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Update March 2018


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Science & Nature
 

March 24, 2018 - March 30, 2018

Stephen Hawking, best-known physicist of his time, has died

 

In this March 3, 1989 file photo British astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, 47, answers newsmen with the help of his computer and the assistance of his then wife Jane, in Paris. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center by his caregiver, Monica Guy, as he is applauded by members of the flight crew after completing a zero-gravity flight, Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove, File)

In this Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 file photo Pope Francis greets physicist Stephen Hawking during an audience with participants at a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, at the Vatican. (L’Osservatore Romano/pool photo via AP, File)

In this Thursday, May 15, 2008 file photo former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, left, in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File)

Robert Barr

London (AP) - Stephen Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, died early Wednesday, March 14, a University of Cambridge spokesman said. He was 76 years old.

Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge, England.

The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, “A Brief History of Time,” became an international best seller, making him one of science’s biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement. “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

Even though his body was attacked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, when Hawking was 21, he stunned doctors by living with the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years. A severe attack of pneumonia in 1985 left him breathing through a tube, forcing him to communicate through an electronic voice synthesizer that gave him his distinctive robotic monotone.

But he continued his scientific work, appeared on television and married for a second time.

As one of Isaac Newton’s successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics - a “unified theory.”

Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.

For Hawking, the search was almost a religious quest - he said finding a “theory of everything” would allow mankind to “know the mind of God.”

“A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence,” he wrote in “A Brief History of Time.”

In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.

He followed up “A Brief History of Time” in 2001 with the more accessible sequel “The Universe in a Nutshell,” updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

Hawking said belief in a God who intervenes in the universe “to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded in the next life” was wishful thinking.

“But one can’t help asking the question: Why does the universe exist?” he said in 1991. “I don’t know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me.”

The combination of his best-selling book and his almost total disability - for a while he could use a few fingers, later he could only tighten the muscles on his face - made him one of science’s most recognizable faces.

He made cameo television appearances in “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek” and counted among his fans U2 guitarist The Edge, who attended a January 2002 celebration of Hawking’s 60th birthday.

His early life was chronicled in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne winning the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of the scientist. The film focused still more attention on Hawking’s remarkable achievements.

Some colleagues credited that celebrity with generating new enthusiasm for science.

His achievements and his longevity helped prove to many that even the most severe disabilities need not stop patients from living.

Richard Green, of the Motor Neurone Disease Association - the British name for ALS - said Hawking met the classic definition of the disease, as “the perfect mind trapped in an imperfect body.” He said Hawking had been an inspiration to people with the disease for many years.

Although it could take him minutes to compose answers to even simple questions Hawking said the disability did not impair his work. It certainly did little to dampen his ambition to physically experience space himself: Hawking savored small bursts of weightlessness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a jet that made repeated dives to simulate zero-gravity.

Hawking had hoped to leave Earth’s atmosphere altogether someday, a trip he often recommended to the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.

“In the long run the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,” Hawking said in 2008. “I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then.”

Hawking first earned prominence for his theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known as “Hawking radiation.”

“It came as a complete surprise,” said Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It really was quite revolutionary.”

Horowitz said the find helped move scientists one step closer to cracking the unified theory.

Hawking’s other major scientific contribution was to cosmology, the study of the universe’s origin and evolution. Working with Jim Hartle of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hawking proposed in 1983 that space and time might have no beginning and no end. “Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole,” he said.

In 2004, he announced that he had revised his previous view that objects sucked into black holes simply disappeared, perhaps to enter an alternate universe. Instead, he said he believed objects could be spit out of black holes in a mangled form.

That new theory capped his three-decade struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really “disappear” inside a black hole and leave no trace, as he long believed, when subatomic theory says matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?

Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In 1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at Cambridge.

Signs of illness appeared in his first year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease usually kills within three to five years.

According to John Boslough, author of “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, “really is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival.”

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

He was inducted into the Royal Society in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions she can bestow.

He whizzed about Cambridge at surprising speed - usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake - traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hawking divorced Jane in 1991, an acrimonious split that strained his relationship with their children. Writing in her autobiographical “Music to Move the Stars,” she said the strain of caring for Hawking for nearly three decades had left her feeling like “a brittle, empty shell.” Hawking married his one-time nurse Elaine Mason four years later, but the relationship was dogged by rumors of abuse.

Police investigated in 2004 after newspapers reported that he’d been beaten, suffering injuries including a broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, and was left stranded in his garden on the hottest day of the year.

Hawking called the charges “completely false.” Police found no evidence of any abuse. Hawking and Mason separated in 2006.

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating “inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do.”

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do,” he told The Associated Press in 1997. “But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway.”

Then, grinning widely, he added, “I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

Online: Hawking’s website: http://www.hawking.org.uk


March 17, 2018 - March 23, 2018

Science Says: European art scene began with Neanderthals

This undated image provided by João Zilhão in February 2018 shows perforated shells found in sediments in the Cueva de los Aviones near Cartagena, Spain. The artifacts date to between 115,000 and 120,000 years ago. New discoveries in some Spanish caves give the strongest evidence yet that Neanderthals created art. (João Zilhão via AP)

Malcolm Ritter

New York (AP) - From the murky depths of Spanish caves comes a surprising insight: Neanderthals created art.

