LHCBlackHole

Credit: CERN/NASA/Ian O’Niel

Here’s a quick roundup of some interesting stories and headlines that have popped up in the science world recently:

  • Based on new calculations using information from the Higgs Boson discovery last year, some physicists are worried that the universe might be doomed for boredom. The new math shows that the very existence of everything could be inherently unstable, and in a few tens of billions of years a tiny bubble of an apparently much more boring, alternate universe might pop-up and subsequently expand at the speed of light, destroying everything. Granted, there’s still a lot to learn about the Higgs, the equations used to make this prediction will improve drastically over the coming years, and the human race probably won’t be around to see this happen, but I can’t help but laugh thinking about the universe vaporizing into a more “boring” state of existence. (Via Discovery News and New Scientist)
  • I wish I had time to cover/post about the Russian meteor explosion this past weekend, but I was out sick Friday and had a very busy weekend/early week of moving in with my lady Old Red Boots. You probably know the basics- a medium-sized meteor entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia last Friday at about 9:20am local time. I just want to point out the important facts: (1) The Russian meteor explosion had nothing to do with the close fly-by of asteroid 2012 DA14 which happened later that same day. The trajectories/orbits of the two were completely different. It was simply a bizarre coincidence. (2) The damage to buildings and glass was caused by the massive sonic boom, as well as the actual explosion of the rock itself high in the atmosphere. The sounds and damage were NOT from the impact of the meteor hitting the ground. There’s tons of footage of this thing, but this video has the best audio I’ve found- if you have a subwoofer, turn it up and you’ll get some sense of the earth-shattering rumble. This video is long but shows both the bright streak of the meteor (about 4:30 in) and has the ensuing sonic boom (about 7:00 in). (3) NASA estimates the meteor was about 55 feet across and weighed between 7,000 and 10,000 tons. (4) A large chunk of the space rock is believed to have landed in Chebarkul Lake near Chelyabinsk, gouging a large hole in the ice. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy had great coverage and follow-up of this event, so be sure to check those posts out as well!
  • Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, wants to put humans on Mars in 2018, and he’s created a non-profit called the Inspiration Mars Foundation to do it. I have to be honest, the timeframe of this sounds absolutely crazy to me. Not many details have been announced, but apparently there will be a press conference next Wed. Feb. 27th in which more details will be revealed, so I’ll try to withhold my skepticism until then, but it’s hard. (Via Universe Today)
  • Astronomers with NASA’s Kepler Mission have found the tiniest exoplanet yet, orbiting the star Kepler-37 about 200 light years away. This planet is significant because it’s even smaller than our own Mercury, and just barely bigger than Earth’s moon! Finding a planet that small is a major milestone and huge accomplishment for the Kepler team. I’ve no doubt they will be finding the Holy Grail of planet-hunting, a true Earth twin, within a year or two. (Via Bad Astronomy)
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Click to enlarge. Trust me- you want to do this!

Before the newsy stuff I had to give you that eye-gasm of a photo of our nearest star a.k.a. the Sun, blowing off millions of tons of hot gas into space a couple weeks ago. This image combines two spectrums of light that we can’t see with our eyes, both of which are in the ultraviolet range and show the magnetic activity better. Both were taken with NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO). We should be glad this enormous eruption wasn’t aimed directly at Earth, else we could have had serious satellite and power disruptions.

Now for the headlines:

  • The teams of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have officially published their findings on the Higgs boson in a legit, peer-reviewed journal- Physics Letters B. This is the same journal in which Peter Higgs first published his revolutionary paper that began the hunt for the boson to begin with. Once a discovery passes this level of scrutiny, it’s DONE. That means we did it! Scientists have been a little hesitant to actually call this discovered particle the Higgs boson, however, since all the properties and attributes of the particle are yet to be nailed down. Over the next few years we’ll start to get a better picture of just what this particle looks and feels like, so to speak, and I’m sure there will be many more questions raised than answered. (Via NewScientist)
  • Star Trek is starting to look a bit more like reality than science fiction thanks to new research being done into anitmatter and fusion propulsion. That’s right- antimatter, as in the stuff they used to run the Enterprise‘s Warp Drive. NASA teamed up with consulting firm the Tauri Group for a presentation that included a prediction that human technology will have advanced to the point that antimatter and fusion propulsion will be possible for spaceships by around 2060. The technology will not, however be capable of faster-than-light travel. According to the 2010 report the presentation was based upon, it would take about 4 months to get a ship to Jupiter with this technology. That’s significantly faster than current technology, but still a very VERY far cry from Warp speed. (Via Space.com)

