Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Breaking Down the Science of Interstellar (Google Hangout)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


This artist’s concept shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun, like the one in the film Interstellar.
Credit: Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Kelen Tuttle, writer and editor for the Kavli Foundation, contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed Insights.

In the film “Interstellar,” the Earth grows less habitable by the day. Choked by dust and with food sources dwindling, four explorers set off to find a more habitable planet. On the other side of a wormhole, they find a dozen potentially habitable planets orbiting an enormous black hole, and begin their exploration to find a new home for humanity. ['Interstellar' in Pictures: A Space Epic Gallery ]

The film is already a hit, in part because it’s steeped in real science and theory. From the look of the wormhole to the way the black hole alters the astronauts’ concept of time, “Interstellar” seeks to stay true to science . But where does the movie’s dedication to science end and the fiction begin?

On Wednesday, November 26, from 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST, three astrophysicists — Mandeep Gill, Eric Miller and Hardip Sanghera — will separate the science of “Interstellar” from its fiction and answer viewer questions.

The hangout will feature:

Mandeep Gill, an observational cosmologist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, located at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. His research focuses on gravity’s bending of light and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Eric Miller is a research scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, where he studies diffuse gas to understand the structure of mass and how galaxies interact with their surroundings. He is a member of science and instrument teams for the Chandra and Suzaku X-ray Observatories, with active collaborations in the U.S. and Japan.

Hardip Sanghera is a member of the Cambridge Planck Analysis Centre, based in the Kavli Institute for Cosmology Cambridge.He supports the European Space Agency’s space-based Planck observatory, which recently completed mapping the universe’s earliest light.

The conversation, hosted by The Kavli Foundation, will be broadcast live on Google Plus. Questions can be submitted before, and during, the webcast by emailing info@kavlifoundation.org or using the hashtag #KavliLive on Google+ or Twitter.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Space.com.

Article source: http://www.space.com/27859-science-of-interstellar-film-kavli-hangout.html

Why Congress’ Only 5-Time ‘Jeopardy’ Champ Chose Science Over Lobbying

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

He has a resume unlike any other elected official: Five-time “Jeopardy” champ, research physicist, patent holder, arms-control expert.

So when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced his retirement from Congress, he might easily have made his next step into the so-called “revolving door” of the lobbying world.

But, according to the New Jersey Democrat, who earned a reputation for being a leading advocate for science in Congress, there’s just better work to be done elsewhere.

Holt, 66, has since announced he will be joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as its newest CEO, as well as its executive publisher of scientific journals.

In a recent interview with ABC News, edited for brevity, Holt expressed doubt about the quality of the science debate in 114th Congress, talked about where he hopes his next venture will lead him, and reflected on his decision to leave the Washington political game behind.

When you announced your retirement, many suggested it was further evidence of the “death of science” in the halls of Congress. True?

I’ve been careful not to say that I was leaving because of the atmosphere in Congress or leaving out of disappointment or frustration. But I must say the atmosphere in Congress doesn’t make me want to stay. Part of the problem is that ideology has trumped evidence and trumped science so often here on the Hill. There’s a real frustration when people are much more interested in advancing their ideological positions than they are in making policy on the basis of reliable knowledge.

You were the first physicist to be elected to Congress as a Democrat. How did your passion for science intersect with your duties serving constituents?

Too many people have the idea that a scientist must be otherworldly or academic, in the narrow sense of the world. I think a lot of people have been surprised that I’ve actually had good political instincts and a real ability to interact with people and, I would say, lead people. It shouldn’t be surprising that somebody with a science background could do well in politics. It’s not an obvious overlap, but they’re not incompatible. On some issues, my scientific background has been particularly useful. But what’s always useful is a reverence for evidence, and science brings an analytical ability that helps you understand a situation be it in the physical universe or in politics and human relations.

Does it trouble you then that there aren’t more scientists succeeding as politicians?

It’s a real problem. I think there are more scientists who are or can be adept at politics than there are politicians who are comfortable with science. There should be more people who, while choosing not to be scientists professionally, are comfortable thinking about science and thinking like a scientist. I think Congress suffers and policy-making in government suffers because there are not enough non-scientists who are comfortable thinking about science.

Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, and many have looked to label the GOP as an anti-science party. Does science have a friend in the 114th Congress?

