Archive for May 2007

Merging Black Holes Observed in New Detail

Scientists have pinpointed the precise locations of a pair of supermassive black holes at the centers of two colliding galaxies 300 million light-years away.

Infrared images made by the Keck II telescope in Hawaii reveal the two black holes at the center of the galaxy merger known as NGC 6240 are each surrounded by a rotating disk of stars and cloudy stellar nurseries.

The new images are detailed in Science Express, an online publication of the journal Science.

Scientists had previously observed NGC 6240 in a piecemeal fashion, using different wavelengths of light. Images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope showed the outer parts of the colliding galaxies in visible light, and revealed long tidal tails made of orphaned stars, gas, and dust.

Subsequent X-ray observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed the presence of two supermassive black holes at the center of each galaxy, and the Very Long Baseline Array spotted two radio sources in the galaxies’ central regions. The problem was combining all of the images to form a single coherent picture.

“You have all these different telescopes and they look at the same piece of sky but see wildly different things,” said study team member Willem de Vries of the University of California, Davis. — Merging Black Holes Observed in New Detail

Hubble Finds Ring of Dark Matter

darkmatter ringAstronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a ghostly ring of dark matter that formed long ago during a titanic collision between two massive galaxy clusters. The ring’s discovery is among the strongest evidence yet that dark matter exists. Astronomers have long suspected the existence of the invisible substance as the source of additional gravity that holds together galaxy clusters. Such clusters would fly apart if they relied only on the gravity from their visible stars. Although astronomers don’t know what dark matter is made of, they hypothesize that it is a type of elementary particle that pervades the universe.

HubbleSite – NewsCenter – Hubble Finds Ring of Dark Matter (05/15/2007) – Introduction

How Dark Matter Might Have Snuffed Out the First Stars

What role did dark matter play in the early Universe? Since it makes up the majority of matter, it must have some effect. A team of researchers is proposing that massive quantities of dark matter formed dark stars in the early Universe, preventing the first generations of stars from entering their main sequence stage. Instead of burning with hydrogen fusion, these “dark stars” were heated by the annihilation of dark matter.

And these dark stars might still be out there.

Just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, the Universe cooled enough for first matter to coalesce out of a superheated cloud of ionized gas. Gravity took hold and this early matter came together to form the first stars. But these weren’t stars as we know them today. They contained almost entirely hydrogen and helium, grew to tremendous masses, and then detonated as supernovae. Each successive generation of supernovae seeded the Universe with heavier elements, created through the nuclear fusion of these early stars.

Dark matter dominated the early Universe too, hovering around normal matter in great halos, concentrating it together with its gravity. As the first stars gathered together inside these halos of dark matter, a process known as molecular hydrogen cooling helped them collapse down into stars.

Or, that’s what astronomers commonly believe. …. [see link for more]

Universe Today » Archive » How Dark Matter Might Have Snuffed Out the First Stars

Comcast reveal Superfast Modem

LAS VEGAS – Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts dazzled a cable industry audience Tuesday, showing off for the first time in public new technology that enabled a data download speed of 150 megabits per second, or roughly 25 times faster than today’s standard cable modems.

The cost of modems that would support the technology, called “channel bonding,” is “not that dissimilar to modems today,” he told The Associated Press after a demonstration at The Cable Show.

It could be available “within less than a couple years,” he said.

The new cable technology is crucial because the industry is competing with a speedy new offering called FiOS, a TV and Internet service that Verizon Communications Inc. is selling over a new fiber-optic network. The top speed currently available through FiOS is 50 megabits per second, but the network already is capable of providing 100 mbps, and the fiber lines offer nearly unlimited potential.

The technology, called -DOCSIS 3.0, was developed by the cable industry’s research arm, Cable Television Laboratories. It bonds together four cable lines but is capable of allowing much more capacity. The lab said last month it expected manufacturers to begin submitting modems for certification by year’s end.

Rocky Mountain News – Comcast modem faster than a runaway train

IBM Uses Self-Assembling Material in Chip Advance

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)—IBM has developed a way to make microchips run up to one-third faster or use 15 percent less power by using an exotic material that “self-assembles” in a similar way to a seashell or snowflake.

The computer services and technology company said the new process allows the wiring on a chip to be insulated with vacuum, replacing the glass-like substances used for decades but which have become less effective as chips steadily shrink.

It is the latest achievement for IBM researchers, who have announced a number of advances in recent months allowing chips to get smaller despite challenges posed by physical laws at those tiny dimensions.

