Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mars Lander Detects Snow and Minerals

If you haven't heard already, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian Clouds. Unfortunately Phoenix never got to test its robotic arm snowman building abilities; the snow vaporized before it could reach the ground.

Two minerals were also discovered in soil samples scooped up by Phoenix, calcium carbonate (the stuff chalk is made out of) and clays. The findings are importance because liquid water is needed to create both substances, suggesting that the red planet was once capable of sustaining life.

Phoenix's on-board instruments, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) and the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) were used to identify the minerals. The high-temperature release of carbon dioxide from the soil sample was matched by TEGA to a temperature known to decompose calcium carbonate and release carbon dioxide gas.

Calcium carbonate acts as a natural buffer, and a solution buffered by calcium carbonate contains a specific concentration of calcium. MECA provided additional evidence by determining that the measured concentration of calcium matched exactly with expected values.

Evidence from a TEGA oven, specifically the high temperatures required to release water vapor from the clay soil indicate that the clays may be phyllosilicates, sheet-like structures very common on earth.

Phoenix is already working over time. NASA stretched the originally three month mission to the end of this year, if the spacecraft can handle it. The coming fall and winter months mean less sunlight, and so less power for its solar panels. In addition, communications between Phoenix and NASA ground control will be blocked briefly in November, when the sun is between Earth and Mars.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Smooth Salin': A Tranquil Solar Wind

The solar wind isn't blowing the way it used to. In fact, cosmic gale is at its lowest in 50 years, according to recent predictions made by solar physicists at NASA headquarters. The prediction comes after an analysis of eighteen years of data from the Ulysses satellite, the first satellite to study the regions of space above and below the sun's poles and take samples of the solar wind and solar magnetic field.

Originating from the sun's torrid outer atmosphere or corona, the solar wind is made up of streams of charged particles ( electrons and protons), blowing off the sun at high speeds in all directions, like a permanent gust of wind blowing streams of leaves off a giant tree. Interactions among streams of particles cause changes in speed and direction as they move away from the sun.

Scientists say the solar wind is blowing about 20-25% less hard than it was 10-15 years ago, during the last solar minimum or period of least solar activity in the sun's solar cycle, and lower than any observations since solar wind tracking began in the 1960s.

Taking into account the grand spectrum of the sun's 4.5 billion year history, researchers still aren't sure how uncommon a weakening of the solar wind is. It's possible that even lower winds occurred hundreds or millions of years ago, but of course the data just isn't available.

The lack of solar wind is causing cosmic rays to enter the Earth's atmosphere in greater numbers. While the earth has a protective shield to reduce the ray's intensity, they can damage satellite electronics and may harm astronauts by increasing space radiation.
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Highlights from the Blogosphere

Chaotic Utopia
Karmen points to a nifty online game called Vector Park, where users can, for instance, practice hanging various objects to be balanced on hangers.

Uncertain Principles
Chad's dog Emmy has a few questions about special and general relativity.

In science, failure is often how we make progress. 

Built on Facts
Phun with physics genealogies.

The Perfect Silence
It's all about the electrolytes...

Swans on Tea
Some painful reminders of what happens when you fail to keep the center of mass above the supports.

Shores of the Dirac Sea
In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, an explanation of how much a wooden plank will bend given the weight of a person.

Cosmic Variance
Julianne does her part to spread an astronomical Internet meme.

A Blog Around the Clock
Should be required reading for everyone participating in the blogosphere.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Fermi Problem Friday

Enrico Fermi was famous for his pioneering work in atomic theory. He won the Nobel Prize for his work on radioactivity with neutrons that subsequently led to the discovery of nuclear fission. Fermi posed a certain type of question, now called a Fermi Problem. The solution of which is impossible to determine an exactly but can be approximated by deductive "thinking outside the box" reasoning.
The classic example is "How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?" While this may seem impossible at first, you can estimate the solution through a series of steps. You can estimate how many people live in Chicago. Then guess what percentage of those people own pianos. Pianos need to be tuned after so many years. Finally putting all together, you can reasonably estimate how many piano tuners there are in Chicago.

