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Research shows that, Future climate could get worse

Research shows that Future climate could get worse

Researchers at Michigan University and the University of Arizona used a futuristic climate model to successfully invent, the Early Eocene Period’s extreme warming, which is considered to be directly related to the future climate of Earth.

They discovered that the warming rate improved dramatically as the concentrations of carbon dioxide rose, a finding with far-reaching consequences for the future climate of Earth. The scientists reported this in a document published in the  Science Advances paper on September 18. Another observation is that the climate of the Early Eocene converted to be more sensitive to additional carbon dioxide as the planet warmed.

“We were surprised that the climate sensitivity increased as much as it did with increasing carbon dioxide levels,” said author Jiang Zhu. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

climate change

Image credit: National climatic data center

“It is a scary observation because it indicates that the temperature response to an increase in carbon dioxide in the future might be larger than the response to the same increase in CO2 now. This is not good news for us.”

The researchers determined that the substantial increase in climate sensitivity had not been seen in previous attempts to simulate the Early Eocene using similar amounts of carbon dioxide. It is likely due to an improved representation of cloud processes in the climate model they used, the Community Earth System Model version 1.2, or CESM1.2.

The findings of the model, which align with geological proof, indicate that if carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, extra CO2 increases will have an even more significant climate effect than they would have. This does not mean well for the future of our climate.

Global warming is expected to change the distribution and types of clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere, and clouds can have both warming and cooling effects on the climate. In their simulations of the Early Eocene, researchers found a reduction in cloud coverage and opacity that amplified CO2-induced warming.

The same cloud processes responsible for increased climate sensitivity in the Eocene simulations are active today, according to the researchers.

“Our findings highlight the role of small-scale cloud processes in determining large-scale climate changes and suggest an inherent increase in climate sensitivity with future warming,” said U-M paleoclimate researcher Christopher Poulsen, a co-author of the Science Advances paper.

The Early Eocene, which was roughly 48 million to 56 million years ago, was the warmest period of the past 66 million years. It began with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which is known as the PETM, the most severe of several short, intensely warm events.

If we don’t restrict greenhouse-gas emissions by the completion of this century, it’s predicted that the concentration of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere could reach 1,000 parts per million and that’s the same as the level as the early Eocene.

We remain at 415 parts per million which is the highest level ever in human history.

The Eocene Era isn’t the only one in Earth’s history that’s crucial to study to anticipate future climate change better, though. Research published last year suggests that climates like the one during the Pliocene era will become the norm as soon as 2030.

Journal Reference: Science Advances

Discovery could mitigate fertilizer pollution in waterways

Discovery could mitigate fertilizer pollution in waterways

Excess fertilization of agricultural fields is a huge environmental problem. Phosphorus from fertilized cropland frequently finds its way into rivers and lakes, and the resulting boom of aquatic plant growth can cause oxygen levels in the water to plunge, leading to fish die-offs and other harmful

Researchers from Boyce Thompson Institute have uncovered the function of a pair of plant genes that could help farmers improve phosphate capture, potentially reducing the environmental harm associated with fertilization.

Maria Harrison, the William H. Crocker Professor at BTI and adjunct professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is senior author of “A CLE–SUNN Module Regulates Strigolactone Content and Fungal Colonization in Arbuscular Mycorrhiza,” which published Sept. 2 in Nature Plants.

The discovery stems from Harrison’s focus on plants’ symbiotic relationships with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which colonize plant roots to create an interface through which the plant trades fatty acids for phosphate and nitrogen. The fungi also can help plants recover from stressful conditions, such as periods of drought.

But feeding the AM fungi with fatty acids is costly, so plants don’t let this colonization go unchecked.

To discover how plants control the amount of fungal colonization, Harrison and lead author Lena Müller, a postdoctoral scientist in the Harrison lab, looked at genes that encode short proteins called CLE peptides in the plants Medicago truncatula (barrel clover) and Brachypodium distachyon (purple false brome).

CLE peptides are involved in cellular development and response to stress, and are present in plants ranging from green algae to flowering plants.