That’s been proposed before, but experts say two new studies finally give convincing evidence that our evolutionary cousins had the brainpower to make artistic works and use symbols.

The key finding: New age estimates that show paintings on cave walls and decorated seashells in Spain were created long before our species entered Europe. So there’s no way Homo sapiens could have made them or influenced Neanderthals to merely copy their artwork.

Until now, most scientists thought all cave paintings were the work of our species. But the new work concludes that some previously known paintings - an array of lines, some disks and the outline of a hand - were rendered about 20,000 years before H. sapiens moved into Europe.

That’s a surprise that “constitutes a major breakthrough in the field of human evolution studies,” said Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands, an expert on Neanderthals who didn’t participate in the new work.

Now, he said in an email, Neanderthal “ownership of some cave art is a fact.”

The second study provided evidence that Neanderthals used pigments and piercings to modify shells some 115,000 years ago, which is far earlier than similar artifacts are associated with H. sapiens anywhere. That shows Neanderthals “were quite capable of inventing the ornaments themselves,” said Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, who also didn’t participate in the new work.

Neanderthals lived in Europe and Asia before disappearing about 40,000 years ago, around the time H. sapiens moved into Europe from Africa.

The research, released Thursday by the journals Science and Science Advances, focused on determining the ages of previously known artifacts.

One team of European researchers concentrated on painted artwork in three caves in northern, southern and west-central Spain. They carefully removed tiny bits of rocky crust that had formed on the artwork surfaces and analyzed them in a lab. Results indicated artwork from all three were around 65,000 years old, much older than the arrival of H. sapiens in Europe, which occurred some 45,000 to 40,000 years ago.

The artwork is rudimentary, but a study author, Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said it’s symbolic. One work is a collection of lines that look like a ladder, and others include red dots and disks on curtain-like rock formations. Another is a stenciled outline of a hand, made by spewing pigment over a hand held against the wall, Hoffmann said.

Making the hand stencil involves so many steps, including preparation of the pigment, that it’s clearly a deliberate creation, he and other authors wrote in the paper. What’s more, a number of hand stencils seem to have been placed with care rather than randomly, so they are certainly “meaningful symbols,” the authors wrote.

The other study sought to find the age of shells that had been colored and punctured in another cave, in southeast Spain. Previous studies had estimated an age of 45,000 to 50,000 years old, too young to rule out a link to H. sapiens.

For the new work, researchers analyzed rock that had formed above where the shells had been found.

Results indicated the shells were around 115,000 years old. That is some 20,000 to 40,000 years older than comparable artifacts in Africa or western Asia that are attributed to H. sapiens. The finding shows Neanderthals shared symbolic thinking with H. sapiens, and suggests the two species were “indistinguishable” in terms of overall mental ability, the researchers wrote.

Nobody knows what the shells symbolized. Maybe they indicated membership in a group like a clan, said Joao Zilhao of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona, Spain, who did the study with Hoffmann and others.

Not all experts were convinced by the studies. Harold Dibble, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies Neanderthal behavior, wondered if the shell color and holes could have occurred naturally. And he said he’d like to see the dating in the cave art paper confirmed by another lab.

Warren Sharp of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, an expert on the dating technique used in both papers, said he found the results of both studies to be “very solid.”

They show “we are not the only ones capable of ‘modern’ behavior,” he wrote in an email.


Update March 10, 2018 - March 16, 2018

Satellites show warming is accelerating sea level rise

In this Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, the intersection of 8th Street and Atlantic Avenue is flooded in Ocean City, N.J., after the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy flooded much of the town. New satellite research shows that global warming is making seas rise at an ever increasing rate. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise, new satellite research shows.

At the current rate, the world’s oceans on average will be at least 2 feet (61 centimeters) higher by the end of the century compared to today, according to researchers who publish the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Sea level rise is caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets. The research, based on 25 years of satellite data, shows that pace has quickened, mainly from the melting of massive ice sheets. It confirms scientists’ computer simulations and is in line with predictions from the United Nations, which releases regular climate change reports.

“It’s a big deal” because the projected sea level rise is a conservative estimate and it is likely to be higher, said lead author Steve Nerem of the University of Colorado.

Outside scientists said even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion.

“Any flooding concerns that coastal communities have for 2100 may occur over the next few decades,” Oregon State University coastal flooding expert Katy Serafin said in an email.

Of the 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) of sea level rise in the past quarter century, about 55 percent is from warmer water expanding, and the rest is from melting ice.

But the process is accelerating, and more than three-quarters of that acceleration since 1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study shows.

Like weather and climate, there are two factors in sea level rise: year-to-year small rises and falls that are caused by natural events and larger long-term rising trends that are linked to man-made climate change. Nerem’s team removed the natural effects of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption that temporarily chilled Earth and the climate phenomena El Nino and La Nina, and found the accelerating trend.

