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What are the consequences of flying over an earthquake?

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Have you ever pondered the potential consequences of being aboard a commercial flight at a significant altitude when a colossal earthquake occurs? Presumably, you would be in an altered state of consciousness that would hinder your ability to perceive and comprehend any sensory experiences, correct? The answer to that question is contingent upon several factors.

Seismic activity and atmospheric conditions
Although it may appear improbable, an earthquake can potentially lead to several consequences that could pose challenges for a flight, depending on the circumstances. However, it is important to first examine the connection between the atmosphere and the earth before delving into that topic.

Attila Komjathy, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology, explained on NASA’s website that when the ground shakes, it generates small atmospheric waves that can travel all the way up to the ionosphere. This is a region known as the exosphere, which can reach a distance of up to 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the Earth’s surface.

Consequently, an earthquake has the potential to induce certain atmospheric disruptions, but is this sufficient to disrupt the operation of an aircraft? Simply put, the answer is no. However, if we delve deeper into the matter, the answer remains a resounding no, but with some intriguing nuances.

Earthquakes emit seismic waves, which manifest as pressure waves (P waves) and shear waves (S waves). S waves are restricted to propagating through solid media, such as the ground, while P waves have the ability to transmit through different types of media, including liquids and gases. Consequently, they have the ability to enter the atmosphere. When sound is transformed into soundwaves, they often have a frequency below 20 hertz, which is the minimum level for human hearing. Consequently, these soundwaves, known as infrasound, are usually inaudible.

Nevertheless, as these waves propagate through the air, their intensity diminishes. This phenomenon is known as attenuation, and it essentially refers to the decrease in sound intensity as the distance between the source and the listener increases. It is also a phenomenon that diminishes the intensity of sunlight as it passes through different layers of the atmosphere or other substances, such as the ocean.

Consequently, an aircraft traversing an earthquake, regardless of its intensity, would remain unaffected by the seismic vibrations beneath. Once the P waves have propagated through the rock and subsequently the air, their intensity will have significantly decreased, rendering them overshadowed by the plane’s own noise and movement.

Nevertheless, airplanes are not exempt from risks during an earthquake. The concerns at hand pertain to navigation and safety, albeit of a distinct nature.

In 2018, a self-proclaimed United States Air Force pilot and aero engineer named Ron Wagner provided a response on Quora to a question inquiring about the impact of earthquakes on an aircraft in flight. Wagner’s response was sufficiently captivating that Forbes subsequently shared it again.

Wagner claims that he piloted an aircraft during an earthquake, causing disruptions to air traffic control. During this occurrence, the earthquake resulted in a loss of electricity at the ground base, which consequently affected the plane’s navigation instruments and its capacity to communicate. The power outage resulted in the loss of radar signals for air traffic control, rendering them unable to determine the location of Wagner’s flight. Nevertheless, these problems were quickly resolved when the emergency power of the ground base was activated.

Although this may sound alarming, it serves as an illustration of potential occurrences. Typically, air traffic control stations possess ample emergency backup generators to handle such situations. In addition, they have meticulously developed contingency plans for system-wide events, which include strategies for addressing potential scenarios such as volcanic eruptions, nuclear fallout, floods, acts of terrorism, and earthquakes.

If you find yourself flying during an earthquake, you can rest assured that there is very little cause for concern. Typically, you will be unaware of the occurrence until you touch down.

All “explainer” articles undergo verification by fact-checkers to ensure their accuracy prior to publication. Information can be updated in the future by modifying, deleting, or adding text, images, and links.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Engineering

Testing the longest quantum network on existing fiber optics in Boston

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Imagine a world where information can be transmitted securely across the globe, free from the prying eyes of hackers. Its incredible power lies in the realm of quantum mechanics, making it a groundbreaking advancement with immense potential for the future of telecommunications. There have been obstacles to conquer, but there has also been notable progress, exemplified by a recent achievement from researchers at Harvard University.

Using the existing fiber optics within the city of Boston, the team successfully demonstrated the longest transmission between two nodes. The fiber path covered a total distance of 35 kilometers (22 miles), encircling the entire city. The two nodes that connected to the close path were situated on different floors, making the fiber route not the shortest but rather an intriguing one.

