Spectacular Light Display in Northern Ontario Looks Like an Alien Encounter

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Spectacular Light Display in Northern Ontario Looks Like an Alien Encounter

Thursday 3:23pm

Image: Timothy Joseph Elzinga

Late last weekend, semi-pro photographer Timothy Joseph Elzinga woke up in the early hours of the morning to attend to his crying two-year-old son. When he looked out the window, he was greeted with a rare and spectacular sight known as light pillars. Smartly, he picked up his camera and captured some of the most incredible images of this natural phenomenon we’ve ever seen.

These vertical beams of multi-colored light looks like auroras, but they appear when either natural or artificial light bounces off ice crystals floating close to the ground.

Here, the northern Ontario air was so cold that the ice crystals were forming in high up, reflecting the city’s streets and business lights. Elzinga, who lives in North Bay, observed this majestic light display for about 45 minutes starting at 1:30 am local time. He even managed to capture some video of the rare event (Elzinga has his own YouTube channel.)

“I was able to capture these images both because the lights were so bright and pronounced, and because I used the manual settings on my phone to adjust the aperture time to eight seconds,” Elzinga told Gizmodo. “I also opened the window and removed the screen so I could get an unobstructed view. Then I used the ridges in my bathroom window’s track as a makeshift tripod to avoid motion blur.”

Timothy Joseph Elzinga

Elzinga ran outside to see if he could snap some more images, and even went for a drive. But the light pillars seemed to look best from his original vantage point, as a large forested hill behind his house provides protection from light pollution. At the time, he wasn’t aware of what he was looking at, and only discovered the name of the phenomenon after doing a bit of homework.

Timothy Joseph Elzinga

“It was almost supernatural and although the images are pretty amazing I’d say it was even cooler in real life,” said Elzinga.

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Scientists Made Something Colder Than Ever Thought Possible

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Scientists Made Something Colder Than Ever Thought Possible

Image: John Teufel

When it comes to cooling things in the lab, scientists have long found an experimental lower limit just above the theoretical coldest temperature. Well, a group of American scientists have now made things (lowers shades) …even cooler.

A team of scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) working in Boulder, Colorado tweaked an experimental method to cool a piece of aluminum below the so-called “quantum backaction” limit—a temperature slightly above absolute zero that quantum mechanics has prevented us from crossing before, equal to one-fifth the magnitude of quantum motion, as reported by The Washington Post. That’s 10,000 times colder than the vacuum of space. Such cold temperatures could be useful for creating hyper-sensitive sensors, in addition to helping scientists explore quantum mechanic’s effects in larger materials.

Quick physics recap: Temperature is the average kinetic energy of a collection of jiggling particles. When scientists say they’re making things colder, they just mean that they’re trying to slow all of the particles down. At absolute zero, -273.15 degrees Celsius or –459.67, degrees Fahrenheit, the particles stop completely.

 Usually, to get an object very cold, physicists shine light at it, causing its atoms to lose momentum. But the unpredictability presented by quantum mechanics leaves a little excess heat that scientists normally can’t get rid of—the quantum backaction limit, explained study author John Teufel, a physicist at the NIST.

The experiment that has now circumvented this issue consisted of a tiny 20 micrometer by 100 nanometer drum, linked up to a circuit designed to cool things in the usual way. Microwaves bounce around inside the circuit, causing it to resonate and vibrate and generate its own photons. The photons depart and take a phonon, a quantum unit of vibration, with them, cooling the drum a tiny bit with each exiting photon. For this experiment, the scientists also shined a special kind of light— squeezed light—onto the drum’s head, sending the temperature below the quantum backaction limit. Quantum mechanics says that you can resolve some measurements of light at the expense of others. The squeezed light takes advantage of this property, allowing the scientists to remove one kind of fluctuation in the light’ s amplitude. They published their results in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

“It’s the first time someone has used squeezed light to do better cooling,” Teufel said.

Shining that squeezed light reduced the object’s temperature below the quantum backaction limit by a factor of two. “We’re not at absolute zero yet because our squeezing isn’t perfect,” he said.

Cold stuff is useful for more than making ice cream. With tiny energies like those measured here, scientists can measure the effects of quantum mechanics in things larger than individual particles.

 Now THAT’s “cool.”


Science writer at Gizmodo | I like physics and eating

Humans Are Literally Made of Stardust After All

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Humans Are Literally Made of Stardust After All

Friday 10:30am

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Detlef Hartmann; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

All too often, our flesh cocoons can feel like vessels of anxiety and existential dread. But take heart, because new research confirms what science popularizers like Carl Sagan have said all along: humans truly are made of “star stuff”—and we’ve got maps to prove it.

In the largest undertaking of its kind, a group of astronomers at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in New Mexico has used the APOGEE (Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment) spectrograph to analyze the composition of 150,000 stars across the Milky Way. The team has catalogued the amount of “CHNOPS elements”—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur—in each of the stars, and mapped out the prevalence of these “building blocks of life” across the galaxy.

Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital Inc.; SDSS collaboration

Researchers found the center of the Milky Way to be the most abundant in CHNOPS elements. But perhaps the most validating aspect of the research is that these essential elements—found scattered across so many stars—also make up 97 percent of the mass of our bodies.

 In other words, we truly are “children” of the stars.

In addition to helping us learn more about ourselves, this new map could direct us to life beyond Earth, past or present.

“It’s a great human interest story that we are now able to map the abundance of all of the major elements found in the human body across hundreds of thousands of stars in our Milky Way,” Jennifer Johnson of Ohio State University said in a press release. “This allows us to place constraints on when and where in our galaxy life had the required elements to evolve, a sort ‘temporal Galactic habitable zone.’”

Go ahead and check out the team’s maps on SDSS here. It’s okay to feel proud—after all, you’re literally a star baby.

[Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)]

Space Writer, Gizmodo

Watching a Rattlesnake Attack in Super Slow-Mo Will Mess You Up

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Watching a Rattlesnake Attack in Super Slow-Mo Will Mess You Up

Friday 12:21pm

Video: Higham Lab, UC Riverside

Mohave rattlesnakes and Merriam kangaroo rats are currently embroiled in an evolutionary arms race, pitting wily predator against fast-acting prey. Dramatic high-speed video shows how quick and creative snakes need to be to launch an attack—and how rodents still manage to evade capture.

Surprisingly, very little is known about rattlesnake attacks. But new technological advances in high-speed cameras are making it possible to capture three-dimensional videos of these lightning-fast strikes in the wild. A team led by University of California-Riverside biologist Timothy Higham used such a setup to film Mohave rattlesnakes in action, allowing them to understand the factors that determine the success or failure of an attack or an escape. Their findings now appear in the latest edition of the journal Science Reports.

According to Higham, the team gathered footage of the rattlesnake strikes under infrared lighting in New Mexico in 2015. “The results are quite interesting in that strikes are very rapid and highly variable,” Higham said in a statement. “The snakes also appear to miss quite dramatically—either because the snake simply misses or the kangaroo rat moves out of the way in time.”

Watching the high-speed video (filmed at 500 frames per second), Higham’s team noticed that the snakes performed better and struck faster in the wild than in laboratory conditions. Horrifyingly, maximum velocities achieved during strikes ranged between 4.2 to 4.8 meters per second. For an animal that’s crouched motionless in a coil, that’s an insane amount of speed. It’s cool to watch, but for prey animals, that doesn’t leave them much time to react.

Not content to stick with speed as the lone tactic, the snakes were also observed to mix up the style of their attacks. Strikes occurred from a wide swath of distances, ranging from 1.8 to 7.9 inches (4.6 to 20 cm). When the snakes failed to capture their prey, it was either because the kangaroo rats made an evasive maneuver, or because of the snakes’ poor strike accuracy.

The performance of the kangaroo rats was equally impressive—their average response time to an attack was a mere 61.5 milliseconds (by comparison, the average reaction time for humans is about 215 milliseconds). In conjunction with their quick reflexes, the kangaroo rats amplified their jumping power during an attack via something called “elastic energy storage.”

“Elastic energy storage is when the muscle stretches a tendon and then relaxes, allowing the tendon to recoil like an elastic band being released from the stretched position,” Higham explained. “It’s equivalent to a sling shot—you can pull the sling shot slowly and it can be released very quickly. The kangaroo rat is likely using the tendons in its lower leg—similar to our Achilles tendon—to store energy and release it quickly, allowing it to jump quickly and evade the strike.”

Looking ahead, the researchers are hoping to observe other species of rattlesnake and kangaroo rat to explore any differences among the species. Until then, you can marvel—or wince—at the ferocity of these horrifying rattlesnake attacks.

[Scientific Reports]

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Winter Sucks for This Fox Frozen in a Solid Block of Ice

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Winter Sucks for This Fox Frozen in a Solid Block of Ice

Friday 12:30pm


Hurrying home after a pleasant evening of foraging and scrapbooking, this unlucky fox drowned in the Danube river in southern Germany. And that was only the beginning.

Franz Stehle, the hunter that discovered this poor bastard, told local news he found the fox frozen solid, then extracted it from the ice (as one does) and put him on display outside his family’s hotel to warn about the remarkable brutality of this year’s winter season.

More than 60 people across Europe have died in winter-related tragedies, and Romanian authorities have ceased shipping operations along the Danube, where the fox was found. Refugees, the elderly and the homeless (and obviously, these categories overlap for many people) were hit hardest, especially in rural areas.

UK authorities have used the term thundersnow to refer to the mix of heavy snow and gale force (70mph) winds blanketing the area. Even sunny vacations spots like Athens were hit with snow. So winter’s no bullshit this year, and this fox is a chilling reminder to stay safe.


Of course I have pages. I had pages five years ago. How anyone can believe I don’t defies belief.

‘Tree Man’ Has Surgery: What Causes This Rare Condition?

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‘Tree Man’ Has Surgery: What Causes This Rare Condition?