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


The NASA MESSENGER mission explored the innermost planet of the solar system and obtained a rich data set of range measurements for the determination of Mercury’s ephemeris. Here we use these precise data collected over 7 years to estimate parameters related to general relativity and the evolution of the Sun. These results confirm the validity of the strong equivalence principle with a significantly refined uncertainty of the Nordtvedt parameter η = (-6.6 ± 7.2) × 10-5. By assuming a metric theory of gravitation, we retrieved the post-Newtonian parameter β = 1 + (-1.6 ± 1.8) × 10-5 and the Sun’s gravitational oblateness, [Formula: see text] = (2.246 ± 0.022) × 10-7. Finally, we obtain an estimate of the time variation of the Sun gravitational parameter, [Formula: see text] = (-6.13 ± 1.47) × 10-14, which is consistent with the expected solar mass loss due to the solar wind and interior processes. This measurement allows us to constrain [Formula: see text] to be <4 × 10-14 per year.

Concepts: Sun, General relativity, Mass, Solar System, Mars, Gravitation, Mercury, Equivalence principle


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


Quasars are the most luminous non-transient objects known, and as such they enable studies of the Universe at the earliest cosmic epochs. Despite extensive efforts, however, the quasar ULAS J1120+0641 at redshift z = 7.09 (hereafter J1120+0641) has remained the only one known at z > 7 for more than half a decade1. Here we report observations of the quasar ULAS J134208.10+092838.61 (hereafter J1342+0928) at a redshift of z = 7.54. This quasar has a bolometric luminosity of 4 × 1014L⊙ and a black hole mass of 8 × 108M⊙. The existence of this supermassive black hole when the Universe was only 690 million years old, just five per cent of its current age, reinforces early models of black hole growth that allow black holes with initial masses of more than about 104M⊙ (refs 2, 3) or episodic hyper-Eddington accretion4,5. We see strong evidence of the quasar’s Lyα emission line being absorbed by a Gunn-Peterson damping wing from the intergalactic medium, as would be expected if the intergalactic hydrogen surrounding J1342+0928 is significantly neutral. We derive a significant neutral fraction, although the exact value depends on the modelling. However, even in our most conservative analysis we find xHI > 0.33 (xHI > 0.11) at 68 per cent (95 per cent) probability, indicating that we are probing well within the reionization epoch.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, General relativity, Black hole, Supermassive black hole, Quasar, Intermediate-mass black hole