All posts by Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Google Gets Patent For Driverless Car Technology

Google has just won the patent for the technology for driverless cars. It has been Google’s dream project for a long time now and it had filed the application for this patent May this year.

The patent application is titled Transitioning a Mixed-Mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode, which refers to the technology adapted to the switch of controls from the hands of a human to being automatic.

One of the prototype cars. (Courtesy: Google)

Knowing where it is

The car would know its location via Internet services, which depend on GPS. Once at a parking space, a landing stripwould tell the car ‘brain’ where acceptable parking spots lie. The patent says:

the landing strip may indicate to the vehicle that it is parked in a region where it may transition into autonomous mode.

GPS will help the car know its approximate location, after which it can use its sensors to feel its way around for trees, bushes and other vehicles and humans.

A prototype of a driverless car.

Google’s long term dream

It can also be programmed to wait for a specific amount of time at a specific location say 15 minutes at the local bar.  The patent says:

Transitioning may include stopping a vehicle on a predefined landing strip and detecting a reference indicator. Based on the reference indicator, the vehicle may be able to know its exact position.  

Though much less known than its monarchical search engine, Google also has a fleet of cars, which can drive around in city traffic and has been the banner of demonstration of how successful driverless car technology can be!

Higgs Boson Definitely ‘Observed’, But Not ‘Discovered’ As Yet: Official Word From CERN

The Higgs search is not yet over and is all set to go on at LHC, CERN. This is the natural consequence of the CERN official seminar.

The Higgs has been definitely observed at the energy 126 GeV at a 3.6  2.3-sigma confidence level at ATLAS, combining all decay channels!

The data presented at ATLAS, by ATLAS boss Fabiola Gianotti, is more-or-less in line with Standard Model expectations.

Result from ATLAS:

The Higgs officially lies between 114 GeV to 141 GeV. The rest of the mass range has been eliminated with 95% confidence level.Several channels like the Higgs-> WW* has been excluded.

The mass range between 113 t0 115.5 GeV has been excluded, as has been the range from 131-453 GeV, with the exception of a window from 237-251 GeV at 95% confidence.

The Higgs-> gamma-gamma is a very promising channel and this suggests the 126 GeV figure for the mass of the Higgs. This suggests the presence of a ‘low-mass’ Higgs, which is quite in line with the Standard Model.  More data in 2012 will help CERN make a more definitive statement.

  • Bottom Line: Local Significance – 3.6-sigma; Global Significance – 2.3-sigma  at 126 GeV

Result from CMS:

The CMS results ruled out a high mass Higgs, much like the ATLAS results. 270-440 GeV was excluded and the Higgs->gamma-gamma channel gave very clear results. This low mass Higgs is very consistent with the previously announced ATLAS results, which is extremely good news.  There were excess events noticed between 110-130 GeV, in the tau-tau and bottom-bottom decay channels; this eliminates 134-158 GeV mass range.

A curious 4-lepton excess was noticed at 125 GeV, which is bang on target, if you take the ATLAS results (above) at face-value. This is again, very good news. The Higgs-> WW and Higgs-> ZZ excludes 129-270 GeV mass range. Multiple channel “modest excess” was noticed just below 129 GeV!

  • Bottom Line: Local Significance – 2.6-sigma; Global Significance – 1.9-sigma  at 124 GeV  
One of the key slides from today's seminar. Look at the excess in each of the channels at 126 GeV! (Courtesy: CERN live webcast)

The global results take into account the so-called ‘look elsewhere’ effect, which means that it factors in the chances of observing this same local excess at any point within a certain range and also in all channels.

The CERN announcement

CERN announced today that the Higgs has been observed’, but not detected’. The subtle difference between these two words lies in mathematics. When CERN says that they have observed the Higgs, it means that they are 99.73% sure that the Higgs is there. This is, however, not enough to guarantee the tag of a discovery. For that, the confidence level has to go up to 5-sigma, which gives a 99.99994% surety. This is very important, since 3-sigma effects have been known to go away in the past.

