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  1. At the end of its life, our Sun could end up as a crystal—and physicists now have observational evidence to back up that theory. Scientists have predicted that as white dwarfs cool, they can crystallize in a phase transition somewhat like water freezing into ice. New research from scientists in the UK, U.S., and Canada provides evidence of this transition in a survey of nearby white dwarfs. This is especially interesting to us because, as we’ve reported, scientists predict that our own Sun’s fate is to become a white dwarf. White dwarfs are small, faint, and incredibly dense stars, the result of stars like the Sun running out of the fuel that powers their nuclear fusion. They have masses around that of the Sun but are only around the size of the Earth. They consist of a densely packed plasma of atoms and their electrons. The electrons are forbidden from sharing exact states by the rules of quantum mechanics, so they exert a pressure that keeps the stars from collapsing. Though they’re plasmas, scientists have long predicted that these squished atoms should eventually crystallize, beginning at the stars’ centers. There’s been indirect observation of the crystallization, but scientists now claim to have observed the process directly. They describe their findings in a paper published in Nature. Models suggest that when white dwarfs crystallize, they release heat in order to enter the lower-energy phase, the way heat energy leaves water as it freezes into ice. This would slow down the star’s cooling, an effect that scientists can observe directly. The team analyzed a catalog of 15,109 white dwarf candidates within 100 parsecs (326 light-years) of our Sun using data from the Gaia satellite. And indeed, they found a “pile-up” of stars at certain locations along a plot of color versus brightness. That’s evidence of stars going through the phase transition from plasma to crystal, according to the paper. Obviously, this is dependent on modeling, and perhaps other explanations could explain the data better. But it’s exciting stuff—this would imply that many white dwarfs could be older than scientists thought, since the crystallization slows the aging process. And one day our Sun, too, may be a beautiful crystal ball. And we’ll be dead. Source
  2. New Discovery The galactic nuclei known as quasars are unfathomably bright celestial objects powered by supermassive black holes.. Now, astronomers using some of the most advanced terrestrial and space telescopes in existence think they’ve discovered the brightest quasar ever observed in the early universe — one that shines with the power of 600 trillion Suns. “We don’t expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe,” lead investigator Xiaohui Fan, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. Bright Boy The new quasar is a distant 12.8 light-years away, and the team spotted it using equipment including the Keck Observatory, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, and the Hubble. Fan and his collaborators were only able to detect the quasar, they said, because a galaxy came between it and the Earth — meaning that an effect called gravitational lensing could magnify its light substantially. Phantom Quasar The discovery of the quasar — which has the long-winded name J043947.08+163415.7 — isn’t just notable because of its epic light projection. It’s also a big deal because it provides a window into how huge black holes affected star formation during the early universe. Additionally, it confirms a suspicion long held by astrophysicists and could help guide future research. “This detection is a surprising and major discovery; for decades we thought that these lensed quasars in the early universe should be very common, but this is the first of its kind that we have found,” said Fabio Pacucci, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University who helped discover the new quasar. “It gives us a clue on how to search for ‘phantom quasars’ — sources that are out there, but cannot be really detected yet.” source
  3. Ever since the 1950s discovery of the solar wind – the constant flow of charged particles from the sun – there’s been a stark disconnect between this outpouring and the sun itself. As it approaches Earth, the solar wind is gusty and turbulent. But near the sun where it originates, this wind is structured in distinct rays, much like a child’s simple drawing of the sun. The details of the transition from defined rays in the corona, the sun’s upper atmosphere, to the solar wind have been, until now, a mystery. Using NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, scientists have for the first time imaged the edge of the sun and described that transition, where the solar wind starts. Defining the details of this boundary helps us learn more about our solar neighborhood, which is bathed throughout by solar material – a space environment that we must understand to safely explore beyond our planet. A paper on the findings was published in The Astrophysical Journal on Sept. 1, 2016. Video: Snapshots from the Edge of the Sun Views of the solar wind from NASA's STEREO spacecraft (left) and after computer processing (right). Scientists used an algorithm to dim the appearance of bright stars and dust in images of the faint solar wind. This innovation enabled them to see the transition from the corona to the solar wind. It also gives us the first video of the solar wind itself in a previously unmapped region. “Now we have a global picture of solar wind evolution,” said Nicholeen Viall, a co-author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is really going to change our understanding of how the space environment develops.” Both near Earth and far past Pluto, our space environment is dominated by activity on the sun. The sun and its atmosphere are made of plasma – a mix of positively and negatively charged particles which have separated at extremely high temperatures, that both carries and travels along magnetic field lines. Material from the corona streams out into space, filling the solar system with the solar wind. But scientists found that as the plasma travels further away from the sun, things change: The sun begins to lose magnetic