Just as I and most rationally-minded people in the world thought, it’s almost certain that the alleged faster-than-light neutrinos observed by the OPERA experiment in Geneva last fall were nothing more than a fluke due to measurement errors. As exciting as it would be for the results to be true (especially for the textbook publishing industry- every single science textbook would have to be rewritten and republished, after they rewrite the entire Standard Model of physics!), it looks as though the hypothesis that faulty fiber optic wiring in the detectors were to blame for the 60 nanosecond discrepancy the was observed. Thought scientists apparently aren’t 100% sure that the faulty connection was indeed the cause of the error, they are quite certain that it was some sort of error and not neutrinos actually traveling faster than light. They are quite certain of this because a second experiment- the Imaging Cosmic and Rare Underground Signals, or ICARUS, which uses a different detector in the same facility as the original OPERA experiment could not replicate the results. With the ICARUS experiment, the neutrinos behaved as expected, arriving at the speed of light and obeying the laws of physics as we know them. This, however, is still not enough to put this issue to rest in the eyes of science, and several other experiments around the world intend to independently measure the speed of neutrinos. A few are scheduled to happen in May, and I’d be willing to bet that they will all show that neutrinos aren’t the rebels the initial OPERA experiment showed them to be.

This is how real science works, and why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. One experiment’s results are never, ever enough to conclusively make any kind of claim. Even with established, large-scale theories things can change as new discoveries are made.

All of this via Universe Today and Live Science.

You’ve no doubt already seen or heard mention of this breaking news elsewhere, but I simply must weigh-in: This morning physicists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced that they are making significant progress toward discovering the Higgs boson, or what many tend to call “the God Particle.” They really are on the verge of making a discovery that will change the face of physics forever, and vastly improve our understanding of the building blocks of EVERYTHING in the universe, and how the universe came into existence. The announcement does not mean that they have found the Higgs, just that they’ve seen a series of spikes in activity (the few nanoseconds right after a particle collision) within the predicted mass range for the Higgs. They’ve narrowed its mass down to a pretty small range with a fairly high degree of certainty because they’ve amassed quite a bit of data, and the chances that this is just a statistical fluke are getting lower and lower. Still though, the certainty is not high enough for physicists to claim an actual discovery. This elusive Higgs boson is the last missing “link” in the most widely accepted theory of particle physics- The Standard Model. If the Higgs is finally confirmed to exist within the range of mass predicted by the Standard Model, then this theory will essentially become rock-solid.

*Steps onto soapbox.*

But the beauty of science and the scientific method is that it will be just as exciting, if not MORE exciting, if the Higgs is proven to either exist outside the predicted range of mass or not exist at all! Science relies strictly on data, and if the data shows something not predicted then you go back to the drawing board and keep trying until you have a theory that fits the reality of the data. That method is infallible, and that is why I love science.

*Steps down from soapbox.*

For more-

the Guardian has been posting live updates to their story.

But BBC News has the best coverage I’ve seen.

Of course the big news about the “faster than light” neutrinos would have to break right in the middle of Soundland, when I was insanely busy running around taking literally thousands of photos for 4 days straight… but the above image pretty much sums up how I feel about it. There’s an old saying in science- extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. However, in this case we’re not dealing with crackpot fringe scientists, we’re dealing with CERN scientists. In other words these people are very disciplined and have ruled out just about every other statistical anomaly, measurement inaccuracy, or other explanation for their results. So the fact that they measured neutrinos that appear to have traveled faster than light is not in question. The key word there is appear. And this is such a massively important discovery that the scientists involved are asking for comparison from the rest of the worldwide scientific community. They want others to repeat their experiments and see if they get the same result. When you’re questioning one of the most iron-clad, thoroughly proven theories of science such as General Relativity, you’d better have rock-solid, repeatable evidence to support your claim. No matter what the outcome of this, it will fascinating to sit back and watch as it unfolds. Here are a few links to interesting articles I’ve found relating to this news:

Earlier this morning the Large Hadron Collider successfully smashed two proton beams together at 3 times the previous record speed. Unfortunately, it will probably be at least a few months before we know any of the results of the collisions. That’s because there’s so much data produced from just one collision that it takes even the world’s fastest supercomputers a considerable amount of time to do all the number-crunching. In the meantime, they’ll probably be doing even more collisions at even higher velocities. Amazingly, even though they’re shattering all the records for collision velocity, this thing is still only in the testing phase. It could be at least another year before they’re smashing particles at the machine’s full potential. I especially enjoy the analogy made by Steve Myers of CERN that aligning the beams is akin to “firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way.” Good analogies really put things into perspective. This device is easily the most significant piece of technology mankind has ever built. More can be found at Discovery News. I was also elated to see that this story made headlines on CNN.com this morning.

In somewhat related news, particle collisions (though much less powerful) might be the cause of Toyota’s recent accelerator problems. The current thinking is that cosmic rays may be responsible for glitches in the processing chips used by Toyota in their cars’ computers, and that those glitches are causing the faulty accelerator problem. It sounds rather ridiculous, but it’s actually happened before in other sensitive electronics. The earth’s upper atmosphere is constantly bombarded with radiation from not only our own sun, but also high-energy gamma rays from distant supernovae. The ozone layer absorbs almost all of this deadly radiation, but the impacts result in a cascade of lower-energy particles that do make it to the surface. These are mostly harmless, but when they impact sensitive microprocessors, they can wreak havoc. Since Toyota has been a pioneer into the realm of increasingly computerized vehicles, that puts them at higher risk for these types of problems. (Via Live Science)

Megan and me with Rob at the Brian Wilson show last November.

After hearing the song “Energy” on the last Apples in Stereo album, I thought to myself “man, Robert Schneider could easily follow in the footsteps of They Might Be Giants and make children’s educational albums.” Well, turns out he’s doing just that. Billboard reports that he’s started a side project called “Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine,” and released a self-titled album last week through kiddie label Little Monster. I have a feeling the songs will still be enjoyable to us grown-ups, just like the TMBG kids’ songs are.
Another little tidbit from Billboard- that big Jonas Brothers 3D movie event that was supposed to be huge, turned out to be a bit of a flop… Ha. Ha ha.

& I took a picture of u & U took a picture of me. He really should turn this into a short film or something. I would hope it would come out feeling a bit like an SNL skit… but maybe with the irony a little less obvious.

The Strobist is a great blog for photographers. The guy knows lighting very well, and if you’re even remotely interested in photography I highly recommend checking it out. Today I had complete jealous-gasm when I saw his post about traveling to the Large Hadron Collider to do some photos of the engineers and scientists there. I can’t even imagine what it was like to get to shoot in there. Just to be inside it…. I would probably just freeze up in utter awe & amazement.

Back in those good ole days of cinema, they used an optical track on the side of film to record the sound. It was literally an optical representation of the waveform, painted in a black stripe alongside the picture. Nowadays that analog waveform has been replaced by either DTS or Dolby Digital. In the case of DTS it’s a timecode of dots and dashes to sync up with a separate CD containing the audio. In the case of Dolby Digital it’s a gray area between the sprocket holes that, when magnified, shows millions of tiny dots in a pattern, which is read by a digital optical sensor, converted into a digital signal of 1’s (represtented by a dot) and 0’s (represented by a clear space), representing the actual audio. This is a very simplified explanation, and I’m also recalling all this from my Audio for Media class waaaaay back in 2000, so if you’re reading this and you know I’ve mis-stated something, please leave a comment correcting me! Anyway… this all leads to the following video from 1951 showing film artist Norman McLaren, who literally draws sound by painting a series of dashes and shapes on the film, then running it through and optical audio reader. I’d love to try this sometime… it would be fascinating…. Via Clusterflock.

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