The non-discovery of the Higgs, as yet

The only reasonable explanation for the less-than-discovery tag at the moment is because LHC still doesn’t have enough data or rather, not enough data has been crunched.

This is surely great news for the particle physics community. The Higgs may be there in this and there are strong indications from both ATLAS and CMS that it is there and this means that the Standard Model has passed its stringent test yet! However, the mass is still to be ascertained exactly. The error bars haven’t been fully established.

So, the wait continues.

The Super Symmetric Models

This mass of the Higgs Boson, if actually true, is extremely exciting. It lends credibility to the cMSSM models, which is one of the basic Super Symmetric Models. There were widespread news reports that LHC has ruled out super-symmetric models or at least the simplest ones. Not quite! The cMSSM can accommodate a Higgs of 121 GeV mass and no higher. However, a small tweaking of the parameters yield a different version of the theory, which can very well accommodate a 125 GeV Higgs.

Another revolution may be just around the corner! Watch out!

Stunning Images From Across The World Of The Total Lunar Eclipse, December 2011

Every cosmic spectacle presents some stunning images and yesterday’s Lunar Eclipse was no different. Many people in the Indian sub-continent were left satisfied this time around, after the June eclipse (awesome pics here) was obscured by heavy cloud cover, leaving eclipse enthusiasts disheartened. We bring to you few photos from around the world.

Show Starter!

Here is one of the earliest photos, circulated by Reuters, which shows the earliest phases of the eclipse.

The show starts off! (Courtesy: Reuters)

Blood Red and Brilliant

Here’s a brilliant one taken by David Prosper. This is just one of the many he took from his backyard in Oakland, California.

Taken by David Prosper from his backyard in Oakland, California. (Courtesy: David Prosper)

Here’s a close-up of the moon, by now just an orange ghostly image. This one was taken by Charles R. Jones, who is a skywatcher. This is from Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo taken by Charles Jones from Arizona. (Courtesy: Charles Jones)

This next one is an absolute beauty. It was taken at the Turret Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. The photo is taken from Hungeree, which has a few other gems in their kitty too.

This stunner was taken at Turret Arch at Arches National Park. (Courtesy: Hungeree.com)

The Final Goodbye and Hello Once again!

This one is by Kendra Lakkees, showing the end of the totality phase of the eclipse.

Nearing the end of the eclipse. Taken by Kendra Lakkees. (Courtesy: Kendra Lakkees)

The last one is the end of the eclipse. Taken by yours truly, from Kolkata, India, this closes the article.

Taken by the author of this article, this one is at the fag end of the eclipse. Location: Kolkata, India.

Hope you enjoyed. The next lunar eclipse is a long time away.

All About The Total Lunar Eclipse On 10th December, 2011

Another Lunar Eclipse is upon us and this one can be seen by more than half the world’s population. In fact this will only be missed by people living in South America. The sight will also be missed by a handful of people in Antarctica. It will be clearest for people living in Central and East Asia. Places like New Zealand will also get a great show, but will miss out on the last bit of the eclipse.

View stunning photos of the eclipse:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/photos-december-lunar-eclipse.html
Eclipse!!

Location, Location, Location

As with every eclipse, location is everything.

The Full Eclipse

The full duration of the eclipse will be visible from most of Russia, with the western part missing out on a bit, Kazakhstan, central Asian countries like Mongolia and China, eastern and south-eastern countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Phillippines. All the countries in this region, not mentioned here, will also get a great show. These countries will experience a 51 to 57 minute long eclipse, including the spectacular blood-red moon total eclipse.

Even countries as far east as Australia will get the full eclipse show. New Zealand will be just about unlucky to miss out on the last part of the eclipse. The moon will have set before the penumbral shadow is fully removed. But, as eclipse enthusiasts know, is not such a big miss anyway.

It is worth mentioning that for the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asian countries, this will be the last lunar eclipse till 2018. Try to catch this one!

