November 30, 2009

‘Big Bang’ Machine Sets Power Record

Filed under: Black Holes, Cosmology, Gadgets — bferrari @ 9:30 am
The finally working Large Hadron Collider

The finally working Large Hadron Collider

GENEVA – The world’s largest atom smasher broke the record for proton acceleration Monday, sending beams of the particles at 1.18 trillion electron volts around the massive machine.

The Large Hadron Collider eclipsed the previous high of 0.98 1 TeV held by Fermilab, outside Chicago, since 2001, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, said.

The latest success, which came early in the morning, is part of the preparation to reach even higher levels of energy for significant experiments next year on the make-up of matter and the universe.

It comes on top of a rapid series of operating advances for the $10 billion machine, which underwent extensive repairs and improvements after it collapsed during the opening phase last year.

CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said early advances in the machine located in a 17-mile tunnel under the Swiss-French border have been “fantastic.”

SLIDESHOW: World’s Largest Atom Smasher

“However, we are continuing to take it step by step, and there is still a lot to do before we start physics in 2010,” Heuer said in a statement. “I’m keeping my champagne on ice until then.”


The organization hopes the next major step will be to collide the proton beams at about 1.2 TeV before Christmas for an initial look at the tiny particles and what forces might be created.

Ultimately, scientists want to create conditions like those 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a second after the Big Bang — which scientists think marked the creation of the universe billion of years ago.

Physicists also hope the collider will help them see and understand other suspected phenomena, such as dark matter, antimatter and supersymmetry.

The level reached Monday isn’t significantly higher than what Fermilab has been doing, and real advances are not expected until the LHC raises each beam to 3.5 TeV during the first half of next year.

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CERN said one of the two small beams of protons first broke the energy level Sunday evening when it was accelerated from the initial operating energy of 450 billion electron volts late Sunday evening.

“Three hours later both LHC beams were successfully accelerated to 1.18 TeV,” shortly after midnight, the organization said.

Beams were colliding last week at low energy, to make sure the machine was working properly. But they have yet to be smashed together at higher intensity.

Steve Myers, CERN’s research and technology director, said he had been at CERN when it switched on the last major particle accelerator, the Large Electron-Positron collider that operated from 1989-2000.

“I thought that was a great machine to operate, but this is something else,” he said. “What took us days or weeks with LEP, we’re doing in hours with the LHC. So far, it all augurs well for a great research program.”

CERN said operators will continue preparing the 2,000 superconducting magnets and other parts so that the energy can be increased safely.

Attempts to make new discoveries at the LHC are scheduled for the first quarter of 2010, at a collision energy of 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam).

The electron volt is an extremely small measure used in particle physics. One TeV is about the energy of the motion of a flying mosquito, but it becomes signficant in the submicroscopic collisions of the collider.

The energy is concentrated in the hairline beams of particles that whiz around the accelerator at near the speed of light. Although apparently small to the outsider, CERN uses a great amount of electricity and powerful equipment to raise the energy of the beam.

The speed can increase only slightly when the accelerator steps up the power, but that raises the force with which the protons will collide, revealing more insight into what makes them up.

It may take several years before the LHC can make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretically gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom’s nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles.

More than 8,000 physicists from labs around the world also have work planned for the Large Hadron Collider. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers from Japan, India, Russia and the United States, which have made big contributions.



November 13, 2009

NASA Moon Crash Found ‘Significant Amount’ of Water

Filed under: Extraterrestrial Life, Inner Solar System, Life, Moons, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 11:00 pm

Finally - Water on the Moon !

It’s official: There’s water ice on the moon, and lots of it. When melted, the water could potentially be used to drink or to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel.

NASA’s LCROSS probe discovered beds of water ice at the lunar south pole when it impacted the moon last month, mission scientists announced today. The findings confirm suspicions announced previously, and in a big way.

“Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount,” Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from 

The LCROSS probe impacted the lunar south pole at a crater called Cabeus on Oct. 9. The $79 million spacecraft, preceded by its Centaur rocket stage, hit the lunar surface in an effort to create a debris plume that could be analyzed by scientists for signs of water ice.

Those signs were visible in the data from spectrographic measurements (which measure light absorbed at different wavelengths, revealing different compounds) of the Centaur stage crater and the two-part debris plume the impact created. The signature of water was seen in both infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopic measurements.

“We see evidence for the water in two instruments,” Colaprete said. “And that’s what makes us really confident in our findings right now.”

How much?

Based on the measurements, the team estimated about 100 kilograms of water in the view of their instruments — the equivalent of about a dozen 2-gallon buckets — in the area of the impact crater (about 80 feet, or 20 meters across) and the ejecta blanket (about 60 to 80 meters across), Colaprete said.

“I’m pretty impressed by the amount of water we saw in our little 20-meter crater,” Colaprete said.

“What’s really exciting is we’ve only hit one spot. It’s kind of like when you’re drilling for oil. Once you find it one place, there’s a greater chance you’ll find more nearby,” said Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator on the LCROSS mission.

