Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oct. 19, 2011: NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected signs of icy bodies raining down in an alien solar system. The downpour resembles our own solar system several billion years ago during a period known as the "Late Heavy Bombardment," which may have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth.

So, what does this mean? It adds another feather to the proverbial hat of the current theory of where the earth got so much water; comet bombardment in its early life. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md, found a star system (meaning it has planets!) that is experiencing a huge bombardment of icy comets just like we think the earth did some 4 Billion yrs ago. So, we are seeing it in action around Eta Corvi which lies in our galactic back yard at only 59 light years! Cool stuff!

See NASA Science News for more info and links for further readings.

Weekend Meteor Shower!

Not a major deal, but a nice little meteor shower is happening right now. This is the annual Orionids shower. It occurs when the earth passes through the trail of debris and particles left behind by Halley's Comet. Yes, THAT Halley's Comet. It's not a major shower like the earlier Perseids, but at an estimated 15 visible meteors per hour, it's worth a look-see.

So, head on out and look for Orion. That's where the earth is headed toward and it looks like all the meteors are coming from that direction, hence the name Orionids. Have patience. I took a look last night around 2AM and waited a good 30 minutes before seeing my 1st one, but then BAM! Saw about 10 within a few minutes; one was big enough to leave a visible smoke trail behind that lingered for a few moments.

See NASA's Science News site for more info.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From a NY Times article this morning (and a very early morning radio report...), three US Fizzicists won the Nobel for their work on the expansion of the Universe! Quite cool stuff!

These guys (U.S.-Australian Brian Schmidt and U.S. scientists Adam Riess & Saul Perlmutter), who also won the prestigious Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006, won for their work in the early '90's studying distant supernovae. Now, Hubble, back in 1929, discovered the Universe was indeed expanding. However, till these guys came along, that expansion was believed to be slowing down due to gravitational attraction over time. They studied a specific kind of supernova, essentially an exploding large star, Type IA. This discovery lead to the conclusion that gravity was losing the battle and some other mysterious force was causing the Universe to grow faster and faster as time went by. This mysterious force was dubbed Dark Energy; not to be confused with Dark Matter.

Monday, October 3, 2011

You've got to see this!

Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland 2011 from Flatlight Films on Vimeo.

Make full screen for full effect! Thanks to Universe Today & Phil Plait for posting this.

Well, lots of science news to catch you up on; Neutrinos faster than light, Michelle Bachman abuses science yet again, and sadly, the Tevatron shuts down. Lets do the Neutrino thing here and tackle those others later.

You've probably heard that the good physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, arguably the biggest and baddest lab on the planet, reported last month that they measured a batch of neutrinos (weird little buggers) moving faster than light. Well, this would certainly put a damper on our understanding of the Universe, because a basic tenant of modern physics and cosmology is that nothing can go faster than light. Not neutrinos. Not Jeff Gordon. Not the USS Enterprise. Nothing.

See CERN FINDS faster than light particles for more info. And here is the CERN press release.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail after realizing that the entire mess was a bad media interpretation of a CERN press release stating "Speed of Light Exceeded by Neutrinos"! Seems the "Neutrinos" were the winning relay race team at CERN's annual picnic. Speed of Light came in 3rd...

Seriously, lets hold our collective hats on this. Even the authors of the paper claim the results are crazy and they are not claiming that the speed of light has been broken. They are simply asking for help from the scientific community in finding an error or omission in their results that would explain this wacky thing.

Basically, they shot neutrinos in a straight line through the earth to another lab. The experiment is called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus), and lies 1,400 meters underground in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy. Neutrinos are weird little sub-atomic particles that virtually never interact with matter since they are electrically neutral and have an incredibly idiodically small mass if any, so they basically "don't see" all that rock and stuff in the way; just go zipping through unimpeded. Some of them got to their target in France 730 km away 60 nano-seconds faster than light would have. Seems crazy. Probably is. My money is on someone somewhere finding an error or two in the data or assumptions made. Some of the basic measurements, like the exact distance to the target, were based on other folks' data. If they were wrong, then this result is wrong.

It's also not the 1st time this type of thing has made the news. Seems that every few years, someone "finds" something that they say might indicate Einstein was wrong. Only to be shot down upon scrutiny of peers. In 2007, the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment in Minnesota saw neutrinos from the particle-physics facility Fermilab in Illinois arriving slightly ahead of schedule. At the time, the MINOS team downplayed the result, in part because there was too much uncertainty in the detector's exact position to be sure of its significance, says Jenny Thomas, a spokeswoman for the experiment. Also, astrophysics argues with the CERN results. If this is correct, then the most studied supernova in history, 1987A, would have shown neutrinos streaming in from the supernova, some 168,000 light years away, years before the light got here. However, the light got here and then the neutrinos got here a few hrs later...