Science Scanner: All Systems ‘Go’ for Comet Touchdown, Cigarette Ash Removes Arsenic from Water, Is Earth’s Magnetic Field Ready to Flip?, Building the World’s Biggest Cosmic Ray Detector

Posted October 15th, 2014 at 8:17 pm (UTC-4)
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Rosetta mission selfie a distance of about 16 km from the surface of 67P/C-G. (ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

Rosetta mission selfie a distance of about 16 km from the surface of 67P/C-G. (ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

Rosetta’s Philae Lander Given Green Light for Comet Touchdown in November

The European Space Agency announced that all systems are ‘go’ for the Rosetta Mission to send its Philae lander to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014.

This will the first-ever attempt of a soft touchdown landing on a comet.

A month ago Rosetta mission officials selected, after much study and discussion, what is now being called ‘Site J’ as the primary landing site for Philae.  ESA confirmed that selection on October 14, 2014.

In preparation for the November landing, Philae’s mother-ship Rosetta is inching its way closer and closer the comet 67P.  When the Rosetta arrived at the comet in early August the Rosetta was about 100km away.  The unmanned space probe is now within 10 km of comet 67P.

ESA officials said that, as of now, the Rosetta spacecraft, which has been carrying the Philae with it on it 10 year trip to the comet, will release the air conditioner sized lander at 0835 UTC on November 12th.  Landing, according to ESA, is expected to take place around 1530 UTC.

After it lands on the comet, the Philae lander will use its package of instruments to learn about the physical properties of 67P’s surface and subsurface.  It will also run tests to determine the comet’s chemical, mineralogical and isotopic composition.

Yesterday (October 14, 2014), the Rosetta mission released a “selfie” it took with comet 67P in the background – see photo on left.

 

Scientists Develop Simple and Inexpensive Way to Remove Arsenic from Drinking Water

(Andrew Magill via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(Andrew Magill via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A team of Chinese scientists took the byproduct of one health issue and turned it into a solution to another.

Writing the American Chemical Society’s journal ‘Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research’, the researchers outlined their unique, simple and inexpensive way to remove the poison arsenic from drinking water.

Water can be contaminated by arsenic either through natural means or from industrial related pollution.  The researchers said the problem of arsenic-contaminated groundwater is high in developing nations.

While the poison can be successfully removed from water, it usually takes a sophisticated and expensive treatment system to do this.

The key behind the newly developed arsenic removal system is the end result of the unhealthy habit of cigarette smoking: ashes.

After other scientists tried using natural waste products to remove the toxic substance from water, the Chinese group realized that, since the structure of cigarette ash is porous and better suited for the job than something like banana peels, they’d go ahead and investigate its possible use in this application.

 

Artist's illustration of the shape and function of the Earth's magnetic field that protects us from harmful cosmic radiation (NASA)

Artist’s illustration of the shape and function of the Earth’s magnetic field that protects us from harmful cosmic radiation (NASA)

Is Earth’s Magnetic Field About to Reverse Its Polarity?

Earth’s magnetic field has flipped a number of times throughout its 4.5 billion year history.  The magnetic north pole became the magnetic south pole and vice versa.

A study conducted by an international team of scientists found that planet Earth is again on the verge of magnetic field reversal.  They said the last time this happened was about 786,000 years ago, taking about 100 years, a relatively short time to do so.

Usually the magnetic field remains steady and at the same intensity for thousands or millions of years but for reasons that scientists can’t explain, the field weakens and then flips direction over a period of about a couple of thousand  years.

Increasingly new evidence has led scientists to determine that Earth’s magnetic field intensity is dropping by a rate of 10 times as fast that it normally would.

Scientists believe that magnetic field reversals are driven by changes in the Earth’s iron core.

To make their findings, the scientists writing in the November issue of Geophysical Journal International took measurements of the magnetic field alignment in layers of ancient Italian lake sediments that are now exposed.

Researchers expressed concern that if a reversal in the magnetic field does occur, we could experience all sorts of calamity. It could cause our electrical grid to shut down.

And, since the magnetic field helps shield Earth’s life forms from the dangers of powerful streams of solar particles and cosmic rays, any temporary loss or weakening of the field that usually takes place before it permanently reverses polarity could pose a serious danger to our health.

The danger to life could even be greater if the magnetic field goes through long periods of instability before the flip, said the researchers.

 

Physicists Develop Smartphone App to Form the World’s Biggest Cosmic Ray Detector

(UC Irvine)

(UC Irvine)

According to a paper published at the physics website arXiv, two California physicists have designed a new smartphone app that they hope, with your help, would create an Earth-sized cosmic ray detector.

The app is called CRAYFIS (Cosmic Rays Found in Smartphones) and it works on both Android and iOS devices.

Daniel Whiteson from the University of California, Irvine and Michael Mulhearn from the University of California Davis are looking for volunteers with smartphones to form a global network that collectively would serve as a way to detect these ultra-high-energy particles from space that collide with Earth.

Scientists say that these cosmic rays are a billion times more energetic than the particles produced by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Whiteson and Mulhearn said that their app uses a smartphone or tablet to collect data when connected to a source of power and has been inactive for a couple of minutes so that it doesn’t interfere with normal usage or drain batteries.

“Whole square kilometers can be drenched in these particles for a few milliseconds,” said Whiteson in a press release. “The mystery is nobody knows where these crazy, high-energy particles are coming from or what’s making them so energetic. But they can be captured by technology in smartphones’ cameras.”

The physicists note that if you sign up for the program and your phone happens to gather data that is used in a scientific paper, you will be offered authorship. They also said that their CRAYFIS app can run in anonymous mode.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

2 responses to “Science Scanner: All Systems ‘Go’ for Comet Touchdown, Cigarette Ash Removes Arsenic from Water, Is Earth’s Magnetic Field Ready to Flip?, Building the World’s Biggest Cosmic Ray Detector”

  1. When i first heard about this team Chinese scientists who took the byproduct of one health issue of a cigarette and happen to turned it into a solution to another, to me it was a credit already because i ever thought that these cosmic rays may a billion times more energetic than the particles that may ever be produced. But how the data was collected is still strange.

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