Interstellar Dust From Beyond Our Solar System Analyzed

Interstellar dust is one of the last bastions of the unknown in space, its individual particles being only about 200 nanometers in size and very hard to find,” explains Prof. Dr. Mario Trieloff, Earth scientist from Heidelberg University. The dust is part of the interstellar material consisting of gas and helium, as well as heavy metals, and which can arise from the condensation processes of stars and planets. These particles are the raw material that were the main building blocks for Earth and other terrestrial planets.


When it comes to studying interstellar dust, science has so far depended on particles reaching our solar system. The Stardust space probe was already able to capture particles of the very weak flux crossing our solar system. “But these particles were unusually large, so the research findings are possibly not representative,” Prof. Trieloff says. By contrast, the Cassini probe could identify 36 particles of interstellar dust among millions of planetary dust particles. Furthermore the CDA is in a position to analyze them on the spot with the assistance of mass spectrometry. This has enabled much more precise results than before.

Dr. Frank Postberg, on a Heisenberg grant at the Institute for Earth Science, notes that mass spectrometric measurements can now be made for the first time on “a statistically significant quantity of such dust particles.” This process had only become possible through a complex series of tests conducted in Heidelberg to calibrate laboratory models of the CDA. To achieve this aim, silicate dust had to be accelerated in the laboratory to upwards of 40 km a second, which is roughly the speed of interstellar dust.

“The result of the measurements was truly amazing,” Dr. Postberg reports. “The 36 particles of interstellar origin, that are very similar in their composition, contain a mix of the most important rock-forming elements — magnesium, iron, silicon and calcium — in average cosmic abundance. Although a dust particle has a mass of less than a trillionth of a gram, the whole element mix of the cosmos is collected there, with the exception of very volatile gases. Such particles cannot be found in our solar system.” Most scientists had expected dust populations with different compositions, corresponding to the different processes of origin in atmospheres of dying stars. These differences are also found in the stellar dust of meteorites, which is highly individual in its isotope composition. “Our data tells a completely different story,” he underlines.

According to the scientists, the dust has lost its individuality because it was homogenized in the cosmic “witch’s cauldron” of the interstellar medium. It contains gigantic, million-degree hot bubbles of supernova explosions, whose edges arise from shock fronts expanding at hundreds of kilometers per second, explains Dr. Nicolas Altobelli, who is the first author and a scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA).

There had already been a theory, he says, that interstellar dust can survive this energy-rich environment for only a few hundred million years and that very few “lucky survivors” succeed in reaching newly forming planetary systems as intact stellar dust. The latest research results now confirm that most particles are destroyed and reformed in molecular clouds, i.e. cool, dense regions of outer space. Interstellar winds bring these particles as homogenized dust into our solar system.

Do Black Holes Really Suck In All Matter?

black-hole empty matter

For the last four years, physicists studying the mathematical underpinnings of black holes have been wrestling with a strange idea; that black holes contain a region known as a “firewall,” which would stop matter from entering. However, a new paper titled Naked Black Hole Firewalls.

For the last four years, physicists studying the mathematical underpinnings of black holes have been wrestling with a strange idea; that black holes contain a region known as a “firewall,” which would stop matter from entering. However, a new paper titled Naked Black Hole Firewalls.

black-hole empty matter

“The hypothetical black hole firewall is one of the hottest problems in physics today, and we hope that our paper makes a significant contribution to the field,” says of Alberta physics professor Don N. Page.

Page’s contributors include Pisin Chen of the National Taiwan University and Stanford University, Yen Chin Ong of the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (Nordita), Misao Sasaki of Kyoto University and Dong-han Yeom of the National Taiwan University.

The classic picture of a black hole comes directly from Einstein’s theory of general relativity: a massive object that warps the fabric of space-time and becomes so steep that not even light has sufficient speed to escape.

