01 Quantum Tech magazine volume 1 Future & Emerging Technology / Science
4-5 - Biotech Hack Mice healed three times faster than normal after their broken bones were flooded by proteins naturally used to regrow new tissues. ---------------------------------------
6-8 - Genetic Secrets of living to 100 A massive genetic study of people who lived for more than 100 years has found dozens of new clues to the biology of aging. ---------------------------------------
9 - Iceland Volcano Ash Pictures Vindicate Airspace Shutdown ---------------------------------------
10-11 - Dark Matter Dark matter collecting inside exoplanets could heat some cold worlds enough to support life, even without the warm glow of starlight. ---------------------------------------
12-13 - Islands at the Speed of Light A recent paper published in the Physical Review has some astonishing suggestions for the geographic future of financial markets. ---------------------------------------
14-15 - Inflatable Greenhouses on the Moon Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center have devised a “lunar greenhouse” that “could be the key to growing fresh and healthy food to sustain future lunar or Martian colonies,” ---------------------------------------
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16-17 - The Moon Hides Ice The moon is pockmarked with cold, wet oases that could contain enough water ice to be useful to manned missions. ---------------------------------------
18-19 - Dark Matter May Be Building Up Inside the Sun The sun could be a net for dark matter, a new study suggests. ---------------------------------------
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Mice healed three times faster than normal after their Semi-Natural Biotech Hack Makes broken bones were flooded by proteins naturally used to Bones Heal 3 Times Faster regrow new tissues. The discovery raises the possibility of a stem cell–free route to regeneration. The Wnt family of proteins used in the mice are involved in healing many other types of tissue; the researchers hope they will find many other uses for them. “Gut, skin, brain, muscle, cardiac muscle, corneas, retinas — people have studied the role of Wnt signals in all those tissues,” said Stanford University reconstructive surgeon and study co-author Jill Helms. “Maybe there could be a therapeutic approach to all this.”
The experiment, published April 28 in Science Translational Medicine, is rooted in two decades of research on Wnt genes and proteins, which play a variety of regenerative roles. They help embryonic stem cells make copies of themselves, keeping a body’s supply fresh, and guide the maturation of stem cells into specific cell types. Wnt proteins are found throughout the animal kingdom, from sponges and flatworms to mice and humans, and their function seems to be consistent. When tissues are injured, Wnt genes in surrounding cells become more active, pumping out extra Wnt proteins. Arriving repair cells divide faster and grow more rapidly. Study co-author Roel Nusse, a cell biologist at Stanford, has pioneered much of the Wnt research. He was responsible for cloning the Wnt family genes, allowing proteins to be produced in tissue cultures in a lab. His success encouraged the study’s other authors to see if the proteins could be used therapeutically. “This pathway may be the key to regenerating, or at least rapidly repairing, tissues,” said Helms. “We’re augmenting nature’s own response to injury.” The researchers started their tests by genetically engineering a strain of mice that produced exceptionally high amounts of Wnt proteins. Three days after their bones were broken, they grew three and half times more new bone tissue than regular mice.
“In cancer, mutations cause the pathway to be always on. Delivering the protein only causes the pathway to be turned on for a moment,” she said. “Mutations in the insulin pathway also cause cancer, but insulin treatments do not.” According to Thomas Einhorn, a Boston University biochemist and orthopedic surgeon who wasn’t involved in the study, Wnt is an alluring therapeutic target. Malfunctions in Wnt regulation have been linked to human bone disorders, underscoring their importance. But he cautioned that “animal studies are animal studies, and human conditions are something else.” In mice, challenges still remain. A broken bone is relatively easy to target with an injection, but many conditions are less localized, involving entire organs or large amounts of tissue. The researchers are now conducing mouse tests of Wnt proteins for skin wounds, stroke and heart-attack recovery, and cartilage injuries. “Nature uses this recipe over and over again,” said Helms.
Image Below: Healing in the skeletal tissues of mice given a placebo (top) and Wnt proteins (bottom). Science Translational Medicine.
That test’s purpose wasn’t to investigate a role for genetic engineering, but rather to see if extra Wnt had an effect. The researchers next injected lab-grown Wnt proteins into mice with broken bones. These again healed three times faster. There were no obvious side effects from the treatment, though the tests were preliminary. Somewhat disturbingly, Wnt genes were originally identified while malfunctioning in cancerous cells. The likelihood of causing cancer is also a major obstacle to developing safe stem cell therapies. But Helms is confident that it won’t be a problem with potential Wnt therapies.
