Apple Mac Pro could arrive on 16 December

Although there has been no word from Cupertino, a German e-tailer had started taking pre-orders for the desktop machine. Conrad Electronic has since removed the webpage, but by that time the news had already spread across social media.

Apple had already said that it planned to launch the Mac Pro in December, however thus far it had not mentioned a specific date.

The Mac Pro will sport an Intel Xeon E5 processor with options for between four and 12 cores. Up to 64GB of 1866Mhz DDR3 will be available and storage options will range from 256GB to 1TB.

Its casing is black, glossy and cylindrical, drawing comparisons with something from a sci-fi movie and fitting with Apple's brief to make a next generation desktop machine. It will have 4K video capability via an HDMI 4.1 port, plus an abundance of USB and Thunderbolt 2 ports, rounded off with Bluetooth and 802.11ac WiFi.

All of this high end technology comes at a typically high Apple price, however, with prices starting at $2,999.

While it is possible that Conrad Electronic was simply speculating, this does seem to be the most solid evidence yet that there is a definite date for the arrival of the Mac Pro, and that it will be here before the figgy pudding.


Astronomers Discover Planet That Shouldn't Be There

The discovery of a giant planet orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance has astronomers puzzled over how such a strange system came to be.

An international team of astronomers, led by a University of Arizona graduate student, has discovered the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, sun-like star. It is the first exoplanet -- a planet outside of our solar system -- discovered at the UA.

Weighing in at 11 times Jupiter's mass and orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance, planet HD 106906 b is unlike anything in our own Solar System and throws a wrench in planet formation theories.

"This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," said Vanessa Bailey, who led the research. Bailey is a fifth-year graduate student in the UA's Department of Astronomy.

It is thought that planets close to their stars, like Earth, coalesce from small asteroid-like bodies born in the primordial disk of dust and gas that surrounds a forming star. However, this process acts too slowly to grow giant planets far from their star. Another proposed mechanism is that giant planets can form from a fast, direct collapse of disk material. However, primordial disks rarely contain enough mass in their outer reaches to allow a planet like HD 106906 b to form. Several alternative hypotheses have been put forward, including formation like a mini binary star system.

"A binary star system can be formed when two adjacent clumps of gas collapse more or less independently to form stars, and these stars are close enough to each other to exert a mutual gravitation attraction and bind them together in an orbit," Bailey explained. "It is possible that in the case of the HD 106906 system the star and planet collapsed independently from clumps of gas, but for some reason the planet's progenitor clump was starved for material and never grew large enough to ignite and become a star."

According to Bailey, one problem with this scenario is that the mass ratio of the two stars in a binary system is typically no more than 10-to-1.

"In our case, the mass ratio is more than 100-to-1," she explained. "This extreme mass ratio is not predicted from binary star formation theories -- just like planet formation theory predicts that we cannot form planets so far from the host star."

This system is also of particular interest because researchers can still detect the remnant "debris disk" of material left over from planet and star formation.

"Systems like this one, where we have additional information about the environment in which the planet resides, have the potential to help us disentangle the various formation models," Bailey added. "Future observations of the planet's orbital motion and the primary star's debris disk may help answer that question."


At only 13 million years old, this young planet still glows from the residual heat of its formation. Because at 2,700 Fahrenheit (about 1,500 degrees Celsius) the planet is much cooler than its host star, it emits most of its energy as infrared rather than visible light. Earth, by comparison, formed 4.5 billion years ago and is thus about 350 times older than HD 106906 b.

Direct imaging observations require exquisitely sharp images, akin to those delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope. To reach this resolution from the ground requires a technology called Adaptive Optics, or AO. The team used the new Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO) system and Clio2 thermal infrared camera -- both technologies developed at the UA -- mounted on the 6.5 meter-diameter Magellan telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile to take the discovery image.

UA astronomy professor and MagAO principal investigator Laird Close said: "MagAO was able to utilize its special Adaptive Secondary Mirror, with 585 actuators, each moving 1,000 times a second, to remove the blurring of the atmosphere. The atmospheric correction enabled the detection of the weak heat emitted from this exotic exoplanet without confusion from the hotter parent star."

"Clio was optimized for thermal infrared wavelengths, where giant planets are brightest compared to their host stars, meaning planets are most easily imaged at these wavelengths," explained UA astronomy professor and Clio principal investigator Philip Hinz, who directs the UA Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics.

The team was able to confirm that the planet is moving together with its host star by examining Hubble Space Telescope data taken eight years prior for another research program. Using the FIRE spectrograph, also installed at the Magellan telescope, the team confirmed the planetary nature of the companion. "Images tell us an object is there and some information about its properties but only a spectrum gives us detailed information about its nature and composition," explained co-investigator Megan Reiter, a graduate student in the UA Department of Astronomy. "Such detailed information is rarely available for directly imaged exoplanets, making HD 106906 b a valuable target for future study."

