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.
Irene is big and this has been well appreciated by New York city Mayor Micheal Bloomberg. For a first time ever, Mayor Bloomberg has ordered mandatory evacuation of 300,000 residents from the city as soon as possible.
Hurricane Irene, a former Category 3 storm (wind speeds over 115 mph), now slightly degraded to a Category 2 (wind speed of 100 – 110 mph), is still moving ominously along the east coast. It has still not made landfall at the time of writing this report (August 27th, 00:05 EST), but is expected to really shake up the twin Carolina states.
Torrential rain is predicted and the initial spells have already begun lashing the Carolina states, Washington and New York City. When Irene does make landfall, it will cause significant structural damage, especially to the outskirts of the major cities.
The threat level is still Extreme’. As already mentioned in a previous post, huge storm surges are predicted. Due to all of this, Mayor Bloomberg announced
This is a mandatory evacuation. By five o’clock tomorrow you have to be out. Waiting for the last minute is not a smart thing to do. This is life threatening.
All rail and subway services will be shutdown in a few hours (on Saturday, 27th August). Mayor Bloomberg further warned
Bridges aren’t going to fall down, but there is a point when the winds get so strong that they close because cars and trucks could be blown off them.
Irene is not the new Katrina! Katrina was much bigger. But Irene is still pretty big and you’d still be wise to follow directives. If you are on Irene’s path, we wish you the best of luck. Stay safe.
(Photo: Irene’s scary eye as seen from space here. The amazing photo is in infrared!)
Updates will be posted here, as soon as we get them.
Irene Hits New York City, Floods Manhattan. Three Million on East Coast Left Without Power HERE.
Hurricane Irene is the newest threat from Mother Nature. This is the biggest storm in the Atlantic region, and indeed globally, this year. It is currently classified as a Category 3 storm with wind speeds exceeding 115 mph. It is currently moving through the Bahamas.
(Update as of 1430 EST, 27th August: Hurricane Irene rams into the East Coast. For some latest pictures from space, click here)
We had an article earlier showing infrared photos of Irene snapped up from space.)
Hurricane Irene is a category 2 storm right at this moment (6 a.m. EST, 26th August) with wind speeds of 110 mph. It is located just east of the Florida peninsula presently. It is expected to gain in speed and regain its Category 3 status in another 20 hours or so.
It will continue northwards, making landfall in North Carolina in another 24 hours and then plough northwards through the land surface. The hurricane will lose steam and wind speed will decrease to about 100 mph. However, the ground wind speed is expected to rise sharply. By the time it reaches Washington D.C., it will probably drop down to the category of a tropical storm, with wind speed of about 60-70 mph.
The threat level of the hurricane has been updated to EXTREME’, in the hope that the American public will be ready to take immediate evacuation measures. The greatest threat will include extensive damages to major cities like Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk.
Irene will cause extensive flooding and even flash floods in certain areas. Storm surges are expected and thus small ships and trawlers have been warned against venturing out.
You can obtain up-to-the-minute tracking information of the storm here.
Diamonds are turning out to be more ubiquitous than thought. After we reported that candles burn up diamonds a few days back, we hear of a discovery of a planet, which is completely made up of real diamond. This diamond planet is important in astrophysics, though for a very different reason!
The discovery is too recent for any deep scientific investigation. Astrophysicists think that the planet is actually the core of a star, which died and became a white dwarf. The difference with other white dwarfs in the Universe is that this was orbiting a neutron star.
Lifetime and Death of a Star
A star burns hydrogen, converting it into helium, during its lifetime, known as the main sequence of the star. Once, it runs out of hydrogen it begins to contract, until enough heat builds up to trigger a newer set of reactions, which involves fusing helium to form heavier elements. Once the helium is also snuffed out, the star contracts again. Now, depending on the mass of the star, there might be many such contraction-fusion phases, making higher and higher elements. A mass the size of the Sun will stop somewhere at oxygen and then just settle down, cooling off and becoming a white dwarf. A star with a mass of 1.4 times that of the Sun becomes a neutron star, basically an extremely compact object made up of neutrons. Above 3 solar masses, you get a black hole.
The giant gem!
This new planet is five times the size of Earth with a super-high surface pressure. The extremely high surface pressure leads scientists to suspect that the entire planet has been crystallized into diamond. The planet orbits a rapidly pulsating neutron star that radiates a pulsar. Named PSR J1719-1438, the pulsar has a rotation rate of 10000 rotations per minute! It is located at a distance of 4000 light years from Earth!