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GENETIC SECRETS OF LIVING TO 100 A massive genetic study of people who lived for more than 100 years has found dozens of new clues to the biology of aging.
The findings won’t be turned overnight into longevity elixirs or lifespan tests, nor do they untangle the complex interactions between biology, lifestyle and environment that ultimately determine how long — and how well — one lives. But they do offer much-needed toeholds for scientists studying the basic mechanisms of aging, which remain largely unexplained. “It shows that genetics plays an extremely important role at these extreme ages. And it begins to be a not-unsolvable puzzle,” said Boston University gerontologist Thomas Perls. “If we start looking at these genes and what they do, we better understand the biology of extreme longevity.”
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They’re also more likely to bounce back from disease, rather than entering a spiral of declining health. People who’ve reached that mark tend to have lives that are not only exceptionally long, but unusually healthly. Unlike most people, they rarely develop diseases of aging — such as heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer and dementia — until well into their 90s. They’re also more likely to bounce back from disease, rather than entering a spiral of declining health.
The findings come from gene tests of 801 people enrolled in the Perls-founded New England Centenarian Study, the largest study in the world of people who’ve lived past 100.
That manner of aging is a goal for most people, and a public health necessity. Modern medicine has had success in slowing individual aging diseases, but when one is postponed another soon emerges. Americans are living longer but not healthier. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. health spending now goes to treating diseases of aging. That proportion is rising.
People who’ve reached that mark tend to have lives that are not only exceptionally long, but unusually healthly. Unlike most people, they rarely develop diseases of aging — such as heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer and dementia — until well into their 90s.
In the last decade, scientists using animal models of disease have identified numerous genes and biological pathways implicated in aging. That animal research is valuable, but the gold standard of longevity science involves long-lived people.
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GENETIC SECRETS OF LIVING TO 100 Other studies suggest that whether or not someone lives to their 80s is mostly a result of common-sense lifestyle choices: moderate drinking, no smoking, plenty of exercise, a vegetable-centric diet and low stress. But beyond that, “genetics plays a stronger and stronger role,” said Perls. The concentrations of telltale gene profiles found by his group suggest “that the genetic influence is very, very strong.” Perls’ team surveyed the genomes of 801 centenarians, focusing on “hot spots” where people are most likely to have mutations. They compared the results to genome scans of 926 random people from the general population. From this came a list of 70 gene mutations found mostly in the centenarians. After comparing those to genome scans of 867 people with Parkinson’s disease, the list was whittled down to 33 key mutations. The researchers used these results to develop statistical models of longevityassociated gene profiles. Used to evaluate anonymized sample genomes, the model could predict whether the sample came from a centenarian with 77 percent accuracy, underscoring the importance of genetics in extreme long life. Centenarians also tended to fit
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one of 19 different gene profiles. Some of the profiles tracked with especially low rates of cardiovascular disease, dementia and hypertension or diabetes, suggesting specific genetic pathways for those diseases. Perls emphasized that the profiles — which came from Caucasians, and are likely different in other ethnic groups — are not intended as guides for drug cocktails or diagnostic tests. “We’re quite a ways away still in understanding what pathways governed by these genes are involved, and how the integration of these genes, not just with themselves but with environmental factors, are all playing a role in this longevity puzzle,” he said in a press conference. Other were excited about the findings, but echoed Perls’ restraint. National Institutes on Aging neuroscientist Donald Ingram called the study a “very impressive genetic and statistical tour de force,” but one that leaves environmental influences unexplained. According to Perls, one of the study’s most intriguing results is that roughly 15 percent
of the general population has some of the longevity-associated genes. Yet only one in 6,000 people currently live to be centenarians — many fewer people than seems to be suggested by the genetics. Some of the discrepancy can likely be attributed to standards of infant care and public health at the beginning of the 20th century, when these centenarians were born, said Perls. Lifestyle and genetics are also sure to play a part. There will also be genetic factors missed by the study’s narrow focus on hot spots. According to Jackson Laboratory gerontologist David Harrison, who called the findings “very interesting,” researchers will use animals to explore the roles of genes and pathways flagged in the study. The findings will also need to be replicated and expanded in more human studies, said National Institutes on Aging gerontologist Winifred Rossi. “It’s groundbreaking work,” she said. “But science is not fast. It’s slow. It takes a lot of steps to get to something with an impact. We’re only at the start of exploring longevity.”
