NASA scientists record earthquake on Mars for first time

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For the first time since landing on Mars in November, NASA’s InSight mission has recorded and measured what scientists believe to be a “marsquake.”

Martian winds have been recorded on the surface and can be heard on the recording released by the agency.

But then, a deeper sound emerges, recorded by the lander’s seismometer that was installed on the Red Planet’s surface in December.

It’s a seismic signal that was recorded April 6, and by all indications, the InSight team believes this sound is a quake from within the planet rather than something on the surface.

The InSight Twitter account shared the recording Tuesday: “Mars, I hear you. I’ve detected some quiet but distinct shaking on #Mars. The faint rumbles appear to have come from the inside of the planet and are still being studied by my team. Take a listen.”

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NASA InSight

@NASAInSight

Mars, I hear you. I’ve detected some quiet but distinct shaking on . The faint rumbles appear to have come from the inside of the planet, and are still being studied by my team. Take a listen.👂http://go.nasa.gov/2GCEBtm 

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The data will continue to be studied so that scientists can be sure of the signal’s origin.

Smaller seismic signals were detected on Mars in March and April, but researchers aren’t sure about their origin, and they are being studied. Luckily, the Martian surface is quiet, and the seismometer was designed to pick up on smaller rumbles just like this one.

If this had happened on Earth, it probably wouldn’t have been detected above the surface vibrations caused by weather and oceans.

“InSight’s first readings carry on the science that began with NASA’s Apollo missions,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We’ve been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!”

The European Space Agency released an image taken by its Mars Express mission on Thursday, showing the crater filled with water ice.
Mars (AP)

This quake is similar to the ones measured on the moon during the Apollo missions. Between 1969 and 1977, five seismometers installed by Apollo astronauts measured thousands of quakes, shedding light on the moon’s seismic activity.

Mars and the moon don’t have tectonic plates, which is the cause of quakes on Earth; their quakes are caused by cooling and contraction, which create stress fractures on the crust.

Seismic activity can paint a picture of the interior of a planet and how it was formed, which is one of InSight’s main objectives for Mars.

However, the new signal is too small and faint to provide a clear picture of the Martian interior.”We’ve been waiting months for a signal like this,” said Philippe Lognonné, seismometer team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.

“It’s so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We’re looking forward to sharing detailed results once we’ve had a chance to analyze them.”

© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019

Pink Moon will light up skies tonight – but it will actually appear ORANGE

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It’s the weekend we’ve all been looking forward to, and now the Easter Bank Holiday has finally started!

But it’s not just Good Friday you have to enjoy today – there’s also a full Pink Moon.

If you love the color pink, you might slightly disappointed to hear that despite its name, the Pink Moon won’t actually be that color. Instead, it’s likely to have more of an orange hue.

However, it’s still set to be a beautiful event that’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for!

Here’s everything you need to know about the Pink Moon, including how and when to see it.

When is the Pink Moon?

This year, the Pink Moon will appear tonight, on Friday 19 April.

(Image: ARMANDO BABANI/EPA-EFE/REX)

The full moon phase will begin at 12:12 BST but should last through the night.

For your best chance of seeing it, try to head to an area with little light pollution so the moon will look particularly bright in the night sky!

What is the Pink Moon?

The Pink Moon is the second full moon in April.

(Image: PA)

It occurs when the moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun, meaning its face is fully illuminated.

Why is it called the Pink Moon?

In Native American tribes, this moon was called the Full Pink Moon because it marked the appearance of a type of moss, called ‘pink moss.’

It’s also known as the Egg Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Growing Moon or Full Fish Moon.

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Southern California tickled by tiny tremors every 3 minutes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on in Southern California — 10 times more than seismologists had thought. But most of those earthquakes are so tiny that no one feels them.

Using a more accurate way of finding teeny tiny earthquakes, scientists counted 1.8 million of the temblors in Southern California from 2008 to 2017, according to a report in Thursday’s journal Science. The current catalog of quakes for the area has just under 180,000 for that decade.

Earthquakes happen when two blocks of Earth suddenly slip past each other. California is a seismic hotspot in the Lower 48 for earthquakes because of its many faults, including the San Andreas.