The researchers found that two of these CLE genes are key modulators of AM fungal symbiosis. One gene, CLE53, reduces colonization rates once the roots have been colonized. Another gene, CLE33, reduces colonization rates when there is plenty of phosphate available to the plant.

“Being able to control fungal colonization levels in plant roots and maintain the symbiosis even in higher phosphate conditions might be useful to a farmer,” Harrison said. “For example, you may want the other beneficial effects of AM fungi, like nitrogen uptake and recovery from drought, as well as further uptake of phosphate. You might be able to achieve these benefits by altering the levels of these CLE peptides in the plants.”

Müller found that the CLE peptides act through a receptor protein called SUNN. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Amsterdam, she found that the two CLE peptides modulate the plant’s synthesis of a compound called strigolactone.

Plant roots exude strigolactone into the soil, and the compound stimulates AM fungi to grow and colonize the root. Once the roots are colonized, or when there is plenty of phosphate, the CLE genes suppress the synthesis of strigolactone, thus reducing any further colonization by the fungi.

“In the early 2000s, researchers found that plants had a way to measure and then reduce colonization,” Müller said. “But until now, nobody really understood the molecular mechanism of that dynamic.”

The researchers’ next steps will include figuring out the molecules that turn on the CLE genes in response to colonization and high phosphate levels.

Müller also plans to compare the two CLE peptides from this study with additional CLE peptides that have different functions.

“The CLE peptides are all so similar but they have completely different functions,” Müller said. “It will be very interesting to see why that is.”

Other co-authors included Zhangjun Fei, adjunct professor in SIPS and a BTI faculty member; Xuepeng Sun of BTI; and researchers from Clemson University.

Materials provided by Cornell University

Researchers develop catalytic reactor for converting greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

Researchers develop catalytic reactor for converting greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

Rice University has come up with an invention that converts carbon dioxide into valuable fuels. Carbon Dioxide was turned to liquid fuel in an environment-friendly manner by using an electrolyzer and renewable energy. The catalytic reactor was developed by Haotian Wang, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at Rice University.

It uses carbon dioxide as feedstock and the latest prototype produces highly purified concentrated formic acid. Traditional ways of producing formic acid are costly and require energy-intensive purification steps. The direct production of pure formic acid will help in promoting commercial carbon dioxide conversion technologies. The work appears in Nature Energy journal.

Wang and his group pursue all those technologies that convert greenhouse gases into useful products. In experiments, the electrocatalyst reached an energy conversion efficiency of nearly 42%. So almost half the electrical energy can be stored as liquid fuel in the formic acid. Formic acid an energy carrier and a fuel cell that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide which can be recycled again. It is a fundamental unit in chemical engineering as a feedstock for other chemicals and also a storage material for hydrogen that can hold 1000 times the energy of the same amount of hydrogen gas, which is also difficult to compress.

Chuan Xia, postdoc researcher at Rice said that this was possible due to two advancements. The first being the development of robust, two-dimensional bismuth catalysts and the second, a solid-state electrolyte which eliminates the need for salt in the reaction. Bismuth is a heavy atom with lower mobility and stabilizes the catalyst. The structure of the reactor prevents contact of water from the catalyst. Currently, catalysts are produced on a milligram or gram scale but Xia and his team have developed a way to produce them in the kilograms thus scaling up the industry.

The polymer-based electrolyte is coated with sulphonic acid ligands to conduct positive charge or amino functional groups for negative ions. Carbon dioxide is usually reduced in a liquid electrode using salty water and for the conduction of electricity, pure water is too resistant. Salts like sodium chloride or potassium bicarbonate have to be added so that ions can move freely.

Formic acid generated in this manner mixes with salts. But for most of the applications, salts have to eliminated from the end product which consumes energy and cost. Instead, solid electrolytes made up of insoluble polymers, inorganic compounds were used thus cancelling the need for salts.

The rate of water flow through the chamber determines the concentration of the solution. Researchers have expectations to achieve higher concentration from next-generation reactors accepting gas flow to generate pure formic acid.

