Female Afghan ‘Top Gun’ soars above gender barrier

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Female Afghan ‘Top Gun’ soars above gender barrier

“Ever since I was a child, when I saw a bird in the sky, I wanted to fly a plane,” Afghanistan’s first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani tells AFP (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

With a hint of swagger, Afghanistan’s first female pilot since the fall of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender norms to infiltrate what is almost entirely a male preserve.

 Dressed in khaki overalls, aviator shades and a black headscarf, 23-year-old Niloofar Rahmani cuts a striking presence as she struts across the tarmac at the Kabul Air Force base, which is otherwise devoid of women.

“Ever since I was a child, when I saw a bird in the sky, I wanted to fly a plane,” she told AFP at the base, hemmed in by rolling dun-coloured hills.

“Many girls in Afghanistan have dreams… but a number of problems, threats stand in the way.”

Rahmani, who grew up in Kabul, enlisted for an air force training programme in 2010 and kept it secret from her relatives who believe a woman does not belong outside the home.

Two years later she became the first female fixed-wing aviator in Afghanistan’s history and the country’s first woman pilot since the ouster of the Taliban regime.

The once-unimaginable feat recently won her the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award –- and earned her the sobriquet “Afghan Top Gun” on social media, after the 1986 Tom Cruise film about flying aces in the US Navy.

It is believed there were female Afghan pilots during the pre-Taliban Communist era, but details are scant.

Nearly 14 years since the Taliban government was toppled in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides of progress, with female lawmakers and security personnel now commonplace.

That marks a sea change in women’s rights, as previously women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally consigned to the shadows.

But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.

Rahmani has received threatening calls and letters purportedly from the Taliban, warning her to quit.

The threats grew so menacing in 2013 that she was forced to leave the country for two months.

“They threatened to hurt me and my family,” she said over the roar of military transport planes.

“My only choice was to be strong and ignore them.”

Rahmani always carries a pistol for her protection and though she has grown accustomed to the ogling eyes of men, she never leaves the base in uniform, lest it make her a target.

– ‘I have hope’ –

“Simple things like walking in the streets, going shopping is no longer possible. My freedom has all gone,” she said.

But more than physical threats, it is pervasive conservatism that hurts the most, with Afghanistan stuck in what many deride as a medieval time warp.

Rahmani says she was heartbroken when a mob in Kabul savagely lynched a young woman called Farkhunda last month after an amulet seller, whom she had castigated, falsely accused her of burning the Koran.

“Animals don’t do this to other animals,” she said of the daylight murder which sparked nationwide protests.

“This wasn’t done by the Taliban. These were ordinary people, the young Afghan generation.”

Rahmani also recalled a flight mission when she defied orders from a superior who stopped her from airlifting wounded soldiers in a restive southern province.

Women are traditionally forbidden from transporting the dead or wounded in Afghanistan as “many believe that females have a small heart and are too emotional,” Rahmani said.

Upon completing the task, “I told my commander, ‘punish me if you think I did anything wrong’,” she recalled.

“He smiled and said: ‘you did good’.”

In order to be treated on a par with her male colleagues, Rahmani says she can’t afford to display jangled nerves.

“I have to be tough — so tough, showing no emotion,” she said.

But while Rahmani is pushing at the boundaries of change, she is cautious not to disrespect cultural norms in a country known for its strict gender segregation.

One recent morning, when a male colleague at the base reached out to shake her hand, she declined.

“Why not?” he said, disappointed.

Rahmani smiled politely and later told AFP she didn’t want to send out the wrong signal.

In conservative Afghanistan, even a simple gesture such as a handshake between men and women can sometimes be interpreted as a sign of bad character.

Rahmani is only one of three Afghan women who have trained to become pilots since the 2001 invasion, and one of them has since quit the air force.

When asked how long it would be before the air force has an equal number of men and women pilots, she was forthright.

“Not anytime soon. Maybe 20 or 30 years,” she said.


Why Some Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode

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Why Some Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode

Real-time images have captured the chain reaction that causes lithium-ion batteries to explode. .

The process can occur in just milliseconds: Overheated battery modules create a domino effect, producing more and more heat, and the battery explodes. But it turns out that not all batteries are equally likely to fail, according to a new study published today (April 28) in the journal Nature Communications.

“The presence of certain safety features can mitigate against the spread of some of this thermal runaway process,” said study co-author Paul Shearing, a chemical engineer at the University College London in the United Kingdom. Those features include mechanical supports inside the battery, Shearing said.

