gbrumfiel writes: For decades, researchers have thought they understood how black holes kill. Once you slip beyond the event horizon, the theory goes, gravity grows so strong that it spaghettifies you. But that version of events seems to violate Quantum Mechanics, which says that information must be conserved. NPR reports on the debate surrounding a new theory. The theory suggests that to conserve information, space itself must end at a black hole's edge. Anyone who falls "in" the black hole actually goes splat instead. Their information is carried away in quantum-entangled radiation from the edge of the hole. But is it really a hole if it doesn't have an inside? Discuss.
gbrumfiel writes: For the past two decades, about 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads. Under a program called Megatons to Megawatts, Russian highly-enriched uranium was pulled from old bombs and made into fuel for nuclear reactors. NPR News reports that today, the program concludes, when the last shipment arrives at a storage US storage facility. In all nearly 500 tons of uranium was recycled, enough for roughly 20,000 warheads.
gbrumfiel writes: With just hours to go before a government shutdown, Congress has finally found something it can agree on. Unfortunately, that something isn't a budget: it's helium. the US holds vast helium reserves which it sells to scientists and private industry. According to NPR, a new law was needed to allow the helium to continue to flow. Congress passed it late last week, but only after a year-long lobbying effort and intense debate (and in the end, Senator Ted Cruz opposed the measure). Can a new bipartisanship rise out of this cooperation? Or will hot air prevail on Capitol Hill? *Insert your helium joke here*
gbrumfiel writes: Researchers in France have discovered a the worlds largest virus and given it a terrifying name: Pandoravirus. NPR reports it doesn't pose a threat to people, but its genetic code could hint at an unusual origin. The team believes that the virus may carry the genes from a long-dead branch of the tree of life, one that possibly even started on Mars or somewhere else. Other scientists are skeptical, but everyone agrees that the new giant virus is pretty cool.
gbrumfiel writes: Last week, Google and NASA announced a partnership to buy a new quantum computer from Canadian firm D-Wave Systems. But NPR news reports that many scientists are still questioning whether new machine really is quantum. Long-time critic and computer scientist Scott Aaronson has a long post detailing the current state of affairs. At issue is whether the 512 quantum bits at the processor's core are "entangled" together. Measuring that entanglement directly destroys it, so D-Wave has had a hard time convincing skeptics. As with all things quantum mechanical, the devil is in the details.
gbrumfiel writes: North Korea has not been shy in announcing plans to destroy the United States, but questions remain over whether it has the nukes or the missiles to do so. Now NPR reports on open-source intelligence showing that one of the North's most "advanced" weapons might actually be a decoy. Six KN-08 missiles were paraded last year, but each showed differences in the way they were assembled. Is it all a bluff? Or are the missiles part of a real program?
gbrumfiel writes: "A global network of sensors has picked up faint traces of radioactive gas that probably seeped from last week's underground nuclear test by North Korea. The detection of xenon-133 in Japan and Russia provide further evidence of the nuclear nature of the test, but offer no hint as to the type of weapon used. Atmospheric modelling by the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna shows that the gas likely seeped from North Korea's test site on 15 February, three days after the original test. That indicates that the test was well sealed deep underground."
gbrumfiel writes: "A meteor that exploded over Russia's Chelyabinsk region this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the earth in more than a century, Nature reports. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today's blast released hundreds of kilotonnes of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago, and the largest rock to strike the earth since a meteor broke up over Siberia's Tunguska river in 1908. Despite its incredible power, the rock evaded detection by astronomers. Estimates show it was likely only 15 meters across—too small to be seen by networks searching for near earth asteroids."
gbrumfiel writes: "The proton is behaving badly. When measured with electrons it is 0.87 femtometers in radius, but when measured with muons, the heavier cousin of the electron, it appears to be only 0.84 femtometers. 0.00000000000003 millimetres isn't much, but it's still bigger than the error bars on either measurement. The discrepancy first popped up in 2010, and at the time, most physicists thought that an error would explain it. But new results published in this week's issue of Science (paper, sub required) show the same discrepancy. Worse still, researchers have spent three years looking for a mistake in their equations and come up with zilch. Could it be that muons and electrons interact with protons in a fundamentally different way?"
ananyo writes: "The proton, a fundamental constituent of the atomic nucleus, seems to be smaller than was thought. And despite three years of careful analysis and reanalysis of numerous experiments, nobody can figure out why. An experiment published in Science only deepens the mystery. The proton's problems started in 2010, when research using hydrogen made with muons seemed to show that the particle was 4% smaller than originally thought. The measurement, published in Nature, differed from those obtained by two other methods by 4%, or 0.03 femtometres. That's a tiny amount but is still significantly larger than the error bars on either of the other measurements. The latest experiment also used muonic hydrogen, but probed a different set of energy levels in the atom. It yielded the same result as the Nature paper — a proton radius of 0.84 fm — but is still in disagreement with the earlier two measurements. So what's the problem? There could be a problem with the models used to estimate the proton size from the measurements, but so far, none has been identified. The unlikely but tantalizing alternative is that this is a hint of new physics."
innocent_white_lamb writes: A researcher says that some letters are over valued and some are under-valued in Scrabble, due to recent changes to the lists of allowable words. Z and X are now much easier to play and should be worth less, while U, M and G should be worth more than they are now. Joshua Lewis wrote a program to re-calculate the value of each letter to better reflect the current usage. The co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association says that he often hears criticism of Scrabble's scoring system, but any change would bring about "catastrophic outrage". A spokesman for Mattel says that they have no plans to change the game.
sciencehabit writes: Males sacrifice themselves for the sake of their offspring, whereas females are aggressive attackers. Biologists typically resort to biased language like this to describe sexual cannibalism, a new study concludes. Researchers found, for example, that female sexual cannibals were described with overwhelmingly negative language. Twenty-three of the studies used the words "aggressive" and "attack" to describe female behavior. Other common labels included "predatory," "voracious," and "rapacious." The most typical words for male behavior, meanwhile, were "escape," "sacrifice," and "avoid." These passive words were used to describe even those species in which the males were actively trying to get away. Such stereotypes, the paper's authors argue, could leave scientists in the dark about certain aspects of animal reproduction.