The Rice lab worked with Brookhaven National Laboratory to view the process in progress. “X-ray absorption spectroscopy, a powerful technique available at the Inner Shell Spectroscopy (ISS) beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II. It enables us to probe the electronic structure of electrocatalysts during the actual chemical process.

They followed the bismuth’s oxidation states at different potentials and were able to identify the catalyst’s active state during the reduction process of carbon dioxide. The reactor can generate formic acid for 100 hours without any degradation of its components. Carbon dioxide reduction is a big step towards the effect of global warming and with renewable energy, we can make a loop that turns carbon dioxide to useful products without emitting it.

Journal Reference: Nature Energy

Researchers might have finally solved the mystery of holes in the head of tyrannosaurus rex

Researchers might have finally solved the mystery of holes in the head of tyrannosaurus rex

We generally perceive Tyrannosaurus rex as a ferocious animal always seething with rage. However, a new study has indicated that the presence of two mysterious holes on its skull might have helped in controlling the temperature inside its head. The work appears in The Anatomical Record

Earlier these holes also termed as dorsotemporal fenestra were considered to be only occupied by muscles which helped in the operation of its jaw. Casey Holliday, an anatomist from the University of Missouri said that it was strange for a muscle to extend from the jaw till the top of the skull. But now enough evidence has been gathered from alligators and other reptiles which suggest the presence of blood vessels in this region. Similar fenestra has been observed in the skulls of animals collectively termed as diapsids. It includes crocodilians, birds, lizards, and tuatara. It is estimated that the holes evolved nearly 300 million years ago. Fenestra can be found in tyrannosaurs and pterosaurs. The team analyzed several diapsid skulls to find out which animals had fenestra resembling T.rex; the closest one was crocodilians. 

Holliday and his team members, William Porter, Lawrence Witmer from Ohio University and Kent Vliet, University of Florida used thermal cameras for studying alligators at St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The body temperature of alligators is dependent on the temperature of the surroundings since they are cold-blooded. As a result of which their thermoregulation processes are different from the warm-blooded or endothermic animals. 

“We noticed when it was cooler and the alligators are trying to warm up, our thermal imaging showed big hot spots in these holes in the roof of their skull, indicating a rise in temperature,” Vliet said.

“Yet, later in the day when it’s warmer, the holes appear dark, like they were turned off to keep cool. This is consistent with prior evidence that alligators have a cross-current circulatory system – or an internal thermostat, so to speak.”

It is not sure if dinosaurs were endothermic or ectothermic and this is a topic of heavy debate. Some scientists think they were in between the two categories i.e a feature called mesothermy. Previous research suggested that armoured ankylosaur had tunnels in the skull for keeping the brain at optimum temperatures.

It is suggested that T.rex use few thermoregulation tactics of the ectotherms. It can, however, be confirmed that there are no osteological features on the skull of tyrannosaurus which shows that fenestra were extensions of muscle attachment. They can also infer, based on modern alligators that Fenestra could have been used for controlling the temperature in the skull of T.rex by warming or cooling the blood flowing through blood vessels. 

Witmer said that similar to T.rex, alligators have holes on their skull-tops which are filled with blood vessels. But still, muscles have been grouped with dinosaurs. The anatomy and physiology of the present-day animals can be used to discard the early hypotheses.

Journal Reference: The Anatomical Record

World Magnetic Declination

For the first time in several centuries, compasses in Greenwich will point at true north

Compasses in Greenwich will be pointing towards the true north for the first time. This coincidence of magnetism and time has not occurred for almost 360 years. It is set to occur in the coming fortnight and it is a reminder of the fact that magnetic north pole of Earth is constantly wandering, unlike Earth’s geographic north pole. 

The angular difference between the geographic and magnetic meridian at any place is known as magnetic declination. Although this difference does not affect the normal citizens in a significant way, this disparity can last for a long time. For almost a hundred years in the United Kingdom, the compass needles have been pointing to west of actual north since the magnetic declination has been negative. 

