Friday, December 21, 2018

Scientists claim progress in earthquake prediction

Credit: Washington Post

The Big One — a catastrophic earthquake — is coming. When? Where? How violent and destructive will it be? Scientists would love to be able to answer these questions, but they’ve been humbled by earthquakes too often. The earth shakes unpredictably. There’s chaos in the mix.

Geophysicists can create hazard maps that show known faults and the probability of an earthquake in the coming decades. That’s not the same thing as predicting an earthquake. It just tells you to live in a reinforced building, brace your bookshelves and stash batteries for an emergency.

Even the famous San Andreas Fault in California, which generated the earthquake that devastated San Francisco in 1906, is stubbornly enigmatic: It could break next week or in 100 years.

But people are still trying to crack the earthquake code. Scientists based at Los Alamos National Laboratory published two papers Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience reporting what they say could be a breakthrough in predicting earthquakes. One paper emerged from laboratory research. The other was focused on subtle seismic signals along the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. (Full story)


Aboard the Rocket Lab mission that launched Saturday night — the California-based company’s first for NASA — was a new technology that will allow operators to identify satellites from the ground, like a license plate helps identify the owner of a car. David Palmer, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, developed the Extremely Low Resource Optical Identifier, or ELROI, that emits short bursts of light in a unique pattern that allow it to be tracked and identified from ground stations. It could help with space traffic management in low-Earth orbit, which is already congested and getting more so as companies plan for constellations of hundreds of satellites. (Full story)

Sea ice: More than just frozen water

A seal rests on a slab of sea ice while a ship
crew walks in the distance.

Long ago, frequented by just a few rugged groups living in the high north, the polar regions are now home to more people than ever, with interests that range across commercial shipping; mining and energy development; recreational fishing; hunting and tourism; scientific research; and military bases and defense operations.

Sea ice creates challenges for all these activities. It makes navigation hazardous for shipping and thick ice complicates the operation and safety of naval submarines. On the other hand, disappearing Arctic ice is changing hunting and fishing practices, as well as the ocean’s acoustic properties.

To support these varied interests, scientists use satellites, aircraft and ships to monitor how far sea ice extends, its thickness in various locations and other topographic characteristics — even its color. Other field research studies the physical and biological processes that influence how ice forms, moves and changes hue. (Full story)

Precision experiment first to isolate, measure weak force between protons, neutrons

Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of scientists has for the first time measured the elusive weak interaction between protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. They had chosen the simplest nucleus consisting of one neutron and one proton for the study.

Through a unique neutron experiment at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, experimental physicists resolved the weak force between the particles at the atom's core, predicted in the Standard Model that describes the elementary particles and their interactions. Their result is sensitive to subtle aspects of the strong force between nuclear particles, which is still poorly understood.

The team's observation, described in Physical Review Letters, culminates decades of work performed with an apparatus known as NPDGamma. The first phase of the experiment took place at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Building on the knowledge gained at LANL, the team moved the project to ORNL to take advantage of the high neutron beam intensity produced at the lab's Spallation Neutron Source. (Full story)

LANL: Top 25 Stories Highlight Science Achievements

From space missions to disease forecasting, particle physics to artificial intelligence, the biggest science news items from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2018 have been gathered in one place: It’s a collection that reflects the significant depth and breadth of national laboratory science.

“The range of technical and scientific capabilities in these stories, as reported by media outlets across the world, reflects the many ways Los Alamos National Laboratory serves the nation,” Laboratory Director Thom Mason said. “We are first and foremost a national security laboratory, but with so many additional strengths, from materials science to life science, physics, and beyond, it is no surprise that this selection of stories is so diverse. I'm proud of our employees at every level who made this science possible.” (Full story)