Rare mesons may be influencing particles, but scientists will have to wait until 2015 to fully test their hypotheses.
Wrapping my mind around this
Rare mesons may be influencing particles, but scientists will have to wait until 2015 to fully test their hypotheses.
Wrapping my mind around this
The fusion driven rocket test chamber at the UW Plasma Dynamics Lab in Redmond. The green vacuum chamber is surrounded by two large, high-strength aluminum magnets. These magnets are powered by energy-storage capacitors through the many cables connected to them.
University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are currently building components of a fusion-powered rocket, which could enable astronauts to travel to Earth’s neighboring planet Mars within weeks instead of months, at speeds considerably faster than feasible until now. The current travel speeds using fuel rockets make Mars travel a journey of about four years but the new fusion technology being tested by researchers at the University of Washington promises that in 30 to 90 days.
The lab tests have proven to be successful on each part of the process and the scientists are now planning to combine the sections into a one final and overall test.
“Using existing rocket fuels, it’s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,” said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.”
The team has developed a technology using a special type of plasma that will be encased in a magnetic field. When the plasma is compressed with high pressure by the magnetic field, nuclear fusion takes place.
The process has successfully been tested by researchers and they plan on having the first full test to be done by the end of this summer.
In practice the powerful magnetic field causes large metal rings surrounding the plasma to implode which will compress it to the point of fusion. The process takes only a few microseconds but that will be enough to release heat and ionize the rings that form a shell around the plasma. The super-heated ionized metal, in turn, ejects out from the rocket at a high velocity pushing the rocket forward. Repeating the process in intervals of about 30 seconds or more can propel a spaceship.
The research was funded by NASA in hopes that the technology would ultimately replace rocket fuel and yield to much faster spacecrafts that ever built before. Scientist say that just a grain size of the material from the plasma used can equal to a gallon of rocket fuel. That by itself will reduce the size of the spacecraft and the payload considerably making deep space travel much more cost effective.
All I need now is a 3D printer and I’m going to Mars.
This is ridiculous. The nearest star to the Moon is the Sun, which is on average 150 MILLION kilometers away, and has a surface temperature of ~10 million degrees. Have fun landing among that.
The Standard Model is the simplest set of ingredients - elementary particles - needed to make up the world we see in the heavens and in the laboratory
• Quarks combine together to make, for example, the proton and neutron - which make up the nuclei of atoms today - though more exotic combinations were around in the Universe’s early days
• Leptons come in charged and uncharged versions; electrons - the most familiar charged lepton - together with quarks make up all the matter we can see; the uncharged leptons are neutrinos, which rarely interact with matter
• The “force carriers” are particles whose movements are observed as familiar forces such as those behind electricity and light (electromagnetism) and radioactive decay (the weak nuclear force)
• The Higgs boson came about because although the Standard Model holds together neatly, nothing requires the particles to have mass; for a fuller theory, the Higgs - or something else - must fill in that gap.
Scientists say they may be able to determine the eventual fate of the cosmos as they probe the properties of the Higgs boson.
A concept known as vacuum instability could result, billions of years from now, in a new universe opening up in the present one and replacing it.
It all depends on some precise numbers related to the Higgs that researchers are currently trying to pin down.
A “Higgs-like” particle was first seen at the Large Hadron Collider last year.
Associated with an energy field that pervades all space, the boson helps explain the existence of mass in the cosmos. In other words, it underpins the workings of all the matter we see around us.
Since detecting the particle in their accelerator experiments, researchers at the Geneva lab and at related institutions around the world have begun to theorise on the Higgs’ implications for physics.
One idea that it throws up is the possibility of a cyclical universe, in which every so often all of space is renewed.
“It turns out there’s a calculation you can do in our Standard Model of particle physics, once you know the mass of the Higgs boson,” explained Dr Joseph Lykken.
“If you use all the physics we know now, and you do this straightforward calculation - it’s bad news.
“What happens is you get just a quantum fluctuation that makes a tiny bubble of the vacuum the Universe really wants to be in. And because it’s a lower-energy state, this bubble will then expand, basically at the speed of light, and sweep everything before it,” the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory theoretician told BBC News.
It was not something we need worry about, he said. The Sun and the Earth will be long gone by this time.
Dr Lykken was speaking here in Boston at theannual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS).
He was participating in a session that had been organised to provide an update on the Higgs investigation.
The boson was spotted in the wreckage resulting from proton particle collisions in the LHC’s giant accelerator ring.
Data gathered by two independent detectors observing this subatomic debris determined the mass of the Higgs to be about 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).