In the 1970s, physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that some particles could in fact escape from a black hole through a process involving the creation of entangled particles, in a theory now known as Hawking radiation. Since then, the field of black hole physics has been a wellspring of interesting phenomena, requiring the mathematics of both quantum theory and general relativity for a complete description.

In quantum mechanics, the two principles of quantum determinism and reversibility suggest that information must always be preserved. But since material falling into a black hole – along with the information describing that material, it be lost sometime after they cross the event horizon.

“If a firewall exists, not only would an in-falling object be destroyed by it, but the destruction could be visible, even from the outside,” says Misao Sasaki, of Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan.

If a firewall actually exists, the authors argue that it would not simply be confined to a region within the black hole, but its destructive power could reach beyond the limits of the event horizon, into a region of space that could be observed. This makes the notion of firewalls less conservative than previously thought, and suggests putting more effort into finding a better solution to the firewall paradox.

‘Trickle Of Food’ Helped Deep Sea Creatures Survive Asteroid Strike That Wiped Out The Dinosaurs

A team led by experts at Cardiff University has provided new evidence to explain why deep sea creatures were able to survive the catastrophic asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago.


Like the dinosaurs themselves, giant marine reptiles, invertebrates and microscopic organisms became extinct after the catastrophic asteroid impact in an immense upheaval of the world’s oceans, yet deep sea creatures managed to survive.

This has puzzled researchers as it is widely believed that the asteroid impact cut off the food supply in the oceans by destroying free-floating algae and bacteria.

However, in a study published in the April issue of the journal Geology, a team led by researchers from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences provides strong evidence suggesting that some forms of algae and bacteria were actually living in the aftermath of the asteroid disaster, and that they acted as a constant, sinking, slow trickle of food for creatures living near the seafloor.

The team were able to draw these conclusions by analysing new data from the chemical composition of the fossilised shells of sea surface and seafloor organisms from that period, taken from drilling cores from the ocean floor in the South Atlantic.

This gave the researchers an idea of the flux, or movement, of organic matter from the sea surface to the seafloor in the aftermath of the asteroid strike, and led them to conclude that a slow trickle of food was constantly being delivered to the deep ocean.

Furthermore, the team were able to calculate that the food supply in the ocean was fully restored around 1.7m years after the asteroid strike, which is almost half the original estimates, showing that marine food chains bounced back quicker than originally thought.

Heather Birch, a Cardiff University PhD from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences who led the study, said: “The global catastrophe that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs also devastated ocean ecosystems. Giant marine reptiles met their end as did various types of invertebrates such as the iconic ammonites.

“Our results show that despite a wave of massive and virtually instantaneous extinctions among the plankton, some types of photosynthesising organisms, such as algae and bacteria, were living in the aftermath of the asteroid strike.

“This provided a slow trickle of food for organisms living near the ocean floor which enabled them to survive the mass extinction, answering one of the outstanding questions that still remained regarding this period of history.

“Even so, it took almost two million years before the deep sea food supply was fully restored as new species evolved to occupy ecological niches vacated by extinct forms.”

Many scientists currently believe that the mass extinction of life on Earth around 65m years ago was caused by a 110km-wide asteroid that hit Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is believed the debris from impact starved Earth of the Sun’s energy and, once settled, led to greenhouse gases locking in the Sun’s heat and causing temperatures to rise drastically.

This period of darkness followed by soaring heat, known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, was thought to obliterate almost half of the world’s species.

Scientists also claim that the impact of the asteroid would have filled Earth’s atmosphere with sulphur trioxide, subsequently creating a gas cloud that would have caused a mass amount of sulphuric acid rain to fall in just a few days, making the surface of the ocean too acidic for upper ocean creatures to live.

6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Southwest Japan; Aftershocks Reported

TOKYO – A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 struck Kyushu on Thursday, causing some damage but there was no danger of a tsunami.