The new report found, on average, a tiny quake happening about every three minutes. Most were below magnitude 1.

“It means the Earth is failing all the time,” said study lead author Zachary Ross, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

By finding more of these micro quakes, Ross and colleagues hope to find patterns about shaking swarms and better information about faults to help understand and maybe even predict the rarer but more dangerous larger quakes.

“Right now we really don’t understand fundamental things about earthquakes,” Ross said. “Anything would be a great help.”

Paul Earle, operations chief at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center who isn’t part of the study, said the research gives experts “a new set of glasses for looking inside the Earth.”

To find the smaller quakes, the researchers used an older method that is based on the premise that earthquakes from certain places have unique wave patterns. “Kind of like fingerprints,” said USGS seismologist Susan Hough. She wasn’t part of the study but called it “pretty cool.”

The researchers looked for those quake fingerprints that wouldn’t normally be seen unless you look just for them. The devices that look for shaking are so sensitive they can even detect traffic, construction, ocean waves and large earthquakes across the planet, Ross said.

While computing power limited this type of work in the past, use of a supercomputer and new algorithms allowed the Ross team to do the needed work to find the Southern California quakes.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears.

Women to conquer space! NASA astronaut to set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman

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NASA astronaut Christina Koch is going to have her mission on the International Space Station (ISS) extended to 328 days, which would set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, the US space agency said. NASA and its ISS partners have set a new schedule and new crew assignments that will include the first flight of NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and an extended stay for NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan. Koch, who arrived at the space station on March 14, and now is scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020, will eclipse the record of 288 days set by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2016-17. She will be part of three expeditions — 59, 60 and 61 — during her current first spaceflight, NASA said in a statement.

“Christina’s extended mission will provide additional data for NASA’s Human Research Program and continue to support future missions to the Moon and Mars,” said Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, US. Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut — 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16. Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Nick Hague, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will remain aboard the space station and begin Expedition 60.

On July 20, Morgan, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov are scheduled to launch to the space station and join Expedition 60, returning the orbiting laboratory’s crew complement to six. The extended missions of Koch and Morgan will help scientists gather additional data about the effects of long-duration human spaceflight beyond those of the normal six-month station expedition, NASA said. Such research is essential to support future deep space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, according to the US space agency.

NASA has gathered vast amounts of data on astronaut health and performance over the past 50 years and has focused recently on extended durations up to one year with the dedicated mission of Scott Kelly and extended mission of Peggy Whitson. These opportunities also have demonstrated that there is a significant degree of variability in human response to spaceflight and it is important to determine the acceptable degree of change for both men and women.

“Astronauts demonstrate amazing resilience and adaptability in response to long duration spaceflight exposure,” said Fogarty. “This will enable successful exploration missions with healthy, performance-ready astronauts. NASA is looking to build on what we have learned with additional astronauts in space for more than 250 days,” she said.

NASA: Saturn’s moon Titan has 100-m deep methane lakes

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Saturn’s largest moon Titan has small liquid lakes that run more than 100 meters deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane, scientists have found using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The findings, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, are the first confirmation of just how deep some of Titan’s lakes are (more than 300 feet, or 100 meters) and of their composition. They provide new information about the way liquid methane rains on, evaporates from and seeps into Titan — the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface.

Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s — with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane. We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurised in a tank. However, Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet. Scientists have known that the much larger northern seas are filled with methane, but finding the smaller northern lakes filled mostly with methane was a surprise.

Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere. There they found a roughly equal mix of methane and ethane. Ethane is slightly heavier than methane, with more carbon and hydrogen atoms in its makeup. “Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Cassini radar scientist at California Institute of Technology in the US. “But these new measurements help give an answer to a few key questions.

We can actually now better understand the hydrology of Titan,” Mastrogiuseppe said in a statement. Adding to the oddities of Titan, with its Earth-like features carved by exotic materials, is the fact that the hydrology on one side of the northern hemisphere is completely different than the that of other side, said Cassini scientist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in the US. “It is as if you looked down on the Earth’s North Pole and could see that North America had completely different geologic setting for bodies of liquid than Asia does,” Lunine said. On the eastern side of Titan, there are big seas with low elevation, canyons and islands.

