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Stars made of antimatter could be lurking in our galaxy

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Antimatter is the strange, evil twin of regular matter, and it’s thought to have been mostly banished from our universe. But could it still be lurking out there in large clumps, even as stars? Astronomers have now identified a few signals that could be evidence of these “anti-stars,” and calculated how many of them might be hiding in our own galaxy.

As sci-fi as it sounds, antimatter is very real. Simply put, it’s exactly the same as ordinary (or baryonic) matter, except that it has the opposite charge. That means that when particles of matter and antimatter meet, the two annihilate each other in a burst of energy.

According to our best models for the universe, matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts in the Big Bang, but today, matter seems to dominate the cosmos. Antimatter is only produced in trace amounts, in instruments like the Large Hadron Collider or through natural processes like lightning, hurricanes, cosmic ray interactions, radioactive decay, or plasma jets from neutron stars and black holes.

So where did all the antimatter go? It seems that it’s almost entirely been wiped out from contact with regular matter – and we were just lucky that there was extra matter left over, otherwise the universe would be a very empty place.

But perhaps the ratio isn’t quite as skewed as we thought. Theoretically, there’s no reason antimatter shouldn’t be able to form stars and galaxies, planets and even life, as long as there was no regular matter nearby to destroy it. It’s an intriguing possibility, but one that’s extremely difficult to validate – after all, anti-stars would shine just like regular ones.

However, they may reveal themselves in other ways. Since it would be pretty difficult for anti-stars to wind up in a region of space completely devoid of regular matter, scientists could potentially spot these impostors through flashes of gamma rays, given off from the annihilation of rogue matter particles that wander too close.

The positions of the anti-star candidate gamma ray signals, overlaid on the Milky Way
The positions of the anti-star candidate gamma ray signals, overlaid on the Milky Way

IRAP CNRS

And that’s just what astronomers have hunted for in a new study. The team analyzed 10 years’ worth of data from the Fermi Space Telescope, examining 5,787 gamma ray sources for those that could be anti-stars. Lots of other objects also give off gamma rays though, so the researchers focused on those that came from a single point, and had a light spectrum similar to what would be expected from matter-antimatter annihilation.

Sure enough, among those thousands of sources, the team found 14 that fit the bill. That doesn’t mean they are anti-stars, of course – the team acknowledges that it’s far more likely that they’re more well-known gamma ray emitters like pulsars or black holes. But the possibility is there, at least.

From that, the team extrapolated to arrive at an estimate of how many anti-stars there might reasonably be in our galaxy. They found that if anti-stars are distributed like regular stars, and if they don’t have any differences besides charge (something that antimatter studies are still investigating) then we’re looking at around one anti-star for every 300,000 normal stars. Primordial anti-stars might also tend to evade notice by hanging out in the huge, sparse halo around the galaxy too, the team says.

It’s an intriguing idea, and one that will need further study to search for more evidence.

The research was published in the journal Physical Review D.

Sources: IRAP, APS Physics

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Source: https://newatlas.com/space/antimatter-stars-milky-way-galaxy/

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“Recent” volcanic eruption on Mars boosts subsurface life hypothesis

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While there’s evidence of volcanic activity in Mars’ ancient past, it was presumed to have been quiet for millions of years. But now, orbiters have spotted a large volcanic deposit that appears to be relatively fresh – only about 53,000 years old – which may lend weight to the idea that the Red Planet was recently, or still is, habitable for subsurface microbes.

Mars still bears the scars of its volcanic past. Its surface is dotted with what may be the remains of gigantic, extinct supervolcanoes, and evidence even suggests one of these erupted non-stop for 2 billion years. Generally though, it’s thought that Martian volcanism mostly occurred between about 3 and 4 billion years ago, and had all but died down in the last few million years – the odd, very faint marsquake notwithstanding.

But now, scientists have discovered a scar that appears to be far more recent. Spotted from orbit in a region called the Elysium Planitia, the feature is a dark deposit that measures 8 miles (12.9 km) wide, and surrounds a large fissure 20 miles (32.2 km) long. The team says it doesn’t look like anything else seen in the area, or anywhere else on Mars.

Judging by its layers relative to its surroundings, as well as the number of small craters within it, the team calculated its age to be around 53,000 years. It doesn’t seem to be the result of common lava flow eruptions, but a more explosive event driven by expanding gases, called a pyroclastic eruption.

