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.

Discovered: Giant Lake Underneath Surface Of Jupiter’s Moon; Could Harbor Life

If there be life outside Earth, but within the Solar System, the greatest possibility lies on either Mars or Europa, Jupiter’s frozen moon. Europa has a thick crust of solid ice, underneath which lies a huge body of water, possibly uninterrupted. What has got astronomers really interested is the fact that just 1.8 miles below the icy surface, there may be a body of water as big as all the Great Lakes combined. This is above the liquid ocean, which sits even deeper from the surface. The possibility of life in this pocketof water is tantalizing.

An artist's impression of what the lake might look like. (Illustration courtesy: Britney Schmidt and team from Texas University)

Europa – a strange world

Europa was extensively studied by the spacecraft Galileo and found that it is a strange world. The heat from the Sun could never sustain the liquid ocean underneath, but the tidal forces due to Jupiter’s giant gravitational field provides enough energy for the ice to melt underneath and form the giant ocean. This ocean is thought to lie 100 km (or 62 miles) below the surface.

The frozen surface of Europa, as seen by Galileo (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)

Peering down

The study was done by Britney Schmidt and her team from the University of Texas, and their paper appeared in Nature today, i.e. on the 17th of November. The discovery provides an impetus for the search for life as it might be located much closer to the surface than previously thought.

This will also fuel the search for other subterranean lakes, like the one already found. Future missions to Europa could well include melting through the ice crust and taking samples from the great lake. Studies indicate that the water may be salty, and we already know how much life salt water can sustain.

The next giant leap for mankind might well be digging just 3 kilometers on an icy world far far away and inspecting the samples obtained. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll find something living.

Eureka: World’s First Vaccine and Cure For Cancer Developed by Israeli Medicine Company

The BIG NEWS of a Cancer Curing Drug is coming in from Israel.

An Israeli company has come up with a vaccine against cancer that is both safe in terms of no side-effects and can be administered as a drug. Vaxil BioTherapeutics has developed a vaccine that is now undergoing clinical trials and not yet available in the market. It is being tested at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and the trials could take as long as six years to conclude.

For Vaxil’s Homepage:

A vaccine that is also a drug

The vaccine also acts like a drug, i.e. it can be administered to a sick person as a cure. The vaccine is being tested against a form of blood cancer called multiple myeloma and it is generating enough success. Vaxil says that it could be used against other types of cancer as well, including the common prostrate and breast cancer. The primary immune technology, called VaxHit, can then be developed for other forms of cancer.

How the drug works

The problem with cancer is that the immune system of the body doesn’t know what exactly it should do. The Vaxil product, called ImMucin, trainsthe immune system to act in a specific way. Cancer cells have a marker called MUC1 that is unique to cancer cells only. ImMucin trains T-cellsof our immune system to attack only those cells that are marked by the MUC1 marker. The success rate of the vaccine has not been revealed, but it is supposedly phenomenal. The diversification of the vaccine stems from the fact that MUC1 marks more than 90% of the different cancer cells. Furthermore, since only those cells marked with MUC1 are targeted, the drug has no side-effects and is completely safe to use.

This may be the ultimate magic bullet that scientists have been working towards for a long time. However, there are still a few clinical tests to go.

Vaxil’s Homepage:

Hint Of New Physics At LHC – Explaining the LHCb Results

The tantalizing possibility of new physics may just be around the corner. The LHCb preliminary results surely hint towards that possibility with the first ever detection of CP violation in the charm quark sector. We reported this big news here and in this editorial piece, we intend to elaborate on what the results mean or might imply in layman’s terms.

The actual news piece, which you should read before reading this:
The LHCb detector

Explaining it simply: topics to cover

We will follow the following sequential treatment of the entire subject:

  • What is CP symmetry and what does its violation mean?
  • What is baryon asymmetry and what does CP violation have anything to do with this?
  • What are the generations of quarks?
  • What decay process are we looking at?
  • What about the Standard Model? What does this predict?
  • What are the experimental results and how might we interpret them?

If you think you know any of the sections, you might skip it. Let’s begin our journey.