Every Friday we hope to pose a new Fermi Problem and get your solutions. Along with your solution, send your reasoning. Feel free to be creative (that's the point).

The Problem:
How many Swedish Fish will fit into a 10 gallon fish tank?
Bonus question: How many can you fit in your mouth at once? Yum!
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Politricks and Science

Via Cosmic Variance, 61Nobel Laureates in science (physics, chemistry, and medicine) recently signed an open letter endorsing Senator Barack Obama for president.

According to the Scientists and Engineers for America Action Fund (SEA), this is the largest number of Nobel laureates to ever publicly throw their supports towards a presidential candidate, more than either Al Gore or John Kerry, although Kerry did get 48 signatures.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Go With the (Dark) Flow

In light of the housing slump, our tanking financial institutions, and a halted economy, it might be a bit relieving to know that something, (even if it ain't money) is flowing.

'Dark flow', as scientists have dubbed the phenomenon, is made up of patches of matter in distant galaxy clusters, that appear to be moving through the universe at extremely high speeds (nearly 2 million mph), and in a uniform direction.

Researchers believe the gravity of some object(s) outside of the observable universe is pulling on the matter, causing the high-speed motion.

The discovery could help scientists probe what happened to the universe before inflation, a general term for the theory that the observable universe expanded very rapidly right after the Big Bang, blowing up from a very small region to the size it is now (imagine a bubble the size of a proton swelling to the size of a basketball, in less than a fraction of a second).

The new findings may provide clues to what is happening beyond the bubble, in those parts of the cosmos we can't access.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take over the LHC

Since the real Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be shut down until April of 2009 or longer.... here's a fun game called the LHC Project Simulator, that lets you run your own particle collisions from the control room. You can also make your own discoveries and listen to video clips of students questioning scientists about the LHC.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Forget Rockets, Think Elevators.

I've never been a huge fan of elevators (I got stuck in one when I was about 7, and apparently still can't get over the trauma...), but the prospect of hopping into a carriage and gliding up to the stars is tantalizing. The idea is more than just sci-fi reverie; in a few weeks an international group of researchers, engineers, physicists and potential astronauts will gather in Japan to draw up a proposal and timeline for building the world's first space elevator ( an artist's impression of the platform of the proposed space elevator is shown above).

According to the Times, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA-I'd link, but the site is in Japanese) says the elevator would run on 22,000 mile long, flat, ribbon-like cables, and would cost about a trillion yen, or $9 billion. The Japanese say the price tag is fairly cheap-considering the amount of research and advances in materials science and engineering that the project requires, not to mention the planning and construction costs.

Instead of using an enormous amount of fuel and energy to blast yourself into space, imagine climbing through the sky like you would glide over land on a cross-country train. In fact, the JSEA says the elevator's ascent could be powered much like Japan's high speed bullet trains. Running on electrical power, the elevator would carry both passengers and cargo or even pollution like radioactive waste. Shuichi Ono, chairman of the JSEA claims that overcoming Earth's gravity with the space elevator would require "perhaps 100 times less" energy than launching a space shuttle.

Most people think of buildings when they think of elevators, but constructing the mother of all skyscrapers into space isn't exactly feasible. The crux of the space elevator would be the ultra light and incredibly strong ( and yet to invented) cables bolted to the ground on one end, and stretched up beyond the atmosphere to a satellite docking station on the other. The station would be right over the same spot on Earth, this is called geosynchronous orbit.

Of course, the cables would have to be resilient enough to withstand all bombardments inside and outside the atmosphere. And scientists will need twice the amount of cable required for the elevator to travel from the ground to the stationary satellite, in order to maintain a counterweight so that the cable maintains its tension.