Partial Eclipse

Partial eclipse will be visible from most of Europe. Eastern Europe will get a longer show than the western part. The eclipse will start from moonrise and Europe will miss out on the initial penumbral phase. All of Europe will be able to see the eclipse totality. The same can be said about Africa.

The United States and Canada will be lucky enough to get almost the entire eclipse. It will also miss the initial penumbra. Alaska will the unlucky US state to be missing out.

The Important Timings

Here’s the list of the major times:

  • The penumbral phase (P1) begins from 11:33 GMT (or 05:33 EST or 17:03 IST).
  • The penumbral eclipse (U1) begins from 12: 45 GMT (06:45 EST or 18:15 IST)
  • Total eclipse (U2) begins from 14:06 GMT (08:06 EST or 19:36 IST)
  • Greatest eclipse occurs at 14:31 GMT (08:31 EST or 20:01 IST)
  • Total eclipse (U3) ends at 14:57 GMT (08:57 EST or 20:27 IST)
  • Partial eclipse ends (U4) at 16:17 GMT (10:17 EST or 21:47 IST)
  • Penumbral phase (P2) ends at 17:30 GMT ( 11:00 EST or 23:00 IST)

Here’s a small graphic summarizing the times. It also shows whether you’ll be able to see the eclipse or not, depending on where you are in the world.

The various stages of the eclipse.
Location summary

The Red Moon

So there it is that’s all you need to know for the upcoming eclipse. We’ve told you everything except for the red moon.

The Blood Red Moon

At totality, the moon will appear red or even deep pink. This is because of the scattering of the little amount of light filtering through even during the eclipse by the dust particles in the atmosphere. The blood red moon is a sight to behold! Do not miss it for the world.

Get some awesome Lunar Eclipse Pics from the June Eclipse this year:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/photos-lunar-eclipse.html

NASA Finds Most Definitive Evidence Of Water on Mars

This is the strongest evidence of the presence of water yet, on the Red Planet. The Mars Rover, Opportunity, has discovered some sediments of a shiny mineral called gypsum, which most definitely was deposited by liquid water. When that sediment was deposited, is not quite known, but it is definitely millions (or even billions) of years old.

Gypsum is an extremely common mineral on Earth and is frequently processed to make Plaster of Paris.

We had earlier reported about evidence of possible flowing water here.

The Mars Rover Opportunity

The Discovery

This discovery was made at the rim of the crater Endeavour, a 14 mile wide crater on Mars. The mineral veinwas found to be about 50 cm (or about 20 inches) long and about 3 cm wide. Opportunity studied this mineral deposit with both optical range camera as well as its X-Ray spectrometer. They concluded beyond doubt that this was gypsum,   or moist calcium sulphate. The mineral vein is called “Homesteak” and NASA released an official photo of it in its press release.

Homesteak (Courtesy: NASA)

There is really no second option, says Steve Squyres of Cornell University, attached to the Opportunity mission as its principal investigator. Why? He clarifies:

This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock…  There was a fracture in the rock, water flowed through it, gypsum precipitated from the water. End of story. There is no ambiguity about this, and this is what makes it so cool.

He adds:

Here, both the chemistry, mineralogy, and the morphology just scream water. This is more solid than anything else that we’ve seen in the whole mission.

Why the excitement? Squyres obliges yet again:

This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can’t be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It’s not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.

What is most interesting is the fact that gypsum forms in nearly neutral water, i.e. the water is neither acidic or alkaline. This is more suitable to the presence of Earth-like lifeforms. Earlier discoveries of minerals like Jarosite pointed to the presence of highly acidic water, which wasn’t all that conducive to life as we know it.

Hardy Robots

Scientists have long been trying to detect the presence of water on Mars. The new Mars Rover Curiosity’ will soon reach Mars (in August, 2012) and begin a more in-depth study. Spirit and Opportunity have been invaluable in this regard. Both are well past their proposed period of operation, and while Spirit has been declared dead earlier this year, Opportunity is still in great shape.

