is a renewable resource. We will win. No one person can stop this movement. We want this movie to recruit others.” Related: Al Gore reaches out to work with Donald Trump on climate change Gore met with the president at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 5 to talk about climate change solutions. In an interview with THR , Gore said that Trump was “receptive” to some of what he had to say. Gore revealed that he has maintained private communications with Trump since the public meeting in December, joking that he couldn’t go into details about how they communicated because the Russians could hack it. “An Inconvenient Truth” was a great success, winning two Academy Awards, including Best Documentary Feature. The film grossed $49.8 million in worldwide box office proceeds, becoming the tenth highest grossing documentary film to date in the United States. The challenges of global warming have only increased in the past decade, with 2016 setting a heat record for the third straight year. Fortunately, renewables are rapidly ramping up as countries aim to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set forth in the Paris climate agreement . “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” opens in Germany on June 15 before hitting US theaters on July 28. Via Slate Image and video via IMDB

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Al Gore fights climate change with "An Inconvenient Sequel"

Scientists blend photosynthesis and quantum physics to improve solar cells

December 2, 2016 by  
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Four physicists at the University of California, Riverside decided to blend photosynthesis and quantum physics to work towards greener solar cells . Plants effectively regulate energy flow from the sun, but since current affordable man-made solar cells hover around just 20 percent efficiency, the scientists decided to take cues from vegetation. Current solar cells require feedback controllers and voltage converters to manage fluctuations in the amount of energy streaming from the sun, and end up wasting loads of energy. Their lack of efficiency is one hurdle standing in the way of mass adoption. But plants don’t need such hindering mechanisms. The UC Riverside team decided to reevaluate solar energy conversion in light of both photosynthesis’ efficiency and quantum physics principles. Related: Newly discovered form of spiralized light breaks everything quantum physics says about photons The physicists created what UC Riverside calls a novel kind of quantum heat engine photocell, a device that assists in the sunshine-to- electricity conversion process. Their new photocell draws on two quantum mechanical photocell systems that absorb either one or two colors of light, allowing the photocell to alternate between absorbing light at high and low power. According to UC Riverside, this innovation could allow a photocell to “convert varying levels of solar power into a steady-state output.” For UC Riverside assistant professor Nathan Gabor, who took part in the research, the journey to a better solar cell started in 2010 with the simple question, “Why are plants green?” He found out no one truly understands why, and decided to search for an answer. His quest, drawing on his physics background melded with deeper study into biology, may unlock the secrets to a more effective solar cell. The journal Nano Letters published the physicists’ research online in November. Via University of California, Riverside Images via Nathaniel Gabor and Tamar Melen and Pixabay

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Tiny robot caterpillar can push objects ten times its size

August 23, 2016 by  
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Physics researchers at the University of Warsaw have created an innovative soft robot that packs a powerful punch for its size. Despite being only 15 millimeters long, this powerful machine can carry loads up to 10 times larger than itself. While soft robots inspired by caterpillars have been designed before, it’s been a challenge to build them at a natural scale due to the available parts simply being too large and inflexible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wulyMNiakpU That’s where this robot is different. At first glance, it appears to simply be a thin, transparent piece of plastic. However, when exposed to light , the body contracts in a wave pattern which moves it forward. The secret to this motion is in the light-sensitive elastomer the robot is made of, which is aligned in a specific molecular pattern. Related: Robo Raven Robot Can Flap its Wings Like a Real Bird The researchers could even change the lighting conditions in order to made the robot perform a variety of different actions . Not only can it haul a cargo, but it can also crawl through small crevices and climb up slopes. The robot is further controlled with a spatially modulated laser beam . Using what they’ve learned of new fabrication techniques and design strategies, the Warsaw team hopes to further develop the technology and create soft robots capable of swimming and even flying. Their findings have been published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials . + Faculty of Physics University of Warsaw Via Engadget Images via FUW and coniferconifer

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Physicists announce the "possible discovery" of a fifth force of nature

August 17, 2016 by  
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Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have announced the ‘possible discovery’ of a previously unknown subatomic particle that, if confirmed, could unlock the secrets of dark matter. The discovery would represent a fifth force of nature in the form of a mysterious new particle. Theoretical physicists at UCI now believe the particle, initially theorized by a team of Hungarian researchers last year, could be a newly discovered light particle that adds a fifth component to the four known forces of nature, or even a “grander, more fundamental force” when combined with one of the existing forces. A previous study by experimental nuclear physicists at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences identified an “excess of events” suggesting the existence of a new light particle 30 times heavier than an electron. At the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to explain whether it was a particle capable of transferring force, or simply a matter particle. It wasn’t until the UCI team of theoretical physicists got ahold of the study that discussions about a possible fifth force of nature began to surface. Related: Newly discovered form of spiralized light breaks everything quantum physics says about photons “If true, it’s revolutionary,” said Jonathan Feng, UCI professor of physics & astronomy. “For decades, we’ve known of four fundamental forces: gravitation , electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter.” Instead of being a dark photon , like the Hungarian experimentalists theorized, UCI physicists suggest the particle may be a “protophobic X boson.” Analysis co-author Timothy Tait, professor of physics & astronomy, said, “There’s no other boson that we’ve observed that has this same characteristic. Sometimes we also just call it the ‘X boson,’ where ‘X’ means unknown.” The findings were recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters. + Physical Review Letters Via Phys.org Images via ESA/Hubble & NASA and MTA-Atomki

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