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  1. 1. [EFFECTS ON SATELLITES] High-energy particles degrade solar panels. They also penetrate circuitry and generate Feeling the Full Brunt spurious signals that can corrupt data or even cause a satellite to The harshness of space takes a toll on satellites even spiral out of control. Impact of a Coronal Mass Ejection The 1859 Superstorm at the best of times. A superstorm would cause years’ worth of damage within a few hours. NORMAL CONDITIONS: Earth’s magnetic field typically deflects the charged particles streaming The authors have reconstructed what happened in out from the sun, carving out a teardrop-shaped volume known as the magnetosphere. On the sun- 1859, based in part on similar (though less intense) How to facing side, the boundary, or magnetopause, is about 60,000 kilometers from our planet. The field events seen by modern satellites. UTC is Coordinated Universal Time — basically, Greenwich Mean Time. Prepare also traps particles in a doughnut-shaped region known as the Van Allen belts. If a storm were on its way, August 26 we could do the following: Magnetopause Large sunspot group appears near longitude Satellite operators put Magnetic field line 55 degrees west on the sun; off critical command Earth first CME possibly launched. sequences. During the storm itself, they August 28 monitor their birds and Sun Van Allen belts CME arrives at Earth with a override any spurious glancing blow because of commands. the solar longitude of its Solar wind source; its magnetic orien- SUNSPOTS GPS users switch to tation is northward. Magnetosphere backup navigation August 28 07:30 UTC systems. Greenwich Magnetic Obser- Solar particles and radiation puff up the vatory detects a distur- atmosphere, increasing the drag forces Astronauts avoid bance, signaling compres- on low-orbiting satellites. space walks. FIRST STAGES OF IMPACT: When the sun fires off a coronal mass ejection (CME), this bubble of Electrons can collect on ionized gas greatly compresses the magnetosphere. In extreme cases such as superstorms, it can sion of the magnetosphere. satellites and cause static push the magnetopause into the Van Allen belts and wipe them out. electrical discharges that August 28 22:55 UTC physically damage the Main storm phase begins, circuitry ( ). with large magnetic distur- bances, telegraphic disrup- CORONAL MASS EJECTION tions and auroral sightings as far south as magnetic lat- w w w. S c i A m . c o m itude 25 degrees north. Sunspots Coronal mass ejection August 30 [EFFECTS ON POWER] Geomagnetic disturbances from first CME end. Darkness Falls September 1 11:15 UTC Electric currents in the ionosphere induce electric currents in the ground and in pipelines. CME magnetic field (S) Astronomer Richard C. Earth’s magnetic field (N) Carrington, among others, sights a white-light flare on AURORA SIGHTINGS the sun; the large sunspot Electric currents MAGNETIC RECONNECTION: The solar gas has its own magnetic field, and as it streams past our group has rotated to longi- in the ionosphere planet, it stirs up turbulence in Earth’s magnetic field. If this field points in the opposite direction as tude 12 degrees west. Earth’s, the two can link up, or reconnect—releasing magnetic energy that accelerates particles September 2 05:00 UTC and thereby creates bright auroras and powerful electric currents. Greenwich and Kew magnet- ic observatories detect dis- Turbulent field lines turbances followed immedi- CME plasma ately by geomagnetic chaos; second CME arrives at Earth Transformer within 17.5 hours, traveling Induced at 2,380 kilometers per sec- current X-RAY FLARE Reconnected ond with southward mag- Auroras region netic orientation; auroras Reconnected region Current appear down to magnetic latitude 18 degrees north. September 3–4 Pipeline Main phase of geomagnetic disturbances from second CME ends; scattered auro- ral sightings continue, but CREDIT with diminishing intensity. These currents surge The entire East Coast and much of the rest of the country would into transformers and lose power. This map shows the blacked-out regions expected AURORA SIGHTINGS Induced from a severe storm like that of 1921, which would induce ground can fry them. It would 82 S C I E N T I F I C A M E R I C A N August 2008 take weeks or longer for current fields of about 20 volts per kilometer. Scientists have yet to model workers to fix them all. the effects of a full-blown 1859-like storm on the power grid. rent (DC). The DC flows up the transformer could bring down the entire grid. Other indus- that improves the accuracy of GPS position esti- ground wires and can lead to temperature spikes trial countries are also vulnerable, but North mates. Commercial aircraft had to resort to in- of 200 degrees Celsius or higher in the trans- America faces greater danger because of its prox- flight backup systems. former windings causing coolant to vaporize imity to the north magnetic pole Because of the High-energy particles will interfere with air- )
