SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A $10 billion machine that smashes particles together is shutting down this weekend, taking a staycation in its 17-mile tunnel near the French-Swiss border while receiving maintenance and upgrades. The Large Hadron Collider, one of the world's largest science experiments, will resume operations in 2014 or 2015 at unprecedented energies.
Do you care?
Judging from the many comments that we get at CNN.com about what people perceive as a "waste" of money for scientific exploration, you might not. That may be because what happens at the LHC seems far removed from everyday life, and even farther from the study of stars.
"Everybody is, in some sense, an amateur astronomer. We all look up at the stars and wonder how the universe works," says Joel Primack, professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "People are not amateur particle physicists."
Our window into outer space is visible and dazzling. We can see spaceships and telescopes launch into the sky, and we can see the images they send back.
Inner space, the fundamental building-blocks of everything on a ridiculously small scale, isn't visible. A lot of our understanding is based on theory and probability. Even the greatest achievement at the LHC isn't certain; we can only say that a particle was found resembling a theorized entity called the Higgs boson.
But exploring the very small and the very big and distant are both important for understanding the world in which we live, scientists say, and are necessary for completing the same puzzle.
"The basic story is really that understanding particles and interactions helps us understand the evolution and structure of the whole universe, and hopefully will give us technologies that will allow us to explore it more efficiently and solve energy problems and so forth," said Joe Incandela, spokesperson for the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, a large particle detector.
What the universe is made of
Over the last few decades, scientists have come to the conclusion that the universe's composition is only about 5% atoms -- in other words, the stuff that we see and know around us. That means the rest is stuff we can't see. About 71% is something called "dark energy," and another 24% is "dark matter."
Research is ongoing to figure out precisely what these "dark" components are, because they do not interact with ordinary matter and have never been directly detected.
But the large-scale structure of the universe depends on dark matter. "Without the dark matter, all the stars would fly away," said Adam Riess, physicist at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Dark energy is thought to be responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe, and Riess's Nobel-prize winning work supports this theory.
In principle, these phenomena are everywhere -- but how can we find them?
What particle physicists are really looking for
All that space in between star clusters is not empty at all. Particle physicists are hoping to get a better understanding of space time, the fabric of the universe.
There are particles hiding behind this fabric that we don't normally see, but with enough energy you can draw them into existence, Incandela said. Scientists expect several as-yet-unseen particles to be there because they help fill gaps in the Standard Model of particle physics. The LHC uses high-energy particle collisions to try to find them.
Incandela likens this to being in a boat with fish underneath, which are nibbling at the surface. It takes a lot of energy to pull one out. The Higgs boson, being so hard to pin down, would be like a whale, Incandela said.
One pitfall of this analogy is that you can easily identify real fish, but it's a lot harder to classify particles that slip in and out of existence in less than a second.
The particle that has made headlines recently is the Higgs boson, aka "God particle" -- a term a lot of scientists hate. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman wrote a book with "God Particle" in the title, but reportedly said he'd actually wanted to call it the "Goddamn Particle."
This particle is a component of something called the Higgs field. Brian Greene, theoretical physicist at Columbia University and "NOVA" host, describes it this way:
"You can think of it as a kind of molasses-like bath that's invisible, but yet we're all immersed within it," he said. "And as particles like electrons try to move through the molasses-like bath, they experience a resistance. And that resistance is what we, in our big everyday world, think of as the mass of the electron."
Without this "substance," made up of Higgs particles, the electron would have no mass, and we would not be here at all. It's not a perfect metaphor, though; we don't feel particularly sticky.
The collision energy at the LHC went up to 8 TeV (trillion electron volts) in 2012, a record for the amount of energy in particle collisions. After downtime of about two years, it will come back online with 13 TeV.
With higher energies, it may be possible to detect the signature of dark matter, learn more precise properties of the particle that looks like the Higgs, find evidence of extra dimensions and perhaps find out whether gravity itself has a particle.
