NASA May Be Blind When The Mars Rover Curiosity Lands On Mars

NASA’s craft might be in for a crash landing, but NASA won’t know about it till quite later! Yes, the landing of the new Mars Rover, Curiosity, on the Gale crater might be blind. NASA will lose real-time system coverage owing to a maneuvering glitch last month, which has put the craft onto a different orbit.

The face of Curiosity

Those seven minutes

The entry into Mars’ atmosphere, descent onto the surface and the final landing procedure will all take place in seven minutes. The duration that NASA has dubbed ‘seven minutes of terror’.

What about the other eyes on Mars? Well, the two spacecraft orbiting Mars, as part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or MRO, won’t be able to send in real time data. One will just be able to record the descent but not transmit in real time, and the other won’t be able to align itself till the last minute.

The descent is due on the 6th of August at 0131 EST or 0531 GMT. The place of descent will be a deep crater called the Gale Crater.

The Gale Crater is one of the lowest spots on Mars. If there is water underneath the surface, this is where the water will be closest to the surface.

Mission Aim

One of the most important aims of this mission is the search for water. There have been tell-tale signs of the existence of water, even if it was in prehistoric times. One of the best clues is the existence of clay and gypsum.

Now, the big question: Is there or was there life? Curiosity hopes to find out. Remember, water first, life later. And the search in the mission will also be conducted in the same way.

Why is NASA so worried about the landing?

NASA has reasons to be concerned about the landing. Curiosity tips the scales for spacecraft sent to foreign worlds at a massive one ton. It cannot be descended using landing bags which can cushion the fall. The plan is to deploy a parachute and also fire rockets in the opposite direction. This ‘descent platform’ will ensure smooth landing.

Best of luck NASA!

Curious about Curiosity? Keep following this blog.

Stephen Hawking Trials Device Which Can Read His Mind

One of the greatest minds of the world is now lending his brain towards research. It will help him and, hopefully, many others. Stephen Hawking has agreed to undergo trials involving the development of new technology that literally can read your thoughts.

Reason to smile?

The new device, developed by Philip Low from Stanford University who is the founder of the healthcare company NeuroVigil, aims to monitor brain activity and then map it onto actual actions or speech. For example, if one is thinking of moving his paralysed right hand and grasp a cup kept to his side, the device can read that thought and attempt the action of grabbing at the cup.

Stephen Hawking, incapable of any sort of speech, now communicates with his cheek muscles. Specific movements of his cheek muscles signify certain words and these are then communicated to a speech device. Now, it seems that Hawking is losing control of even his cheek muscles and this is where this new portable device comes in handy.

Called the iBrain, it has to be ‘calibrated’, i.e. told what to do when a certain part of the brain is activated. The information is collected from one particular point on the scalp.

In a series of initial trials that Hawking has been involved in, he has been asked to imagine moving his hands or legs. He has also been asked to think specific thoughts and these have been recorded. It turns out that more than the specific brain activity, changes in brain activity is more important. The team is now working towards ‘converting’ these thoughts into action.

The device will also help Hawking think of words that can be written down after being fed to the system. The current process of constructing sentences, using a word one at a time, is painfully slow. This will be a much faster process.

Survivor, genius, and now, guinea pig – Stephen Hawking has been all of them. And is still living and telling us tales.

Found: The Most Complete 2-Million Year Old Human Fossil in the ‘Cradle of Humankind’

The dead do speak. And it is the paleontologists who go around trying to eavesdrop on such a silent conversation. Most of the times, the sentences are broken. Once in a while, a whole sentence is found and much jubilation follows. One of these sentences, which I use as an euphemism for ‘skeletons’ here, has been found in the so-called ‘Cradle of Humankind’, north of Johannesburg. The question: what does it really say?

The skull of the A.sediba individual. Look at the white spot on the rock – that’s the hominid tooth.

Where the individual fits – in space and in time

The skeleton, nestled lightly between hard rock, is a hominid skeleton and is the “most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered”. It is about 2 million years old, which puts it right at the beginning of the time when the species of the genus Homo – whose members walked on two legs and had less hair than the apes – were beginning to emerge. The oldest known members of the Homo genus are Homo habilis, whose skeletons date back to 2.3 million years ago. Homo erectus, the first species of the Homo genus, to walk upright emerged later around 1.6 million years ago.

