Reader’s Scigest 23-10-14



Into the Anthropocene?

A panel of thirty specialists met in Berlin last week to consider whether humanity has impacted the planet to a level that merits the classification of a new geological time period. Anthropocene, a term denoting the age of human inhabitation, has been in popular usage since the millennium but may soon become a formal epoch pending a consensus and a successful proposal in 2016 by the group. The soaring speed that sea level is rising and ice melting, the extraordinary rate at which wildlife is being wiped out and high levels of atmospheric pollutants and carbon dioxide are some of the issues that have given scientists reason to deliberate conclusion of the Holocene, the geological state of the earth since the retreat of glaciers some 11,700 years ago.

Ebola Expectations

The outbreak of the viral disease ebola, which has killed over 4,500 people since first appearing in a toddler in Guinea in December last year, has the potential to be the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation,” according to the charity Oxfam. And, just as Barack Obama urged Americans not to panic, their chief executive Mark Goldring declared that the world was “in the eye of a storm”. The United Nations has expressed similar worry, asserting that if the epidemic cannot be contained within 52 days then the world faces an “entirely unprecedented situation” but reassuring that otherwise it can be stopped.

Potential Light Cast on Dark Matter
A peculiar signal in the electromagnetic spectrum of the sun could be the first direct detection of a dark matter particle. Researchers from the University of Leicester noticed an anomalous reading in the intensity of x-rays detected by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory and, after failing to find an explanation based on conventional physics models, have suggested that it is due to the presence of axions, particles which stream from the sun’s core and emit x-rays when they meet the earth’s maganetic field. Introduced by the Peccei-Quinn theory in 1977, they are thought to be an essential component of dark matter.

Photograph: European Commission DG ECHO on flickr

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