"If you want to understand the big, you have to understand the small," Primack said.
Dark matter and energy
Primack proposed an idea for dark matter in 1982 that is still a leading contender: The notion that supersymmetry is responsible for dark matter.
That means that for every particle we know, even the Higgs, there is a partner particle with similar interactions but that is more massive. All these partner particles are unstable except for the lightest one, which can't decay into anything else. Dark matter would be this lightest particle, called a weakly interacting massive particle, or WIMP.
There are several underground experiments worldwide that are aiming to detect these dark matter "WIMPs," such as the LUX Dark Matter experiment in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where liquid xenon is stored a mile underground.
Similar experiments include the Xenon 100 experiment at the Gran Sasso Mountain in central Italy. Scientists will go even deeper at the PandaX experiment at the China Jin-Ping Underground Laboratory, located under 1.5 miles of rock.
The principle behind these experiments is that particles hitting the xenon cause the nucleus of the atom to give off a little bit of light. By examining the resulting charge and light produced in this collision, scientists can determine whether dark matter was involved. At least, in theory -- so far, no dark matter has been detected that way.
These experiments are happening at the same time that the LHC is colliding particles, and may find evidence of dark matter that way.
"It really feels like we're on the verge of a breakthrough," Primack said.
Meanwhile, in space, scientists are looking for the signatures of dark matter and dark energy. Riess and colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure supernovae that are very far away, showing that dark energy must be responsible for how the universe appears to expand faster and faster. This won them the Nobel Prize in 2011.
The James Webb Telescope, costing about $8 billion, will succeed Hubble. The planned telescope will have a 21-foot diameter mirror, six times as big as Hubble's. Among other things, this telescope is also looking for evidence of dark matter and dark energy.
"There's a huge synergy there, in astronomers trying to find the influence of dark matter by mapping stars and galaxies and large structures in the universe, and particle physicists trying to discover the source of that influence of dark matter through subatomic particles here on Earth," said Jason Kalirai, deputy project scientist for the telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
What technology may come
The question remains: What is this all good for?
There's the pure satisfaction of having greater knowledge of the universe in which we live.
"It's just one of the things that distinguishes humanity, that we can actually answer questions that are deep and fundamental, make predictions and do science, and that it actually works," said Lisa Randall, professor of physics at Harvard and author of "Knocking on Heaven's Door."
Consider also that all the technology you know can be traced to pure research, initially perceived as esoteric. Electric lights -- and, indeed all of electricity -- came from fundamental research in the 19th century.
Computers and transistors arose from the understanding of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and 1930s, Incandela said.
Certainly, Einstein didn't know that his relativity theories would become pertinent to your smartphone's GPS. The atomic clocks on satellites must be corrected because, in accordance to Einstein's predictions, moving objects in space are on a different "time" relative to an observer on Earth.
"Technology usually lags pure science by a large amount of time, and I would say, probably now there's a good chance we're further ahead of technology than ever before," Incandela said.
Even the World Wide Web arose out of a proposal from Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, who was a physicist at CERN in the 1980s. Essentially, the reason we have the Internet that we all know and love is that Berners-Lee wanted to enable better communication among physicists there.
It's likely, Primack said, that useful things will also come from the searches for dark matter and dark energy, and for other particles that the LHC is hunting. No one knows what the uses will be yet -- but then again, no one predicted that the World Wide Web would arise at a particle physics lab, either. CERN is, in fact, the same laboratory that houses the LHC.
Nothing is certain, of course, it is at least possible that doing this pure science could help bring into reality the sorts of technologies that right now seem like science fiction.
"If we're really going to explore the universe, in terms of actually moving through the universe and having the ability to do space exploration that's what you see in the movies, so to speak, the 'Star Trek' type things, in principle, we're going to need to understand and have the ability to harness the potential of nature at a level that we don't have now," Incandela said.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Scientists who have for years been closely following Voyager 1's slow drift into the interstellar region of the Milky Way had a false alarm last month when the 35-year-old spacecraft measured a drop in solar particles that they were sure was a sign it had finally exited our solar system.
