Moon Contains Huge Amounts of Valuable Titanium, Suggests NASA Probe Survey

Forget cheese, the moon is really made put of Titanium. In a joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, the result of the study by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was published. This is not a huge surprise since Russian Luna missions had already informed us that there are many titanium ore rich areas on the Moon.

This is a mosaic made by stitching together nearly 4000 images taken by the LRO over one month. (Courtesy: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre/Arizona State University)

Detecting Titanium

The presence of ilmenite (Ferrous Titanium Oxide FeTiO3  ) can be detected by considering the reflection of light from the surface. Ilmenite has a shiny metallic look along with a brown-pinkish tinge. It also exhibits pleochroism, which means that it has a different color when looked at from different angles.

Pleochroism as shown by Muscovite crystals. Notice the different coloration at different angles (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Many wavelengths all to see the Moon better with

The LRO photographed the moon in seven different wavelengths, including ultraviolet (UV). The effects of weathering on craters show up in much more pronounced detail when viewed in UV. By comparing the reflectance of the Moon’s surface to different wavelengths of light, the LRO can pick out the regions rich in ilmenite.

Anything in it for us? You bet!

This huge abundance of titanium amongst metals (about 10%) on the moon is extremely puzzling, since less than 1% of Earth’s metals is titanium or its compound. This finding will go a long way in understanding the evolution of the moon.

Ilmenite is mined on Earth for titanium. If there is a Lunar Base in the near future, titanium would prove invaluable for building it.

We’re indeed just beginning to understand out nearest celestial neighbor.

British Researchers Look at Lake Ellsworth Under Antarctic Ice For Unknown Life Forms and More

A British team of researchers will be exploring under the Antarctic in a year’s time (December 2012) trying to look at the history of the region and the possibility of the existence of some other form of life. The region of interest is Lake Ellsworth. This mission is expected to find some unknown forms of life and also give hints about the history of the place and what role it can play in the climate of the world in future.

Tents of earlier researchers (Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium)

The Mission Strategy

The strategy is ambitious. The team aims to melt their way through 3km of solid ice that has never thawed in the last 150,000 years at least! They will use hot water at 970C to melt their way through. Given that the ice is way below freezing temperature (00C) and the water is at nearly the boiling point, the burrow should be a clean hole all the way through. The team will then lower 5 m long probes and use several flasks to collect water samples from the buried lake up to the surface. That is not all; they also plan to take up sediment samples from the floor of the lake. All of this will have to be done in a limited amount of time 24 hours estimate experts since the borehole will constantly keep narrowing down.

Map for the Ellsworth region (Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium)

Lake Ellsworth

Lake Ellsworth is a wonder of Nature. It is located about 3 km below the Antarctic ice sheet and covers an area of about 29 km2 (10 km long and 3 kilometers wide), with a depth of 150 m approx. Untouched for 150,000 years (or maybe even a million) it is almost certain that the subglacial lake will contain life-forms (ancient bacterial forms, most likely) that will be absolutely new to humans. The water in the lake is kept in a liquid state due to the high pressure of the ice-layers above it and the heat from geothermal sources located near the place.  Lake Ellsworth is just one of 360 subglacial lakes, the largest being Lake Vostok, which will be explored by a Russian Team soon.

Looking into the past to predict the future

The mission will hope to look into the past response of ice layers to climate changes and this will provide valuable clues to the response of the Antarctic region to rising temperatures. Remember the Antarctic region contains enough ice on land to raise sea-levels world-wide by 4-5m.

The secrets in the sediments shall be uncovered.

Courtesy: Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium

Australia’s Clean Energy Bill To Go Up For Voting In House and Senate; To Put A Price On Carbon

Australia leads many first-world nations in promoting green energy sources and it shows through once more. On 12th October, 2011 (tomorrow), the Australian House of Representatives will be putting the Clean Energy bill up for voting. Once passed, it will go to the Senate for voting. It is expected to be passed by both the House and the Senate and should come into effect by the middle of next year. One of the primary features of the bill is the levying of a carbon tax on carbon emissions.

The Bill

The bill has been a long time in the making. The proposal to place a carbon tax came in the 1990’s. Serious thrust was provided this year, especially since July. September saw a Multi-Party meet on climate change and the committee suggested the way forward. The government was also presented the draft proposal to the public and received an overwhelming response.

