Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spring Catch-Up: Science Roundup

It's no secret that my Weekly Science Roundups fell by the wayside with the rest of my blogging. As I continue to play catch-up on all the events of Spring 2014, I absolutely did not want to miss out on the science! So here's four of the coolest science stories from the past two months.

1. Kepler Mission Extended (and Revised)


Last year the exoplanet-hunting telescope, Kepler, was forced into retirement by a busted wheel in it housing. However, most of its equipment was still functional and NASA deemed it a waste to just let it all drift out there doing nothing.

Thus "K2" was born. A new mission for a repurposed telescope. K2 will still be on the hunt for exoplanets, but will do so from only one plane of observation, rather than being able to move between planes. It's basically missing an axis to move along because of that broken wheel. Regardless, it's still one of the best pieces of technology ever sent into space, and I'm positive it will continue to advance science even with this handicap.

Go, K2, Go!

2. Teenager's 12,000 Year-Old Skeleton Sheds Light on American Ancestry


Ancient Americans--or "Paleoamericans"--crossed the Bering Land Bridge between Asia and North America around 20,000 years ago. Despite Paleoamericans and modern Native Americans physically appearing less alike than one might logically guess, a new find has shown that they are genetically very similar.

The discovery is of a 15 year-old female skeleton, dating back over 12,000 years, found in Mexico. She shares a genetic haplotype with modern Native Americans that is found in no other ancient lineage.

What this means is that there wasn't a second (at least, a second major) migration that brought in the ancestors of Native Americans--their populations are almost certainly descended from these original Paleoamerican cultures. The differences in physical appearances is likely just an artifact of deep time.

This, by the way, is the second major genetic study this year to link these populations.

3. Quantum Teleportation a Reality?
Subatomic structure of a neutron.

Quantum teleportation. Just say those two words out loud for a moment. Congratulations. You officially sound awesome.

But what the heck did you just actually say? Well, turns out what you said is actually something real.

The idea behind it is that we are all made of atoms arranged in particular ways, and inside the atoms are subatomic particles arranged in particular ways. As such, if we just make some particles over there arranged in the exact same way, we have achieved teleportation. And thanks to the idea of entanglement, where "entangled" particles can influence each other from far away, distances can be overcome easily. So to speak.

Just a fun thought experiment? Nope. Again, this is real. They've done it. They actually teleported a small amount of information ten whole feet.

It's a baby step, to be sure, but theoretically this could grow to be much, much more. One end result may be Quantum Computing--an internet-esque network of machines that could someday make today's networks look like molasses.

4. Evidence for Explosive Moon Formation Theory


So the story goes like this: Over 4 billion years ago, Earth was slammed into by an object the size of Mars. We call this planet-y thing "Theia". Our moon formed from parts of Earth and parts of Theia. (Gravity + time + lots of mass = round things)

Now there's finally proof that story actually happened. A chemical analysis of moon rocks has detected a different kind of oxygen isotope than is found on Earth, indicating an external source.

This shows that the moon wasn't just formed from the same exact cloud of dust and spacerock that Earth came from. 30-50% of it was from something else. It's concrete evidence that another major body was at play in the moon's formation.

Theia was really out there once.

I love when awesome hypotheses get shown to be right.

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