Category Archives: University College London

Brain’s ‘pain map’ pinpoints where it hurts

UCL (UK) — Scientists have unlocked details of the brain’s “pain map” for the hand, and say the findings may shed light on the processes at work in chronic pain.

The hand map is the first to reveal how finely-tuned the brain is to pain. Researchers used fMRI techniques in conjunction with laser stimuli to the fingers to plot the exact response to pain across areas of the brain.

“The results reveal that pain can be finely mapped in the brain,” says lead author Flavia Mancini of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. “While many studies have examined the brain response to pain before, our study is the first to map pain responses for the individual digits of the human hand.”

Using an fMRI brain imaging technique originally created to map the visual field, researchers were able to distinguish the brain’s responses to painful laser heat stimuli on each finger in seven healthy participants, and to study their organization in the brain.

This enabled the team to produce a fine-grained map showing how pain in the right hand results in certain parts of the brain being activated in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area in the left hemisphere of the brain which is involved in processing bodily information.

When comparing this pain map to ones generated by non-painful touch to the right hand, the researchers found that the two were very similar, with each map aligning with one another in each of the seven volunteers tested. The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience,.

“The cells in the skin that respond to pain and the cells that respond to touch have very different structures and distributions, so we were surprised to find that the maps of pain and of touch were so similar in the brain,” Mancini says. “The striking alignment of pain and touch maps suggests powerful interactions between the two systems.”

The pain maps could be used to provide markers for the location of pain in the human brain, enabling clinicians to see how patients’ brains reorganize following chronic pain.

“We know that the organization of other sensory maps in the brain is altered in patients with chronic pain,” says Patrick Haggard, professor in the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “Our method could next be used to track the reorganization of brain maps that occurs in chronic pain, providing new insights into how the brain makes us feel pain. Therefore, measuring the map for pain itself is highly important.”

Source: UCL

The post Brain’s ‘pain map’ pinpoints where it hurts appeared first on Futurity.

cheatgrass_map_500

Cheatgrass sparks fires in US Great Basin

PENN STATE (US) — Invasive cheatgrass may be one reason fires are bigger and more frequent in certain regions of the western United States, say researchers.

Researchers used satellite imagery to identify cheatgrass, a plant species accidentally introduced by settlers in the west during the 1800s, in a disproportionately high number of fires in the Great Basin, a 600,000 square-kilometer arid area in the west that includes large sections of Nevada, as well as parts of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, California, and Oregon.

“Over the past decade, cheatgrass fueled the majority of the largest fires, influencing 39 of the largest 50 fires,” says Jennifer Balch, assistant professor in Penn State’s Department of Geography and Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. “That’s much higher than what it should be when you consider how much of the Great Basin that cheatgrass covers.”


(a) Cheatgrass dominates 40,000 square kilometers of the Great Basin, compared with other vegetation types; (b) Of the total burned area detected by the NASA-MODIS satellite from 2000-2009, over 5000 km2 of cheatgrass-dominated lands burned—more than double the area that burned in any other vegetation. (Credit: Penn State)

The average size of the fires in cheatgrass grasslands, which dominate only about 6 percent of the Great Basin, was significantly larger than the average fire in most regions dominated by other vegetation, including pinyon-juniper areas, montane shrubland, and agricultural land.

In addition to targeting the influence of cheatgass on major fires, the researchers, who report their findings in the online version of Global Change Biology, also found that the plant may play a role in increasing the frequency of fires, says Balch.

“From 2000 to 2009, cheatgrass burned twice as much as any other vegetation,” says Balch.

One of the consequences of more widespread cheatgrass fires is that landscapes dominated by the grass have a shorter fire-return interval—the time between fires in a region—of 78 years, compared to other species like sagebrush, which has a 196-year fire return interval.

“What’s happening is that cheatgrass is creating a novel grass-fire cycle that makes future fires more likely,” says Balch, who started this work at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. “Fire promotes cheatgrass and cheatgrass promotes fires.”

The ability of cheatgrass to rapidly spread and fill in the ground between other plant species may be one reason the plant is involved in larger and more frequent blazes, says Balch.

Balch says the cheatgrass-influenced fires create a difficult management challenge. The fires can threaten agricultural lands and, since more people are building homes in the west, residential areas as well as habitat for threatened native wildlife, such as the greater sage grouse.