That was fascinating, said Prof Chris Hill of Ohio State University, because the number was right in the region where the instability problem became relevant.
“Before we knew, the Higgs could have been any mass over a very wide range. And what’s amazing to me is that out of all those possible masses from 114 to several hundred GeV, it’s landed at 126-ish where it’s right on the critical line, and now we have to measure it more precisely to find the fate of the Universe,” he said.
Prof Hill himself is part of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) Collaboration at the LHC. This is one of the Higgs-hunting detectors, the other being Atlas.
Scientists have still to review about a third of the collision data in their possession. But they will likely need much more information to close the uncertainties that remain in the measurement of the Higgs’ mass and its other properties.
Indeed, until they do so, they are reluctant to definitively crown the boson, preferring often to say just that they have found a “Higgs-like” particle.
Frustratingly, the LHChas now been shut downto allow for a major programme of repairs and upgrades.
“To be absolutely definitive, I think it’s going to take a few years after the LHC starts running again, which is in 2015,” conceded Dr Howard Gordon, from the Brookhaven National Laboratory and an Atlas Collaboration member.
“The LHC will be down for two years to do certain repairs, fix the splices between the magnets, and to do maintenance and stuff. So, when we start running in 2015, we will be at a higher energy, which will mean we’ll get more data on the Higgs and other particles to open up a larger window of opportunity for discovery. But to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, it will take a few more years.”
If the calculation on vacuum instability stands up, it will revive an old idea that the Big Bang Universe we observe today is just the latest version in a permanent cycle of events.
“I think that idea is getting more and more traction,” said Dr Lykken.
“It’s much easier to explain a lot of things if what we see is a cycle. If I were to bet my own money on it, I’d bet the cyclic idea is right,” he told BBC News.
Just wanted to let everybody know, some humans are trying to unlock the truths of the universe, in case other humans want to stop killing each other for childish reasons, grow up, learn to share the planet and get along.
Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface.
An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers.
The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover.
The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon.
It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said.
In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects.
The latest plans are the result of a collaboration between a number of organisations including the European Space Agency.
The consortium tested the practicalities of using a printer on the Moon by setting up a D-shape 3D printer, which are used to print very large house-sized structures, in a vacuum chamber with simulated lunar material.
“As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials,” said Xavier De Kestelier, a partner in the firm’s specialist modelling group.
“It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material.”
Buildings on this planet by the architect firm include Wembley Stadium, the World Trade Center in New York and Beijing airport.
Last week US company Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced plans to use asteroid material for manufacture by harvesting them and using 3D printers sent into space.
The company is also developing a bespoke 3D printer called MicroGravity Foundry for the purpose, it said, and hopes to be ready to start production by 2020.
Researchers have proposed a new means for getting a measure of just how massive supermassive black holes are.
They are known to exist at the centres of most galaxies, but a puzzle remains as to how they affect galaxy evolution.
The approach, published in Nature, infers a black hole’s mass from the speed of molecules swirling around it.
It could help weigh hundreds of nearby black holes. Its first use suggests a black hole in the NGC4526 galaxy has a mass 450 million times that of our Sun.
Only in a few dozen cases have the masses of supermassive black holes been estimated. Because they cannot be seen directly, astronomers have relied on guessing how large they are based on the motion of objects circling them.
Most estimates have come from gathering up starlight. This can be done by calculating how much faster the stars nearer the black hole are moving relative to those farther away.
However, that is an average measure, and the “random motions” of stars - not necessarily in the same direction as the swirling mass - blurs the measurement.
The movement of electrically charged gas can be tracked in the same way, with slightly less blurring due to random motion.
But these approaches remain painstaking and limited to only the nearest galaxies’ black holes.
The new work focuses instead on cold, dense masses of gas that have markedly less random motion, and which emit their radiation in the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. That allows the use of telescopes and arrays with far better resolution.
Timothy Davis of the European Southern Observatory and colleagues made use of the Carma array of telescopes in California, US, looking specifically for the radiation coming from molecules of carbon monoxide.
They focused their efforts on NGC4526, mapping out the movements of the molecules at various distances from the galaxy’s central black hole.
Using their new technique, they estimated the black hole has a mass of some 900 billion trillion trillion tonnes - on the heavy side even in the supermassive stakes.
Estimates such as this may help finally unravel the interplay between black holes and the galaxies that host them.
“Galaxies and black holes seem to be related to each other; there’s this relation between the mass of the black hole and properties of the galaxy,” explained Dr Davis.
