Tag Archives: #space

Which Conspiracy Theory Do You Believe In? (Psychology)

Everyone believes in at least one conspiracy theory, according to conspiracy researchers. Conspiracy theories aren’t reserved for angry Republicans in the United States. Do you think Biden stole the election?

Joe Biden is the new president of the United States, although half of the country’s Republicans believe he stole the election. A lot of people believe conspiracy theories on the other side of the Atlantic. But they aren’t only found there.

Joe Biden. Are you among those who think he stole the election? Photo: Andrew Cutraro, White House

Conspiracy theories are not exclusive to people who storm the U.S. Capitol.

“Everyone believes at least one conspiracy theory,” says Asbjørn Dyrendal, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies who specializes in conspiracy theories.

The more conspiracy theories you bring up, the more people answer yes to one of them.

That fact leads American conspiracy researcher Joseph Uscinski at the University of Miami to posit that all people believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Dyrendal basically agrees, but he modifies Uscinski’s statement slightly, saying all people believe some conspiracy theory “a little.”

Referee has it out for your team

Maybe you don’t think that the earth is flat or that the moon landings were faked and kept under wraps by all the 400 000 individuals involved. Maybe you don’t believe that vaccines cause autism and that the authorities are doing this on purpose, or that 5G is messing up your head, even if you’re not exactly alone in that case.

We are all more vulnerable to believing what we think is right, especially when our identity is at stake and emotions are strong. It can be a bit like the emotions associated with football.

“Maybe you think the referee is out to get your football team, especially when one of your team’s players gets fouled in the box and no penalty is called,” says Dyrendal.

“These examples activate the same mechanisms that come into play when our thoughts build on themselves and turn into more entrenched conspiracy beliefs.”

Maybe you even think a lot of referees are against your team, especially if you believe you’re seeing a pattern, like your team never or only rarely getting a penalty kick.

This thinking doesn’t usually amount to a conspiracy theory in and of itself. But the same mechanisms come into play when thoughts build on themselves and turn into more entrenched conspiracy beliefs.

People can have degrees of conspiracy thinking as well. There’s a difference between yelling at the ref in a heated moment and believing that the earth is flat.

Donald Trump. Is he really a savior? Photo: Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons

Common traits

You can find people who believe in the most unusual conspiracy theories everywhere, perhaps even in your own mirror.

“But several common characteristics recur often,” says Dyrendal.

Conspiracy theorists typically:

  • tend to have a little less education.
  • more often live in societies that have less successful democracies, which influences trust in others and in the authorities.
  • belong to groups that feel they should have more power and influence.
  • belong to special political organizations or religious groups a little more often.
  • more often use intuition – their “gut feeling” – when making decisions.
  • see connections more often than most people do, also where such connections do not exist, and they are more likely to see intention as the cause of events.
  • are a little more narcissistic and paranoid than others.
  • more often obtain their information from social media.

We can take a closer look at some of these points.

Chemtrails or contrails? Are the stripes after a plane really chemicals that the authorities spray us with? No. It’s condensation. Water vapour. Photo: Shutterstock, NTB

Role of social media

“We’ve noticed that conspiracy theorists are somewhat more likely to find their news sources on social media,” says Dyrendal.

This has a bit to do with how social media works.

Social media can create echo chambers. The media is structured in such a way that you mostly hear from friends and other sources that you already agree with. “Likes” and posts that you click on influence what you see later. This makes it easy to confirm suspicions and perceptions that you already have. And you’ll always find a community of other individuals who feel and think a little like you do.

However, just blaming Twitter and Facebook for this phenomenon is a gross oversimplification. It may seem as if more people than before believe in the strangest conspiracy theories, but in fact we don’t know if there are more than before.

A majority of Americans do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was alone in killing John F. Kennedy. Photo: Victor Hugo King

Gender distribution

You may think that men are conspiracy theorists more often than women, but that’s actually not true.

“When we look at a large number of different conspiracy theories, we find no reliable gender differences in the average scores,” says Dyrendal.

But who believes in which theories can be different, although the differences don’t necessarily revolve exclusively around gender. They may have more to do with dominance.

“People who dislike equality and prefer hierarchy see themselves and their group as superior to others and believe more in conspiracy theories that are specifically about social out-groups,” Dyrendal says.

The United States Congress. More open to welcoming uninvited guests than we thought. Photo: Shutterstock, NTB

This kind of preference for clear social ranking expresses itself in general prejudices against groups that are seen as lower in the social hierarchy or which are perceived as a threat to the social hierarchy.

“These individuals tend to believe more easily in conspiracies like immigration, Jewish dominance, Muslims or the like, and this preference is a little stronger in men,” Dyrendal says.