I think over many years, appreciation of science has slipped and education of science has slipped. I think that it shouldn’t be possible to deny and patently reject the preponderance of scientific understanding. That’s not to say every scientist is always right. But the idea that you can just flat out deny evolution or climate change or any number of things that are so well established in the science community would have been, in past years, unthinkable. Now, it’s really quite common that people will blatantly, even proudly get on the political stump and say they deny what the scientists think is right.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/congress-time-jeopardy-champ-chose-science-lobbying/story?id=27164296

‘Interstellar’ science: Is wormhole travel possible?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

This photo released by Paramount Pictures shows Matthew McConaughey, in a scene from the film, ‘Interstellar.’ (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Melinda Sue Gordon)

Sci-fi fans who hope humanity can one day zoom to distant corners of the universe via wormholes, as astronauts do in the recent film “Interstellar,” shouldn’t hold their breath.

Wormholes are theoretical tunnels through the fabric of space-time that could potentially allow rapid travel between widely separated points — from one galaxy to another, for example, as depicted in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” which opened in theaters around the world earlier this month.

While wormholes are possible according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, such exotic voyages will likely remain in the realm of science fiction, said renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who served as an adviser and executive producer on “Interstellar.” ['Interstellar': A Space Epic in Pictures]

“The jury is not in, so we just don’t know,” Thorne, one of the world’s leading authorities on relativity, black holes and wormholes, told Space.com. “But there are very strong indications that wormholes that a human could travel through are forbidden by the laws of physics. That’s sad, that’s unfortunate, but that’s the direction in which things are pointing.”

The major barrier has to do with a wormhole’s instability, he said.

“Wormholes — if you don’t have something threading through them to hold them open — the walls will basically collapse so fast that nothing can go through them,” Thorne said.

Holding wormholes open would require the insertion of something that anti-gravitates — namely, negative energy. Negative energy has been created in the lab via quantum effects, Thorne said: One region of space borrows energy from another region that didn’t have any to begin with, creating a deficit.

“So it does happen in physics,” he said. “But we have very strong, but not firm, indications that you can never get enough negative energy that repels and keeps the wormhole’s walls open; you can never get enough to do that.”

Furthermore, traversable wormholes — if they can exist at all — almost certainly cannot occur naturally, Thorne added. That is, they must be created by an advanced civilization.

And that’s exactly what happens in “Interstellar”: Mysterious beings construct a wormhole near Saturn, allowing a small band of pioneers, led by a former farmer named Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) to journey far afield in search of a new home for humanity, whose existence on Earth is threatened by global crop failures.

Anyone interested in learning more about the science of “Interstellar” — which also features gravitational time dilation and depictions of several alien planets orbiting close to a supermassive black hole — can check out Thorne’s new book, which is called, appropriately enough, “The Science of ‘Interstellar.’

Wormholes have been a staple of science fiction for decades. Interestingly, Thorne said that one of the genre’s most famous titles helped inspire scientists to try to better understand the hypothetical structures.

“The modern research on the physics of wormholes largely stems from the movie ‘Contact,’ from conversations I had with [renowned late scientist] Carl Sagan — actually, when he was writing his novel ‘Contact,’” Thorne said.

“Contact” features traversable wormholes. The novel came out in 1985, while the movie (which also stars Matthew McConaughey, apparently a wormhole connoisseur) was released in 1997.

 

Article source: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/11/25/interstellar-science-is-wormhole-travel-possible/

Salisbury native, all-woman crew set sail for science

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Salisbury native, all-woman crew set sail for science

Courtesy PhotoDiana Papoulias with her late father Anthony Papoulias Sr. on Salisbury’s Old Eastern Marsh Trail.

Salisbury native, all-woman crew set sail for science

Diana Papoulias.



Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014 3:20 am

Salisbury native, all-woman crew set sail for science

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA STAFF WRITER

The Daily News of Newburyport

SALISBURY — Currently on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a scientist with Salisbury roots is continuing her lifelong mission of protecting the environment and humans from the pollution dangers modern life proliferates.

According to Tom Hughes, of Newburyport’s Hughes Environmental Consulting, Salisbury native Diana Papoulias is one of 14 women who have embarked on a ground-breaking journey from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic to Martinique. On their 72-foot sailing vessel the Sea Dragon, the women on the scientific mission known as eXXpedition will explore the issue of the chemicals in the sea and global environment that disrupt the normal functions of wildlife and humans, causing disease, he said, including breast cancer. 

Hughes said this remarkable endeavor is just one more example of Papoulias’ dedication to her life’s work in ecotoxicology, fish ecology, and environmental causes. Papoulias, the daughter of Salisbury’s late Selectman Tony Papoulias and his wife, Gertrude, has a doctorate in fish endocrinology, Hughes said. After retiring from 25 years of service with the U.S. Department of the Interior, she splits her time between her home in Missouri with her college professor husband, David Galat, and consulting work with Hughes Environmental.

