Archive for July, 2010

Will Climate Change Really Spur Mass Migrations of Mexicans to the U.S.?

By Andrew Moseman | July 27, 2010 4:35 pm

MexicanFarmEvery time governments fail to take serious steps on climate change, it seems the parlor game of predicting what our warmer world will look like heats up. And the newest of those predictions, appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pokes at what is presently one of the country’s most sensitive spots: immigration.

Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton published a study that estimates that between 1.4 and 6.7 million people could become climate refugees emigrating from rural Mexico to the United States between now and 2080. That’s 2 to 10 percent of the present Mexican population, and it doesn’t include people who would make the move for other reasons.

Is it a major concern? Yes. How much stock should you put in those statistics? Not much.

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Titan's Shrinking Lake Shows Earth-Like Seasons Elsewhere in the Solar System

By Joseph Calamia | July 27, 2010 2:44 pm

663px-Cassini-OntarioLacus-Lake Ontario has some key differences compared to her equally-sized sister lake, Ontario Lacus:  The Great Lake has water; Ontario Lacus has methane, ethane, and propane. The Great Lake invites sunbathers; Lacus’ beaches, almost ten times further from the sun, are icy cold. The Great Lake is located on Earth; Lacus on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Despite all these distinctions, new research points to an important similarity: liquid levels in both lakes change with the seasons.

From June 2005 to July 2009, the Ontario Lacus shoreline has receded by about 6 miles, Alexander G. Hayes and his coauthors report in two papers submitted to Icarus and the Journal of Geophysical Research. Looking at other lakes in Titan’s southern hemisphere, it seems they are dropping in depth by about three feet per year.

Despite its shoreline’s rapid retreat, there is little worry that Ontario Lacus and other Titan lakes will disappear forever. Scientists expect that the evaporation is just part of a cycle of evaporation and condensation, that changes with the seasons. The four years of observation, carried out by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, represents only the period from about mid-summer to fall, since a Titan year lasts 29.5 Earth years.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space

Gvmt Makes It Legal to JailBreak iPhones, Takes Other Steps to Limit Copyrights

By Andrew Moseman | July 27, 2010 1:26 pm

iphone-webEvery three years the Librarian of Congress reviews the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and James H. Billington’s review just expanded digital freedom with this year’s ruling of new exemptions to the copyright law.

Jailbreak that iPhone

First and foremost, Billington ruled that it’s not against the law to jailbreak a phone (the practice of working around the device’s security system and taking more direct control of it). The Electronic Frontier Foundation lobbied hard for this, particularly with the iPhone in mind. Because Apple keeps tight reins on the device—offering only AT&T phone service and acting as gatekeeper for what apps can be added—many people had taken to jailbreaking the phone.

About 4 million iPhone and iPod Touch units had been jailbroken as of last August, and were accessing apps from a sort of black-market storefront called Cydia, the marketplace’s founder told Wired. The store is a haven for many developers that Apple, the gatekeeper to its App Store, has ignored or turned away [Los Angeles Times].

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New Revelations From Particle Colliders Past, Present & Future

By Joseph Calamia | July 27, 2010 1:03 pm

lhc-tunnelParticle physicists hunting for the Higgs boson reported their latest findings yesterday at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Paris. The big two–Europe’s Large Hadron Collider and Fermilab’s Tevatron Collider (in Illinois)–gave updates, and other conference buzz included talk of a new facility, the International Linear Collider, which may one day give physicists a cleaner look at the other colliders’ results.

Large Hadron Collider — More Detailed Models Help the Search

Currently operating at 7  Tera electron Volts (TeV), the Large Hadron Collider is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. Though electrical malfunctions hindered the collider in 2008, now LHC scientists report that they have made up for lost time: finding in months, what took the Tevatron, with its 2 TeV collisions, decades.

“The scientific community thought it would take one, maybe two years to get to this level, but it happened in three months,” said Guy Wormser, a top French physicist and chairman of the conference.[AFP]

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Study: The Brains of Storytellers And Their Listeners Actually Sync Up

By Andrew Moseman | July 27, 2010 10:30 am

BrainYou may be talking and I may be listening, but our brains look strikingly similar.

That’s the conclusion of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. After conducting brain scans of a woman telling a story off the cuff and then of 11 people listening to a recording of her, researchers Greg Stephens and Uri Hasson say they found that the same parts of the brains showed activation at the same time, suggesting a deep connection between talker and listener.

Graduate student Lauren Silbert was the team’s storytelling guinea pig. She recounted tales of high school, like deciding whom to take to prom, while undergoing an fMRI scan.

As Silbert spoke about her prom experience, the same areas lit up in her brain as in the brains of her listeners. In most brain regions, the activation pattern in the listeners’ brains came a few seconds after that seen in Silbert’s brain. But a few brain areas, including one in the frontal lobe, actually lit up before Silbert’s, perhaps representing listeners’ anticipating what she was going to say next, the team says [ScienceNOW].

