Prof. Disbrow on excellent science happenings you will want to tune in for
A Tiny Bang, But Lots of ’Em
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been just over two years since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) shut down for upgrades.
If you don’t remember, the LHC is the enormous (27 kilometers long) particle accelerator that straddles the French-Swiss border. But, large as it is, it’s most famous for the discovery of the Higgs Boson back in 2012. (The Higgs Boson is an expression of the Higgs field that gives other particles their mass. For more on that, see “Gettin’ Higgy Wit It” in the June 12, 2014 issue of The Pulse.)
What’s the LHC looking for this time? Oh, nothing much, just 96 percent of the matter in the universe! You see, the matter that you and I are made of, what we consider “normal” matter, makes up just 4 percent of the universe. The other 96 percent seems to be hidden from every instrument we’ve ever devised and we can only really detect it by its gravitational influence on the universe around us.
Scientists have dubbed this mysterious stuff “dark matter.” And, since the day it was theorized, they’ve been trying to find a way to actually “see” it.
So, there’s a good chance that with the newly renovated LHC operating with 60 percent more energy than before, one or more of these dark matter particles will “pop out” of one of the trillions of collisions that it creates as it ramps up to full power.
Whatever happens, it’s almost certainly going to uncover new physics and create even more questions than we have now. And new questions are what makes science fun.
Pluto or Bust!
Last month I told you about the Dawn spacecraft that had begun orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres. Well, in just a couple months, another amazingly cool celestial encounter will be happening out at the furthest reaches of the solar system.
On July 14, after a journey of nine-and-a-half years and billions of kilometers, the New Horizons probe will make the first flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto!
When New Horizons was launched back in 2006, Pluto was still classified as a planet. And it was the only planet that humanity had not yet visited. Since then, a lot has happened to Pluto: It got demoted to “dwarf planet,” and we found two new moons orbiting around it (for a total of five).
Unfortunately, New Horizons won’t be orbiting Pluto. It’s traveling far too fast and carrying too little fuel for that. But it will be sending back the best pictures ever of one of the most mysterious objects in our solar system.
Even more exciting is that, after the Pluto encounter, NASA plans to point New Horizons at at least one other Kuiper Belt object. (The Kuiper Belt is like the asteroid belt, but a lot larger and a lot further out. It’s mostly full of cometary material and other “junk” left over from the start of the solar system.)
Who knows what New Horizons will find out there in the space beyond Pluto?
Any Day Now?
One thing New Horizons probably won’t find is the remains of an ancient extra-terrestrial (ET) civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t find ET someday soon.
In fact, earlier this month, NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan made news by suggesting that we’ll have direct evidence of extra-terrestrial life with 10 to 20 years.
This probably won’t be intelligent life. More likely, it will be some sort of microbial life (on Mars maybe) or more complex life, perhaps in the underground oceans of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
But the bottom line is, everywhere we look in the solar system, we’re finding water, or evidence of past water. On Earth, at least, that always means life.
Even if we only find microbes, the implications would be staggering. Finding out that we aren’t alone in the universe would have profound implications for humanity on multiple levels, and would be the most important discovery since fire.
Of course, once we find ETs, we’re going to want to sell them smartphones, and those phones will need great batteries.
A new aluminum-ion battery in development at Stanford promises to solve many of the problems with current lithium-based batteries like the ones used in current generation electronics.
This new battery can be charged thousands of times more than current batteries, and, more importantly, can be fully charged in one minute.
Now, that’s progress!
Steven Disbrow is a computer programmer who specializes in e-commerce and mobile systems development. He’s also an entrepreneur, comic-book nerd, writer, improviser, actor, sometime television personality and parent of two human children.