Researchers are betting on carbon nanotubes as the best material for manufacturing the cables. According to a Japanese professor of precision machinery engineering (and JSEA director), the cable would need to be about four times stronger than what is currently the strongest carbon nanotube fiber, or about 180 times stronger than steel.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Wired's Top 8 Large Hadron Collider Videos

The video above, "Big Bang v2.0" is # 1 on Wired's Top 8 Large Hadron Collider Videos. Alphine Kat's LHC rap came in at a close second!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

What is a pirate's favorite bathtub physics demonstration?

Arrrrrrrrrchimedes Principle!
Everyday is "Talk Like a Physicist Day" here at the American Center for Physics. However, we do make a few exceptions: April 1st is "Talk Like a Chemist Day", Feb 30th is "Talk Like a String Theorist Day" (which is yet to be observed), and our favorite is Sept. 19th "Talk Like a Pirate Day". Avast! Today we leave our diffarrrential oparrrators and arrrgon tubes to the lubbers and shout like a pirate.
Many years have passed since the days physicists brushed sails with pirates. Talk Like a Pirate Day allows us to remember the adventurous times when discovering our universe took us out to dangerous waters swimming with pongos and rogue waves. In 1699 Edmund Halley embarked on such an adventure to measure the mysteriously elusive magnetic north and south poles. He discovered a method for determining a ship's position while at sea. While we use GPS today to find our way, Halley had only the stars and a compass. One slight miscalculation would crash his ship into shallow rocks or even worse: pirate waters. In addition to fending off pirates, he also calculated the orbits of the planets and comets, one of which bears his name. He also derived the famous gravitaional property called the Inverse Square Law. It says that the force of gravity is proportional to one over arrrrrrrrrgh squared. Consequently, pirates were quite fond of Halley's work and hence he was able to make many discoveries without too much trouble. However had he set sail on September 19th, he might have mistaken his crew for mutinous pirates.
Upon, Halley's return, he convinced Isaac Newton to publish his famous work on the laws of motion and calculus. Halley also personally funded the book's publication since the Royal Society had already spent their book budget on the not so memorable history of fish.
Let's thank Halley the next time you take a darrrrrivative!
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What do Hollywood and ITER have in Common?

Both believe in fusion! I recently attended a Capitol Hill briefing on the ITER, the international fusion energy experiment.

For the record, ITER once stood for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, but since the general public tends to get freaked out over anything "nuclear", the name was dropped (MRI anyone?), but the acronym stuck.

One of the first slides in the excellent presentation by Dr. Ned Sauthoff, Director and project manager of the U.S. ITER project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, showed images of Dr. Otto Octavius, the main villain in 2004's Spider-man 2. "Hollywood says fusion is a part of our future," he began.

Fusing the atomic nuclei of two light atoms results in a release of energy. ITER will fuse deuterium and tritium together to create 10 times the amount of energy originally needed to make the nuclei stick together.

The comic's notorious mad-scientist desperately wants to overrun the world with cheap fusion power. Unfortunately, he ends up going insane after his experiment fails and results in a set of artificially intelligent (as well as heat and magnetism resistant) mechanical arms permanently fused to his spine, along with the death of his wife. He becomes a serious threat to the denizens of New York City.

But Hollywood has always had a thing for fusion; remember the 1980s trilogy Back to the Future? Dr. Sauthoff did. An image of the "Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor" popped up in the following slide. This is the device that powered the DeLorean time machine when it traveled to 2015. The reactor used nuclear fusion to convert household garbage into energy needed to power the time machine's flux capacitor and circuits.

The days of viable fusion power as mere concept of science fiction are numbered, however. ITER is a huge international project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy.

In 2006 most of the northern hemisphere, the U.S., countries of the European Union, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and India signed an official agreement to build the experiment in Cadarache, in southern France.