  2. 2. [SLICING SPACETIME] How Time Is Not Like Space Physicists, artists and graph makers of all kinds routinely depict time as another dimension of space, creating a unified spacetime — shown here as a three- dimensional block in which a ball bounces off a wall. Relativity theory holds that spacetime can be sliced up in various ways. But not all are equally sensible. t The usual way takes slices of space at successive moments of time, creating a movie of the ball’s motion. Each frame leads to the next, according to the familiar laws of physics. y ● 4 ● 3 ● 2 ● 1 x ● 1 ● 2 ● 3 ● 4 An alternative considers slices not from past to future but from left to right. Each slice is part space, part time. To the left of the wall, the ball appears in two positions; on the right, it does not appear at all. If this slicing seems strange, it should: it makes the laws of physics very unwieldy. t y x x ● 1 ●●● 2 34 ● 1 ● 2 ● 3 ● 4 [A NEW VIEW OF TIME] Who Needs Time, Anyway? 1 beat Time is a way to describe the pace of motion or change, such as the speed of a light wave, how fast a heart beats, or how frequently a planet spins ... ... but these processes could LIGHT: be related directly to one 300,000 kilometers per second another without making reference to time. HEART: 75 beats per minute VS. 240,000 kilometers per beat EARTH: 1 rotation per day 108,000 beats per rotation Thus, some physicists argue that time is a common currency, making the world easier to describe 1 cup of coffee but having no independent existence. Measuring processes in terms of time could be like using money ( ) rather than barter transactions ( ) to buy things. 50 cups of coffee per pair of shoes VS. 1,000 cups of coffee per used car $2 $100 $2,000 [see “A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity,” recently investigated timeless theories [see “A by David Z. Albert and Rivka Galchen; S����- Simple Twist of Fate,” by George Musser, on ����� A�������, March 2009]. page 14]. But to convey the basic problem that
  3. 3. mundane activity. The great strength of multi- touch is letting multiple people work together on a complex activity. It is hard to remember how LED liberating the mouse seemed when it freed peo- ple from keyboard arrow keys some 25 years [HOW IT WORKS] ago. Soon the multi-touch interface could help untether us from the ubiquitous mouse. “It’s Tracking Fingers Pressure-sensitive polymer Internal reflections very rare that you come upon a really new user The most advanced multi-touch interface,” Han says. “We’re just at the begin- Light ning of this whole thing.” screens respond to the motion and Reflection scattered pressure of numerous fingers. In the sensor toward reflection [INSIDE LOOK] Perceptive Pixel design ( ), sensor projectors send images through an acrylic screen onto the surface facing the viewer. When fingers or other Touch Table Acrylic waveguide objects (such as a stylus) touch the A projector inside Microsoft’s Projector surface, infrared light shone inside the multi-touch table, called Infrared cameras Image from acrylic sheet by LEDs scatters off the projector Surface, sends imagery up fingers and back to sensors. Software through the acrylic top. An interprets the data as finger move- LED shines near-infrared light LED up as well, which reflects off ments. Tapping the screen brings up To create a signal, LEDs bounce light through the acrylic command menus when desired. objects or fingers back to var- sheet. No light escapes. But if a finger is placed against the ious infrared cameras; a com- Computer face ( ), light will scatter off it toward the sensors. puter monitors the reflections Also, a pressure-sensitive coating flexes when pressed to track finger motions. Computer firmly or lightly, making the scattered fingertip signal appear slightly brighter or dimmer, which the computer Projector interprets as more or less pressure. LED light source