"When we saw it drop, we said, 'Oh, oh, this it it.' It turns out it wasn't, but it was certainly the first time we've seen something that might have been it," said Edward Stone, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the chief scientist for the Voyager mission, run out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech.
Instruments on the spacecraft measure the high-energy particles, accelerated to near-light speed by distant supernovas and black holes, that make up the cosmic rays seeping into the solar system from the interstellar region of the galaxy as well as the lower-energy particles within our solar system.
It is these measurements that help scientists determine how close to the edge of the solar system Voyager 1 is.
"The particles from inside [the solar system], they've been pretty steady for the last seven years, and then on July 28, in a matter of about 12 hours, their intensity dropped to half, and it remained at that lower level until Aug. 1," Stone said.
"That was the first time in seven years that we've seen anything like that. It was very dramatic."
Voyager 1 was launched from Earth on Sept. 5, 1977, and is now about 18 billion kilometres from Earth and 121 times as far from the sun as Earth is, the only human-made object to have travelled that far into space.
Its partner spacecraft, Voyager 2, launched Aug. 20, 1977, is about three billion kilometres behind Voyager 1.
"The latest data from Voyager 1 indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing quickly," said Stone.
"This is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system's final frontier."
Jupiter was original target
Astronomers and physicists are excited to have Voyager 1 so close to the interstellar region of space because they want to learn about the cosmic rays that exist in that part of the galaxy, few of which make it into our solar system, and to understand the flow of the solar wind in that part of space, Stone said.
When the Voyagers launched, there was no way to accurately predict when they would exit the solar system, or if they would even continue to operate long enough to make the journey and send information about it back to Earth.
Voyager 1 was initially headed to Jupiter, and because of that planet's gravitational effect on its orbit, known as the sling shot effect, it picked up speed and swung over to Saturn, where it gathered even more speed.
Voyager 2 got a similar speed boost from Uranus and Neptune and is travelling about 30 degrees south of that plane.
The two spacecraft are currently in an area of the solar system referred to as the heliosheath, the outermost layer of the heliosphere.
The heliosphere is an area of charged particles originating at the sun. It can be thought of as a kind of bubble of charged particles surrounding the solar system.
The heliosheath is its outermost layer, where the solar wind is slowed by pressure created by interstellar gas, forming a kind of barrier at the edge of the solar system.
Voyager 1 and 2 have been in the heliosheath for almost eight years.
Once the two cross the edge of the heliosheath, known as the heliopause, they will be in the interstellar region of space, never to return to the solar system again.
"The two spacecraft will leave the sun behind and will orbit the centre of our galaxy basically for billions of years, along with all the stars," Stone said.
How will we know when it's gone?
Scientists have three signatures they look for when measuring whether Voyager has exited the solar system: they measure the type and amount of subatomic particles the spacecraft is encountering to determine whether they are coming from within or outside of the solar system, and they look at the nature of the magnetic field around the spacecraft.
Very few cosmic rays from the interstellar region make it into the heliosphere, so when their numbers increase dramatically and those of lower-energy solar particles drop close to zero, that will be a sign that Voyager has crossed into the interstellar space.
Scientists can identify which particles come from inside or outside the solar system in part because those from the interstellar region are composed of as much carbon as oxygen while those within the solar system are composed of only oxygen, Stone said.
They also look for a change in the magnetic field through which the spacecraft is travelling. The spiral magnetic field created by the solar wind from the sun is oriented in an east-west direction while outside the solar system, the field should have more of a north-south orientation.
"Once we actually leave the bubble, we should see a different orientation of the magnetic field than we've been seeing for the last 35 years," Stone said.
No way to predict when it will exit solar system
The Voyager mission scientists check the massive data sets sent back from the spacecraft every day and have been noticing a rise in the amount of cosmic particle activity and a drop in solar particles since about January 2009.