The bill’s main focus is to maintain sustainable growth, while reducing the carbon footprint of the nation. The bill proposes to reduce the carbon tonnage by 160 million tonnes a year by the end of 2020. The Australian Govt. acknowledges that the climate is changing globally and this change is primarily driven by humans. The main source of the pollution is carbon and this harms the economy as well. Every government should take action towards a green future.

This should become a lot rarer

The Important Points

Towards the achievement of a green economy, the Govt. plans to take the following steps:

  1. Big polluters will have to pay. There will be charges levied for every tonne of carbon that one puts into the atmosphere. The charges are expected to come in fixed slabs, so if you pollute more, you should be ready to pay disproportionately higher than someone who pollutes less.
  2. Establishment of green industries’ and development of clean energy sources. This will also create jobs and investments. If the big American companies are anything to go by, green industries are doing better than the big polluters like GM or Ford.
  3. Reduce carbon footprint by 160 million tonnes a year by 2020.
  4. Use the money collected from carbon taxes to cut taxes on families and increase pensions.

If all goes well, carbon will have a price on it from 1st July, 2012. The exact pricing mechanism will be worked out in meeting and negotiations. The Australian Govt. is already eyeing 500 polluters who will pay under this scheme. The price will be $23 per tonne initially.

Solar Panels should receive a lot of impetus.

Bravo Australia!

The best news is the bill is expected to pass in both the House and Senate, since both have a majority of Green’s. The fact that this money can be returned to the public in form of increased payments shows just one of the ways in which the word sustainable’ is appropriate.

May be I should wait till tomorrow, but I’ll just say it right now Bravo Australia!

Solar Activity Linked To Extreme Weather Conditions in Europe

The Solar cycle might be related to the heating and cooling of our planet, says a new study. The extreme weather in European winters can be tracked to the dip in solar activity in the recent past, like November-December, 2010, claim British researchers.

Unusually cold winters: The mechanism (Courtesy: Nature)

In their paper  published yesterday (9th October, 2011) in Nature Geoscience, the joint research team at Hadley Centre, Oxford University and the Imperial College argue that the correlation between the two is too strong to be just a coincidence.

The authors hasten to add that the effect is not a global warming or cooling of the Earth. Cool Northern Europe temperatures are compensated by hotter ones down south, thus there is no net temperature change of the Earth, averaged out over a year.

The Mechanism

The team focuses on the UV absorption of the atmosphere by the ozone layer. (Photo above) The ozone in the stratosphere heats up and this effect percolates to the lower atmosphere. This changes the wind pattern across North America and Europe, weakening it and allowing frigid winds from Greenland to flow to the UK and the rest of Europe. This creates cold winters in Europe.

Not quite open-and-shut case

It is not a clear open and shut case, since other factors like the El Nino or the melting sea ice play major roles in creating extremely cold winters in Europe. The data must be significant enough.

The work is not complete and only further data will confirm the measurements taken.

With Revolutionary New Technology, Samsung Promises to Turn Your Window Into An LED Screen

A Revolution in LED fabrication technology has allowed Samsung to paint its own picture of the future.

Samsung has announced a major breakthrough with LED technology. They promise to make ordinary glass screens act as LED screens. They even predict touch sensitive screens made of ordinary glass. The glass panes in windows can double up as entertainment devices, display or even lighting screens.

These should get bigger!

The Breakthrough

The great breakthrough is that the company’s R&D has discovered how to fabricate crystalline Gallium Nitride, the standard wide bandgap semiconductor used for LED screens, on an amorphous glass substrate, rather than crystalline Sapphire substrate.

This breakthrough will also help Samsung develop bigger LED screens at very low prices. Your window screen can function as an LED screen that you can use for advertising, lighting or even watching a movie. Soon you might be able to see entire building lit up, with the windows acting as LED screens. Samsung predicts about a 400 times increase in the size of LEDs available in the market now. A 2 inch LED could swell up to 800 inches!

Imagine electronics added to that, John: Russell Crowe as the eccentric genius John Nash in 'A Beautiful Mind' writing on his office window.

It’s still some time away

The technology is in its infancy, however. Samsung thinks that it could take upto 10 years to make the product commercially available to everyone.  Don’t get excited about the touchscreen promise just yet! There’s a long way to go.

Did Samsung just answer its own question: Next is What?

