- 2015 – January
Distant exoplanet hosts giant ring system
Astronomers say they have discovered a planet with a gigantic ring system that is 200 times larger than that around Saturn.
It is the first such structure detected around a planet beyond our Solar System.
The researchers say there are probably more than 30 rings, each measuring tens of millions of kilometres in diameter.
The rings were found in data gathered by the SuperWASP observatory, which can detect exoplanets as they cross in front of their parent stars, causing the light from them to dim.
In this case, the astronomers saw a complex series of deep eclipses lasting for 56 days. They think this is caused by a planet with a giant ring system blocking out light as it passes in front of the star J1407.
“The light curve from end-to-end took about two months, but we could see very rapid changes in the space of one night,” lead author Dr Matthew Kenworthy, from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, told BBC News.
“Over a time of half an hour, the star can dim by 30 or 40%.”
If Saturn’s rings were the same size as those around J1407b, they would be easily visible from Earth at night and would be many times larger than a full Moon.
Chemists find a way to unboil eggs
UC Irvine and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites – an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published today in the journal ChemBioChem.
“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. “In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order.”
The heat is on; NOAA, NASA say 2014 warmest year on record
For the third time in a decade, the globe sizzled to the hottest year on record, federal scientists announced Friday.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA calculated that in 2014 the world had its hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping. Earlier, the Japanese weather agency and an independent group out of University of California Berkeley also measured 2014 as the hottest on record.
Eight New Planets Found in “Goldilocks” Zone
Astronomers announced today that they have found eight new planets in the “Goldilocks” zone of their stars, orbiting at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. This doubles the number of small planets (less than twice the diameter of Earth) believed to be in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Among these eight, the team identified two that are the most similar to Earth of any known exoplanets to date.
“Most of these planets have a good chance of being rocky, like Earth,” says lead author Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
These findings were announced today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The two most Earth-like planets of the group are Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b. Both orbit red dwarf stars that are smaller and cooler than our Sun. Kepler-438b circles its star every 35 days, while Kepler-442b completes one orbit every 112 days.
With a diameter just 12 percent bigger than Earth, Kepler-438b has a 70-percent chance of being rocky, according to the team’s calculations. Kepler-442b is about one-third larger than Earth, but still has a 60-percent chance of being rocky.
To be in the habitable zone, an exoplanet must receive about as much sunlight as Earth. Too much, and any water would boil away as steam. Too little, and water will freeze solid.
More effective diet pill: ‘Imaginary meal’ tricks the body into losing weight
Ronald Evans, director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, has developed a compound called fexaramine that acts like an imaginary meal. Fexaramine, which tricks the body into reacting as if it has consumed calories, could lead to an effective obesity and diabetes treatment in humans. Credit: Salk Institute
Salk researchers have developed an entirely new type of pill that tricks the body into thinking it has consumed calories, causing it to burn fat. The compound effectively stopped weight gain, lowered cholesterol, controlled blood sugar and minimized inflammation in mice, making it an excellent candidate for a rapid transition into human clinical trials.
Potential signs of ancient life in Mars rover photos
A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet.
The photos were taken as Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, a dry lakebed that underwent seasonal flooding billions of years ago. Mars and Earth shared a similar early history. The Red Planet was a much warmer and wetter world back then.
On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and costal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known as microbially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth’s history.
Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia, has spent the past 20 years studying these microbial structures. Last year, she reported the discovery of MISS that are 3.48 billion years old in the Western Australia’s Dresser Formation, making them potentially the oldest signs of life on Earth.
In a paper published online last month in the journal Astrobiology (the print version comes out this week), Noffke details the striking morphological similarities between Martian sedimentary structures in the Gillespie Lake outcrop (which is at most 3.7 billion years old) and microbial structures on Earth.
Color-changing E Ink film for display experience
The title of their press release was “E Ink Technology Transforms Building Architecture Products to Create Dynamically Changing Environments.” The company said that E Ink Prism uses E Ink’s bistable ink technology in a film that can transform architectural materials into dynamic designs. “It is visually similar to paint because it uses the same pigments found in the printing industry,” said the company. The E Ink advantage lets buildings change colors and patterns on the spot, said Engadget, “without having to rely on banks of expensive digital displays.” What does E Ink mean by “bistable”? According to the company, “Bistable means that the image on an E Ink screen will be retained even when all power sources are removed. In practice, this means that the display is consuming power only when something is changing.”
NSA Official: Support for Compromised Dual EC Algorithm Was ‘Regrettable’
The NSA came under heated criticism for the Dual EC episode, and now one of the agency’s top officials has said it was a mistake for the NSA not to have withdrawn its support for the algorithm after the weaknesses were raised years ago.
“With hindsight, NSA should have ceased supporting the dual EC_DRBG algorithm immediately after security researchers discovered the potential for a trapdoor. In truth, I can think of no better way to describe our failure to drop support for the Dual_EC_DRBG algorithm as anything other than regrettable,” Wertheimer wrote in a piece in Notices’ February issue.
“The costs to the Defense Department to deploy a new algorithm were not an adequate reason to sustain our support for a questionable algorithm. Indeed, we support NIST’s April 2014 decision to remove the algorithm. Furthermore, we realize that our advocacy for the DUAL_EC_DRBG casts suspicion on the broader body of work NSA has done to promote secure standards. Indeed, some colleagues have extrapolated this single action to allege that NSA has a broader agenda to ‘undermine Internet encryption.’”
Water-soluble silicon leads to dissolvable electronics
Researchers working in a materials science lab are literally watching their work disappear before their eyes—but intentionally so. They’re developing water-soluble integrated circuits that dissolve in water or biofluids in months, weeks, or even a few days. This technology, called transient electronics, could have applications for biomedical implants, zero-waste sensors, and many other semiconductor devices.