Scientists will construct the largest tokamak fusion power reactor ever, in order to create strong magnetic fields needed to confine 'burning plasma' also known as self-sustaining fusion reactions, at temperatures around 400 million degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to producing nearly 500 million watts of power, the experiment will enable scientists to learn more about burning plasmas and how they can help us create cleaner, more efficient energy.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Highlights from the Blogosphere

"What (Not) To Say When You Meet a Physicist"

Swans on Tea
Resident: "If I let you in, you'll teach me physics!"
Burglar: "No, ma'am, I just want to ransack the flat."
Resident: "Alright." (opens door)


The Perfect Silence
Oh, no, he didn't! In defense of planetariums.

Scott Aaronson takes issue with Ray Kurzweil's future predictions: "If the singularity ever does arrive, I expect it to be plagued by frequent outages and terrible customer service."

Twisted Physics
Comedian Brian Regan on what it was like watching The Elegant Universe on NOVA.

Uncertain Principles
They're everywhere in the physics blogosphere!

Skulls in the Stars
In defense of reason and expertise.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAVEN to Search for Lost Martian Atmosphere

MAVEN or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft, is NASA's latest $485 million plan for a 2013 mission to the red planet.

The spacecraft will take the first direct measurements of the Martian atmospheric gases, upper atmosphere, solar wind, and ionosphere; a hefty package of information that will provide new details into Mars' climate history. The spacecraft's eight instruments will take measurement for one full earth year, or roughly half a Martian year.

Scientists know that there was once water on Mars, sustained by its denser atmosphere. As the planet underwent significant climate change, most of the Martian atmosphere was lost. Investigating current atmospheric loss may help researchers understand how Mars got to its present state, with an atmosphere that is no longer capable of harboring water.

In the fall of 2014, MAVEN will use its propulsion system to travel around Mars in an egg-shaped path called an elliptical orbit, 90 to 3,870 miles above the planet. In order to take samples of the entire upper atmosphere, MAVEN will drop to about 80 miles above the Martian ground.
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Large Hackable Collider?

"We are 2600 - don't mess with us". This quaint little message was recently left by hackers on the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS) website at CERN. CMS is one of four large dectectors that analyze data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

CERN's computer security team has pointed out with alacrity that the hack was minor and relatively harmless. CERN spokesman James Gillies even stated that it appeared the hacker(s) were "making the point that CMS was hackable".

I'd wager this is the case- why else would you hack into the most complex physics experiment ever built? Besides, its not likely hackers would be able to understand any CMS data anyway. Seriously, try explaining this.

Regardless of the level of intended sabotage, CERN says the LHC accelerator was never at risk. The hacked computer was used only to monitor CMS and wasn't connected to any major control systems.

The LHC is designed to churn out half a gigabyte of data every second, tantamount to filling a standard 100 gigabyte hard drive every four minutes. That's a mind-boggling amount of data, so the LHC computing grid was created to handle the information flow.

The grid increases accessibility of LHC data. Imagine a pyramid, with CERN's computing center at the very tip. Once processed at the center, the data is suffused out to a wider base, universities across Europe and the UK. Each institution reprocesses and backs up the data before it is disseminated to an even larger base, about 150 universities and institutions around the world.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

LHC Web Cam

CLick the image to open the web cam and see the Large Hadron Collider in action.

As you might have guessed already, searching for the Higgs is not quite as exciting as I would have hoped. Mostly, I like to watch the CERN personnel puttering around between runs.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Spaced-Out Internet

Interplanetary internet-the concept sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.

Or less far-fetched if you have no trouble conjuring up images of astronauts on manned missions to Mars, chatting with ground scientists on instant messenger and updating their facebook accounts.

These scenarios could happen sooner than you think. Interplanetary internet is now being tested in space, using the Bundle Protocol developed by the Delay-Tolerant Networking Research Group.

Bundle works by packaging data into blocks of information that are then stored and routed forward between nodes via transport technology. The process reminds me of colored beads sliding along the wire of an abacus, where each bead is a bundle of information being transported in a stop-and-go manner.