control, forming the boundary that defines the outer corona – the very edge of the sun. “As you go farther from the sun, the magnetic field strength drops faster than the pressure of the material does,” said Craig DeForest, lead author of the paper and a solar physicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Eventually, the material starts to act more like a gas, and less like a magnetically structured plasma.” The breakup of the rays is similar to the way water shoots out from a squirt gun. First, the water is a smooth and unified stream, but it eventually breaks up into droplets, then smaller drops and eventually a fine, misty spray. The images in this study capture the plasma at the same stage where a stream of water gradually disintegrates into droplets. Before this study, scientists hypothesized that magnetic forces were instrumental to shaping the edge of the corona. However, the effect has never previously been observed because the images are so challenging to process. Twenty million miles from the sun, the solar wind plasma is tenuous, and contains free-floating electrons which scatter sunlight. This means they can be seen, but they are very faint and require careful processing. In order to resolve the transition zone, scientists had to separate the faint features of the solar wind from the background noise and light sources over 100 times brighter: the background stars, stray light from the sun itself and even dust in the inner solar system. In a way, these images were hiding in plain sight. Images of the corona fading into the solar wind are crucial pieces of the puzzle to understanding the whole sun, from its core to the edge of the heliosphere, the region of the sun’s vast influence. With a global perspective, scientists can better understand the large-scale physics at this critical region, which affect not only our planet, but also the entire solar system. Such observations from the STEREO mission – which launched in 2006 – also help inform the next generation of sun-watchers. In 2018, NASA is scheduled to launch the Solar Probe Plus mission, which will fly into the sun’s corona, collecting more valuable information on the origin and evolution of the solar wind. STEREO is the third mission in NASA Heliophysics Division’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program, which is managed by Goddard for the Science Mission Directorate, in Washington, D.C. Article source
  4. Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, gas giant, and subject of the Juno mission, is huge. Huge. It's so huge, in fact, that it doesn't actually orbit the sun. Not exactly. With 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets in the solar system combined, it's big enough that the center of gravity between Jupiter and the sun doesn't actually reside inside the sun — rather, at a point in space just above the sun's surface. Here's how that works. When a small object orbits a big object in space, the less massive one doesn't really travel in a perfect circle around the larger one. Rather, both objects orbit a combined center of gravity. In situations we're familiar with — like Earth orbiting the much-larger sun — the center of gravity resides so close to the center of the larger object that the impact of this phenomenon is negligible. The bigger object doesn't seem to move, and the smaller one draws a circle around it. But reality is always more complicated. For example: When the International Space Station (ISS) orbits the Earth, both the Earth and the space station orbit their combined center of gravity. But that center of gravity is so absurdly close to the center of the Earth that the planet's motion around the point is impossible to spot — and the ISS describes a near-perfect circle around the whole planet. The same truth holds when most planets orbit the sun. Sol is just so much larger than Earth, Venus, Mercury, or even Saturn that their centers of mass with the sun all lie deep within the star itself. Not so with Jupiter. The gas giant is so big that its center of mass with the sun, or barycenter, actually lies 1.07 solar radii from the middle of the sun — or 7% of a sun-radius above the sun's surface. Both the Sun and Jupiter orbit around that point in space. This not-to-scale gif from NASA illustrates the effect: That is, in essence, how Jupiter and the sun move through space together — though the distances and sizes are far different. Jupiter is still only a fraction of the sun's size. But next time someone asks you for a crazy space fact you'll know: Jupiter is so massive, it doesn't orbit the sun. Article source
  5. Java Tops TIOBE’s Programming Language Popularity Index, Assembly Makes An Entry TIOBE’s Programming Language Popularity Index Sees A New Top 10 Language: Assembly Programming language popularity tracker, TIOBE has released its latest index for July. Java continues to remain the most popular programming language among codes followed by C and C++. Java got an approval rating of 19.804 % followed by C with 12.238 % while C++ came in third at 6.311 %. Python and C# continue to hang in there with a slight downtick in their popularity. Java’s popularity rose at 2.08 percent while C and C++ have a little worry as their popularity shrank at -3.91 % and -2.33 %respectively. PHP, the programming language of choice among web applications developers made it to the top 5, while C# slid from the top 5. The biggest surprise however, is the jump in popularity of Assembly. Assembly, a low-level programming language has broken into top 10 for the first time. It might come as a surprise that the lowest level programming language that exists has re-entered the TIOBE index top 10. Why would anyone write code at such a low level, being far less productive if compared to using any other programming language and being vulnerable to all kinds of programming mistakes? The only satisfactory answer is machine learning and Internet of Things use Assembly language. For the uninitiated, Assembly programming language or asm, is a low-level programming language for a computer, or other programmable device, in which there is a very strong (generally one-to-one) correspondence between the language and the architecture’s machine code instructions. Assembly language is converted into executable machine code by a utility program referred to as an assembler. The conversion process is referred to as assembly, or assembling the source code. Assembly time is the computational step where an assembler is run. The only reasonable explanation for this is that the number of very small devices that are only able to run assembly code is increasing. Even your toothbrush or coffee machine are running assembly code nowadays. Another reason for adoption is performance. If performance is key, nobody can beat assembly code. Looks like machine learning and Internet of Things is a history in making. Source