This is not permanent. The agonic, an invisible line which joins the north and south magnetic poles of Earth which also represents the zero declination has been shifting in the western direction at a rate of nearly 20 kilometres or 12 miles every year

If this rate continues, it will be passing through Greenwich in this month which is the site of the Greenwich Royal Observatory thus creating a historic occurrence. Ciaran Beggan, geomagnetism researcher at British Geological Survey said that in the month of September, the agonic will meet zero longitudes at Greenwich. Since the creation of the Observatory, this is the first time that geomagnetic and geographic coordinate systems will be coinciding at this place. 

The Royal Observatory was founded at the decree of King Charles II in 1675. It is a coincidence that compasses in Greenwich due to zero declination also pointed towards true north. From that time, the agonic has been shifting as Earth’s magnetic north pole has been varying in its position due to changes in the molten outer core. 

Beggan said that the agonic will continue to pass across the United Kingdom for the next 15-20 years. So this phenomenon is expected to continue beyond circumstantial synchronicity of this September. By 2040, compasses will most probably point east of true north. Beyond this scientists cannot provide any prediction as it is difficult to estimate the future magnetic movements. Beggan said that currently, it is not possible to predict how the magnetic field will change in the time span of several decades. For 360 more years in the United Kingdom, the compass may point towards the east of the true north direction. 

Researchers find explanations behind the mystery of North Pacific gyre

Researchers find explanations behind the mystery of North Pacific gyre

The center of oceans of the Earth are covered with an enormous arrangement of rotating currents known as subtropical gyres, which occupy 40% of the Earth’s surface. They have been considered as stable biological deserts with little deviation in chemical composition or the nutrients needed to sustain life.

The region in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre ecosystem that occupies the Pacific Ocean between China and the United States has confused scientists over the years by its strange abnormality in chemistry that changes periodically. There is a remarkable variation in the levels of phosphorus and iron which affects the entire nutrient composition and eventually biological productivity.

The research team has found out the explanation behind the variations in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre ecosystem. It includes Matthew Church, a microbial ecologist with the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, Ricardo Letelier from Oregon State University and David Karl from the University of Hawaii. The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Church said that the variations in the ocean climate arise to basically control ocean nutrient concentrations by regulating iron supply and altering the kinds of plankton growing in these waters. He also said that after constant, long-term observations on the role of plankton in controlling ocean nutrient availability, their team has finally confirmed that tightly linked plankton supplies nutrients, particularly iron, delivered from the atmosphere.

With the help of three decades of observational data from Station ALOHA, a six-mile area in the Pacific Ocean, the researchers discovered that the periodic shift in the level of iron is due to iron input from Asian dust, accounting for the chemical variances and varying amounts of nutrients to sustain life.

The ocean-atmosphere relationship known as The Pacific Decadal Oscillation varies between weak and strong stages of atmospheric pressure in the northeast Pacific Ocean which is the major factor of the variance. The winds from Asia become stronger and move in a more southern direction in years when the low pressure weakens in the northeast Pacific bringing more dust from Asia and fertilizing the ocean around ALOHA. The opposite occurs when the pressure strengthens.

Phosphorous and iron are the essential components of life and the supply of nutrients is a fundamental controller of ocean productivity. The process of fertilizing the ocean’s upper water level by mixing nutrient-rich water from the bottom is challenging in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre ecosystem because the waters are very layered and very less mixing takes place. The creatures are allowed to grow and use phosphorus in the upper layers of the ocean when strong Asian winds bring in substantial quantity of iron while they are forced to return to a bottom-water-mixing nutrient delivery system when the Asian winds weaken and iron quantity is reduced creating the periodic ebb and flow of iron and phosphorus levels in the North Pacific Gyre.

Church said that the results from the study highlight the crucial need to include both atmospheric and ocean circulation variability for forecasting the climate change impact on ocean ecosystems. He also added that it confirms the necessity to think about the biology of tightly connected plankton to changes in climate as well as land use which can directly impact dust supply to the ocean.

Researchers hope to see long-term changes in wind patterns across the North Pacific as Earth’s temperature continues to increase. The sources and quantity of iron and other nutrients carried by the wind across the ocean will get affected by the evolution of land use and pollution caused by human activity in Asia.