This is the first time the Bundle Protocol worked successfully in space, using the UK-DMC satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. The satellite transfered a bundle of remote-sensing image data to NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Deep space is no friend to smooth, reliable internet communication. There are a number of obstacles once spacecraft and probes travel beyond the Earth's orbit. Meteors obstruct connections, powerful antennas are often to heavy to send into space, and communication networks cannot withstand the extreme environment. NASA aims to bring Bundle Protocol and Delay-Tolerant Networking technology to mainstream space exploration by 2010.

The work will be presented on September 30th at the 59th International Astronautical Congress 2008 in Glasgow, Scotland.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What CERN and Kid Rock have in common

At CERN today, we had not only the LHC start-up, but also Media Day. 250 or so journalists registered for access to the Globe -- a large, spherical, wooden building that housed Internet access, live feeds from the Control Center, and a talk by the current and many former Director Generals. They could also take shuttles (just the mini-bus kind -- this ain't a Dan Brown book!) to the four major experiments and the Control Center itself (pictured).

I couldn't help thinking...man, that'll be a real bummer if they don't manage to get the beam all the way around. A very public failure indeed. And, judging by LHC head honcho Lyn Evans's first reaction to their success -- relief rather than triumph -- I suppose that many of the physicists and the technicians on the accelerator felt the same way about it.

Personally, I think this Media Day, while important to bring attention to the LHC, is some evidence of the arrogance that physicists are known for. They've never done this before. But they are pretty sure that once they get down to it, they're going to do it right. So, they invite journalists from all over Europe and beyond to watch their first attempt, and wouldn't you know, it goes off almost without a hitch.

They worked up to sending the beam all the way around the 16.6 mile ring, sector by sector (adding on a new sector each time -- they can't stop and start it). Beginning at 9:30 a.m., they sent a bunch of protons all the way around at about 10:15. Easy. Applause and whoops went up in the Control Center. There was a small problem with cooling shortly after 11:00 a.m., but they got it under control quickly enough to send a beam around the opposite direction as well, in the afternoon. This feat, which was just icing, they also managed in about an hour.

It's enough to put me in mind of Kid Rock's "Cocky" (we'll go with the edited version).
"They say I'm cocky
and I say what?
It ain't cocky if you're braggin'
and you back it up."

Physicists for you.

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Hey, We're Not Dead

In true nerd fashion, folks here celebrated the Large Hadron Collider's world premeire the only way we knew how, with a proton beam ignition party.

After staying up all night and witnessing (in real-time) the first particle beam sucessfully make its way around the 17-mile loop of accelerator, there we sat as the sun came up, in our pjs, amid remnants of mimosas, donuts, bagels, waffles, chocolate chips and whipped cream, when we realized, hey, we weren't dead! Shortly followed by, hey, the LHC works! A few of us lost bets on that one.

In any case, a night of sing-a-longs, gorging on food and drink, and sporadic chants of "CMS and Atlas are one of a kind, they're looking for whatever particles they can find" was fitting tribute to a historic and exciting event.

CERN scientists shot two beams of protons in one direction around the LHC, a ring-like tunnel running under the French-Swiss border containing over 1,600 superconducting magnets.

The magnets allow scientists to steer the proton beam around the ring like a giant video game. Of course, since the beam is zipping around at nearly the speed of light, controlling it is easier said than done.

Since the beams were fired in one direction, no collisions occured. But over the next few weeks, scientists will steer two proton beams traveling in opposite directions around the collider.

The beams will smash together and create new particles that haven't existed since start the of universe, the Big Bang.
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Fear and Loathing of the LHC on the Today Show

It's not all fear and loathing, but Matt Lauer and the news team at NBC seemed to enjoy a bit of early Halloween fun but telling scary stories about the Large Hadron Collider. It's clear from all the giggling that they're not really very worried. (Look for our own Alpinekat's hip hop video near the end of the piece. She's sooooooo famous now!)