The skeleton is that of Australopithecus sediba species. It is widely believed that one of the species of the Australopithecus genus evolved to give the Homo genus, which leads to us. One of the species is our ancestor. A. sediba is probably not!

Skeleton – such a completeness was never there before

The skeleton reveals that the individual was learning to walk upright, fitting right into that snug spot on the evolutionary ladder between becoming merely bipedal and becoming bipedal and upright. The individual is an infant aged between 9 and 13 years and it could be of either gender. This is actually the completion of an expedition that revealed part of this same fossil way back in 2009.

Prof. Berger, a lead scientist in this expedition is thrilled:

We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur [thigh bone], ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record.

The discovery was a stroke of luck, it seems. The team spotted a piece of hominid tooth embedded in black stone. They excavated further to reveal a complete skull!


The critical question remains: was A.sediba a direct ancestor to us? The skeleton hasn’t started singing out its secrets yet. It will soon!

The Cradle of Humankind, as romantic and innocent as it might sound, is actually a deep pit containing many caves, where a large number of individuals of A.sediba and some other species are had fallen and died. For scientists studying human origins, this is a goldmine. The site has been the continuous paleontology site and has now been declared a World Heritage Site.

Now, just to wait to hear the dead speak…

Hubble Space Telescope Discovers Pluto’s Fifth Moon

Tiny Pluto has a lot of followers. Being relegated to being a ‘dwarf planet’ from being a ‘planet’ has apparently not hurt Pluto’s chances of capturing a moon. It already has four moons, all of them tiny. Now, a fifth one has been discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The fifth moon. Pluto is somewhere in the darkened area.
Image courtesy: NASA, Hubble Space Telescope, ESA and M. Showalter from SETI.

New Moon!

We covered the news of the discovery of the fourth moon of Pluto here and it was called P4. This new one has been provisionally christened S/2012(134340)1, but it already has gained the title ‘P5′. The other moons of Pluto are Charon (biggest), Nix and Hydra, apart from P4.

The announcement of the discovery came through Twitter when principal investigator in NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft Alan Stern said:

Just announced: Pluto has some company – We’ve discovered a 5th moon using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Oh, and the New Horizons spacecraft project plans to fly by Pluto in a bid to discover new horizons and study the dwarf planet. The launch is scheduled in 2015.

Difficult to see

Pluto and its moons are notoriously difficult to see. They tend to be blips of light, in the midst of a background made up of blips of light. The only difference is that the moons of Pluto go around Pluto, rather than the Sun, which the blips of light in the background do. The moons are quite small. Charon is the biggest, measuring about 1000 km across. The scale falls sharply with Nix and Hydra measuring about 80 km or lesser. P4 is about 30 km across.

It turns out that P5 is even smaller. It’s about 20 km across, but at places it measures less than 10 km, indicating that it is highly irregular. It was Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 which caught the 5th moon.

Many believe that Pluto might ‘capture’ planetary debris from their irregular orbits around the Sun and make them its moons.

Inventor, Futurist, Genius: Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla

His coolness is unmatched, but the man himself is far more enigmatic than cool. Nikola Tesla is known for being as awesome as scientists get. He was and remains the ultimate mad scientist – calm, mysterious with a will-get-the-job-done attitude and an insane futurist. He conceived of transferring energy wirelessly when people had just about gotten to know about conduction through wires. His great dream of intercontinental wireless transmission of power is still unfulfilled and remains extremely futuristic. Tesla, fulfilling his archetypical mad scientist image, died penniless and in debt.

Happy birthday sir!

Too Far Ahead of His Times

Time and time again, and the world is realizing this now, Tesla has been proven too ahead of the time. Tesla himself knew:

My project was retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.

Tesla is the pioneer of the modern alternating current generator and the transmission/supply system, the critical components of the worldwide power grid that we see today. He was the greatest electrical engineer the world has ever seen. Not only that, he was the founder of the field of electrical engineering.