1. CP Violation

There are certain symmetries that exist in Nature. Many of the symmetries are continuous symmetries, like the rotational symmetry for a sphere. No matter how small an angle of rotation you give to the sphere, it will still look the same. This is not true for an equilateral triangle, whose rotation angle has to be 600 in order for it to look the same. The first one is a continuous symmetry and the latter a discrete one.

Having known what symmetry means, we can look for symmetries in a quantity called the Lagrangian. A Lagrangian reflects all the possible dynamics of a system, (which are manifested through its derivatives). Symmetries of the Lagrangian can be both continuous and discrete. In the Lagrangian for the electromagnetic field, apart from a lot of continuous symmetries, there is also the symmetry of charges. Namely, if you replace all charges with their opposite (i.e. positive charges with negative and vice-versa), the Lagrangian will still be the same. CP (Charge-Parity) symmetry means that whatever operation you perform, if you replace the particles with the anti-particles (charge’) and then switched their positions or reflect them (parity), then no experiment will be able to tell the difference.

CP violation refers to the breaking of this symmetry. Some experiments can differentiate between the above mentioned configurations and, thus, CP is violated. Most notable violation of CP symmetry is given by the weak interaction. This violation is explicitly put in the Lagrangian, which is otherwise CP invariant.

2. Baryon Asymmetry and CP violation

We see that the Universe, as we know it today, is made up of matter and not anti-matter. If there is nothing to differentiate between matter and anti-matter (the labels of particle and anti-particle are human constructs and nothing physically differentiates them), we couldn’t possibly have had more matter than anti-matter. One of the unsolved mysteries is then this: Why is there so much more matter than anti-matter in the Universe. This is known as Baryon Asymmetry puzzle’.

One of the theoretical ways to resolve this is to look for CP violation (see previous section) signatures. CP violating processes can produce more matter particles and hinder the production of anti-matter particles, treating them on unequal footing as explained above. Even though there are models without CP violation, which predict the Baryon Asymmetry, none of them is as beautiful as the Standard Model with the CP violation plugged in. For this to work for every particle, the Baryon number conservation has to be perturbatively broken. In the Standard Model framework, this is not possible. The mechanism for CP violation generating excess baryons is not understood as of now.

3. Generations of Quarks

There are three generations of quarks in the Standard Model. Later generations of quarks are heavier than earlier generations. The three generations are given below.

The generations of quarks, along with the generation of leptons. (Picture courtesy: CERN)

Most matter is made up of just up and down quarks (the lightest of the lot), given that the proton and neutron are made up of these quarks. The charm quark is a second generation quark and is quite heavy. The heaviest is the top quark, which is so heavy that it cannot exist long enough to form a bound state. We can only identify the top quark by its decay signature.

For our current purposes, only the first two generations of quarks are important. The charm quark, being heavy can decay into strange, anti-strange and up quarks or into down, anti-down and up quarks. The up and down, being the lightest of the lot, doesn’t decay into anything. We shall find out the effect of this decay in the next section.

Charming Results from LHCb Conference: Has The LHC Finally Found Some New Physics?

There may finally be some great news coming out of LHC. After a string of negative results, LHC presents the first ever signals of CP violation in the charm quark sector. This might explain the very origin of matter, in the sense that it explains why matter dominates the Universe. Curiously, the awesome result comes from LHCb, one of the side’ experiments and not from the premier ATLAS and CMS collaborations.

An explanation of the results:
The LHCb Detector

What is found wasn’t quite expected!

This is what LHCb is saying. The observed asymmetries in the decay processes have been noticed in the charm-quark section, giving rise to the D-mesons. The D-mesons are a bound state of the charm quarks, which is one of the heaviest quarks in the Standard Model. The two relevant quarks are the D0 (D-zero) made up of a charm and an anti-up quark and the D0bar (D-zero bar) made up of anti-charm and an up quark. The LHCb looked into the decay of these relatively stable bound states into CP invariant states, like the Kaons or the pions. The D0 should decay into Ï€+Ï€ or κ+κ, and so should the D0bar at equal rates, if CP were an exact symmetry. What the LHCb found was that this is not the case and the deviation in the rates is substantial and LHCb claims a 3.5 sigma confidence level on this!  

