Scientific discoveries this week: 11-15-10

Milan, Italy – Researchers at the University of Milan in Italy have possibly shown that Hawking Radiation, predicted 36 years ago by Stephen Hawking, exists. Hawking radiation theoretically occurs when a pair of virtual particles comes into existence on the event horizon of a black hole. One of the particles flies into the black hole while the other photon is ejected into space. By building up a potential barrier by skewing the properties of glass with ultra-high energy laser pulses, the scientists were able to replicate what they thought was an event horizon. They then detected the photons emitted by the setup. In addition to expected photons, a set was emitted that did not appear to have come directly from the laser pulse. This experimental setup could prove many years of theory.

Houston, Texas – The Mars rover ”Spirit” may have finally died, after over seven months of radio silence. Team leader Steven Squyres expected the rover to begin transmitting messages a full two weeks ago, due to the spring sun recharging Spirit’s dead batteries. Seeing as the rover has not responded as of yet, Squyres expects that Spirit has finally breathed it’s last, after an enormously successful 6-year mission. If the rover is dead, then NASA will save an estimated $10 million a year. The total operating cost of the mission came to nearly $500 million.

College Park, Maryland – The origins of the plague bacteria that has caused the deaths of untold millions of people throughout history has been narrowed down to central China. Researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, have been building a comprehensive “family tree” of the plague bacteria and have found that the oldest members of the bacterial family are from China. With an estimated age of 2,600 years, researchers expect that the plague bacteria reached Europe via the Silk Road trade route, and other continents by rats hitchhiking on merchant ships.

Corvallis, Oregon – Medusahead grass is beginning to be a major problem in the western United States. Researchers at the University of Oregon in Corvallis, Oregon, have been studying how to stop the invasion of the medusahead grass, an invasive plant that has no natural enemies. The grass out-competes other native grasses due to it’s needle-like leaf characteristics. Cattle and deer won’t touch the grass because it’s leaves are sharp and inedible, and herbicides don’t kill the plant entirely because of a thick layer of protective thatch shelters the seeds near the ground.



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