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For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

According to new research, human beings can create habitats on the moon and Mars, thanks to concrete which is manufactured in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station have created cement for the first time in microgravity, successfully demonstrating that it can develop and harden in space. The study appears in the Frontiers in Materials journal. 

For construction purposes, concrete is a reliable building material. It is a mixture of rocks, sand and a combination of cement and water. As per the new study, it could also protect the astronauts from cosmic radiation and other dangers of living outside Earth. 

The equipment and human beings need protection from radiation and extremities in the temperature on missions to Mars and Moon. For this, infrastructures need to be built on these environments. Aleksandra Radlinska, principal investigator and assistant civil engineer professor said that the plan is to build with materials like concrete on space. Due to its sturdy nature, it provides better protection than many other materials. 

Concrete and mixtures similar to concrete can also be manufactured by local materials such as moon dust. If in the future, human beings are successful in establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars, then they can use local materials instead of receiving them from Earth which is quite expensive and time-consuming. 

In the study known as “Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification”, astronauts used water mixed with tricalcium silicate, the main component in commercial cement. This has never been created in microgravity. Cement might seem to be a simple material but its structure is quite complex. On dissolving in water, the cement crystals form and begin to fit together. This changes the molecular structure of the material. The aim of this study was to find out the formation of cement in microgravity along with the possible formation of unique microstructures. It was also possible to compare the samples made in space with that of Earth. 

The cement made in space had different microstructures than the one made on Earth. It was more porous than the Earth-made cement. Increased porosity has direct effects on the material’s strength, although the strength of the space-formed material has not been tested yet. Even for concrete which is used on Earth, all the aspects of the hydration process are not known clearly. Scientists will now check which aspects of the space-made concrete are beneficial and which are harmful for use in space. 

The process of conducting the experiments might have some effects on the study results. Cement on Earth is not processed in sealed packets like that on space. The cement made on space developed and hardened in the same way as that on Earth although it looked a bit different. Scientists would now work on the binders essential for space and for different gravity levels from 0 g to g on Mars. 

Journal Reference: Frontiers in Materials

Large scale structure of light distribution

Scientists conduct experiment to define constraints on the force of dark energy

It is now well established through observations that the universe is expanding which has been speeding up over time. However, the cause of the expansion is not yet known. It is assumed to be a mysterious energy acting opposite to gravity causing this expansion.

This energy is termed as “dark energy” and it is estimated that it makes up to 72 percent of the constituents in the universe. A new experiment has confirmed that it is not a new force. The study appears in the Physical Review Letters journal. Ed Copeland, a physicist from the University of Nottingham said that the experiment related to cosmology and atomic physics helped in ruling out several models which have been proposed for the explanation of dark energy and will eliminate many more models.

There are four fundamental forces in the Universe which are gravity, electromagnetic force, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. Some anomalies do not fit into the current model of how the Universe functions. So they are clubbed under a fifth hypothetical force.

These anomalies have helped in putting constraints on the fifth force and helped in constructing alternatives to general relativity for explaining the increasing rate of expansion of the Universe. Some of the alternatives are chameleon theory and symmetron theory.

If another force present in the Universe was responsible for almost 75 percent of its mass-energy density then it should be easy to detect. But if it acts opposite to gravity i.e. a repulsive force then it should be weakest in the area where gravity is the strongest force. This should hold true for objects with significant mass such as a planet.

An experiment was designed to observe this anti-gravitational force. Within a sealed vacuum chamber, a large aluminium sphere and small weights – atoms of rubidium-87 were placed and atom interferometry was used for measuring the acceleration of the smaller weight towards the larger one. If a fifth force was present then the atom should have been veered off its path as it moved towards the sphere. But no such deviation was observed which clearly explains that no such anti-gravity force was present in the chamber. It does not mean that there is no fifth force at all. However, the force can be defined by several constraints which also means that similar constraints can be placed on chameleon and symmetron theories.

There may not be always a straightforward answer to fundamental questions of this nature so the correct questions are asked to narrow down on the correct answer. Answering this question would give significant answers about the evolution of the universe.

