Author Archives: Henry Wright

One kilometer asteroid discovered with the shortest year

Caltech astronomers have identified an asteroid that runs around the Sun every 151 days, which makes this asteroid the one with the shortest year among those identified. 2019 LF6 has a diameter of about one mile and travels with an orbit that is just above Venus, oscillating slightly beyond it and approaching Mercury.

It is an Atira-type asteroid (a group that includes all the asteroids whose orbit is located entirely within the terrestrial one). This is an interesting discovery also because it is a fairly large asteroid, as specified by Quanzhi Ye, the student at Caltech who made the discovery, who admits that finding such asteroids today has become quite rare as the largest orbiting near almost all have been identified in the Sun.

The orbit of LF6, according to the scholar, is also very unusual, which explains the fact that it was never identified despite its rather bulky size. The researchers used the Palomar Observatory which has a special state-of-the-art camera, the Zwicky Transient Facility, which scans the skies every night to find these objects as well as other phenomena such as explosions and particular stars. 2019 LF6 joins 2019 AQ3, another Atira asteroid from the very short year that orbits the Sun every 165 days.

Both asteroids orbit far outside the plane of the solar system, something that suggests that they have somehow been “thrown out” gravitationally because they are too close to Mercury or Venus, as recalled by Tom Prince, professor of physics Caltech, another author of the research together with George Helou, executive director of the IPAC.

Stonehenge builders used pork fat to transport stones

The issue concerning the Stonehenge complex continues to occupy the minds of historians and researchers: how were these huge 30-ton megaliths moved?

Pork fat may have been used, according to a new study published in Science. The researchers came to this conclusion because findings of ceramics made in the Stonehenge area suggest the idea that sleds were used at that time that flowed more easily thanks to lard or tallow, a system by which Stonehenge builders probably they managed to transport these large stones even from a great distance.

The ceramics with traces of pork fat have been found in a nearby prehistoric village, that of Durrington Walls. According to the researchers, the traces of pigs found do not refer to pieces cooked for the locals or even for the Stonehenge builders as the same traces suggest the presence of whole pig carcasses, only burned at the end of the paw bones.

If they used these ceramic pots to cook pork, they would have to cut the latter into smaller pieces. More likely, according to the researchers, these pigs were roasted on a spit while the jars were used to collect the fat that dripped from the carcasses while they were being cooked.

This fat was then used to better roll the wooden sledges on the trunks in order to transport the large boulders from miles away.

Quantum entanglement was photographed for the first time

A group of researchers from the University of Glasgow, in a study published in Science Advances, claims to have for the first time taken the picture of quantum entanglement, an elusive and in some ways still mysterious phenomenon that Einstein himself had nicknamed “action spectral distance.”

This phenomenon predicts that two particles, once they have interacted in a certain way, in a certain sense remain “connected” whatever the distance between them. While not fully understanding the phenomenon, today quantum entanglement is also exploited in practical applications, especially in quantum computing and quantum cryptography. However, despite being applied in these fields, an image that incorporates this physical state has never been realized.

To do this, researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Glasgow have carried out “an experiment that demonstrates the violation of a Bell inequality within the observed images,” as can be read in the study abstract, an experiment that “is based on the acquisition of images at full-field coincidence of a phase object probed by photons from an entangled pair source.”

Essentially they fired a stream of entangled photons towards “unconventional objects” from a quantum source of light. A special super-sensitive camera, so sensitive that it can also detect individual photons, has captured the image of both the photon and its “twin” with which it was connected.

According to Paul-Antoine Moreau, one of the authors of the study, it is “an elegant demonstration of a fundamental property of nature, seen for the first time in the form of an image.”

“Natural” or “organic” cigarettes show no benefits

The so-called “natural” and “organic” cigarettes show no particular differences, in terms of damage to the human body, compared to classic cigarettes according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota.

Cigarettes described as “natural” or “made from organic tobacco” can, in fact, be found on the market which should imply a reduced risk of exposure to toxic substances. Previous studies have already shown that these advertising labels and slogans, which today in different states are no longer allowed, have succeeded, at least in the past, in their intent: smokers perceive these cigarettes as less harmful than the more classic ones.

The researchers carried out a chemical analysis of 13 varieties of cigarettes advertised as natural or as containing minor amounts of toxic substances. The results of the study, conducted by Irina Stepanov, were then published in Tobacco Regulatory Science. The researchers used a special smoking machine, a device that faithfully simulates cigarette smoke from a human being while measuring the chemical compounds that are emitted.

The results showed that the levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in these “natural” cigarettes are generally similar to those of other commercial cigarettes. Furthermore, these cigarettes would show higher levels of nicotine than the average of the other levels.

The research also shows that the harmful chemicals that enter the body through cigarette smoke come from the tobacco plant itself or from the combustion process of the same and not from the fact that tobacco can be “organic” or “natural,” as specified Aleksandra Alcheva, one of the authors of the study.

Banana fungus parasite reaches Latin America

Researchers feared it for some time, and now, the Colombian Agricultural Institute has issued a press release in which it is confirmed that four banana plantations in the north of the country have been put in quarantine in advance. The suspicion is that the trees may have been from the parasitic fungus Fusarium oxysporum, specifically from the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain, which causes a deadly disease in plants by killing their lymphatic system.

This serious illness had already spread to Asia where it showed that it could literally wipe out entire banana fields, leading, among other things, to the ruin of farmers and all the supply chains of the case. All the central and South American countries have entered into alert even if the infection has yet to be confirmed. There is talk of regions that are among the largest exporters of bananas in the world with countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica that make the export of bananas one of the cornerstones of their economy.

The TR4 strain represents a variation of the so-called Panama disease, a banana disease that already caused considerable problems in the middle of the last century, a pandemic for which the banana industry has made no small effort to recover. However, this strain is much more resistant. It emerged for the first time in Indonesia during the 60s and then spread to many other countries in the world but had not yet reached the countries of Central-South America, the main banana production area in the world.

Farmers and local governments are holding their breath: “We are trying to do it as quickly as possible, but it takes time,” says Fernando Garcia Bastidas, one of the researchers involved in the analysis of samples taken from suspect trees.

As the researchers themselves admit, the tactics that have been implemented in other parts of the world to counteract this parasitic fungus, including replanting with clean soil or very expensive biosecurity measures, could probably not be implemented in Central and South America for the vastness of the fields of production and because many of the companies involved are small family companies or in any case subjects that cannot afford expensive control measures.