To know the impact of the changes on ecosystems around the ocean region as well as others around the world, more research is needed.

Journal Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Amazon Rainforest

We are sharing one wrong statistic about the Amazon fire

For the past few weeks news of the Amazon wildfire has spread across social media like wildfire itself. Social media influencers and even general users have been doing their best to bring awareness to this issue by talking about how the amazon accounts for 20% of the world’s oxygen which is not completely true.

Nearly all free oxygen present in the air is produced by plants through photosynthesis. (⅓)rd of this is produced by tropical forests of which the Amazon basin is a major contributor. But there is a twist here. All that oxygen is used up by living organisms and fires. With trees constantly shedding leaves and twigs, it adds to the nourishment of the microbes and insects which in turn consume a lot of oxygen. As a net result, the oxygen produced by forests is close to zero.

Research shows that the ocean produces almost all the oxygen we breath, and can last us millions of years. 

For oxygen to accumulate in the air, the organic matter produced during photosynthesis needs to be removed from circulation before the oxygen itself gets consumed. They need to be quickly buried in places where oxygen has been depleted for example in deep-sea mud.

This process takes place in parts of the ocean that have high levels of nutrients to fertilize algae blooms. The dead blooms float to the bottom where microbes feed off of it. The remaining matter gets buried and eventually becomes a source of coal.

The oxygen produced by the algae blooms still remains in the air due to the lack of decomposers. In this way, it adds to about 0.0001% of the oxygen in the air. While this a small number, over millions of years it has become a legitimate source of oxygen that all animal life depends on.

Although plant growth is responsible for breathable oxygen, it accounts for a very small percentage and if all of the organic matter on earth were burnt it would be worth less than 1% of the oxygen consumed.

While the amazon wildfire is a serious disaster and worrisome for several reasons such as the extremely rare species of flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world and the indigenous tribes that see the amazon as their home, loss of oxygen production isn’t one of them.

Amazon Rainforest Fire

Images from space show the extent of damage to Amazon rainforest due to fires

The latest images obtained from space provide a very shocking perspective on the ongoing crisis in the Amazon rainforest. A massive number of fires in the rainforest has led to a global concern.

The satellite data gathered by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil showed that there have been a total of nearly 75,000 fires across Amazon since the beginning of the year. This marks an increase of almost 84 percent in the same time period in 2018. These figures are highly alarming. Now NASA and NOAA have released new visual evidence which demonstrates the emergency level of the situation.

Captured using the Suomi NPP satellite on August 20, the image depicts the smoke extent in the states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Rondonia in Brazil. Earlier in the city of Sao Paulo, there were huge clouds of black smoke all across the skyline. It is to be noted that Sao Paulo is almost 2700 kilometers from the fires but still it was merged in darkness with daylight out there.

NASA Worldview gives another representation of the extent of the forest fires. It released an image where each red dot depicted a forest fire or “thermal anomaly” in other terms.

In the dry season of July to October, forest fires are common in Amazon. But there has been an abnormal escalation in the problem due to extreme human interference as burning is considered the best method to clear out land for agriculture.

Hence, the forest fires of this year are unprecedented and environmentalists are blaming the recently elected Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro as he removed the restrictions on illegal deforestation to generate economic developments in the rainforest and also asked the farmers to clear out land.

Bolsonaro has claimed that the fires have been manipulated by different NGOs and left-leaning environmentalists who started the fires intentionally for embarrassing the government as the conservation funding was reduced to halt different conservation projects. Although there has been no evidence of any kind to support the claims.

The Government has declared that there are not enough resources for controlling the fires. As a result of this, ecologists are fearful that the largest rainforest in the world supporting nearly a million species and billions of trees providing 20 percent of the oxygen in the planet might never come back to its natural state and be damaged significantly before the dry season ends.

