Electron Lifetime 66,000+ Yottayears

This is a bit of news that actually came out late last year, but still interesting and worth reading about. electron photoScientists have done research and determined that the lifetime of an electron is at least 66,000 yottayears (6.6 × 1028 yr).

This latest search for electron decay was made using the Borexino detector, which is designed primarily to study neutrinos. It is located deep under a mountain at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory to shield it from cosmic rays and comprises 300 tonnes of an organic liquid that is viewed by 2212 photomultipliers.

Photo by Peter Zuco

On Gravitational Waves

I’ve been reading a450px-Spacetime_curvature bit today about this recent discovery of gravitational waves from LIGO. My hope was to get enough of an understanding of what gravitational waves are to explain them to readers here. Turns out, I can’t do a better job of explaining them nor covering the discovery than what this Science News video does, so I’ll just share it rather than try to do better:

I can tell you that Black-hole-collision1gravitational waves are effectively ripples in the fabric of spacetime, spreading much like ripples on the surface of a pond do when a rock is tossed into the pond. They were predicted about a century ago by Einstein as part of his Theory of Relativity, although apparently he didn’t think we’d ever have the technology to detect them. For measurable gravitational waves to even make it to earth, a massive ripple has to be started by an enormous release of energy, such as what happens during the collision of two black holes.

To find out more, read the links offered up above. And if you are interested in helping find more gravitational waves, download and install the Einstein@Home screensaver and make your own contribution to science!

100 Foot Asteroid Flew by Earth Monday Night

In what may or may not have been a close fly-by, asteroid TX68 flew by earth somewhere between 15,000 miles and 3,000,000 miles away on Monday night. First discovered Oct. 6th, 2013, the asteroid flew by then with little data collected. This made the determination of how close the current fly-by would be rather difficult, thus the broad range of distance from Earth. Scientists hope to have a better understanding of the asteroid’s path in space by the next time it comes around.

“There is no concern whatsoever regarding this asteroid — unless you were interested in seeing it with a telescope,” Paul Chodas, manager of CNEOS, assured worried Earthlings in February.

NASA has not yet determined how close TX68 came to Earth, but Rob Landis, a program officer at NASA headquarters, said if the night sky was clear in the west and over Hawaii, NASA should be able to “nail down the orbit.”

Stem Cells in Premature Babies’ Urine

A potential new source has been found for stem cells.

Stem cells are the cellular putty from which all tissues in our body are made. They can be hard to come by though. Embryos provide a great source of stem cells that can change into a whole manner of tissues, but they involve the destruction of an embryo.

As noted in the New Scientist article, scientists have been able to find other sources of stem cells at later stages of development, but this may be a better source than any previously found.

Anxiety and Differences in Perceptions

The following study looked important to me, as I suffer from a general anxiety disorder:

In a study of anxiety sufferers, scientists have learned that people with anxiety likely perceive the world differently. By a series of tests involving sound and financial gaming, scientists examined the perceptions and reactions of people with and without generalized anxiety. There findings suggest that those with anxiety are less able to differentiate between new stimuli than those without. Verbosely (with reference notes removed here):

Recent studies have suggested that overgeneralization can underlie anxiety disorders. OL_p2_Fig1_v1.3In this account, following formation of association between a stimulus and an aversive outcome, stimuli that are only somewhat similar to the original stimulus would still elicit increased anxiety in affected individuals. In an unsafe environment full of complex stimuli where the original stimulus is still dangerous, this is an extreme but rational strategy.

In practical terms, what happened was sounds were played, and a certain sound resulted in increased financial standings in a fictionalized economy. A different sound resulted in decreased financial standings. A third sound was standing neutral, with no increase or decrease associated. Later, outside the game, similar sounds were used, and those with anxiety had greater reactions to the sounds similar to those which were used within the game.