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May 2006

Ancient Tomb Sheds New Light On Egyptian Colonialism
Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

In approximately 1550 B.C., Egypt conquered its southern neighbor, ancient Nubia, and secured control of valuable trade routes. But rather than excluding the colonized people from management of the region, new evidence from an archaeological site on the Nile reveals that Egyptian immigrants shared administrative responsibilities for ruling this large province with native Nubians.

"The study of culture contact in the past has conventionally used ideas of unidirectional change and modification of a subordinate population by a socially dominant group. The idea that authoritarian European powers forced changes in submissive native cultures dominated this work," explains Michele R. Buzon (University of Alberta). "However, more recent research has reevaluated these traditional notions and suggests that this model might not be appropriate for all situations of culture contact."

Through an examination of the archaeological site of Tombos, a strategic point of control in Egyptian-controlled Nubia, Buzon sought to determine whether the people buried in a colonial cemetery were immigrants from Egypt or Nubians who had adopted Egyptian practices. Comparing skull measurements with other revealing features such as tomb architecture, grave objects, and burial position, Buzon founds that the imperial officials who were buried in symbolically-marked tombs were of both Egyptian and Nubian descent. Egyptians were generally laid to rest on their backs in small tombs or pyramids, while Nubians were buried in fetal position on a bed or cow's skin.

"The combination of burial practices found at Tombos suggests that intermarriage between Nubians and Egyptians was likely," Buzon writes. "The results of this study suggest that both local native Nubians and Egyptian immigrants participated in the administration of Nubia during this time."

Reference: Michele R. Buzon. "The Relationship between Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia: A Case Study from Tombos." Current Anthropology 47:3.

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The Origin Of Elements In Galaxy Clusters
Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2006
Source: European Space Agency

Space Telescope's X-Ray Vision Reveals The Origin Of Elements In Galaxy Clusters

Deep observations of two X-ray bright clusters of galaxies with ESA’s XMM-Newton satellite allowed a group of international astronomers to measure their chemical composition with an unprecedented accuracy. Knowing the chemical composition of galaxy clusters is of crucial importance to understanding the origin of chemical elements in the Universe.

Clusters, or conglomerates, of galaxies are the largest objects in the Universe. By looking at them through optical telescopes it is possible to see hundreds or even thousands of galaxies occupying a volume a few million light years across. However, such telescopes only reveal the tip of the iceberg. In fact most of the atoms in galaxy clusters are in the form of hot gas emitting X-ray radiation, with the mass of the hot gas five times larger than the mass in the cluster’s galaxies themselves.

Most of the chemical elements produced in the stars of galaxy clusters - expelled into the surrounding space by supernova explosions and by stellar winds - become part of the hot X-ray emitting gas. Astronomers divide supernovae into two basic types: ‘core collapse’ and ‘Type Ia’ supernovae. The ‘core collapse’ supernovae originate when a star at the end of its life collapses into a neutron star or a black hole. These supernovae produce lots of oxygen, neon and magnesium. The Type Ia supernovae explode when a white dwarf star consuming matter from a companion star becomes too massive and completely disintegrates. This type produces lots of iron and nickel.

Respectively in November 2002 and August 2003, and for one and a half day each time, XMM-Newton’s made deep observations of the two galaxy clusters called ‘Sersic 159-03’ and ‘2A 0335+096’. Thanks to these data the astronomers could determine the abundances of nine chemical elements in the clusters ‘plasma’ – a gas containing charged particles such as ions and electrons.

These elements include oxygen, iron, neon, magnesium, silicon, argon, calcium, nickel, and - detected for the first time ever in a galaxy cluster - chromium. "Comparing the abundances of the detected elements to the yields of supernovae calculated theoretically, we found that about 30 percent of the supernovae in these clusters were exploding white dwarfs (‘Type Ia’) and the rest were collapsing stars at the end of their lives (‘core collapse’)," said Norbert Werner, from the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research (Utrecht, Netherlands) and one of the lead authors of these results.

"This number is in between the value found for our own Galaxy (where Type Ia supernovae represent about 13 percent of the supernovae ‘population’) and the current frequency of supernovae events as determined by the Lick Observatory Supernova Search project (according to which about 42 percent of all observed supernovae are Type Ia)," he continued.

The astronomers also found that all supernova models predict much less calcium than what is observed in clusters and that the observed nickel abundance cannot be reproduced by these models. These discrepancies indicate that that the details of supernova enrichment is not yet clearly understood. Since clusters of galaxies are believed to be fair samples of the Universe, their X-ray spectroscopy can help to improve the supernova models.

The spatial distribution of elements across a cluster also holds information about the history of clusters themselves. The distribution of elements in 2A 0335+096 indicates an ongoing merger. The distribution of oxygen and iron across Sersic 159-03 indicates that while most of the enrichment by the core collapse supernovae happened long time ago, Type Ia supernovae still continue to enrich the hot gas by heavy elements especially in the core of the cluster.

This work is presented in two papers in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal. The first one, published in April 2006 and titled ‘XMM-Newton spectroscopy of the cluster of galaxies 2A 035+096’ (A&A Volume 449, Page 475), is by N.Werner , J.S.Kaastra and J.A.M.Bleeker (SRON, Utrecht, The Netherlands), Plaa and J.Vink (SRON and Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands), T.Tamura (JAXA, Kanagawa, Japan), J.R.Peterson (Stanford University, CA, USA), F.Verbunt (Utrecht University, The Netherlands).

