Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: General relativity


The ‘standard’ model of cosmology is founded on the basis that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating at present - as was inferred originally from the Hubble diagram of Type Ia supernovae. There exists now a much bigger database of supernovae so we can perform rigorous statistical tests to check whether these ‘standardisable candles’ indeed indicate cosmic acceleration. Taking account of the empirical procedure by which corrections are made to their absolute magnitudes to allow for the varying shape of the light curve and extinction by dust, we find, rather surprisingly, that the data are still quite consistent with a constant rate of expansion.

Concepts: Galaxy, Supernova, Redshift, General relativity, Universe, Physical cosmology, Dark energy, Accelerating universe


The human face is a complex trait under strong genetic control, as evidenced by the striking visual similarity between twins. Nevertheless, heritability estimates of facial traits have often been surprisingly low or difficult to replicate. Furthermore, the construction of facial phenotypes that correspond to naturally perceived facial features remains largely a mystery. We present here a large-scale heritability study of face geometry that aims to address these issues. High-resolution, three-dimensional facial models have been acquired on a cohort of 952 twins recruited from the TwinsUK registry, and processed through a novel landmarking workflow, GESSA (Geodesic Ensemble Surface Sampling Algorithm). The algorithm places thousands of landmarks throughout the facial surface and automatically establishes point-wise correspondence across faces. These landmarks enabled us to intuitively characterize facial geometry at a fine level of detail through curvature measurements, yielding accurate heritability maps of the human face (

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, General relativity, Face perception, Heredity, Differential geometry, Analytic geometry, Morphology


Although most organisms thermoregulate behaviorally, biologists still cannot easily predict whether mobile animals will thermoregulate in natural environments. Current models fail because they ignore how the spatial distribution of thermal resources constrains thermoregulatory performance over space and time. To overcome this limitation, we modeled the spatially explicit movements of animals constrained by access to thermal resources. Our models predict that ectotherms thermoregulate more accurately when thermal resources are dispersed throughout space than when these resources are clumped. This prediction was supported by thermoregulatory behaviors of lizards in outdoor arenas with known distributions of environmental temperatures. Further, simulations showed how the spatial structure of the landscape qualitatively affects responses of animals to climate. Biologists will need spatially explicit models to predict impacts of climate change on local scales.

Concepts: Time, Physics, General relativity, Natural environment, Space, Spacetime, Universe, Philosophy of space and time


Prediction and control of the dynamics of complex networks is a central problem in network science. Structural and dynamical similarities of different real networks suggest that some universal laws might accurately describe the dynamics of these networks, albeit the nature and common origin of such laws remain elusive. Here we show that the causal network representing the large-scale structure of spacetime in our accelerating universe is a power-law graph with strong clustering, similar to many complex networks such as the Internet, social, or biological networks. We prove that this structural similarity is a consequence of the asymptotic equivalence between the large-scale growth dynamics of complex networks and causal networks. This equivalence suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of complex networks and spacetime in the universe, with implications to network science and cosmology.

Concepts: Mathematics, Physics, Redshift, General relativity, Universe, Dark energy, Network theory, Accelerating universe


While humans are capable of mentally transcending the here and now, this faculty for mental time travel (MTT) is dependent upon an underlying cognitive representation of time. To this end, linguistic, cognitive and behavioral evidence has revealed that people understand abstract temporal constructs by mapping them to concrete spatial domains (e.g. past = backward, future = forward). However, very little research has investigated factors that may determine the topographical characteristics of these spatiotemporal maps. Guided by the imperative role of episodic content for retrospective and prospective thought (i.e., MTT), here we explored the possibility that the spatialization of time is influenced by the amount of episodic detail a temporal unit contains. In two experiments, participants mapped temporal events along mediolateral (Experiment 1) and anterioposterior (Experiment 2) spatial planes. Importantly, the temporal units varied in self-relevance as they pertained to temporally proximal or distal events in the participant’s own life, the life of a best friend or the life of an unfamiliar other. Converging evidence from both experiments revealed that the amount of space used to represent time varied as a function of target (self, best friend or unfamiliar other) and temporal distance. Specifically, self-time was represented as occupying more space than time pertaining to other targets, but only for temporally proximal events. These results demonstrate the malleability of space-time mapping and suggest that there is a self-specific conceptualization of time that may influence MTT as well as other temporally relevant cognitive phenomena.

Concepts: Time, Physics, General relativity, Space, Spacetime, Map, Universe, Gottfried Leibniz


An object in outer space is weightless due to the absence of gravity, but astronauts can still judge whether one object is heavier than another one by accelerating the object. How heavy an object feels depends on the exploration mode: an object is perceived as heavier when holding it against the pull of gravity than when accelerating it. At the same time, perceiving an object’s size influences the percept: small objects feel heavier than large objects with the same mass (size-weight illusion). Does this effect depend on perception of the pull of gravity? To answer this question, objects were suspended from a long wire and participants were asked to push an object and rate its heaviness. This way the contribution of gravitational forces on the percept was minimised. Our results show that weight is not at all necessary for the illusion because the size-weight illusion occurred without perception of weight. The magnitude of the illusion was independent of whether inertial or gravitational forces were perceived. We conclude that the size-weight illusion does not depend on prior knowledge about weights of object, but instead on a more general knowledge about the mass of objects, independent of the contribution of gravity. Consequently, the size-weight illusion will have the same magnitude on Earth as it should have on the Moon or even under conditions of weightlessness.