On the western side: small lakes. And the new measurements show the lakes perched atop big hills and plateaus. The new radar measurements confirm earlier findings that the lakes are far above sea level, but they conjure a new image of landforms — like mesas or buttes — sticking hundreds of feet above the surrounding landscape, with deep liquid lakes on top. The fact that these western lakes are small — just tens of miles across — but very deep also tells scientists something new about their geology: It’s the best evidence yet that they likely formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed.

On Earth, similar water lakes are known as karstic lakes. Occurring in in areas like Germany, Croatia and the US, they form when water dissolves limestone bedrock. The research also helped unravel more of the mystery of Titan’s hydrologic cycle. Researchers used Cassini data to reveal what they call transient lakes. Different sets of observations — from radar and infrared data — seem to show liquid levels significantly changed. Cassini, which arrived in the Saturn system in 2004 and ended its mission in 2017 by deliberately plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, mapped more than 1.6 million square kilometers of liquid lakes and seas on Titan’s surface.

NASA’s Cassini reveals surprises with Titan’s lakes

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On its final flyby of Saturn’s largest moon in 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gathered radar data revealing that the small liquid lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere are surprisingly deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane.

The new findings, published April 15 in Nature Astronomy, are the first confirmation of just how deep some of Titan’s lakes are (more than 300 feet, or 100 meters) and of their composition. They provide new information about the way liquid methane rains on, evaporates from and seeps into Titan — the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface.

Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s — with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane. We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurized in a tank. But Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet.

Scientists have known that the much larger northern seas are filled with methane, but finding the smaller northern lakes filled mostly with methane was a surprise. Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere. There they found a roughly equal mix of methane and ethane. Ethane is slightly heavier than methane, with more carbon and hydrogen atoms in its makeup.

“Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said lead author Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Cassini radar scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But these new measurements help give an answer to a few key questions. We can actually now better understand the hydrology of Titan.”

Adding to the oddities of Titan, with its Earth-like features carved by exotic materials, is the fact that the hydrology on one side of the northern hemisphere is completely different than the that of other side, said Cassini scientist and co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“It is as if you looked down on the Earth’s North Pole and could see that North America had completely different geologic setting for bodies of liquid than Asia does,” Lunine said.

On the eastern side of Titan, there are big seas with low elevation, canyons and islands. On the western side: small lakes. And the new measurements show the lakes perched atop big hills and plateaus. The new radar measurements confirm earlier findings that the lakes are far above sea level, but they conjure a new image of landforms — like mesas or buttes — sticking hundreds of feet above the surrounding landscape, with deep liquid lakes on top.

The fact that these western lakes are small — just tens of miles across — but very deep also tells scientists something new about their geology: It’s the best evidence yet that they likely formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed. On Earth, similar water lakes are known as karstic lakes. Occurring in in areas like Germany, Croatia and the United States, they form when water dissolves limestone bedrock.

Alongside the investigation of deep lakes, a second paper in Nature Astronomy helps unravel more of the mystery of Titan’s hydrologic cycle. Researchers used Cassini data to reveal what they call transient lakes. Different sets of observations — from radar and infrared data — seem to show liquid levels significantly changed.

The best explanation is that there was some seasonally driven change in the surface liquids, said lead author Shannon MacKenzie, planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “One possibility is that these transient features could have been shallower bodies of liquid that over the course of the season evaporated and infiltrated into the subsurface,” she said.

These results and the findings from the Nature Astronomy paper on Titan’s deep lakes support the idea that hydrocarbon rain feeds the lakes, which then can evaporate back into the atmosphere or drain into the subsurface, leaving reservoirs of liquid stored below.

Cassini, which arrived in the Saturn system in 2004 and ended its mission in 2017 by deliberately plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, mapped more than 620,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) of liquid lakes and seas on Titan’s surface. It did the work with the radar instrument, which sent out radio waves and collected a return signal (or echo) that provided information about the terrain and the liquid bodies’ depth and composition, along with two imaging systems that could penetrate the moon’s thick atmospheric haze.