The amount of deviation

The Standard Model does predict that CP is not an exact symmetry in the quark sector, but only an approximate one. Still it gives a value of mixing, based on the famous Cabbibo angle, which is close to zero. What LHCb found was that this mixing value is close to 0.82% +/- 0.24%, which is a significant deviation from the Standard Model (at a 3.5 sigma confidence level).

These are still preliminary results. The LHCb is not as sophisticated as the ATLAS or CMS and cannot handle the high beam luminosities that the premier detectors can. Thus, it has collected less data than either of ATLAS and CMS. Less data also means more noise or spurious signals.

More data and analysis will establish this newfound signature of Beyond Standard Model (BSM) physics.

Here’s more:
An explanation of the results from us:

Google’s Children’s Day Doodle Sketched By 7-Yr Old Child Artist

If you happen to go to Google’s India page, and chances are that you will, you’ll witness a nice doodle made on the account of Children’s Day. What you may also know, if you’ve read it here, is that this doodle was sketched by a child artist 7 yr old Varsha Gupta from Noida, India.

Happy Children's Day from Google

The doodle is quite artistic, really. Just like different musical instruments come together with their varied sounds to create a heavenly contribution, so is India a country where people of different backgrounds (race, religion and customs) mingle to create a unified strand of humanity. The letters are represented by different musical instruments and they all come together, harmoniously, to produce the music of the word Google’. Just like India.

The child artist

A mouse-over reveals that the doodle is created by Doodle 4 Google India 2011 winner Varsha Gupta. Clicking it takes you to a page returning search results for Children’s Day’. For me, the imperfections in the doodle are essential. This was evidently crafted by the innocent hands of a child and it shows. This is also what makes it so special. At least for one day, we might stop being professional or perfectionists and simply remember our childhoods, when having fun was top priority. It’s tough to maintain that in life.

Chacha’ Nehru (or Uncle’ Nehru) would have been quite thrilled at this, given that he adored children and rightly considered them to be the most potent force in India. Today is his birthday and this is Google’s way of saying Happy Birthday’ to a visionary and a builder of independent India.

We at Techie-Buzz say Congratulations’ to Varsha Gupta and Happy Birthday’ to Chacha Nehru.

Did The Early Solar System Have A Fifth Giant Planet That Got Ejected?

The early evolution of the Solar System clearly presents a gap in our understanding. There have been a huge number of simulations done about how the evolution might have gone, and a recent study, investigating into the dynamic instabilities of the early orbits, has reached a stunning conclusion. The startling finale is this: There was a fifth giant planet, about as big as Jupiter, that was simply ejected from the Solar System, so as to lend stability to the entire planetary system.

A missing fifth member of the group?

A Cosmic Billiard Ball Game

The study, led by Dr. David Nesvorny, looks into the instabilities when the Solar System was as young as 600 million years (about a tenth of its current age). As expected the scattering process would be dominated by the giant planets, primarily Jupiter, simply because of its high mass. It would have either gobbled up small objects coming in from the outer Kuiper belt or severely deflected them from their orbits. The problem is that this situation would be reflected in the inner Solar System too. If the orbit of Jupiter stabilized slowly, it would transfer enough momentum to deflect the orbits of Mars, Earth and Venus. They could’ve even collided into one another.

The protagonist
Jumpin’ Jupiter

The solution to this colliding billiard ball problem is to make Jupiter jump’ from one orbit to another, in what is called a Jumping Jupiter’ theory. This sudden change of Jupiter’s orbit would prevent it from transferring the large amount of momentum to the inner planets, leaving them as they are found now. However, Dr. Nesvorny found a new anomaly. Every simulation that he did with a jumping Jupiter showed Uranus or Neptune being pushed out of the Solar System. Since we see Uranus and Neptune today, this couldn’t have been the scenario.

A Fifth Giant

But, you can just add a fifth giant planet, which would play role of a leaving planet. Simulations show that this solves every problem. So the inner planets were left untouched, Jupiter jumped, Uranus and Neptune stayed within the Solar System, but a fifth giant planet had to leave the scene. This is what Dr. Nesvorny has to say:

The possibility that the solar system had more than four  giant planets  initially, and ejected some, appears to be conceivable in view of the recent discovery of a large number of free-floating planets in interstellar space, indicating the planet ejection process could be a common occurrence

Time and time again, that line from Shakespeare comes to memory There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy.