"Every new directly detected planet pushes our understanding of how and where planets can form," said co-investigator Tiffany Meshkat, a graduate student at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. "This planet discovery is particularly exciting because it is in orbit so far from its parent star. This leads to many intriguing questions about its formation history and composition. Discoveries like HD 106906 b provide us with a deeper understanding of the diversity of other planetary systems."

The research paper, "HD 106906 b: A Planetary-mass Companion Outside a Massive Debris Disk," has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and will appear in a future issue.

MaAO's development was funded by the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program, and its Telescope System Instrumentation Program and an Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation Award.

Source: Science Daily

R. Sawas

'Cinderella' gas a threat to climate and ozone layer

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued a warning about the dangers posed by nitrous oxide, the so-called "laughing gas".

In a report presented at global climate talks, UNEP says the chemical is now the biggest threat to the ozone layer.

It says that thanks to farming and human activities, levels of the gas could double by 2050.

If this happens, it could reverse gains made to slow the thinning of the ozone layer and exacerbate global warming.

Nitrous oxide is one of several greenhouse agents which are dubbed "Cinderella' gases, because their contribution passes unnoticed.

N2O exists naturally in the atmosphere but agriculture is by far the biggest human source, producing two-thirds of emissions.

It is also used in dentistry and surgery as an anaesthetic and a painkiller. It is sometimes used as a recreational drug, called "nozz", and its abuse has been linked to permanent neurological damage and deaths.

Now, researchers say that it has emerged as the single biggest threat to the ozone layer since chlorofluorocarbons and other damaging gases were restricted by the Montreal Protocol signed in 1987.

The famous "hole" over Antarctica has started to recover as a result of the phasing out of the hair sprays and refrigerants that contained these substances.

But according to this new report, if no action is taken, levels of nitrous oxide could increase by 83% from 2005 to 2050.

"The continued build-up of N2O in the atmosphere will continue to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer and in so doing will to a degree undermine the achievements of the Montreal Protocol," says the document.

Unep's executive director, Achim Steiner, warned that as well as posing a threat to the ozone layer, nitrous oxide has a powerful global warming effect.

"It's one of those elements in our modern life that we have not fully understood in terms of its negative impacts.

"If we can bring it to the attention of farmers, government and industry, the importance of managing nitrous oxide more efficiently, and the climate benefits - it is a no-regret option," he said.

The research underlines the fact that nitrous oxide is the world's third most powerful gas when it comes to global warming potential.

Dr Joseph Alcamo is Unep's chief scientist. He told a news conference here in Warsaw that the gas could not be ignored any longer.

"Nitrous oxide makes up only 6% of the greenhouse gases but in terms of CO2, it is the equivalent to emitting three [billion tonnes] a year.

"This is about 50% of the total amount of emissions from every vehicle in the world."

However, the researchers were optimistic that both the warming potential and the danger to the ozone layer could be swiftly curtailed if action was taken, particularly in agriculture.

"In the agricultural sector, it comes down to using nitrogen fertilizer more efficiently, a very simple idea, to improve the uptake by crops and livestock," said Dr Alcamo.

"It has a lot to do with using the right fertilizer, in the right place."

Source : BBC


Even If Emissions Stop, Carbon Dioxide Could Warm Earth for Centuries

Even if carbon dioxide emissions came to a sudden halt, the carbon dioxide already in Earth's atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years, according to Princeton University-led research published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study suggests that it might take a lot less carbon than previously thought to reach the global temperature scientists deem unsafe.

The researchers simulated an Earth on which, after 1,800 billion tons of carbon entered the atmosphere, all carbon dioxide emissions suddenly stopped. Scientists commonly use the scenario of emissions screeching to a stop to gauge the heat-trapping staying power of carbon dioxide. Within a millennium of this simulated shutoff, the carbon itself faded steadily with 40 percent absorbed by Earth's oceans and landmasses within 20 years and 80 percent soaked up at the end of the 1,000 years.

By itself, such a decrease of atmospheric carbon dioxide should lead to cooling. But the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide took a divergent track.

After a century of cooling, the planet warmed by 0.37 degrees Celsius (0.66 Fahrenheit) during the next 400 years as the ocean absorbed less and less heat. While the resulting temperature spike seems slight, a little heat goes a long way here. Earth has warmed by only 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global temperatures a mere 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than pre-industrial levels would dangerously interfere with the climate system. To avoid that point would mean humans have to keep cumulative carbon dioxide emissions below 1,000 billion tons of carbon, about half of which has already been put into the atmosphere since the dawn of industry.

