The Month in Science – July

Each month Impact will review the latest news and discoveries from the world of science.

The Leap Second – 1st July

July kicked off with a slight glitch as Twitter and Android ‘got confused’ when the clock read 23:59:60, adding an extra second to atomic time. Although we should perhaps have learnt our lesson from the Millennium Bug, many fell for the hype and warned of a ‘software meltdown’. However, the evening passed with little incident. Twitter and Android devices had a problem telling the time the following day and a few websites, notably Amazon and Netflix went down for roughly an hour (although this was later blamed on a connectivity issue). These problems led the US to ask for the Leap Second to be abandoned but the UK plans to defend it. The decision as to if and when the next Leap Second will be added will be decided at the Radiocommunication Conference in November 2015.

The Big Rip Theory – 3rd July

Physicists working at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee uncovered evidence that the ultimate fate of the universe will be to rip itself apart. Analysing the movement of far away super novae, the team concluded that the universe will continue to accelerate and expand until even atoms rip themselves apart. This contradicts the existing theories: The Big Crunch (where the universe would expand then collapse suddenly) and The Big Freeze (where the universe would cool as it expands). We needn’t worry about armageddon yet though, as the big rip is predicted to obliterate the Earth in 22 billion years.

Battery Powered Plane Crosses The English Channel – 10th July

As the Airbus E-Fan took off in the morning to complete the first ever electric powered flight across the English Channel, the team were totally unaware that, under cover of darkness, a French stunt pilot, Hugues Duval, had snuck across and beat Airbus to the record by mere hours in a small Crici plane. Airbus are challenging the claim, suggesting that Duval’s plane was launched from another aircraft. Despite the dispute, the record attempt has broken down many of the barriers to developing electric powered flight which Airbus hope to have powering a 90-seat aircraft by 2050.

Pentaquark discovered at CERN – 14th July

Data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHCb) detector has identified a new state of matter. All particles are made up of quarks and antiquarks – small subatomic particles. Previously observed matter was observed to be comprised of three quarks called baryons (such as protons and neutrons) or a quark and an antiquark forming a meson (such as the electron). The newly discovered pentaquarks are made up of five quarks. They are very rare and short lived and their discovery fills in another gap in the standard model – the incomplete theory of particle physics which the Higgs Boson was recently added to. Researchers will now study their structure and properties.

NASA Releases Photographs of Pluto – 14th July

NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft travelled three billion miles over nine and a half years to reach Pluto to collect data and provide us with some beautiful images. The closest ever fly by of Pluto has revealed that Mars is not the only red planet in our Solar System. The former planet (now downgraded to an asteroid) captured the imagination of those on social media as the photographs revealed a clear heart shaped imprint on it’s surface. New Horizons will continue its journey, stopping off at the Kuiper Belt then continuing onwards, eventually leaving the solar system.

International Space Station Near Miss – 16th July

Astronauts aboard the international space station were awoken by mission control, warning of debris from an old Russian weather satellite heading in their direction. With the short warning removing the option to move the space station out of the way, the three crew members secured the station as best they could in the short time span then moved into the Soyuz spacecraft (the spacecraft docked onto the space station). An anxious wait saw the trio ready to abandon ship if the space junk came too close. Luckily, the debris sped past the station and the astronauts re-entered the main module and began returning it to being fully operational. This near miss is only the fourth in the Space Station’s history although a collision grows more likely daily due to the increasing amount of space junk surrounding the planet.

Pesticide Ban Controversially Lifted – 24th July

Farmers have been allowed once again to use two types of neonicotinid pesticides despite strong evidence that they can cause serious harm to bees and other pollinators. Over 500,000 people signed a petition opposing their use. However, a recent infestation of flea beetles has prompted the National Farmers Association to ask for a reversal of the ban, which was first enacted by the European Union back in 2013 in light of extensive research into bee populations. A decision on the future use of these pesticides will be made at the end of 2015.

UK Plastic Bag Use Increases – 24th July

Despite the increased pressure pushing shoppers towards the use of a ‘bag for life’, figures have shown that the number of plastic bags used in the UK rose for the fifth year in a row. The British picked up 8.5 billion carrier bags last year – an increase of 200 million from the year before. Environmental campaigners hope that the introduction of a 5p charge per bag, which will come into force in England in October, will lead to a sharp fall. This has already been the case in Wales, where the plastic bag tax has been in place since 2011. The Welsh used an average of only two bags a month during 2014 compared to 11.7 per month used by the English.

NASA Discovers Earth’s Big Brother – 26th July

The search for alien life took a step forward when NASA’s Kepler telescope identified an Earth-like planet within the Milky way. Estimated to be 60% larger than the Earth, the snappily named Kepler-425b was sighted orbiting a star similar to our own sun 1400 light years away. Geologists predict that it is a rocky planet with active volcanoes on its surface. The surface temperature is estimated to be within the range required for liquid water to be present, making life on it’s surface a genuine possibility. The orbit of the planet has been stable for billions of years which could have given life (even perhaps intelligent life) sufficient time to evolve.  This promising candidate will be researched further as the Kepler telescope continues to scan the Galaxy for far-away planets.

Joanne Blunt  

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Science editor for the University of Nottingham student magazine IMPACT

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