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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)
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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:

If you live in TN, or even the southeast at all, you know damn well that it’s been hot and humid as hell lately. The entire southeast has been a sauna for several weeks in a row. You always hear people say stuff like, “man, it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity out there!” Anyone with half a brain knows that’s a VAST exaggeration, but honestly the concept of humidity is a rather confusing one, and even some meteorologists don’t explain it very well. I’m not going to attempt to fully explain it because it’s already been done quite well at this Cincinnati meteorologist’s website. Please click through that link if you want a very detailed, but still in layman’s terms, explanation. Read on if you want my extremely condensed version.

Basically, in terms of actually knowing how much water vapor is in the air, relative humidity sucks. In order to really know how humid it is, and how uncomfortable you will be, look at the dew point. The dew point is simply the temperature at which the water vapor in the air will begin to condense. The higher the dew point, the more H2O is in the air. According to most charts that I’ve found, dew points in the 40-50 degree range feel very dry, like you would feel in a desert… Dew points between 50-60 degrees generally feel comfortable, dew points between 60-70 degrees are generally uncomfortable, and dew points 70+ degrees are utterly oppressive. Yesterday afternoon our dew point in Nashville was hovering around 70-72 degrees. Relative humidity takes into account the air temperature as well as the dew point, and the relationship between temperature and RH is inverse. That means that as the air temp goes up, the RH goes down. Of course the relationship between dew point and RH is converse. Again, if you want a really good, albeit long explanation then visit this website. Fortunately, TN is in for a bit of a relief from the oppressive conditions we’ve been enduring. Cold fronts during the summertime aren’t exactly “cold” though they do normally bring slightly cooler temps, but the main thing they usually bring is a drier airmass. The typical summer weather pattern in the southeast US often involves hot and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico being blown northward across the southeastern states, creating the conditions we’ve been experiencing the past few weeks. Sometimes, however, an airmass that originates over the northern US and Canada will make its way southward. That’s exactly what’s happening today, and the dew point is already falling (this morning it was 68, and right now at lunchtime it’s all the way down to 61!). This airmass is drier because it originated over a large area of land, rather than water. All forecast I’ve seen are in agreement that the dry weather will persist for at least a week, if not more, though the temps will creep back up into the 90s by this weekend. But 90 degree temps with a dew point of 60 is hella better than 90/70!

I must mention a couple of science news tidbits that pinged my radar today and yesterday…

The Obama Administration has announced a new national policy for aerospace that supports and guides the plans for NASA that were announced back in February. This is more of an over-arching “this is where we’re headed” type of policy, and it needed to be implemented to be in line with Obama’s NASA plans. Again, I fully agree with his desire to cancel the Constellation program, rely on the private space industry for low-earth orbit, and focus NASA on exploring beyond the moon. With this new policy, NASA basically has no choice but to use the plan unveiled in February. Hopefully this will get some of the opponents of Obama’s plan in Congress to STFU. But that’s probably a pipe dream. (Via Space.com)

The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva continues to creep closer and closer to its final goal of having the most intense proton collisions ever. Right now, Fermilab still holds the record for highest beam intensity, but the LHC just set a new record for overall number of proton collisions. It will be several more years before they have the LHC running at full capacity, but I have no doubt it will pay off. (Via Discovery 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)

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.

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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