The crucial data for the new research were gathered on Cassini’s final close flyby of Titan, on April 22, 2017. It was the mission’s last look at the moon’s smaller lakes, and the team made the most of it. Collecting echoes from the surfaces of small lakes while Cassini zipped by Titan was a unique challenge.

“This was Cassini’s last hurrah at Titan, and it really was a feat,” Lunine said

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

‘Physics was built by men’: Cern suspends scientist over remarks

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A senior Italian scientist has been suspended after he sparked fury during a presentation at Cern, the European nuclear research center in Geneva when he said physics was “invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation”.

Prof Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University claimed during a seminar on gender issues in physics that male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology.

Cern issued a statement on Monday suspending Strumia with immediate effect pending an investigation for his “unacceptable” presentation, which was “contrary to the Cern code of conduct”.

“Cern always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment,” it said. However, attendees questioned why he was allowed to speak at all, given that his views are widely known.

Strumia told the audience, mostly comprising female physicists, those female researchers in Italy tended to benefit from either “free or cheaper university” education, while Oxford University in England “extends exam times for women’s benefit”.

Strumia defended his comments, telling the Guardian that his detractors were “trying to paint me as a monster who discriminates against women” and that his presentation of “facts” was in response to statements made about men discriminating against women.

Physics Scientist at work © Getty Physics Scientist at work He said data showed male and female scientists were equally cited in presentations, and that women were favored when it came to hiring. “This is not the message they wanted [to hear] at this conference,” he said.

Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, said claims by a participant at the event that the sphere of physics was second only to the military for sexual abuse were “totally absurd”.

He said: “These people are so worried about problems that don’t exist. What I actually said has a good purpose. We are not discriminating, women have been helped for years.”

Cern, whose director general is the Italian physicist Fabiola Gianotti, described Strumia’s presentation as highly offensive and removed the slides used in his talk from its website.

It said: “The organisers from Cern and several collaborating universities were not aware of the content of the talk prior to the workshop. Diversity is a strong reality at Cern and is also one of the core values underpinning our code of conduct. The organisation is fully committed to promoting diversity and equality at all levels.”

However, the slideshow was circulated online, with one sentence saying that prominent female physicists, such as Marie Curie, were “welcomed only after showing what they can do, got Nobels … ”

Strumia claimed he had been overlooked for a role in favour of a woman and that anyone who spoke out was attacked, censored or risked losing their job. “I like physics and science because everyone can do what they want. I don’t like it when there’s social engineering to decide how many men, women and categories there should be,” he said.

Male teacher leading physics lesson at whiteboard in classroom © Getty Male teacher leading physics lesson at whiteboard in classroom Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist from Imperial College London who attended the event, said Strumia’s presentation was terrifying and simplistic, and that she felt awful for “every young high-energy physicist in that room” who would have had “all of their enthusiasm sucked away”.

“Only those who have done an academic presentation can understand the sense of terror, and then absolute joy, that you get presenting your research to a field of experts,” she said.

“It’s such a rush, [especially when] you realise that you’ve done a cutting-edge piece of science that no one’s ever done. But to have all of that enthusiasm sucked away because someone tells you that you are only there because you are a woman is the most horrible feeling in the entire world.”

She added that he drew upon discredited research and that it was unjust to refer to somebody’s number of citations as a metric for ability given that the whole process of peer reviewing is biased against women and non-westerners in the first instance.

“I have no personal vendetta against this man, I just don’t like the toxic and incorrect messages he propagates,” she said after it emerged Sturmia had been suspended. “I’d rather he had some training in unconscious, or rather conscious, bias and read Angela Saini’s Inferior.”

Excited teacher looking at group of students while explaining his subject © Getty Excited teacher looking at group of students while explaining his subject Profe Anne-Christine Davis of Cambridge University, who was in Geneva for the event but left a day before his presentation, said: “His comments were absolutely outrageous. They are the sort of comments that people may have made decades ago but, coming in this day and age, I just don’t know what planet he lives on.”

Davis said “there’s an unconscious bias going on all the time”, and that women often lose out on roles.

In response to his comments on sexual harassment, Davis, who was a victim of it at the early stage of her career, said: “He’s clearly someone who’s never been on the receiving end of sexual harassment, but actually quite a lot of female physicists have been.”