ICELAND VOLCANO Ash Pictures Vindicate Airspace Shutdown
The most detailed visual study yet of volcanic ash from last year’s Icelandic eruption reveals just how sharp, abrasive and potentially dangerous the particles were. After Eyjafjallajökull erupted in April 2010, sending volcanic plumes high into the atmosphere, officials closed Europe’s airspace for days because of the risk of ash scouring planes or being sucked into jet engines and shutting them down. “Aviation authorities made the right decision,” says team leader Susan Stipp, a geoscientist at the University of Copenhagen. Hours after the volcano began erupting, University of Iceland volcanologists Sigurdur Gíslason and Helgi Alfredsson raced toward it to collect ash. They were the last ones to cross a bridge to safety before meltwater floods from atop Eyjafjallajökull washed the road away. Gíslason sent some of the fresh ash, along with another batch collected 12 days later, to Stipp, whose lab studies how natural particles flow in the environment. The scientists put the ash through a barrage of tests, like attaching a single particle to the tip of a tiny beam to measure changes in mass. Their results appear the week of April 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences As ash particles exit the volcano, volatile gases condense on them and coat them with salts including the elements chlorine, fluorine and arsenic. Stipp and her colleagues dunked the ash particles in water, as might happen in a flood, and watched as tiny bits of salt washed away. In one case, 35 millionths of a millionth of a gram vanished within 15 seconds. Knowing how fast these salts dissolve,
Stipp says, can help scientists understand whether the ash is dangerous to drinking water. The researchers kept washing the ash, but even after being stirred around in water for two weeks it kept its sharp edges, Stipp says. “The particles remain extremely sharp even after they’ve been grinding against each other.” Ash that was produced right after Eyjafjallajökull exploded on April 14 was more abrasive than the sample collected 12 days later, and was also smaller and more powdery, the team found. Many of the explosive ash bits glommed onto larger particles — suggesting that scientists may have underestimated the fraction made of particles less than 10 micrometers across, a limit often used to mark a breathing hazard. Other labs could follow the same tests to see how dangerous a particular eruption is, says Stipp. Another upcoming study supports the idea that Eyjafjallajökull’s ash clumps together. In a paper to appear in Geology, Jacopo Taddeucci of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and colleagues describe ash from the final days of the eruption in May 2010. Even then, Eyjafjallajökull was spitting out both sharp, dense fragments and more fragile, irregularly shaped ones, says team member Daniele Andronico, also at the Italian institute.
Image: A scanning electron microscope image of explosive ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano reveals the particle’s sharp edges, which would have abraded the surfaces of any airplanes flying through it. (S. Gislason et al./PNAS 2011)
Ash sometimes clumped together in aggregates, the team found. On hitting the ground, these aggregates broke apart into a cloud of smaller particles, dropping more particles than expected. The research shows that volcanoes don’t always play by the rule book, says Andronico.
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Dark matter collecting inside exoplanets could heat some cold worlds enough to support life, even without the warm glow of starlight.
Alien-hunting astronomers generally search for planets that lie just far enough from their stars to keep from boiling off or freezing any liquid water, which is thought to be a prerequisite for carbon-based life. But other heat sources could potentially warm up a chilly planet that is outside this habitable zone. One possibility is radioactive elements decaying inside rocks, which already give the Earth about 0.025 percent of its geothermal energy. Another is a thick atmosphere to drive a greenhouse effect, which renders Venus an inhospitable hot house. Some have even suggested that planets that have been kicked out of their solar systems could still support life beneath a thick atmosphere or a shell of ice. In a new paper posted on arXiv.org and submitted to the Astrophysical Journal, physicists Dan Hooper and Jason Steffen of Fermilab in Illinois suggest an exotic internal radiator for cold, rocky planets: dark matter. In certain parts of the galaxy, they say, dark matter could effectively outshine the sun.
