Physics Today’s online staff summarize the most important and interesting news about science from the world's top media outlets.
There are 29 posts for the selected month (October 2016).
BBC: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has taken a picture of the area where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli probe is believed to have crash-landed on Mars. Schiaparelli ceased communications during its descent, and data from before contact was lost suggest that the probe's landing systems did not operate properly. In the MRO imagery, a dark patch roughly 15 m × 40 m is visible about 5.5 km west of the probe's planned landing site; previous images show no such mark. The dark patch is likely debris thrown up by the impact. Additionally, the MRO may have spotted the lander's 15-m-wide parachute about 1 km south of the probable crash site.
Chattanooga Times Free Press: On 19 October, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) officially connected the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant to the electrical grid. Watts Bar Unit 2 is the first nuclear reactor to be added to the US's power system in 20 years. The last reactor added was the plant's Unit 1, which opened in 1996. The $4.7 billion reactor started generating power in May but has been undergoing tests and evaluations ever since. It is the TVA's seventh nuclear reactor. Together the TVA's seven reactors provide nearly 40% of the regional utility's power generation. Unit 1 and Unit 2 each provide 1150 MW. The TVA has no plans to construct more reactors, however, because regional electricity demand has leveled off. Unit 2 will serve as a replacement for older coal plants that have been closed.
International Business Times: On 14 October, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany turned on the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino (KATRIN) experiment. The €60 million ($66 million) facility houses a 220 ton spectrometer that will be used for the next five years to attempt to measure the exact mass of neutrinos. In the standard model of particle physics, neutrinos were predicted to be massless; however, the discovery that neutrinos have different flavors and oscillate between them suggests that the particles do have mass. Whereas electrons have a mass of 511 000 eV, neutrinos may have a mass of just 2 eV. KATRIN, which has a sensitivity of 0.2 eV, is designed to find a precise measurement of neutrino mass by studying the particles that are released by the decay of tritium atoms. Guido Drexlin, one of KATRIN's spokespersons, says that the research team hopes to have clear data to present as early as sometime next year.
New York Times: Early Monday morning local time, China's space agency launched two astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft on a mission to dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab, which the agency put into orbit last month. The astronauts are scheduled to spend 30 days aboard the orbital lab, which will more than double the duration of the previous longest mission by a Chinese astronaut. The mission is the sixth crewed mission by China. Aboard Tiangong-2, astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will test computers and station equipment and conduct other experiments. China hopes to launch a longer-lived station, Tianhe-1, in 2018.
Nature: Two former employees at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have filed a lawsuit after a US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation determined that they were discriminated against and wrongfully terminated. In November 2015 Elizabeth Sternke informed the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), which oversees Arecibo, that she intended to file a complaint with the EEOC. Soon after, her contract job was terminated early. Subsequently, James Richardson, Sternke's husband and fellow USRA employee, filed his own EEOC complaint. In April 2016 the USRA terminated his position as well. The EEOC investigation found that both Sternke and Richardson had been terminated in retaliation for their complaints. On 4 October the couple filed suit against the USRA and Arecibo's deputy director Joan Schmelz for $2 million in back pay and damages. According to the EEOC, when Schmelz began working at Arecibo, she intentionally sidelined Richardson in favor of younger employees and "marginalized and ostracized" both Richardson and Sternke. Additionally, the USRA altered the job description of a position that Richardson was applying for and subsequently appointed a much younger staff member to fill it.
BBC: On 11 October CNN published an opinion piece written by President Obama in which he expanded on his previously stated goal of sending crewed missions to Mars by the 2030s. To achieve that goal, Obama wants to continue the partnership between NASA and private spaceflight companies in developing rockets and other technology. NASA already has a close relationship with companies such as SpaceX, which has been resupplying the International Space Station. Just a few weeks ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed his own ambitious plan to establish a permanent settlement on Mars.
New York Times: On 11 October a consortium of nonprofits announced a plan to build a half-meter space telescope to look for potentially habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system. The data from the telescope would allow astronomers to closely analyze any planets found and potentially determine atmospheric composition. Alpha Centauri is a binary system that is located just 4.37 light-years away. Only the star Proxima Centauri, which is now known to host an Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone, is closer. However, the Alpha Centauri stars are much more Sun-like than Proxima Centauri. Jon Morse of the BoldlyGo Institute, one of the organizations leading the consortium, says that the telescope would likely cost between $25 million and $50 million, about one-third the price of a comparable NASA project. The plan is to raise funds through major donations, though the group may also turn to crowdsourcing.
IEEE Spectrum: Current state-of-the-art commercially available silicon transistors have 20 nm gates; the theoretical minimum for silicon transistors is 5 nm. Some researchers view that 5 nm threshold as the point at which Moore's law, which describes the doubling of the density of transistors on computer chips, will break down. Using molybdenum disulfide and carbon nanotubes, Ali Javey of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues have now created a transistor with a gate that is just 1 nm across. Javey is quick to caution that their transistor is far from being commercializable. But simply showing that it is possible for transistors to have gates below the 5 nm mark leaves the door open for the continuation of Moore's law.