”She’s done really great work through her whole career in her field,” Hughes said. “She’s been invaluable to us. We get compliments on her work; she’s very thorough.”

Hughes, who is related to Papoulias by marriage, has been aware of her career for decades. Papoulias grew up in Salisbury, he said, graduated from Triton and went on to produce cutting-edge work in her field. So impressed was he of the mission she’s taking on with the eXXpedition voyage, Hughes Environmental Consulting is one of the project’s sponsors. 

Another reason for his support of this journey, he said, is that as the father of two daughters currently majoring in science at area colleges, the 14 woman scientists are great role models. A former high school science teacher, Hughes said he saw his female students hesitant to enter careers in the sciences, seeing it as a male-dominated field. 

”The fact that 14 women can navigate across the Atlantic while performing valuable research provides inspiration for young women like them,” Hughes said. 

According to her brother, local attorney Tony Papoulias Jr., this voyage is just one more example of his sister’s commitment to doing things that are a service to humanity. He wasn’t surprised at her taking on this challenge, he said, for she’s spent her life working for others.

”Diana, while she was still in school, developed the concept of a fish farm for an orphanage in Mexico,” he said. “The project made them self-sustaining. My father and mother brought us up to see life outside ourselves and to bring issues we felt were important to the forefront, which is what Diana is doing now.”

Tony Papoulias, who spent years in the Merchant Marines prior to going into law, feels confident that his sister, after growing up beside the ocean, knows her way around a seafaring vessel. And the crew, he said, has solid skills.

According to the information released on eXXpedition, the 14 women will participate in biomonitoring to assess humanity’s personal exposure to known toxic substances.

”Through our personal exploration of our internal environment, we hope to better understand the levels of toxic exposure in women,” according to eXXpedition’s press release. “Through a shared mission to understand this invisible pollution, we hope to create a conversation which sheds light on the science of ecotoxicology and inspire positive actions to tackle the root cases.”

There’s a lot to be proud on in this mission, Hughes said, and in all the other missions Papoulias has taken on during her career to offer others her expertise, even outside the country in places like China, Russia and countries in South America. 

“My late dad, my mom and I have always been very proud of both of my sisters,” Tony Papoulias said. “They epitomize what it means to be persons who ‘thinks globally and acts locally and globally.’ Both have always been determined and active socially and environmentally conscious individuals. I am just sorry that Dad is not here to see this.”


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Article source: http://www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/salisbury-native-all-woman-crew-set-sail-for-science/article_bbbf3660-4822-5741-a3a4-ada6399150c2.html

‘Interstellar’ Science: Is Wormhole Travel Possible?

Monday, November 24th, 2014


A poster for the 2014 film “Interstellar” shows the spaceship Endurance flying through a wormhole.
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Sci-fi fans who hope humanity can one day zoom to distant corners of the universe via wormholes, as astronauts do in the recent film “Interstellar,” shouldn’t hold their breath.

Wormholes are theoretical tunnels through the fabric of space-time that could potentially allow rapid travel between widely separated points — from one galaxy to another, for example, as depicted in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” which opened in theaters around the world earlier this month.

While wormholes are possible according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, such exotic voyages will likely remain in the realm of science fiction, said renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who served as an adviser and executive producer on “Interstellar.” ['Interstellar': A Space Epic in Pictures]

“The jury is not in, so we just don’t know,” Thorne, one of the world’s leading authorities on relativity, black holes and wormholes, told Space.com. “But there are very strong indications that wormholes that a human could travel through are forbidden by the laws of physics. That’s sad, that’s unfortunate, but that’s the direction in which things are pointing.”

The major barrier has to do with a wormhole’s instability, he said.

Wormholes — if you don’t have something threading through them to hold them open — the walls will basically collapse so fast that nothing can go through them,” Thorne said.

Holding wormholes open would require the insertion of something that anti-gravitates — namely, negative energy. Negative energy has been created in the lab via quantum effects, Thorne said: One region of space borrows energy from another region that didn’t have any to begin with, creating a deficit.

“So it does happen in physics,” he said. “But we have very strong, but not firm, indications that you can never get enough negative energy that repels and keeps the wormhole’s walls open; you can never get enough to do that.”

Furthermore, traversable wormholes — if they can exist at all — almost certainly cannot occur naturally, Thorne added. That is, they must be created by an advanced civilization.