11.11.11 Is Just Another Day! Period

The 11.11.11 date is upon us and we are on the verge of a great illumination or shift in consciousness. Or Not! The date is an interesting observation, but that’s about it!

Seen this before, right? No?

Numerologists, psychics, metaphysicists (I don’t even know if that is really a proper profession or not), occultists and other people with no lives to call their own are going head-over-heels proclaiming today as the day of the enlightenment. Apparently, while we are simply sitting at home, or getting yelled at by our bosses at office (who yells at these bosses?), there is going to be a harmonic convergenceand a (for the second time!) paradigm shift in consciousness. Why? Because an inevitable date occurred and the digits looked interesting given a particular, arbitrarily chosen, calendar that we happen to follow.

The Magic of the Day and the Charlatans!

Many people are busy proclaiming the uniqueness of the date it happens once in a lifetime. I’ll give you more it happens once every century!! How many dates (calendar dates!) have you seen repeating themselves? Heard of anyone who has seen one?

Charlatan Bashing

Okay, so back to charlatan bashing. One lady (at least, that’s what she’ claims online) has suddenly become famous online, simply because she (okay, I had always thought that women cannot really be this crazy, so I’m still betting that this is a guy!) is an 11.11 expert! (And I didn’t even know that such a position ever existed! I wonder if they are hiring.) She’s known online as Solara’ and she will be organizing trance sessions throughout the day and at the time 11:11 GMT today, believers’ will join together and sit as silent watchers who oversee worlds within worlds. That should mean something really deep, but I’m not quite sure what that is! There’s more; there’s always something more! She even claims that at the point 11.11.11 11:11 GMT a portal’ will open up and take believers from this world to one which has new oneness’. Sure!

The Number 11 : What was that again?

Many conspiracy theorists (don’t you just love them!) cite the historical importance of the number 11′. Starting from the entire gobbledegook about the 9/11 attacks, the number 11 is said to have special significance. You’re welcome to surf the internet (or wait long enough for a large number of friends to share something related to this on your Facebook wall) and look for the significance yourselves.

Just another ordinary day – oh, with a movie

Here’s what we think: There will be no portals opened, no consciousness shift, no apocalypse and definitely no dinosaurs popping into spontaneous existence. There will, however, be a movie released by the name 11.11.11 and you’re welcome to watch that. No, neither the author nor the blog that he writes for aims to advertise for the movie or promote its watchability’, but given the other things on the menu regarding today, a (possibly) bad movie might be the best option to choose.

It is heartening to see that no one yet claims that the world is going to end. I love these claims; how easy it is to prove them wrong after the event just exist.

Depending on how you view life, we advise you to either enjoy or suffer another ordinary day in your life as usual. We wish you a Happy Friday.

Double Chooz Preliminary Results: Neutrino Experiment Detects Disappearance of Neutrinos

The most common particle in the Universe is also the most mysterious, but it seems that scientists might have got something correctly predicted about it. Neutrinos have been noticed to disappear’ in the Double Chooz experiment and this is being interpreted as the manifestation of the elusive neutrino oscillation signature. Electron anti-neutrinos have been noticed to simply disappear meaning that they are actually turning into tau anti-neutrinos, which we have no way of detecting. Technically, scientists are measuring the third mixing angle’ or θ13.

The Double Chooz experiment

Oscillations of  neutrinos

Neutrinos are strange because they do not behave in conventional’ ways. One form of neutrinos can change into another, provided neutrinos have mass, however small it might be. There are three types of neutrinos electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos. The names are given according to the particle they accompany in a doublet.

Experimental evidence suggests that one form of neutrinos changes into another and this is through a process called see-saw’ mechanism. In other words, the neutrino exists in a mixed’ state and we detect only one of the constituent states. (If you think this is weird, just know that this is the staple bread-butter of quantum mechanics.) The amount of mixing is given by angles. The electron (type 1) and muon (type 2) type neutrinos mix via the mixing angle θ12. The muon (type 2) and tau (type 3) neutrinos mix via the θ23 angle. The electron and the tau neutrinos mix via the angle θ13, which happens to be out angle of interest.   We know that θ13 is very small, but we want to know how small it really is. The fact that it is non-zero is, in itself, remarkable.

