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Inflation theories must dig deeper to avoid collision with data – Ars Technica

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Inflation theories must dig deeper to avoid collision with data – Ars Technica

BICEP Flexed —

BICEP and Keck combine data, but primordial gravitational waves remain hidden.


The BICEP telescope itself faces the Antarctic sunset and a very long, very cold winter.

The BICEP telescope itself faces the Antarctic sunset and a very long, very cold winter.

It was not so very long ago (2014) that the world was shocked and amazed by the announcement that primordial gravitational waves had been found. This would have been the first observation of gravitational waves, and the data seemed to confirm a long-held theory called inflation that explained the behavior of the early Universe.

Then, disaster. The data analysis had not adequately accounted for dust in the Milky Way. Not only were no gravitational waves detected, but inflation was still unconfirmed. Fast forward four years: gravitational waves have been detected using other methods that left inflation hanging in the wind. But BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) and the Keck array are back with more data and better analysis. Unfortunately, still no gravitational waves or inflation.

Inflate the Universe

The Universe presents a problem. It is, without a doubt, pretty uniform. Sure, there are stars and galaxies and even clusters of galaxies around the place. But, overall, it’s pretty uniform. This is also seen in the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB). The CMB is light that has been traveling to us since the moment that the Universe became cool enough for the first atoms to form.

It is our clearest picture of the early Universe, and it is dead boring, although in an interesting way. It is nearly the same no matter where you look. But it shouldn’t be the same. Imagine the Universe as a gas of particles with a temperature and pressure. For the temperature to be the same everywhere, there needs to be a way for energy to be exchanged throughout the entire Universe. This is done with photons, which travel at the speed of light.

All things being equal, the different parts of the Universe were far enough apart that light could not keep the temperatures the same. There simply wasn’t enough time for light to move everywhere. As a result, the CMB should be different everywhere we look. It is not.

To explain this, theorists have proposed a theory called inflation. The idea is that the early Universe expanded at a rate much faster than it is expanding now. The Universe started as a sphere small enough to exchange energy and reach a uniform temperature. Then inflation ensured that expansion was so rapid that there was no time to accumulate temperature differences. Hence, the CMB still reflects the uniformity of that tiny ball.

Unfortunately, inflation is not a single theory. It is more like a conglomerate of related theories that are all consistent with the data we have now. There is no easy way to choose which version of inflation might be correct.

Inflation is not silent

Fortunately, inflation had other effects on the Universe. That rapid expansion should have caused the Universe to ring like a bell, generating large gravitational waves. Like the CMB, these primordial gravitational waves should also be stretched out across the Universe and far too weak to be directly observed now.

Instead, the BICEP and Keck teams are searching for their signature in the polarization of the CMB. In particular, the CMB has two polarizations, one of which—the B-mode—is only generated by gravitational waves and gravitational lensing.

Except, of course, it’s not that simple. Photons with B-mode polarization are also generated by scattering off of dust in the Milky Way. That was the problem that blew a gigantic hole in the 2014 announcement.

View is not so dusty

In the latest paper, the researchers go through several different analysis techniques and tests to ensure that the effect of dust has been accounted for. Not only that, but instead of detecting just a single microwave frequency, the data analysis used four different microwave frequencies as well as data from Planck and WMAP to ensure that the results were consistent.

In the end, the researchers concluded that they had not seen gravitational waves and could not confirm inflation. As a result, the simplest model of inflation is looking tenuous now. The latest data is strong: there is only a very narrow range for which the simplest model might still fit the data.

More importantly: now the data analysis chain seems like it works pretty well. BICEP3 is on the way, and the rate at which data is accumulating is growing fast. The researchers expect that, within five years, primordial gravitational waves will be detected. Then we might be able to pick a good model for inflation.

Physical Review Letters, 2018, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.221301 (About DOIs)

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Mars orbiter sends striking photos from icy crater – The Times of Israel

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Mars orbiter sends striking photos from icy crater – The Times of Israel

The European Space Agency has released stunning new photos of Mars’ northern Korolev crater.

The images are composites, created from five separate photos taken by the ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, which has been flying over Earth’s neighboring planet since 2003.

The crater is 82 kilometers (51 miles) wide, filled by a sheet of ice that is 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) deep at its thickest point.


