Daily Mail: The Moon’s 3 000–km dark spot is known as Oceanus Procellarum, or the “Ocean of Storms.” Japanese scientists led by Ryosuke Nakamura from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology believe they have found evidence the mare was created by a massive impact. They analyzed soil composition data collected by the Japanese lunar orbiter SELENE, better known in Japan as Kaguya. The data showed the presence of low-calcium varieties of the mineral pyroxene around the Ocean of Storms as well as other known major impact craters. That form of pyroxene is associated with the melting and excavation of material from the lunar mantle, which suggests that the Ocean of Storms was formed by a similar process. Nakamura’s team estimates that the impact was caused by a 180-km-diameter asteroid some 3.9 billion years ago. The researchers believe that future missions to collect samples from the lunar surface will confirm their findings.
The Atlantic: Traditional methods for creating silicon wafers for solar panels and semiconductors require significant quantities of silicon, which can account for up to 80% of the final product’s cost. To reduce the amount of silicon needed, Twin Creeks Technologies has adapted proton accelerator technology. Protons are fired at ultrathin silicon sheets, tracing a pattern into the silicon. When the material is heated, the silicon where the protons are embedded detaches, which creates the channels needed for semiconductors or solar cells. The result is a very thin, flexible silicon wafer that uses 90% less silicon than those created by traditional processes. According to CEO Siva Sivaram, the company is just about ready to make its product available to solar panel manufacturers.
CNET: New computer software is being developed to monitor security camera feeds for suspicious activity. Although such video surveillance has traditionally relied on human operators, it has proven to be expensive and fallible. Using advances in machine vision, two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Alessandro Oltramari and Christian Lebiere, have designed an automated system that can not only recognize whether any illicit activities are taking place but also predict what’s going to happen next. It does this by calculating what humans are most likely to do based on their physical environment. The researchers presented their findings at last week’s Semantic Technology for Intelligence, Defense, and Security conference near Washington, DC.
New York Times: As shown by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy this past week, New York City is prone to flooding. Much of the city is below sea level, including its subway system, building foundations, and the World Trade Center site, all of which filled with water when the record-breaking 4-meter storm surge struck Manhattan. For almost a decade, scientists have been warning city and state officials that some sort of levee system or storm surge barriers are needed to protect the city and its 8 million inhabitants. And with climate change, the situation is only expected to get worse: Over the next century, coastal waters around New York could rise as much as six inches per decade. Whether Sandy will prove to be a long overdue call for action, however, remains to be seen.
Independent: A controversial plan to merge two of the UK’s most distinguished scientific institutions, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), may be abandoned following a public outcry. The cost-cutting measure was strongly criticized by UK and international scientists who fear that the organization’s scientific work would be undermined. Since 1962 the BAS has been the UK’s operation in Antarctica, and its scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer in the mid 1980s. An official decision about the merger is expected on Thursday.
NPR: As of Tuesday morning, for residents of the East Coast of the US, the worst of Hurricane Sandy has passed through, leaving flooded streets, downed trees, and millions of people without power. The damage is still being assessed as the storm makes its way toward Canada and the Great Lakes region. Not only is Sandy one of the largest hurricanes ever to strike the US, it is also extremely slow-moving and staying strong even as it moves across the eastern part of North America. In addition, it struck the coast during high tide and a full moon and coincided with a winter storm moving east from the central US. To discuss the many factors that make Sandy such a rare event, NPR’s Audie Cornish interviews Perry Samson, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Michigan.
New York Times: The current generation of US weather satellites are nearing or past their planned life expectancies and the next isn’t scheduled for launch until 2017. That launch will be the first in the Joint Polar Satellite System, a $13 billion program run by NOAA and NASA, that is facing criticism for delays and mismanagement. The Government Accountability Office is predicting that there will be a year long gap in satellite coverage because of the two year delay in the launch of the first JPSS satellite. A satellite called Suomi was launched last year to attempt to help bridge the gap, but has suffered technical glitches that may shorten its effective life to just 3 years. Polar orbiting satellites are key to weather prediction in the US and have provided 84% of the data used in studying Hurricane Sandy, which is currently approaching the East Coast. Without such coverage, forecasts of the 2010 snow storm that hit the Washington, DC, area would have underestimated the snowfall by half.
Smithsonian: As Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast of the US, Randy Rieland blogs about the vastly improved weather forecasting that has allowed residents to better anticipate the coming storm and prepare for it. He credits modern supercomputers for the dramatic improvement. More data are being gathered by satellites and other equipment on such factors as temperature, barometric pressure, and wind. And that data are being analyzed on many atmospheric levels, starting at Earth’s surface and continuing up to the stratosphere. Modern supercomputers—such as Yellowstone, which just went online a few weeks ago in Wyoming—are able to process all that data much more quickly than ever before, and they can significantly narrow their focus to smaller geographical areas. Nevertheless, “one of the things that make weather scientists better predictors than their counterparts in other fields is their recognition that neither they nor their numbers are perfect,” writes Rieland. Weather systems are extremely dynamic, so what path Hurricane Sandy will ultimately follow remains to be seen.
BBC: Whereas carbon nanotubes are superior to traditional circuitry materials for conducting electricity, it is not easy to place them on chips in a high-density arrangement. A team at IBM has taken the first step in making this possible, fitting thousands of carbon nanotube transistors onto a single chip. The team used traditional lithography on a hafnium-coated silicon wafer to etch the circuit pattern, then dipped the chip in a solution that bonded to the exposed hafnium channels. The chip was then dipped into a second solution of nanotubes coated in a chemical that bonded with the chemical filling the channels carved onto the wafer. The result was a density of a billion nanotube transistors per square centimeter. This density is a significant step in nanotube microcircuitry, but is still far from being an improvement on current traditional techniques. James Hannon, one of the team members, says that the technique holds promise for when traditional techniques can no longer increase transistor density. However, when the technique is refined, the maximum density attainable would be limited only by the size of the atoms involved.
Wall Street Journal: The article “Scientists quit Texas cancer institute in flap” reports the resignations of 33 of 140 members of a research-advisory panel for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. At issue was the balance between pure research and commercialization projects. The institute has provided $755 million in cancer funding over the last three years. An oversight committee includes politically appointed laypeople. “Some of the departing scientists—who include Nobel laureates Phillip A. Sharp and Alfred Gilman, who had been the institute’s chief scientific officer—said in resignation letters and interviews with the Wall Street Journal that they were protesting a willingness” by that committee “to fund commercial projects aimed at developing new cancer therapies, regardless of whether the projects had been thoroughly vetted by the scientists.” Members who remained on the science panel reportedly “say that Texas’ unusual commitment to cancer research is too important to abandon.”