Neutrino oscillations. The subscripted letters refer to the type of neutrinos.

The value of the mixing angle and the consequence of that

One of the experiments measuring the θ13 is the Double Chooz experiment. It just released the first set of results and it gives a definitive value for this third mixing angle. The value, given in terms of sine squared of double the angle, is

sin22θ13  = 0.085  +  0.029(stat)  +  0.042(syst),

where the last two numbers represent errors and need not concern us too much at the moment.

The T2K experiment. The walls are lined with photo-detectors. The entire chamber will be filled with water when in operation.

What is interesting is the fact that the other giant experiment in the field of neutrinos the T2K experiment also gives similar results.

The value of θ13 is not zero and the two results corroborate one another to give a 3-sigma level confidence on that fact. There are neutrino oscillations between the electron type and the tau type.

This is a theoretically significant result for scientists, who are knee-deep with questions about neutrinos and their properties (and, before you ask, the faster-than-light results are the least of the worries). This will put further constraints on the neutrino masses.

Further details about the Double Chooz preliminary results can be found here:

NASA Snaps Up A Photo Of The Large Asteroid As It Passes Earth

NASA has just released a new image of the Asteroid YU55 as it continues its passage close to the Earth. The image was captured by the Deep Space Network situated in Goldstone, California. The image was taken yesterday.

The asteroid will be just a bit closer to the Earth than the moon is. Its closest approach will be about 0.85 times the distance from Earth to Moon. It will have no effect on the Earth gravitationally, including the tides. There is no truth to the various rumours and fears going around.

We covered the flyby here:
Asteroid 2005 YU55. The image from NASA's Deep Space Network (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This is the photo that was snapped up by NASA’s Deep Space Network yesterday at 11:45 PM PST. At that time the asteroid was 3.6 lunar distances away or about 1.38 million kilometers, says NASA. This is the closest any rock has got to the Earth in a very long time, the last time being in 1976. It is expected to return in 2028.

There will be more photos of the rock as it approaches closer to the Earth.

Heavy New Elements Get New Names

The periodic table’s unnamed members just got names. Three new elements Atomic numbers 110, 111 and 112 got named as the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), along with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) agreed to their new names. They are now called darmstadtium (Ds), roentgenium (Rg) and copernicium (Cn), after the German city of Darmstadt, physicist Wilhelm Roentgen and Nicolaus Copernicus respectively.

All of these elements are Transuranic elements meaning that they are extremely heavy (heavier than Uranium) and unstable. They do not occur in Nature (nothing heavier than Uranium does) and can only be synthesized in a laboratory. Even then, these elements survive for a very short time.

Naming Conventions

Earlier the names were given according to the IUPAC prescription for naming elements. The atomic number gave the names. Take an example 111. Each 1 contributes a un’ in the name. The metallic nature of the element adds a ium’ at the end. This atomic no. 111 would be called unununium. Similarly, atomic no. 112 would be called ununbium, with 2′ contributing bi’. 110 would be called ununnilium, 0′ contributing a nil’.

The New Names and the Elements Behind The Names

Atomic Number 110

Ununnilium has been christened darmstadtium, given that it was first synthesized at the GSI facility for Heavy Ion Research near the German city of Darmstadt by Sigurd Hoffmann and his team.

Atomic Number 111

Unununium was replaced by roentegenium, in honour of Wilhelm Roentgen, who was the discoverer of X-rays. He was also the first recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1901.

Atomic Number 112

Ununbium received the name copernicium’, in the honour of the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who was the first one to propose (and stick to!) the heliocentric model of the Solar System (the known Universe at that time). The credit of synthesis again goes to Sigurd Hoffmann, who smashed together zinc and lead atoms to create a single atom of ununbium in 1996. This wasn’t enough to warrant a discovery. Since then, 75 atoms of ununbium have been synthesized worldwide. These numbers should give you a sense of the rarity of these elements!

New Periodic Tables should soon come out with these new elements named. The human contribution to the Periodic Table continues unabated, as we continue our attempts of scientific alchemy.