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It’s not something that’s likely to produce a lot of habitWhenever one weakly interacting massive able planets,” Hooper said. “But in very special places and particles meets another, they annihilate in very special models, it could do the trick.” Dark matter each other in a burst of energy. is the name given to the mysterious stuff that makes up about 83 percent of the matter in the universe, but generally ignores regular matter. No one knows exactly what dark matter is, but one of the most popular theories says it’s made of hypothetical particles called WIMPs — weakly interacting massive particles — that interact with regular matter only through the weak nuclear force and gravity. WIMPs are also their own antiparticles: Whenever one WIMP meets another, they annihilate each other in a burst of energy.
If those explosions happen inside a planet, they could warm the world enough to melt ice, Hooper and Steffen suggest. Physicists are still waiting for WIMPs to show themselves by colliding with detectors in deep underground mines. But the fact that the detectors haven’t seen anything conclusive yet puts limits on how heavy and large the particles can be. If WIMPs were bigger or heavier than a certain theoretical limit, physicists reason, the particles would have shown up by now. Hooper and Steffen considered two possible model WIMPs that interact as often as they possibly can while still being consistent with the experiments, one particle that’s 300 times heavier than a proton and one that’s just 7 times the proton’s mass. Then they calculated how much energy the explosions from colliding these hypothetical dark matter particles would contribute to the planet’s overall warmth. On Earth, they found, dark matter doesn’t make a difference. Earth lies in a part of the Milky Way where dark matter is relatively thin, so it contributes at most one megawatt of energy to Earth’s internal thermostat. By contrast, the Earth absorbs about 100 petawatts, or 100 quadrillion watts, from the sun. But in the dark matter-rich centers of galaxies, WIMPs could be a contender. The researchers considered rocky planets that lie within 30 light-years of the galactic center, and found that planets with masses 10 times greater than Earth’s could scoop up enough dark matter to generate 100 petawatts of energy. That could be enough energy to keep liquid water on their surfaces, even without the aid of a nearby star.
She points out that the idea is limited to WIMPs, though — if dark matter turns out to be something else, it won’t work. She also notes that these planets would be too far away for followup observations, a point on which Hooper agrees. “I don’t foresee any way of detecting such planets any time in the near future,” he said. If dark matter-heated planets exist, it’s not clear that they would resemble Earth at all. They may not have solid, rocky surfaces for liquid water to pool on, or a molten mantle to drive plate tectonics. “It’s very possible that this would look like a very different type of planet than the ones we’re used to,” Hooper said. But dark matter-heated planets have one advantage over planets that are tied to a star. Halos of dark matter can sit undisturbed at the centers of galaxies almost indefinitely, much longer than the lifetimes of individual stars. “You can imagine planets being heated in this sort of way for literally trillions of years,” Hooper said. “In the far future when all the stars have burnt out in our galaxy, all the surviving civilizations may find themselves migrating to these sorts of planets. They’ll be the ultimate bastion of civilization.” Image Below: An artist’s rendition of the planetary system around the star 55 Cancri. Credit: NASA/JPL-
“This is a fascinating, and highly original idea,” said exoplanet expert Sara Seager of MIT, who was not involved in the new study. “Original ideas are becoming more and more rare in exoplanet theory.”
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ISLANDS AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT A recent paper published in the Physical Review has some astonishing suggestions for the geographic future of financial markets.
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Its authors, Alexander Wissner-Grossl and Cameron Freer, discuss the spatial implications of speed-of-light trading. Trades now occur so rapidly, they explain, and in such fantastic quantity, that the speed of light itself presents limits to the efficiency of global computerized trading networks. These limits are described as “light propagation delays.” It is thus in traders’ direct financial interest, they suggest, to install themselves at specific points on the Earth’s surface—a kind of lightspeed financial acupuncture—to take advantage both of the planet’s geometry and of the networks along which trades are ordered and filled.
