BBC: Although North Korea’s controversial satellite launch last week went off as planned, the satellite itself may not be functioning. According to US astronomer Jonathan McDowell, the satellite does not appear to be transmitting but instead seems to be tumbling in orbit. However, it may be too early to tell, counters Stuart Eves of Surrey Satellite Technology in the UK. He says that any spacecraft can take several days to stabilize. The United Nations Security Council had condemned the launch, claiming it violated two UN resolutions concerning missile tests. Some countries, including the US, South Korea, and Japan, view last week’s event as another step toward North Korea’s ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Nature: On being elected president of Russia earlier this year, Vladimir Putin decided to conduct a massive reform of the country’s university system. According to an external audit commissioned by Russia’s Ministry of Science and Education, almost 500 of the country’s 600 or so public higher-education institutions are not up to international standards, particularly in terms of “quality of students, research intensity and productivity, and the amount of teaching space,” writes Quirin Schiermeier for Nature. As part of his proposed education overhaul, Putin plans to shut down the most severely underachieving schools, increase funding to a smaller number of higher-performing universities, raise academic salaries, and offer bonuses for special achievements in teaching and research. Although many Russian academics complained about the criteria chosen for the audit, others emphasized the benefits that will be realized, especially in the areas of science and innovation.
Los Angeles Times: The Environmental Protection Agency just completed a $41 million survey of a 2850-acre former research facility in California. Now owned by Boeing and NASA, the site may be opened to the public as natural parkland. However, it was once home to 10 nuclear reactors and plutonium- and uranium-carbide fabrication plants. The EPA’s 3-year survey of the area, which collected some 3735 soil and water samples, found that 423 of those samples were contaminated with radiation above background levels. Most of the contaminants were cesium-137 and strontium-90, both highly carcinogenic. The majority of the hotspots were found around the site of a partial nuclear meltdown that occurred in 1959. Boeing and NASA believe that most of the nuclear contamination can be cleaned up over the next five years. However, the facility also was the site of more than 30 000 rocket-engine tests, and the trichloroethylene that was used to wash the engines has been found in aquifers on the site. It is believed that it will take decades to remove that.
Ars Technica: Designed to detect gravity waves, AURIGA (the ultracryogenic resonant antenna for gravitational-wave astronomy) consists of a 3-m-long, 2.3-ton aluminum cylinder. But because it is cooled to just millionths of a degree above absolute zero, it also gives researchers an opportunity to look for manifestations of quantum gravity. Generally, quantum mechanical systems will vibrate even at absolute zero. However, quantum gravity, at least in theory, could modify the energy of those vibrations. Nevertheless, measurements made by AURIGA matched the standard quantum mechanical predictions without evoking quantum gravity. Although the finding does not rule out the existence of quantum gravity, it may set the upper bound for the energy level at which quantum gravity could have any impact. Another possibility is that AURIGA may not be sensitive enough to detect the variations caused by quantum gravity. The results nonetheless provide a proof-of-concept model for future attempts to measure quantum gravity and provide reason for theorists to refine the predictions for their quantum-gravity models.