Scientific discoveries this week: 4-23-12

Concepci√≥n, Chile – According to a new study by astronomers in Chile, dark matter particles that hold the universe together may not be present in this part of the galaxy. Many astronomers and cosmologists are doubting the findings of the study, because of the implications of there being no dark matter holding this part of the Milky Way together. This poses problems to scientists’ understanding of the galaxy, because much of what is known about the cosmos is based upon the existence of an invisible particle whose gravity holds everything together.

Haifa, Israel – Light always travels in a straight line, unless some outside force causes it to do otherwise, says empirical observation. New studies show that light does not actually have to travel in a straight line, but can actually curve in mid-air without any external forcing. The self-bending light, as it is being called, was originally thought of and modeled in the 1970s, but was not understood until 2007. Even then the group that performed the tests was unable to make light bend more than eight degrees. Last week a group of researchers in Israel succeeded in bending light at any angle, even a full circle. They do this through constructive and destructive interference in the light waves. The discovery represents a significant breakthrough in how light can be manipulated without external forcing.

Black Hills, South Dakota – Researchers found fossilized relatives of modern-day octopus, squid, and cuttlefish in southern South Dakota. The find has led the researchers to question the lifestyle of these ancient creatures. Ammonites, as they are known, are likely the ancestors to the octopi and squid, and it has long been postulated that they roamed the ocean floor searching for food for their entire lives. The new fossils suggest that not all of these bottom-feeders were nomadic, and that some lived in one place. The fossils were discovered in an area of South Dakota that used to be full of deep-ocean methane seeps, providing a place for the ammonites to congregate for food. The prehistoric mollusks were among the longest-lived and longest living ancient creatures.

Cambridge, Massachusetts – A group of mathematicians from Harvard University is using slacklining to understand how the brain works to keep a person upright when their balance is compromised. Furthermore, they are studying what is necessary to make learning balance easier. They found that there is a sweet spot where the brain is capable of responding in time to compensate for the movement of the line, while maintaining balance. This sweet spot can be modeled mathematically and shows the relationship between the frequency of vibration in the line and lateral movement which enables the slackliner to stay on the line.

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