Einstein's gravitational waves detected in landmark discovery

2016-02-12 06:01:05

WASHINGTON/CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Scientists for the first time have detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesised by Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery announced on Thursday that opens a new window for studying the cosmos.The researchers said they identified gravitational waves coming from two distant black holes - extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein - that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together at high speed to form a single, larger black hole.The waves were unleashed by the collision of the black holes, one of them 29 times the mass of the sun and the other 36 times the solar mass, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth, the researchers said."Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it," said California Institute of Technology physicist David Reitze, triggering applause at a packed news conference in Washington."It's been a very long road, but this is just the beginning," Louisiana State University physicist Gabriela Gonzalez told the news conference, hailing the discovery as opening a new era in astronomy.The scientific milestone was achieved using a pair of giant laser detectors in the United States, located in Louisiana and Washington state, capping a decades-long quest to find these waves."The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time, a storm in which time speeded up, and slowed down, and speeded up again, a storm in which the shape of space was bent in this way and that way," Caltech physicist Kip Thorne said.The scientists first detected the waves last Sept. 14.The two instruments, working in unison, are called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). They detected remarkably small vibrations from the gravitational waves as they passed through the Earth. The scientists converted the wave signal into audio waves and listened to the sounds of the black holes merging. At the news conference, they played an audio recording of this: a low rumbling pierced by chirps."We're actually hearing them go thump in the night," Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Matthew Evans said. "There's a very visceral connection to this observation." 'A NEW SENSE'"We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy," MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview. "We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well." While opening a door to new ways to observe the universe, scientists said gravitational waves should help them gain knowledge about enigmatic objects like black holes and neutron stars. The waves also may provide insight into the mysterious nature of the very early universe.The scientists said that because gravitational waves are so radically different from electromagnetic waves they expect them to reveal big surprises about the universe.Everything we knew until now about the cosmos stemmed from electromagnetic waves such as radio waves, visible light, infrared light, X-rays and gamma rays. Because such waves encounter interference as they travel across the universe, they can tell only part of the story.Gravitational waves experience no such barriers, meaning they offer a wealth of additional information. Black holes, for example, do not emit light, radio waves and the like, but can be studied via gravitational waves. Einstein in 1916 proposed the existence of gravitational waves as an outgrowth of his ground-breaking general theory of relativity, which depicted gravity as a distortion of space and time triggered by the presence of matter. Until now scientists had found only indirect evidence of their existence, beginning in the 1970s.Scientists sounded positively giddy over the discovery."This is the holy grail of science," said Rochester Institute of Technology astrophysicist Carlos Lousto."The last time anything like this happened was in 1888 when Heinrich Hertz detected the radio waves that had been predicted by James Clerk Maxwell’s field-equations of electromagnetism in 1865," added Durham University physicist Tom McLeish.Abhay Ashtekar, director of Penn State University's Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, said heavy celestial objects bend space and time but because of the relative weakness of the gravitational force the effect is miniscule except from massive and dense bodies like black holes and neutron stars.A black hole is a region of space so packed with matter that not even photons of light can escape the force of gravity. Neutron stars are small, about the size of a city, but are extremely heavy, the compact remains of a larger star that died in a supernova explosion.The National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government, provided about $1.1 billion in funding for the research over 40 years. (Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington, Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Scott Malone in Cambridge, Mass.; Editing by Tom Brown)

