New York Times: The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report showing that Iran has made progress across the board in its nuclear production program. Over three months, the country’s low-enriched uranium stockpile grew 8% to 10 tons. The focus is the enrichment of uranium-235, a reactor fuel that can be further enriched for use in weapons. And Iran is slowly raising the level of enrichment to 20% purity and converting the uranium to metal oxide form, which will purportedly be used as reactor fuel. The number of centrifuges used for enrichment grew by 1395 since February, for a total of 14 244. Only 689 of those centrifuges are of a new advanced form, and none appear to be in use yet. However, the country is also making progress on a heavy-water reactor at its Arak facility; the reactor can be used for producing plutonium that would also be useful in weapons. The report comes a month before Iran’s presidential election and during a hiatus in diplomacy after previous multiparty talks fell apart. US and Israeli officials say they would still have several months in which to respond if Iran began directly working on constructing a weapon. Talks are expected to begin again after the election, and levels of fuel are still below Israel’s declared limit for military action.
BBC: The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) is beginning the installation of an expanded network of monitors and sensors as part of the FutureVolc project. Funded in part by the European Union, the project is a response to the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, which shut down air traffic across Europe. The IMO is adding a range of monitors that will be looking for small movements or tremors in the ground or the curving of Earth’s surface that could indicate a magma buildup. Other sensors will detect changes in gas emissions. All of the installations will provide real-time data to the IMO’s offices in Reykjavik. The IMO hopes to increase its ability to detect imminent eruptions several hours to days early. At many sites, residents are currently lucky to have 1 to 2 hours’ warning. The scientists will also be studying ash types and dispersal patterns to better plan for future air traffic disruptions. An Airbus report says the 2010 eruptions resulted in $5 billion in lost business revenue worldwide.
Telegraph: A period of significant global cooling called the Younger Dryas, which occurred between 12 800 and 11 500 years ago may have been caused by a meteorite explosion and impact. James Wittke of Northern Arizona University and his colleagues examined carbon spherules from 18 archeological sites worldwide, dating to 12 800 years ago. They found that the spherules were formed by sediments melting at temperatures of 2200 °C. They compared them with similar spherules from volcanoes, lightning, and human sources and determined that the ones they found were caused by heat and shock waves from an object passing through and exploding in the atmosphere. They estimate that 10 million tons of the spherules were spread over an area of 49 million km2 as a result of the meteorite fragmentation. The dust and ash could have triggered the significant cooling that followed and that was partly responsible for the extinction of several species, including woolly mammoths, and for major changes in human behaviors.
Nature: The Magellanic Stream—a ribbon of gas stretching hundreds of thousands of light-years between the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC)—was first discovered in the 1970s. The gas was originally believed to have been pulled from the SMC by its larger partner. New observations by a team of astronomers led by Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and Philipp Richter of the University of Potsdam in Germany have given support to a competing theory: that at least some of the gas was blown into the stream by supernovae and stellar winds in the LMC. The team estimated the amounts of oxygen and sulfur throughout the stream by measuring the absorption of UV light emitted by galaxies behind the gas. They found low amounts of both elements in the majority of gas and matched the concentrations to those present in the SMC 2 billion years ago. However, the section nearest the two Magellanic Clouds has more sulfur, in concentrations similar to those currently present in the LMC. What’s more, the composition of the gas at either end of the stream does not match that of the Milky Way. The discrepancy can be accounted for if the two clouds are recently arrived members of a local group of galaxies. If the clouds had been orbiting the Milky Way for a long period, the gas in the stream would have long been displaced by gas from the Milky Way.
New Scientist: A new $22 000 rifle that is available to civilians comes equipped with a high-resolution color display integrated into the scope and paired with a laser rangefinder and onboard computer. The system, built by TrackingPoint in Austin, Texas, allows the user to select a target on the display and then calculates the location to aim at in order to hit that target. The computer takes into account range, humidity, wind, bullet drop due to gravity, and many other factors that affect accuracy. Using the system, even novices were able to hit targets up to 900 m away. The rifle also is equipped with Wi-Fi to stream images to smartphones or tablets, and the associated app allows the targeting to be activated from the mobile device. The rifle is specifically designed for target shooting but faces some criticism from hunters for making the sport too easy. More vocal criticism is coming from those who believe that it puts easy sniper capability in the hands of potential criminals. But despite their current availability, rifles, including the one favored by military snipers, are rarely used by criminals.
New York Times: The Obama administration and the European Union have each decided to negotiate settlements involving China’s $30-billion-a-year exports of solar panels. The Financial Times reports that the EU in particular has faced pressure from the German government, because Chinese premier Li Keqiang will visit Germany next week. The proposed settlement, which might take months to negotiate, splits the globe into regional markets and eliminates steep import duties on Chinese solar panels. The price of panels will rise naturally: Quotas will be introduced which in turn, might make solar power less competitive with fossil fuels. In the past four years, a glut of solar panels from China has caused prices to collapse globally by 75% and has driven some US companies like Solyndra into bankruptcy. The cheap prices were fueled by massive subsidies from the Chinese local, state, and national governments. Under US and EU laws, the domestic solar panel industry must agree to the terms before the settlement is finalized. However, it is not certain that China will accept the proposal, and if no settlement is signed by 5 December, then EU tariffs against Chinese solar panels automatically go into effect.
BBC: When an underwater earthquake generates a tsunami, every second counts because it takes only a few minutes before a wall of water can hit a shoreline. The current early warning system for tsunamis relies on seismographs to measure Earth movement and hence calculate the amount of energy dissipated into wave energy, but the technique is not reliable. A team from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences says that GPS sensors placed around the coastlines of vulnerable countries could make highly precise measurements of how underwater tremors shift the ground. In turn, the data could be used to reconstruct the source of the earthquake and calculate its magnitude. ”You can then predict the tsunami and see how high a wave could be expected, with some accuracy,” says Andreas Hoechner, one of the researchers.
MIT Technology Review: A new and cheap helmet-shaped device can detect the accumulation of fluids that accompanies certain forms of brain damage. Designed by Cesar Gonzalez of Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute and his colleagues, the helmet works by inducing a magnetic field in a patient’s brain with a set of coils. Another set of coils measures changes in the magnetic field’s phase that depend on the amount of fluid present. Although the helmet can’t locate where fluid levels are anomalously high, it’s cheap enough and compact enough to identify patients for follow-up tests. A pilot study succeeded in identifying cases of brain edema and hematoma.
Los Angeles Times: Asteroid 1998 QE2 measures 2.7 km across and is covered in a black, sooty material. It’s also on course to come within 5.8 million km of Earth on 31 May, just before 5 pm EDT. The close approach will give astronomers the chance to study the asteroid’s shape, rotation, and surface. Features as small as 3.5 meters should be resolvable by radio telescopes. Backyard astronomers, however, won’t be able to see it.
Daily Mail: In 2005 Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Richard Holman of Carnegie Mellon University suggested that evidence for the existence of other universes would be found in the cosmic microwave background radiation. Early mapping efforts using the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe appeared to support some of their claims. Now Mersini-Houghton says that the highly detailed Planck map of that radiation, released in March, provides clear support for their hypothesis. She believes that the apparent imbalance in movement and structure and the presence of a cold spot are signs that there are sources of gravity external to our own universe. However, an earlier evaluation of the Planck data showed no evidence of “dark flow.”