Friday, January 15, 2016

 Hunting space rocks on blue ice

Nina Lanza searching for meteorites in the Trans-Antarctica Mountains. Lanza photo.

Nina Lanza is studying the solar system by spending six weeks on an ice sheet in Antarctica. The 36-year-old staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is on a treasure hunt of sorts, scouring the windswept landscape for meteorites that have landed on the ice and remained there untouched for thousands, if not millions, of years. With no water or soil to cover them, meteorites in Antarctica remain in pristine condition for millennia.

To find them, Lanza and seven others are snowmobiling through the Trans-Antarctica Mountains. When they find a promising spot, they get off their vehicles and, like beachcombers scouring sand for seashells, they walk slowly and look carefully at the ground. The meteorites have a distinct worn and pitted metallic surface, which differentiates them from other rocks formed in Antarctica. (Full Story)

See Lanza in this episode of Science in 60

Science on the Hill: The forecast calls for flu

A team from Los Alamos has developed a method to predict flu outbreaks based in part on influenza-related searches of Wikipedia. LANL photo.

This time of year, we all know people with chills and a fever. Coughing and sneezing, they spend a few miserable days in bed. They might have more than a cold — it could be the flu. That can be serious business. Seasonal influenza strikes up to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and sends more than 200,000 people a year to the hospital.           

A research team at Los Alamos National Laboratory found a way to forecast the flu season and even next week’s sickness trends — in the form of everyone’s favorite online reference, Wikipedia. (Full Story)

Los Alamos plasma research shows promise for future compact accelerator

The Trident Laser target chamber. LANL photo.             

A transformative breakthrough in controlling ion beams allows small-scale laser-plasma accelerators to deliver unprecedented power densities. That development offers benefits in a wide range of applications, including nuclear fusion experiments, cancer treatments, and security scans to detect smuggled nuclear materials.

“In our research, plasma uses the energy stored in its electromagnetic fields to self-organize itself in such a way to reduce the energy-spread of the laser-plasma ion accelerator,” said Sasikumar Palaniyappan of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plasma Physics group. “In the past, most of the attempts to solve this problem required active plasma control, which is difficult.” (Full Story)

Machine learning helps discover the most luminous supernova in history

Illustration of supernova ASASSN-15lh, from Beijing Planetarium.

Machine-learning technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory played a key role in the discovery of supernova ASASSN-15lh, an exceptionally powerful explosion that was 570 billion times brighter than the sun and more than twice as luminous as the previous record-holding supernova. This extraordinary event marking the death of a star was identified by the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN) and is described in a new study published today in Science.

"This is a golden age for studying changes in astronomical objects thanks to rapid growth in imaging and computing technology," said Przemek Wozniak, the principal investigator of the project that created the software system used to spot ASASSN-15lh. (Full Story)


A starquake 50,000 light years away can affect Earth, NASA illustration.

David Palmer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, got an email asking if the pulse detection software he had designed for the SWIFT satellite had gotten any weird readings that day.

“I thought, it was probably a giant burst [from a star], or there was something going wrong in the instrument,” Palmer said. But he and researchers all over the world concluded that the satellite was fine — and that the mass of radiation that hit the earth came from something called a starquake. (Full Story)

Hour of Code with assistance from LANL volunteers

About 1,000 students recently participated in Hour of Code. LAPS photo.              

During the Hour of Code sessions, students accessed a website and utilized a set of tutorials to learn state-of-the-art computer science concepts. Approximately 50 Los Alamos National Laboratory volunteers helped facilitate the Hour of Code sessions.

In previous years, the theme of the Computer Science Education Week tutorials was Angry Birds and Frozen. This year, the theme was Star Wars and Minecraft. More than 1,000 Los Alamos students participated in fun activities and watched inspiring videos. (Full Story)

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