  6. While scientists are frantically trying to track down the hypothetical Planet Nine that's thought to be making its unusual orbit around the Sun, there's a chance our Solar System could have once played host to an equally intriguing and mysterious planet a very long time ago. Now new evidence suggests that it's entirely possible that our Solar System used to contain a super-Earth – a class of large planets with up to 10 times the mass of Earth, but smaller than the giant planets that orbit our Sun. Our Solar System is a bit unusual in that it doesn't contain a super-Earth, as they're very common throughout the Milky Way, and the researchers have an idea about why it doesn't: the super-Earth, if it existed, could have strayed too close to the Sun and fallen into it. If they're right, the hypothesis could also explain why the region of space within the orbit of Mercury – the planet closest to the Sun – is so bare. The super-Earth, on its way to being consumed by the Sun, would have collected all the space debris and cosmic matter on its one-way ticket into oblivion. "The only (physical) evidence that super-Earths could have formed in our Solar System is the lack of anything in that region, not even a rock," astrophysicist Rebecca Martin from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas told Elizabeth Howell at Discovery News. "So they could have formed there sweeping up all of the solid material, but then later fell into the sun." In an effort to understand why our Solar System doesn't feature any super-Earths, Martin and fellow researcher used computers to simulate how these massive worlds take shape. They can form in one of two ways: either close to the sun in their solar system, in which case they become very dense, or far out from their stars, which makes them less dense. If a super-Earth did exist in our Solar System, it could have formed within a protoplanetary disk – all the gas and rocky debris that surrounds a star. Depending on the conditions within the disk, a 'dead zone' with little or no friction can see these chunks of matter start to clump together, potentially giving birth to new planets. "The size of the dead zone must be large enough that it lasts for the entire disk lifetime," said Martin. "Since different systems may have different dead zone sizes, formation in the inner parts may not be possible in all systems and thus both formation locations may be operating." And with enough gravity, a newly formed planet taking shape so close to its host star could well be sucked into it, leaving a sparse region of freshly swept space behind it. "If the disc is sufficiently cool, the migration timescale for them to fall into the Sun is short enough for this to happen in the lifetime of the disk," said Martin. There's no way of telling right now whether the hypothesis is right, but it's a fascinating idea – and it's possible that future research might one day be able to solve the mystery. The findings are to be published in The Astrophysical Journal. source
  7. By Ian O'Neill Feb 14, 2014 03:20 PM ET A selection of pages from "Harmonia Macrocsmica" by Andreas Cellarius, printed in 1708 depicting the Copernican sun-centered (heliocentric) system of the universe. Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus discovered that the Earth orbits the sun way back in the 16th century. Dear Science Communication Professionals: We have a problem. Earlier this month, the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham creationism “debate” received a disproportionate amount of press coverage. Considering that there really is no debate to be had when it comes to the science of evolution, for bad or for worse, Nye faced a hostile audience at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. He hoped to score some scientific points against Ham’s literal translation of the Bible and his absurd assertion that the world was created in 6 days and that the universe is 6,000 years old. In my opinion, (an opinion shared by other science communicators), the Nye vs. Ham debate did little for science outreach. It was all about who sounded more convincing and only gave creationists some free advertising. And then, today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) delivered news of a pretty shocking poll result: around one in four Americans (yes, that's 25 percent) are unaware that the Earth orbits the sun. Let’s repeat that: One in four Americans — that represents one quarter of the population — when asked probably the most basic question in science (except, perhaps, “Is the Earth flat?” Hint: No.), got the answer incorrect. Suddenly I realized why the Nye vs. Ham debate was so popular. But wait! I hear you cry, perhaps the NSF poll was flawed? Perhaps the poll sample was too small? Sadly not. The NSF poll, which is used to gauge U.S. scientific literacy every year, surveyed 2,200 people who were asked 10 questions about physical and biological sciences. On average, the score was 6.5 out of 10 -- barely a passing grade. But for me personally, the fact that 26 percent of the respondents were unaware the Earth revolves around the sun shocked me to the core. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of the U.S. education system? Perhaps this is just an anomaly; a statistical blip? But then, like the endless deluge of snow that is currently choking the East Coast, another outcome of the same poll appeared on the foggy horizon of scientific illiteracy: The majority of young Americans think astrology is a science. What the what? Have I been transported back to the Dark Ages? Astrology, of course, is not a science; it is a spiritual belief system at best and at worst a pseudoscience driven by charlatans and the tabloid press. The positions of the stars and planets in the sky do not affect my mood and my horoscope has little bearing on the kind of person I am. Even in China, one of the birthplaces of astrology, 92 percent of the people know that astrology is bunk. Really America, get your act together. Unfortunately, if we are to use the “Is astrology a science?” as a litmus test for scientific literacy, things are looking grim. In 2004, 66 percent of the American public said astrology was bunk. Every year since then, that majority has slipped. By 2012, only 55 percent of Americans considered astrology “not at all scientific.” Probably of most concern is the fact that only 42 percent of young respondents aged between 18-24 said astrology is “not at all scientific.” But there is a small glimmer of hope. According to the same NSF poll, the vast majority of Americans seem to love science. Although they returned woeful test results, it seems America is hungry to learn about science and think that science funding is essential for the well-being of the nation. But I’m now concerned about what America thinks science really is, especially in light of that astrology result. Also, just because the U.S. public wants to learn, can they find the institutions that will actually teach real science? Schools across the nation are currently facing the unthinkable notion of teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classrooms. The fact that religion is given the same standing as science is not only absurd, it's a fundamental institutional failing where children (who may be excited to learn about science) will grow up with a second-rate education, neglecting decades of scientific knowledge in favor of pseudo-scientific religious agendas. For a nation that prides itself on science and discovery, it will be a tragedy on a national scale if fundamental science is undercut by superstition and the bad policies it inspires. You can read detailed results of the NSF poll here (PDF). http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/1-in-4-americans-dont-know-earth-orbits-the-sun-yes-really-140214.htm
  8. Apple on Tuesday was awarded a new patent titled “Electronic device display module” that describes a MacBook laptop that would have solar charging abilities as well a secondary, touch-friendly display, AppleInsider reports. Interestingly, the secondary display would be placed on the rear side of the laptop’s main screen, and would offer users access to touch controls, while also housing the device’s solar panels and the company’s iconic logo found on all Mac models. The two-sided display may be built using a combination of materials including metal, ceramic, fiber composites and glass. Electrochromic glass may be used in order to allow light to pass through the rear display, but also to display a logo, a small LCD display and capacitive sensors for touch input. The display could include additional sensors including optical and acoustic, and the combined array would let the users perform various actions such as unlocking a magnetic latch mechanism, control media and other software on the laptop. The rear glass may be translucent or transparent, with the latter option allowing the light to pass through and reach photo voltaic cells that may be placed between the two screens for solar battery charging needs. While the existence of this patent doesn’t guarantee that future MacBook models will offer such features, it further proves Apple’s growing interest in solar power use. The company has many other patents describing ways of charging computers and mobile devices in such a manner, with an analyst expecting future iPhones to pack a sapphire glass display that would include photovoltaic cells. Furthermore, Apple has increased the battery life of its MacBook laptops from generation to generation by using less power-hungry components and optimizing the Mac’s operating system. Source
  9. DesertLoner

    The sun welcomes new year

    The sun ushered out 2013 and welcomed 2014 with two mid-level flares on Dec. 31, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2014. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours. To see how this event may impact Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. The first flare was categorized as an M6.4 and it peaked at 4:58 p.m EST on Dec. 31. The second (above) was categorized as an M9.9 and peaked at 1:52 p.m. EST on Jan. 1. Both flares emerged from the same active region on the sun, AR1936. Imagery of the flares was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, collecting new data every 12 seconds. Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113038342/two-solar-flares-welcome-the-new-year-010314/#fKxl6BW4iZkVqR2S.99
  10. The solar storms that interrupt terrestrial and satellite radio signals, interfering with cell phones and other technologies, have been precisely observed by scientists for the first time. They have also successfully predicted the exact impact times of observed solar storms on Earth, possibly laying the groundwork for avoiding future radio communications and power outages. Using high-res photographs from two spacecraft in tandem with radio burst detecting antennae, scientists at Trinity College Dublin, University College London and the University of Hawaii gained the necessary insight into the fundamental physics of solar storms for predicting the impact times. The results were published in Nature Physics. When a solar storm occurs, the explosions cause electrons to race through space so fast that they create their own radio waves, which accounts for many “randomly” dropped cell phone calls. The same phenomenon can also cause massive power outages, depending on the intensity, as well as the spectacular sight of the Northern Lights. NASA’s STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft were the two Earth orbiters that delivered the images. They collected the images from multiple locations, which allowed the scientists to extrapolate 3D renderings for use in the study. They collated the data using antennae in a “radio-quiet” region of Ireland. SOURCE
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