‘Indisputable Proof’ Of Yeti in Siberia, Claim Local Russian Officials

The fabled abominable Snow Man’ or Yeti’ might be real after all. Local officials in the Russian province of Kemerovo in Western Siberia claim that they have indisputable proof’ of the existence of the Snow Man’.

The Yeti

The Yeti is believed to be a hairy creature, sub-human in characteristics. They are supposedly brutes having great physical strength, but extremely shy to show themselves to the outside world. North America has its own version of the legend Big Foot.

One of the most famous 'photos' of the Big Foot

The Yeti was famed to inhabit the Himalayas, but there were also some people who believed that Russia too has its indigenous population of the shy, but feared unknown creatures. The Kemerovo region also seems to be a perfect hide-out for the creatures, if you believe the myth surrounding them. The region is sparsely populated and is under snow for long periods of the year. The region is important for coal and metal mining.

The ‘Indisputable Proof’

As proof’ the artifacts presented were his footprints (photos), the apparent nest made by the Snow Man and other articles believed to be territory markers. They have even submitted hair samples that are supposed to belong to the Yeti.

A 'direct photo' of the Yeti.

There is going to be a special research cell to study the Yeti. Their observations will be noted in a special journal dedicated to the Snow Man. Only after a detailed study can the claims be validated or rubbished.

There have been previous claims of the existence of the Snow Man from various parts of the world, especially from the Himalayas. There have even been direct photographs, but nothing has been confirmed as yet. These could have been fakes or been some other creature.

Officially, the Yeti is still a mysterious creature and merely stuff of legends.

Get The LHC On Your Android Phone, Thanks to Oxford University

Now, you can participate in the unraveling of the greatest mysteries ever on your Android phone. Oxford University has come up with a Large Hadron Collider (LHC) app for Android mobiles. The app is nicely named LHSee’ and gives the user a nice chance to explore the Large Hadron Collider in full 3D glory and detail. You can download the app here.

So, the Higgs Boson particle is still elusive and the LHC is hot in pursuit of the mysterious Boson. Not that you can do much about that sitting at home (or maybe you can donate you’re your computer’s processing power to CERN), but you can certainly get a sense of what is going on at the LHC on a regular basis.

Not as easy as Angry Birds

The bad news is that the details are really involved and you’ll probably take some time to take in everything. The Oxford bundle comes with a host of educational resources, besides the simulation. You’ll be able to learn more about ATLAS, one of the premier detectors at the LHC. It even has a game Hunt the Higgs, which we hope will become as popular as Angry Birds. So, while the LHC is busy colliding protons at monumental energies, you’ll be challenged with picking up the different proton-proton collisions from the jumbled mess. If you spot the Higgs, do give yourself a pat on the back.

Check out the official Oxford University site here:  http://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/about-us/outreach/public/lhsee

CERN’s huge LHC now comes in your phone. That’s another reason for a physicist to buy an Android phone, if you don’t already have one.  The biggest search in the history of humanity now occurs on your phone. Feel proud about that! High energy physics has never been this much fun!

Download link from Android market again:  https://market.android.com/details?id=com.lhsee

Physics Nobel Prize, 2011, Awarded To Cosmology Team For Observing Acceleration of Universe Expansion

The Physics Nobel goes to Cosmology Team for their observation of the accelerating expansion of the Universe. This led to the hypothesis of Dark Energy. Names of winners follow.

Physics Nobel is the most prestigious Nobel, feel many, especially since Alfred Nobel himself mentioned it first in his will. The fascination with Physics Nobel winners of the last century is understandable, given the huge names, which would’ve still been big without the Nobel. For 2011, the forerunners of the Nobel seem to be Alain Aspect (famous for his Aspect Experiment on the EPR effect), John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger.

Quantum Physics has been the dominant buzz word surrounding this year’s prize. The other contenders include Yakir Aharanov (one half of the Aharanov-Bohm effect duo) and Micheal Berry (of Berry Phase fame). The dark horse in the race has been the neutrino team. The Nobel might go to experimental team looking to verify and measure neutrino oscillations. Arnold McDonald at SNOlab along with two Japanese physicists from the Super Kamiokande experiment.

And the Winner Is …

The 2011  Physics Nobel Prize goes to Saul Perlmutter (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley), Prof. Brian Schmidt (High Z Supernova search team, Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australia) and Prof. Adam Reiss (High Z Supernova search team, Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australia). While Permutter got half the Prize, the other half went jointly to Schmidt and Reiss.  The citation reads “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”.