This version of the story, from the more sober NBC news hour, is less of a fright fest, but still gives one fringe LHC fear mongerer a bit more air time than he deserves.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Two Neutrons Walk into a Blackhole . . ."

Genius, cranky, frumpy, difficult, brilliant, dreamer, old and, usually, white. Stereotypical descriptions continue to pervade how the rest of society, from children to adults, think about physicists. Aside from the token genius and dreamer attributes, few characteristics associated with physicists are favorable. But that's about to change. Today's physicists might soon be given a new adjective: freakin' hilarious.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) are taking improvisational comedy classes, in the hopes that mastering the art of humor will allow them to effectively communicate to a slightly panicked and overwrought public that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will not end life as we know it.

When they aren't theorizing, performing complex equations or discovering new particles, the 25 physicists that make up the CERN comedy class are tossing around props, performing monologues and scenes, and cracking lewd jokes (hence the title of this post...). The class is being taught by Charna Halpern, an improv-comedy coach from Chicago, whose former students include Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert. The troupe is scheduled put on their first performance in front several thousand people at a launch party for Atlas in October.

Creatively explaining the LHC to a public that has its eyebrows permanently raised is key to battling the bad rep the particle accelerator has been receiving lately, amid hyperbolic rumors, controversy, and lawsuits. After over a decade of work and $9 billion, the largest physics experiment ever built had better deliver the results it purports, notably the Higgs Boson and the recreation of Big Bang conditions.

The LHC will turn on tomorrow, September 10th, and CERN scientists must be feeling the pressure. Under this type of stress, some comic relief is practically necessary. In fact, many scientists say learning improv skills may help spawn new ideas and ways of thinking about difficult physics questions. As for being funny, well let's just say physics is easier.
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Monday, September 08, 2008

Highlights from the Blogosphere

"You Aren't Famous Until There is a Lego Model of You: Lego Hawking"

Talk Like a Physicist
Really, it's Hawking rendered in Lego. I kid you not.

Gene Expression
Rising above our human foibles.

Swans on Tea
Tom explains why your iPod's LCD screen looks funny when viewed through polarized sunglasses.

Swans on Tea
More from Tom on stress-induced birefringence.

Demonstrating the physics of whirlies.

"Self-Correcting Quantum Computers"
The Quantum Pontiff
His Holiness weighs in with an in-depth look at his chosen field of research, in four-part harmony. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Five possible fates await our universe... none of which involve the LHC.

Bad Astronomy
And here's why (once again) the LHC will not destroy the world.

Cosmic Variance
A guest post about a new History Channel show about the start-up of the LHC: "The Next Big Bang"

Finally, from CERN, an online game in four languages: collide your own particles!

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The Next Big Bang.

TV + the LHC, what could be better? From Cosmic Variance, a new program " The Next Big Bang" premieres Sepember 9th on The History Channel, chronicling everything from the Large Hadron Collider's history to its novel design. It starts tomorrow, September 9th. So watch it!
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The Colbert Report...in Space?

In other extremely important and relevant news, Stephen Colbert is headed for space- in DNA form. His DNA will be digitized and sent to the International Space Station via Operation Immortality.

As you might be able to infer from its name (or not), Operation Immortality is, according to its website, "a project to collect and archive the very best of what humanity is and has accomplished".

Programmer and video game designer extraordinaire Richard Garriott has the task of carrying into a space a digital time capsule, containing DNA samples from entrepreneurs, celebrities and athletes, as well as messages from people around the world.

Scheduled for take off in October 2008, Garriott will be setting some records, as the world's 6th space tourist and as the first offspring of an American Astronaut to go into space (his father is Owen K. Garriott, a former NASA astronaut who spent time in space in the 1970s and 1980s).

While Operation Immortality doesn't appear to serve any useful purpose, its always good to see pro-science endeavors getting some media attention.
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Friday, September 05, 2008

Quarky New Particle.