Please note that a direct evidence of water may be hard to find, but this is surely exciting. Even the possibility that Mars once harbored life is a tantalizing prospect!

Flowing water? Earlier discovery by NASA:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/mars-water-discovery.html

How The Nobel Prize Medal Is Made

The most prestigious prizes in the world of Science and Literature are to be given out on 10th of December and the program line-up starts from tomorrow, the 7th. You can check the complete list of winners here, including their Nobel Prize citations. There’s a live webcast link thrown in as well. We’ll give a short program line-up towards the end of this post, but before that we want to tell you how a Nobel Prize Medal is made, just so that you can make your own, if you wanted to!

The procedure to make the medals is documented at the Swedish Mint or Myntverket. They have made all the medals given out since 1901. Here’s a step-by-step rundown.

Step 1: Getting the Gold!

High purity gold is melted and rolled into sheets. The sheets are then flattened to proper thickness, which will become the thickness of the Nobel Prize medal. They are then cut into proper sizes.

The golden sheets are rolled out.

The medals of proper sizes are then punched through. What we have now is a circular piece of highly pure gold of precise thickness and radius. Now for the heat treatment!

Step 2: Hot Foot And Cold Shower

The medal is now imprinted with the face of Nobel on one side. On the other side, is engraved the goddess Isis, who represents Nature. She is emerging from the clouds and the veil from her head is being slightly removed by the Genius of Science. The face of the Goddess is cold and austere and she holds a cornucopia in her hand.

The front and back of the Nobel for the Sciences and Literature. This particular one belonged to Linus Pauling.

This brilliant metaphorical image is underlined by the name of the recipient of the Nobel Prize. Below that is written REG. ACAD. SCIENT. SUEC.standing for The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. On the circumference is the inscription Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes, which loosely translates to And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery. This inscription is present on the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine and Literature. The design was conceived of by Erik Lindberg.

The Peace Nobel prize

The Peace Nobel bears instead the inscription Pro pace et fraternitate gentium, which translates to For the peace and brotherhood of men. This design was conceived of by Gustav Vigeland.

The engraving of the name of the recipient is done later. After this heat treatment, the medal is cooled off underwater.

Step 3: Making it shine brighter

The medal is polished so that any dirt or metal oxides might be removed from the surface of the medal. This is a process done by hand and the polishing should be delicate enough to just remove the unwanted surface impurities, not damage the medal itself.

Polishing the medal

At each step the medal is constantly checked for any abrasions. The weight of the gold in the medal at this point is a precise 175 g and this is checked.

Step 4: Engraved for Eternity

Now, the crucial step of engraving the name of the recipient is undertaken. This is done by hand. At the end of the engraving session, the medal is polished slightly and checked for scratches again. It is then approved.

Alfred Nobel approves.

The grizzled Nobel, staring out from a large coin of gold, now honours another momentous human achievement.

The Nobel Prize Medal is ready!  

Line-up for the Ceremony

Now, for the promised line-up of the program leading up to the Nobel Prize ceremony on the 10th of December:

7th December: Nobel Lectures in Physiology/Medicine and Literature. Starts at 1:00 PM CET (7:00 AM EST). The first one is at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, while the latter at Swedish Academy.

8th December: Nobel Lectures in Physics, Chemistry and Economic Sciences. Starts at 9:00 AM CET (3:00 AM CET).

9th December: Nothing

10th December: Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony at Oslo City Hall, at 1:00 PM CET (7:00 PM EST).  Nobel Prize Ceremony starts at Stockholm Concert Hall, at 4:30 PM CET (10:30 AM EST).

Here’s the live video player (reused from nobelprize.org site)

Nobel Prize Official site: http://www.nobelprize.org/

Discovered: Monster Black Holes, The Most Massive Ones Ever!

There are monsters out there that are larger than anything we can imagine or know! This feeling was once again reaffirmed yesterday, when scientists published results that told them of two new supermassive blackholes that turn out to be bigger than any known so far. These two weigh in at an estimated 9.7 Billion Solar masses!