The Universe was supposed to slow down according the General Theory of Relativity. The observation by Schmidt and Reiss confirmed that the Universe is not only expanding, but also accelerating.

A webcast from the Nobel Committee in Sweden is to follow. Here’s the webcast link:

The Chemistry Nobel Prize winner will be announced tomorrow. The prizes will be given out on the 10th of December.
Below is a small animation explaining the 2011 Physics Nobel with narration by Sean Carroll, Caltech Physicist. Enjoy

Most Complex, Most Expensive Ground Telescope Captures A Stunning Photo Of Colliding Galaxies

The world’s most complex ground telescope is finally in operation and it just snapped a stunner! The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA) finally opened on the 30th of September and the following is the first photo that it showed the world.

The ALMA returned this image of the Antenna Galaxies. (Courtesy: ESO, NAOJ, NRAO)

The photo is that of the Antenna Galaxies, two galaxies which are colliding with each other. They are known by their catalog names as NGC 4038 and 4039. The photo has been combined with the photo of the same galaxies in the optical range obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope to give the following photo.

The Antenna Galaxies as seen when millimeter and visible light information is combined into a single photo. (Courtesy: ESO, NAOJ, NRAO, NASA/JPL)

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)

The millimeter and submillimeter capabilities of ALMA mean that it can look at cold objects in space that don’t radiate in the visible or infrared range. It can also pick up radiowave radiation filtering out of dust clouds that block the optical radiation.

The ALMA telescopes, when it was in its test phase. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The Logo

The ALMA is an array of 12 meter radio telescopes that sit on the fringe of the Atacama desert at an elevation of 5000 meters (16,500 feet) in Chajnantor plateau in Norther Chile. What is it good for? It offers a window to the very early Universe. Precious little is known about that epoch and ALMA hopes to expand that immensely. It can catch radiation from sources which are about a thousand times colder than the Sun.

Right now, the ALMA has 19 telescopes in the array. In another year or two (hopefully by the end of 2013), this number will be increased to 66. ALMA is currently booked for the next nine months at least. There have been huge excitement in the astronomy community and as soon as it opened, there have been as many as 900 applications for using it. In the next nine months, ALMA can fit in only about a hundred.

ALMA is funded by European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Europe, National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in North America. Funding has also come from National Research Council in Canada and National Science Council in Taiwan. The total cost of the array at the moment is over US$ 1 billion. This is the most expensive ground based telescope array ever. It is also the most complex.

The beginning has been great! The image is stunning and it is getting everyone’s attention. The next one year should yield lots of scientific riches.

Princeton Team Creates Plastic “Flying Carpet”

It is Arabian Nights recreated, but not quite. A team of researchers at Princeton has come up with a plastic, which remains suspended when a current of particular frequency is passed through it. Piezoelectric actuators and sensors respond to the electrical signals and send ripples across the entire surface of the thin sheet, displacing air pockets right beneath it. This allows the sheet to float. Synchronized vibrations can push these air pockets from the front to the back of the sheet, allowing propulsion.

The Flying Carpet Contraption

The “Flying” Carpet

The Flying Carpet’ has been designed by a graduate student at Princeton Mr. Noah Jafferis. He says that he was inspired by a mathematical paper he read, which was written by Harvard professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan.

The propulsion is also inspired by the way stingrays move in the water. They create ripples through their flattened bodies in a manner so as to displace water in a particular direction. The reaction force propels the rays in the opposite direction.

More Work to be Done!

There are problems though. The plastic sheet bends too much at high frequencies. Nevertheless Jafferis has already assigned himself a new project. To build such a thing powered by solar cells. This current model uses heavy batteries, which are kept on the table and connected to the sheet by wires. Thus, the plastic can hardly move more than a few centimeters. Further, the speed is pretty slow at 1 cm/s. Jafferis wants to go to upto as high as 1 m/s.

In the paper that they published Applied Physics Letters, Jafferis and team consciously put flying’ within double-quotes, indicating that it is not really a flying object, just a hovering one.

As for applications, there may be many. Right now, people are just concentrating on building this fascinating thing. It’s still a long way from the fast flying magical carpets we’re so used to seeing in the cartoons.