All that sparkles… also pulsates
This system is not only interesting for being the biggest piece of diamond known! This is only the second time such a system, i.e. one which involves white dwarf orbiting a pulsar, has been discovered. The planet is also larger than the star’, as generally white dwarfs are bigger than neutron stars in size.
So there is another piece of diamond that you’ll never get your hands on! Thank your pulsars that no one else is getting it either!
It was just yesterday, yet we have come so far! The first proton beams at a respectable 7 TeV energy was started only on 30th March, 2010. It has been hardly a year and a half and so much has already been achieved. This was the basic message sent out by CERN speakers Frederick Bordry and Rolf Heuer, also the Director of CERN at the Lepton Photon Conference, 2011, being held at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India.
There are a lot of projects on the horizon, both short time and long time. Obviously, the long term projects are ambitious and a bit ambiguous as of now. However, as Heuer said, they are practical. We should not be afraid that it is not easy, he said.
Among the many new developments happening or proposed at LHC is the development of magnets that can generate extremely high magnetic fields, called high-field magnets. These will be required to increase the energy of a beam, without lengthening the collider tunnel. Prof. Michael Peskin of SLAC, who was in the audience, asked if this is a dream or a programamidst chuckles, to which Bordry replied that it was certainly a realistic program.
The LHC is expected to have a long shutdown period from 2013 to mid 2014 for repairs and maintenance work.
New physics and monster accelerators
A number of new projects are upcoming, even though they haven’t been officially sanctioned. Yesterday’ it was the synergy of the Tevatron, HERA and SLAC that led to the discovery of the Standard Model, said Heuer, adding that the LHC results will guide the way at the energy frontier.
About the Higgs search, Heuer said that while finding the Higgs will be a discovery, not finding the Higgs and ruling it out will also be a major discovery. People should not say that these scientists are searching for nothing, he quipped. Not finding the Higgs will be a major result, since it will completely destroy the Standard Model, allowing other models of physics to come into the limelight.
Among a plethora of futuristic plans announced, the most spectacular was the announcement of a hadron-lepton collider the LHeC. The LHC is a hadron-hadron collider. It can collide protons together or lead/silver nuclei etc. A hadron-lepton collider will be able to collide a proton, and say an electron. The energy per beam of the LHeC will be 16.5 TeV, combining to give a massive 33 TeV in total. The LHeC design is on my desk right now, but I shouldn’t be mentioning that here, he remarked drawing loud laughter from the global audience. As far as LHC physics is concerned, he said that 2012 will be a decisive year. The TeV results will either lead to the discovery of new particles and some new physics will be known or it will be a reformulation of the physics we already know. Both will be progressive steps for particle physics.
Heuer spoke at length on the building of the linear accelerators International Linear Collider (ILC) and the Compact LInear Collider (CLIC). Today, we need to keep our choices openwas Heuer’s advice.
On the question of collaboration, Heuer said that CERN was throwing its doors open to non-European countries. The E’ in CERN is going from European’ to Everybody’. We’re not changing our name, however, said Heuer.
Exciting times in particle physics beckon us! As usual this sentiment was put emphatically in Heuer’s own words -We are just beginning to explore 95% of the universe.
I’ll let the scientist in Heuer have the final word on this report. When asked if he’ll be bothered if the next big accelerator is located in the US, instead of at CERN, Heuer put it beautifully, I don’t care where the collider is! I only care about the science coming out of it.
The scientific enterprise is a greater binding factor than anything else. It’s a silent messenger of world peace, uniting the world in the pursuit of truth and never advertising that facet.
Staying true to its name, Spirit, the Mars Exploration Rover, reached its destination on 10th August, 2011. NASA released a number of images that Spirit and its sister rover, Opportunity, snapped during their stay on the Red Planet. Among these images are landscape shots of the Endeavour crater, the climax of the three year journey.
We bring you a few of the photos that NASA released in this article.
Endeavour is a 22 kilometer crater, about 25 times wider than the Victoria crater, which was the crater visited by Opportunity earlier. The rocks from Endeavour crater are expected to be much older than the rocks encountered so far on Mars. The examination of these could give vital clues to a much wetter and warmer Martian past.
Photos reveal apparently clay-like soil composition and this has got Mars experts excited. Clay can only form in wet conditions, signifying occurrence of habitable environment in the distant past.
Spirit has been hobbling, or rather dragging, for a couple of years. Its left wheel isn’t working and it drags it along, creating distinctive tracks.
The right wheel leaves the familiar tyre tracks on the dusty ground, while the left wheel digs up the surface, revealing fresh soil from just below the surface.
Of course, Spirit can also photograph its own arm!