Group belonging

The most prominent characteristic of conspiracy theorists is that they are often part of various groups that distrust the government and the way most of us live today.

“If you belong to a group that already believes in doomsday scenarios and a future saviour, it’s probably easier to believe in some of the conspiracy theories,” Dyrendal says.

Evangelical Christians in the United States, for example, will find it easier to adopt conspiracy theories that fit with their other beliefs. If you’re convinced that the world as we know it will soon end with the battle between good and evil at Armageddon, it’s not that big a jump to believe that politicians in recent decades are actually emissaries of Satan himself.

QAnon not that big

Among people who stormed the U.S. Capitol were several members of QAnon. This is a group that believes Donald Trump has been fighting a secret war against a powerful group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles, which includes Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton. Probably not part of a Satan-worshiping network of paedophiles. Photo: US Department of State

But the followers of QAnon don’t number as many people some media might suggest, at least in proportion to the population of the United States. QAnon may seem widespread because many of the conspiracy theories adopted by QAnon were already well established and far more popular before.

“But in a country with 330 million inhabitants, numbers quickly grow to a good size anyway,” Dyrendal says.

Conspiracy researcher Uscinski in Miami has studied QAnon for a long time and believes the group hasn’t grown in recent years. He should know, since he’s been asking people about it since about the group’s beginnings.

Most aren’t extreme

But most of the people who stormed the Capitol were completely different people. And when half of the Republicans allege electoral fraud that was overwhelmingly rejected by election officials, we’re not exactly talking about belonging to some extremist group.

These aren’t just poor people who believe the powers-that-be and the rich are looking to oppress them, either. The connections are tangled.

“Conspiracy beliefs are also about a lot of people wanting more. Trump supporters may be less educated than the average population, but they have higher salaries,” says Dyrendal.

The media often portray most Trump supporters as slightly backward, disadvantaged people from rural areas, but this is simply not true.

Lingering beliefs

Most of us aren’t as far out as the strangest few are. Ninety-six per cent of Norwegians vaccinate their children.

But some perceptions and suspicions can linger. Isn’t Manchester United having a lot of penalties called at the moment? Didn’t Rosenborg have all the referees on their side when they won 13 league championships in a row?

Dyrendal admits he hasn’t yet forgiven the referee in the match between Leeds and Bayern Munich in 1975.

Bayern Munich won the European Cup final 2-0 after the referee disallowed Peter Lorimer’s goal, when he ruled Billy Bremner offside and twice failed to call a penalty against Bayern Munich.

French judges. They hate British teams, everyone knows that. And they’re really easy to bribe, right?


More reading: (1) Anastasiya Astapova, Eirikur Bergmann, Asbjørn Dyrendal, Annika Rabo, Kasper Grotle Rasmussen, Hulda Thórisdóttir, Andreas Önnerfors. Conspiracy Theories and the Nordic Countries. (2) Asbjørn Dyrendal, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Mons Bendixen. Predictors of belief in conspiracy theory: The role of individual differences in schizotypal traits, paranormal beliefs, social dominance orientation, right wing authoritarianism and conspiracy mentality. Personality and Individual Differences Volume 173, April 2021, 110645. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2021.110645


Provided by Norwegian Sci-tech news

Neuroscientists Identify Brain Circuit That Encodes Timing of Events (Neuroscience)

Findings suggest this hippocampal circuit helps us to maintain our timeline of memories.

When we experience a new event, our brain records a memory of not only what happened, but also the context, including the time and location of the event. A new study from MIT neuroscientists sheds light on how the timing of a memory is encoded in the hippocampus, and suggests that time and space are encoded separately.

MIT neuroscientists have found that pyramidal cells (green) in the CA2 region of the hippocampus are responsible for storing critical timing information. Credits: Image: The Tonegawa Lab, edited by MIT News

In a study of mice, the researchers identified a hippocampal circuit that the animals used to store information about the timing of when they should turn left or right in a maze. When this circuit was blocked, the mice were unable to remember which way they were supposed to turn next. However, disrupting the circuit did not appear to impair their memory of where they were in space.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that when we form new memories, different populations of neurons in the brain encode time and place information, the researchers say.

“There is an emerging view that ‘place cells’ and ‘time cells’ organize memories by mapping information onto the hippocampus. This spatial and temporal context serves as a scaffold that allows us to build our own personal timeline of memories,” says Chris MacDonald, a research scientist at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the lead author of the study.

Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at the RIKEN-MIT Laboratory of Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute, is the senior author of the study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Time and place

About 50 years ago, neuroscientists discovered that the brain’s hippocampus contains neurons that encode memories of specific locations. These cells, known as place cells, store information that becomes part of the context of a particular memory.

The other critical piece of context for any given memory is the timing. In 2011, MacDonald and the late Howard Eichenbaum, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, discovered cells that keep track of time, in a part of the hippocampus called CA1.

In that study, MacDonald, who was then a postdoc at Boston University, found that these cells showed specific timing-related firing patterns when mice were trained to associate two stimuli — an object and an odor — that were presented with a 10-second delay between them. When the delay was extended to 20 seconds, the cells reorganized their firing patterns to last 20 seconds instead of 10.

“It’s almost like they’re forming a new representation of a temporal context, much like a spatial context,” MacDonald says. “The emerging view seems to be that both place and time cells organize memory by mapping experience to a representation of context that is defined by time and space.”

In the new study, the researchers wanted to investigate which other parts of the brain might be feeding CA1 timing information. Some previous studies had suggested that a nearby part of the hippocampus called CA2 might be involved in keeping track of time. CA2 is a very small region of the hippocampus that has not been extensively studied, but it has been shown to have strong connections to CA1.

To study the links between CA2 and CA1, the researchers used an engineered mouse model in which they could use light to control the activity of neurons in the CA2 region. They trained the mice to run a figure-eight maze in which they would earn a reward if they alternated turning left and right each time they ran the maze. Between each trial, they ran on a treadmill for 10 seconds, and during this time, they had to remember which direction they had turned on the previous trial, so they could do the opposite on the upcoming trial.

When the researchers turned off CA2 activity while the mice were on the treadmill, they found that the mice performed very poorly at the task, suggesting that they could no longer remember which direction they had turned in the previous trial.

“When the animals are performing normally, there is a sequence of cells in CA1 that ticks off during this temporal coding phase,” MacDonald says. “When you inhibit the CA2, what you see is the temporal coding in CA1 becomes less precise and more smeared out in time. It becomes destabilized, and that seems to correlate with them also performing poorly on that task.”

Memory circuits

When the researchers used light to inhibit CA2 neurons while the mice were running the maze, they found little effect on the CA1 “place cells” that allow the mice to remember where they are. The findings suggest that spatial and timing information are encoded preferentially by different parts of the hippocampus, MacDonald says.

“One thing that’s exciting about this work is this idea that spatial and temporal information can operate in parallel and might merge or separate at different points in the circuit, depending on what you need to accomplish from a memory standpoint,” he says.

MacDonald is now planning additional studies of time perception, including how we perceive time under different circumstances, and how our perception of time influences our behavior. Another question he hopes to pursue is whether the brain has different mechanisms for keeping track of events that are separated by seconds and events that are separated by much longer periods of time.

“Somehow the information that we store in memory preserves the sequential order of events across very different timescales, and I’m very interested in how it is that we’re able to do that,” he says.

The research was funded by the RIKEN Center for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the JPB Foundation.

Reference: Christopher J. MacDonald, Susumu Tonegawa, “Crucial role for CA2 inputs in the sequential organization of CA1 time cells supporting memory”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2021, 118 (3) e2020698118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2020698118 https://www.pnas.org/content/118/3/e2020698118

Provided by MIT

Arecibo Observatory Helps Researchers Find Possible ‘First Hints’ of Low-Frequency Gravitational Waves (Astronomy)

Although the researchers used Arecibo Observatory data, they are no longer able to make observations using the observatory since it collapsed in December following broken cables in August and November.

Data from Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has been used to help detect the first possible hints of low-frequency disturbances in the curvature of space-time.

Representative illustration of the Earth embedded in space-time which is deformed by the background gravitational waves and its effects on radio signals coming from observed pulsars. (Credit: Tonia Klein / NANOGrav)

The results were presented today at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which was held virtually, and are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Arecibo Observatory is managed by the University of Central Florida for the National Science Foundation under a cooperative agreement.

The disturbances are known as gravitational waves, which ripple through space as a result of the movement of incredibly massive objects, such as black holes orbiting one another or the collision of neutron stars.

It’s important to understand these waves as they provide insight into the history of the cosmos and expand researchers’ knowledge of gravity past current limits of understanding.

Although the gravitational waves are stretching and squeezing the fabric of space-time, they don’t impact humans and any changes in the relative distances between objects would change the height of a person by less than one one-hundredth the width of a human hair, says Joseph Simon, a postdoctoral associate in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Simon presented the findings at the society today, is lead researcher of the paper, and is a member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, or NANOGrav, the team that performed the research.