Journal Reference: Physical Review Letters

Qubits in quantum computing

Scientists find gravity as key to optimal quantum computation

Scientists have been trying persistently to achieve significant success in the field of Quantum Computing but still, there is a huge scope of improvement if we go by the consensus.

But recently the arduous efforts of all the involved scientists have given them something to cheer at, as there is a claim that gravity a natural phenomenon which has been studied extensively will provide the pathway through which in-depth knowledge of quantum computing can be obtained. The scientific community is hailing these findings because there is a belief that quantum computing will bring a drastic change in the power and scale of computation. The study has been published in Physical Review Letters

The reason behind this linkage between gravity and quantum computing are the geometric rules which are used for finding the shortest distance between two points on a curved surface with respect to gravity in General Relativity. Those same geometric rules can be used for finding the most effective methods to process information in quantum computing.

These points of shortest travel – whether across a spherical planet or inside a quantum computing system – are known as geodesics. A noteworthy point regarding this discovery is that it involves a branch of quantum computing which is conformal field theory. Through this new study, there is a possibility of faster calculations in the above-mentioned branch of quantum computing.

Physicist Pawel Caputa who was involved in this discovery expounds that the process of finding minimal length on complexity geometry is equivalent to solving equations of gravity. So this explanation has made it transparent about how gravity is linked to discovery of quantum computing.

Looking at the other side, there is still a requirement where the reduction of error rates should take place. Along with this, scientists are looking to bring down the interference which hinders the computation process. The reason why quantum computing is thought as the future of computing because it functions on the concept of qubits which is also another form of information. The striking feature of a qubit is its ability to represent several states in contrast to binary digits which have only two states (0 and 1).

Therefore, along with this discovery, recent progress has made quantum computing to be more space efficient and significant improvement in accuracy has taken

All of this promises a bright future for the quantum computing field but the finding has been limited and thus it requires much deeper research which will help in finding its multidisciplinary applications.

wormhole travel envisioned by artist

Wormhole travel could be possible, but would also be really slow

A new study conducted by Daniel Jafferis and Ping Gao of Harvard University and Aron Wall of Stanford University shows that wormholes can actually exist in reality. The term wormhole was coined in 1957. Wormholes are speculative structures which link disparate points in spacetime and are based on a special solution of Einstein field equations that are solved with the help of a Jacobian matrix and determinant. It can be visualised as a double ended tunnel joining separate points in spacetime. Although they agree with the General Theory of Relativity, it is not yet certain that they are present.

The authors of the study say that although they are theoretically true, it is not useful for human beings to travel through them. The time to travel through these wormholes is supposedly more than travelling directly, hence it is not much useful for space travel. These findings will be presented by Daniel Jafferis at the 2019 American Physical Society April Meeting.

Although the inter-galactic travel may not take place soon, the finding that a wormhole can be constructed through which light could travel certainly boosts the development of the theory of quantum gravity. The significance of this finding lies in connection to the black hole information problem and the relation between gravity and quantum mechanics.

The motivation for the new theory came when Jafferis thought about two black holes which were entangled at a quantum level as stated in the ER=EPR correspondence. This signifies that the direct path between black holes is smaller than the wormhole connection, thus the wormhole travel is not the shortest path. Travelling through the wormhole can be considered as equivalent to quantum teleportation with the help of entangled black holes.

The theory was based by Jafferis on a setup which was first devised by Albert Einstein and Rosen back in 1935, that consisted of a connection between black holes. Since the wormhole can be traversed through, it was a special case where information could have been derived from a black hole.

The theory gives an insight into regions which would have been behind a horizon otherwise. The major hurdle till now in formulating wormholes which can be traversed through has been the necessity for negative energy, which was inconsistent with the idea of quantum gravity. However, this problem has been overcome by Jafferis with the help of quantum field theory tools.

Jafferis feels that this revelation will help in learning deep concepts about gravity correspondence and also ways to formulate quantum mechanics.