Gianotti became the first woman to hold the five-year mandate as director general of Cern in 2016. She said in an interview earlier this year that “fundamental sciences are still male-dominated”, but that she never personally felt discrimination.

However, Gianotti, who led Atlas, one of Cern’s two main detector projects that pinpointed the Higgs Boson particle, added that while her role “demonstrated there is no prejudice against women in those positions, some of my female colleagues had a much harder time than I did”.

ISRO to set up its first overseas ground station at North Pole

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is drawing up plans to set up its inaugural overseas ground station at the North Pole.

The objective of the plan is to increase the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) operations that are critical not only for civilian needs like disaster management but also for the armed forces. China has already had a functional ground station at the North pole.

GSLV MK-III © ISRO GSLV MK-III

ISRO has full-grown IRS programme with a constellation of earth observation satellites. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad has the responsibility of data acquisition and processing, data dissemination, aerial remote sensing and decision support for disaster management.

Speaking to The Times of India one of the scientists from ISRO said that “So far as the station at the North Pole goes, ISRO is serious about it. But the plan will take some time to materialize as it involves huge logistical challenges, international approvals, and co-operation. But we will surely have it.”

The weather conditions are extremely harsh and cold in this region and are considered even more difficult than the South Pole, any hardware installation is a challenging task.

The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. © NSF The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica.

The scientists stressed on the need for the 14-orbit coverage and said that the technological advancement in the high-resolution satellite programs of IRS has resulted in a multi-fold increase in the complexity, including the enhanced role of ground stations.

The scientist added that “high-resolution satellites need frequent visibilities with larger processing power, data storage capacity onboard, data downlink of stored image to ground stations for meeting the global and Indian user requirements.”

ISRO meets its global requirement through NRSC’s IMGEOS at Shadnagar which was made functional and commissioned in 2011 and Antarctica based AGEOS which was commissioned in the year 2013 and partially through SVALBARD ground station which is not an ISRO property.

 

Meanwhile, the plan of installing the second data reception antenna at the AGEOS in Antarctica this year has been delayed and expected to be done sometime next year. The AGEOS which is situated in Antarctica, at Bharati Station, Larsemann Hills, is receiving IRS data from satellites like Resourcesat-2, Risat-2, the Cartosat family of satellites, Saral and Oceansat, and further transmitting the same to Shadnagar.

Scientists hunt for ‘dark force’ to discover what the universe is made of

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Scientists are about to launch an ambitious search for a “dark force” of nature which, if found, would open the door to a realm of the universe that lies hidden from view.

The hunt will seek evidence for a new fundamental force that forms a bridge between the ordinary matter of the world around us and the invisible “dark sector” that is said to make up the vast majority of the cosmos.

The chances of success may be slim, but should such a force be found it would rank among the most dramatic discoveries in the history of physics. The best theory of reality that physicists have explains only 4% of the observable universe. The rest is a mystery made up of dark matter, the strange material that lurks around galaxies, and the even more baffling dark energy, a substance called upon to explain the ever-accelerating expansion of the universe.

“At the moment, we don’t know what more than 90% of the universe is made of,” said Mauro Raggi, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome. “If we find this force it will completely change the paradigm we have now. It would open up a new world and help us to understand the particles and forces that compose the dark sector.”

Physicists, to date, know of only four basic forces of nature. The electromagnetic force allows for vision and mobile phone calls but also stops us falling through our chairs. Without the so-called strong force, the innards of atoms would fall apart. The weak force operates in radiation, and gravity – the most pervasive of nature’s forces – keeps our feet rooted to the ground.

But there may be other forces that have gone unnoticed. These would shape the behavior of the so far unknown particles that constitute dark matter, and could potentially exert the most subtle effects on the forces we are more familiar with.

This month, Raggi and his colleagues will turn on an instrument at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics near Rome which is designed to hunt down a possible fifth force of nature. Known as Padme, for Positron Annihilation into Dark Matter Experiment, the machine will record what happens when a diamond wafer a tenth of a millimeter thick is blasted with a stream of antimatter particles called positrons.

