Daily Archives: March 24, 2011

Einstein’s Theory Fights Off Challengers

Abell 3376NASA – Two new studies have put Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to the test like never before, using observations of galaxy clusters to study the properties of gravity on cosmic scales. These results, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, show Einstein’s theory is still the best game in town. Such studies are crucial for understanding the evolution of the universe, both in the past and the future, and for probing the nature of dark energy, one of the biggest mysteries in science.

This composite image of the Abell 3376 galaxy cluster shows X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the ROSAT telescope in gold, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey in red, green and blue, and a radio image from the VLA in blue. The bullet-like appearance of the X-ray data is caused by a merger, as material flows into the galaxy cluster from the right side. The giant radio arcs on the left side of the image may be caused by shock waves generated by this merger.

Chandra observations of galaxy clusters have previously been used to show that dark energy has stifled the growth of these massive structures over the last 5 billion years and to provide independent evidence for the existence of dark energy by offering a different way to measure cosmic distances.

Image Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/SAO/A. Vikhlinin; ROSAT), Optical (DSS), Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA/IUCAA/J.Bagchi)


Building a Better Nuclear Reactor

Building Better ReactorBy Peter Coy – Nuclear power plants will never be completely safe, but they can be made far safer than they are today. The key is humility. The next generation of plants must be built to work with nature—and human nature—rather than against them. They must be safe by design, so that even if every possible thing goes wrong, the outcome will stop short of disaster. In the language of the nuclear industry, they must be “walkaway safe,” meaning that even if all power is lost and the coolant leaks and the operators flee the scene, there will be no meltdown of the core, no fire in the spent fuel rods, and no bursts of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.

Nuclear plants have one thing going for them that hasn’t changed since the leak at Fukushima. They generate badly needed electricity without creating greenhouse gases that cause global warming. more> http://tinyurl.com/4fsyog4


The revolution in central banking

By Paul Carrel, Mark Felsenthal, Pedro da Costa, David Milliken and Alan Wheatley – Now, whether mandated to do so or not, western central banks have bought up sovereign debt to sustain the financial system, printed money by the truckload to stimulate their economies, sacrificed some of their independence to coordinate monetary policy more closely with fiscal decisions, and contemplated new ways of preventing asset bubbles.

In the measured world of central banking, it amounts to nothing short of a revolution. Otmar Issing, one of the euro’s founding fathers and a career-long monetarist hawk, told Reuters that in buying government bonds the ECB had “crossed the Rubicon”. The question now for the ECB — and for its counterparts in Britain, the United States and elsewhere — is what they’ll find on the other side.

That all means it will become tougher for central banks to preserve their most precious asset, credibility. more> http://tinyurl.com/4hkqoq7


Lawmakers want Europe to drive ‘cultural diplomacy’

Catherine AshtonEurActiv – The European Parliament’s culture committee last week asked the European Commission to strengthen the role of culture in the EU’s external policy, asking EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to appoint an EU ‘cultural ambassador’.

Lawmakers believe that European interests are best served and its competitive position and attractiveness for tourists, talent, artists, business and students best improved if the bloc speaks with one voice in the cultural domain.

While the United States’ cultural presence in the world is slightly declining, it remains extremely powerful, while competition for global cultural influence is getting fiercer with the rise of emerging powers such as India and China, the committee noted. China, for instance, is in the process of establishing 100 Confucius Centres to steer cultural diplomacy, MEPs pointed out. France has a long-standing tradition of positioning itself culturally and linguistically across the globe through the Alliance Française, and the United Kingdom does the same through the British Council. more> http://tinyurl.com/4dh64c4

Is Verizon’s Bet on FiOS Paying Off?

BW slideshowBy Roben Farzad – The bottom line: Verizon hopes FiOS will make up for a dying land-line business. The CEO says it’s profitable. Others dispute his math.

Last year, Frontier Communications (FTR) paid $8.6 billion to acquire 4.8 million Verizon access-line customers across 14 states, including FiOS subscribers in the Portland (Ore.) and Seattle areas. In January, Frontier essentially signaled that it was not making a profit on FiOS accounts at the prices Verizon was charging.

The discrepancy may boil down to cost accounting. A company the size of Verizon, with overall revenue of $106 billion, has discretion in allocating costs to various operations. All of which, says Craig Moffett, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein (AB), shows that the “reported profitability of FiOS is of little use in assessing the underlying economics.” more> http://tinyurl.com/5uah68x