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Unlike other icy craters on the red planet, Korolev keeps its ice all year round, thanks to a layer of cold air trapped inside the crater, cooling its contents.

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows Korolev crater, an 82-kilometer-across feature found in the northern lowlands of Mars. This plan mosaic comprises five different observational strips that have been combined to form a single image. (ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Korolev crater is named after Sergei Korolev, Soviet Russia’s chief rocket engineer during the space race between the USSR and the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. He worked on the Sputnik program that sent the first man-made satellite into orbit, as well as the Vostok program in which cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961.

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‘Real Alchemy’: Chinese Scientists Discover a Way to Turn Copper Into ‘Gold’ – Sputnik International

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‘Real Alchemy’: Chinese Scientists Discover a Way to Turn Copper Into ‘Gold’ – Sputnik International
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Alchemists have been struggling for ages to create the legendary philosopher’s stone capable of, among other things, turning base metals into precious ones, and specifically – into gold. Modern day Chinese scientists seem to have finally come close to performing such a transformation.

A group of Chinese scientists from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics has published research in the journal Science Advances, which describes how they managed to turn regular copper into a material “almost identical” to gold and silver. The metal, which the scientists obtained as a result of result of their experiment was capable of serving as a catalyst for a reaction producing alcohol from coal — something only precious metals such as gold are capable of doing.

Researchers bombarded a piece of copper with a stream of hot and electrically charged argon gas. The procedure charges its atoms, making their electrons more dense and more stable, making the resultant material closer to gold in terms of resistance to erosion, oxidisation and high temperatures.

The research paper points out that the new material based on cheap copper can replace expensive gold and silver in the production of electronic devices, which require significant amounts of these materials.

READ MORE: Chinese Scientists Developing Bee-Inspired Spacecraft Capable of Changing Shape

At the same time, the material will be of little use for counterfeiters, since its density remains the same as copper, thus making the material lighter than gold and a bad choice to make fake gold bars or coins.

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The Secret Fishing Habits Of Northwoods’ Wolves – NPR

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The Secret Fishing Habits Of Northwoods’ Wolves – NPR

New research at Voyageurs National Park is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than previously thought.

Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project

New research at Voyageurs National Park is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than previously thought.

Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project

Wolves, as it turns out, might not be the bloodthirsty, moose-slaughtering, northwoods-roaming carnivores you always thought they were.

New research on wolf packs at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than scientists previously thought.

Researchers with the Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the park and the University of Minnesota, have for the first time documented wolves hunting freshwater fish as a seasonal food source — and they have video to prove it.

A diet of meat and berries

Wolves still rely heavily on deer, but earlier studies on wolves in the park have shown that they also eat a large number of beaver — and even blueberries — to supplement their diet.

Wolf scat showing evidence of blueberries in the diet.

Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project

Wolf scat showing evidence of blueberries in the diet.

Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project

These new discoveries, which were recently published in the journal Mammalian Biology, were possible thanks to new technology.

Since 2015, researchers have been placing GPS collars on wolves from seven different packs in and around the park. They collect location data from the animals every 20 minutes, which allows them to zoom in on the animals’ predation habits at a finer scale than earlier versions of the collars had permitted: When wolves spend more than 20 minutes at any one site, they know they’re probably eating something.

That’s how they first suspected members of the Bowman Bay pack were eating fish. In April 2017, University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable hiked to a creek where one of the collared wolves had spent a lot of time. He was searching for evidence of a kill.

He looked up, and saw a collared wolf about 50 feet away. But the wolf didn’t see him.

“It was really crazy,” he said. “He came within about 8 to 10 meters of me and he had no idea I was there. I was hiding in the shrubs on the edge of this creek.”

For the next 15 minutes or so, Gable watched the wolf meander back and forth around the creek. Periodically it would run into the creek and splash around. Then it stopped, and looked like it was eating something, before returning to the creek.

Eventually the wolf left, and Gable came out of hiding to explore the area. He realized right away the wolf was hunting fish — spawning suckers — in the creek.

University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable collects the skull/jaw of a beaver that was killed by a wolf.

Courtesy of Tom Gable


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Courtesy of Tom Gable

University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable collects the skull/jaw of a beaver that was killed by a wolf.