  4. 4. Ventromedial prefrontal cortex Nucleus accumbens ex- Subthalamic nucleus Mediodorsal thalamus bbs Motor thalamus ba- Globus pallidus um- internal segment tine ver, Ani- the Anterior rive cingulate cortex mak- ckly mar- iven Amygdala Anterior limb es— of the internal ion, Ventral tegmental area capsule gic. BRAIN AREAS that become gni- n be activated in response to Subgenual n of reward or risk include those cingulate shown above, among others. nan- Nucleus accumbens Orbitofrontal HOW cortex Ventral Lateral pallidum hypothalamus Brain stem Thalamus WHERE Sensory thalamus WHAT Pedunculopontine nucleus Periventricular gray/periaqueductal gray
  5. 5. [AFFECTED NATIONS] WORLDWIDE RESISTANCE Tuberculosis occurs in virtually every country in the world, although it is most wide- spread in developing nations. The incidence of TB caused by strains of resistant to two or more of the first-line drugs for the disease — so-called multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) — has been rising as a result of improper use of antibiotics. Worse still is exten- sively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) — a largely untreatable form identified in 2006; as of June 2008, 49 countries had confirmed cases. Sadly, that figure most likely underesti- [INFECTION BASICS] mates XDR-TB’s prevalence. AN ILL WIND TB Brain Tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium , occurs in both latent and active forms. People can become infected by breathing in even just a few bacteria released into the air when those with active TB cough, spit or talk. causes coughing, the most familiar symptom, because it accumulates abundantly in the lungs, but it can harm other organs as well ( ). Reported cases of Lung tends to concentrate in the air sacs, or alveoli, of the tuberculosis per lungs because it prefers environments rich in oxygen. In 100,000 citizens it it Macrophage most people, the immune system is able to keep bacterial No estimate replication in check, dispatching defensive cells known as macrophages to the site of infection, where they 0–24 form a shell around the bacteria. But in 10 percent of 2 25–49 Alveolus infected individuals, breaks down the shell, after which it can begin to multiply. 50–99 100–299 300 or more Mtb Kidney Multidrug-resistant TB Scan highlights infection in lung. Bone Unfettered by the immune system, the bacteria destroy the tissue of the lungs; some may also make their way into the bloodstream and infect Percent of MDR-TB f other parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys and bone. Eventually among new TB cases affected organs may sustain so much damage they cease to function, and 1994-2007 the host dies. More than 6% 3 3%–6% Less than 3% the problem is that bacteria are autonomous some of those proteins might be worth consid- No data life-forms, selected throughout evolution for ering as drug targets. Analysis of the TB genome their ability to adapt and respond to external also hinted that, contrary to conventional wis- threats. Like modern aircraft, they have all dom, the bacterium is perfectly capable of living Extensively drug-resistant TB manner of redundancies, bypasses, fail-safes in the absence of air— a suggestion now verified. and emergency backup systems. As Jeff Gold- Under such anaerobic conditions, Mtb’s metab- blum’s character in Jurassic Park puts it, life olism slows down, making it intrinsically less finds a way. Until we truly appreciate the com- sensitive to existing antibiotics. Targeting the plexities of how TB interacts with humans, new metabolic elements that remain active under drugs against it will remain elusive. The good these circumstances is one of the most promis- i h ki h i i f h i i
  6. 6. [STAGES TO WATCH] From Animal Microbe to Human Pathogen The process by which a pathogen of animals evolves into one exclusive to humans occurs in five stages. Agents can become stuck in any of these stages. Those in early stages may be very deadly (Ebola, for example), but they claim few lives overall because they cannot spread freely among humans. The better able a virus is to propagate in humans, the more likely it is to become a pandemic. [PREVENTION PROPOSAL] DISEASE EXAMPLES: Reichenowi malaria Rabies Ebola Dengue HIV Building a Surveillance Network By monitoring microorganisms in wild animals and the people who are frequently exposed to them, scientists may be able spot an emerging infectious disease before it becomes widespread. To that end, the author recently organized the Global Viral Forecasting Initia- tive (GVFI), a network of 100 scientists and public health officials in six countries ( and ) who are working to track