While cheatgrass-driven fires have been recognized for decades, remote sensing technology has allowed the researchers to take a regional approach to assessing the problem. They compared burned area detected by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectoradiometer between 2000 to 2009 to regional land cover maps that included cover of cheatgrass.

“Historically, the way remote sensing worked, you could only tell the difference between broad land cover classes such as trees versus wetlands, for instance,” says Bethany Bradley, assistant professor of environmental conservation at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “It is very difficult to capture those details at the species level.”

However, by noticing what conditions favor the growth of certain species, the researchers were able to use the satellite imagery to better pinpoint the growth of different species. For instance, cheatgrass grows during wet periods while many other species do not, Bradley says.

“What you end up seeing is that most years when it is dry, the cheatgrass doesn’t grow much,” says Bradley. “But when there are wet seasons that occur due to the El Nino cycle, cheatgrass cover is very dense and continuous.”

Bradley adds that this is a concern because cheatgrass now dominates more than 40,000 square kilometers, an area that is more than 100 times the size of Salt Lake City, Utah.

According to the researchers, those changes in the vegetation can be detected in the satellite images.

“Being able to detect cheatgrass and burns really enabled us to ask the important question: ‘How does an invasive plant change fire activity across the entire Great Basin?’” Balch says.

The National Science Foundation and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis supported the work. Carla D’Antonio, professor of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and José Gómez-Dans, research associate in the department of geography and the National Centre for Earth Observation at University College London also contributed to the study.

Credit: Penn State

The post Cheatgrass sparks fires in US Great Basin appeared first on Futurity.

In UK, bikes safer than cars for young guys

UCL (UK) — Young men in England who drive face an almost five times greater risk of being hurt per hour than those who ride a bike.

Researchers looked at hospital admissions and deaths in England between 2007 and 2009 for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers that were segregated by age group and sex. Using National Travel Survey data for the same time period, the team converted the distance traveled by each age group, sex, and mode of transport into time spent traveling using mean trip speeds.

“What we found is that risks were similar for men aged between 21 and 49 for all three modes of transport and for female pedestrians and drivers aged 21 and 69 years,” says lead author Jennifer Mindell of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London.

“However, we found that for young male cyclists between 17 and 20 years of age, cycling was markedly safer than traveling by car.

“Perceived road danger is a strong disincentive to cycling and many potential cyclists do not ride on the road due to safety concerns,” Mindell says. “But research regarding the safety of cycling tends to be distorted by a number of errors which are found repeatedly in published papers and policy documents, with many substantially overstating cycling injuries and under-reporting pedestrian injuries.”

As reported in the journal PLoS One, those most at risk when traveling are men between the ages of 17 and 20 for driving, males older than 70 for cycling, and females older than 70 for walking. In general, fatality rates were substantially higher among males than females.

The team compared the UK data with figures from the Netherlands—a country widely perceived to be bike friendly. They found a similar pattern in both countries, with teenage male cyclists less likely to suffer serious injury or death than those traveling by car.

“This research dispels the idea that risk for UK cyclists is substantially higher than for drivers or pedestrians, and hopefully will encourage more people to take up something which is not only good for health, but also the environment,” Mindell says.

“An individual who cycles one hour a day for 40 years would cover about 180,000 km, whilst accumulating only a one in 150 chance of fatal injury. This is lower than for pedestrians who face a higher fatality rate per kilometer traveled,” she adds. “The health benefits of cycling are much greater than the fatality risk.”

Source: UCL

The post In UK, bikes safer than cars for young guys appeared first on Futurity.

Can Amazon trees survive global warming?

UCL (UK) — Tree species in the Amazon are likely to survive climate warming in the coming century, having already weathered temperatures higher than any worst case scenario forecast for the year 2100.

A study published in the latest edition of Ecology and Evolution reveals the surprising age of some Amazonian tree species—more than 8 million years. Having survived warm periods in the past, the tree species will likely survive future warming, provided there are no other major environmental changes.

Although extreme droughts and forest fires will impact Amazonia as temperatures rise, the trees will likely endure the direct impact of higher temperatures.

As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to minimize the risk of drought and fire, conservation policy should remain focused on preventing deforestation for agriculture and mining, researchers say.