The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake hit at 9:26 p.m. and was centered in the Mashiki town in the Kumamoto Prefecture where it registered the highest level of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

No abnormalities were reported at the Sendai nuclear power plant, officials said.

Keisukei Urata, an official at Uki city, said he was driving home when the quake struck. He said he saw some walls around houses collapsing.

Parts of the ceiling at Uki City Hall collapsed, windows were broken and cabinets fell to the ground, he said.

Kasumi Nakamura, an official in the village of Nishihara near the epicenter, said that the rattling started modestly and grew violent, lasting about 30 seconds.

“Papers, files, flower vases and everything fell on the floor,” he told a telephone interview with NHK TV. He said there were aftershocks.

One aftershock measuring 5.7 struck about 40 minutes later, while Kumamoot experienced an aftershock measuring a lower 6, according to Japan’s Meteorological Agency.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 6 and said it was 10 kilometers deep. It did not expect major damage.

Footage on NHK showed a signboard hanging from the ceiling at its local bureau violently shaking. File cabinets rattled, books, files and papers rained down to the floor, and one employee appeared to have fallen off a chair, while others slid underneath their desks to protect their heads.

Magnitude-6.9 Earthquake Hits Myanmar, Felt In India

A magnitude-6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. There were no immediate reports of injuries, deaths or damage.


The quake struck around 8:25 p.m. local time at a depth of 83.7 miles underground, USGS reported. Its epicenter was located 46 miles southeast of Mawlaik, in western Myanmar.

The quake was felt in the eastern Indian states of Assam and West Bengal, the Associated Press reported.

Quakes in the region typically are the result of the continental collision of the India and Eurasia plates.

BREAKING NEWS: New Discovery of Mysterious Alignment of Black Holes

Deep radio imaging by researchers in the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape, in South Africa, has revealed that supermassive black holes in a region of the distant universe are all spinning out radio jets in the same direction. The astronomers publish their results to the Royal Astronomical Society.


The jets are produced by the supermassive black holes at the center of these galaxies, and the only way for this alignment to exist is if supermassive black holes are all spinning in the same direction, says Prof Andrew Russ Taylor, joint UWC/UCT SKA Chair, Director of the recently-launched Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy, and principal author of the Monthly Notices study.

galactic jets4

Earlier observational studies had previously detected deviations from uniformity (so-called isotropy) in the orientations of galaxies. But these sensitive radio images offer a first opportunity to use jets to reveal alignments of galaxies on physical scales of up to 100 Mpc. And measurements from the total intensity radio emission of galaxy jets have the advantage of not being affected by effects such as scattering, extinction and Faraday Radiation, which may be an issue for other studies.

bipolar jets

So what could these large-scale environmental influences during galaxy formation or evolution have been? There are several options: cosmic magnetic fields; fields associated with exotic particles (axions); and cosmic strings are only some of the possible candidates that could create an alignment in galaxies even on scales larger than galaxy clusters. It’s a mystery, and it’s going to take a while for technology and theory alike to catch up.


New Equation:
Increase Charged Particles  and Decreased Magnetic Field → Increase Outer Core Convection → Increase of Mantle Plumes → Increase in Earthquake and Volcanoes → Cools Mantle and Outer Core → Return of Outer Core Convection (Mitch Battros – July 2012)


The finding wasn’t planned for: the initial investigation was to explore the faintest radio sources in the universe, using the best available telescopes – a first view into the kind of universe that will be revealed by the South African MeerKAT radio telescope and the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the world’s most powerful radio telescope and one of the biggest scientific instruments ever devised.

ancient black hole

UWC Prof Romeel Dave, SARChI Chair in Cosmology with Multi-Wavelength Data, who leads a team developing plans for universe simulations that could explore the growth of large-scale structure from a theoretical perspective, agrees: “This is not obviously expected based on our current understanding of cosmology. It’s a bizarre finding.”

