Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week


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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover 10 incredible photos and the stories behind them.

Squee!

The clouded leopard is one of the rarest cat species in the world.

[Full Story: Adorable Clouded Leopard Cub’s Birth Signals Conservation Success]


Dam damage:

New images reveal the dramatic extent of damage to the Oroville spillway, an outlet for the Oroville Dam in northern California.

[Full Story: Shocking Images Reveal Massive Damage to California Reservoir]


Views at dawn:

Live Science chose some of the most stunning underwater photos from a recent contest, revealing heavenly shots of clownfish, gobies and shrimp that just might change how you view the sea.

[Full Story: Gallery: Jaw-Dropping Images of Life Under the Sea]


Ice diamond:

The northern Caspian Sea sparkles in an icy new satellite image.

[Full Story: Floating Ice Diamond Dazzles from Space]


Shadow over Patagonia:

The moon’s shadow throws shade over Patagonia in new satellite image.

[Full Story: Moon Casts Shadow Over Patagonia in Stunning ‘Ring of Fire’ Eclipse Photo]


Fish stroll:

These fins are made for walking.

[Full Story: Deep-Sea Stroll: This Fish ‘Walks’ on the Ocean Floor]


Cosmic jelly:

A glowing, ethereal jellyfish was spotted about 10,000 feet below the water’s surface in a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa.

[Full Story: Mysterious ‘Cosmic’ Jellyfish Spotted in Remote Ocean Depths]


Kinky spiders:

One autumn night while searching for spiders in his backyard, Matthew Persons came across something unexpected: a wolf spider ménage à trois.

[Full Story: Kinky Wolf Spiders Engage in Ménage à Trois to Avoid Cannibalism]


Blue tarantula hair:

The new color pigment could be used in everything from clothing to computer screens.

[Full Story: Blue Tarantula Hair Inspires Nonfading Color Pigment ]


4 million solar panels:

On the Tibetan Plateau in eastern China, 4 million solar panels silently soak up the sun as part of the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park.

[Full Story: 4 Million Solar Panels Seen from Space ]

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Are Viruses Alive?


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Are Viruses Alive?

These 208 Minerals Exist Solely Due to Humans


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These 208 Minerals Exist Solely Due to Humans

Drought-Stricken Chinese City Proposes Mega Pipeline to Pump Water From Siberia


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Drought-Stricken Chinese City Proposes Mega Pipeline to Pump Water From Siberia

Tuesday 1:00pm

Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. (Image: BDK)

The northwest Chinese city of Lanzhou has a serious water shortage problem. To address the issue, its urban planners have sketched out an ambitious plan to deliver water from Siberia’s Lake Baikal to the city along a 1,000-mile-long pipeline. Getting approval for the project will be a monumental challenge, but it may be a sign of things to come for other water-poor regions of the world.

As history has shown, China has a soft spot for mega projects, whether it be the construction of the Great Wall of China or the colossal Three Gorges Dam. The latest proposal, devised by the Lanzhou Urban and Rural Planning and Design Institute, calls for a similarly ambitious project, one connecting the southern tip of Lake Baikal in Siberia to the drought-stricken Gansu region in northwest China.

The 1,000-mile pipeline would extend from the southern tip of Lake Baikal to Lanzhou in Gansu province. (Image: Google Maps)

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, containing roughly 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface water. The pipeline would extend for 1,068 miles (1,720 km) along the Hexi Corridor, a desert region that runs between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert. The pipeline would cut a swath straight through Mongolia.

The Lanzhou planners say the chronic water shortage is stunting the region, which experienced just 15 inches (380 mm) of rain last year.

“The pipeline will boost the utilization rate and business prospects of [Gansu province], improve the ecological environment of Northwest China, and promote Lanzhou’s economic growth,” the authors wrote in the proposal, titled “Vision for Urban Planning 2030.”

The proposal is calling attention toChina’s ongoing water shortages. The country has 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 7 percent of its fresh water. Back in 2005, China’s former minister of water resources warnedthat many northern cities, including Lanzhou, would run out of water by 2020.

Unsurprisingly, the Lanzhou plan has been met with criticism. Some are questioning the feasibility of the plan, citing the tremendous costs involved, and the difficulties of coordinating the countries and local jurisdictions involved.

“To declare the global plans of the transfer of fresh water to China, without detailed calculations, is total folly,” noted environmentalist and economist Viktor Danilov-Danilyan told the Siberian Times. “It would require big funds and the price of the water will be very high. Almost certainly this project is simply unprofitable.”