But the recent drop in July really got their attention, because it happened over such a short period and was so dramatic.
Nothing built on Earth has ever travelled as far as Voyager 1, and scientists say there's no way to predict when exactly the spacecraft will enter interstellar space.
"Voyager is now getting closer, but I can't tell you how close because none of our models can predict anything with this kind of scale — it's just too fine a scale to be seen in the model of the heliosphere," Stone said.
"So, we could literally cross the heliopause any day, or it could be up to a few more years, but I'll be surprised if it's much more than a few more years. It may well be a few days."
Voyager carries message from Earth
While the designers of the two Voyager spacecraft didn't know how long they would continue to relay information to Earth, they did build in a kind of time capsule intended to communicate information about our planet to any highly advanced interstellar travelers who might find them.
The Voyager message is carried on an analogue record — a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc containing sounds and music meant to give a sense of life on Earth.
"The launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet," astronomer Carl Sagan once said of the capsule.
Sagan headed the committee that chose the content for the "golden records," as they are affectionately known. They contain 115 images, as well as recordings of the sounds of surf, wind, thunder, whales and birds.
They also have music and greetings in 55 different ancient and contemporary languages.
Intended to be played at 16 and 2/3 revolutions per minute, the records come encased in a protective aluminum sleeve etched with instructions on how to play them. The package even contains a needle.
Sagan notes in Murmurs of Earth, a book about the creation of the golden records, that the Voyager probes and the messages they carry, "will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space."—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Assuming it safely passes through its terrifying and complex descent sequence, NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, should get its wheels on the Martian surface in just two short days, at 10:32 p.m. Pacific on Aug. 5. The size of a small SUV, Curiosity is packed with 10 state-of-the-art instruments that will allow it to answer questions about Mars’ wet history, current atmosphere and climate, and the possibility of ancient or contemporary life.
Curiosity represents a scientific and engineering leap over the previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and its nuclear-powered battery will allow it to rove day and night. Over the course of its two-year initial mission, the probe will climb up a 3-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater, poking, prodding, and drilling into the soil and rocks.
Here we take a closer look at the individual instruments that will help Curiosity make the next breakthrough discoveries about the Red Planet.
From the moment the rover hits the Martian atmosphere it will start taking data. Studded in 14 locations around the probe’s heat shield are devices known as the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI). This equipment will provide information about Mars’ atmosphere and the dynamics of the rover’s descent, analyzing Curiosity’s trip to the surface and providing information helpful in designing future Mars missions.
Additionally, a special camera, the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will be watching the view as the ground rushes up at Curiosity. By taking high-resolution color video during the probe’s landing sequence, MARDI will provide an overview of the landscape during descent and allow geologists back on Earth to determine exactly where Curiosity lands.
Possibly the coolest Curiosity instrument is the ChemCam, which uses a laser beam to shoot rocks (and maybe a Martian or two) in order to vaporize a small sample. A spectrograph will then analyze the vapor, determining the composition and chemistry of the rocks. Situated on Curiosity’s head, ChemCam can shoot up to 23 feet and should provide unprecedented detail about minerals on the Martian surface.
The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument will look at various minerals on the Martian surface. Specific minerals form in the presence or in the absence of water, revealing the history of an area and helping scientists to understand whether or not liquid existed there. Curiosity will drill into rocks to obtain samples for CheMin, pulverizing the material and transporting it into the instrument’s chamber. CheMin will then bombard the sample with X-rays to determine its composition.
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will be Curiosity’s weatherman, providing data about daily atmospheric pressure, wind speed, humidity, ultraviolet radiation, and air temperature. REMS will sit on Curiosity’s neck and also help assess long-term seasonal variation in Mars’ climate.
The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) sits the end of Curiosity’s arm, allowing the rover to place it right up against rocks and soil. It will then shoot X-rays and alpha particles (essentially Helium nuclei) at the materials to identify how they formed.
