MSNBC: With the use of a powerful supercomputer, a team of researchers has produced the first realistic simulation of the formation of the Milky Way galaxy. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Zürich took advantage of 1.4 million processor-hours on NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer, as well as additional supporting simulations at the Swiss National Supercomputing Center. The simulation, which took 9 months, involved tracing the motions of some 60 million particles over more than 13 billion years. According to the research team, the difficulty is in getting the simulations to match up exactly with observations. “Our result shows that a realistic spiral galaxy can be formed based on the basic principles of the cold dark matter paradigm and the physical laws of gravity, fluid dynamics, and radiophysics,” said Lucio Mayer of the University of Zurich, coauthor of a paper describing the simulation, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Scidev.Net: A new award, worth $100 000, will be given to African innovators and inventors who design products that could further the continent’s economic transformation, writes Aregu Balleh for SciDev.Net. The Innovation Prize for Africa—a joint initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Innovation Foundation—will be awarded for the first time in February 2012 to the best innovators in three areas: information and communication technology, green technologies, and health and food security. “The main objective of the initiative is to recognize ordinary Africans who have ideas that can be commercialized—ideas that can make a difference in the lives of people,” said Aida Opoku-Mensah of UNECA.
New York Times: For the first time in more than a decade, the International Space Station may become vacant, due to lack of astronaut transport. NASA ended its space shuttle program last month, and the Russian space program is experiencing problems with its Soyuz rocket, which last week launched an unmanned cargo ship that ended up crashing in Siberia. The six astronauts currently in residence on the station are scheduled to leave on two Soyuz capsules already docked at the station. Their departure has been delayed as officials investigate what went wrong in last week’s crash. If the rocket engine problems are not diagnosed and fixed, the station will remain empty once the current crew members leave. Even if unoccupied, however, the station can be remotely operated from Earth, and some experiments, such as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, would continue to operate.
Los Angeles Times: Billed as the first commercial building designed to carry its own environmental weight, Seattle’s Bullitt Center, which began construction yesterday, will generate its own power, process its own waste, and use only its own rainwater—for the next 250 years. The goal of the conservation-minded Bullitt Foundation is to construct the largest net-zero-energy and net-zero-water building ever. Although overall design and construction will cost about a third more than a conventional building and getting a bank to finance it has proven to be a challenge, the center could become ever more attractive as electricity and water become scarcer, according to the foundation. Among its features are a latticed overstory of solar panels, a giant cistern for collecting rainwater, higher ceilings, and taller windows that can be opened to let breezes through. The Bullitt Center is one of 12 “living buildings”—designed to generate as much power as they consume and to process their own wastewater—currently in progress in Seattle.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: When North Korea conducted its second known nuclear bomb test on 25 May 2009, the country’s leaders took extreme care to conceal the details of the event. They detonated the device a kilometer or so beneath the earth, so no radiation could escape and provide clues to the type and size of the bomb tested.
What the rest of the world knows about the bomb was learned from seismic waves. Tremors registering at 4.52 on the Richter scale suggested that the yield was on the order of a few kilotons.
Three researchers from Ohio State University detect a different unexpected signature however: an atmosphere shockwave spread out from the test site across the planet and high into the ionosphere. Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists they state that GPS radio waves suffer interference from atmospheric disturbances and by chance the North Korean test occur while they were testing equipment to reduce interference.
By timing when the shockwave from the test hit different GPS stations the three researchers were able to calculate the location of the initial explosion, which matched the seismic data. They suggest that the addition of GPS data to the monitoring stations spread about the world to watch for clandestine nuclear explosions, will strengthen the case for the US to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Space.com: A newly discovered galaxy 1.7 billion light-years away has captured astronomers’ attention because of its unique combination of characteristics. Speca is only the second spiral, as opposed to elliptical, galaxy known to generate large, powerful jets of subatomic particles that rush from its center at nearly the speed of light. It is also one of only two galaxies to have shown such activity in three separate episodes. The jets are produced by a supermassive black hole at Speca’s center. “This is probably the most exotic galaxy with a black hole ever seen. It has the potential to teach us new lessons about how galaxies and clusters of galaxies formed and developed into what we see today,” said the study’s principal investigator, Ananda Hota, of the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan. Hota and colleagues have published their results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
New Scientist: The energy of ocean waves is beginning to be tapped as a source of sustainable energy. Wave power, distinct from the daily flux of tidal power and the steady gyre of ocean currents, is generated by wind passing over the sea surface. As more than 100 companies develop wave energy converters to harvest energy from the ocean, New Scientist takes a look at six of the most promising technologies currently being deployed: a power buoy, an attenuator, an oscillating wave surge converter, a rotational wave energy device, an oscillating wave column, and an overtopping-wave-energy device.
NSF: The National Science Foundation has cleared Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann of any misconduct in the 2009 “Climategate” controversy. Climategate refers to the thousands of emails that were stolen and made public by a hacker who broke into servers owned by the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. The emails, in which climate scientists discussed their work, have been used by global-warming skeptics to dispute that carbon dioxide emissions from industry are impacting Earth’s climate.
This is the fifth investigation into the science behind the emails, and in every case, the scientists involved have been exonerated.
Mann was accused of falsifying research data, concealing and/or deleting information, misusing information, and deviating from accepted practices for conducting research and other scholarly activities.
The report by NSF’s Office of the Inspector General states that “no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the Subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.”
“Lacking any direct evidence of research misconduct,” the review concludes, “as defined under the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation, we are closing this investigation with no further action.”
Science: Six months after the initial request by a politician and a conservative environmental policy research group, the University of Virginia has turned over documents related to scientist Michael Mann’s climate change research. The documents had been requested in January, under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, by Robert Marshall, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and the American Tradition Institute (ATI). Alleging that the university was deliberately delaying the process, they later filed suit in May. Mann, a physicist and climatologist now at the Pennsylvania State University, was an assistant professor at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005. Mann’s paleoclimatological studies have been criticized by global-warming skeptics who deny that Earth’s climate is changing because of human activity. The documents released so far represent only about a third of what was requested, according to Paul Chesser, ATI’s executive director.
New Scientist: Researchers at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, have detected a pulsar with an orbiting object that may be composed of diamond. Using the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Matthew Bailes and coworkers detected the pulsar in December 2009. From follow-up observations taken with the Lovell radio telescope in the UK, they surmise that the orbiting object has a mass comparable to Jupiter’s but less than half its width. The extremely fast rotation of the pulsar and the size and density of the companion object led the researchers to conclude that the object is all that’s left of a star whittled down by the pulsar. Because the core of a stripped-down star would be mostly carbon, and because it would be under high pressure due to its own gravity, they believe the carbon would crystallize—most likely into diamond, much as carbon does deep inside Earth. The researchers published their results yesterday in Science.