That said, Russia may be willing to entertain the idea. A year ago, Russia’s agriculture minister proposed a similar pipeline between Kazakhstan and Xinjiang, saying it would only happen “under the condition of full compliance with the interests of Russia, including environmental.” The Russian petro-state—i.e. a country with an economy largely driven by its oil and gas interests—with its abundance of fresh water, may be willing to capitalize on its commodities even further, becoming the world’s first hydro-state.

“Water is the same resource as oil, gas, gold, and sooner or later we will start to sell it,” noted Stepan Svartsev from Tomsk State University in the Guardian.“Our country has very large reserves and certain volumes could be sold.”

In addition to the political and diplomatic hurdles, there’s also the environment to consider. An environmental impact assessment would have to be conducted along the 1,000 mile corridor. The effects of the pipeline on Lake Baikal would also have to be addressed. This source of fresh water is a haven for 1,200 animal species and 600 types of plants, of which half are local to the region.

It’s also important to point out that Lake Baikal is already facing severe environmental problems. Once prized for its crystal clean water, scientists say its southern-most areas have become inundated with algae, making it unsafe to drink. Surface runoff of nutrients into the lake, plus warming conditions, are allowing the algae to thrive. Adding insult to injury, water levels have dropped in recent years, and residents near the lake have already been told to cut down on water usage.

Certinaly, it’ll be interesting to see how this story plays out. The proposal from Lanzhou may be rejected, but that doesn’t mean other pipeline plans won’t work out, both in China and abroad.

The United States and Canada should take notice, particularly consideringwater shortages down south—especially in California and Nevada—and the grim prospect of decades-long megadroughts. Eventually, the two countries may have to start negotiations about sharing water and building pipelines.

Or more practically, we should push for industrial-scale desalination. Approximately 97 percent of the world’s water is tied up in our oceans, but we can’t drink it. Should gains in solar power efficiency continue, we should start to see the first large-scale desalination plants appear by the 2030s.

[Guardian, Global Times]

Scientists Finally Observed Time Crystals—But What the Hell Are They?


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Scientists Finally Observed Time Crystals—But What the Hell Are They?

Yesterday 1:00pm

The Harvard team’s time crystal (Image: Soonwon Choi)

My first question was, “What is a time crystal?” Harvard graduate students Soonwon Choi, Joonhee Choi and postdoctoral researcher Renate Landig all started laughing. “That’s a very good question,” said Soonwon. The time crystal’s silly science fiction name shrouds its deep quantum mechanical nuance. Sometimes a name is simply the easiest approximation to describe something far more complex than inquiring minds can conjure.

Two groups of scientists report that they’ve observed exotic time crystals, systems of atoms whose properties arrange themselves, or “crystallize” in time like the way solids can crystallize in space. The two groups’ vastly different atomic arrangements aren’t perpetual motion machines, weapons, or time travel devices—but their strange behavior sheds light on a whole new class of materials with properties different from any solid, liquid or gas you’ve ever encountered.

“The experiments are beautiful and open up a new class of states of matter that really qualitatively are new and fascinating in their own right,” MIT theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek told Gizmodo. Wilczekproposed time crystals in 2012, while wondering whether certain properties changing in time, rather than in space, could yield new phases of matter. He said “the new discoveries… are certainly a recognizable descendant of the original vision and have retained the name.”

Physical laws are laden with symmetries—instances where an action produces the same reaction in a different environment. If you punch a solid wall with the same force, it will hurt equally no matter where along the length of the wall you punch it or what time of day it is—those are spatial and time translation symmetries. Some symmetries can break. Crystals, solids where particles arrange themselves in a lattice, break a so-called spatial translational symmetry, since the molecules prefer a specific place in space. If you had a picket fence instead of a solid wall, that might break a spatial translational symmetry, since punching a picket feels different than punching the space between planks.

Wilczek’s idea was simple: Can molecules break time translational symmetry? Can certain solids crystallize in time, preferring different states at different time intervals? That question became: Do certain periodic behaviors of a collection of atoms have preferred tempos? This would kind of be like 17-year cicadas—they could come every year, but instead they break a time translational symmetry, since they clump on the 17th year rather than appearing evenly every year.

