Telegraph: Asteroids may prove to be “oases” for future space missions. They are potentially a rich source of natural resources, such as water and metals like iron, gold, and platinum. Water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used in rocket fuel; metals can be used to build and repair equipment. Having to launch those materials from Earth costs about $10 million per ton. To examine near-Earth asteroids and collect samples, a US company, Deep Space Industries, is proposing to start sending probes by 2015. Besides gathering data concerning asteroids’ potential resources, the probes could also provide information useful for science and for planetary defense. Not all asteroids will work, however: Although Asteroid 2012 DA14—due to pass by Earth later this month—could contain as much as $200 billion worth of materials, its trajectory would make it prohibitively expensive to send a probe there.
Washington Post: Researchers from the Institute for Science and International Security have uncovered evidence that Iran attempted to order 100 000 specialized magnets from China a year ago. The magnets, which are used in advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment, are banned from export to Iran under UN sanctions. It is unclear if the purchase attempt was successful, but if it was, that number of magnets would allow Iran to build as many as 50 000 centrifuges, more than 5 times the number it currently has. The news increases international concerns that Iran is making significant progress toward developing nuclear weapons. And it may complicate Iran’s attempt to smooth negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding the country’s enriched uranium stockpile. However, an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists questions the ISIS analysis.
BBC: In preparation for a two-year upgrade and repair period, scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) switched off the proton beams early Thursday morning. It will take until Saturday for the supercooled magnets to warm to room temperature so that they can be inspected for repairs. The 2012 run, during which a possible Higgs particle was detected, reached a beam collision energy of 8 TeV. When the collider begins operations again—currently planned for February or March 2015—the energy will be increased to 14 TeV. During the downtime, upgrades are planned for all four of the LHC’s detectors, the shielding for the electronics, and the ventilation system. The scientists will also be working their way through all of the data they collected during the 2012 run, which provided more than twice as much data as the 2011 run.
Science: Physical deterioration of the ear is not the only factor in age-related hearing loss, according to a recent study by Nina Kraus of Northwestern University and colleagues. As one ages, the brain slows down, which results in increased difficulty in processing certain sounds, particularly similar-sounding consonants, such as “b” and “d,” at the beginning of words. Background noise adds to the problem. In their study of 67 people aged 55–70 years with no hearing loss, the researchers found that auditory training exercises can improve brain activity and, hence, the ability to understand speech, even in noisy environments. “This study is tremendously important given the aging of the population and our need to identify novel and effective interventions to reduce age-related cognitive and functional declines in older adults,” said Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University.