Invisibility cloak makes solar panels work more efficiently

Invisibility cloak makes solar panels work more efficiently

Invisibility cloak makes solar panels work more efficiently

An invisibility cloak has been used in the lab to hide the metallic strips used in solar panels, making the devices more efficient at using the sun’s energy.

Invisibility cloaks are made of materials that can bend the path of light around them and so hide anything under them from view. Martin Schumann at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and his colleagues have used one to create a prototype solar panel with a cloak over the metallic contact fingers throughout the panel that extract the generated current.

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Florida suffers coast-to-coast battering by Hurricane Irma

Florida suffers coast-to-coast battering by Hurricane Irma

Florida suffers coast-to-coast battering by Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma has pummelled Florida, packing winds up to 130mph, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.

The 644-kilometre-wide storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then marched up its western coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side.

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Wildfires’ ‘killer haze’ tracked with Twitter as it spreads

Wildfires’ ‘killer haze’ tracked with Twitter as it spreads

Wildfires’ ‘killer haze’ tracked with Twitter as it spreads

When Indonesia’s peatlands burn, the thick smog that fills the air can be deadly. Haze from wildfires there last year may have led to more than 90,000 deaths, according to one US study.

To help it keep on top of active fires and save lives, the Indonesian government is trying out a tool that monitors references to haze on social media.

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Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close

Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close

Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close

Two ancient teeth found in an Indonesian cave hint that our species had arrived there as early as 73,000 years ago – and may have had to deal with the biggest supervolcano eruption of the last few million years and also adapt to the challenges of living in thick rainforest.

Many archaeologists were puzzled by the recent discovery of 65,000-year-old stone tools and other artefacts in northern Australia. According to traditional thinking, early members of our species, Homo sapiens, were just beginning to venture out of Africa at this time.

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Raindrops make soil bacteria take off and fly through air

Raindrops make soil bacteria take off and fly through air

Raindrops make soil bacteria take off and fly through air

When water falls to the ground, bacteria take to the skies. High-speed camera footage has revealed how raindrops can disperse microbes from the soil into the air in tiny water droplets, possibly allowing them to travel long distances.

Bacteria and other microorganisms are abundant in the atmosphere, affecting the weather and  helping to spread diseases. We knew at least two ways they could get there: wind can lift them into the air from dry soil, and bursting bubbles can expel them from the ocean.

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Water enters the Doomsday vault which is now under repair

Water enters the Doomsday vault which is now under repair

Water enters the Doomsday vault which is now under repair

THE doomsday vault that is supposed to protect the world’s most valuable seeds against any kind of disaster has sprung a leak.

The Norwegian government is altering the entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault after unusually heavy rain and melting permafrost entered the entrance tunnel and froze on the floor. The water didn’t get near the seed storage areas deep within the mountainside, but the alterations will ensure the entrance is more secure. The measures include building waterproof walls, digging drainage ditches and moving a power transformer whose heat might be helping to melt permafrost.

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Planet Earth makes its own water from scratch deep in the mantle

Planet Earth makes its own water from scratch deep in the mantle

Planet Earth makes its own water from scratch deep in the mantle

Our planet may be blue from the inside out. Earth’s huge store of water might have originated via chemical reactions in the mantle, rather than arriving from space through collisions with ice-rich comets.

This new water may be under such pressure that it can trigger earthquakes hundreds of kilometres below Earth’s surface – tremors whose origins have so far remained unexplained.

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UK loses another court case over failure to tackle air pollution

UK loses another court case over failure to tackle air pollution

UK loses another court case over failure to tackle air pollution

The UK government has lost yet another court case over its failure to tackle air pollution.

The government was supposed to unveil its latest plans to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution on Monday 24 April – plans that it was ordered to produce after losing two long-running court cases brought by campaign group ClientEarth.

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Bringing our soil back to life with the latest in earth science

Bringing our soil back to life with the latest in earth science

Bringing our soil back to life with the latest in earth science

THIS author is down to earth in every sense. David Montgomery, a research geologist at the University of Washington, is one of our most eloquent and precise earth science communicators. In his latest book, he takes on one of the toughest problems contributing to climate change and resource depletion: the impoverishment of the soil. On top of being a catastrophe in itself, the collapse of the soil microbiome also impairs its capacity to sequester carbon and retain moisture.

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60 Seconds

60 Seconds

60 Seconds

Bee navel navigators

Call it gut feeling. Honeybees use a magnetic field detector in their abdomens to navigate. When this magnetite-based detector is reset using an external field, bees are no longer able to sense a local change in magnetic field (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2873).

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