NANOGrav is a group of more than 100 astronomers from across the U.S. and Canada whose common goal is to study the universe using low-frequency gravitational waves

In 2015, NSF’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) made the first direct observation of high frequency gravitational waves using interferometry, a measurement method that uses the interference of electromagnetic waves.

The new findings made by NANOGrav researchers are unique because the astronomers found possible hints of low-frequency gravitational waves by using radio telescopes, since they cannot be detected by LIGO. Both frequencies are important for understanding the universe.

Key to the research were two NSF-funded instruments – Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Arecibo Observatory, with its 1,000 foot diameter dish provided very precise data, while the Green Bank Telescope, which has much larger sky coverage, sampled a wider range of information needed to discriminate gravitational wave perturbations from other effects, Simon says.

“We time roughly half the pulsars with each telescope,” he says. “Each telescope provides about half of our total sensitivity in a complementary way.”

Although the researchers used Arecibo data for the study, they are no longer able to make observations with it since the observatory collapsed in December following broken cables in August and November.

“It was a truly horrible day when the telescope collapsed,” Simon says. “It feels like the loss of a good friend, and we are so saddened for our friends and colleagues in Puerto Rico. Going forward, we hope to increase the amount of time we use on the Green Bank Telescope to at least partially compensate for Arecibo’s loss. Another large collecting area radio telescope must be built in the U.S. soon if we want this research area to flourish.”

The researchers were able to detect possible hints of low-frequency gravitational waves by using the telescopes to study signals from pulsars, which are small, dense, rotating stars that send out pulses of radio waves at precise intervals toward Earth. This regularity make them useful in astronomical study, and they are often referred to as the universe’s timekeepers.

Gravitational waves can interrupt their regularity, causing deviations in pulsar signals arriving on Earth, thus indicating the position of the Earth has shifted slightly.

By studying the timing of the regular signals from many pulsars scattered over the sky at the same time, known as a “pulsar timing array,” NANOGrav was able to detect minute changes in the Earth’s position possibly due to gravitational waves stretching and shrinking space-time.

NANOGrav was able to rule out some effects other than gravitational waves, such as interference from the matter in the solar system or certain errors in the data collection.

To confirm direct detection of a signature from low-frequency gravitational waves, NANOGrav researchers will have to find a distinctive pattern in the signals between individual pulsars. At this point, the signal is too weak for such a pattern to be distinguishable, according to the researchers.

Boosting the signal requires NANOGrav to expand its dataset to include more pulsars studied for even longer lengths of time, which will increase the array’s sensitivity. In addition, pooling NANOGrav’s data together with those from other pulsar timing array experiments, a joint effort by the International Pulsar Timing Array, may reveal such a pattern. The International Pulsar Timing Array is a collaboration of researchers using the world’s largest radio telescopes.

At the same time, NANOGrav is developing techniques to ensure the detected signal could not be from another source. They are producing computer simulations that help test whether the detected noise could be caused by effects other than gravitational waves, in order to avoid a false detection.

“It is incredibly exciting to see such a strong signal emerge from the data,” Simon says. “However, because the gravitational-wave signal we are searching for spans the entire duration of our observations, we need to carefully understand our noise. This leaves us in a very interesting place, where we can strongly rule out some known noise sources, but we cannot yet say whether the signal is indeed from gravitational waves. For that, we will need more data.”

Benetge Perera, a scientist at Arecibo Observatory who is a specialist in using observations of pulsars for the detection of gravitational waves, says the research aims to open a new window in the spectrum of gravitational wave frequencies.

“A low-frequency gravitational wave detection would enhance our understanding of supermassive black hole binaries, galaxy evolution, and the universe,” says Perera, who is also a member of NANOGrav.

He says that despite the collapse of Arecibo Observatory, there are still much archived data to pore through to continue to learn about gravitational waves.

“Arecibo was very important as its timing data provided about 50 percent of NANOGrav’s sensitivity to gravitational waves,” he says. “I want to ensure that the sensitive data we collected before Arecibo’s collapse has the highest possible scientific impact.”

Reference: Zaven Arzoumanian, Paul T. Baker et al., “The NANOGrav 12.5 yr Data Set: Search for an Isotropic Stochastic Gravitational-wave Background”, ApJL 905(2) L34, 2021. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/abd401

Provided by University of Central Florida

Experiments First Verify Distributed Quantum Phase Estimation (Quantum)

Prof. PAN Jianwei and colleages from University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have achieved experimental verification of distribution quantum phase estimation for the first time. This work, which “constitutes a significant milestone” by the reviewer, was published on Nature Photonics.

Distributed metrology is a key tool to measure several locations from remote simultaneously with high precision, one typical task of which is the monitoring on stress field and temperature field of bridge and airplane.