Physicists design an experiment to pin down the origin of the elements

Physicists design an experiment to pin down the origin of the elements

Nearly all of the oxygen in our universe is forged in the bellies of massive stars like our sun. As these stars contract and burn, they set off thermonuclear reactions within their cores, where nuclei of carbon and helium can collide and fuse in a rare though essential nuclear reaction that generates much of the oxygen in the universe.

The rate of this oxygen-generating reaction has been incredibly tricky to pin down. But if researchers can get a good enough estimate of what’s known as the “radiative capture reaction rate,” they can begin to work out the answers to fundamental questions, such as the ratio of carbon to oxygen in the universe. An accurate rate might also help them determine whether an exploding star will settle into the form of a black hole or a neutron star.

Now physicists at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) have come up with an experimental design that could help to nail down the rate of this oxygen-generating reaction. The approach requires a type of particle accelerator that is still under construction, in several locations around the world. Once up and running, such “multimegawatt” linear accelerators may provide just the right conditions to run the oxgen-generating reaction in reverse, as if turning back the clock of star formation.

The researchers say such an “inverse reaction” should give them an estimate of the reaction rate that actually occurs in stars, with higher accuracy than has previously been achieved.

“The job description of a physicist is to understand the world, and right now, we don’t quite understand where the oxygen in the universe comes from, and, how oxygen and carbon are made,” says Richard Milner, professor of physics at MIT. “If we’re right, this measurement will help us answer some of these important questions in nuclear physics regarding the origin of the elements.”

Milner is a co-author of a paper appearing today in the journal Physical Review C, along with lead author and MIT-LNS postdoc Ivica Friščić and MIT Center for Theoretical Physics Senior Research Scientist T. William Donnelly.

A precipitous drop

The radiative capture reaction rate refers to the reaction between a carbon-12 nucleus and a helium nucleus, also known as an alpha particle, that takes place within a star. When these two nuclei collide, the carbon nucleus effectively “captures” the alpha particle, and in the process, is excited and radiates energy in the form of a photon. What’s left behind is an oxygen-16 nucleus, which ultimately decays to a stable form of oxygen that exists in our atmosphere.

But the chances of this reaction occurring naturally in a star are incredibly slim, due to the fact that both an alpha particle and a carbon-12 nucleus are highly positively charged. If they do come in close contact, they are naturally inclined to repel, in what’s known as a Coulomb’s force. To fuse to form oxygen, the pair would have to collide at sufficiently high energies to overcome Coulomb’s force — a rare occurrence. Such an exceedingly low reaction rate would be impossible to detect at the energy levels that exist within stars.

For the past five decades, scientists have attempted to simulate the radiative capture reaction rate, in small yet powerful particle accelerators. They do so by colliding beams of helium and carbon in hopes of fusing nuclei from both beams to produce oxygen. They have been able to measure such reactions and calculate the associated reaction rates. However, the energies at which such accelerators collide particles are far higher than what occurs in a star, so much so that the current estimates of the oxygen-generating reaction rate are difficult to extrapolate to what actually occurs within stars.

“This reaction is rather well-known at higher energies, but it drops off precipitously as you go down in energy, toward the interesting astrophysical region,” Friščić says.

Time, in reverse

In the new study, the team decided to resurrect a previous notion, to produce the inverse of the oxygen-generating reaction. The aim, essentially, is to start from oxygen gas and split its nucleus into its starting ingredients: an alpha particle and a carbon-12 nucleus. The team reasoned that the probability of the reaction happening in reverse should be greater, and therefore more easily measured, than the same reaction run forward. The inverse reaction should also be possible at energies nearer to the energy range within actual stars.

In order to split oxygen, they would need a high-intensity beam, with a super-high concentration of electrons. (The more electrons that bombard a cloud of oxygen atoms, the more chance there is that one electron among billions will have just the right energy and momentum to collide with and split an oxygen nucleus.)

The idea originated with fellow MIT Research Scientist Genya Tsentalovich, who led a proposed experiment at the MIT-Bates South Hall electron storage ring in 2000.  Although the experiment was never carried out at the Bates accelerator, which ceased operation in 2005, Donnelly and Milner felt the idea merited to be studed in detail. With the initiation of construction of next-generation linear accelerators in Germany and at Cornell University, having the capability to produce electron beams of high enough intensity, or current, to potentially trigger the inverse reaction, and the arrival of Friščić at MIT in 2016, the study got underway.

