Science News – Spring Break Edition
This is a small collection of some of the science stories from Spring Break. It is not an exhaustive list, but provides a few of the highlights of our choice:
Engineers Save the Day
Published March 5th, 2018
Technology is a wonderful thing, so long as it works. When something breaks on Earth, most of us have the ability to travel to a hardware store and buy a replacement. But what do you do when part of a 2.5 billion dollar Mars rover breaks? That is the challenge faced by JPL engineers since December of 2016. The motor powering the rotary action on the
Curiosity rover’s drill failed, forcing scientists to stop obtaining samples for study. Only recently (after a lot of testing and programming) have they decided to use a rather human solution: they are going to “free drill.” The process is one we as humans take for granted. If you want to drill a hole, you know automatically how to center the drill. Teaching a robot to do the same thing? It wasn’t easy, but Curiosity’s engineers managed to do it. The solution is not complete (they still have to decide how to deposit samples into the laboratory instruments), but the rover once again has the ability to drill for samples.
Published March 6th, 2018
Superconductors are a strange group of materials. Once they get below a certain temperature, they gain the uncanny ability to transmit electricity without resistance. This has a lot of applications for power grids, circuitry, and transportation, but there is a catch. Many superconductors work at temperatures close to absolute zero (0 Kelvin or -273.15°C). In response, scientists and engineers are on a constant search for “high-temperature” superconductors. This search has, oddly enough, led them to meteorites. Meteorites are being discovered with high-temperature superconductors that operate in the range of ~-140°C, almost half as cold as the standard. The special thing about these exotic materials is that many of them were formed in conditions with higher temperatures and pressures than can be obtained in a laboratory setting. Finding these materials in meteorites saves scientists the trouble of designing new superconductors from scratch. So, this begs the question, “Do you have any meteorites in your backyard?”
Published March 8th, 2018
How far out do you plan events in your life? A couple days? A few months? A year or two? How about 46 million years from now? That’s when scientists predict a pair of neutron stars will “merge.” The binary system is named PSR J1946+2052, and it is considered to be an “extreme example” of this kind of pairing. They are a small pairing, only 2.5 times the mass of our sun in total, but their binary period is 1.88 hours. (check with Matthew about binary period) In layman’s terms, the stars orbit each other in less than 2 hours. That’s REALLY fast! While it is unlikely any of us will ever see the eventual merger of these stars, scientists are still excited for the opportunities they provide. They represent a real-world laboratory for General Relativity and the study of gravity.
Published March 9th, 2018
Finding planets outside our solar system is in itself an incredible feat. Out of a night sky full
of lights, astronomers are able to use the slight dimming of a star to determine the presence of planets (a process called the transit method). Recently three planets in particular have sparked scientists’ interest. They are all near the threshold where terrestrial planets can transform into gas planets and they have an added bonus: their star system is within 100 light years of Earth. This proximity to Earth will make them easier to observe and classify as new telescopes come online.