The results suggest some ways to make rechargeable lithium-ion batteries safer, the researchers wrote in the paper. [9 Odd Ways Your Tech Device May Injure You]

Rechargeable batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are the workhorses of modern-day gadgets; they’re found in everything from smartphones to jumbo jets to the Tesla Model S. They are typically made with two layers of material, called the anode and the cathode, separated by an electrically conducting fluid.Lithium ions start off in the cathode, a layer of material that, in laptop and cellphone batteries, typically includes cobalt, manganese, nickel and oxygen. When the batteries are charged, electricity drives the lithium ions from the cathode, across an ion-filled electrolyte fluid, and into the anode, which is made of stacks of graphite. As the battery drains, the lithium ions return from the anode back into the cathode. The batteries typically come in cells; a laptop battery may have three or four cells, whereas a Tesla Model S may have thousands, Shearing said.

Chain reaction

Hundreds of millions of lithium-ion batteries are produced every year, and catastrophic failure, such as explosion or melting, is rare, Shearing said. Still, there have been 43 product recalls for defective lithium-ion batteries since 2002, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Batteries can blow up or melt when internal electrical components short-circuit, when mechanical problems crop up after a fall or an accident, or when they are installed incorrectly, Shearing said. But at the heart, all of these failures occur because one portion of the battery gets too hot and can’t cool down quickly enough, creating a chain reactionthat generates more and more heat.

“It’s kind of this snowball process that we call thermal runaway,” Shearing told Live Science.

During thermal runaway, the miniature battery modules can melt, giving off heat, and the electrolyte material between the anode and the cathode may even boil, Shearing said.

Typical batteries are powered by a chemical reaction. [See full infographic]
Credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

To understand more about this dangerous chain reaction, Shearing and his colleagues heated commercial lithium-ion batteries to 482 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celsius). Using a high-speed 3D camera and a particle collider, which bombarded the batteries with synchrotron X-rays, the team captured thermal images of the batteries as they underwent the flash transition to overheating and thermal runaway.

Safer batteries

Even at high temperatures, not all of the batteries failed — some had internal safety features that prevented the dangerous reaction. Of those that did fail, the batteries with internal supports stayed intact until the internal temperature reached a scorching 1,830 F (1,000 C). At that point, the internal copper materials melted, leading to the runaway chain reaction.

But the batteries without these internal supports exploded, likely because their internal cores collapsed, which could have short-circuited the internal electrical components, the study showed.

The new technique provides a way to systematically test safety features in batteries in the future, Shearing said.

Even though exploding batteries sound frightening, they’re actually quite rare, Shearing said. After all, most people don’t bake their iPhones during daily use, he said.

“We had to push these into really extreme conditions, which [you] are very unlikely to see in your normal day-to-day operations,” Shearing said.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

US Military’s Self-Steering Bullets Can Hit Moving Targets

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US Military’s Self-Steering Bullets Can Hit Moving Targets

How Do Batteries Work?

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How Do Batteries Work?

Batteries are everywhere. The modern world is dependent on these portable sources of energy, which are found in everything from mobile devices to hearing aids to cars.

But despite their prevalence in people’s daily lives, batteries often go overlooked. Think about it: Do you really know how a battery works? Could you explain it to someone else?

Here’s a rundown of the science behind the energy source powering smartphones, electric cars, pacemakers and so much more. [Quiz: Electric vs. Gas Vehicles]

Anatomy of a battery

Most batteries contain three basic parts: electrodes, an electrolyte and a separator, according to Ann Marie Sastry, co-founder and CEO of Sakti3, a Michigan-based battery technology startup.

There are two electrodes in every battery. Both are made of conductive materials, but they serve different roles. One electrode, known as the cathode, connects to the positive end of the battery and is where the electrical current leaves (or electrons enter) the battery during discharge, which is when the battery is being used to power something. The other electrode, known as the anode, connects to the negative end of the battery and is where the electrical current enters (or electrons leave) the battery during discharge.

Between these electrodes, as well as inside them, is the electrolyte. This is a liquid or gel-like substance that contains electrically charged particles, or ions. The ions combine with the materials that make up the electrodes, producing chemical reactions that allow a battery to generate an electric current. [Inside Look at How Batteries Work (Infographic)]

Diagram shows how batteries work.

