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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)

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.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about possible evidence of the elusive Higgs Boson, the so-called “God particle” being discovered at Fermilab’s Tevatron collider. Apparently some of the physicists have entertained the idea that an unexpected result from a recent particle collision experiment might possibly be evidence of the Higgs Boson, while others dismiss the idea. So, don’t go thinking that we’ve finally found the Higgs Boson (and not even at the LHC nonetheless) just yet. An official statement on the matter has not been released yet, and we have no clue what they found until that happens. So everyone just chill out for a minute until some official findings are released. All we know for sure now is there was an “unexpected result.” (Via Discovery News)

Now I must simply share a few things I’ve run across the past couple of days that are simply awesome:

What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner? Perfect for those “I don’t know what I want, what do you want?” times.

-Yazoo Brewing Co. may be switching to cans, but they want your input first. Weigh all the options before making your choice.

-Sam Kean of Slate is blogging the entire periodic table of elements. Nerd-out!

-And if this doesn’t make your day (and even week) infinitely better, then you are beyond help:

Exciting news today in the world of science!

First, the Large Hadron Collider underwent several tests last week in which beams of protons were successfully circulated around the massive 17-mile installation. Those tests all pointed to a “go” for the first actual collisions, which happened yesterday. These collisions were still only tests, and nowhere near the full power needed to look for the elusive Higgs Boson. But with this first collision, the LHC is now officially the world’s biggest functioning particle colider. There’s still a lot of testing and preparation to do before they start doing the “real” experiments, but this is still very exciting. (Via Discovery News)

Secondly, yesterday also marked the kickoff of a new science education campaign by the Obama Administration. I can’t even describe how happy I am to know this is happening. It’s the best government-related news I’ve heard in a loooong time… probably since Obama won the election. I will echo Dr. Phil Plait’s sentiments that the following quote from Obama’s speech is a symphony to my ears: “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

WIN. EPIC WIN. There may yet be hope for humanity.

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