October 23, 2014

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!

Astro Event of the Week; November 10th-16th; The Launch of STS-126.

STS-126

The Crew of STS-126. (Credit: NASA).

   One of the very few remaining shuttle launches will be occurring this week; STS-126  is scheduled to launch on November 14th at 7:55 P.M. EST (yes, another spectacular night launch!) and dock with the ISS on Day 3. [Read more...]