Sci/Tech briefs

Astronomers observe magnetar

Scientists working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) believe they have identified an active magnetar. A magnetar is a type of neutron star characterized by its intensely strong magnetic field.

Astronomers have hypothesized that the decay of a magnetar’s magnetic field results in X-ray, gamma-ray, and visible light bursts.

These stars are traditionally hard to identify because their activity is unpredictable. The proposed magnetar, SWIFT J195509+261406, resides in our Milky Way galaxy.

Fortunately, the ESO had its Very Large Telescope trained on the star while it emitted visible-light flashes and near-infrared bursts. These behaviors were enough to allow for identification of the star.

Source: USA Today

4.28 billion year old rocks found

Researchers from McGill University have found the world’s oldest known rocks in a remote area of Canada. Scientists gathered the rocks from the Hudson Bay coast in northern Quebec and used isotopic dating techniques to approximate their age as 4.28 billion years old. Earth itself is thought to be 4.6 billion years old.

At such an age, these rocks, known as “faux-amphibolite rocks,” were likely a part of Earth’s first crust, and were created during the Hadean Era.

This geologic era, named for the Greek Hades, was an inhospitable time for our planet, with low atmospheric oxygen content and high global temperatures.

Source: ScienceDaily

Chinese space program makes strides

Early last Saturday, Colonel Zhai Zhigang of China’s Shenzhou-7 space mission completed his first spacewalk. This event marks the first time a Chinese astronaut has left an orbiter for a spacewalk since the country began manned flights in 2003. The three on-board astronauts will later release a satellite to send images and data back to mission control in Beijing.

Shenzhou-7 has been a great source of national pride and has allowed China to coin its first space-related term: “taikonaut,” a form of astronaut based on the Mandarin word for space. Future missions from China will focus on building a space station and attempting to land on the moon.


LHC may need months of repairs

Less than two days after the much-anticipated startup of the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a mechanical failure left the particle accelerator on standby.

Experts toured the underground facility and hypothesized that an electrical transformer was to blame.
After replacing the transformer, more extensive inspections revealed further damage. Workers believe they have identified the failure source as an electromagnetic connection which helped to contain supercooled helium.

The LHC, the result of a multi-national collaboration of physicists, works at temperatures near absolute zero and the damaged component was vital to keeping magnets at their low operating temperature.
Scientists now believe that the LHC will be closed for repairs until at least the spring.