When positrons slam into the diamond wafer, they immediately merge with electrons and vanish in a faint burst of energy. Normally, the energy released is in the form of two particles of light called photons. But if a fifth force exists in nature, something different will happen. Instead of producing two visible photons, the collisions will occasionally release only one, alongside a so-called “dark photon”. This curious, hypothetical particle is the dark sector’s equivalent of a particle of light. It carries the equivalent of a dark electromagnetic force.

Unlike normal particles of light, any dark photons produced in Padme will be invisible to the instrument’s detector. But by comparing the energy and direction of the positrons fired in, with whatever comes out, scientists can tell if an invisible particle has been created and work out its mass. Though normal photons are massless, dark photons are not, and Padme will search for those up to 50 times heavier than an electron.

The dark photon, if it exists, would have an imperceptible influence on what makes up the world we see. But knowing its mass, and the kinds of particles it can break down into would provide the first glimpse of what makes up the bulk of the universe that is beyond our perception.

The Padme experiment will run until at least the end of the year, but there are tentative plans to move the instrument to Cornell University in 2021. There it would be hooked up to a more powerful particle accelerator than in Italy to broaden its search for dark photons.

Other laboratories around the world are also looking for dark photons. Bryan McKinnon, a research fellow at Glasgow University, is involved in the search for the particle at the Thomas Jefferson national accelerator facility in Virginia. “The dark photon, if it exists, is effectively a portal,” he said. “It lets us peer into the dark sector to see what is happening. It won’t open the floodgates, but it will allow us to have a little look.”

Physicists have little idea how complex the dark sector might be. There may be no new forces to discover. Dark matter itself may be shaped by gravity alone and made up of only one type of particle. But it may be a far richer realm, where new kinds of invisible particles and forces wait to be found.

According to McKinnon, the very fact that modern theories leave room for exotic particles like dark photons means that physicists feel compelled to search for them. “It would definitely be a huge thing in physics if some evidence of a dark sector was found,” he said. “Right now, it’s labeled as such because it’s the stuff we don’t understand. If a door can be opened, what will come out? That’s guesswork right now.”

Since the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in 2012, particle physicists have had little to get excited about. But the dearth of new findings from major facilities has boosted efforts at smaller labs to perform long-shot experiments with potentially huge pay-offs. What are the odds that Padme will find the fifth force? “We are shooting in the dark in every sense,” said Raggi. “But if you are shooting, you at least have a chance.”

Saturn’s auroras sure do look pretty

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Here on Earth, auroras are a pretty neat sight to see. The phenomenon, commonly called the “Northern Lights,” is fairly well understood by scientists. They occur when charged particles from the Sun are funneled towards Earth’s poles by our planet’s magnetic field. Those particles then interact with various gasses in Earth’s atmosphere and create a brilliant light show in the night sky.

We might think of auroras as being special to Earth, but in reality, they are possible on any planet with a magnetic field and an atmosphere. Saturn happens to be one of those planets, and researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope recently observed what auroras look like on Saturn’s north pole.

The image you see above is actually a composite. The auroras observed on Saturn occur in ultraviolet wavelengths, so they’re not visible when looking at the planet in what we know as visible light. What you’re seeing is the ultraviolet images of Saturn’s aurora layered over another image of Saturn in the visible spectrum taken at a later date.

As the European Space Agency notes along with the release of the images, Saturn’s auroras occur in these wavelengths due to the fact that the planet’s atmosphere is hydrogen rich. On Earth, visible auroras occur thanks to the presence of oxygen and nitrogen, producing the colorful brush strokes of light in the sky. Still, Hubble’s instruments are able to see them lighting up the planet’s poles all the same.

A video,  showing a succession of different aurora observations over a short period of time suggests that Saturn’s auroras spin and swirl much like those that we are used to seeing on Earth. You wouldn’t be able to see them with the naked eye, but they’re there.

“The variability of the auroras is influenced by both the solar wind and the rapid rotation of Saturn, which lasts only about 11 hours,” ESA writes. “On top of this, the northern aurora displays two distinct peaks in brightness — at dawn and just before midnight. The latter peak, unreported before, seems specific to the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere at Saturn’s solstice.”