In line with the development of quantum technology, metrology also entered quantum era. When targeting on measurement of multiple parameters distributed in space, distributed quantum metrology can enhance the sensitivity of measurements beyond the classical limits.

However, researchers are wondering how to achieve entangled states for optimal precision of multiparameter measurement, which was known as the ultimate Heisenberg limit.

In this study, PAN’s team designed the optimal measurement scheme using entangled photons, and demonstrated measurement of individual phase shifts and their average. The precision went beyond the theory limit of classical sensor.

Experimental setup on distributed estimation of quantum phase. (Image by LIU Lizheng et al.)

By considering both photon entanglement and coherence, Prof. PAN’s team further demonstrated linear combination of multiple phase shifts with the total number of parameters to measure up to 21. This combined scheme both enlarged the number of measurable parameters and enhanced the precision compared with using photon entanglement only.

This research assessed the precision of measurement in different entanglement strategies and provided the verification of the benefit of entanglement and coherence for distributed quantum metrology. It lays a foundation for future application of high-precision distributed quantum metrology.

Reference: Liu, LZ., Zhang, YZ., Li, ZD. et al. Distributed quantum phase estimation with entangled photons. Nat. Photonics (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41566-020-00718-2 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41566-020-00718-2

Provided by University of Science and Technology of China

NTU Singapore Scientists Invent Glue Activated by Magnetic Field (Engineering)

A potential boon to green manufacturing, the new glue saves on energy, time and space.

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), have developed a new way to cure adhesives using a magnetic field.

(Left to right) NTU Assoc Prof Terry Steele, Prof Raju V. Ramanujan and Dr Richa Chaudhary holding up various soft and hard materials bonded by their new magnetocuring glue © NTU Singapore

Conventional adhesives like epoxy which are used to bond plastic, ceramics and wood are typically designed to cure using moisture, heat or light. They often require specific curing temperatures, ranging from room temperature up to 80 degrees Celsius.

The curing process is necessary to cross-link and bond the glue with the two secured surfaces as the glue crystallises and hardens to achieve its final strength.

NTU’s new “magnetocuring” glue can cure by passing it through a magnetic field. This is very useful in certain environmental conditions where current adhesives do not work well. Also, when the adhesive is sandwiched between insulating material like rubber or wood, traditional activators like heat, light and air cannot easily reach the adhesive.

Products such as composite bike frames, helmets and golf clubs, are currently made with two-part epoxy adhesives, where a resin and a hardener are mixed and the reaction starts immediately.

For manufacturers of carbon fibre – thin ribbons of carbon glued together layer by layer – and makers of sports equipment involving carbon fibre, their factories use large, high temperature ovens to cure the epoxy glue over many hours. This energy-intensive curing process is the main reason for the high cost of carbon fibre.

Assoc Prof Steele (left) and Dr Richa curing the magnetocuring glue on a cotton mesh using an electromagnetic field © NTU Singapore

The new “magnetocuring” adhesive is made by combining a typical commercially available epoxy adhesive with specially tailored magnetic nanoparticles made by the NTU scientists. It does not need to be mixed with any hardener or accelerator, unlike two-component adhesives (which has two liquids that must be mixed before use), making it easy to manufacture and apply.

It bonds the materials when it is activated by passing through a magnetic field, which is easily generated by a small electromagnetic device. This uses less energy than a large conventional oven.

For example, one gram of magnetocuring adhesive can be easily cured by a 200-Watt electromagnetic device in five minutes (consuming 16.6 Watt Hours). This is 120 times less energy needed than a traditional 2000-Watt oven which takes an hour (consuming 2000 Watt Hours) to cure conventional epoxy.

Developed by Professor Raju V. Ramanujan, Associate Professor Terry Steele and Dr Richa Chaudhary from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, the findings were published in the scientific journal Applied Materials Today and offer potential application in a wide range of fields.

This includes high-end sports equipment, automotive products, electronics, energy, aerospace and medical manufacturing processes. Laboratory tests have shown that the new adhesive has a strength up to 7 megapascals, on par with many of the epoxy adhesives on the market.

NTU Prof Raju holding and bending two pieces of wood bonded in the middle by the magnetocuring glue, to demonstrate its strong bonding strength © NTU Singapore

Assoc Prof Steele, an expert in various types of advanced adhesives, explained: “Our key development is a way to cure adhesives within minutes of exposure to a magnetic field, while preventing overheating of the surfaces to which they are applied. This is important as some surfaces that we want to join are extremely heat-sensitive, such as flexible electronics and biodegradable plastics.”