The second article, to appear in 2006 and titled ‘Chemical evolution in Sersic 159-03 observed by XMM-Newton’ (A&A 2006 and astro-ph/0602582), is by Plaa, J.Vink and J.A.M.Bleeker (SRON and Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands), N.Werner, J.S.Kaastra and M.Mendez (SRON, Utrecht, The Netherlands), A.M.Bykov (A.F. Ioffe Institute for Physics and Technology, St.Petersburg, Russia), M.Bonamente (University of Alabama, Hunstville, AL, USA), J.R. Peterson (Stanford University, CA, USA).

This research is in particular the result of the cooperation between the SRON Utrecht and the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The original news release can be found here.

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Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet
Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2006
Source: University of Rochester

Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet: So Fast It Goes ... Backwards?

In the past few years, scientists have found ways to make light go both faster and slower than its usual speed limit, but now researchers at the University of Rochester have published a paper today in Science on how they've gone one step further: pushing light into reverse. As if to defy common sense, the backward-moving pulse of light travels faster than light.

Confused? You're not alone.

"I've had some of the world's experts scratching their heads over this one," says Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester. "Theory predicted that we could send light backwards, but nobody knew if the theory would hold up or even if it could be observed in laboratory conditions."

Boyd recently showed how he can slow down a pulse of light to slower than an airplane, or speed it up faster than its breakneck pace, using exotic techniques and materials. But he's now taken what was once just a mathematical oddity—negative speed—and shown it working in the real world.

"It's weird stuff," says Boyd. "We sent a pulse through an optical fiber, and before its peak even entered the fiber, it was exiting the other end. Through experiments we were able to see that the pulse inside the fiber was actually moving backward, linking the input and output pulses."

So, wouldn't Einstein shake a finger at all these strange goings-on? After all, this seems to violate Einstein's sacred tenet that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

"Einstein said information can't travel faster than light, and in this case, as with all fast-light experiments, no information is truly moving faster than light," says Boyd. "The pulse of light is shaped like a hump with a peak and long leading and trailing edges. The leading edge carries with it all the information about the pulse and enters the fiber first. By the time the peak enters the fiber, the leading edge is already well ahead, exiting. From the information in that leading edge, the fiber essentially 'reconstructs' the pulse at the far end, sending one version out the fiber, and another backward toward the beginning of the fiber."

Boyd is already working on ways to see what will happen if he can design a pulse without a leading edge. Einstein says the entire faster-than-light and reverse-light phenomena will disappear. Boyd is eager to put Einstein to the test.

So How Does Light Go Backwards?

Boyd, along with Rochester graduate students George M. Gehring and Aaron Schweinsberg, and undergraduates Christopher Barsi of Manhattan College and Natalie Kostinski of the University of Michigan, sent a burst of laser light through an optical fiber that had been laced with the element erbium. As the pulse exited the laser, it was split into two. One pulse went into the erbium fiber and the second traveled along undisturbed as a reference. The peak of the pulse emerged from the other end of the fiber before the peak entered the front of the fiber, and well ahead of the peak of the reference pulse.

But to find out if the pulse was truly traveling backward within the fiber, Boyd and his students had to cut back the fiber every few inches and re-measure the pulse peaks when they exited each pared-back section of the fiber. By arranging that data and playing it back in a time sequence, Boyd was able to depict, for the first time, that the pulse of light was moving backward within the fiber.

To understand how light's speed can be manipulated, think of a funhouse mirror that makes you look fatter. As you first walk by the mirror, you look normal, but as you pass the curved portion in the center, your reflection stretches, with the far edge seeming to leap ahead of you (the reference walker) for a moment. In the same way, a pulse of light fired through special materials moves at normal speed until it hits the substance, where it is stretched out to reach and exit the material's other side.

Conversely, if the funhouse mirror were the kind that made you look skinny, your reflection would appear to suddenly squish together, with the leading edge of your reflection slowing as you passed the curved section. Similarly, a light pulse can be made to contract and slow inside a material, exiting the other side much later than it naturally would.

To visualize Boyd's reverse-traveling light pulse, replace the mirror with a big-screen TV and video camera. As you may have noticed when passing such a display in an electronics store window, as you walk past the camera, your on-screen image appears on the far side of the TV. It walks toward you, passes you in the middle, and continues moving in the opposite direction until it exits the other side of the screen.

A negative-speed pulse of light acts much the same way. As the pulse enters the material, a second pulse appears on the far end of the fiber and flows backward. The reversed pulse not only propagates backward, but it releases a forward pulse out the far end of the fiber. In this way, the pulse that enters the front of the fiber appears out the end almost instantly, apparently traveling faster than the regular speed of light. To use the TV analogy again—it's as if you walked by the shop window, saw your image stepping toward you from the opposite edge of the TV screen, and that TV image of you created a clone at that far edge, walking in the same direction as you, several paces ahead.

"I know this all sounds weird, but this is the way the world works," says Boyd.

The original news release can be found here.

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