Let’s go a level deeper. He wasn’t just an electrical engineer who pioneered the electrical supply system – he created the item that was to be supplied through the lines. In other words, he was the father of Alternating Current. The next time you switch on any electrical device connected to the main power supply of your house/office, say a small thanks to Tesla. He had won the ‘War of Currents’ with Thomas Edison, who wanted DC power to be circulated. Edison, Edison…

Enter Edison

Yes, Edison was no stick in the mud – he wasn’t called a genius for no reason. And he has been vilified in popular culture for no small reason either. Tesla’s famous tussle with Edison meant that Tesla’s genius never got its true value and recognition, unable to come out from under Edison’s clout. And really, Tesla didn’t try hard enough. Tesla and Edison never saw eye-to-eye ever again.

I often doubt whether truth always triumphs. Even if it does – and always – does it do so in time? Not so for Tesla. His genius, once recognized, was never again accepted. Maybe the world can see only so much of a good thing. Maybe being born twice is not for one lifetime.

Living in the Future

Tesla, a genius? What genius?

He identified – and made a source for – X-Rays way back in 1887, a full decade before the year which the world thinks X-Rays were officially discovered. Why the silence then? Primarily because most of his research work was lost in a March 1895 fire and also because he didn’t want to publish anything. He even sent X-Ray photos of his own hand to Roentgen.

Too much for the world in that era. A reconstructed Tesla coil, it measures 18 meters in diameter and can send electricity through 27 meters.

Unfortunately, and this has been demonstrated over and over again, science is not meant for people staying mum.
He felt disgusted by the newer crop of researchers:

That is the trouble with many inventors; they lack patience. They lack the willingness to work a thing out slowly and clearly and sharply in their mind, so that they can actually ‘feel it work.’ We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.

Tesla built the first radio transmitter in 1897. But wait, he then built a radio-controlled boat for the military. The military didn’t recognize the significance.

He spoke futuristically on Edison’s bulb:

I predict that very shortly the old-fashioned incandescent lamp, having a filament heated to brightness by the passage of electric current through it, will entirely disappear.

Tesla’s obsession with long distance telegraphy increased with years. He experimented with lightning, and spectacularly so. His meticulous notes in his diaries reveal his level of planning – and his level of daring. Of his many setups, probably the most terrifying – and the most popular – is the ‘Magnifying transmitter’. Transferring millions of volts across several meters, while still ensuring safety is what Tesla was going in for. The world didn’t recognize him. It was too naïve.

Magnifying transmitter. Taken by Tesla himself. The shot was taken using multiple exposure times. (Courtesy: Wikimedia)

No, Tesla was no peace advocate. He built the ‘death ray’, a weapon capable of directed energy release. The death ray would …

send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.

Madness to Senility

This madness would continue, but it was eating into Tesla himself. He began to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) manifesting in many ways, such as his extreme fondness for the number 3. He would circle his lab 3 times before entering. His hatred – and probably irrational fear – for round objects or clinking jewelry is well-known. Even professionally, he was faltering. He criticized Einstein’s relativity on grounds which were sometimes quite irrational. They weren’t taken into account in the science circles. Tesla had run aground of his ‘genius’ tag. He had simply gone mad.

Tesla would feed a flock of pigeons, of which one – a beautiful white pigeon – was his favourite. His OCD grew worse, as can be easily seen from what he says:

I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a women, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.

Hardly a statement from someone who is called the greatest electrical engineer of all times. Tesla’s duration on this planet was over, just the formality of death loomed over his head.

That came peacefully enough on the 7th of January, 1943 in the midst of a global conflict – the Second World War – which he had predicted would be inevitable. Like most of his life, he died alone.

Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla, the genius. We’ll meet again in the future.

South Korea’s Scientists Strike Back At Creationism; Force Withdrawal of Omission of Evolution

It’s being called a ‘reconsideration’ by the conservative media, but it is actually no less than a big victory. Throughout most of the Christian world, creationism is increasingly making its presence felt in the school curriculum. And this worrying trend has spilled out of the United States and entered other countries, the latest victim being South Korea. However, this is one country that is recognising the evil and trying to nip it in the bud.

No longer there? Think again!

On the 5th of June, Nature reported here that creationism is getting strong support in the country and the movement was forcing publishers into removing evolution related content from the school textbooks. Of the most seminal expunging carried out, notable mention must be made of Archeopteryx and of the evolution of the horse. Apparently, the evolutionists were not consulted before this decision was taken.

