Science: Nuclear explosions create an electromagnetic pulse that causes fluctuations in the ionosphere. Those fluctuations cause distortions in the signals between GPS stations and the satellites orbiting on the edge of the ionosphere. Jihye Park, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University, and her colleagues have developed an algorithm that can use those distortions to help pinpoint the location of nuclear explosions The technique adds to the methods for confirming the occurrence of underground nuclear tests, but it is not yet able to distinguish them from other ionosphere-distorting point-source events such as earthquakes.
Space.com: Yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, John Grunsfeld, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, announced that NASA plans to launch its next Mars rover in 2020. To save on cost, the chassis and landing system of the new rover will be based heavily on that of Curiosity, which landed on the red planet in August. The billion-dollar mission will be the next step toward NASA’s eventual goal of bringing back actual samples from Mars, writes Mike Wall for Space.com. “With this next mission, we’re ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
BBC: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are investigating the possibility of using smartphones as pocket seismometers. Smartphones contain an accelerometer, part of the mechanism used to tilt the screen. That same accelerometer could also be used to sense tremors, and any data gathered could be sent over the cell network to a central server. However, the smartphone must also be “smart enough” to differentiate between its user’s movements and those of Earth’s surface. So the researchers are working on an algorithm to subtract human “noise.” Because smartphones are so ubiquitous, the researchers believe they could be used to gather a lot of detailed information. In addition, the smartphone itself could provide its user a few seconds’ warning that an earthquake is imminent by detecting the faster moving but less damaging P waves that precede the more destructive S waves.
New York Times: A front-page article reports that Mattel is introducing a Barbie construction set in response to a pair of marketplace shifts: More dads are doing family shopping, and more parents want to see girls’ math and science skills developed. Susan Levine, chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago and co-principal investigator at the National Science Foundation’s Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, says that better development of spatial thinking in a child means a higher likelihood of her choosing STEM later, and that blocks, puzzles, and construction toys promote spatial development. Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys for Walmart US, reportedly said that, with the Barbie addition, construction toys for girls will rise dramatically to about 20% of the toy construction category this year. The Barbie toys involve, for example, pink mansions.