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Volcanic Eruptions: How Bubbles Lead To Disaster

In 1816, summer failed to make an appearance in central Europe and people were starving. Just a year earlier, the Tambora volcano had erupted in Indonesia, spewing huge amounts of ash and sulphur into the atmosphere. As these particles partly blocked sunlight, cooling the climate, it had a serious impact on the land and the people, even in Switzerland.


Since then, volcanologists have developed more precise ideas of why super-volcanoes such as Tambora are not only highly explosive but also why they release so much sulphur into the atmosphere.

Gas bubbles tend to accumulate in the upper layers of magma reservoirs, which are only a few kilometres beneath the earth’s surface, building up pressure that can then be abruptly liberated by eruption. These bubbles mainly contain water vapour but also sulphur.

Sulphur-rich eruptions

“Such volcanic eruptions can be extremely powerful and spew an enormous amount of ash and sulphur to the surface,” says Andrea Parmigiani, a post-doc in the Institute of Geochemistry and Petrology at ETH Zurich. “We’ve known for some time that gas bubbles play a major role in such events, but we had only been able to speculate on how they accumulate in magma reservoirs.”

Together with other scientists from ETH Zurich and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), the researchers studied the behaviour of bubbles with a computer model.

The scientists used theoretical calculations and laboratory experiments to examine in particular how bubbles in crystal-rich and crystal-poor layers of magma reservoirs move buoyantly upward. In many volcanic systems, the magma reservoir consists mainly of two zones: an upper layer consisting of viscous melt with almost no crystals, and a lower layer rich in crystals, but still containing pore space.

Super bubbles meander through a maze

When Andrea Parmigiani, Christian Huber and Olivier Bachmann started this project, they thought that the bubbles, as they moved upwards through crystal-rich areas of the magma reservoirs, would dramatically slow down, while they would go faster in the crystal-poor zones.

“Instead, we found that, under volatile-rich conditions, they would ascend much faster in the crystal-rich zones, and accumulate in the melt-rich portions above” says Parmigiani.

Parmigiani explains this as follows: when the proportion of bubbles in the pore space of the crystal-rich layers increases, small individual bubbles coalesce into finger-like channels, displacing the existing highly viscous melt. These finger-like channels allow for a higher vertical gas velocity. The bubbles, however, have to fill at least 10 to 15 % of the pore space.

“If the vapour phase cannot form these channels, individual bubbles are mechanically trapped,” says the earth scientist. As these finger-like channels reach the boundary of the crystal-poor melt, individual, more spherical bubbles detach, and continue their ascent towards the surface. However, the more bubble, the more reduce their migration velocity is.

This is because each bubble creates a return flow of viscous melt around it. When an adjacent bubble feels this return flow, it is slowed down. This process was demonstrated in a laboratory experiment conducted by Parmigiani’s colleagues Salah Faroughi and Christian Huber at Georgia Tech, using water bubbles in a viscous silicone solution.

“Through this mechanism, a large number of gas bubbles can accumulate in the crystal-poor melt under the roof of the magma reservoir. This eventually leads to overpressurization of the reservoir,” says lead author Parmigiani. And because the bubbles also contain sulphur, this also accumulates, explaining why such a volcano might emit more sulphur than expected based on its composition.

What this means for the explosivity of a given volcano is still unclear. “This study focuses primarily on understanding the basic principles of gas flow in magma reservoirs; a direct application to prediction of volcanic behaviour remains a question for the future,” says the researcher, adding that existing computer models do not depict the entire magma reservoir, but only a tiny part of it: roughly a square of a few cubic centimeter with a clear boundary between the crystal-poor and crystal-rich layers.

To calculate this small volume, Parmigiani used high-performance computers such as the Euler Cluster at ETH Zurich and a supercomputer at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Lugano.

For the software, the researcher had access to the open-source library Palabos, which he continues to develop in collaboration with researchers from University of Geneva. “This software is particularly suitable for this type of simulation,” says the physicist.