They conclude that “the construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes across the Earth’s surface” is thus economically justified, if not required. Amazingly, their analysis—seen in the map, below—suggests that many of these financially strategic points are actually out in the middle of nowhere: hundreds of miles offshore in the Indian Ocean, for instance, on the shores of Antarctica,
and scattered throughout the South Pacific (though, of course, most of Europe, Japan, and the U.S. Bos-Wash corridor also make the cut). These nodes exist in what the authors refer to as “the past light cones” of distant trading centers—thus the paper’s multiple references to relativity. Astonishingly, this thus seems to elide financial trading networks with the laws of physics, implying the eventual emergence of what we might call quantum financial products. Quantum derivatives! (This also seems to push us ever closer to the artificially intelligent financial instruments described in Charles Stross’s novel Accelerando). Erwin Schrödinger meets the Dow. It’s financial science fiction: when the dollar value of a given product depends on its position in a planet’s light-cone. These points scattered along the earth’s surface are described as “optimal intermediate locations between trading centers,” each site “maximiz[ing] profit potential in a locally auditable manner.” Wissner-Grossl and Freer then suggest that trading centers themselves could be moved to these nodal points: “we show that if such intermediate coordination nodes are themselves promoted to trading centers that can utilize local
information, a novel econophysical effect arises wherein the propagation of security pricing information through a chain of such nodes is effectively slowed or stopped.” An econophysical effect. In the end, then, they more or less explicitly argue for the economic viability of building artificial islands and inhabitable seasteads—i.e. the “construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes”—out in the middle of the ocean somewhere as a way to profit from speed-of-light trades. Imagine, for a moment, the New York Stock Exchange moving out into the mid-Atlantic, somewhere near the Azores, onto a series of New Babylon-like platforms, run not by human traders but by Watson-esque artificially intelligent supercomputers housed in waterproof tombs, all calculating money at the speed of light. “In summary,” the authors write, “we have demonstrated that light propagation delays present new opportunities for statistical arbitrage at the planetary scale, and have calculated a representative map of locations from which to coordinate such relativistic statistical arbitrage among the world’s major securities exchanges. We furthermore have shown that for chains
of trading centers along geodesics, the propagation of tradable information is effectively slowed or stopped by such arbitrage.” Historically, technologies for transportation and communication have resulted in the consolidation of financial markets. For example, in the nineteenth century, more than 200 stock exchanges were formed in the United States, but most were eliminated as the telegraph spread. The growth of electronic markets has led to further consolidation in recent years. Although there are advantages to centralization for many types of transactions, we have described a type of arbitrage that is just beginning to become relevant, and for which the trend is, surprisingly, in the direction of decentralization. In fact, our calculations suggest that this type of arbitrage may already be technologically feasible for the most distant pairs of exchanges, and may soon be feasible at the fastest relevant time scales for closer pairs. Our results are both scientifically relevant because they identify an econophysical mechanism by which the propagation of tradable information can be slowed or stopped, and technologically significant, because they motivate the construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes across the Earth’s surface.
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Inflatable Greenhouses on the Moon Researchers at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center have devised a "lunar greenhouse" that "could be the key to growing fresh and healthy food to sustain future lunar or Martian colonies," Wired Space reported back in October.
Under the guidance of Gene Giacomelli, “The team built a prototype lunar greenhouse in the CEAC Extreme Climate Lab that is meant to represent the last 18 feet (5.5 meters) of one of several tubular structures that would form part of a proposed lunar base. The tubes would be buried beneath the moon’s surface to protect the plants and astronauts from deadly solar flares, micrometeorites and cosmic rays. As such, the buried greenhouse would differ from conventional greenhouses that let in and capture sunlight as heat. Instead, these underground lunar greenhouses would shield the plants from harmful radiation.” As Popular Science describes it: The 18-foot, membrane-sheathed system collapses into a 4-foot wide disk for easy packing on an interplanetary mission. When extended, it is fitted with water-cooled lamps and seed packets prepped to sprout without soil. The hydroponic system needs little oversight, relying on automated systems and control algorithms to analyze data gathered by embedded sensors that optimize the controlled ecosystem. The whole system takes just ten minutes to set up and produces vegetables within a month.
Giacomelli himself explains that lunar rovers—or “robotic bulldozers”—would first bury the greenhouses, installing them in advance of human arrival. Then, “When the spacecraft sets down, the idea is that [the buried greenhouse] expands outwards, opens by itself, like a robot would. The seeds are already in place. We start it up, turn on the lights, turn on the water, and the plants can begin to grow, even in advance of when the astronauts arrive.” Interestingly, Antarctica supplied a kind of natural test-environment for this architectural experiment: “the extreme conditions of the South Pole helped his team fine-tune their lunar greenhouse, and also allowed them to figure out how to remotely control conditions like temperature, humidity and light. He said similar technologies could also be used someday in cities—in a greenhouse in the middle floor of a skyscraper, for example. He added that, at least right now, the technology, and lighting, especially, are too expensive for daily commercial use.”
