Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cosmic Acceleration

Cosmology forum: Is dark energy really a mystery? in Nature.
The Universe is expanding. And the expansion seems to be speeding up. To account for that acceleration, a mysterious factor, 'dark energy', is often invoked. A contrary opinion — that this factor isn't at all mysterious — is here given voice, along with counter-arguments against that view.

Topological Insulators

Topological insulators: Star material in Nature.
Topological insulators are a new kind of material which conduct electricity only on their surfaces. There are new, inexpensive compounds based on bismuth which have created a lot of excitement.
Solid-state physics: U-turns strictly prohibited also in Nature.
According to theory, electrons on the surface of a topological insulator are not allowed to make U-turns. This notion, and some of its main consequences, has now been tested experimentally.

North Pacific Deep Water Formation in the last ice age

When Still Waters Ran Deep in Science.
"Deep water" and "bottom water"—the waters that fill the deep parts of ocean basins—form when surface waters become dense and sink. Today, this occurs in the northern North Atlantic and around Antarctica, but not in the North Pacific. There, surface waters do not become dense enough to sink more than a few hundred meters. In the past, however, it seems things were different. Recently, Okazaki et al. offered new insight into the ancient history of the ocean from radiocarbon data and modeling analyses (1). They suggest that deep water formed in the North Pacific at the beginning of the transition out of the last ice age.

The Mystery of Sea-Floor Methane

The Ongoing Mystery of Sea-Floor Methane in Science.
Each year, ocean sediments produce a quantity of methane equivalent to about half of the methane emitted to the atmosphere from all natural sources (1). Very little of the methane produced below the sea floor, however, reaches the ocean or the atmosphere; most is consumed by anaerobic microorganisms as it diffuses up through oxygen-poor (anoxic) sediments. Researchers recognized this process, known as anaerobic methane oxidation (AMO), nearly 35 years ago (2), but it remains poorly understood. Investigators have not been able to firmly establish the reaction mechanism, fully understand the factors that control oxidation rates, or isolate the responsible organisms. This represents a gaping hole in our understanding of one of Earth's primary sinks for methane. Recent studies of a rare but intriguing sedimentary environment–sea-floor seeps of methane-rich fluids–have provided new insights into the microorganisms that inhabit methane-rich sediments, but raised new questions regarding reaction mechanisms.

A Low Luminosity Supernova

The Subluminous Supernova 2007qd: A Missing Link in a Family of Low-Luminosity Type Ia Supernovae preprint.
We present multi-band photometry and multi-epoch spectroscopy of the peculiar Type Ia supernova (SN Ia) 2007qd, discovered by the SDSS-II Supernova Survey. It possesses physical properties intermediate to those of the peculiar SN 2002cx and the extremely low-luminosity SN 2008ha. Optical photometry indicates that it had an extraordinarily fast rise time of <= 10 days and a peak absolute B magnitude of -15.4 +/- 0.2 at most, making it one of the most subluminous SN Ia ever observed. Follow-up spectroscopy of SN 2007qd near maximum brightness unambiguously shows the presence of intermediate-mass elements which are likely caused by carbon/oxygen nuclear burning. Near maximum brightness, SN 2007qd had a photospheric velocity of only 2800 km/s, similar to that of SN 2008ha but about 4000 and 7000 km/s less than that of SN 2002cx and normal SN Ia, respectively. We show that the peak luminosities of SN 2002cx-like objects are highly correlated with both their light-curve stretch and photospheric velocities. Its strong apparent connection to other SN 2002cx-like events suggests that SN 2007qd is also a pure deflagration of a white dwarf, although other mechanisms cannot be ruled out. It may be a critical link between SN~2008ha and the other members of the SN 2002cx-like class of objects.