July 15, 2012

World’s most powerful laser fires most powerful laser blast ever

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Gadgets, Government Policies, Military — bferrari @ 7:37 pm
A service system lift allows technicians to access the target chamber interior at the National Ignition Facility for inspection and maintenance. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

A service system lift allows technicians to access the target chamber interior at the National Ignition Facility for inspection and maintenance. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

And you thought you saw fireworks on the 4th of July!

The largest laser system in the world was turned on for a fraction of a second July 5, and it unleashed the most powerful laser blast in history — besting a record set mere months earlier.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) — a laser test facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. — turned on its 192 laser beams for a scant instant the day after the nation celebrated its birth, unleashing a record-setting 1.85-megajoule blast into a target chamber that delivered more than 500 trillion watts of power.

Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time, the facility said.

Scientists celebrated the historic test, which created conditions in the laboratory that had previously only existed deep within the heart of a star.

‘Scientists are taking important steps toward … the quest for clean fusion energy.’
– NIF director Edward Moses

“For scientists across the nation and the world who, like ourselves, are actively pursuing fundamental science under extreme conditions … this is a remarkable and exciting achievement,” said Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist and division head of high energy density physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The test bested a record set March 15, when NIF unleashed a record-setting 1.8-megajoule blast into a target chamber.

In the historic test, NIF’s 192 lasers fired within a few trillionths of a second of each other onto a 2-millimeter-diameter target. Beyond its sheer power, the beam-to-beam uniformity was within 1 percent, making NIF not only the highest energy laser of its kind but the most precise and reproducible.

“NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago,” NIF director Edward Moses said.

“Scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.”

In fission, atoms are split and the massive energy released is captured. NIF aims for fusion, the ongoing energy process in the sun and other stars where hydrogen and helium nuclei are continually fusing and releasing enormous amounts of energy. In the ignition facility, beams of light converge on pellets of hydrogen isotopes to create a similar, though controlled, micro-explosion.

As the beams move through a series of amplifiers, their energy increases exponentially. From beginning to end, the beams’ total energy grows from one-billionth of a joule to a potential high of four million joules, NIF said — a factor of more than a quadrillion.

And it all happens in about five millionths of a second.

Because the laser is on for the merest fraction of a second, it costs little to operate — between $5 and $20 per blast, spokeswoman Lynda Seaver told in March, when an earlier test set the stage for the July 5 blast.

NIF’s managers hope by the end of the year to reach a break-even point, where the energy released is equal to if not greater than the energy that went into the blast.

“We have all the capability to make it happen in fiscal year 2012,” Moses told Nature.


July 14, 2012

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror – Goes Viral !

Seven Minutes of  Terror

July 11, 2012

New moon found orbiting demoted dwarf planet Pluto

Filed under: Cool, Kuiper Belt, Outer Solar System, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 3:49 pm
Photos of far-off Pluto taken by the Hubble telescope aren't sharp enough to see craters or mountains, if they exist on the surface, but Hubble reveals a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange, and charcoal-black terrain. (NASA, ESA, and M. Buie)

Photos of far-off Pluto taken by the Hubble telescope aren’t sharp enough to see craters or mountains, if they exist on the surface, but Hubble reveals a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange, and charcoal-black terrain. (NASA, ESA, and M. Buie)

A fifth moon has been discovered orbiting former planet Pluto, scientists with the Hubble Space Telescope announced Wednesday — but it’s still not enough to bump the dwarf planet back into the big leagues.

“Just announced: Pluto has some company — we’ve discovered a 5th moon using the Hubble Space Telescope!” Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., announced via Twitter.

Stern is principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is scheduled to fly by the Pluto system in 2015, according to That will be the first mission ever to visit Pluto.

Just don’t call it a planet.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union sent Pluto down to the minor leagues, labeling what had been the ninth planet orbiting our sun a “dwarf planet” instead. In spite of its many moons — including the new one, tentatively named P5 — Pluto has more in common with the other icy asteroids and planetoids orbiting with it in the “Kuiper Belt” beyond Neptune, the IAU said, than with Saturn, Uranus and Earth.

“[Pluto’s] moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

So five moons later, Pluto’s still not a planet — though it is a very complex system. Scientists believe the many moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large object billions of years ago.

P5 joins Charon, Nix, Hydra, and P4 in orbit around the dwarf. It’s estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around.

“The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,” said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Or should they be called dwarf moons?

Read more:

50 years in SPAAAAACE: Telstar celebrates half-century since launch

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Government Policies, Inner Solar System, Military — bferrari @ 7:03 am


World’s first active comms satellite stopped bouncing signals in’63

On 10 July 1962, the privately-owned Telstar 1 was blasted into orbit on the back of NASA’s Thor-Delta rocket, and despite only working for a year it proved that commercial satellite communications was possible.