potentially dangerous agents as they move from Stage 1: Pathogen is present in animals into human populations. The GVFI focuses on tropical regions ( ) in particu- animals but has not been detected lar, because they are home to a wide variety of animal species and because humans there in humans under natural conditions. commonly come into contact with them through hunting and other activities. Eventually the GVFI hopes to expand the network to include more countries with high levels of biodi- Stage 2: Animal pathogen has been trans- COUNTRY: Cameroon versity, some of which are shown here ( ). VIRUSES PREVIOUSLY SPAWNED: HIV COUNTRY: China mitted to humans but not between humans. SENTINEL POPULATION UNDER STUDY FOR NEW PATHOGENS: VIRUSES PREVIOUSLY SPAWNED: SARS, H5N1 People who hunt and butcher wild animals SENTINEL POPULATION : “Wet market” workers Stage 3: Animal pathogen that can be trans- mitted between humans causes an outbreak of disease but only for a short period before dying out. Stage 4: Pathogen exists in animals and undergoes a regular cycle of animal-to-human transmission but also sustains long outbreaks arising from human-to-human transmission. SOURCE: Stage 5: Pathogen has become exclusive to humans. COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of the Congo Nature, VIRUSES PREVIOUSLY SPAWNED: Primary study site (human and animal testing) Tentative site for future study Marburg, monkeypox, Ebola Secondary study site (animal testing only) Tropical region COUNTRY: Malaysia SENTINEL POPULATION : VIRUSES PREVIOUSLY SPAWNED: Nipah People who hunt and butcher wild animals SENTINEL POPULATION : Wildlife hunters
  7. 7. [WHAT ASTRONOMERS LOOK FOR] Glowing in the Dark Infrared Light Reveals Disks and Thus Planets or Their Building Blocks A stronomers generally detect planets indirectly, by virtue of their effects on the velocity, position or brightness of their host stars. For most of the cases discussed in the A circumstellar disk of dust and gas, like the one that gave rise to the planets of our solar system, absorbs starlight and emits infrared radiation. We observe a composite of direct starlight and disk emission. article, astronomers focus on one type of indirect sign: the presence of a disk of dust orbiting the star. A so-called protoplanetary disk occurs around newly born stars and is thought to be the site of planet formation. A so-called debris Starlight disk occurs around mature stars and is thought to arise from collisions or evaporation of comets and asteroids, thus Circumstellar disk signaling the likely presence of planets now or in the past. Observers identify both types of disk from how they absorb starlight and reradiate the absorbed energy at infra- Light from disk Star red wavelengths ( ). NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, has proved to be a veritable disk discovery machine. Its large field-of-view infrared cameras can cap- ture hundreds of stars in a single image and pinpoint those with evidence of disks for further study. Spitzer builds on the successes of past infrared telescopes, such as the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) mission in the 1980s and the European Space Agency’s Infrared Space Brown dwarf plus disk Brown dwarf Observatory (ISO) in the mid-1990s. Unlike IRAS, which was Disk an all-sky survey, Spitzer points at specific celestial bodies for intensive study, and the five-year-plus lifetime of its liquid- An example is the brown dwarf OTS 44, Brightness (arbitrary units) helium coolant far exceeds that of any previous mission. The whose spectrum ( ) initially telescope has studied everything from extrasolar planets to falls off at infrared wavelengths but then flattens — indicating that the dwarf, galaxies in the early universe. whose spectrum would be expected to peak at The coolant is now running out, and the telescope will short wavelengths ( ), is surrounded by soon start to warm from nearly absolute zero to 30 kelvins. cooler material whose spectrum peaks Even so, it will be able to operate at the short-wavelength at longer wavelengths ( ). end of the infrared band through at least the middle of 2011. Even when the system is Taking up the slack will be the newly launched Herschel too far away for telescopes Space Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope to resolve spatially, the spectrum 1 3 10 30 (JWST), planned for launch in 2013. — reveals the blending of light. Wavelength (microns)
