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News Picks

Physics Today’s online staff summarize the most important and interesting news about science from the world's top media outlets.

There are 4 posts for the selected month (May 2015).
May 1, 2015 12:15 PM

Blood-red water flow in Antarctica may simulate Mars-like conditions

Ars Technica: A unique feature in Antarctica has been the subject of a recent study by Jill Mikucki of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and colleagues. The researchers flew an electromagnetic transmitter over an area called Taylor Valley to search for the source of Blood Falls—an outflow of salty, iron-rich water that stains the nearby glacier with what looks like blood. By measuring the ground’s electrical resistivity, the researchers located two zones of super-salty groundwater. They propose that the water originated more than 10 million years ago, when the climate was warmer and sea levels were higher. At that time, the valley could have been filled with seawater. As atmospheric temperatures cooled, that seawater began to freeze. The water that did not freeze became saltier and soaked into the valley floor. The researchers say the conditions are such that the salty groundwater could be home to microbial life. If so, it could help researchers better understand harsh environments like those on Mars, where salty groundwater may also have once supported life.
May 1, 2015 12:10 PM

Tesla Motors expands its battery technology to solar power storage

New York Times: Electric-car manufacturer Tesla Motors is venturing into the solar power storage market with production of its Powerwall battery. Derived from the company’s Model S vehicle battery, the Powerwall is designed for home and industrial use and can store energy generated by solar panels. Not only can it provide power in the absence of sunlight, but it can also be used during general power outages or during peak times when utilities charge higher rates. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the battery will cost $3500, and up to nine batteries can be connected to increase the amount of power that can be stored.
May 1, 2015 11:05 AM

Native Hawaiian panel rescinds support for telescope project

Science: The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), an advocacy group for native Hawaiians, has retracted its support for the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. The vote followed weeks of protests by native Hawaiians, who say the telescope would desecrate one of their most holy places and could greatly impact the fragile ecosystem there. If built, the TMT would be the world’s largest optical telescope. Mauna Kea is an ideal location for many reasons, including its low humidity and lack of cloud cover and atmospheric pollution. Its summit is already home to 13 other observatories. Although the OHA cannot prevent the telescope’s construction, its decision lands a symbolic blow against the project.
May 1, 2015 10:40 AM

MESSENGER spacecraft ends mission by colliding with Mercury

BBC: After four years orbiting Mercury, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft ran out of fuel and smashed into the planet yesterday about 3:30pm EDT. Because Mercury lacks an atmosphere, the craft would not have burned up on entry but rather collided with the surface at about 14 000 km/h. The impact would have destroyed the craft and left a crater the size of a tennis court. Although MESSENGER actually ran out of fuel several weeks ago, the venting of helium gas prolonged its ability to remain in orbit. MESSENGER was a highly successful mission, collecting more than 270 000 images and 10 terabytes of scientific measurements.
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Scitation: News Picks - Blog