The study is at odds with other recent research, based on ecological niche-modeling scenarios, which predicted tree species’ extinctions in response to relatively small increases in global average air temperatures.

The findings are good news for Amazon tree species, but drought and over-exploitation of the forest remain major threats to the Amazon’s future, says Simon Lewis of the department of geography at University College London.

“The past cannot be compared directly with the future. While tree species seem likely to tolerate higher air temperatures than today, the Amazon forest is being converted for agriculture and mining, and what remains is being degraded by logging, and increasingly fragmented by fields and roads.

“Species will not move as freely in today’s Amazon as they did in previous warm periods, when there was no human influence. Similarly, today’s climate change is extremely fast, making comparisons with slower changes in the past difficult.

“With a clearer understanding of the relative risks to the Amazon forest, we conclude that direct human impacts—such as forest clearances for agriculture or mining – should remain a focus of conservation policy. We also need more aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to minimize the risk of drought and fire impacts to secure the future of most Amazon tree species.”

The 12 tree species used in the study are broadly representative of the Amazon tree flora. Samples were collected in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, French Guiana, and Bolivia.

To determine the age of each tree species researchers extracted and sequenced DNA, analyzing the number of genetic mutations. Using a molecular clock approach and population genetic models they estimated how long it would take for each of the species to accumulate the observed number of mutations, providing a minimum age for each species.

They determined that nine of the tree species had existed for at least 2.6 million years, seven for at least 5.6 million years, and three for more than 8 million years.

With reference to climatic events that have occurred since those tree species emerged, the authors inferred that the tree species had previously survived warmer climates.

Air temperatures across Amazonia in the early Pliocene Epoch (3.6 million to 5 million years ago) were similar to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mid-range projections for the region in 2100. Air temperatures in the late Miocene Epoch (5.3 to 11.5 million years ago) were about the same as IPCC projections for the region in 2100 using some of the highest carbon-emission scenarios.

Source: UCL

The post Can Amazon trees survive global warming? appeared first on Futurity.

Deep-sea vents hint at life’s origin

UCL (UK) — Scientists say the chemistry of deep-sea hydrothermal vents may explain how the first living cells developed.

At the origin of life, the first protocells must have needed a vast amount of energy to drive their metabolism and replication, as enzymes that catalyze very specific reactions were yet to evolve.

So where did all that energy come from on the early Earth, and how did it get focused into driving the organic chemistry required for life?

Nick Lane at the University College London and Bill Martin at the University of Dusseldorf address those questions—and why all life as we know it conserves energy in the peculiar form of ion gradients across membranes—in their research published in the journal Cell.

“Life is, in effect, a side-reaction of an energy-harnessing reaction. Living organisms require vast amounts of energy to go on living,” says Lane. “It is possible to trace a coherent pathway leading from no more than rocks, water, and carbon dioxide to the strange bioenergetic properties of all cells living today.”

Humans consume more than a kilogram (more than 700 liters) of oxygen every day, exhaling it as carbon dioxide. The simplest cells, growing from the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide, produce about 40 times by mass as much waste product from their respiration as organic carbon.

In all these cases, the energy derived from respiration is stored in the form of ion gradients over membranes.

This strange trait is as universal to life as the genetic code itself.

Lane and Martin show that bacteria capable of growing on no more than hydrogen and carbon dioxide are remarkably similar in the details of their carbon and energy metabolism to the far-from-equilibrium chemistry occurring in a particular type of deep-sea hydrothermal vent, known as alkaline hydrothermal vents.

Based on measured values, they calculate that natural proton gradients, acting across thin semi-conducting iron-sulphur mineral walls, could have driven the assimilation of organic carbon, giving rise to protocells within the microporous labyrinth of these vents.

They go on to demonstrate that such protocells are limited by their own permeability, which ultimately forced them to transduce natural proton gradients into biochemical sodium gradients, at no net energetic cost, using a simple Na+/H+ transporter.

Their hypothesis predicts a core set of proteins required for early energy conservation, and explains the puzzling promiscuity of respiratory proteins for both protons and sodium ions.

These considerations could also explain the deep divergence between bacteria and archaea, single celled microorganisms.

Source: University College London

The post Deep-sea vents hint at life’s origin appeared first on Futurity.