Quantum information has been successfully transmitted over longer distances, showcasing remarkable advancements in this experiment that bring us closer to the realization of a practical quantum internet. The real breakthrough lies in the nodes, going beyond the mere utilization of optical fibers.

A typical network utilizes signal repeaters made of optical fiber. These devices incorporate optical receivers, electrical amplifiers, and optical transmitters. The signal is received, transformed into an electrical form, and subsequently converted back into light before being transmitted. They play a crucial role in expanding the reach of the original signal. And in its present state, this is not suitable for quantum internet.

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The issue lies not in the technology, but rather in the fundamental principles of physics. Copying quantum information is not possible in that manner. Quantum information is highly secure due to its entangled state. The Harvard system operates by utilizing individual nodes that function as miniature quantum computers, responsible for storing, processing, and transferring information. This quantum network, consisting of only two nodes, is currently the most extensive one ever achieved, with nodes capable of such remarkable functionality.

“Demonstrating the ability to entangle quantum network nodes in a bustling urban environment is a significant milestone in enabling practical networking between quantum computers,” stated Professor Mikhail Lukin, the senior author.

At each node, a tiny quantum computer is constructed using a small piece of diamond that contains a flaw in its atomic arrangement known as a silicon vacancy center. At temperatures close to absolute zero, the silicon vacancy has the remarkable ability to capture, retain, and interconnect pieces of data, making it an ideal choice for a node.

“Given the existing entanglement between the light and the first node, it has the capability to transmit this entanglement to the second node,” elucidated Can Knaut, a graduate researcher in Lukin’s lab. “This phenomenon is known as photon-mediated entanglement.”

The study has been published in the prestigious journal Nature.

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Physics

According to physics, your enemy’s enemy is actually your friend

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People are social animals, and their relationships are complicated and change all the time. Several fields of study and theories have tried to figure out how these social networks work and how they change over time. The social balance theory was one of them. It was first put forward in the 1940s. Using statistical physics, researchers have now been able to prove it.

Just like the name says, social balance theory is based on the idea of balance. People in their networks want and try to keep relationships balanced. There should be rules to keep the system balanced. Relationships that are positive are balanced, but relationships that are negative or mixed are not. The classical model is based on the simple idea that relationships that are good are “friends” and relationships that are bad are “enemies.”

First, a friend of a friend is still a friend. Now, this is a made-up example, so don’t think right away of that friend of yours that you hate. Another rule says that a friend of an enemy is also an enemy, and of course, an enemy of a friend is also an enemy. We need to protect our friends. The last rule is a bit more subtle: a friend of an enemy is a friend of an enemy. It looks like the new analysis mostly meets this need, but the scientists had to add a lot of complexity before they could model it.

It’s finally possible to say that social networks match up with expectations that were set 80 years ago, said Bingjie Hao, the study’s lead author from Northwestern University. “Our results can also be used in many different ways in the future.” Because of how we do math, we can put limits on the connections and take into account what each entity in the system wants. That will help when making models of systems other than social networks.

Two things were very important to the new model: not everyone knows each other in real life, and some people are more positive than others. When you use both constraints, you get a social network that is exactly the same as the one Fritz Heider predicted 80 years ago.

“We always thought this social intuition worked, but we didn’t know why,” said István Kovács, who was the lead author of the study. “All that was left was to do the math.” There have been a lot of studies on this idea, but they don’t all point to the same conclusion. We kept getting it wrong for decades. It’s because real life is hard sometimes. We realized we had to deal with both problems at the same time: “who knows whom” and “some people are just friendlier than others.”

The study has been written up in the Science Advances journal.

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Geology

The phenomenon of a magnetic avalanche caused by quantum processes, known as ‘Barkhausen noise’, has been observed for the first time

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Iron screws and other ferromagnetic materials consist of atoms with electrons that behave as miniature magnets. Typically, the magnets’ orientations are aligned within a specific region of the material, but they vary between different regions. Imagine groups of tourists in Times Square, eagerly gesturing towards the various billboards that surround them. However, with the application of a magnetic field, the spins of the magnets in the various regions align, resulting in the material becoming completely magnetized. It’s as if all the tourists suddenly synchronized their movements to point at the same sign.