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THE MOON HIDES ICE WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE The moon is pockmarked with cold, wet oases that could contain enough water ice to be useful to manned missions. A year after NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) smashed into the surface of the moon, astronomers have confirmed that lunar craters can be rich reservoirs of water ice, plus a pharmacopoeia of other surprising substances. On Oct. 9, 2009, the LCROSS mission sent a spent Centaur rocket crashing into Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole, a spot previous observations had shown to be loaded with hydrogen. A second spacecraft flew through the cloud of debris kicked up by the explosion to search for signs of water and other ingredients of lunar soil. And water appeared in buckets. The first LCROSS results reported that about 200 pounds of water appeared in the plume. A new paper in the Oct. 22 Science ups the total amount of water vapor and water ice to 341 pounds, plus or minus 26 pounds. Given the total amount of soil blown out of the crater, astronomers estimate that 5.6 percent of the soil in the LCROSS impact site is water ice. Earlier studies suggested that soils containing just 1 percent water would be useful for any future space explorers trying to build a permanent lunar base. “The
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number of 1 percent was generally agreed to as what was needed to be a net profit, a net return on the effort to extract it out of the dark shadows,” said NASA planetary scientist Anthony Colaprete in a press conference Oct. 21. “We saw 5 percent, which means that indeed where we impacted would be a net benefit to somebody looking for that resource.” Water could lurk not just in the moon’s deep dark craters, but also as permafrost beneath the sunlit surface. Based on the impact data, water is probably mixed in to the soil as loose ice grains, rather than spread out in a concentrated skating rink. This distribution could make the water easier to harvest. “The water ice is in this rather malleable, dig-able kind of substrate, which is good,” Colaprete said. “At least some of the water ice, you could go in and literally just scoop it up if you needed to.” But the plume wasn’t just wet. A series of papers in Science report observations from both LCROSS and LRO that show a laundry list of other compounds were also blown off the face of the moon, including hydroxyl, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, free sodium, hydrogen, methane, sulfur dioxide and, surprisingly, silver. The impact carved out a crater 80 to 100 feet wide, and kicked between 8,818 pounds and 13,228 pounds of debris more than 6 miles out of the dark crater and into the sunlight where LCROSS could see it. Astronomers, as well as space enthusiasts watching online, expected to see a bright flash the instant the rocket hit, but none appeared. The wimpy explosion indicates that the soil the rocket plowed into was “fluffy, snowcovered dirt,” said NASA
chief lunar scientist Michael Wargo. The soil is also full of volatile compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature, suggests planetary scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University, lead author of one of the new papers. The loose soil shielded the view of the impact from above.
Other factors, like micrometeorite impacts and ultraviolet photons that carry little heat but significant amounts of energy, can release these molecules from the moon’s cold traps. The composition of the lunar surface represents a balancing act between what sticks and what is released.
Data from an instrument called LAMP (Lyman Alpha Mapping Project) on LRO shows that the vapor cloud contained
The fact that so many different materials, most of which are usually gaseous at room temperature and react easily with other chemicals, remain stuck to the moon gives astronomers clues as to how they got there.
about 1256 pounds of carbon monoxide, 300 pounds of molecular hydrogen, 350 pounds of calcium, 265 pounds of mercury and 88 pounds of magnesium. Some of these compounds, called “super-volatile” for their low boiling points, are known to be important building blocks of planetary atmospheres and the precursors of life on Earth, says astronomer David Paige of the University of California, Los Angeles. Compared to the amount of water in the crater, the amounts of these materials found were much greater than what is usually found in comets, the interstellar medium, or what is predicted from reactions in the protoplanetary disk. “It’s like a little treasure trove of stuff,” said planetary scientist Greg Delory of the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the new studies. Astronomers picked Cabeus crater partly because its floor has been in constant shadow for billions of years. Without direct sunlight, temperatures in polar craters on the moon can drop as low as -400 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough for compounds to stick to grains of soil the way your tongue sticks to an ice cube.
“Perhaps the moon is presently active and there’s all kinds of chemistry going on and stuff being produced, continually collecting in these polar regions,” Delory said. “Maybe it’ll tell us the moon is in fact a much more active and dynamic system than we thought, and there’s water being concentrated at the poles by present-day ongoing processes.” Another possibility is that these materials hitched a ride on comets or asteroids, Schultz suggests. Compounds deposited all over the moon could have migrated to the poles over the course of billions of years, where they were trapped by the cold or buried under the soil. There’s only one sure way to find out. “We need to go there,” Delory said. Whether the water will be a useful resource for future astronauts or not, the ice itself is a rich stockpile of potential scientific information, he said. “That’s as much a reason to go there, for the story that this water tells.”