And that’s exactly what happens in “Interstellar”: Mysterious beings construct a wormhole near Saturn, allowing a small band of pioneers, led by a former farmer named Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) to journey far afield in search of a new home for humanity, whose existence on Earth is threatened by global crop failures.

Anyone interested in learning more about the science of “Interstellar” — which also features gravitational time dilation and depictions of several alien planets orbiting close to a supermassive black hole — can check out Thorne’s new book, which is called, appropriately enough, “The Science of ‘Interstellar.’

Wormholes have been a staple of science fiction for decades. Interestingly, Thorne said that one of the genre’s most famous titles helped inspire scientists to try to better understand the hypothetical structures.

“The modern research on the physics of wormholes largely stems from the movie ‘Contact,’ from conversations I had with [renowned late scientist] Carl Sagan — actually, when he was writing his novel ‘Contact,’” Thorne said.

“Contact” features traversable wormholes. The novel came out in 1985, while the movie (which also stars Matthew McConaughey, apparently a wormhole connoisseur) was released in 1997.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Article source: http://www.space.com/27845-interstellar-movie-wormhole-travel-feasibility.html

New GOP Leaders Embrace Science but Don’t Hug Trees

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Congress can be…chaotic. Last Thursday night, President Obama unveiled plans for immigration reform, and literally challenged Congress to stop him. The next day, Speaker of the House John Boehner said that the GOP would be suing the White House over unconstitutional changes to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a mess.

But for science—and scientific research—there’s a silver lining. The House Committee on Appropriations, which bankrolls the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, recently appointed two relatively science-friendly chairmen to powerful subcommittee seats.

In D.C. parlance, subcommittee chairs are known as “cardinals,” and in the powerful Appropriations committee, cardinals decide when the government spends and where it cuts. On Wednesday, Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers announced that Tom Cole would take over as cardinal of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and tapped John Culberson to be cardinal of Commerce, Justice and Science. Here’s what that means for science:

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK)

Tom Cole will be the cardinal in charge of Health and Human Services, which means that he’ll be one of the key people holding the purse strings for the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is the largest source of funding for biomedical research in the world, and it gets its budget almost entirely from Congress.

Cole’s appointment is a victory for the NIH. In 2007, Cole co-sponsored a bill to establish a national childhood cancer database, and in 2008 he voted in favor of the Lantos-Hyde bill, which funded efforts against global diseases like AIDS and malaria. This year, Cole threw his support behind a legislation that would remove funds from political party conventions and instead put them toward pediatric disease research.

His environmental voting record is decidedly less science-friendly. In the past, Cole has voted against protecting wild horses and authorizing the “critical habitat” title for endangered species. That shouldn’t affect biomedical research. But it is a bit worrying that Cole, who voted against environmental education grants, will be influencing the federal education budget.

Representative John Culberson (R-TX)

John Culberson will be the cardinal in charge of Commerce, Justice and Science. His appointment has the space community excited—Culberson is an outspoken proponent of a NASA mission to Europa. Culberson’s district is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and his new position means that he now has quite a bit of say over NASA’s budget. On his web site, Culberson emphasizes his interest in advancing in spaceflight technologies, like the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle.

Commerce, Justice and Science also covers the National Science Fund, which backs more than 20 percent of the basic research conducted at universities in the U.S. Culberson’s NSF record is exemplary. Of note, Culberson once called science and technology funding a “national insurance policy” and said that Congress needs to “pour it on.” This, from a well-known fiscal conservative.

Unfortunately. Culberson’s environmental voting record is about as disturbing as Cole’s. That’s bad news for NOAA, which his subcommittee is supposed to fund. It is likely that the NOAA will continue to receive substantial government funding—Culberson has almost never cut scientific research—but it is also likely that the NOAA’s concerns about climate change will fall on deaf ears.

Culberson was, after all, the sponsor of a 2013 amendment that claimed that carbon pollution is zero and produces no harm and no costs. Yikes.

The Bottom Line: Who Wins?

The new cardinals are basically good news for scientific research, with a few important exceptions. To sum it all up, here are your winners and losers:

Space Science: Win

Culberson supports NASA, and loves Europa.

Basic Science: Win

Culberson supports the NSF, and loves basic research.

Biomedical Research: Win

Cole will almost definitely throw money at the NIH.

STEM Education: Tie

Cole hasn’t been enthusiastic about paying for kids to learn about the environment. At the same time, he has funded scholarship programs for low-income families in the past, and there’s inevitably some STEM in there.

