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

Concept: Plasma


OBJECTIVE: To characterise the influence of diet on abdominal symptoms, anal gas evacuation, intestinal gas distribution and colonic microbiota in patients complaining of flatulence. DESIGN: Patients complaining of flatulence (n=30) and healthy subjects (n=20) were instructed to follow their usual diet for 3 days (basal phase) and to consume a high-flatulogenic diet for another 3 days (challenge phase). RESULTS: During basal phase, patients recorded more abdominal symptoms than healthy subjects in daily questionnaires (5.8±0.3 vs 0.4±0.2 mean discomfort/pain score, respectively; p=<0.0001) and more gas evacuations by an event marker (21.9±2.8 vs 7.4±1.0 daytime evacuations, respectively; p=0.0001), without differences in the volume of gas evacuated after a standard meal (262±22 and 265±25 mL, respectively). On flatulogenic diet, both groups recorded more abdominal symptoms (7.9±0.3 and 2.8±0.4 discomfort/pain, respectively), number of gas evacuations (44.4±5.3 and 21.7±2.9 daytime evacuations, respectively) and had more gas production (656±52 and 673±78 mL, respectively; p<0.05 vs basal diet for all). When challenged with flatulogenic diet, patients' microbiota developed instability in composition, exhibiting variations in the main phyla and reduction of microbial diversity, whereas healthy subjects' microbiota were stable. Taxa from Bacteroides fragilis or Bilophila wadsworthia correlated with number of gas evacuations or volume of gas evacuated, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Patients complaining of flatulence have a poor tolerance of intestinal gas, which is associated with instability of the microbial ecosystem.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Fundamental physics concepts, Intestine, Flatulence, Plasma, Emergency evacuation, Bacteroides fragilis


A glowing ribbon of purple light running east-west in the night sky has recently been observed by citizen scientists. This narrow, subauroral, visible structure, distinct from the traditional auroral oval, was largely undocumented in the scientific literature and little was known about its formation. Amateur photo sequences showed colors distinctly different from common types of aurora and occasionally indicated magnetic field-aligned substructures. Observations from the Swarm satellite as it crossed the arc have revealed an unusual level of electron temperature enhancement and density depletion, along with a strong westward ion flow, indicating that a pronounced subauroral ion drift (SAID) is associated with this structure. These early results suggest the arc is an optical manifestation of SAID, presenting new opportunities for investigation of the dynamic SAID signatures from the ground. On the basis of the measured ion properties and original citizen science name, we propose to identify this arc as a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE).

Concepts: Scientific method, Electron, Light, Temperature, Science, Observation, Book of Optics, Plasma


Nuclear fusion is regularly created in spherical plasma compressions driven by multi-kilojoule pulses from the world’s largest lasers. Here we demonstrate a dense fusion environment created by irradiating arrays of deuterated nanostructures with joule-level pulses from a compact ultrafast laser. The irradiation of ordered deuterated polyethylene nanowires arrays with femtosecond pulses of relativistic intensity creates ultra-high energy density plasmas in which deuterons (D) are accelerated up to MeV energies, efficiently driving D-D fusion reactions and ultrafast neutron bursts. We measure up to 2 × 106fusion neutrons per joule, an increase of about 500 times with respect to flat solid targets, a record yield for joule-level lasers. Moreover, in accordance with simulation predictions, we observe a rapid increase in neutron yield with laser pulse energy. The results will impact nuclear science and high energy density research and can lead to bright ultrafast quasi-monoenergetic neutron point sources for imaging and materials studies.

Concepts: Energy, Laser, Neutron, Nuclear fusion, Nuclear fission, Plasma, Helium-3, Tritium


We numerically investigate terahertz (THz) pulse generation by linearly-polarized, two-color femtosecond laser pulses in highly-ionized argon. Major processes consist of tunneling photoionization and ponderomotive forces associated with transverse and longitudinal field excitations. By means of two-dimensional particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations, we reveal the importance of photocurrent mechanisms besides transverse and longitudinal plasma waves for laser intensities >10(15) W/cm(2). We demonstrate the following. (i) With two-color pulses, photoionization prevails in the generation of GV/m THz fields up to 10(17) W/cm(2) laser intensities and suddenly loses efficiency near the relativistic threshold, as the outermost electron shell of ionized Ar atoms has been fully depleted. (ii) PIC results can be explained by a one-dimensional Maxwell-fluid model and its semi-analytical solutions, offering the first unified description of the main THz sources created in plasmas. (iii) The THz power emitted outside the plasma channel mostly originates from the transverse currents.

Concepts: Electron, Laser, Electromagnetic spectrum, Plasma, Infrared, Microwave, Terahertz radiation, Free electron laser


The most recent “grand minimum” of solar activity, the Maunder minimum (MM, 1650-1710), is of great interest both for understanding the solar dynamo and providing insight into possible future heliospheric conditions. Here, we use nearly 30 years of output from a data-constrained magnetohydrodynamic model of the solar corona to calibrate heliospheric reconstructions based solely on sunspot observations. Using these empirical relations, we produce the first quantitative estimate of global solar wind variations over the last 400 years. Relative to the modern era, the MM shows a factor 2 reduction in near-Earth heliospheric magnetic field strength and solar wind speed, and up to a factor 4 increase in solar wind Mach number. Thus solar wind energy input into the Earth’s magnetosphere was reduced, resulting in a more Jupiter-like system, in agreement with the dearth of auroral reports from the time. The global heliosphere was both smaller and more symmetric under MM conditions, which has implications for the interpretation of cosmogenic radionuclide data and resulting total solar irradiance estimates during grand minima.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnetohydrodynamics, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Sun, Plasma, Solar wind, Sunspot


