August 22, 2017

21.05.11: Student Project catches STS-134 launch…from 100,000ft!

Endeavour on her way the orbit one last time…(Credit: Quest for Stars).

A unique sentinel was on hand to witness the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour this past Monday. Senatobia-1, an airborne observatory equipped with still and video cameras, lifted off the morning of the launch to snap the above picture from a unique vantage point. [Read more...]

24.02.11: Hefty Anti-particle Found.

The menagerie of bizarre sub-atomic particles just got stranger, as scientists at Long Islands Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider recently unveiled the discovery of the heaviest anti-particle yet discovered. Dubbed the antihypertriton, this strange beast sits at 200 milli-electron volts (for comparison, an electron volt about 1.602 x 10-19 joules), beating out old fashioned anti-helium.

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29.05.10: CERN Moves into New Sub-Atomic Territory.

The LHC tunnel. (Credit: CERN/LHC/Maximilien Brice).

The LHC tunnel. (Credit: CERN/LHC/Maximilien Brice).


    The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is starting to show its stuff. Earlier this year, scientists at the CERN institute on the Swiss-French border powered LHC into uncharted territory, conducting proton collisions in the 7 trillion electron volt (TeV) range.  This is a first for particle physics. One again, the world didn’t end in a dark matter strangelet, a super-massive black hole did not emerge and burrow to the center of our planet, and time travelers from the future did not emerge to sabotage the collider.

    The plan now is to run the LHC at the 7 TeV range for a period of 18 months to 2 years to gain data over known particles and check their agreement with standard particle physics, so that the search for the unknown can begin. Top of the most-wanted list is the Higgs-Boson, an undiscovered particle predicted by super-symmetry. There is a chance that the LHC will nab the Higgs-Boson in its first run if it inhabits the mass range of 160 giga-electron volts (GeV). This is doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility, since current capabilities go down to 400 GeV. When at full power, the LHC will push those sensitivities down to 800 GeV. The sensitivity of the data measured is expected to be of the level of one inverse femtobarn. This is equal to 1 x 10-43 of a meter, or one trillionth of the diameter of a uranium nucleus. Eventual LHC runs envision detection of exotic particles all the way up into the 2 TeV range.

After the current 7TeV run is completed, a one year shut down will occur for maintenance and upgrades. The subsequent run will see the LHC operating in the 14TeV range for 8 month periods, with 4 month maintenance cycle. The LHC promises to solve the mysteries of super symmetry as well as the questions of dark matter and baryonic matter formation in the early universe. And let’s not forget the concept of string theory that is currently badly in need of observational proof. Along with the LHC, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to be placed on the International Space Station later this year on the final shuttle flight promises to answer some key questions in particle physics. Could we have a Grand Unified “Theory of Everything” that you could fit onto a t-shirt in the next few years? Stay tuned!

25.10.09: In Search of a Mirror Universe.

The AMS mission patch to be flown on STS-134 Endevor as the final Space Shuttle flight! (Credit:NASA).

The AMS mission patch to be flown on STS-134 Endeavor on THE final Space Shuttle flight! (Credit:NASA).

There is one enduring mystery in cosmology that just won’t budge; namely, just what happened to all that pesky anti-matter that was presumably created during the Big Bang? Was it annihilated, only to leave the infinitesimally small faction of pedestrian “normal” baryonic matter that comprises the universe that we know and love, or are there still areas that antimatter predominates? Now, cosmologists are getting their wish in the form of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), due to launch aboard the last shuttle flight and bound for the International Space Station late next year. Once installed, AMS will search the entire sky with an unprecedented accuracy looking for ultra-high energy cosmic rays in the form of anti-helium nuclei. Antimatter looks and behaves just like normal matter…except when it meets up with its mirror cousin. If you meet your anti-matter twin on the road, don’t shake hands with him or her, our you’ll both vanish in a flash of pure energy conversion Ala E=mc^2! The AMS will also look for such exotica as dark matter, micro-quasars, and strangelets, a proposed new form of matter. And that’s just the stuff we know about! I smell a possible Nobel in the works…are you reading this, CERN? The AMS has been an on-again, off-again payload that Congress just green-lighted last year. The AMS promises to reveal a big old, bizarre universe out there. With a sensitivity 200 times anything that’s flown previous, AMS should conclusively prove or disprove the potential existence of any lurking antimatter galaxies out to a radius of 100 mega-parsecs. Like CERN, AMS will also generate terabytes of data to keep astrophysicists awake nights, and will be a fitting end to the shuttle fleets’ career!