Telstar 1 was owned by the US telephony monopoly Ma Bell, and was built in the Bell Telephone Laboratories, though it was a joint project: the French and UK post offices both chucked in some cash as well as expertise and a couple of ground stations to receive the bounced signals. Those signals could, and did, include 600 simultaneous phone calls, and (most importantly of all) a single black-and-white TV stream:

Telstar wasn’t the first satellite to bounce radio signals, that was “Courier 1B” from whose name one can identify as a military project, but Telstar was privately owned and thus ushered in a new age of space exploitation that would eventually let us all watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer at seven in the morning.

Arthur C Clarke is often credited with inventing the idea of satellite communications, though in fact his contribution was to point out that three birds in geostationary orbit could provide global coverage. Geostationary orbit is more than 35,000km up, beyond the reach of radios in 1962, so Telstar’s orbit peaked at less than 6,000km up and dipped down to less than 1,000km during its two-and-a-half-hour circumnavigation.

Alcatel-Lucent, inheritors of Bell Labs’ legacy, are celebrating that achievement with a collection of images, information and video, but an equally good tribute is to spend the day watching satellite TV and remembering that Telstar made it possible.

That dip is also what caused Telstar’s downfall. Its repeated drops into the Van Allen radiation belt did allow the satellite to gather information about the belt (which was part of the plan) but the information it gathered was largely the havoc such radiation plays with electronic circuits. If Wikipedia is to be believed then US nuclear tests at the time had left the Van Allen particularly charged, but either way the satellite failed intermittently for a few months and finally stopped relaying signals entirely in February 1963. However, it remains in orbit to this day, faithfully tracked by the US government as required by international treaties.

Telstar was solar powered, with 3,600 solar cells feeding 19 nickel-cadmium batteries which received a 6GHz signal and retransmitted it with 2.25w of power at 4GHz. The electrics necessary were all suspended by shock-absorbent nylon cords in the middle of the spherical body, which had to spin at 180 rpm for stabilisation (gyroscopes perform the same function on modern satellites, but weren’t reliable enough back then).

Even when it was working, Telstar was only over the Atlantic for 20 minutes per orbit, so developers envisioned 20 more satellites filling the gaps for global communications. In fact the radios got better and rockets more powerful, so as Arthur C Clarke had predicted, the vast majority of communication satellites end up in geostationary orbit these days (though they aren’t manned, as he had expected them to be).

But geostationary orbit carries with it a latency, as the signal has to travel all that way up and back down again. This is fine for TV broadcasting but irritating when one is making a phone call … and fatal if you’re playing Call of Duty. The vast majority of global communications now takes place over cables draped across the sea bed, and the first of those to cross the Atlantic only worked for three weeks (by which measure Telstar was an overwhelming success).

July 9, 2012

US to begin new phase of hypersonic flight program

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 6:43 pm

LOS ANGELES – The Defense Department’s research arm will seek proposals next month for solutions to technology hurdles in super high-speed flight with a goal of testing a full-scale hypersonic X-plane in four years.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said Friday it will host a so-called Proposers’ Day on Aug. 14 to lay out technical areas for which proposals are being sought.

DARPA has tested highly experimental versions of a rocket-launched unmanned glider designed to fly at speeds 20 times the speed of sound, or Mach 20. The goal is to give the U.S. a defense capability of reaching any spot on Earth in an hour.

But such aircraft have to endure blast-furnace heat and require extraordinary controls.
The last test launch from California ended with the glider’s skin peeling away.


Big picture on Mars: NASA rover snaps stunning view of Red Planet

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 9:26 am
This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State)

This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State)

A long-lived NASA rover on Mars has beamed home a stunning panoramic view of the Red Planet, a spectacular panorama that a space agency description billed as the “next best thing to being there.”

The new Martian panorama was snapped by NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity, a six-wheeled robot that has spent more than eight years exploring the Red Planet. The image shows a full-circle view of Mars near a spot called “Greeley Haven,” where Opportunity hunkered down during its last Martian winter.

“The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover’s fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we’ve driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission,” said Jim Bell of Arizona State University in Tempe, the lead scientists for Opportunity’s Pancam imaging system, in a statement today (July 5).

‘[It’s] a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we’ve driven to yet.’
– Jim Bell, Arizona State University in Tempe

Opportunity’s new Mars panorama is actually a mosaic of 817 different images combined like a giant puzzle to make one huge image. It shows a stark landscape broken only by the Opportunity rover’s own tracks and the robot’s solar array.

While there are varying shades of red (and even some blue) in the Mars panorama, the image is actually a false-color view. Its colors were added artificially to “enhance the differences between materials in the scene,” NASA officials explained in an image description.

Opportunity created the Mars panorama between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while it was stationed at Greeley Haven, an outcrop of rock located on the rim of the giant Endeavour crater that has been the rover’s main object of study since August 2011.
Rover mission managers named the outcrop as a tribute to Mars scientist Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), who served as a mission team member and taught planetary science at Arizona State University.