In UK, ‘stiff upper lip’ hurts cancer survival

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON / UCL (UK) — Cultural factors may explain some of the differences in cancer survival rates between the UK and other high-income countries.

A new study published in the British Journal of Cancer shows factors such as embarrassment and not wanting to waste a doctor’s time may hold British people back from seeking early medical advice for symptoms of cancer.

The study is part of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which has previously found that for lung, breast, bowel, and ovarian cancers diagnosed between 1995 and 2007, Australia, Canada, Sweden, and Norway had the highest rates of survival, and Denmark and UK the lowest, despite all the countries having similarly good cancer registration systems and good access to health care.

For example, in the UK, the one year survival rate of those diagnosed with lung cancer between 2005 and 2007 was 30 percent, compared to 44 percent in Sweden. Researchers wanted to find out whether survival rates for a country might be influenced by the population’s cancer awareness and beliefs.

In partnership with Cancer Research UK and Ipsos MORI, the team surveyed 19,079 men and women 50 and older in Australia (4,002 individuals), Canada (2,064), Denmark (2,000), Norway (2,009), Sweden (2,039), and the UK (6,965).

There was little difference in awareness of cancer symptoms and beliefs about cancer outcomes between the countries. However, the study revealed significant differences in people’s barriers to symptomatic presentation.

Being worried about wasting the doctor’s time was particularly common in the UK (34 percent) and least common in Sweden (9 percent). Embarrassment about going to the doctor with a symptom that might be serious was most commonly reported in the UK (15 percent) and least in Denmark (6 percent).

The study also found that awareness of the risk of cancer being higher in older people varied significantly across countries, being lowest in Canada (13 percent) and the UK (14 percent) and highest in Sweden (38 percent).

“The UK stood out in this study,” says Lindsay Forbes, from the Promoting Early Presentation Group at King’s College London and joint lead author of the study. “A high proportion of people said that not wanting to waste the doctor’s time and embarrassment might stop them going to the doctor with a symptom that might be serious.

“The traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ could be preventing people from seeing their doctor. We need to support people to make the right decisions about their health and increase awareness of the age-related risk.”

Professor Jane Wardle from University College London adds: “In the UK, it’s important to understand more about how people make the decision to go to their GP with possible cancer symptoms, and how they interact with their GP, to identify the best ways to reduce barriers to early presentation.”

The study was funded by the UK’s Department of Health, with additional funding from the National Cancer Action Team (UK), Northern Ireland Public Health Agency (UK), Tenovus and Welsh Government (UK), Cancer Council Victoria (Australia), Department of Health Victoria (Australia), Cancer Institute New South Wales (Australia), Canadian Partnership against Cancer, Danish Cancer Society, Novo Nordic Foundation (Denmark), Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs, Swedish Social Ministry and the Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Sweden). Program management was provided by Cancer Research UK.

Sources: King’s College London, University College London

The post In UK, ‘stiff upper lip’ hurts cancer survival appeared first on Futurity.

futurelist_2013

On the web, Germans win at looking ahead

U. WARWICK / UCL (UK) — Millions of Google searches from 2012 reveal that Germany looked to the future online more than any other country, say researchers.

The UK, which held the number one spot in 2011, has been knocked off its perch as the most forward-looking country and is ranked fourth in 2012.

A focus on upcoming general elections, scheduled for this year, may drive Germany’s rise up the charts in 2012. (Credit: U. Warwick)

The Future-Orientation Index is the work of Tobias Preis of the University of Warwick Business School and Helen Susannah Moat of University College London. Preis, Moat, and colleagues began the annual rankings in 2012 in Scientific Reports.

They analyzed millions of Google logs from 2012 from 45 different countries to calculate the ratio of the volume of searches for “2013″ to the volume of searches for “2011.”

Previous research using this search data has shown that countries with internet users who search for more information about the future tend to have a higher per-capita GDP.

The Future-Orientation Index for 2012 shows Germany as the nation most focused on the future, with Japan second, Switzerland third, and the UK fourth. At the bottom of the rankings are Pakistan, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan.

In 2011 the UK was the nation most focused on 2012 in comparison to 2010, as the country prepared for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Poland and Ukraine also ranked higher in 2011, in the lead up to their joint hosting of the European Football Championships in 2012, but fell 11 and 13 places each in 2012.