Image: T. Li et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2012)

Physicists Haruki Watanabe and Masaki Oshikawa from the University of Tokyo realized in 2014 that, no, there probably aren’t time crystals, at least not in the way Wilczek defined them. Two years later, physicists including Shivaji Sondhi at Princeton and Chetan Nayak-from the University of California, Santa Barbara demonstrated that time crystals might exist if youchanged the rules a little bit—by giving atoms a periodic nudge, for example. Physicist Norman Yao at the University of California, Berkeley drafted up a sort of blueprint for what to measure to convince researchers they’d created a time crystal. The discoveries both came out in preprint a few weeks ago, but they have now been vetted via the peer review process.

“The surprising thing about the time crystal is that it’s stable,” Yao told Gizmodo. The time crystal would need to prefer a certain vibrational frequency, different from the frequency of the periodic nudge. Under a few nudges, the preferred vibrational frequency doesn’t change.

That’s what each group is reporting today in the journal Nature. Particles have an innate quantum mechanical property called “spin” related to magnetism, which in the case of these crystals, has two different values. The values all align, and swap back and forth at the time crystal’s preferred tempo. Precisely understanding spin isn’t so important for understanding time crystals—at a really basic level, just think of it like each particle as a spectator at a sports game holding a sign. If everyone holds up side A, the collective signs say one phrase, and if they all hold up side B, it says a different phrase. Otherwise, it’s a garbled mess.

One group at the University of Maryland lined up ten trapped ytterbium ions (ytterbium is just a chemical element) and shined them with periodic laser pulses to mostly, but not completely, flip the ions’ spins. The particles’ spin values snapped into place, completely flipping regardless. They continued flipping and all lining up at half the speed of the laser pulse. If the team altered the pulse a little bit, the ten ions kept with their same cycle, even though intuition says the time crystal’s periodic motion should eventually fall apart. Instead, they preferred to march at the beat of their own drum.

The Harvard group’s setup was a little different. They loaded the regular carbon lattice of a diamond with impurities in the form of nitrogen atoms—so many impurities that the diamond turned black. Their crystal also required a pulsing force, in this case a microwave field, and they also watched the impurities’ spins flip back and forth, snapping into place with their own lower frequency, a longer period. This caused the diamond to fluoresce, like in the picture below. Their system was so complex that the theory doesn’t fully explain the behavior, said Soonwon Choi.

Image: Soonwon Choi

“Both systems are really cool. They’re kind of very different,” said Yao. “I think they’re extremely complimentary. I don’t think one is better than the other. They look at two different regimes of the physics. The fact that you’re seeing this similar phenomenology in very different systems is really amazing.”

The crystal might prefer its spin-switching tempo, but the effect certainly won’t last forever. Time crystals can’t exist without the repeating pulse of energy to coax the atoms to organize in time. “It’s not a perpetual motion machine,” Jiehang Zhang from the University of Maryland told Gizmodo. “We’re driving it!”

If you’re still a little confused, Yao’s got a great boilerplate explanation: If you’re jumping rope, you expect a rotation every time the person holding the rope’s hand spins. These time crystals have taken on a mind of their own—the rope makes a full circle, or the spins cycle, for every two times your hands spin. Furthermore, explained Zhang, jostling the rope a little bit won’t stop or alter the stable spinning.

Nayak agreed both groups presented evidence of the crystals he and others theorized, but we still need to know just how stable these crystals are. “Their combined results point to the need for experiments that truly show that the oscillations remain in phase over extended times,” he wrote in a Nature News & Views article, “and are not washed out by the inevitable fluctuations.”

Now that you know what a time crystal is, your first thought is most certainly “that’s it? What’s so exciting about that?” (“The other day in a game I saw a time crystal as a weapon,” said Landig). Soonwon immediately brought up potential quantum computing applications in the far future, controlling lots of quantum bits at the same time. But, the importance is likely more fundamental. Normally phases of matter exist only by changing the way particles arrange in space. Time crystals open up a whole world of possible new phases of matter by adding these laser or microwave pulses—phases that only exist when you’re doing something to the solid, like a quantum physics version of how corn starch mixed with water only feels solid when you smack it.

“It shows that the richness of the phases of matter is even broader [than we thought],” said Yao. “One of the holy grails in physics is understanding what types of matter can exist in nature.” We have lots of strange materials like superconductors and superfluids, but “non equilibrium phases” like time crystals “represent a new avenue different from all the things we’ve studied in the past.”

[Nature, Nature]

Science writer at Gizmodo | I like physics and eating