The alignment of spins, however, does not occur instantaneously. Instead, when a magnetic field is present, neighboring regions, known as domains, interact with each other, causing changes to propagate unevenly throughout the material. Scientists often draw parallels between this phenomenon and the cascading of snow in an avalanche, where a single piece of snow initiates the movement, exerting force on neighboring pieces until the entire mountainside of snow is in motion, all heading in the same direction.

In 1919, Heinrich Barkhausen showcased the avalanche effect in magnets, providing a groundbreaking demonstration. Through the clever use of a coil and a magnetic material connected to a loudspeaker, it was demonstrated that these fluctuations in magnetism produce an audible crackling sound, now referred to as Barkhausen noise.

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that Barkhausen noise can be generated not just by conventional methods but also by quantum mechanical phenomena.

Experimental detection of quantum Barkhausen noise is a groundbreaking achievement. This research signifies a significant breakthrough in the field of physics and holds potential for future applications in the development of quantum sensors and electronic devices.

“Barkhausen noise is the result of the small magnets flipping together,” explains Christopher Simon, the lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Thomas F. Rosenbaum, a professor of physics at Caltech, the president of the Institute, and the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair.

“We are conducting a familiar experiment, but with a twist—in a quantum material.” We are observing that quantum effects can result in significant changes at a macroscopic level.

Typically, magnetic flips occur in a classical manner, through thermal activation. In this process, particles must temporarily acquire sufficient energy to overcome an energy barrier. However, the new study reveals that these flips can also happen through a process called quantum tunneling, which operates on a quantum level.

In the phenomenon of tunneling, particles have the ability to traverse an energy barrier by seemingly bypassing it altogether. If this effect could be applied to everyday objects, such as golf balls, it would be as if the golf ball effortlessly passed through a hill instead of having to ascend it to reach the other side.

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“In the quantum realm, the ball doesn’t need to traverse a hill as it transforms into a wave-like particle, with a portion already present beyond the hill,” explains Simon.

Furthermore, the latest research reveals a fascinating co-tunneling phenomenon, where clusters of tunneling electrons interact and coordinate to induce simultaneous flips in the direction of their spins.

“Traditionally, every individual mini avalanche, where clusters of spins flip, would occur independently,” explains co-author Daniel Silevitch, a research professor of physics at Caltech. “However, it has been discovered that, by means of quantum tunneling, two avalanches occur simultaneously.” This phenomenon arises from the interaction between two extensive collections of electrons, which communicate with each other and, as a consequence of their interactions, bring about these alterations. This unexpected co-tunneling effect quite surprised me.

Members of the team utilized a pink crystalline material known as lithium holmium yttrium fluoride, which was cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero (-273.15°C) for their experiments. They placed a coil around it, applied a magnetic field, and then observed small changes in voltage, similar to Barkhausen’s experiment in 1919.

The voltage spikes that are observed indicate the moments when clusters of electron spins change their magnetic orientations. When the groups of spins flip, one after the other, we can observe a series of voltage spikes known as the Barkhausen noise.

Through careful analysis of the noise, the researchers demonstrated the occurrence of a magnetic avalanche, even in the absence of classical effects. They demonstrated that these effects remained unaffected by variations in the material’s temperature. Through careful analysis, they reached the conclusion that quantum effects were the underlying cause of the significant transformations.

Scientists have found that these regions can hold an astonishing number of spins, far more than the rest of the crystal.

“We are observing this quantum behavior in materials containing an incredibly large number of spins.” Ensemblies of microscopic objects are all behaving in a coherent manner,” Rosenbaum says. “This work exemplifies the core focus of our lab: isolating and comprehending quantum mechanical effects.”

Researchers in Rosenbaum’s lab recently published another paper in PNAS that examines the fascinating connection between minute quantum effects and their influence on larger-scale phenomena. In the earlier study, scientists looked at the element chromium and showed how two different types of charge modulation—one involving ions and the other involving electrons—interact with each other at different length scales using quantum mechanics.

“Chromium has been a subject of study for quite some time,” remarks Rosenbaum, “yet only recently have we come to fully grasp this particular facet of quantum mechanics.” This is yet another instance of designing uncomplicated systems to uncover quantum phenomena that can be observed on a larger scale.

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