Climate Science: Lose

At least for NOAA, there’s some irony here. Culberson will probably fund NOAA, and then throw their findings about climate change in the trash.

Image credit: Flickr/Colin Jagoe

 

Article source: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2014/11/24/new-science-leaders-embrace-science-but-dont-hug-trees/

Science fair is about ‘questioning the answers’

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

The Surry County Schools District Science Fair Thursday was the youthful embodiment of John Gowie, or “Professor G-Force,” of Mad Science of the Piedmont’s sentiment that “while most think science is answering the questions, it’s really all about questioning the answers.”

“Student participation has been up over the last two years and the projects appear to show greater creativity and a higher level of thinking,” said Science Institute Coordinator Jeff Edwards. He said judges’ comments noted participants appeared highly knowledgeable in their project as well as the projects being original and creative with many students knowing where to take the investigation to the next level.

Dobson Elementary’s Jasmine Narehood was first in the elementary division, grades 3-5, with her project titled “Red vs. White” which involved testing red clay from Surry County. Chloe Snow, Belle Bullington and Gretta Tucker were tied for second place. Third-place finishers were Amelia Radford, Sophie Hutchens and Colby Calloway. All participants in this division will advance to regional competition.

The junior division, grades 6-8, featured biological science, chemistry, physics, earth/environmental and technology/engineering categories. Gentry Middle student Anna Burcham was first in the biological science A division with Sydney McKeaver in second and Cherokee Sexton finishing third. Taylor Cochran of Central Middle topped the field in biological science B with Leah Harris in second and Emma Crouse third.

The winner in the chemistry division was Andrew Blutler of Gentry Middle. John Hicks took second place and Troy Castro was third. Pilot Mountain Middle School eighth grader Jessica Clayton was first in the physics division. Spreanne Norris was second and Jarrett Hiatt was third. First and second place winners in each category in this division will advance to regionals.

Cental Middle’s Jordan Westmoreland was first in the earth/environmental division with Nicholas Bryant finishing second and Alex Hege in third. Gentry Middle’s Ethan Shumate was first in the technology/engineering division with Tyler Tilley taking second and Sarah Marion finishing third.

The senior division, grades 9-12, was divided into biological science, chemistry, physics, technology/engineering and earth/environmental. East Surry student Sarah Gibson was first in the biological science a division with Anna Sentor, Gabe Wilmoth and Cortni-Morgan Snow finishing second. Early College students Amy Wall and Abigail Robertson were third.

Timothy Gosnell, also of East Surry, took first in biological science b division with North Surry’s Julisa Ramos, Cidney Fulk and Anna Martin teaming up for a second place finish. Lena Shelton was third. Whitney Hall and Caleb cooke were first in the chemistry division with Kinley Jesup taking second and Molly Slater in third.

Cardinal Will Nichols topped the field in the physics division with North Surry’s Jerrik Giesbers in second and Haley Stanley of Surry Central finishing third. Greyhounds Barrett Slate and Alex Jones were first in the earth/environmental division. Luke Horton was second and Jake Whitaker finished third.

Early College students Gatlin Hale, Stetson Bedsaul and Cody Farmer were first in the technology/engineering division with Klaudia Tucker in second and Randall Hall in third. First and second place winners in this category will advance to regionals.

David Broyles may be reached at 336-415-4739 or on Twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.

 
 

Article source: http://www.mtairynews.com/news/home_top-news/50730596/Science-fair-is-about-questioning-the-answers

Environmentalists, scientists fret over Republican bills targeting EPA science

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Over objections from the White House and many science and environmental groups, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives this week approved two bills that would change how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) obtains and uses scientific data and advice. The bills aren’t likely to become law this year, but they are fueling an intense political battle that is likely to resurface when the new Congress convenes in January.

Proponents of the bills, which the House passed almost entirely with GOP votes, say they would increase transparency in how EPA uses data to justify its regulations and result in better, more balanced scientific advice for the agency. “EPA has an extensive track record of twisting the science to justify their actions,” and so reform is needed, said Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), head of the House science committee, in a statement supporting one of the bills.

But opponents say the legislation would do more harm than good. “These bills are the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), top Democrat on the House science committee, in a statement.

White House officials say they would recommend that President Barack Obama veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. That’s unlikely in the current Congress, which ends next month, given that Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate. That makes the votes largely symbolic. But observers say they represent another salvo in a long-standing battle over the release of scientific data that underlines key regulations—and a sign of battles to come once Republicans assume control of both chambers of Congress in January.