“Deleting” an “error”

Principal player in this campaign of deleting the “error” of evolution in a bid to “correct” students was the Society of Textbook Revise (STR), an offshoot of the Korean Association for Creation Research. It also suggests major changes about known and proven theories of evolution of humans and other species.

Come July, and the evolutionists have scored a major victory. Nearly 50 prominent Korean scientists are presenting a petition to the government officials rejecting the proposed changes before they enter the textbooks. Leading the fightback is an insect taxonomist Byoung-Hoon Lee. What has been promoted as “atheist materialism” by the STR is nothing but hard scientific fact, argues the scientist side.

The Richard Dawkins of Korea

The Richard Dawkins of Korea, as he is popularly called, Jae Choe, an evolutionary biology, has been Darwin’s faithful bulldog in this peninsular nation. He is hopeful, – no, confident really – that this will yield a result.

When these things are done, I think it will turn out that after all Korean science will not surrender to religion, so to speak.

The problem was with the scientific community as well, as they allowed such nonsense to be propagated. But the situation hasn’t gone out of hand. Choe says:

After all this hoopla, it looks as if South Korea will not ‘surrender’ to creationist demands.

That is good news.

The creationist side will not go down without a fight, though. They promise to fight on till every example of evolution is wiped out. And they have God on their side, so a win is on the cards, right?

Well, Choe and other scientists differ. And at the moment, fortunately, they seem to be very correct.

Higgs Boson Discovered: What Today’s CERN Conference Really Meant

To be proved wrong has never felt so good!

If you’ve been following our blog for the last few days and been interested in the science posts and those on the Higgs, you’ll know that I was very skeptical about the discovery of the Higgs Boson by the time this presentation comes about. And boy, am I proved wrong! And I am elated about it.


Let’s be honest – it isn’t the Higgs

Okay, to be honest, the exactly correct statement would be this: There is a particle, hitherto unknown, having mass between 125 and 126.5 GeV (giga electronvolt), which has been discovered with 99.999997% certainty. We still don’t know whether this is the Higgs Boson or not – it could just be another particle.

It’s not the Standard Model Higgs

In fact, to make things interesting, this is really not the Standard Model Higgs. So people claiming that this ‘completes’ the Standard Model are, at least partially, incorrect. While the Standard Model predicts – and requires – the Higgs Boson, there is nothing that we know right now that says that this discovered particle is the Higgs.

Forget the details. Look at the red peak. Look at what it means in the legends. Appreciate and bask in the glory.

Furthermore, the Standard Model predicts a Higgs with the mass of about 140 GeV or thereabout. What we have got is something with a mass in the ballpark of 125-126 GeV. Even if this is the Higgs, this is NOT the Standard Model Higgs.

What we really have!

So what have we really got on our plates? What we do know is that there is a particle whose mass is 125 GeV or so and how it decays. We also know how much it decays through the various decay channels – the so-called ‘branching ratios’. We are yet to know the charge of this particle and its parity. We do not know whether this is a fundamental particle (like the electron, with no ‘sub-parts’) or a composite one (i.e. made up of more elementary particles like quarks).

As Fabiola Gianotti, ATLAS spokesperson, said:

We are entering an era of Higgs measurement.

That is a lot of work left. We need to figure out what we are looking at really.

Rolf Heuer, CERN Director General, said that this is like looking at someone from far away and recognizing him/her immediately to be your best friend. But you’re not quite sure. You want that person to be closer to you so that you can make sure that it is indeed your best friend and not his/her twin.

Quite true. We need to take a better look. Translated into the language of high energy physics, that means ‘We need more data’. The saga will continue till the end of this year, then there will be a break and will continue again in 2014.

So, what can it be, if it’s not the Higgs Boson? It can be one of the supersymmetric partners of some already known particle. We don’t really know anything about the energy scale at which super-symmetry sets in or when supersymmetry breaks, but there is a fair possibility that the LHC might be detecting tantalizing hints in the next three months. When it comes back in full force in 2014, running at a higher energy of 14 TeV, compared to 8 TeV currently, we will definitely rule out or embrace supersymmetry at the 5 TeV energy scale.

Don’t worry, if you don’t get this – it’s futuristic talk. We want to talk more about today’s conference and that is what we will do!

Today’s conference: what they really said!

