Russian science’s top 10 achievements of 2006


MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - Russia's Joint Institute for Nuclear Research has chemically confirmed the existence of the 114th "super-heavy" element in the Periodic Table.
With a lifetime of half a second - ages in the nuclear world - this element is expected to open up a new understanding of how the Universe was formed, how matter is created and how it changes.
This is further proof that the existence of other, even heavier, elements in the unbound state should not be ruled out. Their discovery will mean a new revolution in our understanding of the entire world, since they will provide new insights into the formation of the atomic nucleus as the universal basis of matter.
Scientists also say mankind will rely upon super-heavy elements for a sustainable supply of energy when the planet runs out of hydrocarbons and uranium. While the critical mass of plutonium is 20 kg, the super-heavies explode at less than a milligram, which promises to eliminate energy shortages for generations to come.
Dying Stars Emit X-Rays
Russian scientists have discovered new "absorbing" sources of X-rays in the Universe, which appear to be a special kind of binary accretion system. One of their components is a massive "normal" star, the other is a compact, probably neutron, star which intensely absorbs its companion, generating X-rays in the process.
Giant stars, unlike our Sun, produce a very powerful stellar wind which encircles the neutron star and stops outgoing X-rays. This explains why such systems were not observed earlier by satellite-based instruments operating in the usual X-ray band. Higher-frequency, or "hard" X-rays, penetrate the stellar wind more easily and can therefore be used to observe giant stars.
The people who run Integral Lab say that, because the process is quite fast as giant stars run out of thermonuclear absorbable matter within a very short time, what they have detected is probably a population of very young and powerful X-ray sources, no more than 10 million years old.
Svetloye Radioastronomic Observatory
Svetloye is the first leg of Kvazar-KVO, the Russian national radio-astronomic complex. Its key element, the 32-meter radio telescope, is one of the world's best devices of its kind.
When it is linked with two more planned radio telescopes, the observatory will become a giant 12-million sq. km interferometer - a facility equivalent to a conventional radio telescope with an antenna diameter equal to the distance between its component parts.
Kvazar-KVO gives Russia a ticket to international observation efforts, including the "Earth-size telescope" initiative, peering deep into the Universe in the broadest band, from wavelengths of a meter to a millimeter.
Galaxy May Be More Densely Populated Than We Think
Russian astrophysicists have shed light on the obscure nature of XRB, the Universe's X-ray background discovered in 1970, which is fairly evenly distributed over the Galaxy plane (what we call the Milky Way is in fact its rear view).
The Milky Way turns out to be 100 times more densely populated by X-ray sources than was previously believed. Most of them are binary systems consisting of a normal star or a white dwarf and a neutron star. The matter of the first one is captured by the gravitational field of the neutron star and falls on its surface. This phenomenon - accretion - is accompanied by massive X-ray emissions. All the sources together make up the XRB of the Milky Way. Estimates say the number of such binary systems is in the millions for white dwarfs and billions for normal stars.
The importance of this finding probably equals that of Galileo's discovery (made 400 years ago) that the Milky Way is made up of a large number of small stars.
Insider Running
The Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Engineering Science has come up with a unique tenso/thermo/vibrosensor system converting deformation distribution, temperature, and displacement of vibrating or oscillating bodies inside machines into measurable electrical signals.
Though the sensing system - a bunch of micrometer wires welded together and wrapped in hermetic foil - is small enough to fit into a standard 5-mm square on the pages of a high-school maths exercise book, this is not its most significant feature.
The device is the world's first micro measurement system that can work in very hazardous conditions where data can be acquired to prevent major industrial accidents.
Placed, for example, into a nuclear reactor, such a sensor can provide enough data (with thousands of parameters if required) for the tensometric software to certify the reactor's operational safety.
Resurs-DK1 Finally Inaugurated
The Resurs-DK1, the first Russian high-resolution (1 m) multi-band satellite with a real-time radio downlink, has finally entered commercial operation.
The downlink transmits the data in a digital format (earlier all data had to be filmed and parachuted back down to Earth), which makes processed images available for Russian and international use. The satellite's nominal area of coverage is about 450,000 sq. km per day, but it can increase to 700,000 sq. km per day if required.
Between now and 2015, Russia plans to launch seven space-based Earth remote sensing systems with three types of satellites: two hydrometeorological, four visual monitoring and two radar.
This versatile new remote sensing capability will give Russia an independent role in national and international environmental monitoring efforts and help build an early warning system for disasters.
Riding the Tropospheric Wind
The tropospheric wind blows at an altitude of 9 km to 12 km and is characterized by a constant speed and direction. The Moscow Aviation Institute has launched a ground-controlled aircraft to hover in this wind.
The 800-kg aircraft - a mix of a traditional glider, kite, and Rogallo wing - carries up to 250 kg of payload.
The first option for its use is telecommunications. The experimental aircraft carries the AIST (Aerodynamic Integral System for Telecommunication), a multimode rebroadcasting device for voice, radio, TV, video and data signals. The effective range of one AIST is 100 km, and group solutions are being developed for larger areas.
New Space Observatory
This is a new Russian project to create free-flight observation spacecraft that will dock with the International Space Station. Based on the standard Progress cargo spacecraft, it is expected to have an active service life of up to 10 years. Its first experiment will be the Submillimetron mission, in which the infrared cryostat-cooled telescope will be used to study the Universe and hopefully identify up to a million new astronomical objects.
The telescope can also be used to detect asteroids that present a possibility of collision with Earth. Potentially, the Submillimetron will be able to detect medium-sized asteroids at a distance equal to that between Earth and Jupiter.
Floating Nuclear Power Plants
In June 2006, the national nuclear power plant (NPP) operator Rosenergoatom and nuclear submarine producer Sevmash signed an agreement to build Russia's first low-power combined floating nuclear power plant.
The NPP will include a power unit with two reactors identical to those currently installed on nuclear-powered ships, a comprehensive nuclear and radiation safety system, a power distribution station, and transmission lines. At a cost of $350 million, the power plant will save 200,000 metric tons of coal or 120,000 tons of fuel oil per year (thermal equivalent). The power unit has also been customized for use in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Black Hole Census
Mankind is one step closer to knowing the exact number of black holes in the Universe. Since black holes generate an X-ray background (XRB), it should be possible to calculate their number by measuring the XRB spectrum versus the spectrum of galaxy cores. Black holes reside in the centers of galaxy cores.
XRB is rather difficult to measure because it remains the same no matter which direction it is observed from. In normal "directional" X-ray observation systems, this problem is solved by shutting part of the telescope's field of vision, but this does not work with background radiation.
The Space Research Institute proposed employing Earth-observing telescopes to gather information (conventionally, X-ray telescopes look into outer space). The data, after special processing, yielded a picture of the XRB spectrum. The next objective is to use this picture to build a galaxy-core distribution model, which will allow scientists to find out the quantity, weight, and distribution of black holes in the Universe.
Yury Zaitsev is an expert with the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. -0-