Ignition is needed to make fusion energy a viable alternative energy source, but has yet to be achieved. A key step on the way to ignition is to have the energy generated through fusion reactions in an inertially confined fusion plasma exceed the amount of energy deposited into the deuterium-tritium fusion fuel and hotspot during the implosion process, resulting in a fuel gain greater than unity. Here we report the achievement of fusion fuel gains exceeding unity on the US National Ignition Facility using a ‘high-foot’ implosion method, which is a manipulation of the laser pulse shape in a way that reduces instability in the implosion. These experiments show an order-of-magnitude improvement in yield performance over past deuterium-tritium implosion experiments. We also see a significant contribution to the yield from α-particle self-heating and evidence for the ‘bootstrapping’ required to accelerate the deuterium-tritium fusion burn to eventually ‘run away’ and ignite.

Concepts: Laser, Nuclear fusion, Plasma, Nuclear power, Energy development, Alternative energy, Fusion power, Inertial confinement fusion


About 200 second-hand plastic toys sourced in the UK have been analysed by x-ray fluorescence spectrometry for hazardous elements (As, Ba, Cd, Cr, Hg, Pb, Sb, Se) and Br as a proxy for brominated flame retardants. Each element was detected in > 20 toys or components thereof with the exception of As, Hg and Se, with the frequent occurrence of Br, Cd and Pb and at maximum concentrations of about 16,000, 20,000 and 5000 μg g-1, respectively, of greatest concern from a potential exposure perspective. Migration was evaluated on components of 26 toys under simulated stomach conditions (0.07 M HCl) with subsequent analysis by inductively coupled plasma spectrometry. In eight cases, Cd or Pb exceeded their migration limits as stipulated by the current EU Toy Safety Directive (17 and 23 μμ g-1, respectively), with Cd released from yellow and red Lego bricks exceeding its limit by an order of magnitude. Two further cases were potentially non-compliant based on migratable Cr, with one item also containing > 250 μg g-1 migratable Br. While there is no retroactive regulation on second-hand toys, consumers should be aware that old, mouthable, plastic items may present a source of hazardous element exposure to infants.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence, Chemistry, Flame retardant, Plasma, Brominated flame retardant, Toy, Lego


The elemental composition in the coronae of low-activity solar-like stars appears to be related to fundamental stellar properties such as rotation, surface gravity, and spectral type. Here we use full-Sun observations from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, to show that when the Sun is observed as a star, the variation of coronal composition is highly correlated with a proxy for solar activity, the F10.7 cm radio flux, and therefore with the solar cycle phase. Similar cyclic variations should therefore be detectable spectroscopically in X-ray observations of solar analogs. The plasma composition in full-disk observations of the Sun is related to the evolution of coronal magnetic field activity. Our observations therefore introduce an uncertainty into the nature of any relationship between coronal composition and fixed stellar properties. The results highlight the importance of systematic full-cycle observations for understanding the elemental composition of solar-like stellar coronae.The Sun’s elemental composition is a vital part of understanding the processes that transport energy from the interior to the outer atmosphere. Here, the authors show that if the Sun is observed as a star, then the variation of coronal composition is highly correlated with the F10.7cm radio flux.

Concepts: Energy, Earth, Sun, Plasma, Star, Sunspot, Corona, Solar cycle


The Martian limb (that is, the observed ‘edge’ of the planet) represents a unique window into the complex atmospheric phenomena occurring there. Clouds of ice crystals (CO2 ice or H2O ice) have been observed numerous times by spacecraft and ground-based telescopes, showing that clouds are typically layered and always confined below an altitude of 100 kilometres; suspended dust has also been detected at altitudes up to 60 kilometres during major dust storms. Highly concentrated and localized patches of auroral emission controlled by magnetic field anomalies in the crust have been observed at an altitude of 130 kilometres. Here we report the occurrence in March and April 2012 of two bright, extremely high-altitude plumes at the Martian terminator (the day-night boundary) at 200 to 250 kilometres or more above the surface, and thus well into the ionosphere and the exosphere. They were spotted at a longitude of about 195° west, a latitude of about -45° (at Terra Cimmeria), extended about 500 to 1,000 kilometres in both the north-south and east-west directions, and lasted for about 10 days. The features exhibited day-to-day variability, and were seen at the morning terminator but not at the evening limb, which indicates rapid evolution in less than 10 hours and a cyclic behaviour. We used photometric measurements to explore two possible scenarios and investigate their nature. For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust. Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected. Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars' upper atmosphere.

Concepts: Light, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Sun, Mars, Atmosphere, Plasma, Solar wind


Life on Earth relies on chiral molecules-that is, species not superimposable on their mirror images. This manifests itself in the selection of a single molecular handedness, or homochirality, across the biosphere. We present the astronomical detection of a chiral molecule, propylene oxide (CH3CHCH2O), in absorption toward the Galactic center. Propylene oxide is detected in the gas phase in a cold, extended molecular shell around the embedded, massive protostellar clusters in the Sagittarius B2 star-forming region. This material is representative of the earliest stage of solar system evolution in which a chiral molecule has been found.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Earth, Sun, Solar System, Plasma, Universe, Milky Way