How “magnetocuring” glue works

The new adhesive is made of two main components – a commercially available epoxy that is cured through heat, and oxide nanoparticles made from a chemical combination including manganese, zinc and iron (MnxZn1-xFe2O4).

These nanoparticles are designed to heat up when electromagnetic energy is passed through them, activating the curing process. The maximum temperature and rate of heating can be controlled by these special nanoparticles, eliminating overheating and hotspot formation.

Without the need for large industrial ovens, the activation of the glue has a smaller footprint in space and energy consumption terms. The energy efficiency in the curing process is crucial for green manufacturing, where products are made at lower temperatures, and use less energy for heating and cooling.

For instance, manufacturers of sports shoes often have difficulty heating up the adhesives in between the rubber soles and the upper half of the shoe, as rubber is a heat insulator and resists heat transmission to the conventional epoxy glue. An oven is needed to heat up the shoe over a long time before the heat can reach the glue.

Using magnetic-field activated glue bypasses this difficulty, by directly activating the curing process only in the glue.

The alternating magnetic field can also be embedded at the bottom of conveyor belt systems, so products with pre-applied glue can be cured when they pass through the magnetic field.

Improving manufacturing efficiency

Prof Raju Ramanujan, who is internationally recognised for his advances in magnetic materials, jointly led the project and predicts that the technology could increase the efficiency of manufacturing where adhesive joints are needed.

“Our temperature-controlled magnetic nanoparticles are designed to be mixed with existing one-pot adhesive formulations, so many of the epoxy-based adhesives on the market could be converted into magnetic field-activated glue,” Prof Ramanujan said.

“The speed and temperature of curing can be adjusted, so manufacturers of existing products could redesign or improve their existing manufacturing methods. For example, instead of applying glue and curing it part by part in a conventional assembly line, the new process could be to pre-apply glue on all the parts and then cure them as they move along the conveyor chain. Without ovens, it would lead to much less downtime and more efficient production.”

First author of the study, Dr Richa Chaudhary said, “The curing of our newly-developed magnetocuring adhesive takes only several minutes instead of hours, and yet is able to secure surfaces with high strength bonds, which is of considerable interest in the sports, medical, automotive and aerospace industries. This efficient process can also bring about cost savings as the space and energy needed for conventional heat curing are reduced significantly.”

This three-year project was supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A?STAR).

Previous work on heat-activated glue used an electric current flowing through a coil, known as induction-curing, where the glue is heated and cured from outside. However, its drawbacks include overheating of the surfaces and uneven bonding due to hotspot formation within the adhesive.

Moving forward, the team hopes to engage adhesive manufacturers to collaborate on commercialising their technology. They have filed a patent through NTUitive, the university’s innovation and enterprise company. They have already received interest in their research from sporting goods manufacturers.

Reference: “Magnetocuring of temperature failsafe epoxy adhesives” published in Dec issue of Applied Materials Today. doi.org/10.1016/j.apmt.2020.100824

Provided by Nanyang Technological University

The Upside of Volatile Space Weather (Planetary Science)

Robust stellar flares might not prevent life on exoplanets, could facilitate its detection.

Although violent and unpredictable, stellar flares emitted by a planet’s host star do not necessarily prevent life from forming, according to a new Northwestern University study.

An artistic rendering of a series of powerful stellar flares. © NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger

Emitted by stars, stellar flares are sudden flashes of magnetic imagery. On Earth, the sun’s flares sometimes damage satellites and disrupt radio communications. Elsewhere in the universe, robust stellar flares also have the ability to deplete and destroy atmospheric gases, such as ozone. Without the ozone, harmful levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation can penetrate a planet’s atmosphere, thereby diminishing its chances of harboring surface life.

By combining 3D atmospheric chemistry and climate modeling with observed flare data from distant stars, a Northwestern-led team discovered that stellar flares could play an important role in the long-term evolution of a planet’s atmosphere and habitability.

“We compared the atmospheric chemistry of planets experiencing frequent flares with planets experiencing no flares. The long-term atmospheric chemistry is very different,” said Northwestern’s Howard Chen, the study’s first author. “Continuous flares actually drive a planet’s atmospheric composition into a new chemical equilibrium.”

“We’ve found that stellar flares might not preclude the existence of life,” added Daniel Horton, the study’s senior author. “In some cases, flaring doesn’t erode all of the atmospheric ozone. Surface life might still have a fighting chance.”

The study will be published on Dec. 21 in the journal Nature Astronomy. It is a joint effort among researchers at Northwestern, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS).

Horton is an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Chen is a Ph.D. candidate in Horton’s Climate Change Research Group and a NASA future investigator.