Typical batteries are powered by a chemical reaction. [See full infographic]
Credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

The final part of the battery, the separator, is fairly straightforward. The separator’s role is to keep the anode and the cathode separated from each other inside the battery. Without a separator, the two electrodes would come into contact, which would create a short circuit and prevent the battery from working properly, Sastry explained.

How it works

To envision how a battery works, picture yourself putting alkaline batteries, like double AAs, into a flashlight. When you put those batteries into the flashlight and then turn it on, what you’re really doing is completing a circuit. The stored chemical energy in the battery converts to electrical energy, which travels out of the battery and into the base of the flashlight’s bulb, causing it to light up. Then, the electric current re-enters the battery, but at the opposite end from where it came out originally.

All of the parts of the battery work together to make the flashlight light up. The electrodes in the battery contain atoms of certain conducting materials. For instance, in an alkaline battery, the anode is typically made of zinc, and manganese dioxide acts as the cathode. And the electrolyte between and inside those electrodes contains ions. When these ions meet up with the electrodes’ atoms, certain electrochemical reactions take place between the ions and the electrodes’ atoms.

The series of chemical reactions that occurs in the electrodes are collectively known as oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions. In a battery, the cathode is known as the oxidizing agent because it accepts electrons from the anode. The anode is known as the reducing agent, because it loses electrons.

Ultimately, these reactions result in the flow of ions between the anode and the cathode, as well as the freeing of electrons from the atoms of the electrode, Sastry said.

These free electrons congregate inside the anode (the bottom, flat part of an alkaline battery). As a result, the two electrodes have different charges: The anode becomes negatively charged as electrons are released, and the cathode becomes positively charged as electrons (which are negatively charged) are consumed. This difference in charge causes the electrons to want to move toward the positively charged cathode. However, they don’t have a way to get there inside the battery because the separator prevents them from doing so.

When you flick the switch on your flashlight, all that changes. The electrons now have a path to get to the cathode. But first, they have to pass through the base of your flashlight’s bulb. The circuit is completed when the electric current re-enters the battery through the top of the battery at the cathode.

Rechargeable vs. nonrechargeable

For primary batteries, like those in a flashlight, the reactions that fuel the battery will eventually stop happening, which means that the electrons that provide the battery with its charge will no longer create an electrical current. When this happens, the battery is discharged or “dead,” Sastry said.

You have to throw such batteries away, because the electrochemical processes that made the battery produce energy cannot be reversed, Sastry explained. However, the electrochemical processes that occur within secondary, or rechargeable, batteries can be reversed by providing electrical energy to the battery. For example, this happens when you plug your cellphone battery into a charger connected to a power source.

Some of the most common secondary batteries in use today are lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which power most consumer electronic devices. These batteries typically contain a carbon anode, a cathode made of lithium cobalt dioxide and an electrolyte containing a lithium salt in an organic solvent. Other rechargeable batteries include nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which can be used in things like electric vehicles and cordless power tools. Lead-acid (Pb-acid) batteries are commonly used to power cars and other vehicles for starting, lighting and ignition.

All of these rechargeable batteries operate under the same principle, Sastry said: When you plug the battery into a power source, the flow of electrons changes direction, and the anode and the cathode are returned to their original states. [Top 10 Disruptive Technologies]

Battery lingo

Although all batteries work in more or less the same way, different kinds of batteries do have different features. Here are a few terms that come up often in any discussion of batteries:

Voltage: When it comes to batteries, voltage — also known as nominal cell voltage — describes the amount of electrical force, or pressure, at which free electrons move from the positive end of the battery to the negative end, Sastry explained. In lower-voltage batteries, a current moves more slowly (with less electrical force) out of the battery than in a battery with a higher voltage (more electrical force). The batteries in a flashlight typically have a voltage of 1.5 volts. However, if a flashlight uses two batteries in a series, these batteries, or cells, have a combined voltage of 3 volts.

Lead-acid batteries, like the ones used in most nonelectric cars, usually have a voltage of 2.0 volts. But there are usually six of these cells connected in series in a car battery, which is why you’ve likely heard such batteries referred to as 12-volt batteries.

Lithium-cobalt-oxide batteries — the most common type of Li-ion battery found in consumer electronics — have a nominal voltage of about 3.7 volts, Sastry said.

Amps: An amp, or ampere, is a measure of electrical current, or the number of electrons that are flowing through a circuit within a particular time frame.

Capacity: Capacity, or cell capacity, is measured in ampere-hours, which is the number of hours the battery can supply a particular amount of electrical current before its voltage drops below a certain threshold, according to a post by Rice University’s electrical and computer engineering department.