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Dark Matter May Be Building Up Inside the Sun The sun could be a net for dark matter, a new study suggests. If dark matter happens to take a certain specific form, it could build up in our nearest star and alter how heat moves inside it in a way that would be observable from Earth.
Dark matter is the mysterious stuff that makes up about 83 percent of the matter in the universe, but doesn’t interact with electromagnetic forces. Although the universe contains five times as much dark matter as normal matter, dark matter is completely invisible both to human eyes and every kind of telescope ever devised. Physicists only know it’s there because of its gravitational effect on normal matter. Dark matter keeps galaxies spinning quickly without flying apart and is responsible for much of the large-scale structure in the universe. Current dark matter detectors are looking for WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles, that connect only with the weak nuclear force and gravity. Based on the most widely accepted theories, most experiments are tuned to look for a particle that is about 100 times more massive than a proton. The chief suspect is also its own antiparticle: Whenever a WIMP meets another WIMP, they annihilate each other. “This is something that has always worried me,” said astroparticle physicist Subir Sarkar of the University of Oxford. If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created in the big bang, the particles should have completely wiped each other out by now. “Obviously that did not happen, we are here to prove it,” he said. “So something created an asymmetry of matter over antimatter,” letting a little bit of matter survive after all the antimatter was gone. Whatever made regular matter beat out regular antimatter could have worked on dark matter as well, Sarkar suggests. If dark matter evolved similarly to regular matter, it would have to be much lighter than current experiments expect, only about 5 times the mass of a proton. That’s a suggestive number, Sarkar says. “If it were five times heavier, it would get five times the abundance. That’s what dark matter is,” he said. “That’s the simplest explanation for dark matter in my view.”
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The trouble is, these light particles are much more difficult to detect with current experiments. In a paper in the July 2 Physical Review Letters, Sarkar and Oxford colleague Mads Frandsen suggest another way to find light dark matter: Look to the sun. Because lightweight dark matter particles wouldn’t vaporize each other when they meet, the sun should collect the particles the way snowballs collect more snow. “The sun has been whizzing around the galaxy for 5 billion years, sweeping up all the dark matter as it goes,” Sarkar said. The buildup of dark matter could solve a pressing problem in solar physics, called the solar composition problem. Sensitive observations of waves on the sun’s surface have revealed that the sun has a much easier time transporting heat from its interior to its surface than standard models predict it should. Dark matter particles that interact only with each other could make up the difference. Photons and particles of regular matter bounce off each other on their way from the sun’s interior to its surface, so light and heat can take billions of years to escape. But because dark matter particles ignore all the regular matter inside the sun, they have less stuff in their way and can transport heat more efficiently. “When we do the calculation, to our amazement, it turns out this is true,” Sarkar said. “They can transport enough heat to solve the solar composition problem.” Next, Sarkar and Frandsen calculated how being full of dark
matter would affect the number of neutrinos the sun gives off. They found that the neutrino flux would change by a few percent. That’s not much, Sarkar said, but it’s just enough to be detected by two different neutrino experiments — one in Italy called Borexino and one in Canada called SNO+ — that are soon to get under way. “It’s a speculative idea, but it’s testable,” Sarkar said. “And the tools to test it are coming on line pretty fast. We don’t have to wait 20 years.” The idea of lightweight dark matter influencing the sun is “not too much of a stretch, in my opinion,” said physicist Dan Hooper of Fermilab in Illinois. “I look at their numbers, and they’re very plausible to me.” Some puzzling results from dark matter detectors hint that these lightweight particles could have already been detected. Earlier this year, a germanium hockey puck in a mine in Minnesota called the Coherent Germanium Neutrino Technology (CoGeNT) detected a signal from a particle about 7 times the mass of the proton, though they’re not sure yet whether it’s dark matter. Another detector in Italy called DAMA has reported similar results. “There’s an increasingly compelling body of evidence accumulating” that dark matter is just a few times as massive as a proton, Hooper said. “The jury is still out, but if this is really what’s going on, we should be able to know it with some confidence in the next year or so.”
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END Quantum Tech magazine volume 1 Future & Emerging Technologies