“This feature overlies the surrounding lava flows and appears to be a relatively fresh and thin deposit of ash and rock, representing a different style of eruption than previously identified pyroclastic features,” says David Horvath, lead author of the study. “This eruption could have spewed ash as high as 6 miles (9.7 km) into Mars’ atmosphere. It is possible that these sorts of deposits were more common but have been eroded or buried.”

Interestingly, this potentially youngest volcanic eruption happens to be located just a few miles from a large impact crater that may also be the youngest on Mars. The team says that it’s possible that the two are connected.

“The ages of the eruption and the impact are indistinguishable, which raises the possibility, however speculative, that the impact actually triggered the volcanic eruption,” says Pranabendu Moitra, co-author of the study.

The white square indicates where the "recent" eruption took place. NASA's InSight lander lies about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away, while the large ancient volcano Elysium Mons towers over the plains to the northeast
The white square indicates where the “recent” eruption took place. NASA’s InSight lander lies about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away, while the large ancient volcano Elysium Mons towers over the plains to the northeast

MOLA Science Team

The implications of such a recent volcanic eruption run deeper than just seismology. Volcanic activity could potentially support subsurface microbial life, by creating warmth and cycling nutrients through rocks. A recent study from Brown University found that Mars may have these favorable conditions today – and the new research lends weight to the idea.

“The interaction of ascending magma and the icy substrate of this region could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life fairly recently and raises the possibility of extant life in this region,” says Horvath.

The research was published in the journal Icarus.

Source: University of Arizona

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Source: https://newatlas.com/space/recent-volcanic-eruption-mars-subsurface-life/

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Glowing probe lights up the signs of cardiovascular trouble

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The accumulation of plaque inside the arteries can be an insidious condition with grave consequences that include blood clots and strokes, but luckily it does give off some tell-tale signs. Researchers in the UK have developed a new type of glowing probe that focuses on one of them, increasing its fluorescence in the presence of a key enzyme and possibly acting as an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease.

Known as atherosclerosis, the build-up of arterial plaque is a key driver of heart disease and stroke, and is in turn a leading cause of death in the Western world. One of the ways the condition can endanger human health is when the plaque actually breaks away from the artery walls, events known as intraplaque haemorrhages (IPHs), which can then restrict blood flow and lead to chronic disease or stroke.

The new probe, developed by scientists at Imperial College London, takes aim at an enzyme known as heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), which is produced in large amounts as IPHs take hold. The probe consists of two compartments that transfer fluorescent molecules between one another – one “donor” component and an “acceptor” component.

But as the probe comes into contact with HO-1, the enzyme breaks a bond connecting these two compartments, and causes a build up of the fluorescent molecules in the donor compartment. This means that the probe glows up to six times more brightly in the presence of HO-1, as was demonstrated in lab tests using modified E. Coli cells, with the change in fluorescence able to be detected using spectroscopy.

“Current methods to detect IPH rely on hospital-based imaging techniques that are both time-consuming and expensive,” says study author Professor James Leiper. “The current technology aims to produce a fast and sensitive diagnostic test that can be used at the time that a patient first presents with symptoms to allow early detection of IPH. Use of such a test would allow for more rapid treatment and improved outcomes for patients suffering from IPH.”

The early proof-of-concept is promising, but such a clinical test is still a ways off. The scientists will next carry out further studies involving mammal and human cells, with hopes that the probe could one day also enable long-term tracking of cardiovascular health.

“The probes could also provide real-time analysis of the underpinning biological processes involved in vascular disease, providing new insights and potentially new ways to track the progress of chronic disease,” says study co-lead Dr Joe Boyle.

The research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Source: Imperial College London

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Source: https://newatlas.com/medical/glowing-probe-cardiovascular-trouble/

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Organic, metal-free battery breaks down in acid for recycling

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One of the problems with our ongoing shift toward renewable energy relates to the way we store it, with today’s metal-laden lithium batteries currently serving us well but carrying sustainability issues of their own. Scientists are investigating alternative, more eco-friendly chemistries, and a team at Texas A&M University has just put forward an interesting candidate, demonstrating a metal-free battery that can be placed in acidic solutions to degrade on demand.