The lingering warming effect the researchers found, however, suggests that the 2-degree point may be reached with much less carbon, said first author Thomas Frölicher, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton's Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences under co-author Jorge Sarmiento, the George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering.

"If our results are correct, the total carbon emissions required to stay below 2 degrees of warming would have to be three-quarters of previous estimates, only 750 billion tons instead of 1,000 billion tons of carbon," said Frölicher, now a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. "Thus, limiting the warming to 2 degrees would require keeping future cumulative carbon emissions below 250 billion tons, only half of the already emitted amount of 500 billion tons."

The researchers' work contradicts a scientific consensus that the global temperature would remain constant or decline if emissions were suddenly cut to zero. But previous research did not account for a gradual reduction in the oceans' ability to absorb heat from the atmosphere, particularly the polar oceans, Frölicher said. Although carbon dioxide steadily dissipates, Frölicher and his co-authors were able to see that the oceans that remove heat from the atmosphere gradually take up less. Eventually, the residual heat offsets the cooling that occurred due to dwindling amounts of carbon dioxide.

"Scientists have thought that the temperature stays constant or declines once emissions stop, but now we show that the possibility of a temperature increase cannot be excluded," Frölicher said. "This is illustrative of how difficult it may be to reverse climate change -- we stop the emissions, but still get an increase in the global mean temperature."

Source : Science Daily


The Era of Neutrino Astronomy Has Begun

Astrophysicists using a telescope embedded in Antarctic ice have succeeded in a quest to detect and record the mysterious phenomena known as cosmic neutrinos -- nearly massless particles that stream to Earth at the speed of light from outside our solar system, striking the surface in a burst of energy that can be as powerful as a baseball pitcher's fastball. Next, they hope to build on the early success of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory to detect the source of these high-energy particles, said Physics Professor Gregory Sullivan, who led the University of Maryland's 12-person team of contributors to the IceCube Collaboration.

"The era of neutrino astronomy has begun," Sullivan said as the IceCube Collaboration announced the observation of 28 very high-energy particle events that constitute the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from cosmic sources.

By studying the neutrinos that IceCube detects, scientists can learn about the nature of astrophysical phenomena occurring millions, or even billions of light years from Earth, Sullivan said. "The sources of neutrinos, and the question of what could accelerate these particles, has been a mystery for more than 100 years. Now we have an instrument that can detect astrophysical neutrinos. It's working beautifully, and we expect it to run for another 20 years."

The collaboration's report on the first cosmic neutrino records from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, collected from instruments embedded in one cubic kilometer of ice at the South Pole, was published Nov. 22 in the journal Science.

"This is the first indication of very high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system," said University of Wisconsin-Madison Physics Professor Francis Halzen, principal investigator of IceCube. "It is gratifying to finally see what we have been looking for. This is the dawn of a new age of astronomy."

"Neutrinos are one of the basic building blocks of our universe," said UMD Physics Associate Professor Kara Hoffman, an IceCube team member. Billions of them pass through our bodies unnoticed every second. These extremely high-energy particles maintain their speed and direction unaffected by magnetic fields. The vast majority of neutrinos originate either in the sun or in Earth's own atmosphere. Far more rare are astrophysical neutrinos, which come from the outer reaches of our galaxy or beyond.

The origin and cause of astrophysical neutrinos are unknown, though gamma ray bursts, active galactic nuclei and black holes are potential sources. Better understanding of these neutrinos is critically important in particle physics, astrophysics and astronomy, and scientists have worked for more than 50 years to design and build a high-energy neutrino detector of this type.

IceCube was designed to accomplish two major scientific goals: measure the flux, or rate, of high-energy neutrinos and try to identify some of their sources. The neutrino observatory was built and is operated by an international collaboration of more than 250 physicists and engineers. UMD physicists have been key collaborators on IceCube since 2002, when its unique design was devised and construction began.

IceCube is made up of 5,160 digital optical modules suspended along 86 strings embedded in ice beneath the South Pole. The National Science Foundation-supported observatory detects neutrinos through the tiny flashes of blue light, called Cherenkov light, produced when neutrinos interact in the ice. Computers at the IceCube laboratory collect near-real-time data from the optical sensors and send information about interesting events north via satellite. The UMD team designed the data collection system and much of IceCube's analytic software. Construction took nearly a decade, and the completed detector began gathering data in May 2011.

"IceCube is a wonderful and unique astrophysical telescope -- it is deployed deep in the Antarctic ice but looks over the entire Universe, detecting neutrinos coming through the Earth from the northern skies, as well as from around the southern skies," said Vladimir Papitashvili of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Polar Programs.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory was built under a NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction grant, with assistance from partner funding agencies around the world. The NSF's Division of Polar Programs and Physics Division continue to support the project with a Maintenance and Operations grant, along with international support from participating institutes and their funding agencies.

Source: Sience