Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scientists and Activists Call for the Release of Imprisoned Iranian Physicist

Thirty-one physics Nobel laureates called for the release of an Iranian scientist jailed for refusing to work on his country's weapons program.

Elise Auerbach of Amnesty International shows off copies of the petition signed by 31 Nobel laureates.

For nearly four years, physicist Omid Kokabee has been imprisoned in Iran for a crime he didn't commit. Without seeing the evidence against him or even being allowed to defend himself in court, the Iranian government convicted him of "communicating with a hostile government" and receiving "illegitimate funds" in the form of his student stipend while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Leafy Curse: The Physics of Leaves on the Track

Photo by author  

It's that time of year again. The colors of the trees are beautiful and vivid oranges, reds, and purples.

But autumn leaves are a nightmare for train operators, affecting anywhere with heavy deciduous tree growth — places like New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the United Kingdom.
In the UK, delays due to leaves are so disruptive that the colloquial phrase of 'leaves on the line' has emerged, often jokingly referred to as a fictional excuse for delays. But the innocuous leaf is in fact no laughing matter.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Early Universe's Room Temperature Could Have Supported Life

Originally published: Oct 20 2014 - 4:15pm, Inside Science News Service
By: Ker Than, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- Life in the universe could be much older than previously thought, forming as early as fifteen million years after the Big Bang, according to a provocative new idea proposed by a Harvard astrophysicist.

In this scenario for the early universe, rocky planets born from the dregs of massive, primordial stars would have been warmed by the heat of a radiation that permeated all of space, which was much hotter back then than it is now. One of these ancient worlds could have supported liquid water on its surface irrespective of its distance to a star, and thus been habitable to primitive forms of Earth-like organisms, said Avi Loeb, who chairs the Harvard astronomy department.

With the discovery of exoplanets, Loeb said, scientists are beginning to seriously consider that life-as-we-know-it exists in other places.

"What I’m saying here is that it can also be extended to other, earlier, times," he said.

A new paper suggests that planets from the remnants of the universe's earliest stars could have supported life on dim, warm planets.
Image credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Quantum Mechanics from a Classical Multiverse

Quantum mechanics can be hard to grasp, even for the physicists who use it every day. As a result, people have argued from the very birth of the field about what's really going on in quantum mechanical systems. To some extent, it doesn't really matter how you interpret things, provided everyone gets the same answers when they solve a physics problem

The plot of the movie Hot Tub Time Machine relied on the Many Worlds physics view of time travel. A new quantum mechanical approach may let us check to see if we really are surrounded by infinitely many universes.
In a paper published in Physical Review X, physicists  Michael Hall, Dirk-AndrĂ© Deckert, and Howard M. Wiseman have proposed a new view of quantum mechanics that may be testable in a way that could prove that it alone is the correct interpretation. They call it the Many Interacting Worlds approach to quantum mechanics.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Podcast: The Infinite Universe

Is the universe infinite? Or is it confined to a finite amount of space? Is it shaped like a donut, or does it stretch on forever as an infinite plane? A lot of people wonder about these questions, and a few people are actually trying to answer them. Like astrophysicist and cosmologist David Spergel of Princeton University. He and his colleagues are looking for clues about the shape of the universe, because they think it could help them determine if the universe is finite or...something else.

Listen to this week's podcast to hear Spergel talk about why even some cosmologists find "infinity" to be a tricky concept, and what they're doing right now to try and find the end of the universe.
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How Fidel Castro Helped Bring Us the Hubble Space Telescope

Fifty two years ago this week, the world was gripped by the unfolding drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most of the world remembers it as a showdown between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove newly installed nuclear missiles from Cuba, a crisis that was probably the closest the world got to World War III.

President Kennedy and other members of his cabinet ponder their next move during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Image: JFK Presidental Library and Museum

In the middle of it all was a physicist working for the CIA. Albert "Bud" Wheelon played an important but often overlooked, behind-the-scenes role in helping to mitigate the crisis. Recently released CIA documents highlight how after the crisis, he put the U.S. on course to revolutionize spy satellites and ultimately space telescopes.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Nerdy Science Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is only 10 days away and maybe you need a cool (and easy) costume. Because you're reading this, I'm guessing you have more than a casual interest in science. To celebrate this awesome love, here are 10 very nerdy science costumes.

Credit: 3268zauber via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Nobel Prize Winners Infographic

In the wake of the Nobel Prize announcements earlier this month, we found this great infographic from our friends at Inside Science detailing the demographics of Nobel Prize winners. Winners for the prizes in physics, chemistry, and medicine were included for the infographic.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

55 Years Since the World Sees the Moon's Far Side

55 years ago today mankind first glimpsed the far side of the Moon. You're looking at that first grainy image of an unknown landscape.

The first photograph of the far side of the Moon, taken on October 7th, 1959 by Soviet spacecraft Luna 3.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Grassroots Campaign to get a Physics Nobel for Vera Rubin

Now that the 2014 Nobel Prizes are done, it's time to start looking forward to next year. Why so soon? Because I'm hoping that we can start a grassroots campaign to help Vera Rubin win the physics Nobel in 2015. The nominating process for 2015 began in September and ends in February 2015. So the time to make some noise is now!

Please like the Facebook page lobbying for Vera Rubin's prize next year.

In case you haven't heard of Rubin, she made the first compelling discovery that implies the existence of dark matter. The identity of dark matter is one of the most important questions in modern physics. But thanks to Rubin, we know it's there, and that there's way more of it in the universe than there is of the regular matter we're made of: less than 5% of the mass in the universe made up of regular matter, but more than a quarter of it is dark matter.

That's why Rubin deserves the Noble Prize. And I'm hoping that if enough of us make enough noise about it, we might improve her chances in 2015. (Did I mention that you should like the Facebook page lobbying for Vera Rubin's prize next year?)

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Close Encounter of the Martian Kind

A comet on express delivery from the Oort cloud of rock and ice that surrounds our Solar System makes a close approach of Mars this weekend. Martian satellites are already hunkering down against the potential onslaught of debris.

Comet C/2013 A1, aka Siding Spring, shown as the reddish central object in four snapshots by NASA's NEOWISE mission in July 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL
On Sunday October 19th, comet C/2013 A1, familiarly known as comet Siding Spring, will fly within 87,000 miles of the Martian surface and NASA is determined not to miss the show. Check out their slick animation of how the close encounter will go down. The closest approach distance is tiny on astronomical scales — roughly equal to 1/3 the distance between us and the Moon.

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