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is one of the most important instruments and the reason that Curiosity can be called a mobile laboratory. Taking up more than half of the rover’s body, SAM contains equipment found in top-notch labs on Earth: a mass spectrometer to separate materials and identify elements, a gas chromatograph to vaporize soil and rocks and analyze them, and a laser spectrometer to measure the abundances of certain light elements such as carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen – chemicals typically associated with life. SAM will also look for organic compounds and methane, which may indicate life past or present on Mars.
The other experiment important in Curiosity’s search for Martian habitability is the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument, which will look for water in or under the Martian surface. Water, both liquid and frozen, absorbs neutrons differently than other materials. DAN will be able to detect layers of water up to six feet below the surface and be sensitive to water content as low as one-tenth of a percent in Martian minerals.
Curiosity has plenty of eyes to take in the view on the ground. Perched atop its head is the MastCam, two cameras capable of taking color images and video, as well as stitching pictures together into larger panoramas. One of these two cameras has a high-resolution lens, allowing Curiosity to study the distant landscape in detail.
The Mars Hand Lens Images (MAHLI) instrument will provide close-up views of rocks and soil samples near the rover. MAHLI sits at the end of Curiosity’s long, flexible arm, and can image details down to about 12.5 micrometers, roughly half the diameter of a human hair. The instrument will also be able to see in ultraviolet light, which will come in handy during night exploration and funky psychedelic parties.
Rounding out Curiosity’s cameras are the hazard-avoidance Hazcams and navigation Navcams. The Hazcams will watch underneath the rover to prevent it from crashing into any large objects while the Navcams will be mounted on the rover’s mast to help it steer. Both camera sets will be capable of taking stereoscopic 3D images.
Future Mars missions may rely on data from the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD). The first instrument that Curiosity fires up when it lands on Mars, RAD will measure radiation at the Martian surface, determining how plausible it is that microbes exist there. One of RAD’s main selling points is its ability to assess how safe or dangerous the Martian surface would be to future human explorers, calculating the radiation dose future astronauts may receive.—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association)— Check out the Viami Series of bathing units that are currently being manufactured and sold by Air Water, where they come fully equipped to the hilt with 11 to 16 special nozzles which are capable of spraying warm ultra-fine particles of 300 microns – all in the name of getting a clean body eventually. This will clearly see use in medical circles, as the NS5000 as it is know will see action primarily in hospitals for those who do not have the physical capacity to be able to bathe themselves. An automated bathing machine, so to speak, where one gets clean in a comfortable and safe manner.
Specially designed to tout 16 nozzles in total, the shower spray is also capable of reaching the person’s back without any issues. It will also help one to warm up in a jiffy thanks to the ultra fine shower particles and sauna effect after spending some time in the NS5000. I wonder whether there will be a commercially available solution in due time, considering how some times, I just feel too lazy to shower before turning myself in for the night due to fatigue.—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association)— In the world of science, the excitement doesn't mount much higher than the frenzy Wednesday around the announcement that scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher may have found the "God particle."
The discovery is called a boson, a class of sub-atomic particle, but the description stopped just short of confirming that it's the long-sought Higgs boson particle.
While there are still questions to ask and research to do to confirm if it is indeed the Higgs boson, physicists see massive implications to the discovery.
"It's helping us understand the big universal question, which is what are we made out of," says Philippe Di Stefano, a physics professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
The discovery won't have an instant impact on everyday life, but scientists see great potential in what it might lead to in years to come.
"This is not going to be able to give us a solution for the energy problem or climate warming or the other, the immediate, pressing problems that face us," says Pekka Sinervo, a physics professor at the University of Toronto. "It is, however, a piece of the puzzle that we need … to understand the world."
Sinervo likens the accomplishments of the scientists behind Wednesday's announcement to what physicists and scientists were doing in the 1930s to understand quantum mechanics and the nucleus of an atom.