A 9-volt alkaline battery — the kind used in portable radios — is rated at 1 ampere-hour, which means this battery can continuously supply one ampere of current for 1 hour before it reaches the voltage threshold and is considered depleted.

Power density: Power density describes the amount of power a battery can deliver per unit weight, Sastry said. For electric vehicles, power density is important because it tells you how fast the car can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h), Sastry said. Engineers are constantly trying to come up with ways to make batteries smaller without diminishing their power density.

Energy density: Energy density describes how much energy a battery is capable of delivering, divided by the battery’s volume or mass, Sastry said. This number corresponds to things that have a big impact on users, such as how long you need to go before charging your cellphone or how far you can drive your electric car before stopping to plug it in.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescienceFacebook & Google+.

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Early Urban Planning: Ancient Mayan City Built on Grid

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Early Urban Planning: Ancient Mayan City Built on Grid

An ancient Mayan city followed a unique grid pattern, providing evidence of a powerful ruler, archaeologists working at Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, have found.

The city, which contains flat-topped pyramids, was in use between roughly 600 B.C. and 300 B.C., a time when the first cities were being constructed in the area. No other city from the Maya world was planned using this grid design, researchers say. This city was “organized in a way we haven’t seen in other places,” said Timothy Pugh, a professor at Queens College in New York.

Head of a deity

Credit: Photo by Don Rice
A team of researchers working at the site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatamela, have discovered a Maya council house dating back about 700 years. Their discoveries include sculpted works of art, including this incense burner showing the head of Itzamna, a deity who was the shaman of the Mayan gods. [Read full story]

“It’s a top-down organization,” Pugh said. “Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together.”

The ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan also used a grid system. But that city is not considered to be Mayan, and so far archaeologists have found no connections between it and the one at Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Pugh said. [In Photos: Mayan Art Discovered in Guatemala]

Archaeologists have mapped an early Mayan city, revealing the city used a rigid grid system with the main ceremonial way aligned east to west.
Credit: Image courtesy Timothy Pugh

People living in the area have known of the Nixtun-Ch’ich’ site for a long time. Pugh started research on it in 1995 and has been concentrating on Mayan remains that date to a much later time period,long after the early city was abandoned. However, in the process of studying these later remains, his team has been able to map the early city and even excavate a bit of it.

Reptile decoration

Credit: Photo by Don Rice
This sculpted image of a reptile (either a snake or crocodile) would have adorned the hallways of the 700-year-old Mayan council house. It would have beenattached to the walls. [Read full story]

Ceremonial route

From the mapping and excavations, Pugh can tell that the city’s main ceremonial route runs in an east-west line only 3 degrees off of true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line — that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. These 15 buildings included flat-topped pyramids that would have risen up to almost 100 feet (30 meters) high. Visitors would have climbed a series of steps to reach the temple structure at the top of each of these pyramids.

Parrot sculpture

Credit: Photo by Don Rice
This sculpted image of a parrot would also have been attached to the walls of the 700-year-old Mayan council house.

At the end of the ceremonial way, on the eastern edge of the city, is a “triadic” structure or group, which consists of pyramids and buildings that were constructed facing each other on a platform. Structures like this triadic group (the name comes from the three main pyramids or buildings in the group), have been found in other early Mayan cities.

The residential areas of the city were built to the north and south of the ceremonial route and were also packed into the city’s grid design, Pugh said.

Mayan altars

Credit: Photo by Timothy Pugh
The Maya council house had two altars, each of which originally had a sculpted turtle on it. When a cycle of time ended the Chakan Itza (the Maya people who lived here) destroyed the altars and covered the council house with a layer of dirt. The Chakan Itza then would have moved their seat of power to a new location. This may have taken place about 500 years ago. [Read full story]

From the excavations, archaeologists can tell that many of the city’s structures were decorated with shiny white plaster. “It was probably a very shiny city,” Pugh said.

The city’s orientation, facing almost directly east, would have helped people follow the movements of the sun, something that may have been of importance to their religion.

A wall made of earth and stone also protectedthe city, suggesting defense was also a concern of these Mayans.

Lake Peten Itza

Credit: Image courtesy of NASA
The site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ is located near the southwestern tip of Lake Petén Itzá, a satellite image of which is seen here.

Were the people miserable?

While the city was a sight to behold, its people might not have been happy with it, Pugh said.

“Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” said Pugh, noting that in other Mayan cities, “the space is more open and less controlled.”

Cities in medieval Europe that adopted rigid designs were often unpleasant places for their residents to live, Pugh said. It’s “very possible” that the residents of this early Mayan city “didn’t really enjoy living in such a controlled environment,” Pugh said.

Preserving the city

Archaeologists said they are thankful to the cattle ranchers who own the land the site is on and are protecting it against looters, Pugh said.

This location is one of the few Mayan sites in the area that hasn’t been looted, and that’s because the ranchers are “really protective, and they don’t want people messing with the Maya ruins,” Pugh said.

Additionally, the ranchers use a type of quick-growing grass, which, in addition to helping feed cattle, also protects the site from erosion, helping preserve it.

Lake Peten

The Spanish conquered the Petén region by the end of the 17th century. The Itza suffered many casualties from this conquest and diseases introduced from Europe. However the Itza, along with other Mayan people, persevered and live on to present day. Many of them now speak Spanish, but the Itza language is still spoken by a few individuals. This image shows Lake Petén Itzá. [Read full story]

Pugh’s team presented their research recently at the Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting, in San Francisco.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.


Thin ‘Bubble’ Coatings Could Hide Submarines from Sonar

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Thin ‘Bubble’ Coatings Could Hide Submarines from Sonar

Bubble-filled rubbery coatings may one day help make submarines virtually undetectable to sonar, researchers say.

To avoid detection by sonar,military submarines are often covered with sound-absorbing tiles called anechoic coatings. These perforated rubber tiles are typically about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) thick.

In the past decade, research has suggested that the same degree of stealth could be provided by much thinner coatings filled with vacant cavities. When hit by sound waves, empty spaces in an elastic material can oscillate in size, “so it will dissipate a lot of energy,” said lead study author Valentin Leroy, a physicist at the Université  Paris Diderot in France. [7 Technologies That Transformed Warfare]

However, figuring out how to optimize such materials for stealth applications previously involved time-consuming simulations. To simplify the problem, Leroy and his colleagues modeled the empty spaces in the elastic material as spherical bubbles, with each giving off a springy response to a sound wave that depended on its size and the elasticity of the surrounding material. This simplification helped them derive an equation that could optimize the material’s sound absorption to a given sound frequency.

The researchers designed a “bubble meta-screen,” a soft layer of silicone rubber that is only 230 microns thick, which is a little more than twice the average width of a human hair. The bubbles inside were cylinders measuring 13 microns high and 24 microns wide, and separated from each other by 50 microns.

In underwater experiments, the scientists bombarded a meta-screen placed on a slab of steel with ultrasonic frequencies of sound. They found that the meta-screen dissipated more than 91 percent of the incoming sound energy and reflected less than 3 percent of the sound energy. For comparison, the bare steel block reflected 88 percent of the sound energy.

“We have a simple analytical expression whose predictions are in a very good agreement with numerical simulations and real experiments,” Leroy told Live Science. “I find it exciting and beautiful.”

To make submarines invisible to the sound frequencies used in sonar, larger bubbles are needed. Still, the researchers predicted that a 0.16-inch-thick (4 millimeters) film with 0.08-inch (2 millimeters) bubbles could absorb more than 99 percent of the energy from sonar, cutting down reflected sound waves by more than 10,000-fold, or about 100 times better than was previously assumed possible.

However, despite the possibilities, “making these samples will probably be tough,” Leroy cautioned.

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 6 in the journal Physical Review B.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Bigger Earthquake Coming on Nepal’s Terrifying Faults

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Bigger Earthquake Coming on Nepal’s Terrifying Faults

Nepal faces larger and more deadly earthquakes, even after the magnitude-7.8 temblor that killed more than 4,000 people on Saturday (April 25).

Earthquake experts say Saturday’s Nepal earthquake did not release all of the pent-up seismic pressure in the region near Kathmandu. According to GPS monitoring and geologic studies, some 33 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) of motion may need to be released, said Eric Kirby, a geologist at Oregon State University. The earth jumped by about 10 feet (3 m) during the devastating April 25 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Nepalese residents gather in an open space at the site of destruction caused after Saturday's earthquake in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu (27 April 2015)

Tens of thousands of people in Nepal have been forced to live and sleep outside for fear of further aftershocks following Saturday’s earthquake, which killed more than 3,000 people  (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32476820)

“The earthquakes in this region can be much, much larger,” said Walter Szeliga, a geophysicist at Central Washington University.

