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  • Reviews & Previews

    Carbon plays a starring role in the new book ‘Symphony in C’

    Symphony in CRobert M. HazenW.W. Norton & Co., $26.95

    Carbon is by no means the most abundant element in the cosmos, but it is undoubtedly the most important to life as we know it. For every 1,000 hydrogen atoms in the universe, there are only five or so carbon atoms. But every cell in the human body — indeed, every living cell on Earth — relies on carbon as the chemical...

    06/10/2019 - 06:00 Chemistry, Evolution, Cosmology, Ecosystems
  • News in Brief

    This tabletop device turns the quantum definition of a kilogram into a real mass

    It’s mass for the masses.

    A tabletop device makes the new definition of the kilogram more accessible. Previously, the kilogram had been equal to the mass of a special metal cylinder kept in a vault near Paris. But researchers did away with that standard on May 20, pegging the kilogram instead to a quantum mechanical number known as the Planck constant (SN Online: 5/20/19).

    Using...

    06/03/2019 - 07:00 Physics, Technology
  • News

    Vaping the sweetener sucralose may produce toxic chemicals

    Lacing e-cigarette liquid with sucralose is probably not a sweet idea. Vaping the synthetic sweetener may generate harmful chemicals, researchers report May 13 in Chemical Research in Toxicology.

    “I would strongly advise that users should not use liquids with sucralose in them,” says Sven Jordt, a toxicologist at Duke University School of Medicine who was not involved with the study....

    05/30/2019 - 07:00 Chemistry, Health
  • News

    In a first, scientists took the temperature of a sonic black hole

    Taking a black hole’s temperature is a seemingly impossible task. But now, physicists report the next best thing. They’ve measured the temperature of a lab-made sonic black hole, which traps sound instead of light.

    If the result holds up, it will confirm a prediction of cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who first proposed a surprising truth about black holes: They aren’t truly black. Instead...

    05/29/2019 - 13:00 Physics, Quantum Physics, Condensed Matter
  • News

    100 years ago, an eclipse proved Einstein right. Today, black holes do too — for now

    A century ago, British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington and his colleagues photographed a solar eclipse, and changed the way humankind thought about the heavens.

    Those photographs, taken on May 29, 1919, from Sobral, Brazil and Príncipe Island off Africa’s west coast, affirmed for the first time a key prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: Mass bends spacetime....

    05/29/2019 - 06:00 Physics, Astronomy
  • News

    A new optical atomic clock’s heart is as small as a coffee bean

    Portable atomic clocks are on their way to an upgrade.

    Today’s small, battery-operated atomic clocks track time by counting oscillations of light absorbed by cesium atoms (SN: 9/4/04, p. 50). That light oscillates billions of times per second. Now, a miniature version of a type of atomic clock called an optical clock uses light tuned to rubidium atoms, and beats trillions of times per...

    05/28/2019 - 08:00 Physics, Technology
  • Context

    Murray Gell-Mann gave structure to the subatomic world

    In Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, Iris (played in the movie version by Glenn Close) tells Roy Hobbs that we all have two lives, “the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”

    Murray Gell-Mann, the Nobel laureate physicist who died Friday, May 24, at age 89, also lived two lives. But both were spent learning — about how the world works.

    In his first life Gell-Mann...

    05/24/2019 - 17:09 History of Science, Physics
  • News

    Big black holes can settle in the outskirts of small galaxies

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Big galaxies like the Milky Way have correspondingly big black holes. But small galaxies might have massive ones, too. A new survey picked up dozens of massive black hole candidates in diminutive dwarf galaxies.

    Surprisingly, some of those potential black holes aren’t at their galaxy’s center, but instead appear to roam the outskirts, astronomer Amy Reines said May 20...

    05/23/2019 - 10:57 Physics, Astronomy
  • News in Brief

    Spherical flames in space could solve the mystery of soot-free fires

    Solving this burning question requires starting fires in space.

    Ongoing experiments on the International Space Station could help resolve a scientific debate about why some fires burn without producing soot. Made of carbon particles created when fuel fails to burn completely, soot is a pollutant. The particles are linked to health issues, including cancer (SN: 8/4/07, p. 69), and...

    05/23/2019 - 09:00 Physics, Technology
  • News in Brief

    Sweaty, vinegary and sweet odors mingle to make dark chocolate’s smell

    Scientists have sniffed out the chemicals that give some dark chocolates their smell.

    The compounds that mingle to make the candy’s aroma include pleasant-smelling ones such as vanillin, which gives vanilla its smell, and flowery linalool. But other molecules produce smoky or vinegary odors and even one that smells like sweat, researchers report online May 8 in the Journal of...

    05/23/2019 - 07:00 Chemistry