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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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Image via Universe Today

Image via Universe Today

You may have heard about the killer asteroid aptly named Apophis, which had a chance of hitting earth in 2036 and potentially devastating a good chunk of the human population. Thankfully, scientists have now made more accurate observations of Apophis and ruled out the possibility of it hitting earth.

The asteroid has been on a watch list for many years because in 2029 it will pass very VERY close to earth. So close that it will actually be inside the orbit of some of our satellites! The fear was that if the asteroid passed through a very specific spot as it passed us, the earth’s gravity would tug on it just right so that its orbit would be altered and it would hit earth on its next pass in 2036. Due to limited observations of Apophis, astronomers didn’t know its exact orbit accurately enough to determine if it would pass through this very specific gravitational “keyhole.” Even before this latest observation, which occurred during its latest flyby of earth, the odds of Apophis passing through that keyhole were very slim (about 1 in 100,000 if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that) but significant enough to worry. Further observations a few years ago lessened the odds considerably to about 1 in 1,000,000. Now, astronomers are absolutely positive the rock will not pass through that gravitational keyhole, and the rock will never hit earth. They also learned from these latest observations that Apophis is actually larger than originally thought- about 325 meters in diameter, vs. 270. So it’s a really good thing that this rock won’t hit us!

This does not mean we can sit back and relax, however. There are probably thousands of asteroids flying around out there that we haven’t even seen yet, and any of them could be on a collision course with us. It’s a very real threat, and based on our knowledge of past extinctions and impacts, statistically it’s only a matter of time before we get smacked by another one. We just have be able to detect it before it hits us, and have the technology in place to deflect it.

More detailed info can be found at Bad Astronomy and Universe Today.

Credit: Google/NASA Meteor Watch

California and Nevada residents may have been terrified by the loud sonic boom that shook their houses Sunday morning, but now that we know what caused it, they should feel privileged to have experienced such a rare event. We now know that the cause was a fairly large meteor that entered our atmosphere with the energy equivalent to a 5-kiloton explosion. I’ve read other estimates for the energy, but that is the official number from NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office. That puts it entering our atmosphere at a blistering speed of over 33,000 mph. This meteor was about the size of a minivan, so it was easily visible during the daylight, and that fact that it caused a massive sonic boom means that it made it all the way down to the troposphere, the lowest level of atmosphere, or the level in which clouds and weather occur. Most meteors are much MUCH smaller, and even if they did cause a sonic boom, they burn up far too high in the atmosphere for us to hear it, not to mention that that the air up there is much thinner and doesn’t carry sound waves as well. Because of this meteor’s size and density there’s a decent chance that some fragments of it may have made it to the ground. Once they hit the ground they’re called meteorites, and there are people who make it their living to hunt for them. The rarity of this event is why I think the people who got to see it or hear it are very lucky. I’d give anything to witness something like that. Meteors of this size only occur about once a year, and the simple fact that earth is about 75% covered in water means that us land-dwellers only have a 25% chance of seeing one when they do hit. (Other sources: Universe Today and Discovery News)

Pardon me while I totally nerd-out for a minute… but I must share some news that made me very happy this morning. I first saw this in a tweet from Dr. Neil de Grasse-Tyson. Dr. Phil Plait- astronomer, author, blogger, and relentless promoter of real science and reality in general- is getting his very own show on the Discovery Channel. I’ve been a big fan of his ever since discovering his blog Bad Astronomy. He’s been mentioning a so-called “sooper seekrit project” in his posts for about a year now, and this must be what he was referring to. I get the feeling that there was some sort of miscommunication between him and the powers-that-be at Discovery, because all the tweets and mentions about this new show lead back to this YouTube video, which is basically a promo commercial/sneak-peek at the new series. However, he hasn’t yet mentioned it on his blog or even tweeted about it *update: he finally mentioned it on his blog here. Turns out it will only be a 3-part series… :(* . This doesn’t surprise me given the fact that he’s currently at Comic-Con. It looks like the show is going to take on a Mythbusters-esque vibe but mostly focusing on all the myths and junk science surrounding various doomsday/disaster scenarios such as asteroid impacts, comet impacts, gamma-ray bursts, and hopefully the ridiculous 2012 Mayan calendar myth. I honestly wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if Jamie and Adam of Mythbusters are producers of this show… or somehow otherwise involved with it.

Check it out: *Updated youtube link- they took the video down for a few days and reposted it.*

No idea when this show will air, *the show will probably air this fall* but I’m definitely looking forward to it. Congrats, Phil!