Sea level rise, more than temperature, is a better gauge of climate change in action, said Anny Cazenave, director of Earth science at the International Space Science Institute in France, who edited the study. Cazenave is one of the pioneers of space-based sea level research.

Global sea levels were stable for about 3,000 years until the 20th century when they rose and then accelerated due to global warming caused by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany, who wasn’t part of the study.

Two feet of sea level rise by the end of the century “would have big effects on places like Miami and New Orleans, but I don’t still view that as catastrophic” because those cities can survive - at great expense - that amount of rising seas under normal situations, Nerem said.

But when a storm hits like 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, sea level rise on top of storm surge can lead to record-setting damages, researchers said.

Some scientists at the American Geophysical Union meeting last year said Antarctica may be melting faster than predicted by Monday’s study.

Greenland has caused three times more sea level rise than Antarctica so far, but ice melt on the southern continent is responsible for more of the acceleration.

“Antarctica seems less stable than we thought a few years ago,” Rutgers climate scientist Robert Kopp said.


Update March 3, 2018 - March 9, 2018

Trump aims for moon, pulls back on space station, telescopes

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2006, file photo, made available by NASA, astronaut Robert L. Curbeam Jr., left, and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang, participate in a spacewalk during construction of the International Space Station. Under President Donald Trump’s 2019 proposed budget released, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, U.S. government funding for the space station would cease by 2025. (NASA via AP, File)

Marcia Dunn & Seth Borenstein

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The Trump administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by 2025, and private businesses running the place instead.

Under President Donald Trump’s 2019 proposed budget released Monday, U.S. government funding for the space station would end by 2025. The government would set aside $150 million to encourage commercial development and use future savings to aim for the moon.

Many space experts and legislators are expressing concern. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who rocketed into orbit in 1986, said “turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space” makes no sense.

Retired NASA historian and Smithsonian curator Roger Launius notes that any such move will affect all the other countries involved in the space station; Russia is a major player, as is Europe, Japan and Canada.

NASA has spent close to $100 billion on the orbiting outpost since the 1990s. The first piece was launched in 1998, and the complex was essentially completed with the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011.

MIT astronautics professor Dava Newman, who was the deputy NASA chief under Barack Obama, called the space station “the cornerstone of space exploration today” but said the Trump administration’s proposal makes sense because it is doing long-term planning.

The president proposes shifting large chunks of money from the space station, satellites studying a warming Earth and a major space telescope toward a multi-year $10.4 billion exploration plan aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in about five or six years.

“We’re building capability for the eventual human exploration of deep space and the moon is a stepping stone,” NASA’s acting chief financial officer Andrew Hunter said in a Monday news conference.

The president’s budget proposal, including NASA’s portion, was obsolete even before it was made public, but it provides a view into the administration’s priorities. Congress earlier this month passed a spending package that set limits through the end of the next budget year.

The same budget proposal proposes to pull the plug on WFIRST, a space telescope mission that NASA said is “designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics.”

And for the second straight year, the Trump administration proposes killing five missions that study Earth, especially its climate and the effects of carbon dioxide. The president also plans to end education programs in the space agency.

Private businesses already have a hand in the space station project. The end of the shuttle program prompted NASA to turn over supply runs to the commercial sector. SpaceX and Orbital ATK have been making deliveries since 2012, and Sierra Nevada Corp. will begin making shipments with its crew-less mini shuttles in a few years.

SpaceX and Boeing, meanwhile, are developing crew capsules to fly astronauts to and from the space station within the next year. These commercial flights will represent the first astronaut launches from U.S. soil since NASA’s shuttles stopped flying.

A complete transfer to the commercial sector is a different matter, however. Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA who now runs Axiom Space in Houston and aims to establish the world’s first commercial space station cautioned that the U.S. government needs to have a direct hand in the International Space Station until it comes down. No company would accept the liabilities and risks associated with the station, he said, if the sprawling complex went out of control and came crashing down.

His company’s plan is to attach its own compartments to the existing International Space Station and, once the decision is made to dismantle the complex, detach its segment and continue orbiting on its own.

Altogether, the administration’s proposed budget, along with an addendum, seeks to increase NASA’s budget slightly to $19.9 billion.

While the budget plan said it places renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, no precise timeline and few details are provided. The supersize Space Launch System rocket being built by NASA to send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit - along with its Orion crew capsule - would get $3.7 billion under this budget. A test launch of this system would remain on track for 2020, with a first crewed launch around the moon three years later, according to budget details.

In an agency-wide address, NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said it was a “very exciting” budget with lots of potential, despite some hard decisions. Among them: the proposed end of WFIRST, a telescope with 100 times the field of view of the Hubble Space Telescope. WFIRST was a mission that the National Academies of Science listed as the decade’s No. 1 priority for future NASA astrophysics missions.

The WFIRST telescope’s cost estimates have ballooned to $3.6 billion and Hunter said it just got too expensive.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Stephen Hawking, best-known physicist of his time, has died


Science Says: European art scene began with Neanderthals


Satellites show warming is accelerating sea level rise


Trump aims for moon, pulls back on space station, telescopes

 



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