Importance of flares

All stars — including our very own sun — flare, or randomly release stored energy. Fortunately for Earthlings, the sun’s flares typically have a minimal impact on the planet.

“Our sun is more of a gentle giant,” said Allison Youngblood, an astronomer at the University of Colorado and co-author of the study. “It’s older and not as active as younger and smaller stars. Earth also has a strong magnetic field, which deflects the sun’s damaging winds.”

A filament eruption from the sun, accompanied by solar flares. © NASA/GSFC/SDO

Unfortunately, most potentially habitable exoplanets aren’t as lucky. For planets to potentially harbor life, they must be close enough to a star that their water won’t freeze — but not so close that water vaporizes.

“We studied planets orbiting within the habitable zones of M and K dwarf stars — the most common stars in the universe,” Horton said. “Habitable zones around these stars are narrower because the stars are smaller and less powerful than stars like our sun. On the flip side, M and K dwarf stars are thought to have more frequent flaring activity than our sun, and their tidally locked planets are unlikely to have magnetic fields helping deflect their stellar winds.”

Chen and Horton previously conducted a study of M dwarf stellar systems’ long term climate averages. Flares, however, occur on an hours- or days-long timescales. Although these brief timescales can be difficult to simulate, incorporating the effects of flares is important to forming a more complete picture of exoplanet atmospheres. The researchers accomplished this by incorporating flare data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey, launched in 2018, into their model simulations.

Using flares to detect life

If there is life on these M and K dwarf exoplanets, previous work hypothesizes that stellar flares might make it easier to detect. For example, stellar flares can increase the abundance of life-indicating gasses (such as nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide and nitric acid) from imperceptible to detectable levels.

“Space weather events are typically viewed as a detriment to habitability,” Chen said. “But our study quantitatively shows that some space weather can actually help us detect signatures of important gases that might signify biological processes.”

This study involved researchers from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including climate scientists, exoplanet scientists, astronomers, theorists and observers.

“This project was a result of fantastic collective team effort,” said Eric T. Wolf, a planetary scientist at CU Boulder and a co-author of the study. “Our work highlights the benefits of interdisciplinary efforts when investigating conditions on extrasolar planets.”

Reference: Chen, H., Zhan, Z., Youngblood, A. et al. Persistence of flare-driven atmospheric chemistry on rocky habitable zone worlds. Nat Astron (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-01264-1 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-01264-1

Provided by Northwestern University

How Nearby Galaxies Form Their Stars? (Astronomy)

How stars form in galaxies remains a major open question in astrophysics. A new UZH study sheds new light on this topic with the help of a data-driven re-analysis of observational measurements. The star-formation activity of typical, nearby galaxies is found to scale proportionally with the amount of gas present in these galaxies. This points to the net gas supply from cosmic distances as the main driver of galactic star formation.

Stars (white) form throughout the gas disk. Figure 1 shows a visualization of gas in and around a Milky-Way-like galaxy (center) in today’s Universe as predicted by a cosmological simulation run by the author. Dense, atomic and molecular hydrogen typically forms an extended disk, here seen in bluish-purple at the center of the image. Stars (white) form throughout the gas disk. Additional star formation may take place in satellite galaxies, here seen at the top right and bottom left positions. Hot, low density gas (green and red hues) can be found at large distances, out to the edge of the dark matter halo surrounding the main galaxy (white circle). The image also shows a large number of dark matter substructures (purple) most of which are devoid of gas and stars. (Illustration: Robert Feldmann)

Stars are born in dense clouds of molecular hydrogen gas that permeates interstellar space of most galaxies. While the physics of star formation is complex, recent years have seen substantial progress towards understanding how stars form in a galactic environment. What ultimately determines the level of star formation in galaxies, however, remains an open question.

In principle, two main factors influence the star formation activity: The amount of molecular gas that is present in galaxies and the timescale over which the gas reservoir is depleted by converting it into stars. While the gas mass of galaxies is regulated by a competition between gas inflows, outflows and consumption, the physics of the gas-to-star conversion is currently not well understood. Given its potentially critical role, many efforts have been undertaken to determine the gas depletion timescale observationally. However, these efforts resulted in conflicting findings partly because of the challenge in measuring gas masses reliably given current detection limits.

Typical star formation is linked to the overall gas reservoir

The present study from the Institute for Computational Science of the University of Zurich uses a new statistical method based on Bayesian modeling to properly account for galaxies with undetected amounts of molecular or atomic hydrogen to minimize observational bias. This new analysis reveals that, in typical star-forming galaxies, molecular and atomic hydrogen are converted into stars over approximately constant timescales of 1 and 10 billion years, respectively. However, extremely active galaxies (“starbursts”) are found to have much shorter gas depletion timescales.