In addition to being a totally awesome sight to behold, the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt have also been a bit of a mystery. Scientists and archaeologists had a hard time explaining exactly how they were built given the technological limitations of the time period. The Pharaohs had a massive army of laborers at their disposal, but carving those massive blocks out of stone and moving them over miles of scorching desert would seem to be an insurmountable task even for an army of men. I was intrigued when I stumbled across the work of Dr. Joseph Davidovits, who claims that the stones were actually cast from a type of limestone concrete. This method would’ve require FAR less man-power and makes the pyramids’ construction seem much more reasonable. The seemingly impossible construction of the pyramids has fueled some ridiculous crackpot ideas that aliens helped build them. I was very glad to see that real science has actually explained the mystery of their construction quite well. Science wins. As always. Read more about his book Why the Pharaohs built the Pyramids with fake stones on the website of the Geopolymer institute.

This morning NASA attempted to launch the Ares I-X, the very first full-scale test version of their new Ares I rocket, which (if NASA proceeds on the current path) will replace the space shuttle as our primary means of transporting astronauts to low earth orbit. But a series of silly issues such as a probe cover getting stuck and a cargo ship accidentally entering the danger zone, combined with bad weather caused the launch to be delayed… possibly until tomorrow, maybe later.

Speaking of NASA… last week they got the full, detailed report from the Augustine Commission, which is a group of aerospace industry experts put together earlier this year by the Obama Administration to assess the state of manned spaceflight within NASA. Basically it’s a more fleshed-out, complete version of the preliminary report I mentioned several weeks ago on this blog. It’ll be interesting to see which solution NASA administrator Charles Bolden and the Obama Administration decide to go with. Personally, I’d like to see NASA get that additional 3 billion they need, but who knows? I can’t really summarize the options any better than Universe Today did last week when they reported on this, so I’ll just quote:

1. Maintain all programs as is, but extend the space shuttle program to 2011 and ISS to 2020. Without extra funding, the Ares rockets wouldn’t be ready until 2020 and there would never be enough money to go to the Moon.

2. Maintain current funding, scrap Ares I, develop an Ares V lite version (about 2/3 of Ares V heavy) and divert extra funds to ISS for extension to 2020. Buy commercial LEO human space flight. The Ares might be ready by 2025, and perhaps get to the Moon after 2030.

3. Add $3 billion per year and proceed with the Constellation program to return to the Moon. The ISS would have to be de-orbited in 2016 to allow a return to the Moon by about 2025.

4. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the ISS to 2020 and get to the Moon by about 2025. Use either Ares V Lite, or Shuttle-C for heavy lift.

5. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the shuttle program to 2011 and extend ISS to 2020. Instead of heading to land on the Moon, orbit the Moon, or go to Near Earth Objects and prepare to go to Mars. Use either Ares V Lite; a heavy Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) or, a shuttle-derivative.

So there you have it.

Yesterday some news outlets reported on a possible crater in Latvia left by a large meteorite impact. Well, it’s been confirmed as a FAKE, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some Latvians must’ve had waaay too much time on their hands because after detailed inspection, shovel marks could be seen on the edge of the hole. I won’t spend too much time explaining all the obvious scientific inconsistencies because Dr. Phil Plait has done a thorough job of it at his blog Bad Astronomy. The biggest misconception about meteorites is that all of them cause a crater if they make it all the way to the ground- they don’t. In fact most that do hit the ground are less than a meter in diameter and actually are cold by the time they reach it. They also are traveling at normal terminal velocity and just hit with a non-crater-causing thud.

Finally, I’m really happy to see that the Large Hadron Collider repairs came along nicely and they’ve started inserting particles into loop. No actual collisions yet, but if all goes as planned they should be doing their first ones next month. Follow CERN on Twitter for updates.

Via Ironic Sans. Click the image to go directly to the post.

The official SXSW music schedule has been released. It’s pretty user-friendly, as you can sort by day or by alphabetical listing. As with any festival, it’s gonna be a game of saying, “ok, who do I really care the most about seeing?”

Two great links from Kottke.org, as always:

I’m officially going to attempt having people over to watch LOST and play the official LOST drinking game. Please, if you watch the show, go read this. And then do it on wednesday. Preferably at my apt. My favorite: take a drink whenever “The island jungle scenes look as if they were shot in someone’s backyard, or the oversize potted plant section of an Office Max.”

Some really cool chemistry experiment videos. HORRIBLE WEB DESIGN ALERT! Warning- this website looks like something straight out of 1997. But the videos are pretty cool nonetheless.

I saw a story on CNN.com yesterday about a fireball and corresponding sonic boom heard/seen over Texas sunday morning. While the story doesn’t say specifically that the fireball was falling debris from the satellite collision last week, it does seem to hint at it. But the Bad Astronomer doesn’t think so, mainly becuase the debris appeared to be moving too quickly. It’s more likely that it was indeed a large meteor that just happened to hit the atmosphere a few days after the satellite collision. But as you can see in the BA post, nothing is for certain just yet. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this…

Finally, an interesting clip on the Daily Galaxy from an interview with astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson on why the world will not end in 2012. I would embed the video here, but as far as I can tell, you can only embed YouTube and Google videos on WordPress blogs. Grr.

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