“Ron Greeley was a valued colleague and friend, and this scene, with its beautiful wind-blown drifts and dunes, captures much of what Ron loved about Mars,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit.
NASA launched Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit toward Mars on a mission that was originally slated to last 90 days. The two rovers far outlasted their warranties, with Spirit exploring its Gusev Crater landing site until getting stuck in deep Martian sand. NASA declared Spirit’s mission over in May 2011.

Opportunity, meanwhile, keeps on trucking across the Martian surface.

On Monday (July 2), Opportunity logged its 3,000th Martian day, which mission scientists call “sols.” The rover has driven a total distance of 21.4 miles (34.4 km) since landing on Mars, according to mission managers.


July 4, 2012

Physicists find evidence of new subatomic particle that resembles Higgs boson

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Gadgets, Religion — bferrari @ 7:15 am
Particles collide during a CERN experiment. How does the Higgs Boson work? (CERN)

Particles collide during a CERN experiment. How does the Higgs Boson work? (CERN)

GENEVA – To cheers and standing ovations from scientists, the world’s biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of a new subatomic particle Wednesday, calling it “consistent” with the long-sought Higgs boson — popularly known as the “God particle” — that helps explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape.
“We have now found the missing cornerstone of particle physics,” Rolf Heuer, director of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), told scientists.
He said the newly discovered subatomic particle is a boson, but he stopped just shy of claiming outright that it is the Higgs boson itself — an extremely fine distinction.
“As a layman, I think we did it,” he told the elated crowd. “We have a discovery. We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.”
The Higgs boson, which until now has been a theoretical particle, is seen as the key to our understanding of why matter has mass, which combines with gravity to give an object weight. The idea is much like gravity and Isaac Newton’s discovery of it: Gravity was there all the time before Newton explained it. But now scientists know what a boson is and can put that knowledge to further use.
CERN’s atom smasher, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to investigate dark matter, antimatter and the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.
Two independent teams at CERN said Wednesday they have both “observed” a new subatomic particle — a boson. Heuer called it “most probably a Higgs boson, but we have to find out what kind of Higgs boson it is. ”
Asked whether the find is a discovery, Heuer answered, “As a layman, I think we have it. But as a scientist, I have to say, `”What do we have?’ ”
The leaders of the two teams — Joe Incandela, head of CMS with 2,100 scientists, and Fabiola Gianotti, head of ATLAS with 3,000 scientists — each presented in complicated scientific terms what was essentially extremely strong evidence of a new particle.
Incandela said it was too soon to say definitively whether it is the “standard model” Higgs that Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others predicted in the 1960s. That was part of a standard model theory of physics involving an energy field where particles interact with a key particle, the Higgs boson. Asked his opinion, Higgs said he also could not yet say.
The stunning work elicited standing ovations and frequent applause at a packed auditorium in CERN as Gianotti and Incandela each took their turn.
Incandela called it “a Higgs-like particle” and said “we know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found.”
“Thanks, nature!” Gianotti said to laughs, giving thanks for the discovery.
The phrase “God particle” was coined by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman but is used by laymen, not physicists, as an easier way of explaining how the subatomic universe works and got started.


July 3, 2012

Scientists to unveil evidence of ‘God particle’

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool — bferrari @ 2:59 am
Dec. 10, 2011: Two high-energy photons shown as red towers are smashed together in the LHC. The yellow lines are the measured tracks of other particles produced in the collision -- possible evidence in the hunt for the Higgs Boson. (CERN)

Dec. 10, 2011: Two high-energy photons shown as red towers are smashed together in the LHC. The yellow lines are the measured tracks of other particles produced in the collision — possible evidence in the hunt for the Higgs Boson. (CERN)

GENEVA – Scientists working at the world’s biggest atom smasher plan to announce Wednesday that they have gathered enough evidence to show that the long-sought “God particle” answering fundamental questions about the universe almost certainly does exist.

But after decades of work and billions of dollars spent, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, say they aren’t quite ready to say they’ve “discovered” the particle.

Instead, experts familiar with the research at CERN’s vast complex on the Swiss-French border say that the massive data they have obtained will essentially show the footprint of the key particle known as the Higgs boson — all but proving it exists — but doesn’t allow them to say it has actually been glimpsed.

It appears to be a fine distinction. Senior CERN scientists say that the two independent teams of physicists who plan to present their work at CERN’s vast complex on the Swiss-French border on July 4 are about as close as you can get to a discovery without actually calling it one.

“I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, `It looks like a discovery,”‘ British theoretical physicist John Ellis, a professor at King’s College London who has worked at CERN since the 1970s, told The Associated Press. “We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”

CERN’s atom smasher, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to help them understand suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorize occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

For particle physicists, finding the Higgs boson is a key to confirming the standard model of physics that explains what gives mass to matter and, by extension, how the universe was formed.

Rob Roser, who leads the search for the Higgs boson at the Fermilab in Chicago, says “particle physicists have a very high standard for what it takes to be a discovery” and thinks it is a hair’s breadth away.

Rosen compared the results scientists are preparing to announce Wednesday to finding the fossilized imprint of a dinosaur: “You see the footprints and the shadow of the object, but you don’t actually see it.”


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