“These findings suggest that star formation is indeed directly linked to the overall gas reservoir and thus set by the rate at which gas enters or leaves a galaxy,” says Robert Feldmann, professor at the Center for Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology. In contrast, the dramatically higher star-formation activity of starbursts likely has a different physical origin, such as galaxy interactions or instabilities in galactic disks.

Far galaxies across cosmic history

This analysis is based on observational data of nearby galaxies. Observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, the Square Kilometer Array and other observatories promise to probe the gas content of large numbers of galaxies across cosmic history. It will be paramount to continue the development of statistical and data-science methods to accurately extract the physical content from these new observations and to fully uncover the mysteries of star formation in galaxies.

Reference: Feldmann, R. The link between star formation and gas in nearby galaxies. Commun Phys 3, 226 (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s42005-020-00493-0 https://doi.org/10.1038/s42005-020-00493-0

Provided by University of Zurich

Compressive Fluctuations Heat Ions in Space Plasma (Planetary Science)

New simulations carried out in part on the ATERUI II supercomputer in Japan have found that the reason ions exist at higher temperatures than electrons in space plasma is because they are better able to absorb energy from compressive turbulent fluctuations in the plasma. These finding have important implications for understanding observations of various astronomical objects such as the images of the accretion disk and shadow of the M87 supermassive black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.

Artist’s impression of the ions and electrons in various space plasmas. © Yohei Kawazura

In addition to the normal three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) which we see around us every day, there is an additional state called plasma which exists only at high temperatures. Under these conditions, electrons become separated from their parent atoms leaving behind positively charged ions. In space plasma the electrons and ions rarely collide with each other, meaning that they can coexist in different conditions, such as at different temperatures. However, there is no obvious reason why they should have different temperatures unless some force affects them differently. So why ions are usually hotter than electrons in space plasma has long been a mystery.

One way to heat plasma is by turbulence. Chaotic fluctuations in turbulence smoothly mix with particles, and then their energy is converted into heat. To determine the roles of different types of fluctuations in plasma heating, an international team led by Yohei Kawazura at Tohoku University in Japan performed the world’s first simulations of space plasma including two types of fluctuations, transverse oscillations of magnetic field lines and longitudinal oscillations of pressure. They used nonlinear hybrid gyrokinetic simulations which are particularly good at modeling slow fluctuations. These simulations were conducted on several supercomputers, including ATERUI II at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

The results showed that the longitudinal fluctuations like to mix with ions but leave electrons. On the other hand the transverse fluctuations can mix with both ions and electrons. “Surprisingly, the longitudinal fluctuations are picky about the partner species to mix with,” says Kawazura. This is a key result for understanding the ion to electron heating ratios in plasmas observed in space, like that around the supermassive black hole in Galaxy M87.

These results appeared as Y. Kawazura et al. “Ion versus Electron Heating in Compressively Driven Astrophysical Gyrokinetic Turbulence” in Physical Review X, on December 11, 2020.

References: Y. Kawazura, A. A. Schekochihin, M. Barnes, J. M. TenBarge, Y. Tong, K. G. Klein, and W. Dorland, “Ion versus Electron Heating in Compressively Driven Astrophysical Gyrokinetic Turbulence”, Phys. Rev. X 10, 041050 – Published 11 December 2020. https://journals.aps.org/prx/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevX.10.041050

Provided by National Institute of Natural Sciences

European Space Agency Appoints Austrian Scientist New Chief (Astronomy)

The European Space Agency says that Josef Aschbacher, an Austrian scientist who leads its Earth observation program, has been appointed as the organization’s next head.

The European Space Agency said Thursday that Josef Aschbacher, an Austrian scientist who leads its Earth observation program, has been appointed as the organization’s next head.

In this Friday, Oct. 19, 2016 file photo Josef Aschbacher attends a press conference in Rome, Italy. The European Space Agency said Thursday that Josef Aschbacher, an Austrian scientist who leads its Earth observation program, has been appointed as the organization’s next head. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, file)

The agency’s 22 member states elected Aschbacher to be ESA’s director general succeeding Jan Woerner, whose term ends on June 30.

Aschbacher currently oversees the ESA’s center for Earth Observation, near Rome, and has been deeply involved in some of the agency’s most high-profile missions including the Copernicus fleet of satellites collecting environmental data about the planet from space.

The European Space Agency has lately begun discussing involvement in crewed missions beyond Earth’s orbit, such as a possible return-to-the-Moon mission with NASA.

Provided by ABC News