An artist's impression of the transit of a blackhole across a cosmic structure.

Supermassive blackholes are known to reside in the centers of galaxies. They are presumed to grow in size by gobbling up all matter and gases that come their way. The one at the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy is estimated at a million solar masses! If you think that is big, then be prepared to be blown away.

The Giants

The largest known black hole was the Messier 87 black hole. This weighed in at a gigantic 6.3 billion solar masses. A new blackhole found in NGC 3842 in the Leo cluster is a gigantic 9.7 billion solar mass monster. This is located 320 million light years away from us. Another one has been found in NGC 4889, in the Coma cluster. This one is 335 million light years away and is similar in mass. The event horizon or the boundary beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational force of the blackhole is bigger than the radius of the orbit of Pluto! Compare this to the Milky way blackhole, whose event horizon, by comparison, is a small one at just about one-fifth the size of the orbit of Mercury.

The Centaurus-A quasar. The photo is a merged false-color photo. It contains data from the Chandra X-ray Telescope and ground based radio telescope. The short blue emissions are X-ray emissions (caught by Chandra) and the longer orange-yellowish plumes are radio-emissions. The central galaxy is captured in optical by Hubble Space Telescope. (Courtesy: NASA/GSFC/Chandra/Hubble)

These blackholes are found by looking at the emission of the accretion disks. Matter falling in becomes so hot that it emits light in many wavelengths, including X-Ray and radio. Scientists know objects which are just about the size of a typical spiral galaxy, or even smaller, but emit radiation, which is unusually high. Such structures are called quasars’, shortened from Quasi-Stellar Objects. They are believed to be powered’ by a central blackhole engine!

The research is going to be published in Nature on 8th December.

Ecole Makes World’s First Molybdenite Chip

After Silicon and Graphene, it might be the turn of Molybdenite to steal the limelight. Scientists at  Ã‰cole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne,  or EPFL, have synthesized the world’s first Molybdenite chip. It has a number of advantages over the conventional silicon chip, including greater energy efficiency and integration of transistors on a larger scale.

The Molybdenite Chip (Courtesy: EPFL, 2011)

Molybdenite vs Silicon vs Graphene!

Molybdenum disulphide, or MoS2, is found much more widely than Silicon. It has high flexibility and also good semi-conducting properties. The greatest advantage of Molybdenite is that it allows for drastic miniaturization. Silicon cannot be made less than 2 nm thick, since, on further thinning, it oxidizes and the surface properties are lost. Molybdenite can be made as thin as 3 atomic layers.

Molybdenite can even rival graphene. The main problem with Graphene is the lack of any natural bandgap. Silicon is extremely convenient in this respect with a 0.7 V bandgap at room temperature. Molybdenite has no such bandgap problems. Though electronic mobility for molybdenite is much less than that of Graphene, for normal circuitry (i.e. not RF circuits) Molybdenite can be easily implemented. The switching speed is much higher than silicon transistors, but less than Graphene. However, the on-off voltage ratio is much higher for molybdenite than for Graphene, making it a better switch, if the switching operations need not be very fast.

All of this coupled with the obvious amplification properties, make Molybdenite a good option for future electronics.

The flexibility of Molybdenite inspires flexible sheets of chips that can be strapped onto a human hand! How’s that for a futuristic vision?

No Need For Dark Matter To Explain Rotation Of Spiral Galaxies, Says Italian Mathematician

The Universe may not be as dark as previously thought, if an Italian mathematician is to be believed. A. Carati, an Italian mathematician, has made a bold proposition if faraway matteris allowed to interact with galactic matter, it can be shown that their gravitational effects reproduce the galactic rotational curves extremely faithfully! This rules out the need for any non-luminous, or dark, matter.

