Scientific discoveries this week: 10-10-11

Nantes, France – New evidence shows that there may be ice on Mercury’s surface, defying the long-held belief that the hot planet is completely dry. Several years ago, astronomers took radar images of the planet and found many little patches on the planet’s surface that were much more reflective than the surrounding areas. After NASA’s Messenger spacecraft had been orbiting the planet for a few months, astronomers concluded that these bright patches could be ice. It was determined that the small patches lay at the bottom of deep craters near the Mercury’s poles, where they are not exposed to the sun’s light. This environment would allow ice to remain frozen despite the searing temperatures on the planet’s surface.

Durham, North Carolina – Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have begun working on a new prosthetic limb technology. Their prosthetic limbs would give the user tactile feedback, rather than simple motor control. The shortfall of current prosthetics is that the user has no idea what their artificial hand or foot is feeling. Simple tasks such as lifting a cup of water become nearly impossible without the tactile feedback. Duke University Neurologist Miguel Nicolelis has been working on a new technology that implants a set of electrodes in the brain, providing a tactile awareness from a set of sensors on the prosthetic limb. With one electrode in the motor center and one in the sensory center of the brain, Nicolelis can “close the loop,” allowing the user to “feel” the sensations that the prosthetic is “feeling,” and respond accordingly.

Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany – Earth’s abundant water may have come from comets, according to a new study by researchers at Max Planck Institute in Germany. Scientists have long wondered where Earth’s water came from, in light of their belief that during the formation of Earth, the surface temperature was so hot that all volatiles, including water, would have dissipated into space. Therefore the water currently present on Earth must have come from elsewhere in space. This study also suggests that asteroids would have contributed to much of the Earth’s oceans, supplementing the comet’s contribution.

Geneva, Switzerland – The head scientists at the world’s three largest physics research centers have formally stated that they will pursue proving or disproving the existence of the Higgs Boson, a particle whose existence is postulated to be necessary in order to hold modern physics particle together. CERN’s lead physicist, Rolf Heuer, said that he hopes to present a conclusion “by this time next year,” in a statement last Thursday. The Higgs Boson is the particle believed by modern physicists to have given the “Big Bang” it’s shape, and allowed the universe to exist on a particle level. If it does not in fact exist, then our understanding of particle physics will be fundamentally altered.

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