Ripple effect: scientists await word on gravitational waves

2016-02-11 11:30:09

WASHINGTON A century ago, Albert Einstein hypothesized the existence of gravitational waves, small ripples in space and time that dash across the universe at the speed of light. But scientists have been able to find only indirect evidence of their existence. On Thursday, at a news conference called by the U.S. National Science Foundation, researchers may announce at long last direct observations of the elusive waves.Such a discovery would represent a scientific landmark, opening the door to an entirely new way to observe the cosmos and unlock secrets about the early universe and mysterious objects like black holes and neutron stars.Scientists from the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration are set to make what they bill as a "status report" on Thursday on the quest to detect gravitational waves. It is widely expected they will announce they have achieved their goal."Let's say this: The first discovery of gravitational waves is a Nobel Prize-winning venture," said physicist Bruce Allen of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany."I believe in the next decade, our view of the universe is going to change really quite dramatically," added Abhay Ashtekar, director of Penn State University's Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos.Einstein in 1916 proposed the existence of these waves as an outgrowth of his ground-breaking general theory of relativity."Gravitational waves are literally ripples in the curvature of space-time that are caused by collisions of heavy and compact objects like black holes and neutron stars," Ashtekar said. 'MOVING MASSES'"They're waves, like light or any other kind of electromagnetic radiation, except here what's 'waving' is space and time itself," said NASA astrophysicist Ira Thorpe, with the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "You get radiation, basically light, when you move some sort of charged particle. When you're moving masses, you get gravitational waves."Scientists have been trying to detect them using two large laser instruments in the United States, known together as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), as well as another in Italy. The twin LIGO installations are located roughly 1,800 miles (3,000 km) apart in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. Having two detectors is a way to sift out terrestrial rumblings, such as traffic and earthquakes, from the faint ripples of space itself.The LIGO work is funded by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government.All the current knowledge about the universe comes from electromagnetic waves like radio waves, visible light, infrared light, X-rays and gamma rays. But a lot of information remains hidden because such waves get scattered as they traverse the cosmos. That would not be the case with gravitational waves, making them an enticing potential source of new information.Two types of very massive and dense celestial objects, neutron stars and black holes, have proven tough to study but could offer ideal subjects if observations of gravitational waves are possible. "People don't really know what's going on inside neutron stars," Allen said of these objects that weigh about 50 percent more than the sun but are extremely compact, only about the size of a city."It gives us a detailed picture of what's happening inside or around the object that's producing the waves. So, for example, if two black holes orbit each other, we can't see it any way other than gravitational waves because black holes don't emit any light, radio waves, X-rays or anything. The only way to see that is through their gravitational waves," Allen said.Gravitational waves also offer a way to study what the universe was like in its infancy. For the first roughly 200,000 years of its existence, light did not travel freely through the universe, Allen said, but "gravitational waves can travel freely, back to very early times.""So one cool thing is one day we'll be able to see what the universe looked like in very early times using gravitational waves. That's what actually got me interested in the field 25 years ago," Allen said. (Additional reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Editing by Tom Brown)

Genome offers clues on thwarting reviled, disease-carrying ticks

2016-02-10 10:01:05

WASHINGTON Scientists have unlocked the genetic secrets of one of the least-loved creatures around, the tick species that spreads Lyme disease, in research that may lead to new methods to control these diminutive arachnids that dine on blood.The researchers said on Tuesday they have sequenced the genome of Ixodes scapularis, known as the deer tick or blacklegged tick, which transmits Lyme and other diseases by chomping through the skin of people and animals and releasing infected saliva as they devour blood.The study identified more than 24,000 genes involving traits such as blood-meal digestion, manipulation of the immune response of the host being bitten to permit long periods of feeding, and detoxification of compounds such as insecticides."They are so persistent, resilient and tenacious," said Purdue University entomologist Catherine Hill, who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications. "No need to hate the ticks, but people should be informed, understand the risks and make informed decisions to protect their health." Cracking the tick's DNA code may expose vulnerabilities that can be exploited with new insecticides, repellents or other methods to control this parasite that thrives in wooded and grassy areas. For example, the researchers gained insight into how the ticks regulate excretion and manage the large volume of blood they ingest, providing a possible target for new ways to control them. In addition, researchers working on a companion study identified a hormone in female ticks that regulates egg development. Determining how to block this hormone could lead to a "birth control pill" for ticks, North Carolina State University entomologist R. Michael Roe said.The ticks, which can ingest up to 100 times their own body's size in blood, transmit bacteria, parasites and viruses that cause Lyme disease and other ailments through saliva while getting a blood meal. "Tick saliva contains a repertoire of cement compounds that binds the tick to the skin, as well as anti-coagulants, molecules that disrupt the host's immune system and prevent the human or animal from feeling the tick bite," Old Dominion University tick-borne diseases expert Daniel Sonenshine said.Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. It generally can be cured using antibiotics but if left untreated it can become permanently debilitating with complications including joint pain, facial paralysis, fatigue, memory loss and irregular heart rhythm.Health officials estimate that about 300,000 people get the disease annually in the United States.