One bill, approved 18 November on a mostly party-line 229 to 191 vote, would overhaul rules regarding the membership and meetings of EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). That federally chartered body of scientists, economists, and other scholars reviews agency risk assessments and scientific documents and advises the agency on other matters. The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (H.R. 1422), sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R–UT), would require the agency to make SAB’s membership “fairly balanced,” add more public comment opportunities, require more acknowledgment of dissenting panelists’ views, bar panelists from discussing their own research, and limit nonscientific advice from the panel. “Ensuring that the [board] is balanced and transparent will help instill more confidence in the EPA’s decision making process,” Stewart said in a statement.

The bill would seek to balance membership by setting a quota for state, local, and tribal government officials on SAB panels and clarify that industry experts aren’t barred from membership as long as their potential conflicts of interest are disclosed.

The second bill, the Secret Science Reform Act (H.R. 4012), would require that the data from any study that EPA draws upon to inform its regulations, risk assessments, and guidance documents be “reproducible” and released publicly as long as the law doesn’t forbid it. “If you’re going to make public policy, do it by public data,” said Representative David Schweikert (R–AZ), the bill’s lead sponsor and chair of the House science committee’s environmental subpanel, on the House floor on 19 November. The House approved the measure on a mostly party-line 237 to 190 vote.

Trade associations in key industries—from chemicals to oil to natural gas—support the bills, saying that boosting data transparency and changing SAB’s composition would result in more scientifically sound, and thus publicly trusted, regulations.

Opponents, however, say the bills are thinly disguised efforts to make EPA’s job more difficult.

For instance, the EPA SAB reform act could “turn conflict of interest on its head” by opening the door to more representation from industry scientists, says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science and environmental advocacy group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A White House statement argues that the new membership requirements “could preclude the nomination of scientists with significant expertise in their fields.”

Public health groups, scientists, and environmental groups warned in a letter to lawmakers that the bill would grind SAB to a halt by requiring an “endless loop” of public comment and responses from the panel to almost every comment. “At best, the SAB will be reduced to busy work. At worst, the SAB’s assessments will address the concerns of corporations, not the desires of citizens for science-informed regulation that protects public health,” the letter argues.

The “secret science” bill could drastically cut the number of studies that EPA would be allowed to use in developing rules, the advocates’ letter argues. By requiring “reproducible” data, the bill “seems to adopt a very narrow view of scientific information solely based on laboratory experiments,” it argues, noting that many studies that EPA traditionally relies on involve modeling or analyzing real-world health data, which can be hard to replicate.

H.R. 4012 could also rule out EPA’s use of other studies involving confidential health information, which can be important, critics say. And the bill’s requirements “could be used to prevent EPA from finalizing regulations until legal challenges about the legitimate withholding of certain scientific and technical information are resolved,” a White House statement warns.

Rosenberg argues that the real purpose of H.R. 4012 is to enable EPA critics to obtain data and turn it over to their own analysts, in order to pick apart studies they don’t like and produce findings more favorable to their views. “The problem they’re trying to fix is, they don’t like the answer” provided by certain studies, he says.

Both bills, or similar versions, are likely to resurface in the new Congress.

Article source: http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2014/11/environmentalists-scientists-fret-over-republican-bills-targeting-epa-science

The Science Behind "Interstellar’s" Stunning Wormhole Voyage (Weekend …

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

“Gravity bends the path that light follows in space,” said Pedro Marronetti, an National Science Foundation program director for gravitational physics and Google Scholar. “The stronger the gravitation, the more dramatic its effect.”

In the plot of Interstellar, Earth is dying; to save the human race, astronauts and scientists search for a new planet via a wormhole, essentially a shortcut through space to find a giant black hole at the other end. Interstellar producers sought to make visual representations of the wormhole as accurate as possible. They worked closely with Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist at Caltech and the film’s executive producer, who gave the special effects team the scientific equations to create a reasonable facsimile of a wormhole.

Thorne’s involvement in this gravitational lensing project led him to talk with the three Cornell grad students and their Caltech collaborators. The research of Bohn, Hébert and Throwe “on visualizing colliding black holes by gravitational lensing is very interesting and important,” Thorne said.

 

 

Wormholes do not actually exist in space, but black holes do, Throwe said, so the students created two short videos for Thorne, which showed what moving by a black hole in space would look like. It would be impossible to move through an actual black hole, they said, because the pull of gravity would tear a person apart.

Astronomers haven’t been able to visually observe black holes because nothing can escape from them, not even light or radiation. They can only be studied by noting their effects on nearby objects. That’s what makes this recent research so important–because it creates a new visualization.