"No one at that time knew what the potential benefits or uses of that knowledge would be."
Here's a look at some reasons the discovery announced Wednesday is seen as so vital.
It's a crossroads in science
"To me, the takeaway message is that we seem to be closing a chapter on the last decades of particle physics, and we're entering a new era of examining the properties, and we hope very much to push beyond the standard model. We're really at a crossroads now.
"It’s an indication that the last 45 years of particle physics has been on the right track, and now we hope to look beyond the standard model into why particles gain mass. This may be observations of supersymmetry, other dimensions, [and other] theories that were developed to go beyond the Higgs boson."
— Rob McPherson, physics professor at the University of Victoria and spokesperson for the ATLAS Canada Collaboration
It allows physicists to try to go where no scientist has gone before
“Without the Higgs particle, other particles, such as electrons and quarks, would be massless and the universe would not be what it is.
“Now, with the amazing results from the [Large Hadron Collider], we are finally finding growing experimental evidence that the Higgs really exists.
“The second part of the story about the Higgs particle is even more exciting as it provides us with a window to new physics — a tool for the exploration of the truly unknown.
“The next stage will be a detailed and careful study of its properties. Successful completion of this second stage will bring us closer to uncovering new physics, explaining dark matter and other mysteries of the universe.”
It could lead to unexpected everyday applications
"This discovery is certainly basically fundamental research. In fundamental research, there are no guarantees that there will be direct and immediate applications to everyday life.
"However, fundamental research has turned out a huge number of things that are relevant for everyday life.… For instance, in the 1930s, Carl Anderson discovered anti-matter, and now anti-matter plays a very very large role in positron emission tomography (PET), and PET scans are really widely used nowadays in medicine, so this is a very important application to the lives of many many people."
— Philippe Di Stefano, physics professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
It helps answer basic questions about how the universe evolved
"Today's discovery teaches us something fundamental about the building blocks of the universe and how the fundamental particles that build the world around us acquire mass.
"The Higgs boson matters because it tells us about 'matter.' This is curiosity-driven research and addresses basic questions about the evolution of the universe.
"In addition, this curiosity-driven research also leads to many important applications. It was exciting to see how today's seminar at CERN [the European organization for nuclear research] was broadcast via the World Wide Web to all continents, using the technology pioneered at CERN. Particle accelerators have many applications in material science and medicine."
— Prof. Stefan Soldner-Rembold, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, England, quoted on the Guardian website
It could change how physics is taught in high school
"Up till now, we've had this model that has been pretty successful, but this one missing piece had been there now for over 20 years, close to 30 years. There were actually two pieces missing when the model was first put together over 30 years ago. The first one [the top quark] was discovered … about 17 years ago.
"It's a little bit like saying we now know that Pluto isn't a planet any longer because we've learned a lot about how planets behave and what the nature of planet really is. The astronomers have said Pluto doesn't really qualify any longer.
"So it changes the textbooks and it certainly changes in Grade 11 and Grade 12 physics when people talk about the fundamental particles, we can now say, assuming this is the standard model Higgs boson, that the Higgs boson has also been observed. And that in a certain sense … completes a picture that we get from the standard model."
— Pekka Sinervo, professor of physics at the University of Toronto and senior vice-president of research for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)
It's proof that long, hard work can pay off
"It's impossible to avoid the conclusion we've discovered a new particle. The chance of either of these experiments being wrong is less than one in a million, and for both of them to be wrong is more like one in a trillion. We can safely conclude something new is there. Now the question is what exactly is it?
"All the evidence suggests it's the Higgs boson, but the results released today just aren’t strong enough to conclude that it is the Higgs. You have to show that it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck before you can say it's a duck.
"It's been an extraordinarily long haul. Some of us have been involved in this since the early '80s. That’s a 30-year journey. Personally, I've been involved in this chase for 25 years. The results today are one of the stronger forms of delayed gratification."— www.shafaqna.com/english/