How to tell if it’s time to refinance your student loan

2016-02-09 18:30:15

To a college grad, student loans are thing of the past, present and future. Some students will graduate with anywhere from 1-16 different loans and keeping tabs on every loan and their due dates can be difficult. There are ways to make managing those monthly payments easier, such as refinancing and consolidating your student loans. Sound like foreign words? Don't worry — we've broken it down for you so that you don't need a master's degree to understand it. First let's define refinancing and consolidating — consolidating is refinancing, but refinancing doesn't always involve consolidating. Refinancing is just that — redoing the loan. It's a way to either change the length of time you pay on the loan, lower your monthly payment, or both. Consolidating means adding all of your student loan balances together, and then refinancing the total into one loan with one monthly payment. This may also change how long and how much interest you pay on the loan. Either way, the point is to improve your financial situation concerning your student loans. Next: Deciding which is right 1. Consolidating To consolidate your loan, you would have to take your existing loans to another private lender, bank, or credit union for them to bring together on one loan. So, for example, if you have one federal loan and two private loans with different interest rates and timelines, you can move all three loans into one at a single interest rate to be paid in one set timeline. That it may get you a lower monthly payment, streamline the payment process, help you get organized and less apt to miss a payment. Making payments on time is crucial because any late or forgotten payments affect your credit score. There are pros and cons to consolidating federal loans. Consolidating your federal loan could mean lower monthly payments. A $500 monthly payment over 10 years may be more affordable than a $1,000 monthly payment over five years, depending on your interest rate. On the flipside, federal student loans offer a variety of benefits that will be lost if you consolidate them into private loans. Typically, borrowers receive a 6-month window before having to start making payments, also known as a "grace" period. Once your loan consolidation is approved, you'll forfeit your "grace" period, and will be required to begin making payments earlier than the 6 months. You'll also be giving up any protections that can be found through some federal loans. Make sure your aware of what options you have with your federal loan. From there, you should be able to determine if they're worth consolidating. With strong credit and a steady income, you could land a better deal than you originally had. If you're looking to lower your monthly payments, have more cash in your pocket or an easy-to-track monthly payment, consolidation may be right for you. 2. Refinancing There are many possible benefits to refinancing your student loans. If after a few years of making payments on time, and you've seen an improvement on your credit score, it may be time to refinance. Refinancing gives you the option to lower the interest rate on your current loan. By lowering your interest rate, you can also lower your monthly payment, putting more cash back in your wallet. There are several student loan-refinancing calculators online that allow you to estimate your potential savings. Compare your options, but remember to weigh your current interest rate, your current monthly payments and any current benefits. 3. Select a lender Each lender has a variety terms and interest rates to offer. So shop around. Your best course of action is to be patient and explore your options at different lenders. In the end, it's most important that you choose a loan that fits with your financial lifestyle. If you have the cash to pay a larger monthly payment, pick the loan with a low interest rate and short term. Student loans may seem complicated at first but they don’t have to be. Talk to your trusted financial institution to see what advice they have for you. This is a big decision and you don't have to make it alone. For more information on consolidating your student loans, visit www.navyfederal.org/studentloans

India introduces net neutrality rules barring Facebook's free Internet

2016-02-08 17:01:06

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI India introduced rules on Monday to prevent Internet service providers from having different pricing policies for accessing different parts of the Web, in a setback to Facebook Inc's plan to roll out a pared-back free Internet service to the masses.The new rules came after a two-month long consultation process that saw Facebook launching a big advertisement campaign in support of its Free Basics program, which runs in more than 35 developing countries.The program offers pared-down Internet services on mobile phones, along with access to the company's own social network and messaging services, without charge.The service, earlier known as internet.org, has also run into trouble in other countries that have accused Facebook of infringing the principle of net neutrality - the concept that all websites and data on the Internet are treated equally. Critics and Internet activists argue that allowing access to a select few apps and Web services for free would put small content providers and start-ups that don't participate at a disadvantage. "While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the Internet and the opportunities it brings," Facebook said in an emailed statement.On Monday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which had suspended the free Facebook service pending a policy decision, said Internet service providers would not be allowed to discriminate on pricing for different Web services. "Essentially everything on the Internet is agnostic in the sense that it cannot be priced differently," TRAI chairman Ram Sevak Sharma said at a news conference.Although the new rules will also have implications for plans by Indian telecom operators to make money from rapidly surging Web traffic through differential pricing, Facebook's campaign turned the spotlight on the social networking giant.Free Basics is part Facebook's ambition to expand in its largest market outside the United States. Only 252 million out of India's 1.3 billion people have Internet access. "We are delighted by the regulator's recognition of the irreversible damage that stands to be done to the open Internet by allowing differential pricing," said Mishi Choudhary, a New York-based lawyer who led an online campaign against Facebook.Facebook shares were down 2.7 percent at $101.30 in early trading on the Nasdaq amid broad weakness in U.S. markets. (Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Writing by Himank Sharma; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee, Mark Potter and Ted Kerr)

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