Concepts: General relativity, Cognition, Force, Space, Gravitation, Classical mechanics, Weightlessness, Weight


The de-Sitter metric is a special form of the non-static Friedmann metric, and appears to be genuinely non-static since it describes the initial exponential expansion of the Big Bang universe. However, the de Sitter metric appears to be perfectly static in the Schwarzschild frame where the vacuum fluid is supposed to be in motion. Here we highlight the conflicts between the static and non-static versions of the de-Sitter metric from a physical perspective. In particular, while the “Principle of Energy Conservation” is honored in one case, the same is badly violated for the other. However, we offer a partial resolution of such conflicts by deriving the static de Sitter metric by solving the relevant field equations. It is seen that, it is the very special vacuum equation of state pressure = -density which results in the static form even when the vacuum fluid is supposed to be in motion.

Concepts: Big Bang, Redshift, General relativity, Cosmic microwave background radiation, Universe, Cosmological constant, Physical cosmology, Dark energy


Despite the observed severe effects of microgravity on mammalian cells, many astronauts have completed long term stays in space without suffering from severe health problems. This raises questions about the cellular capacity for adaptation to a new gravitational environment. The International Space Station (ISS) experiment TRIPLE LUX A, performed in the BIOLAB laboratory of the ISS COLUMBUS module, allowed for the first time the direct measurement of a cellular function in real time and on orbit. We measured the oxidative burst reaction in mammalian macrophages (NR8383 rat alveolar macrophages) exposed to a centrifuge regime of internal 0 g and 1 g controls and step-wise increase or decrease of the gravitational force in four independent experiments. Surprisingly, we found that these macrophages adapted to microgravity in an ultra-fast manner within seconds, after an immediate inhibitory effect on the oxidative burst reaction. For the first time, we provided direct evidence of cellular sensitivity to gravity, through real-time on orbit measurements and by using an experimental system, in which all factors except gravity were constant. The surprisingly ultra-fast adaptation to microgravity indicates that mammalian macrophages are equipped with a highly efficient adaptation potential to a low gravity environment. This opens new avenues for the exploration of adaptation of mammalian cells to gravitational changes.

Concepts: Immune system, Macrophage, General relativity, Gravitation, Weightlessness, International Space Station, Space exploration, Columbus


So far, roughly 40 quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 have been discovered. Each quasar contains a black hole with a mass of about one billion solar masses (10(9) ). The existence of such black holes when the Universe was less than one billion years old presents substantial challenges to theories of the formation and growth of black holes and the coevolution of black holes and galaxies. Here we report the discovery of an ultraluminous quasar, SDSS J010013.02+280225.8, at redshift z = 6.30. It has an optical and near-infrared luminosity a few times greater than those of previously known z > 6 quasars. On the basis of the deep absorption trough on the blue side of the Lyman-α emission line in the spectrum, we estimate the proper size of the ionized proximity zone associated with the quasar to be about 26 million light years, larger than found with other z > 6.1 quasars with lower luminosities. We estimate (on the basis of a near-infrared spectrum) that the black hole has a mass of ∼1.2 × 10(10) , which is consistent with the 1.3 × 10(10) derived by assuming an Eddington-limited accretion rate.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, General relativity, Mass, Universe, Quasar, Gravitational lens


Quasars are associated with and powered by the accretion of material onto massive black holes; the detection of highly luminous quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 suggests that black holes of up to ten billion solar masses already existed 13 billion years ago. Two possible present-day ‘dormant’ descendants of this population of ‘active’ black holes have been found in the galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 at the centres of the Leo and Coma galaxy clusters, which together form the central region of the Great Wall-the largest local structure of galaxies. The most luminous quasars, however, are not confined to such high-density regions of the early Universe; yet dormant black holes of this high mass have not yet been found outside of modern-day rich clusters. Here we report observations of the stellar velocity distribution in the galaxy NGC 1600-a relatively isolated elliptical galaxy near the centre of a galaxy group at a distance of 64 megaparsecs from Earth. We use orbit superposition models to determine that the black hole at the centre of NGC 1600 has a mass of 17 billion solar masses. The spatial distribution of stars near the centre of NGC 1600 is rather diffuse. We find that the region of depleted stellar density in the cores of massive elliptical galaxies extends over the same radius as the gravitational sphere of influence of the central black holes, and interpret this as the dynamical imprint of the black holes.

Concepts: Galaxy, Redshift, General relativity, Gravitation, Universe, Supermassive black hole, Dark matter, Milky Way