The New York Review of Books: The proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries outside the US, UK, and Canada, which jointly developed the first atomic bomb, was inevitable and had been predicted, writes Jeremy Bernstein:
What had not been predicted was the extent to which it would be abetted by espionage. The German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs, who had been part of the British delegation at Los Alamos and returned to England where he worked on nuclear weapons, gave the Russians what was essentially the blueprint of the bomb the US used at Nagasaki. He is in the unique position of having helped three countries build nuclear weapons. Nor did anyone foresee that proliferation of nuclear weapons would become a commercial enterprise, which is the situation that we find ourselves in at the present time.
At the center of this activity is the Pakistani metallurgist A.Q. Khan and his collaborators.
A new book by nuclear armaments expert David Albright, called Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America’s Enemies, highlights how Iran, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya have all made use of Pakistan’s supply network to get close to making a bomb, and certain smugglers very rich.
Nature: Bose–Einstein condensates are ideal tools with which exotic phenomena can be investigated. The hitherto-unrealized Dicke quantum phase transition has now been observed with one such system in an optical cavity.
Science News: If the weird rules of atomic physics do help birds find their way around the globe — as some scientists suspect — a new study has identified ways of finding out how.
The study is among the first to propose a direct test of how quantum entanglement, an effect that inexorably links two electrons in a way that Einstein called “spooky,” could change the behavior of whole animals.
“This paper has really made a contribution by suggesting an experimental test,” comments Thorsten Ritz, a physicist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the new work.
Slate Magazine: Richard Clarke’s Cyber War may be the most important book about national-security policy in the last several years, writes Fred Kaplan:
The threat, as the title suggests, is cyberwar, which Clarke—the White House counterterrorism chief under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—defines as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purpose of causing damage or disruption.”
The militaries of more than 20 nations, including the United States, Russia, and China, have set up special cyberwarfare units. The consequences of such a war, Clarke and his co-author Robert Knake maintain, could “change the world military balance” and “fundamentally alter political and economic relations.”
And yet, they persuasively argue, the United States—which has by far the most sophisticated offensive cyberwar capabilities—would almost certainly lose the war, because our economic and military infrastructures are so dependent on computer networks and because we have done so little to protect those networks from a cyberattack.
CNET News: Solar-panel manufacturer First Solar announced Wednesday it has signed a definitive agreement to purchase solar-project developer NextLight Renewable Power for approximately $285 million.
Physics Today: The first-ever discovery of ice and organic molecules on an asteroid may hold clues to the origins of Earth’s oceans and life 4 billion years ago.
University of Central Florida astronomers detected a thin layer of water ice and organic molecules on the surface of 24 Themis, the largest in a family of asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
Their unexpected findings were published in Nature.
“What we’ve found suggests that an asteroid like this one may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water,” said UCF astronomer Humberto Campins, the study’s lead author.
Some theories suggest asteroids brought water to Earth after the planet formed dry. Scientists say the salts and water that have been found in some meteorites support this view.
Using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, Campins and his team of researchers measured the intensity of the reflected sunlight as 24 Themis rotated. Differences in intensity at different wavelengths helped researchers determine the makeup of the asteroid’s surface.
They were surprised to find ice and carbon-based compounds evenly distributed on 24 Themis. More specifically, the discovery of ice is unexpected because surface ice should be short lived on asteroids, which are expected to be too warm for ice to survive for long.
Perhaps most promising hypotheses to explain the ice, is the possibility that 24 Themis might have preserved the ice in its subsoil, just below the surface, as a kind of “living fossil” or remnant of an early solar system that was generally considered to have disappeared long ago.
Water ice and organics on the surface of the asteroid 24 Themi
Australian Broadcasting Corporation: A multi-million dollar scientific space balloon has crashed on take-off in Alice Springs, destroying its payload, tipping over a car and sending observers running for their lives.
Nature: Dorothy Hodgkin was born 100 years ago next month. When Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, much was made of her gender. She was only the fifth woman to become a laureate in science, the first from Britain, and the first women not married to a scientist.
Hodgkin was therefore by definition exceptional. When Georgina Ferry began to write her biography soon after her death in 1994, one of her principal motives was to try to understand what it was that had enabled her to transcend the conventions of her time. “She never acknowledged that she faced barriers on the grounds of her gender,” writes Ferry, “and her story largely bears this out.”
What did influence her social and scientific circumstances were also exceptional, and provided the environment in which it was possible for her to fulfil her promise and achieve science’s highest honor, says Ferry. The support of her parents, and the forward-thinking planning of Somerville College in Oxford.
The Guardian: The incredible ambition of the Large Hadron Collider has fired our imagination; physicists have become cult TV stars; dramatic new pictures from space grace a million computer screensavers. Is this a golden age of science? The Guardian asks Brian Cox, Martin Rees, Alok Jha, Kevin Fong, Dara O Briain, Tim Radford, Sam Wollaston, Laura Spinney, Ian Sample, and Alice Roberts, for answers.
NPR: The Obama administration is promoting nuclear power, but at the same time it has put an end to plans to bury nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Now, a blue-ribbon committee is pondering what to do with the waste. One option under consideration is a process that would dramatically reduce its radioactive lifetime.
Less than 1% of spent reactor fuel is made up of the nasty radioactive elements that last hundreds of thousands of years.
And Sherrell Greene at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee says the technology to remove those elements from waste is as old as nuclear reactors themselves.
Laser nuclear technology might pose security risk