Monthly Archives: May 2011

As the world turns…

The VLT (Very Large Telescope) is an array of four optical telescopes, sitting at an altitude of 2,635 metres in the Atacama Desert. It is operated by the ESO (European Southern Observatory), scanning the skies for extra-solar planets and distant galaxies. The VLT was one of the first to produce direct images of extrasolar planets in 2004. More recently, it has discovered the farthest gamma-ray burst, evidence for a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and a candidate for the farthest galaxy ever observed, some 13.2 light years away.

Well, that’s enough about it. Here is a time-lapse video of the VLT at work. It is the magnificent backdrop of the rotating, ever-changing sky that will blow your mind.


Scientists discover entirely new branch of life

Scientists have found something in water samples from a pond in Exeter. They have discovered microscopic organisms that are related to fungus, and have named them “cryptomycota”. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a ground-breaking discovery.

However, this could turn out to be a revolutionary finding. These organisms are significantly different to ordinary fungus (pictured above). In fact, there are so many different kinds of cryptomycota, and are found in so many different places, that their biodiversity is much more vast than any other fungus. Their biodiversity may even be greater than the entire fungal kingdom.

Significantly, they apparently lack a protein in their cell walls, which is a defining feature of fungi. This implies that cryptomycota deserve their own branch on the tree of life. Indeed, they may not even be a fungus at all.  

The scientists behind its discovery are now aiming to grow it in the lab, so they can get a better understanding of it. Cryptomycota may just be a very unusual type of fungus, or it may end up getting its very own kingdom, alongside the plant and animal kingdom. 

Full story: NPR

Quantum Physicists show that heat can cool

Quantm Physics is one of those things that defies logic. It deals with the way sub-atomic particles behave, and always produces truly bizaare findings. It states that matter and energy are the same thing, light can either be a wave or a particle depending on how we observe it, and electrons can be in two places at once. Simply put: on the quantum scale, things get weird. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Quantum Physicists in Germany have made a discovery that will seem somwhat counter-intuitive and surreal.

For the best part of 30 years, scientists have been able to cool down gases of atoms using laser light. If the light is coherent, the atoms will absorb and emit electrons, lose momentum, and the gas cools down. If, on the other hand, the laser light is incoherent, the gas will become heated. Makes sense so far? “Coherent” laser light is “cold”, “incoherent” laser light is “hot”.

But now, researchers at the Freie Universitaet Berlin have found a way to cool a mechanical quantum oscillator using incoherent light. So, in simple terms: a quantum system can be cooled down with a burst of hot light.

Quantum Physics produces yet another finding that defies logic.

Full story: Physics World