The Inception of Dark Matter

The problem of dark matter in case of galactic rotation curves is stated as follows. Astronomers have made theoretical predictions (using Einstein’s General Relativity) about the speed of the different parts of the galaxy and their distance from the center. When the velocity is plotted against distance, what we get is called a velocity curve. The problem is that while you expect a certain curve given the amount of luminous matter in a galaxy, what is directly observed is that the velocity curve deviates significantly from this, especially as one goes away from the center. Astrophysicists invoked the presence of dark matter’ or non-luminous matter to save Einstein’s gravitational theory.

This is what a typical curve looks like.

A typical rotation curve for a spiral galaxy. The red line is the theoretical prediction - called the Keplerian case. (The dots represent some data and the green line interpolates the data.)

Enter the mathematician

Now, what Carati claims is that if faraway matter is allowed to exert gravitational forces, which, of course, it does, then the rotation curves for spiral galaxies can be explained away. The effect of matter in faraway galaxies is generally neglected in all calculations, since the galaxies are assumed to be uniformly distributed throughout the Universe. (This is the principle of isotropy in space, which is a guiding principle for Cosmology.)

The idea that galaxies might be arranged according to a very complex fractal structure was originated by Sylos Labini in 1998. Carati took up from this point, and making a few simplifying assumptions about the de-correlation of matter at large distances, he showed that the forces that this matter might exert is of the order of 0.2 cH0, H0 being the Hubble’s constant.

The crucial point is that this force is good enough to explain the anomalous rotation curves! And the fit is amazingly accurate.

If seeing is believing, or, at least, suspending disbelief we present the rotation curves for two spiral galaxies NGC 3198 and NGC 2403. Look at the expected curve and how well the observed points fit it!

Rotation Curve for NGC 3198. Look at the amazing fit! (Data obtained from HII data)
The rotation curve for NGC 2403. (Triangles are HI data and squares are HII data)

True, this is an outlandish idea, but so is dark matter. The fact that General Relativity can produce such stunning verification of the experimental data is quite satisfying.

We don’t have any word on how this will solve many of the other puzzles that dark matter solves, mainly the Cosmic Background radiation distribution (WMAP data) and the observed gravitational lensing effects.

A.Carati presents his paper here:  http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1111/1111.5793v1.pdf

Rumors Of A 125-126 GeV Higgs Observation

The Higgs seems to be playing the game better than ever, peeking out once in a while, but not for long enough time! Initial analysis of the data from both ATLAS and CMS indicate an excess in the gamma-gamma channel for the Higgs at about 125-126 GeV. ATLAS detects this at a high 3.5 sigma confidence level and CMS comes in at a more tentative 2 sigma confidence level. This is good enough to tag it as a proper observation. None is good enough to warrant the tag of a discoveryof the Higgs, which requires 5 sigma confidence levels.

More info here:  http://blog.vixra.org/2011/12/02/higgs-rumour-anaylsis-points-to-125-gev/

Both ATLAS and CMS observations are in the gamma-gamma or diphoton channel.

A simulated Higgs Event at LHC, CERN

We had told you about the Higgs search coming to an end here and also that there is a joint seminar in CERN on the 13th of this month. The announcement at this seminar is expected to be the definitive on the Higgs search. It will make or break the Higgs, and, thus, a part of the Standard Model as well.

125 GeV Higgs more interesting than a 140 GeV one!

In a way, a 125-GeV Higgs would be awesome news for physicists, since this mass would require corrections to the Standard Model, since the vacuum becomes unstable at high energies. A 140 GeV Higgs would’ve been more mundane, and would’ve been the simplest of all the scenarios.

The situation is a bit ironic really. The Tevatron had almost eliminated the Higgs gamma-gamma channel decay process. Many scientists were convinced that the gamma-gamma channel was no good, and if the Higgs is found, it will be via the ZZ or WW channels. Though this is not incorrect, the gamma-gamma channel has given one of the strongest signals of the Higgs till date and right before the big announcement at the seminar.

It is unlikely that CERN will say anything about this before the 13th December announcement. Fingers crossed!

More info here:  http://blog.vixra.org/2011/12/02/higgs-rumour-anaylsis-points-to-125-gev/