This water finding doesn’t mean that the moon is wet by Earth’s standards, but is likely wetter than some of the driest deserts on Earth, Colaprete said. And even this small amount is valuable to possible future missions, said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters.

Scientists have suspected that permanently shadowed craters at the south pole of the moon could be cold enough to keep water frozen at the surface based on detections of hydrogen by previous moon missions. Water has already been detected on the moon by a NASA-built instrument on board India’s now defunct Chandrayaan-1 probe and other spacecraft, though it was in very small amounts and bound to the dirt and dust of the lunar surface.

Water wasn’t the only compound seen in the debris plumes of the LCROSS impact.

“There’s a lot of stuff in there,” Colaprete said. What exactly those other compounds are hasn’t yet been determined, but could include organic materials that would hint at comet impacts in the past.

More questions

The findings show that “the lunar poles are sort of record keepers” of lunar history and solar system history because these permanently-shadowed regions are very cold “and that means that they tend to trap and keep things that encounter them,” said Greg Delory, a senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Center for Integrative Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. “So they have a story to tell about the history of the moon and the solar system climate.”

“This is ice that’s potentially been there for billions of years,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator at Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The confirmation that water exists on the moon isn’t the end of the story though. One key question to answer is where the water came from. Several theories have been put forward to explain the origin of the water, including debris from comet impacts, interaction of the lunar surface with the solar wind, and even giant molecular clouds passing through the solar system, Delory said.

Scientists also want to examine the data further to figure out what state the water is in. Colaprete said that based on initial observations, it is likely water ice is interspersed between dirt particles on the lunar surface.

Some other questions scientists want to answer are what kinds of processes move, destroy and create the water on the surface and how long the water has been there, Delory said.

Link to Chandrayaan?

Scientists also are looking to see if there is any link between the water observed by LCROSS and that discovered by Chandrayaan-1.

“Their observation is entirely unique and complementary to what we did,” Colaprete said. Scientists still need to work out whether the water observed by Chandrayaan-1 might be slowly migrating to the poles, or if it is unrelated.

Bottom line, the discovery completely changes scientists’ view of the moon, Wargo said.

The discovery gives “a much bigger, potentially complicated picture for water on the moon” than what was thought even just a few months ago, he said. “This is not your father’s moon; this is not a dead planetary body.”

Let’s go?

NASA plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 for extended missions on the lunar surface. Finding usable amounts of ice on the moon would be a boon for that effort since it could be a vital local resource to support a lunar base.

“Water really is one of the constituents of one of the most powerful rocket fuels, oxygen and hydrogen,” Wargo said.

The water LCROSS detected “would be water you could drink, water like any other water,” Colaprete said. “If you could clean it, it would be drinkable water.”

The impact was observed by LCROSS’s sister spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as well as other space and ground-based telescopes.

The debris plume from the impacts was not seen right away and was only revealed a week after the impact, when mission scientists had had time to comb through the probe’s data.

NASA launched LCROSS — short for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — and LRO in June.


November 6, 2009

First Rocky Planet Outside Solar System Found

Filed under: Exoplanets, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 12:40 pm
First Rocky exoplanet discovered!

First Rocky exoplanet discovered!

WASHINGTON —  Astronomers have finally found a place outside our solar system where there’s a firm place to stand — if only it weren’t so broiling hot.

As scientists search the skies for life elsewhere, they have found more than 300 planets outside our solar system. But they all have been gas balls or can’t be proven to be solid. Now a team of European astronomers has confirmed the first rocky extrasolar planet.

Scientists have long figured that if life begins on a planet, it needs a solid surface to rest on, so finding one elsewhere is a big deal.

“We basically live on a rock ourselves,” said co-discoverer Artie Hartzes, director of the Thuringer observatory in Germany. “It’s as close to something like the Earth that we’ve found so far. It’s just a little too close to its sun.”

So close that its surface temperature is more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, too toasty to sustain life. It circles its star in just 20 hours, zipping around at 466,000 mph. By comparison, Mercury, the planet nearest our sun, completes its solar orbit in 88 days.

“It’s hot, they’re calling it the lava planet,” Hartzes said.


This is a major discovery in the field of trying to find life elsewhere in the universe, said outside expert Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution. It was the buzz of a conference on finding an Earth-like planet outside our solar system, held in Barcelona, Spain, where the discovery was presented Wednesday morning. The find is also being published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The planet is called Corot-7b. It was first discovered earlier this year. European scientists then watched it dozens of times to measure its density to prove that it is rocky like Earth. It’s in our general neighborhood, circling a star in the winter sky about 500 light-years away. Each light-year is about 6 trillion miles.

Four planets in our solar system are rocky: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

In addition, the planet is about as close to Earth in size as any other planet found outside our solar system. Its radius is only one-and-a-half times bigger than Earth’s and it has a mass about five times the Earth’s.

Now that another rocky planet has been found so close to its own star, it gives scientists more confidence that they’ll find more Earth-like planets farther away, where the conditions could be more favorable to life, Boss said.

“The evidence is becoming overwhelming that we live in a crowded universe,” Boss said.


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