The four graduate students who work in NSF-funded, Cornell astronomy professor Saul Teukolsky’s group–Andy Bohn, François Hébert, William Throwe and Katherine Henriksson–as well as NSF-funded Caltech researchers Mark A. Scheel, Nicholas W. Taylor and undergraduate Darius Bunandar–have been doing related research and recently published their work about binary black holes on an online repository for scientific papers called ArXiv. The paper, “What Would a Binary Black Hole Merger Look Like?” immediately garnered media attention, including in Nature.

“We know [interstellar travel through wormholes is] kind of crazy, but it makes a good story,” Throwe said.Thorne used the students’ videos to help explain to the special effects team what kinds of information would be needed to make the visualizations believable.

While much is known about what a single black hole would look like in space, little was known about what two merging black holes would look like. New technology allowed the students to do that for their paper.

“The idea that you’re going to be one of the first people to look at what a merging pair of black holes would look like is a good incentive to keep going,” Hébert said.

One of Tthe best description of wormholes in science fiction was the movie Contact, based on a novel by Carl Sagan. While Sagan was writing the novel, he also consulted an expert in General Relativity, Kip Thorne,  to make sure that the way wormholes were treated in Contact was actually as close to being scientifically correct as possible. Ellie, played by Jodie Foster, travels through a series of wormholes to a place near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, where the crew meets the senders of a message to Earth guised as persons significant in the lives of the travelers.

Studies from French and German physicists suggest that some unexplained objects in the universe might actually be “wormholes” -portals to other universes. Thibault Damour and Sergey Solodukhin of the International University Bremen, believe that wormholes mimic black holes so closely that it might be impossible to distinguish.

Black holes and wormholes each distort the space and around them in a similar way, but though topically similar, they are, pardon the pun, universally different:

Black holes are the evolutionary endpoints of stars at least 10 to 15 times as massive as the sun. When a star of that proportion undergoes a supernova explosion, it may leave behind a burned out stellar remnant. With no outward forces to oppose gravitational forces, the remnant will collapse in on itself. In other words, all of its mass is squeezed into a single point where time and space stop. The point at the center of this black hole is called a singularity. Within a certain distance of the singularity, the gravitational pull is so strong that nothing – not even light – can escape.

Wormholes, on the other hand, are theoretical warps in the fabric of space-time. If wormholes could exist, they could potentially function as time machines. (They also provide the fodder for many science fiction novels…) According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time passes more slowly for a highly accelerated body. If one end of a wormhole were accelerated to close to the speed of light while another were stationary, a traveler entering into the stationary hole would emerge in the past from the accelerated hole.

Physicists like Stephen Hawking, however, aren’t convinced that wormholes even exist, arguing that properties of wormholes would be physically forbidden by basic universal laws. If time travel existed, it would cause irresolvable paradoxes: it would be impossible, for example, to travel back in time and kill your former self.

Ironically, Damour and Solodukhin theoretically differentiate the two by using “Hawking Radiation,” the existence for which Hawking himself argued in 1974. Hawking radiation is an emission of particles and light which should only come from black holes and would have a characteristic energy spectrum. Both Damour and Solodukhin found this radiation to be so weak, however, that it would be completely swamped by other sources, such as the background glow of microwaves left over from the big bang.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way to definitively resolve the question is to make the plunge inside one of these massive holes – but considering that doing so would cause the instantaneous explosion of every atom of anyone or anything daring enough to try, our closest experience is still a visit to the science fiction section of local bookstores.

The Daily Galaxy via Anna Carmichael, Cornell University cunews@cornell.edu

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Monster Galaxy Almost as Old as the Universe –Creating Stars 1,000 Times Faster than Milky Way
“There Might be Civilizations in the Middle of Cold Dark Space without a Milky Way” -NASA
Black-hole mergers cast kaleidoscope of shadows

Article source: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2014/11/the-physics-behind-interstellars-stunning-wormhole-images.html

Crowdfunded Moon Mission Is Serious about Science [Video]

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

With government budgets for space exploration under strain, a UK consortium has embarked on a project to raise money for a robotic Moon mission by offering the public the chance to stash their memories and even a hair sample on the Moon.

The aim of Lunar Mission One is to put a lander on the Moon’s south pole within the next decade. The robotic probe would to drill 20–100 meters into the surface, seeking insights about the origins of the Earth and the Moon, and paving the way for establishing a lunar base.