Spirit and Opportunity has yielded a great host of scientific data on Mars, especially for determining soil composition. It has also found meteorites.
NASA already has a successor of Spirit and Opportunity ready. Curiosity, the new rover, to be launched in a few months, will be parachuted on the Gale Crater. In its scientific arsenal will be sensitive instruments mainly to measure chemical composition and do spectroscopic studies on samples.
It’s a proper transition. In any scientific endeavour, it is the spirit and opportunities that lead to discoveries. These discoveries fire curiosity enough to ensure that the flagship of science stays at full steam.
Image Credits for all images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU/
The eye of Hurricane Irene was spotted by infrared cameras from space and it is scary. Hurricane Irene breezed past the Bahamas, with winds clocking up speeds of 115 mph.
Though, the hurricane had gone through a dip in power on the 23rd of August, it regained more than what it lost the day after. It is the first major hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season. Hurricane Irene is now a Category 3 storm, a term used for storms having winds in the range of 110 to 130 mph (175 to 210 kmph).
The following picture was taken by infrared instruments on board the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite or GOES-East. It is managed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The redder areas are hotter than the cooler blue areas. (Infrared photos detect heat patterns and not actual visible features).
A hurricane is basically winds of high speed moving towards a central eye’ or region of low pressure. The central region is a hot’ region, with a markedly higher temperature than the surrounding areas. As a rule of thumb, hotter regions mean lower pressure. As air move from higher to lower pressure, high speed winds spiral towards the center.
The Bahamas is expected to receive 15 to 20 cm of rainfall due to Irene, with some regions expected rainfall as high as 40 cm. Storm surges are also expected. Irene is also predicted to move northward to the banks of Outer Carolina, where it will make landfall. However, by this time, it will have weakened due to cooler waters there, NOAA reported. Heavy rains are still forecast.
Irene is slightly early. Although August to October are peak months in the Atlantic hurricane season, big storms generally come in September.
The rank list for universities in the world, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, is out. While the usual suspects hog the top positions, there is unfortunate news for Indian varsities, with only IISc making it to the top 500 among non-IIT Indian institutes and IIT Kharagpur figuring in the list as the only IIT.
The 2011 results are prepared by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The list is prepared based on a number of parameters. Prominent parameters include the frequency of publication in top journals like Nature, Science and Physical Review Letters. The number of citations in articles appearing in these top journals was also taken into account. Further parameters like the number of Nobel Prize winners present in the faculty and winners of other prestigious awards were also considered. An important consideration was the rate of churning out of quality scientists, something that many American Institutes excel at.
The list is topped by Harvard University, followed by Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California, Berkeley, Cambridge University, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Princeton University, Columbia University, Chicago University and Oxford University in that order. Purdue University secured rank 61 overall and 18 in computer science.
IISc figured as the only Indian non-IIT institute in the list with a world ranking of 301-400. Separate lists were prepared for different specialized fields and IISc secured a rank of 76-100 in the top 100 engineering institutes and 79 in Chemistry.
The story of IITs is even more dismal. IIT Kharagpur has steadily dropped in the rankings. It figured in the last 100 (i.e. 401 to 500) this year, while it had appeared at 301-400 in 2008. Jairam Ramesh had created a furore when he said that the faculty at IITs and IIMs is not world-class. The students are excellent and that is what the IITs are known for, not the faculty, he said. Going by this list, he seems to be vindicated.
While many are disappointed with the list and disprove it altogether, the message is clear for Indian institutes. It’s so obvious and loud that it hardly needs a reiteration.
If a high energy collision means fast billiard balls colliding or a train wreck, this article is tailor made for you. As the world, or at least the 0.042% of it who are interested in particle physics, gets their opinions ready about the yet unsuccessful Higgs search at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), CERN, we thought it might be a good idea to explain what physicists mean by what they say. However, we don’t want to explain why they speak that way.
Here we will list out a few things you’ve heard and are likely to hear in the coming days, along with what they might possibly mean.
Units and Particles:
In particle physics, people prefer to use units of energy, instead of that of mass to measure mass. The idea is a good one, since we can use Einstein’s relation E=mc2 directly. The unit of energy is an electron volt or eV. If you force an electron to go through one volt, then it has the energy of 1 eV. It’s too small to use, so people use 1Mega eV (MeV) 1 million eV, or 1Giga eV (GeV) 1 billion eV. If that is not large enough, the LHC demands that we use 1 Tera eV (TeV) or 1 million million eV. The LHC is currently operating at 7 TeV.
