Stories tagged explosives

Apr
21
2006

The newest fighting force on the war on terror: white lab rats.

A team of six little rodents are now part of the arsenal of tools that Columbian police are using to sniff out bombs and land mines. And it’s their little size that’s the biggest thing going for them.

Police are preparing to use the rats to find and defuse the more than 100,000 land mines that pepper the Columbian countryside, the result of hostilities between the Columbian government and leftist rebels.

The rats, which weigh less than half a pound, don’t trigger any explosions when they walk atop the mines. Dogs or people, who’ve tracked down mines in the past, don’t have that light-weight luxury.

Over the past year, the rats have gone through daily training where they are placed in a maze which holds C-4 explosives and other bomb making materials. When they find a target, they’re rewarded: a cracker for their palates and a stroke on the top of their heads.

So far, the rats have been able to locate explosives 83 percent of the time. But they won’t get to try their skills out in the field until they hit the 100-percent mark, a benchmark trainers figure they’ll get to in another six months.

It’s believed Columbia is the first country to use rats for finding mines and bombs, but larger rodents have been used for similar work in the Sudan.

If the experiment works out, the little critters could have a big impact. Columbia has the highest number of land mine victims in the world. Last year, 1,070 people were involved in mines explosions. About one quarter of those people died.

And in a related development, researchers in New York are developing “Roborat.” The technology allows police to control rats’ movements by sending electronic impulses to their brains via miniature electronic backpacks strapped to their bodies.

Oct
13
2005

Scientists have finally solved the mystery of gamma ray bursts, the most violent explosions in the universe. Lasting a fraction of a second, they release 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) times more energy than the Sun. But since they were first detected in 1970, scientists have wondered what exactly gamma ray bursts are.

Now, thanks to three satellites and four ground-based telescopes, they have figures out that the explosions occur when two neutron stars collide, or when a neutron star is swallowed by a black hole.

A neutron star is an old star that has burned off most of its fuel and collapsed under its own weight. Though they are only about 10 miles across, they weigh 1 1/2 times as much as the Sun. Gravity squeezes the atoms of together until the protons and electrons merge, forming neutrons.

Collisions between neutron stars can also create black holes. This study may give scientists their first chance to learn how black holes are formed.