“That’s rather weird, because these black holes are tiny compared to galaxies; they don’t weigh that much, and they’re physically small - less than the size of our Solar System in a galaxy that’s billions of times bigger,” he told BBC News.
“What we’d really like to understand is how these two components interact; why they care about each other at all. To do that, we need to be able to measure their masses, and compare them in all sorts of different galaxies. That will allow us to start answering these questions.”
With the new method in hand, Dr Davis said that next-generation telescopes tuned to these microwave frequencies - such as the Alma telescope in Chile - would be able to easily acquire the masses of hundreds of black holes.
“The observations we present in the paper took over 100 hours on the Carma telescope,” he said. “We estimate that with Alma you’ll be able to reproduce those observation in 10 minutes. It’s a real game-changer.”
A team of former Nasa executives has launched a private venture to send two people to the Moon for $1.4bn (£871m).
Golden Spike Company says it will use existing rocket and capsule technology, and will aim for a first launch before the end of the decade.
The firm is one of many new private firms hoping to follow the success of Space X, which has ferried cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
The US became the first and only country to reach the Moon in the 1960s.
But costs and waning interest has prevented any other lunar mission. US President Barack Obama cancelled a planned Nasa return to the moon, saying the US had already been there.
Golden Spike, run by former Nasa associate administrator Alan Stern, says it is looking offering voyages to the governments of other countries - such as South Africa, South Korea and Japan - expecting interest for scientific research or national prestige.
“It’s not about being first. It’s about joining the club,” he said on Wednesday. “We’re kind of cleaning up what Nasa did in the 1960s. We’re going to make a commodity of it in the 2020s.”
The firm says it expects to make about 15 to 20 launches in total.
Golden Spike is full of space veterans: the board chairman is Apollo-era flight director Gerry Griffin, who once headed the Johnson Space Center.
Advisors include former a space shuttle commander and manager, former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, engineer-author Homer Hickam as well as Hollywood directors and former House Speaker and space policy enthusiast Newt Gingrich.
However, Harvard University astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks launches worldwide, told the Associated Press that many of the new space firms will fail before anything is built.
“This is unlikely to be the one that will pan out,” Mr McDowell said, citing Golden Spike’s hefty price tag.
Free market space exploration is exciting!
Physicists like Albert Einstein, Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking have all said time travel is theoretically possible; our science just can’t achieve it. But what if nature can?
Time slips have been reported throughout history. English women vacationing in France in 1901 claimed they stepped into the French Revolution, and two English couples traveling in Spain in the 1970s stayed at an oddly archaic hotel that was simply gone on their return journey. RAF pilot Sir Victor Goddard encountered airplanes in 1935 that didn’t exist until 1939, and a 100-year-old Swiss watch found in a Chinese Ming dynasty tomb. People may slip like this all the time.
During the Aurora Borealis of 2004, visible in North America as far south as the lower Midwest, Jake, 15, stood outside his parents home in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, around 10 p.m. “A bright white glow suddenly filled the northern horizon,” he said. “This looked nothing like the northern lights, nor did it behave like them.”
“I thought that I should maybe go inside at this time, and found myself unable to move,” he said. Numbness grew in his arms and legs and he blacked out. When he woke, he knew he’d been somewhere else.
He walked into the house to find he’d been outside an hour. “It took most of the night for me to tell my parents what happened, and most of the time I kept telling them that I thought the calendar was wrong, it should at least be after 2008,” he said. “To this day, my mother remembers bits of this, mainly because I looked at her and asked point blank, ‘Is the black man president?’”
What happened to Jake? Seizure? Psychological phenomena? Or did Jake accidentally take a brief, four-year step into 2008? Jake’s slip is just one in a long line of stories from people who have brushed against a different time. These stories are not so rare as people think […] But the stories are so bizarre that I don’t think anyone would want to come foreword to tell it. Who would believe you?
Mind = blown.
Astronomers have spotted another candidate for a potentially habitable planet - and it is not too far away.
The star HD 40307 was known to host three planets, all of them too near to support liquid water.
But research to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics has found three more - among them a “super-Earth” seven times our planet’s mass, in the habitable zone where liquid water can exist.
Many more observations will be needed to confirm any other similarities.
But the find joins an ever-larger catalogue of more than 800 known exoplanets, and it seems only a matter of time before astronomers spot an “Earth 2.0” - a rocky planet with an atmosphere circling a Sun-like star in the habitable zone.
HD 40307, which lies 42 light-years away, is not particularly Sun-like - it is a smaller, cooler version of our star emitting orange light.