The more important point to note about energy is what is considered big! How much really is 1 TeV of energy in human scales? It’s much less than the kinetic energy of a house-fly! So why is it called high-energy physics? It’s because this energy is carried by particles that are really really small! If a proton having 3 TeV of energy is scaled up to our scales, then we would each have energy exceeding that of a Supersonic jet plane. There’s a large amount of energy packed into a small volume.
About particles, there are just two types Fermions and Bosons. Know that fermions don’t like hanging out together, while bosons have no such ego issues. You can stuff a lot of bosons at one place, while that is impossible in case of fermions. Leptons are one kind of fermions, which are electron-like. Photons are bosons. (As to why this happens, it’s related to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, a fundamental result from quantum mechanics, responsible for single-handedly creating all of chemistry! Fermions follow Pauli Principle, bosons do not).
This is probably the most important phenomenon in this story, so pay attention. This is the deal. Every modern physical theory has some symmetry associated with it. For example, if you made all the positive charges in the Universe negative and the negative charges positive, the Universe will still look exactly like it does. Here’s the crucial part with every (continuous) symmetry, is associated a quantity that is conserved, or doesn’t change value. Example: Take time translation. If time were to flow backwards, at the microscopic scale, we would notice nothing. This symmetry leads to conservation of energy. Symmetry breaking refers to the fact that under certain circumstances, a physical theory loses the symmetry it started out with. We can then distinguish between different states. We can choose.
A Useful Analogy
The best analogy I’ve heard asks you to picture a round table with 10 people sitting equally spaced from each other. There is one glass of water kept identically placed between each two adjacent persons, making it 10 glasses in total. Assuming that the glasses are all identical, one can go and reach out for either one there is no preferred choice as yet. (Situation 1 in the graphic below.) But, say someone does pick up a glass say the glass placed to his/her right.(Situation 2 in the graphic below.) Then, everybody will HAVE to pick the glass to his/her right (assuming that no one wants chaos!). Now, you can differentiate between this system and another such system in which someone went for the glass on the left. Symmetry breaking has allowed us to identify a parameter, which had earlier left the system invariant. The word spontaneous’ is clear from this context. The perturbation has to come from within the system and everyone will choose a glass. The symmetry has been spontaneously broken!
In physics too, there arises situations in which the ground state (or state of lowest energy) of a theory is invariant under certain symmetries. This symmetry can, however, be broken and spontaneously, too if the system interacts with a field. It can be shown that this leads to two distinguishable states one having mass. Physicist believe that this is how mass is generated. The interaction field is named Higgs field’ and the force carrying boson associated with the field (as with any force field) is the Higgs Boson.
We could like to conclude this brief glossary of explanations here. Know that these explanations are highly simplified and the whole picture is much richer in beauty and technical details than this. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to communicate that beauty to a person, not having enough background in physics (being a major in physics is a must) and maths. If you already have a background, you’ve probably already seen a bit of the beauty. Go in search of more.
The world is not only queerer than we suppose, remember; it is much queerer than we can possibly suppose. In the words of the immortal Richard Feynman, I think Nature’s imagination is so much greater than Man’s, She’s never going to let us relax.
Links to related articles:
The Higgs search being unsuccessful so far, ATLAS and CMS collaborations of CERN jointly announce. Initial report here.
The figures and numbers (statistics) from the CERN announcement here.
The latest results on the Higgs search are out. Results were presented separately by ATLAS and CMS detectors of LHC, CERN today(i.e. 22st August, 2011) at the Lepton-Photon Conference, 2011. In this semi-technical article, we present the most important results in a systematic form. The verdict is, however, out the Higgs hasn’t been found as yet.
Check out our first (non-technical) post on this discovery here. A countdown to the Lepton Photon Conference itself is here.
Higgs Production and Decay channels
There are a few things that should be kept in mind right throughout the article. The Higgs boson is primarily produced by interaction of two gluons. (A gluon is what keeps protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus together.) This is called gluon-gluon production of the Higgs boson.
Next, the Higgs, being highly massive (i.e. having a high mass) decays into lighter particles. This is what massive particles always do they decay into lighter particles. The only thing is that different particles decay at different rates. Heavier particles will decay much faster than comparatively lighter particles.
The Higgs can decay into a number of lighter products. Each of these products leaves a distinctive signature on the detectors and the different modes of decay are called different decay channels’. The Higgs primarily has a gamma-gamma (Higgs decaying into two gamma ray photons.) channel, a WW and a ZZ channel. These are the main channels of interest. The gamma-gamma channel will be the preferred channel if the Higgs is a comparatively light particle about 100 GeV in mass. If the Higgs decays by producing two Z-bosons (the ZZ channel) or two W-bosons (WW channel) then its mass is above 130 GeV. In other words, the gamma-gamma channel fixes the upper limit of the Higgs mass at 130 GeV, while the WW and ZZ channels fix the lower energy bound at 130 GeV.