A focus on upcoming general elections, scheduled for this year, may drive Germany’s rise up the charts in 2012.

Nigeria was the biggest climber in 2012, moving up 15 places and despite its economy entering its fifth recession in 15 years, Japan also made a big leap up the Future-Orientation Index, rising from ninth to third.

“In general we find a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a larger per capita GDP,” says Preis, associate professor of behavioral science and finance at Warwick Business School.

“There seems to be a relationship with the economic success of a country and the information seeking behavior of its citizens online.”

“We see two leading explanations for this relationship between search activity and GDP,” adds Moat, of the department of civil, environmental, and geomatic engineering.

“Firstly, these findings may reflect international differences in attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports economic success.

“Secondly, these findings may reflect international differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic influences on available Internet infrastructure.”

(Credit: U. Warwick)

Source: University of Warwick

The post On the web, Germans win at looking ahead appeared first on Futurity.

Hypnosis sheds light on mystery paralysis

CARDIFF U. / UCL (UK) — Hypnosis could offer a window into the brains of people with medically unexplained paralysis, say researchers.

A special issue of Cortex illustrates how methodological and theoretical advances, using hypnotic suggestion, can return novel and experimentally verifiable insights for the neuroscience of consciousness and motor control.

To demonstrate the future potential of this growing field, guest editors Professor Peter Halligan from the School of Psychology at Cardiff University and David A. Oakley of University College London, brought together leading researchers from cognitive neuroscience and hypnosis to contribute to the issue.

The research also includes brain imaging studies that address skeptics’ concerns regarding the subjective reality and comparability of hypnotically suggested phenomena that previously depended on subjects’ largely unverifiable report and behavior.

Halligan and Oakley also contribute to a new brain-imaging study in the special issue that explores the brain systems involved in hypnotic paralysis. This research follows their earlier pioneering work on hypnotic leg paralysis reported in the Lancet in 2000.

Patients with “functional” or “psychogenic” conversion disorders present symptoms, such as paralyses, are clinically challenging. They comprise between 30 and 40 percent of patients attending neurology outpatient clinics and place a huge strain on public health services.

“This new study, working with colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, suggests that hypnosis can provide insights into of the brain systems involved in patients who display symptoms of neurological illness, but without evidence of brain damage,” says Halligan.

New insights show that symptoms experienced by patients with functional or dissociative conversion disorders (e.g. medically unexplained paralysis) can be simulated using targeted hypnotic suggestion.

“In this study we monitored brain activations of healthy volunteers with hypnosis induction who experienced paralysis-like experiences which could be turned ‘on’ and ‘off.’ The suggestion resulted in subjects being unable to move a joystick together with a realistic and compelling experience of being unable to move and control their left hand despite trying.

“When compared to the completed movements, the suggested paralysis condition revealed increased activity in brain regions know to be active during motor planning and intention to move—and also brain areas involved in response selection and inhibition.”

Comparing symptoms conveyed by conversion disorder patients and those produced by “paralysis” suggestions in hypnosis, has revealed similar patterns of brain activation associated with attempted movement of the affected limb.

These findings could inform future studies of the brain mechanisms underpinning limb paralysis in patients with conversion disorders. More importantly, they could lead to effective treatments.

Source: Cardiff University

The post Hypnosis sheds light on mystery paralysis appeared first on Futurity.

In England, who’s drinking the ‘missing’ alcohol?

UCL (UK) —Alcohol consumption in England may be higher than previously thought, with more than three quarters of people exceeding the recommended daily limit.

International studies have shown that self-reported alcohol consumption only accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of alcohol sales.

A recent study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, investigated the discrepancy to find the potential impact of this “missing” alcohol on public health.

“Currently we don’t know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England,” says Sadie Boniface, the study’s lead author and a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.

“This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for, if everyone under-reported equally. The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England.”

The Royal College of Physicians recommend weekly alcohol limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women, while the UK Chief Medical Officers have recommended not to regularly exceed four units a day for men and three units a day for women.

After correcting the data for the under-reporting of alcohol consumption, researchers found that the prevalence of drinking more than the weekly guidelines increases by 15 percent in men and 11 percent in women, such that 44 percent of men and 31 percent of women exceed the guidelines. Similarly, the prevalence of drinking above the daily limit increases by 19 percent in men (to 75 percent) and 26 percent in women (to 80 percent).

