New York Times: Even as the House, Senate, and White House wrangle over raising the US debt ceiling, Congressional appropriators are at work writing bills that fix spending for the next fiscal year, which begins on 1 October. As the New York Times‘s Leslie Kaufman reports, the House version of the bill that funds the Department of Interior, the Forest Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency is proving contentious. The bill emerged from the Republican-led appropriations committee with 39 non-spending provisions, or riders, all of which loosen or curtail regulations aimed at protecting the environment and its natural inhabitants. Satisfying those regulations, the Republicans argue, hinders growth by imposing costs on companies.
National Geographic: Earth’s first Trojan asteroid, 2010 TK7, has been discovered. About 1000 feet wide, it travels with Earth around the Sun at a distance of about 50 million miles, writes Ker Than for National Geographic. Trojans are bodies that exist in orbital “sweet spots” between Lagrange points—spots where the gravitational pull of the planet and that of the Sun combine to allow the Trojan to maintain its position relative to both of them. Trojan asteroids have been found around Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune; although it had long been thought that Earth should also have them, they proved difficult to find because any Trojan, from the perspective of an observer on Earth, will reside in the general direction of the Sun. Martin Connors, an astronomer at Athabasca University in Canada, and colleagues made the discovery with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope. Connors likened the asteroid’s orbit to the path of an orange held at arm’s length by a person riding a Ferris wheel.
BBC: Benjamin Blankertz and his colleagues at the Berlin Institute for Technology have demonstrated in the lab that it’s possible to detect a driver’s intention to brake before he or she actually brakes. In their experiment, volunteers drove an arcade-like simulator and were given the task of keeping a fixed distance away from the car in front. A helmet studded with electrodes monitored their brain waves. Whenever the car in front braked, the helmet picked up a telltale signal that heralded the driver’s application of the brake pedal 130 milliseconds later. At 113 kilometers (70 miles) per hour, a delay of 130 ms corresponds to a length of 4 meters. If the helmet could be replaced with a more comfortable, less obtrusive device, brain-wave detection could provide a means to shorten stopping distances and avoid accidents, the researchers say.
Science: Evidence suggests that the now quiescent, supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way experienced a period of intense activity a few million years ago that produced some of the highest-energy radiation in the universe. A pair of gamma ray-emitting gas bubbles that seem to have been fueled by a violent event at the galactic core were discovered last year, along with more newborn stars and less elderly stars than had been expected, writes Ron Cowen for Science. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann of Vanderbilt University and her colleagues say this activity may have been caused by a collision between the Milky Way and the remains of a satellite galaxy that housed an intermediate-mass black hole. Gas orbiting within the innermost 5000 light years of the galaxy would have been pushed into the center, and some of that would have fallen into the central black hole and generated the gamma ray-emitting gas bubbles. Part of the gas would have become raw material for the young stars that have been observed there, and the Milky Way’s black hole and the satellite’s smaller one could have propelled old stars outward from the center as the two black holes merged. If that was the case, the outward-flung stars would have formed a ring of high-velocity stars a few thousand light-years from the center, and they could be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope.
MSNBC: Zvonimir Dogic of Brandeis University and his colleagues have performed an experiment that helps solve a biological mystery: how cilia, the microscopic hairs that sprout from certain cells, beat together to perform such useful tasks as expelling mucous from lungs and ferrying eggs from ovaries into the uterus. Dogic’s team made artificial cilia from just three components: microtubule filaments, motor proteins called kinesin, and a bundling agent. Although the artificial cilia lacked a dedicated internal means to communicate with each other, the researchers found that the cilia spontaneously beat together under certain external conditions. The simplicity of the artificial system could lead to nonbiological applications.
BBC: A paper published today in Nature warns of a feedback mechanism that could accelerate the impact of global warming in the Arctic region. The unusually dry summer of 2007 helped to fuel the Anaktuvuk River fire, which destroyed as much Alaskan tundra as did all previous fires since 1950. Led by Michelle Black of the University of Florida in Gainesville, the paper’s authors determined that the Anaktuvuk River fire burned vegetation down to depth of 15 cm and released into the atmosphere 50 years’ worth of sequestered carbon. Because increasing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide raises global temperatures, Arctic wildfires could become more frequent and widespread. And if that happens, Mack and her colleagues warn, even more sequestered carbon could be released and lead to a vicious cycle of runaway warming.
National Geographic: India’s plan to build the world’s largest nuclear power plant at Jaitapur, a port city 250 miles south of Mumbai, faces vigorous, sometimes violent opposition from the city’s inhabitants. And as National Geographic‘s Rebecca Byerly, the power plant serves as a focus for a wider debate within India about nuclear power. Most of India’s households lack direct access to electricity. Meeting that need through nuclear power is, according to the Indian government, the cleanest, cheapest option. Whether nuclear power is also the safest option is the principal point of contention, especially in the wake of the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai’ichi power plant in March.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Roger Pielke Jr of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research argues that deeply discounted tuition fees for in-state students do not serve the interests of his state or his university. Low in-state fees deprive the university of much-needed funding while high out-of-state fees make the university financially reliant on a minority of students. The reliance on out-of-staters, writes Pielke, “creates incentives to favor their admission. That is contrary to the very purpose of in-state tuition, which is to favor Colorado residents.” Pielke favors replacing the current tuition fees of $7700 for in-staters and $29 000 for out-of-staters with a single fee of $14 000.
Independent: Cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices could run much faster if they were made with graphene, the world’s thinnest material. Writing in the journal Nature Physics, Nobel laureates Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from Manchester University, and their coworkers, have revealed more about graphene’s electronic properties. They have found that electrons in graphene are very different from those in any other metals and that interactions between them significantly enhance their already high velocity. Because electrons travel many times faster in graphene than in silicon, which is the basis of modern computer chips, graphene could possibly be used to drastically speed up electronic devices. “Electrons in graphene have huge mobility; they travel very fast. It’s quite a big result in terms of the physics, and it may have some implications in terms of potential applications,” Novoselov said.
Guardian: The warming of the Arctic is releasing toxic materials such as pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been trapped in ice and cold water. Called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the manmade compounds, which can cause cancers and birth defects, were banned under the 2004 Stockholm Convention. Because POPs take a very long time to degrade, they can be transported long distances in the atmosphere; the low Arctic temperatures then induce their disposition, according to the researchers, who published their findings in Nature Climate Change. The amounts of POPs that are released will depend on the speed of warming and on the chemicals’ interactions with snow and rain.