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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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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)

Warning: I’m about to rant.

If I hear one more person say “look at this winter and all this snow… global warming… yeah right” I’m going to punch them in the fucking face. If you believe for one second that this winter’s excessive snow and cold weather in the southeastern US proves global warming is a myth, then you are simply solidifying your incredible ignorance and utter stupidity. There is a big difference between the terms “weather” and “climate.” Weather refers to the day-to-day changes in precipitation, temperature, barometric pressure, wind, etc… Climate refers to long-term, general trends in weather. We’re talking decades and centuries. That’s why global warming is referred to as “climate change,” not “weather change.” We will still have variations in seasons, even as global warming continues. Some winters will be colder and snowier than others, and some summer will hotter and drier than others. Some springs will be stormier, and some falls will have more hurricanes. These small-scale variations can be affected by long-term climate change, but there are many MANY other factors that come into play with small-scale weather events. One thing you may not realize about this winter (if you’re from anywhere east of the Mississippi) is that while we’ve had a cold, snowy winter in the east, most areas in the American west have had a very warm, dry winter. This is why there have been so many problems with Olympics. The mountains around Vancouver have not had as much natural snow as usual, and it’s also been warmer than usual. The direct reason for this winter’s weather is best described as a perfect combination of El Nino and the Arctic Oscillation. The AO is in a more negative phase this year than it has been in decades, which means the cold air at the northern latitudes is dropping farther southward into the US. This, combined with the very active and moist southern jet stream (which resides mostly over Mexico, Texas, and into the Gulf states), has resulted in a snowy winter for the southeastern US. This does NOT mean global warming is false! The average GLOBAL temperature is still warmer than normal. All this is explained in a much-less rant-y fashion at the Weather Underground blog. More details about the negative AO can be found in this AccuWeather article. Hey, Sen. James Inhofe, you just proved your massive ignorance and incompetence with your little igloo stunt next to the Capitol.

Rant over. Now for some much more pleasant science goodies…

The latest shuttle mission to the ISS, still in progress, delivered the new Tranquility node with a huge 7-panel window called Cupola, which was officially opened on Wed. Check this article on Universe Today for more details and to see pics of it. Look for many spectacular photos from this window to be released soon.

What would normally be a fairly unimpressive, routine rocket launch turned into a spectacular event last Thursday. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite launched on top of an Atlas V rocket. What makes this so special is the amazing coincidence of the rocket’s sonic boom (created as it surpasses the speed of sound) with its passage through the cirrus cloud layer. The weird looking ripples you see at about 1:50 into the video below are REAL. It looks like some kind of computer effect, but it’s NOT. There are still shots of them as well. What’s even more amazing is that another atmospheric phenomenon called a sun dog was happening at the time as well, and it appears that the sonic boom disrupted the ice crystals in the cloud, destroying the sun dog. All this via Bad Astronomy.

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