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Kepler's Early Results Suggest Earth-Like Planets Are Dime-a-Dozen

By Andrew Moseman | July 26, 2010 4:53 pm

KeplerCraftAlthough some publications glossed over the uncertainty in announcing the first findings of the planet-hunting Kepler mission, researchers say the overall point remains true: Earth-like planets (meaning that they’re small and rocky, not that they have aliens writing blogs about science) are not only not rare–they’re the most common type of planet in our galaxy.

The first intimations of this news came out a few days ago in reports like the Daily Mail’s, which blared that NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission had found 140 new planets that were like the Earth in size, and that worlds like our own could dominate the Milky Way. That claim came after a presentation now available to view online by one of the scientists behind Kepler, Harvard’s Dimitar Sasselov.

But Sasselov and colleagues responded to, trying to quell some of the excitement–or at least hedge on the exact magnitude of the find:

“What Dimitar presented was ‘candidates,'” said David Koch, the mission’s deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “These have the apparent signature we are looking for, but then we must perform extensive follow-up observations to eliminate false positives, such as background eclipsing binaries. This requires substantial amounts of ground-based observing which is done primarily in the summer observing season” []

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MORE ABOUT: exoplanets, Kepler

Couple Charged With Stealing General Motor's Hybrid Secrets

By Joseph Calamia | July 26, 2010 3:44 pm

voltA lucrative new car market, a former General Motors employee, and a dumpster with shredded documents. According to a federal court indictment (pdf) released on Thursday, these may be a recipe for hybrid car espionage. A former GM employee and her husband–Shanshan Du and Yu Qin–stand accused of shuttling secrets out of the American automobile company and attempting to provide design information to a Chinese competitor.

Earth2Tech reports that as hybrids become a bigger part of the automotive landscape, they’re also the cause of more legal fights, including recent legal battles over hybrid technology patents involving Ford and Toyota.

According to Australia-based IP law firm Griffith Hack, filings for patents covering hybrid technology have been “increasing roughly exponentially” across much of the industry in the last few years, although the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index from intellectual property law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti suggests a more gradual climb.[Earth2Tech]

General Motors values the stolen secrets at over $40 million and suspects that Du started loading documents onto a hard drive after the company offered her a severance package in January 2005.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

It's Alive! NASA Test-Drives Its New Hulking Mars Rover, Curiosity

By Andrew Moseman | July 26, 2010 12:00 pm

NASA’s next Mars rover took its first tiny test drive at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Friday. If all goes well, it will be en route to the Red Planet by late next year on a mission to look for environments that could have once harbored life.

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, now christened “Curiosity,” received its key parts this month:

Spacecraft technicians and engineers attached the Curiosity rover’s neck and head (called the Remote Sensing Mast) to its body, and mounted two navigation cameras (Navcams), two mast cameras (Mastcam) and the laser-toting chemistry camera (ChemCam). Curiosity was also sporting a new set of six aluminum wheels, each about 20 inches (about half a meter) in diameter, as it took its first drive on Earth. The large rover now stands at about 7 feet (2 meters) tall [MSNBC].

With its major pieces attached, Curiosity is about the size of an SUV. It dwarfs the overachieving Spirit and Opportunity rovers that have been on the martian surface since 2004. JPL scientists broadcast a live feed of the rover’s first roll back and forth.

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Boat Made of Recycled Plastic Bottles Completes Its 9,000-Mile Voyage

By Andrew Moseman | July 26, 2010 9:57 am

PlastikiAfter floating on plastic for more than 9,000 miles, the crew of the Plastiki arrived in Sydney, Australia today, more than four months after the ship set sail from San Francisco.

The boat of 12,500 bottles was the brainchild of David de Rothschild, who sought a way to bring more of the world’s attention to the problem of discarded plastic bottles and their tendency to wind up in the ocean.

He figured a good way to prove that trash can be effectively reused was to use some of it to build a boat. The Plastiki … is fully recyclable and gets its power from solar panels and windmills. The boat is almost entirely made up of bottles, which are held together with an organic glue made of sugar cane and cashews, but includes other materials too. The mast, for instance, is recycled aluminum irrigation pipe [AP].

The crew of six spent their four-month voyage cramped together in the catamaran’s cabin, taking showers in salt water, and eating dehydrated food. But they didn’t leave all the comforts at home behind. The team’s filmmaker managed to get a Skype connection at sea, which he used to witness the birth of his first child.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
MORE ABOUT: ocean, plastic

Another Win for Quantum Mechanics: Passing the Triple-Slit Test

By Joseph Calamia | July 23, 2010 3:26 pm

rippleTo test the basics of quantum theory, physicists recently pulled out an antique. In a paper published today in Science, they confirmed a staple of quantum mechanics, using a test derived from a classic nineteenth century light experiment.

In particular, the researchers questioned how particles move through three slits, something previously too difficult to measure. They found that the particles behaved just like quantum theory–or more specifically the Born Rule–would have predicted.

As physicist Chad Orzel describes in his blog, that’s bad news for theorists hoping to tweak this rule to solve Nobel Prize-worthy problems related to quantum gravity or Grand Unifying Theories.

[The study is good news if] you’re the ghost of Max Born, or the author of an introductory quantum book…. This was disappointing news for some theorists, though, as there are a number of ways to approach problems … that would require some modification of the Born rule. [Uncertain Principles]

But how did they do it?

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