But it is subtle variations in this light that permitted researchers working with the Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars (Ropacs) network to find three more planets around it.
The team used the Harps instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla facility in Chile.
Harps does not spot planets directly - it detects the slight changes in colour of a stars’ light caused by planets’ gentle gravitational tugs - the “redshift” and “blueshift” that small motions cause.
Most recently, the instrument was used to spot an exoplanet circling our second-nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri B.
It is by its nature a high-precision measurement, and it has only been with the team’s improved analysis of the natural variations in HD 40307’s light that the team could unpick just how many tugs were changing it.
“We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star,” said University of Hertfordshire researcher and lead author of the paper Mikko Tuomi.
“This significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system.”
The outermost of the three new finds, HD 40307g, orbits the star in about 200 Earth-days and has a mass at least seven times that of Earth, joining a growing class of exoplanets called super-Earths.
The team say that the next step is to used space-based telescopes to get a more direct look at the planet and assess its composition.
Dibs! Now somebody please give to me a spaceship that can jump 42 light years in a second.
Astronomers have found the nearest planet outside our Solar System, circling one of the stars of Alpha Centauri just four light-years away.
The planet has at minimum the same mass as Earth, but circles its star far closer than Mercury orbits our Sun.
It is therefore outside the “habitable zone” denoting the possibility of life, as the researchers report in Nature.
However, studies on exoplanets increasingly show that a star with one planet is likely to have several.
At the very least, the work answers the question first posed in ancient times about planets around our nearest stellar neighbours.
The closest star to the Sun is Proxima Centauri, which is believed to be part of a three-star system that includes the brighter stars Alpha Centauri A and B.
The planet was found near Alpha Centauri B by the Harps instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla facility in Chile.
That puts it far closer to Earth than any of the more than 840 confirmed exoplanets
Like a dance between one enormous and one tiny partner, as an exoplanet orbits its much larger host star, its gravity causes the star to move in a small orbit.
Harps and instruments like it measure the subtle change in colour - the redshift or blueshift - of the host star’s light as its orbit moves it slightly closer to and further away from Earth.
What has delayed this finding is that because Alpha Centauri is itself a complicated system of stars orbiting one another, the effect of a comparatively tiny planet is difficult to detect.
But careful measurements over four years showed that the planet whips around Alpha Centauri B in just 3.6 days, and is estimated to have a surface temperature of about 1,200C.
Many planets in similar orbits are “tidally locked”, meaning the same side is always facing the host star, but further observations will be required to examine the planet further, finding out for example if it has an atmosphere.
Since the very first planets outside our solar system were discovered in the early 1990s, the hope has been to find an “Earth twin” - a planet like ours, orbiting a star like ours, at a distance like ours.
The new planet around Alpha Centauri B matches Earth only in terms of its mass - making it among the smallest exoplanets we know of.
But in a catalogue with hundreds of confirmed planets and thousands of planet candidates added since 1992, it is otherwise unremarkable - except for its proximity.
“Alpha Centauri B is of course a very special case - it’s our next door neighbour,” said Stephane Udry of the Observatory in Geneva and senior author of the paper.
“So even if the discovery just stands perfectly normally in the discoveries we have had up to now, it’s a landmark discovery, because it’s very low-mass and it’s our closest neighbour.”
Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said that beyond that, the planet’s very existence makes a tantalising suggestion.
“Everything that we’ve discovered in the last few years tells us that where we find one small, rocky planet there are likely to be others,” he told BBC News.
“I think the odds are very good that there may well be other planets in this system a little further out, perhaps a little more comfortable temperatures - so I think the hunt is on.”
Scientists - please find me a planet I can move to. Humans have fucked this one up.
Astronomers have found a planet whose skies are illuminated by four different suns - the first known of its type.
The distant world orbits one pair of stars and has a second stellar pair revolving around it.
The discovery was made by volunteers using the Planethunters.org website along with a team from UK and US institutes; follow-up observations were made with the Keck Observatory.
Ascientific paperhas been posted on the Arxiv pre-print server.
The planet, located just under 5,000 light-years away, has been named PH1 after the Planet Hunters site.
It is thought to be a “gas giant” slightly larger than Neptune but more than six times the size of the Earth.
“You don’t have to go back too far before you would have got really good odds against one of these systems existing,” Dr Chris Lintott, from the University of Oxford, told BBC News.
“All four stars pulling on it creates a very complicated environment. Yet there it sits in an apparently stable orbit.
“That’s really confusing, which is one of the things which makes this discovery so fun. It’s absolutely not what we would have expected.”