The increasing demand for electronic devices and electric vehicles means an increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries, which rely on heavy metals that aren’t so easily sourced. Cobalt, for example, is plagued with ethical issues around mining practices involving child labor in Africa, as well as environmental degradation and the pollution of water supplies. Furthermore, it is difficult to separate and recover these materials at the end of the battery’s life.

“The big problem with lithium-ion batteries right now is that they’re not recycled to the degree that we are going to need for the future electrified transportation economy,” says Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, study author. “The rate of recycling lithium-ion batteries right now is in the single digits. There is valuable material in the lithium-ion battery, but it’s very difficult and energy intensive to recover.”

These problems have driven researchers like Lutkenhaus to investigate metal-free battery architectures, with a saltwater prototype battery developed by IBM one notable example. The Texas A&M University scientists instead used electrochemically active chains of amino acids, called redox active polypeptides, to build the battery’s two electrodes, which pass energy back and forth as the device is charged and discharged.

In testing, the organic battery ticked a couple of important boxes. First and foremost, these electrodes performed their role as active materials during operation, remaining stable throughout. And afterwards, the components were able to be degraded by subjecting them to acidic conditions, which left amino acids and other benign degradation products as a result, to be re-used or left to dissolve harmlessly in the environment.

“By moving away from lithium and working with these polypeptides, which are components of proteins, it really takes us into this realm of not only avoiding the need for mining precious metals, but opening opportunities to power wearable or implantable electronic devices and also to easily recycle the new batteries,” says study author Dr. Karen Wooley. “They [polypeptide batteries] are degradable, they are recyclable, they are non-toxic and they are safer across the board.”

While early days for the research, the scientists see it as a promising first step in the development of sustainable batteries, and they’re now looking to improve the design further with the help of machine learning.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Texas A&M University

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Source: https://newatlas.com/energy/organic-metal-free-battery-degraded-acid-recycling/

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IBM’s new 2-nm chips have transistors smaller than a strand of DNA

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In a shining example of the inexorable march of technology, IBM has unveiled new semiconductor chips with the smallest transistors ever made. The new 2-nanometer (nm) tech allows the company to cram a staggering 50 billion transistors onto a chip the size of a fingernail.

The current industry standard is chips with 7-nm transistors, with some high-end consumer devices, such as Apple’s M1 processors, beginning to make the move to 5 nm. And experimental chips have shrunk as small as 2.5 nm.

IBM’s new chips pip them all, with transistors now measuring just 2 nm wide – for reference, that’s narrower than a strand of human DNA. That, of course, means the tiny transistors can be squeezed onto a chip far more densely than ever before, boosting the device’s processing power and energy efficiency in the process. The company claims that, when compared to current 7-nm chips, the new 2-nm chips can reach 45 percent higher performance or 75 percent lower energy use.

In practical terms, IBM says the tech could give a performance boost to everything from consumer electronics to AI object recognition to the reaction times of autonomous vehicles. Or, its energy savings could reduce the sizeable carbon footprint of data centers, or make for smartphone batteries that last four days on a single charge.

A close-up of a 2-nm silicon wafer containing hundreds of individual chips
A close-up of a 2-nm silicon wafer containing hundreds of individual chips

IBM

Transistors are often used to define technological progress – Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years or so. While it’s held more or less true since it was proposed in the 1960s, that rate has slowed down somewhat in recent years.

It’s been nearly four years since IBM revealed its 5-nm chips with 30 billion transistors – if Moore’s law was followed to a T, we’re two years late and 10 billion transistors short. In fact, IBM is only now doubling the transistors on its first 7-nm chips unveiled in 2015.

A scanning electron microscope image of individual transistors on IBM's new chip, each measuring 2 nanometers wide – narrower than a strand of human DNA
A scanning electron microscope image of individual transistors on IBM’s new chip, each measuring 2 nanometers wide – narrower than a strand of human DNA

IBM

Still, we shouldn’t diminish the new development – 2 nm is quite the feat of engineering. As recently as 2019, engineers expressed concerns that technology wouldn’t allow much progress to be made smaller than 3 nm. Research by many companies over the past few years have put those concerns to rest.

It’s likely that we won’t see these 2-nm chips in consumer electronics until 2023 at the earliest, so for now go enjoy the benefits of the still-impressive 5-nm chips.

IBM discusses the new tech breakthrough in the video below.

IBM Unveils World’s First 2 Nanometer Chip Technology

Source: IBM

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Source: https://newatlas.com/computers/ibm-2-nm-chips-transistors/

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