Physics Today's Ashley Smart describes a huge recent win for citizen science: some 30,000 volunteers pored over millions of microscopic images looking for dust collected a decade ago by NASA's Stardust probe, and their efforts have helped identify candidate interstellar grains:
"Whereas the interplanetary dust that inhabits our solar system consists mostly of debris from disintegrating comets and asteroid collisions, most interstellar dust originates in the outflows of dying stars. For observational astronomers, interstellar dust is mostly a nuisance: It obscures and distorts their view of the wider cosmos. For astrophysicists, the grains hold precious clues about how stars and galaxies evolve..."
Future wind farms could be inspired by schooling fish
John Dabiri, an aeronautics and bioengineering professor at Caltech, describes new designs for inexpensively harvesting wind energy that were inspired by the fluid mechanics of fish schools:
"Observations of fish schooling in the ocean inspired my colleagues and me to pursue physical principles that could enable wind-farm design to go beyond the usual strategies and achieve synergies in farm-scale aerodynamics. Like the wind turbines, individual swimming fish generate turbulent wakes that could negatively affect their neighbors. Yet, rather than take the prevailing approach in wind-farm design and simply spread out as far as possible to avoid hydrodynamic interactions, the fish instead coordinate their swimming in relatively close proximity..."
DARPA wants help to discover positioning technology beyond GPS
Physics Today's David Kramer reports on some of the technologies the defense agency is pursuing to provide precise navigation when GPS is unavailable:
"Since its advent in the 1990s, the global positioning system has become ubiquitous in both the military and civilian worlds. But for all its precision, GPS has major limitations. Topping the list is its vulnerability to jamming of the signals from the GPS satellite constellation. Moreover, GPS does not work underwater or underground and can be degraded or unavailable during solar storms…"
How to deal with climate change
A strong feature by Paul Higgins, the director of the policy program at the American Meteorological Society, who tackles one of the defining complex and contentious issues of our time:
"Even setting aside disagreement among experts over the likely consequences -- and the inescapable uncertainty that disagreement reveals -- climate change represents a difficult risk-management challenge. Policy responses necessarily integrate both scientific information and subjective value judgments. Science can inform us about the climate system and our relationship with it. But it can’t tell us whether to care more about our children and their children or about ourselves. Science can’t decide what is fair for different nations and peoples…"