  8. 8. [BASICS] Vaccines Mimic Infection to Avert It IMMUNE MEMORY Some of the B and T cells become long-lived memory Vaccines deliver a killed or weakened pathogen, or pieces of it, to trigger an immune response that generates “memory” cells primed to cells, standing guard against a future infection. recognize the same microorganism quickly in the future. These cells can later block true infections or at least minimize illness. Killer T cells Cytokines innat Attempted infection Memory T cells and B cells COMMON ling f Virus fragments V VACCINE TYPES ropha Dendritic cell ■ ATTENUATED: Live des Injection but weakened whole c site virus or bacterium. T cell precursors Infected cell Minimal reproduc- Virus in Helper T cells tion extends vaccine immune cells’ exposure to antigen t Maturation without causing disease. can and migration Infected cells to lymph nodes pe ■ INACTIVATED: Cytokines Whole but “killed” Antibodies and unable to B cell remain in the body as “memory” cells — some- reproduce or to Lymph node times for decades — ready to squelch any at- cause disease. Macrophage Antigen tempted reinfection by the same organism. Vac- ad cines replicate this process by introducing a ■ SUBUNIT: Fragments the whole pathogen or fragments of it that will be of the pathogen, such k VACCINE ADMINISTRATION DENDRITIC CELL MIGRATION AND INTERACTIONS as genetic material A small dose of live but weakened virus is one common form of Loaded with foreign material (antigen), dendritic cells mature and migrate recognized as a foreign invader. Not all vaccines or external pro- vaccine. Injected into the skin, the virus will infect some cells to lymph nodes to interact with T cells and B cells, components of the succeed in generating a full immune response, and reproduce slowly. “Innate” immune system cells, such as “adaptive” immune system. Displaying antigen and emitting cytokines, teins, provide macrophages and dendritic cells, engulf and digest foreign the dendritic cells induce T cells to mature into helper and killer types; the but some pathogens can be stopped by antibod- antigen for immune material and infected body cells. Dendritic cells also emit helper T cells also signal to incite the killer T cells to attack infected cells ies alone, so killer T cells are not needed for cells to recognize. l signaling chemicals called cytokines to sound an alarm. and induce B cells to produce antibodies tailored to the pathogen. protection. The nature of the pathogen and how it causes ill i d i ’ id [VACCINE BOOSTERS] Adjuvants PATHOGEN RECOGNITION TLR NATURAL TRIGGER Add Emphasis Dendritic cells contain Toll-like receptors (TLR) that each recognize ●● ● 1 2 6 Bacterial lipoproteins molecules typical of many pathogens, such as bacterial proteins or ● 3 Double-stranded RNA distinctive viral gene motifs ( ). Adjuvants that trigger Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), one or a combination of TLRs can simulate different natural threats. ● 4 Adjuvants enhance immune responses to vaccine heat-shock proteins, antigens by several mechanisms, but their most Killer T cells respiratory syncytial virus ●5 Bacterial flagellin protein potent effects are likely to be through activation IL-12 ●● 7 8 Single-stranded RNA of microbe-recognition receptors on dendritic Bacterial CpG DNA Cytokines ●9 cells. Depending on the type of threat they sense, ● 10 Unknown dendritic cells will direct other immune cells to ● 11 Bacterial profilin protein respond in different ways. Vaccine designers Helper T cells Toll-like receptor can use this knowledge to choose adjuvants that will not only boost immune response but also IL-12 DENDRITIC CELL DIRECTIONS Dendritic cells’ signaling determines emphasize the desired responses. how T and B cells will mature and proliferate. For example, the cytokine Antibody-inducing helper T cells interleukin-12 favors development of killer T cells and a helper T subtype lar keys, a group known as the Toll-like recep- needed to defend against intracellular IL-6 tors (TLRs) seemed most important for driving pathogens, whereas IL-6 favors a the dendritic cells’ behavior [see “Immunity’s helper T type that induces B cells to produce antibodies. IL-6, together Early-Warning System,” by Luke A. J. O’Neill; Inflammation-inducing helper T cells with IL-23, induces still another helper S��������� A�������, January 2005]. T subtype that promotes inflamma- IL-6 tion. Interleukins themselves are also To date, 10 functional Toll-like receptors under study as adjuvants. have been identified, and each recognizes a dif- IL-23 ferent basic motif of viruses or bacteria. TLR-4