Physics News of the Week: Mysterious Radio Bursts

| August 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

This week the top 3 news stories concentrate on revolutionary surfaces that can control fluid movement, mysterious bursts that baffled astronomers and the physics defying space drive that has been confirmed by the NASA scientists. If you would like to receive these news straight to your email, register for our newsletter.

1. Close Encounters of the Radio Kind? (Jul 26)

ET hunters all around the world were full of joy due to a recent discovery of brief , but very powerful radio bursts registered by telescopes in Puerto Rico. Right now, astronomers have no idea what’s causing these bursts or where they’re coming from. And nothing has been ruled out at the moment — not even the kind of outrageous claims you’d expect to see in tabloid headlines. 

Similar radio bursts were detected back in 2007 by Australian scientists, who detected the source of the signals as being outside of our galaxy. Later measurements, however, detected similar radio bursts that were being emitted from a much closer source suggesting a much more pedestrian explanation. This discovery resulted in doubts regarding the original discovery of the extra-galactic source of the signals, however, a scientific paper released last year re-confirmed four more similar bursts.

Recently, telescopes at Puerto Rico once again discovered these signals. Possible explanations so far include blitzars (pulses of energy from a supermassive star collapsing into a black hole) and power solar flares coming from stars nearer by.

What is the source of the mysterious radio bursts?

2. Researchers Develop Surfaces that Can Actively Control Fluids and Particles (Aug 1)

Researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia have developed a new way of making surfaces that can actively control how fluids or particles move across them. Such a discovery holds a potential for new kinds of biomedical or microfluidic devices, or solar panels that could automatically clean themselves of dust and grit.

“Most surfaces are passive,” said Kripa Varanasi, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and senior author of a paper describing the new system. “They rely on gravity, or other forces, to move fluids or particles.” Varanasi’s team decided to use external fields, such as magnetic fields, to make surfaces active, exerting precise control over the behavior of particles or droplets moving over them.

3. NASA Validates Physics Defying Space Drive (Aug 3)

So recently NASA’s scientists tested a revolutionary experimental microwave thruster for a radical new type of spacecraft propulsion system, which, to their surprise, actually worked. The great thing about this thruster is that it is fuel-less. Fuel, as one might imagine, takes up enormous amount of space and weighs down the current spacecrafts, thus getting rid of it would revolutionize space travel. 

The drive generates thrust by “bouncing microwaves around in closed container” without any need for propellant — an idea developed by an aerospace engineer Roger J. Shawyer. The funny thing is that the  British scientist who in 2001 formed a company called SPR to promote his EmDrive system has been facing heavy criticism, according to which due to the law of conservation of momentum, the space drive cannot work. Despite this criticism, the thruster has also been tested by the Chinese Academy of Science, who reported success. Hooray for perseverance. 

More news:

The Science Behind Disney’s Frozen
Measuring the Smallest Magnets
Spin-Based Electronics

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