So this particle we are seeing today – let’s just call it Particle X till CERN says that it is indeed the Higgs boson – decays via different modes. A particle decays if it is heavy and there is no law or conservation principle preventing it from decaying. And it can decay via different end products – two Z-bosons, W-bosons, photons, four leptons etc – and all of the decay channels have some probability. One can be more probable than the other, and some channels can have more background noise than others. This happens if, say, a decay product can come from more than one source.

For example, bottom quarks can be produced from a lot of different sources, like all the so-called QCD processes. This masks the signal coming from the Higgs decay. The subtraction of background often leads to subtraction of the signal itself.

Notice the broken yellow lines emerging out of the detector. Those are photon lines. Actually the broken line is a way to represent the fact that photons are invisible and not caught in the tracker. Then they are detected in the electromagnetic calorimeter, where green lines represent energy dumps.

Clean channels

In order to cut through this mess, it is imperative that one identifies ‘clean channels’. Two such channels for this particle X are lepton channels and the di-photon channels. Particle X can decay into two muons or two electrons accompanied by the respective anti-neutrinos (don’t bother about those) through the lepton channel and, as the name suggests, into two photons in the di-photon channel. And lo, the signal is the strongest in these two channels. CMS and ATLAS (the two detectors at LHC searching for the Higgs) both have been extremely diligent and successful in looking for signals in these two channels. Both have scored grand success.

The Higgs decay modes and how they contribute to the total cross-section

Look at the green squiggle dipping down right above the black continuous squiggle. That, the legend on the left reveals, is the signal from the di-photon channel. Look how strong that signal is! This immediately suggests that the particle is a boson (otherwise, if it were a fermion, it would violate fermion number conservation) and that the particle cannot be a spin-1 particle (as the photon is a spin-1 particle and we can either have spin-0 or spin-2 for the initial particle). The Standard Model Higgs is a spin-0 object.

What about the charged lepton channel? The two lepton channel is an indirect way to infer the presence of the ZZ or the WW channel. The neutral Z-boson or charged W-bosons are formed from the decay of the Higgs boson. These then decay into muons and electrons, which are then detected. It turns out that our particle X mimics the Higgs Boson quite closely.

What does CMS say about the different channels?

For the gamma-gamma channel (another name for the diphoton channel), the surety is about 4.1 sigma for the particle X having a mass of 125 GeV.What about Z-channel? It spits out 3.2-sigma confidence level for X having a mass near 125 GeV.

Add these two in quadrature (square each, then add and then take the square root of the sum) and you get 5.2-sigma!! This is winning, as the confidence level required for announcing a discovery is 5-sigma!

More data is expected to bump up the confidence level even further. Particle X could be as certain as 7-sigma by the end of December.

It’s not worth repeating the story for ATLAS as it is very similar.

Being cautious, still

CMS hit it just right when they cautiously put this up as the defining slide, saying “We have observed a new boson with a mass of 125.3 +/- 0.6 GeV at 4.9-sigma significance”.

Yep, it’s that simple.

The conservative 4.9-sigma, instead of a two-channel combined 5.2-sigma is typical amongst high energy physicists. This takes into account other channels and the so-called ‘look-elsewhere effect’. We need not get into that for our purposes here.

Point of disagreement – a potential for trouble?

Now let’s come to the discrepancy between the two collaborations – CMS says that the boson is at 125.3 +/- 0.6 GeV, while ATLAS says that it is at 126.5 GeV. The ATLAS collaboration hasn’t put in the error bars. So what are we supposed to make of this? What about the 1 GeV discrepancy?

We don’t know right now. Rolf Heuer made light of the incident:

We have the Higgs, but which one?

Rolf Heuer’s bag of quotes doesn’t end there, and so we would like to end with one of his gems – one signifying finality:

I said we will have a discovery this year. DONE!

Done, indeed. Congrats to everyone on the CERN team and the worldwide collaborations!

Official News from CERN Conference On The Higgs Boson: Higgs DISCOVERED!

This is just coming in from the CERN conference in Geneva – the Higgs Boson has been noticed at the mass range 125-126 GeV with a HUGE confidence level of 4.9-sigma. Remember that the threshold is 5-sigma! That’s the BIG NEWS from the high energy world today.

The Historic screenshot from CMS. Simple!

