Friday, May 28, 2021


Are we doing enough to protect Earth from asteroids?

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will try to alter the course of a space rock, NASA illustration.


No federal organization is specifically tasked with deflecting asteroids. But people are working on it anyway. One agency steeped in the effort is the Department of Energy.  At Los Alamos National Laboratory, Cathy Plesko does asteroid mitigation research. She got into planetary defense by studying impact craters on Mars using computer models. 


“But how do you stop making a crater?” she wondered. One day a senior astrophysicist at the lab said he thought the same sorts of code she used to model the craters could be used to model asteroid mitigation: They would show how an asteroid would react if something impacted it—rather than if it impacted something. This was the very stoppage she was wondering about. (Full Story)


Study plucks rare quasicrystal from wreckage of first atomic bomb test


Rare red trinitite, from SciAm.


Terry C. Wallace, director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of the paper, says that quasicrystals might one day be able to be used to piece together information about old nuclear tests.


“Understanding another country’s nuclear weapons requires that we have a clear understanding of their nuclear testing programs,” says Wallace. “We typically analyze radioactive debris and gases to understand how the weapons were built or what materials they contained, but those signatures decay. A quasicrystal that is formed at the site of a nuclear blast can potentially tell us new types of information—and they’ll exist forever.” (Full Story)


Shining a light against hackers


Ray Newell, LANL photo.


One of the issues Ray Newell thought he might face in describing his current project as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory was to get people interested in it.Then, hackers gained control of the Colonial Pipeline’s operating computers and, all of a sudden, Newell’s project gained very real-world emphasis.


The shutdown in early May disrupted gas supplies along the East Coast and caused panic buying, 1970s-like gas lines and empty fuel stations. “We have seen with the Colonial Pipeline attack, how impactful these issues can be on our daily lives,” Newell said. Newell and his team have been concentrating on protecting electrical grids, with technology already in use at the lab and the connecting Los Alamos grid. (Full Story)


The pebbled path to planets


Possible newfound planet near the star CoKu Tau 4, NASA/JPL illustration


study published this past February showed how planetesimal collisions could have produced Jupiter, no pebble accretion needed. Gennaro D’Angelo at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and his colleagues authored the work. Their new paper doesn’t rule out pebble accretion; it just shows that it may not be the only explanation for planets. Scientists still need to explore other possibilities.


Pebble accretion helps explain conditions under which big planets can form, D’Angelo says. But that process depends on getting the timing and temperature just right. Without that, the pebbles might drift too quickly through the disk, he says, and the growing planet “might not have time to accrete them.” (Full Story)

Podcast: Where did Mars’s water go?


Mars crater filled with water, NASA illustration.


Perseverance’s rover predecessor, Curiosity, had a laser too. The very first time Curiosity fired that laser into the Martian dirt, it saw that the dusty clay the rover was driving through had water in it. Not much, but water all the same. Here’s Roger Wiens —he’s managed the laser instruments on both rovers.


Roger Wiens: It’s a very interesting thing because the amount of water in that soil and dust on Mars is just about equivalent to, say, a soil in southern New Mexico during the summer, which, while it may be a bit of a desert, is not one of the driest places on Earth at all. (Full Story)


Three Los Alamos scientists honored by American Nuclear Society


Mark B. Chadwick, left, Stuart A. Maloy, center,and D.V. Rao, LANL photos.


Two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory were named fellows of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and a third was recognized with a special award. Mark B. Chadwick, chief scientist and chief operating officer of Weapons Physics, and Stuart A. Maloy, deputy group leader for Materials Science at Radiation and Dynamic Extremes, were named fellows, while D.V. Rao, program director for the Laboratory’s Civilian Nuclear Program, earned a special award for making advanced nuclear energy systems a reality.


“The meticulous work of D.V., Mark, and Stu as they deliver advances vital to our national security mission is inspiring,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “The American Nuclear Society’s decisions to designate two Los Alamos National Laboratory employees as fellows and to give a special award to D.V. are evidence of this trio’s sizable contributions to nuclear security and clean energy.” (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


Three LANL postdocs invited to 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting


From left, Abolt, Bartlow and de Souza Zanotta Dumit, LANL photos.


Last month, the University of California announced its second class of UC President’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Fellows, an extraordinary group of 30 young scientists selected from the 10 UC campuses and three national laboratories to attend invitation-only lectures and small seminars with about 40 Nobel laureates from around the world.


Three LANL postdocs have been selected for the Meeting, which takes place this summer. Chuck Abolt: Computational Earth Science, Andrew Bartlow: Biosecurity and Public Health, and Sara de Souza Zanotta Dumit: Radiation Protection. (Full Story)




LANL Foundation launches 2021 Bright Futures fundraising campaign

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of its 2021 Bright Futures Fundraising Campaign, with the goal of raising $100,000 additional dollars for its scholarship program. Throughout the campaign, the Foundation will share the stories of current LANL Scholars and alumni who reflect on how the LANL Foundation Scholarships have helped them build brighter futures. The Foundation will also share donors’ stories, through which they explore why they are inspired to give to the LANL Foundation Scholarships. (Full Story)



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