Now, here is the interesting part. The WW or ZZ bosons are themselves quite heavy and decay into a number of products. These decay channels produce characteristic detection patterns in the detectors. Comparing the observed rate of decay into these channels with that of the expected value, the data is reconstructed to see if this indeed was a Higgs event.
Now for more technical details
The ATLAS detector found no significant excess in the gamma-gamma channel. The bottom-bottombar (b-bbar) channel (this is what the WW bosons break down into bottom and anti-bottom quarks) gave big excess of Higgs event above the theoretically expected Standard Model(SM) production rates. Even though the excess was nearly 10 times the SM predictions, the sensitivity needs to be improved. Furthermore, Tevatron has a much greater say in the b-bbar channel than the LHC, given that it has recorded much higher number of events and has a higher luminosity at that energy range. The tau-tau (tau is a lepton, an electron like particle) channel gave a 4 to 5 times excess.
Overall, there was no significant excess in any of the channels to warrant a discovery. There was no significant excess number of events noticed for the Higgs in the mass range of 110 GeV to 160 GeV. This mass range is tentatively excluded with 95% confidence level. However, at 99% confidence level, there is a window about 142 GeV, which can be a possible detection window. Further experiments will probe this window more thoroughly.
CMS detected no excess in the gamma-gamma channel. A slight excess was noticed in the tau-tau channel and this is expected to be an important channel for further investigation, owing to the fact that data reconstruction from this channel points to a Higgs mass of about 140 GeV.
Excess of events in the WW going to lepton-lepton channel suggests a mass range of 130 GeV to 200 GeV. Three pairs of events have been notices at three mass ranges 122, 142 and 165 GeV for the ZZ channel. Only the 142 GeV event is consistent with Standard Model predictions. Happily, this is the very window that wasn’t excluded earlier with 99% confidence level.
Out of theoretically expected mass range exclusion of 145 to 440 GeV, three ranges have been excluded 145 to 216 GeV, 226 to 288 GeV and 310 to 400 GeV. Anything above 400 GeV is unlikely and the crucial 130 to 145 GeV window is still open. These mass ranges have been excluded with 98% confidence level.
Higgs search continues with full force. LHC will provide a lot more data samples in the coming months and this might ultimately lead us to achieve the Holy Grail of Particle Physics.
HIGGS SEARCH RETURNS A BLANK! HIGGS BOSON NOT FOUND BY LHC, CERN!
This is the joint announcement made by the ATLAS and CMS teams, LHC, CERN at the Lepton-Photon Conference, 2011 being held at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, India. This is likely to be a disappointment for many around the world, both within and without the particle physics community. The search is however on!
A warmup countdown post to this Lepton Photon Conference, 2011 is here. Semi-technical post showing all relevant results and figures can be found here.
The Higgs Boson
The Higgs Boson, predicted from considerations of symmetry in Quantum Field Theory by Peter Higgs, is the particle theoretically responsible for endowing every other massive particle with mass. It’s a boson with spin zero, with positive parity and charge.
There were a number of weak signals noticed that preceded the event. These Higgs signatures’ included the W-W or the Z-Z decay channel for the Higgs as the primary decay channel. This means that the Higgs once produced will decay into two W or Z-bosons, which will in turn break up into electron-positron pairs or muon-antimuon pairs. Unfortunately, none of these events could stand up to the rigors of analysis and survive till the 5 sigma confidence level was reached in both ATLAS and CMS detectors, as yet.
No such significant excess has been observed in the lower mass gamma-gamma channel. Also, more exotic branches like the tau-tau and b-bbar (bottom-bottombar quarks) have not offered anything promising.
The results of Tevatron, Fermilab are similarly blank, with no significant excess noticed in any channel.
This is also an exciting opportunity it opens up new possible physical theories. Spontaneous symmetry breaking, at least what we know of it now, may not be the whole story. There are many rival’ theories of the Standard Model, many requiring no Higgs boson to achieve mass. These Higgless models may become the focus of mainstream research and the LHC may be next used to test the predictions of such theories.
However, it is too early to make such claims. The Higgs search is going on at full blast.
And a Promise
We will bring more articles soon, explaining what this means for the Standard Model and particle physics in general. We will also run an article elucidating the jargon of particle physics. Hold on for that it’ll come sooner that you think.
Actual results from the ATLAS and CMS joint announcement on the Higgs Boson search can be found here. All relevant facts and figures present.