Huge news: If you consider the Z-channel combined with the photon channel, we get 5-sigma! Higgs Discovery!

It’s nice to be at 5-sigma – CERN Spokesperson

But do note that this is just two channels. The Higgs has still not been officially discovered!

The World wide community

The CERN DG, Rolf Heuer, opened the Geneva conference and it was live webcasted to the ICHEP 2012 conference all the way in Melbourne, Australia. “Physics is a global community”, said Heuer. Many people were relieved that the presentation by CMS wasn’t in Comic Sans like last time! ATLAS stuck to Comic Sans though, much to everyone’s annoyance.

Higgs Status – the Bottomline

So this is what the scene looks like right now: There is a “significant excess” at 125 GeV and this is known with a 4.9-sigma confidence level. This means that there is a bump at 125 GeV, which cannot be ignored and this is known with 99.9997% certainty.

Results from CMS: Higgs Discovered

The mass range not excluded lies between 115 – 130 GeV. This rules out the minimal Standard Model Higgs expected at 141 GeV. The data collected in 2012 is about 5.2 fb-1. The mysterious comment comes through:

We are in a position to exclude the standard model

And then there was another one just as cryptic if not more:

What you will see today is existence of a new particle but you will not know its name

One of the most important channels for the low mass Higgs is the diphoton channel, or the Higgs decaying into two gamma ray photons. Here is a nice simulated picture that CMS gave out :

The double blind analysis by CMS led to the coincidence of the Look Elsewhere effect dips coming in at the same energy for both the 7 TeV and 8 TeV beams – at 125 GeV. Here is a screenshot:

Screenshot from the CMS presentation

The Higgs seen at 125.5 GeV is at 3.8 sigma confidence level for the 4-lepton channel. The same channel leads to a 3.2 confidence level with the look elsewhere effect taken into account.

The Z-boson and photon channel integrated gives 5 sigma!

The W-channel gives 1.5 sigma!

Bottomline: New Boson at 125.3 +/-  0.6 GeV at 4.9 sigma confidence level! That’s good enough for a discovery!

Results from ATLAS: Higgs Discovered

The number of events for the ATLAS collaboration is greater than for the CMS collaboration at 6.2 fb-1.

The excess has been noted in both the Z-channel and the photon channel. The confidence level is 3-sigma for the diphoton channel.

The 4-muon candidate mass converges on 125 GeV, bang on the value given by the CMS collaboration.

The excluded region’s lower limit is 130 GeV. The mass blackout is EVERYWHERE except between 122.6 and 129.7 GeV, with the exclusion happening at 99% confidence.

Huge applause as ATLAS mimics CMS results. The ZZ and diphoton channel combines to give 5.1 sigma confidence level for the existence of the Higgs Boson!

Here is the key slide for the ATLAS data:

ATLAS confirms what CMS said

We need more data. We are entering the era of Higgs measurements.

ATLAS bottomline!

Bottomline: Higgs at 126.5 GeV at 5-sigma confidence level. No error is quoted.

Implication of a 125 GeV Higgs

The most immediate conclusion to draw from this is that there has to be something beyond the Standard Model. The minimalist models of the Standard Model predict that the Higgs mass ought to be at about 141 GeV. So a 125 GeV model is clearly a problem and leads to many problems like an unstable vacuum at energies much lower than the Planck scale. Supersymmetric models are our best bet in this situation.

The Higgs Boson, Its Discovery And The Upcoming CERN Conference on 4th of July

CERN is all set to announce the latest in the Higgs search from the LHC. The press conference will take place in Geneva on the 4th of July, 9 AM local time. This will update the world on the ongoing search for the Higgs Boson, unfortunately dubbed the ‘God Particle’. Results from the 2012 data analyses will be presented and the path forward will also be charted out. More data will be gathered by the time LHC shuts down in December for nearly one-and-half years and we will get to know about the final fate of the Higgs Boson by December.

Webcast Link:

Not quite yet!

ICHEP, 2012

Interestingly, this will come on the heels of a major high energy conference, being held in Melbourne, Australia, called International Conference of High Energy Physics, 2012 (ICHEP, 2012). Australia not being a ‘member state’ of CERN’s LHC confederacy doesn’t get the honour of hosting a major Higgs update from its own soil. More here:

Inside sources say that the Higgs update will announce the fact that the Higgs is almost discovered but not quite. So to clear the air first up, we ask THE question: Has the Higgs been found? The answer: NO!