“The possibility of these new, high-intensity electron machines, with tens of milliamps of current, reawakened our interest in this [inverse reaction] idea,” Milner says.

The team proposed an experiment to produce the inverse reaction by shooting a beam of electrons at a cold, ultradense cloud of oxygen. If an electron successfully collided with and split an oxygen atom, it should scatter away with a certain amount of energy, which physicists have previously predicted. The researchers would isolate the collisions involving electrons within this given energy range, and from these, they would isolate the alpha particles produced in the aftermath.

Alpha particles are produced when O-16 atoms split. The splitting of other oxygen isotopes can also result in alpha particles, but these would scatter away slightly faster — about 10 nanoseconds faster — than alpha particles produced from the splitting of O-16 atoms. So, the team reasoned they would isolate those alpha particles that were slightly slower, with a slightly shorter “time of flight.”

The researchers could then calculate the rate of the inverse reaction, given how often slower alpha particles — and by proxy, the splitting of O-16 atoms — occurred. They then developed a model to relate the inverse reaction to the direct, forward reaction of oxygen production that naturally occurs in stars.

“We’re essentially doing the time-reverse reaction,” Milner says. “If you measure that at the precision we’re talking about, you should be able to directly extract the reaction rate, by factors of  up to 20 beyond what anybody has done in this region.”

Currently, a multimegawatt linear accerator, MESA, is under construction in Germany.  Friščić and Milner are collaborating with physicists there to design the experiment, in hopes that, once up and running, they can put their experiment into action to truly pin down the rate at which stars churn oxygen out into the universe.

“If we’re right, and we make this measurement, it will allow us to answer how much carbon and oxygen is formed in stars, which is the largest uncertainty that we have in our understanding of how stars evolve,” Milner says.

earth inner structure

New study attempts to explain the mystery of inner core of Earth

The movements of the innermost core of planet Earth are still a mystery. Beneath the surface of the planet, there is an extremely hot inner core which is surrounded by a molten liquid outer core. It is detached from the upper mantle and crust covering it. This arrangement has led to several questions, one of which is super-rotation. The inner core of the Earth is not connected to the mantle being separated by the fluidic outer layer. So this poses a question of its effect on Earth’s rotation.

Super rotation suggests that the inner core spins at a rate which is different to the rate of rotation of Earth i.e a complete rotation every 24 hours with respect to Sun. The inner core’s rate has been the subject of debate among scientists for a long period of time. Fresh analysis by John Vidale, a seismologist from the University of Southern California gives a new estimate for consideration. The study appears in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.  He examines the backscattered seismic waves which were detected with the help of nuclear tests carried out by the Soviet Union in Novaya Zemlya archipelago, northern Russia in 1971 and 1974. Several seismic stations including Large Aperture Seismic Array(LASA) which is the first large seismic array in the world detected the force of the blasts as the explosions were carried out. Vidale calculated that the inner core rotated nearly 0.07 degrees greater than the remaining planet during 1971 and 1974 with the help of LASA data and inner core motion based on the seismic waves. 

Maya Wei-Haas explains for the National Geographic that if the rate is correct, it means for a particular spot on the surface of Earth, the inner core would have moved 4.8 miles further over the course of one year. 

In 2000, Vidale estimated the rate to be 0.15 degrees per year with the help of the same nuclear test data which is much faster than the present estimation. Vidale explains that the latest estimate is accurate due to the improvements in data correction and interpretation. 

This is still a theoretical field as it is not possible to study the inner core from a closer perspective, hence this is also a reason for the rates differing. Super rotation came up in the 1970s but the proper modelling and seismic evidence came up in 1990s. Another study explained that the variations might be due to the differences in the surface of the inner core itself. More clarity in the results will only come up with more rigorous studies taken up by scientists. 

Journal Reference: Geophysical Research Letters