Courtesy of Tom Gable

“And then as I explored the area even more, I found wolf tracks all over the mud on the creek, and I found fish scales and blood and guts all over the edges of the creek, and you could just see that wolves had been spending a lot of time there,” he said. “And there were wolf scats as well that were full of fish scales and fish remains.”

Gable and his colleagues quickly learned that little scene he witnessed wasn’t just a one-time meal. In the month after his hike to the creek, researchers found the two GPS-collared wolves in the Bowman Bay pack spent about half their time hunting fish there.

About a year later, Gable and his colleagues noticed the pack visiting the creek again, so they set up trail cameras, and caught footage of the wolves fishing at night.

“You can see the wolves abruptly head to the water several times after hearing a splash,” Gable said. “They learned what a fish splashing in the creek sounds like and they know that it means food.”

The video also captured wolves catching fish and not eating them right away. Instead, they stored them on the bank of the creek, and fished some more.

That behavior provides a glimpse into a wolf’s mental processing, Gable said. “It somehow knew that there were going to be more, so, it might as well go get fish while the fishing was good, and then come back later to the fish after he had gotten what he could.”

A first for freshwater fishing

Scientists have known for a long time that wolves in coastal habitats in British Columbia and Alaska eat spawning salmon. But this is the first time similar behavior with hunting freshwater fish has been detailed.

“Given the impressive adaptability of wolves to find food, it is not entirely surprising,” said project adviser Joseph Bump.

Wolves Are Back In Germany, But Not Always Welcome

But wolves are elusive, he said: “Especially in the densely forested areas of northern Minnesota, you have to either be in the right spot at the right time or have access to GPS-collar data.”

Those collars have helped shed new light into wolves’ secretive lives in the dense boreal forest of northern Minnesota. Researchers mapped 68,000 GPS locations the packs visited just this past summer.

A pack of wolves lounge on a frozen lake in Voyageurs National Park.

Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project

A pack of wolves lounge on a frozen lake in Voyageurs National Park.

Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project

Among their major findings, so far:

  • Wolves are omnivores. They eat a lot of blueberries in July and August. By the time the fruit ripens in northern Minnesota, deer fawns — wolves’ primary prey in June — are old enough to escape them.
  • Wolves eat beavers — a lot of them. Beaver can constitute up to 42 percent of a pack’s diet from April until October, researchers have found. Preliminary data show that, on average, one wolf in Voyageurs kills about six to eight beavers per year. But that varies. Individual wolves might not eat any beavers at all. But they found one wolf that had eaten 28 beavers in one year.
  • Wolves hunt beaver differently than they do other prey. Instead of chasing them, they lie in ambush, and strike when the beaver venture onto land.
  • Wolves are good swimmers. One collared wolf swam 12 times across sections of Rainy Lake over a two-day period, covering 2.6 miles.
What Gave Some Primates Bigger Brains? A Fruit-Filled Diet

All these findings help confirm what scientists have understood for a long time: Wolves are highly adaptable creatures, which is why they’ve been able to thrive in so many different habitats, from North America to Europe to Asia.

“Wolves are opportunistic. They can adapt pretty readily to new food sources,” explained Steve Windels, a wildlife biologist at Voyageurs National Park.

Still, he admitted it’s exciting to confirm behaviors scientists have suspected, especially in wolves in Minnesota that haven’t been studied as intensively as their counterparts in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere.

One of the remaining details Windels hopes to tease out is the complex relationship between wolves’ predation on beavers, deer and moose and the impact it has on their populations.

Voyageurs is unique in that it has one of the densest populations of beaver in the region. It also is one of the only places in Minnesota where the moose population is holding steady. In other parts of northeastern Minnesota, moose have declined sharply in the past decade for a host of reasons, including disease and other health-related causes, but in part because of wolf predation.

It’s still too early to make a direct tie between Voyageurs’ steady moose population and its abundance of beavers for wolves to feed on, Windels said. But “this is a great opportunity for us to really get at that question just because of the of the density of beavers that we have here that creates a unique laboratory where we can actually start to see how that dynamic plays out.”

In the meantime, the wolf research at Voyageurs has been getting a lot of attention. A recent Facebook post mapping the different wolf pack territories in the park has drawn over 500,000 views, Gable said.

“That’s really a satisfying part about doing all this is to share what we’re actually finding with people, and to see how excited people are about the work that we’re doing.”

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