Binary stars - systems with pairs of stars - are not uncommon. But only a handful of known exoplanets (planets that circle other stars) have been found to orbit such binaries. And none of these are known to have another pair of stars circling them.
Dr Lintott said: “There are six other well-established planets around double stars, and they’re all pretty close to those stars. So I think what this is telling us is planets can form in the inner parts of protoplanetary discs (the torus of dense gas that gives rise to planetary systems).
“The planets are forming close in and are able to cling to a stable orbit there. That probably has implications for how planets form elsewhere.”
PH1 was discovered by two US volunteers using the Planethunters.org website: Kian Jek of San Francisco and Robert Gagliano from Cottonwood, Arizona.
They spotted faint dips in light caused by the planet passing in front of its parent stars. The team of professional astronomers then confirmed the discovery using the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Founded in 2010, Planethunters.org aims to harness human pattern recognition to identify transits in publicly available data gathered by Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope.
Kepler was launched in March 2009 to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars.
Visitors to the Planet Hunters website have access to randomly selected data from one of Kepler’s target stars.
Volunteers are asked to draw boxes to mark the locations of visible transits - when a planet passes in front of its parent star.
Dr Lintott points out: “Computerised attempts to find things [in the data] missed this system entirely. That tells you there are probably more of these that are slipping through our fingers. We’ve just stuck a load of new data up on Planethunters.org to help people find the next one.”
Searching for such systems, he said, was “a complicated test to hand a computer”, adding: “We’re using human pattern recognition, which can disentangle that reasonably well to see the important stuff.”
Since December 2010, more than 170,000 members of the public have participated in the project.
The Jake Matijevic rock marked up to show where on its surface it was examined
It was expected to be just another lump of dull basalt, but the first rock examined up close by Nasa’s Mars rover proved to be a little more interesting.
The pyramidal object, nicknamed “Jake Matijevic” after a recently deceased mission engineer, had a composition not seen on the planet before.
Scientists have likened it to some unusual but well known rocks on Earth.
These form from relatively water-rich magmas that have cooled slowly at raised pressures, said Edward Stolper.
“[The rock is] widespread on Earth, on oceanic islands such as Hawaii, and St Helena, and the Azores; and also in rift zones like the Rio Grande and so forth. So, again, it’s not common, but it’s very well known,” the mission co-investigator from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, told reporters.
The Curiosity rover examined Jake Matijevic three weeks ago. At the time, the dark rock was not anticipated to have high science value; it was merely an early opportunity to use the robot’s survey instruments in unison.
Jake Matijevic also had an interesting, weathered appearance that drew attention.
The rover first zapped the rock from a distance with its ChemCam laser, and then moved in close to study it with its X-ray spectrometer known as APXS. The latter device is held on the end of the rover’s robotic arm; the laser is mounted on its mast.
Jake Matijevic was found to be high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, such as sodium and potassium, and low in elements such as magnesium and iron.
Prof Stolper compared the signatures with a catalogue containing thousands of Earth rocks, and determined the nearest match to be an igneous type, the formation of which he likened to the production of colonial apple jack liquor.
This saw barrels of cider left outside in winter to partially freeze. As the barrels iced up, they would concentrate the apple-flavoured liquor.
A similar process was occurring in the liquid magma several kilometres underground that gave rise to alkalic rocks like Jake Matijevic, said Prof Stolper.
“In the case of the apple jack, you take out water and concentrate alcohol; in this case you take out particular minerals - olivines, pyroxenes and some feldspars - and you generate a liquid that is very different to what you started with,” he explained.
“So, the composition of Jake Matijevic is a very close match to highly crystallised or fractionated magmas that occur in particular places on Earth.”
Curiosity landed in Mars’ equatorial Gale Crater in August, and has driven eastwards almost 500m since then.
It is currently stationed just short of a point called Glenelg, where satellite images have revealed a juxtaposition of three different types of terrain.
Scientists expect this location to be a good starting point to begin characterising the geology of Gale.
The mission is going through something of a lull presently while the rover spends a few days preparing its sample handling system.
It is running dirt through this equipment to scrub surfaces free of any residual contamination from Earth.
This is necessary to avoid skewing the analyses of rock and soil samples delivered to the rover’s onboard laboratories later in the mission.
Curiosity’s goal is to try to determine if Gale ever supported environments that might have allowed microbial life to flourish.
In the short time it has been on the ground, it has already identified rocks that were clearly deposited in fast running water. The theory is that the rover is sitting at the head of an ancient alluvial fan where a network of streams cut across the crater floor billions of years ago.