Top Science News

A 4 Billion Light-Year Journey

For the first time ever, scientists have detected a single high-energy neutrino from outside our galaxy and were able to track it back to its source, 4 billion light-years away.

Neutrinos are a sub-atomic particle with almost no mass and no electrical charge, often referred to as a ghost particle. They very rarely interact with matter and are therefore very difficult to detect – billions of neutrinos pass through us unnoticed every second. However, one benefit of this lack of interaction is that once a neutrino is detected, it carries untouched information about where it’s come from.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory detected a single high-energy neutrino on 22nd September 2017 using 5,000 sensors drilled deep underneath the South Pole. Within a minute, the observatory alerted over 20 ground and space telescopes around the world that then began to search the region the neutrino had come from, looking for gamma rays, x-rays and visible light that could indicate the source of the neutrino. It is this method of looking at the whole electromagnetic spectrum that is particularly exciting as a new means to learn about the cosmos.

The evidence showed that the neutrino likely originated in a type of galaxy called a blazar – specifically, TXS 0506+056 – located about 4 billion light-years from Earth. Blazars are similar to all other galaxies in that they contain a supermassive black hole at the centre, however, unlike our own galaxy the Milky Way, this black hole is actively dragging matter like gas and stars into them. This process causes them to shoot out extreme jets of particles from the top and bottom axis of the black hole. It happens that one of these jets was pointing to Earth and this is exactly where the neutrino had come from and using the evidence from multiple observatories, scientists have been able to determine that blazars are a source of high-energy neutrinos.

Starbucks Goes Straw-less

Following the release of Blue Planet II and National Geographic’s striking June 2018 cover image, the problem of plastic has entered the public consciousness in a big way. Now, Starbucks has vowed to phase out the use of plastic straws in all their 28,000 stores across the globe by 2020.

The coffee chain estimates that the change will remove a billion single-use straws from its stores each year, reducing the severely negative impact this kind of disposable plastic has on the environment and particularly on marine life.

Plastic Facts

  • More than 40% of plastic is used just once and then thrown away
  • By 2050, it is estimated that the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish
  • More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans

Plastic fact references:


Feeling Their Way Around

So far, robots have been reliant on vision to help them to complete the task they’ve been programmed to do. Significant improvements in technology have driven the use of advanced cameras, computer vision and lidar in robots, but a team at MIT feel that this visual dependence is stopping robots from reaching their full potential.

The team at MIT has developed Cheetah 3, a quadruped robot that uses tactile information to “feel” through its surroundings, in the same way you or I would move across a pitch-black room. The robot does this using two algorithms that help it stay upright when presented with unexpected obstacles. In a similar way that humans unconsciously know where their limbs are, Cheetah 3 is able to “feel” where its legs are.

The result is that Cheetah 3 is able to navigate outdoor terrain, increase its speed to a gallop (3 metres per second) and climb a staircase littered with debris all without the aid of a camera. The robot is even able to jump on to a table from a standstill!


Written by Jeanne Kroeger


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