Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On the Horizon: News from the Frontiers of Science

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On the Horizon: News from the Frontiers of Science

Article excerpt

How to forecast a solar outburst

Powerful eruptions from the sun can trigger magnetic storms on Earth that can cause power blackouts and disrupt radio communications. And they can also trigger radiation storms in space that may damage satellites and threaten astronauts.

Now, a team of scientists has found that these powerful outbursts, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), emit telltale radio signals. The signals travel at the speed of light - far faster than the billions of tons of hot, electrically charged gas that CMEs hurl through space. As a result, the signals can be used to provide earlier warnings of impending magnetic or radiation storms. The lead time can range from tens of minutes to a few hours, according to Natchimuthuk Gopalswamy, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who led the team.

The team discovered the link between CMEs and their radio signals by using two sun-watching spacecraft, each with different sets of instruments. The team looked at 472 CMEs the two craft captured between 1996 and 2005 and teased out the correlation between storm- producing CMEs and their radio "screams." The team presented its results at this week's spring meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu.

Ants: selfless road workers

Army ants have evolved an effective way to patch potholes in their paths: They pile into the gap to smooth the way for their comrades.

That's the story two University of Bristol researchers tell after studying army ants (Eciton burchellii) from the rain forests of Central and South America. The ants - up to 200,000 at a time - sally forth to raid their surroundings for food. The ants form an unbroken stream between the vanguard and the nest back home. Foraging ants scurry back along the trail with prey they've captured. But when the homeward-bound ants approach a gap in the ground cover, other ants fill it in until the path is smooth. This hastens the return of food to the nest. Once the food-bearing ants pass, the living pothole patch leaves the gap and heads home, too.

The duo tested the process in the lab using wood containing holes of different sizes. …

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