Particle physics is notorious for its funny-sounding jargon, and "quark" is no exception.

Physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a new particle, Omega-sub-b. The particle is made of three quarks (two strange quarks and one bottom quark).

Quarks are fundamental particles that join together in different combinations to make more familiar particles like protons and neutrons. Omega-sub-b is about six times heavier than the mass of a proton. It was discovered by Fermilab's DZero experiment, using the tevatron particle collider.

Quarks are gregarious, they're always found in combination with other quarks and never alone. As you can imagine, this makes obtaining measurements of individual quarks particularly challenging.

Omega-sub B is especially exciting because it contains a bottom quark, providing scientists with key information into how quarks form matter, a process not yet completely understood. Scientists have now observed 13 of the 20 different quark combinations predicted in 1961 by Murray Gell-Mann, Yuval Ne'eman and George Zweig.
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Close Up of a Black Hole.

Scientists recently aimed three radio telescopes at center of the Milky Way, zooming in for an unprecedented close-up of the supermassive black hole, believed to be located at the center of our galaxy.

By combining the radio signals researchers formed a single mammoth-sized radio telescope, almost as wide as the continental United States. The results of study add to a growing pile of evidence that a huge (4 times the mass of the sun!) black hole resides in the Milky Way's center.

They were able to obtain sharp detailed images, right down to the black hole's surface or event horizon, a region of space where the inward pull of gravity is so strong nothing (not even light) can escape it. Researchers focused on Sagittarius A a bright, intense source of radio waves. Scientists believe that Sagittarius A feeds off black hole activity, and may provide clues about the hole's position.

At very high resolution, researchers observed the relationship between Sagittarius A and the black hole. According to Sheperd Doeleman, who lead the study, light becomes distorted near black holes as gravity bends and magnifies it. The magnification creates an illusion, where radiation from the black hole appears to come from a region larger than it actually did. In fact, radiation will always appear to originate from regions of a minimum size.

Their observations indicate that Sagittarius A is actually smaller than this minimum size, lending support to the notion that the bright radio-wave body isn't centered on the black hole, but is located off to the side, giving the impression of a smaller radiating source. event horizon, it will vanish without a trace
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Particle Accelerators, New Wine Daters?

I love wine. Although I tend consume the cheap, boxed variety, a quality vintage always has a home in my glass.

It seems French scientists, along with The Antique Wine Company (a London-based wine dealer), have found a new use for particle accelerators. They've developed a method to authenticate wines with a device originally designed to smash atoms at nearly the speed of light.

According to the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the technique determines the age of the glass of wine bottles, by analyzing X-rays emitted when bottles are placed under ion beams produced by a particle accelerator.

The test is far more comprehensive than current radioactivity tests (performed on the wine itself), which cannot identify vintages prior to 1950. It also appears more convenient, as the test can run without opening the bottle or tainting the wine.

Vintage wine bottles are something akin to fingerprints; a mark of the time period they were made in. Distinct ways of manufacturing and production reveal the age of a glass bottle. To determine the vintage of wines in the study, Researchers compared the results with a database containing information on 80 Bordeaux-region bottles from the 19th century to present day.
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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Rumors of Dark Matter.

Rumor has it that scientists have discovered dark matter through an orbiting observatory called PAMELA. Aside from a few physicists given a sneak peek at a conference in Stockholm, Sweden, the results largely remain shrouded in mystery.

PAMELA researchers dropped some clues with an initial announcement, stating that their experiment has seen a surplus of positrons, the antimatter counterpart to the electron.

This abundance falls in line with current dark matter theory; the number of positions found "exactly matches" what dark matter particles would produce if they were annihilating each other at the center of the galaxy. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception their results receive when published.

For the record, PAMELA stands for Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-Nuclei Astrophysics (what a mouthful eh?). It's the first satellite sensitive enough to comb through antimatter, or antiparticles in space, with the goal of detecting dark matter.
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