The study also shows that when under-reporting is taken in to account, approximately half of men and women could be classed as “binge drinkers” (defined by the Department of Health as consuming more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units for women).

“What’s needed now is a detailed understanding of whether some people under-report their consumption more than others: to what extent does this vary between men and women for example, by how much someone drinks, or by what types of drink they prefer,” Boniface says.

“Little is known on this at present, but this could reveal groups who under-estimate their alcohol consumption substantially, illuminating areas where targeted alcohol education initiatives should be developed.”

Source: University College London

The post In England, who’s drinking the ‘missing’ alcohol? appeared first on Futurity.

noble_gas_770

Noble gas molecule found in remains of exploded star

Astronomers have discovered a molecule in space that contains a noble gas. Until now, scientists thought such compounds only existed on Earth.

The find was made using an instrument aboard Europe’s Herschel Space Observatory. The molecule, argon hydride, was seen in the crab nebula, the remains of a star that exploded 1,000 years ago

The noble gases, which include helium, argon, radon, and krypton, usually do not react easily with other chemical elements, and are often found on their own. In the right circumstances, however, they can form molecules with other elements. Such chemical compounds have only ever been studied in laboratories on Earth, leading astronomers to assume the right conditions simply do not occur in space.

An image of the crab nebula taken with the Herschel PACS instrument showing the location of the dusty filaments. The graph below shows the emission lines which allowed the team to identify and discover the ionised argon hydride molecules for the first time. (Credit: ESA/HERSCHEL/SPIRE and PACS/MESS GTKP supernova remnant team)

An image of the crab nebula taken with the Herschel PACS instrument showing the location of the dusty filaments. The graph below shows the emission lines which allowed the team to identify and discover the ionised argon hydride molecules for the first time. (Credit: ESA/HERSCHEL/SPIRE and PACS/MESS GTKP supernova remnant team)

“The crab nebula was only formed 1,000 years ago when a massive star exploded,” says Haley Gomez of Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. “Not only is it very young in astronomical terms, but also relatively close, at just 6,500 light years away, providing an excellent way to study what happens in these stellar explosions.

“Last year, we used the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory to study the intricate network of gas filaments to show how exploding stars are creating huge amounts of space dust.”

Further measurements of the crab nebula were made using Herschel’s SPIRE instrument. Its development and operation was led by Professor Matt Griffin, from the School of Physics and Astronomy. As molecules spin in space, they emit light of very specific wavelengths, or colors, called “emission lines.”

The precise wavelength is dictated by the composition and structure of the molecule. Studying the emission lines observed by the SPIRE instrument allows astronomers to study the chemistry of outer space.

Bizarre discovery

The team, led by Professor Mike Barlow from University College London, did not set out to make the discovery, but stumbled upon it almost by accident. “We were really concentrating on studying the dust in the filaments with SPIRE, and out pops these two bright emission lines exactly where we see the dust shining,” says Gomez.

“The team had a hard time figuring out what these lines were from, as no one had seen them before.”

Barlow adds: “At first, the discovery of argon seemed bizarre. With hot gas still expanding at high speeds after the explosion, a supernova remnant is a harsh, hot, and hostile environment, and one of the places where we least expected to find a noble-gas based molecule.”

It now seems the crab nebula provides exactly the right conditions to form such molecules. The argon was produced in the initial stellar explosion, and then ionized, or energized, with electrons stripped from the atoms in resulting intense radiation as shockwaves.

These shockwaves led to the formation of the network of cool filaments containing cold molecular hydrogen, made of two hydrogen atoms. The ionized argon then mixed with the cool gas to provide perfect conditions for noble gas compounds to form.

The measurements allowed the team to gauge other properties in argon molecules.

“Finding this kind of molecule allowed us to evaluate the type (or isotope) of argon we discovered in the crab nebula,” says Gomez. “We now know that it is different from argon we see in rocks on the Earth. Future measurements will allow us to probe what exactly took place in the explosion 1,000 years ago.”

The details of the discovery are reported in the journal Science.

Source: Cardiff University

The post Noble gas molecule found in remains of exploded star appeared first on Futurity.