Here is a page which makes it more forceful:

For an animated version, click on the link on that page. You’ll be led here:

Has The Higgs Boson Been Discovered?

No, the Higgs hasn’t been discovered. The ‘excess’ or the odd bump seems to be concentrated consistently at one only energy – 125-126 GeV. This is great news, as the LHC has gone from restricting the mass ranges for the Higgs Boson, excluding different regions with different confidence levels, to precisely pin-pointing a specific mass! That is definite indication that there is indeed some particle at that energy and it could be the Higgs.

Talking about confidence levels, the Geneva press conference is probably going to announce the fact that the Higgs excess has been located with a confidence level of about 3 to 3.5 sigma. While this is significant and worth mentioning, there is no reason to call this a discovery. A discovery requires 5-sigma confidence level. We just don’t have that much data right now to confirm a 5-sigma confidence level. Read this for more:

A LOT of Noise!

A final word: A lot of blogs are chattering over the ‘fact’ that the Higgs boson has been discovered. At the risk of sounding utterly repetitive, we venture out “No! The Higgs Boson has not been discovered”. That will require till the end of this year. Believe whom you will.

All eyes on CERN now.

American Fundamentalist Schools Seek To Disprove Evolution Using Loch Ness Monster

From the deep depths of human gullibility and intellectual lowliness, rises the great Loch Ness monster of stupidity.

A thumbnail to support a movement. Does the word ‘flimsy’ come to mind? (Courtesy: Wikimedia commons)

Lousiana is the new seat of utterly amazing inanity. Thousands of school children in the state will be handed over biology textbooks which will claim that the Loch Ness monster, aka Nessie, actually exists and this disproves the Darwinian theory of evolution. All of this at the expense of the public treasury.

Accelerated Christian Education

There are many private schools under the fundamentalist system of education Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) and these are funded by the state. Their agenda is very simple: providing a Bible-based system of education as an alternative to the accepted curriculum. The bad news is that these kind of schools are on the rise.

These schools give a large dose of Biblical ‘facts’ and are known for being intellectually dishonest. Noah’s Flood is taught to be literal, young Earth creationism finds its pride of place in this nook, after being denied entry into scientific circles and Darwinism is criticized with a zeal that can only be called fundamentalist. Their latest strategy: dig up an age-old mythical monster from the depths of a lake in Scotland.

The monster from Loch Ness …

The Loch Ness monster is a mythical creature residing in Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. There has been no definitive sighting of the creature and the evidence of its existence is minimal and highly controversial. The photographic evidence is blurry and the sonar readings conducted for many years on the lake have turned up zilch. Even dedicated expeditions have turned up nothing concrete. Loch Ness believers say that the monster is a living dinosaur, which has somehow escaped the great Cretaceous extinction 65 million years ago. The creature ought to be a plesiosaur, a species of long-necked dinosaurs.

… and lying to children

So now, ACE has picked up on this and has been trying to teach kids that since this monster might exist,Darwin is wrong! Here’s a sample:

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

But, you’re confused. How does this ‘prove’ that creationism is right? Simple, it doesn’t! But let’s hear about it anyway. Jonny Scaramanga, who campaigns against Christian education system, explains:

[Nessis is] evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived. If it was millions of years ago then that would be ridiculous. That’s their logic. It’s a common thing among creationists to believe in sea monsters.

Makes perfect sense, right?

Not even wrong

Ultimately, it’s more serious than just poking fun. You cannot afford to muck around with the heads of children and indoctrinate them with whatever fundamentalist logic that suits your taste. The scary part of all this is that this intense scientific opposition, being driven into fertile young minds, is funded by big money. The kind of money flowing into this creationist movement, often under the guise of necessary ‘funding’, being distributed to many organizations like the shrewdly named ‘Discovery Institute’, is much larger than the amounts flowing into science for all fields of research.

It is one thing that myths are taught in childhood, but it is completely another that myths are taught as reality, just to undermine actual science. A 2000 year old book cannot take precedence over the dedicated efforts of so many scientists over so many years.

It’s time we rise from the depths of inane stupidity.