To fund the $1-billion enterprise, parent company Lunar Missions plans to turn the borehole into a time capsule and personal repository for paying customers. Its backers started soliciting contributions on November 19, and had collected almost £90,000 (about $140,000) within the first 12 hours from its launch.

Skeptics doubt that there is enough interest to raise that much cash. But David Iron, who founded Lunar Missions and works on financing space projects at the consulting firm CGI, believes there is no harm in finding out. The consortium plans to raise an initial $1 million on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter by December 17, to see there is enough interest to push ahead with the plans, he says. A second major fundraising push would go ahead in 2019, he says. “If the first phase fails, it implies there isn’t the interest. There isn’t really a plan B,” he says.

While NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have shelved lunar exploration plans in the past three years, Russia, China and Japan have planned lander missions to the Moon — and China successfully put its first rover there, called Chang’e 3, at the end of 2013. Iron hopes that crowdsourcing will open a new vein of financing for space exploration. Everywhere except in China, “the ‘boldly go’ stuff is feeling the squeeze”, says Iron.

Lunar Mission One has gathered support from a range of UK partners, including RAL Space, part of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, based near Oxford; University College London; and the Open University in Milton Keynes. The high-profile announcement also comes with the endorsement of dozens of UK scientists — including TV celebrity Brian Cox of the University of Manchester — and of two former UK science ministers, Ian Taylor and David Willetts. Iron says that he hopes to involve international partners later.

“This looks like something real, if they can raise the money,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He contrasts the clout of science expertise in the line-up, which includes Ian Crawford, planetary scientist at Birkbeck University of London and the ESA Rosetta mission’s Monica Grady, with most of the teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, whose aims are “light on the science side” and are working to a less realistic timetable of putting a lander on the Moon by the end of 2015 (see Moon shots stuck on Earth).

Other Kickstarter projects have raised more than $1 million. The record stands at $13.3 million, pledged to a company making multi-gadgeted cooling boxes. The pledges, made online, are collected only if a project reaches its target. For Lunar Mission One, $1 million would allow the founders to establish management and legal arrangements and begin procurement. A detailed design would begin in 2017, and the main fundraising and sales drive would launch in 2019.

Sceptics doubt the shift from $1 million to $1 billion will be easy. “I know that this mission is only asking for a few hundred thousand [pounds], but just like many other crowd funded missions I see no realistic plan to actually raise enough to launch,” says Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford.

“Market research tells us we can get the billion,” says Iron. That is if, as the company’s market research predicts, 1% of the people who can afford to invest — themselves a small fraction of the global population — each put in a few hundred dollars. If their predictions are correct, the drive would raise around $3 billion, which would cover the creation of a non-profit trust to fund future space missions, including one to bring a lunar sample back to Earth, he adds.

Donors gain membership to the ‘Lunar Missions Club’, become part of an online community and are invited to events. Those who donate at least £3,000 ($4,700) will have their name inscribed on the lunar landing module. The main product will be a ‘digital memory box’ that will go into the lunar borehole. Donors can record family trees or photographs in the box, and they may even be able to archive a strand of their hair, says Iron. The time capsule would also include a record of human history and a database of living species, developed with help from the public. 

Adrian Sargeant, director of the center for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, UK, says that crowdfunding is such a recent phenomenon that solid evidence about when it works and when it fails has yet to emerge. “Whether they succeed or not will depend on the extent to which they capture the public’s imagination, he says.

This high $1 billion target will be achievable only if the project manages to find and tap a fairly niche global community, says Elizabeth Ngonzi, a digital-engagement expert at the New York University Heyman Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy. “The types of people who would support this are not obvious to find,” she says.

The mission appeals to lunar scientists. The Moon’s south pole is thought to contain ice in its permanently shaded craters. Drilling in this little-explored region — and gaining access to pristine ancient rock — builds on ideas that the research community has proposed in the past, says Bernard Foing, a lunar scientist at ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, who is not involved with the project. The technical challenge of drilling to such depths is high, he says. But the results could give insight into the impact history of the Moon and reveal organic molecules that could have been deposited by asteroids. “There is a strong science case,” adds Foing. Because of its potential water reserves, the south pole is also where space-faring nations are most likely to establish a base in the coming century, says Iron.

No governments or space agencies are involved in the project at present, but Iron says that will probably change if the venture takes off. Although Lunar Mission One would use private contractors, the project will need to act under a government authority to avoid the legal complications that could come with a private venture drilling on the Moon, he adds.
 

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on November 19, 2014.

Article source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crowdfunded-moon-mission-is-serious-about-science-video/