“This is one of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve seen in the last decade,” said John Kelly, International Business Machines Corp.’s senior vice president of technology and intellectual property.

“The holy grail of insulators is to use vacuum … and we’ve broken the code on how to do this,” Kelly said.

The technique works by coating a silicon wafer with a layer of a special polymer that when baked, naturally forms trillions of uniformly tiny holes just 20 nanometers, or millionth of a millimeter, across.

The resulting pattern is used to create the copper wiring on top of a chip and the insulating gaps that let electricity flow smoothly. A similar process is seen in nature during the formation of snowflakes, tooth enamel and seashells, IBM said.

IBM Uses Self-Assembling Material in Chip Advance

New Toys Read Brain Waves

Technology from NeuroSky and other startups could make video games more mentally stimulating and realistic. It could even enable players to control video game characters or avatars in virtual worlds with nothing but their thoughts.

Adding biofeedback to “Tiger Woods PGA Tour,” for instance, could mean that only those players who muster Zen-like concentration could nail a put. In the popular action game “Grand Theft Auto,” players who become nervous or frightened would have worse aim than those who remain relaxed and focused.

NeuroSky’s prototype measures a person’s baseline brain-wave activity, including signals that relate to concentration, relaxation and anxiety. The technology ranks performance in each category on a scale of 1 to 100, and the numbers change as a person thinks about relaxing images, focuses intently, or gets kicked, interrupted or otherwise distracted.

The technology is similar to more sensitive, expensive equipment that athletes use to achieve peak performance. Koo Hyoung Lee, a NeuroSky co-founder from South Korea, used biofeedback to improve concentration and relaxation techniques for members of his country’s Olympic archery team.

“Most physical games are really mental games,” said Lee, also chief technology officer at San Jose-based NeuroSky, a 12-employee company founded in 1999. “You must maintain attention at very high levels to succeed. This technology makes toys and video games more lifelike.”

Boosters say toys with even the most basic brain wave-reading technology — scheduled to debut later this year — could boost mental focus and help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and mood disorders.

The basis of many brain wave-reading games is electroencephalography, or EEG, the measurement of the brain’s electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG has been a mainstay of psychiatry for decades.

An EEG headset in a research hospital may have 100 or more electrodes that attach to the scalp with a conductive gel. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But the price and size of EEG hardware is shrinking. NeuroSky’s “dry-active” sensors don’t require gel, are the size of a thumbnail, and could be put into a headset that retails for as little as $20, said NeuroSky CEO Stanley Yang.

Discovery Channel :: News – Animals :: New Toys Read Brain Waves

Japan Prepares Space Station’s Largest Laboratory for Flight

Pieces of the largest laboratory to launch towards the International Space Station (ISS) are coming together and Japan couldn’t be happier.

More than two-thirds of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Kibo laboratory awaits NASA shuttle rides to the space station early next year at the U.S. agency’s Cape Canaveral, Florida spaceport. Altogether, engineers are poring over two JAXA pressurized modules and a pair of robotic arms as they await next year’s delivery of external experiment platform to complete Kibo, also known as the station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM).

“JEM is the first Japanese human [spaceflight] facility,” Kichiro Imagawa, JAXA’s JEM development project manager, told in an interview. “I think it’s very important for Japan to develop them and launch them successfully.”

JAXA has spent about $3 billion developing Kibo, whose name means ‘Hope,’ Imagawa said. The laboratory’s total cost, however, is about twice that when including the module’s planned orbital operations and ground mission control center in the Space Station Operations Facility at Tsukuba Space Center, which sits just north of Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, he added.

The first piece of JAXA’s laboratory was slated to launch towards the ISS in December of this year, though NASA pushed the flight to February 2007 following delays with its next shuttle mission, STS-117 aboard Atlantis.

“We at JAXA have been waiting for JEM’s launch for more than 10 years, so two more months of delay is not a big problem,” Imagawa said. — Japan Prepares Space Station’s Largest Laboratory for Flight

Meet the New Linux Kernel: 2.6.21

It took longer than Linux creator Linus Torvalds would have liked, but the latest Linux kernel, version 2.6.21, has arrived. It brings many minor and major changes in how Linux handles process scheduling and time.

In his April 25th release note to the LKML (Linux Kernel Mailing List), Torvalds wrote, “If the goal for 2.6.20 was to be a stable release (and it was), the goal for 2.6.21 is to have just survived the big timer-related changes and some of the other surprises.”

Meet the New Linux Kernel: 2.6.21