Seismologists have extensively studied the possibility of damaging earthquakes in the central Himalayas. Through analyzing written histories, looking for clues from damaged buildings and digging along faults, researchers know of several damaging earthquakes in the past, but not their precise size. [See Photos of This Millennium’s Destructive Earthquakes]

Nepal was overdue for a major earthquake, said Marin Clark, a geophysicist at the University of Michigan. “It has been a long time since the last big rupture, so this is not unexpected,” Clark said.

One of the region’s most devastating recent quakes occurred in 1934, when a magnitude-8.2 earthquake killed over 8,500 people in Kathmandu. Before then, the last time such an immense quake struck Kathmandu was on July 7, 1255. That quake killed about 30 percent of the population. The region west of Kathmandu has been seismically quiet since June 6, 1505, when a great earthquake toppled buildings from Tibet to India.

A member of Nepalese police personnel looks on as an excavator is used to dig through rubble to search for bodies, in the aftermath of Saturdays earthquake in Kathmandu (27 April 2015)

An excavator is used to dig through rubble in search of bodies in Kathmandu (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32476820)

Crash zone

Nepal is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions because it lies at the head-on collision between two tectonic plates. India is slamming into Asia, and neither wants to give. Both India and Asia are continental crust, of the same average density. So instead of one plate sinking beneath the other, such as is happening at the ocean-continent plate collision offshore South America, the Earth’s crust crumples. Slices of India peel off and slowly squeeze under Asia, while Asia is mashed upward, forming the Himalayas.

India and Asia collide at about eight-tenths of an inch (2 centimeters) per year. Most of that energy is loaded onto earthquake faults as elastic strain because the faults are stuck together. Loading a fault is like squeezing a spring; an earthquake releases the built-up energy similar to an uncoiling spring.

The India-Asia plate tectonic collision.
Credit: IRIS

Scientists think earthquakes that are magnitude 7.8 in size can’t release all of the strain between India and Asia. Instead, history suggests most of the stored energy gets uncorked as earthquakes that are magnitude 8 or greater, according to geologic studies. It would take scores of magnitude-7 quakes to accommodate all of the plate motion, but only a handful of midsize, magnitude-8 quakes, or one magnitude 9. (The energy released by a quake increases by a factor of 30 with each additional point in magnitude.) [Video: What Does Earthquake ‘Magnitude’ Mean?]

“It seems likely that the amount of slip in this earthquake probably didn’t make up for the complete deficit,” Kirby said.

Damaged roads are seen after an earthquake on the outskirts of Kathmandu (26 April 2015)

The 7.8 magnitude quake opened up huge cracks in the ground, here in a road on the outskirts of Kathmandu (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32476820)

The April 25 earthquake struck on one of the many thrust faults that mark the boundary between the two plates. Thrust faults are the most terrifying of all faults because they lie at an angle. This shallow angle means a massive part of the Earth’s crust can lurch during an earthquake. Steeper faults quickly grow too warm and soft to break; as rocks get deeper, they flow like putty, Szeliga said. During the Nepal temblor, a piece of crust roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) long and 37 miles (60 km) wide jogged 10 feet (3 m) to the south. The fault angled only 10 degrees from the surface, and the quake was only 9 miles (14 km) deep.

“This one was relatively shallow, which intensifies the surface shaking,” Clark said.

A Nepalese policeman tries to clear the rubble with his hands while looking for survivors at the compound of a collapsed temple in Kathmandu (27 April 2015)

A Nepalese policeman tries to clear the rubble with his hands while looking for survivors at the site of a collapsed temple in Kathmandu (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32476820)

From seismic readings, many scientists suspect the fault did not break all the way to the surface, like the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. That’s another indication that the earthquake did not unleash all of the stored strain in the region, Kirby said. The seismic instruments can detect where the strongest motion occurred on the fault.

However, even without a surface trace, GPS instruments and InSAR (radar from satellites) will provide precise tracking of how the ground shifted during the earthquake, Szeliga said. The data will help ground-truth scientist’s models of Himalayan tectonics.

People pray before cremating the body of a victim of Saturdays earthquake, alongside a river in Kathmandu, Nepal (27 April 2015)

People pray before cremating the body of a victim in Kathmandu (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32476820)

“Now’s the chance to see who made predictions that were even remotely testable, and if they stand up,” Szeliga said.

Follow Becky Oskin @beckyoskin. Follow Live Science @livescience,Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.