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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.

Worms Live Longer in Space

Stop your herbal teas, gymming routine and nutrient supplements. There may be a new way to increase lifespan, and it involves leaving the planet.

Worms on a Plane

The above is a huge exaggeration, but leaving the earth was exactly what a sample of the worm C.elegans (or Caenorhabditis elegans) was subjected to. The effects of microgravity environments in space on human ageing and lifespan are not known. In order to study the physiological effects of microgravity on astronauts, they used this model organism and shuttled it off to space. These worms spent nine days at the International Space Station. These weren’t the first of their species to explore space, though. These worms were part of the Columbia space shuttle too, and made news then for having survived the tragedy.

Credit: Bob Goldstein at http://labs.bio.unc.edu/Goldstein/movies.html
This roundworm might just hold the answers to increasing lifespan. The body is transparent, one of the reasons it is a model organism in biology.

Spaceflight Suppresses Toxic Proteins

They found that polyglutamine aggregates (which are just a type of protein that accumulates with ageing in muscle) were suppressed in these worms. This was the ‘marker’ they used to test for how much the worms aged. Moreover, they identified seven genes which were down-regulated in space. When these very genes were inactivated in worms on earth, these worms lived longer too.

These proteins clearly respond to some environmental cues from the extra-terrestrial environment and we’re seeing that these responses have an adaptive aspect to them, for they actually increase lifespan. Human muscle has been found to contract in space, and this has been thought to be a bad effect, but these results form the worm tell us that this might also be a beneficial adaptation in the long run. As Dr Szewczyk says, “Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of ageing.”

 

5 Daughter Cells from One Cancer Cell

Why are cancer cells so, well, cancerous? It has just been discovered that one reason for their malignancy is an irregularity in their division when under physical pressure. Upon dividing, they can produce as much as 5 daughter cells compared to the normal 2.

Cancer is so hard to contain because of the rapidity with which cancerous cells spread. Now we are learning that tumour progression may not just be not a function of increased speed or frequency of cell division, but of a greater reproductive output.

Creating a Platform that Creates a Physical Stress on Cells

For the first time, researchers have been able to confine single cells in a microfluidics system with mechanical pressures to observe the effects of cellular confinement at a cellular scale on the division process. using this platform, they could microscopically observe a single cell as it divided in response to the stress. As it turns out, these effects are quite large. Cancer cells under physical duress divide irregularly and assymetrically, and half of them produce 3–5 daughter cells. Cancer cells also face mechanical pressures in the body and this response could lead to their increased malignancy.

Credit: PLoS One (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038986.g005)
Time-series microscopic recordings of a cancerous cell which divides into 5 daughter cells in response to stress

Mitosis is the process by which a cell divides and produces two daughter cells (the dividing cell becomes one of the ‘daughters’). This is a highly regulated process because the cell’s resources have to be equally distributed between the two cells that are formed. Division of a cell into more than two cells often leads to an irregular distribution, with some cells even receiving extra copies of a chromosome, and in some cases, no copies.

Propagation of Damaged Cells
Most of these daughter cells produced under mechanical duress were viable. Normal cells, on the other hand, are constantly regulated by cellular mechanisms which leads to their death upon detection of any irregularity. This irregular cell division and lack of death could thus be a phenomenon by which cancerous cells rapidly produce more cancerous cells, some of which are genetically abnormal, and could cause the many defects cancer leads to.

Published in the journal PLoS One, this research was not conducted on normal cells, and it would be interesting to note if non-cancerous cells also respond atypically to such stresses, and if this is really what differentiates cancerous cells from non-cancerous cells.

Syphilis in Ancient Bone

Researchers working on the syphilis disease are using a novel way to extract samples of this tricky customer- by looking for them in ancient fossils.

The bacterium causing this disease— Treponema pallidum pallidum — is exceptionally hard to isolate because of similarity with other members of its species (Treponena pallidum — the second pallidum in its name refers to the subspecies it belongs to). It also refuses to grow outside organisms, even in nutrient-rich lab conditions. The only way scientists have been able to grow it is when they directly transfer it from the tissue of one organism to another which is cumbersome, expensive, and probably not a very pleasant experience for the mice involved.

Photo Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Bone lesions of these fossils show bacteria in them

Bacteria in Fossils

And thus did the obscure field of Paleopathology (the science of diseases in ancient remains) come into the picture. Scientists at the University of Barcelona have found that fossils of newborns have remarkably good quality preserves of syphilis DNA (the fossils are undated as of now). This is easy to identify because the genome sequence of the bacterium is known, and all that is needed is a match query that will fix the identity of the sample. Newborns with congenital syphilis have a greater concentration of bacteria in their bones which keeps it preserved for longer periods of time.

Looking for Evolutionary Insights
It should be noted that this does not circumvent the problematic isolation of the bacterial organism. However, this discovery could give more insights into the history of the disease and the evolution of the bacterium over time. This field, in fact, could yield exciting information about the evolutionary race between pathogens and humans. Are pathogenic species evolving smartly to better evade the defenses offered by the human body? Have they reinvented themselves over the course of a few thousand years? Ancient bones might just throw up the answer.

Athletes Used to Study Climbing Habits of Orangutans

Research presented to the Society for Experimental Biology’s meeting in Salzburg, Austria used street athletes to measure the energy expenditure of different modes of navigating a forest. What they discovered was swaying from tree to tree was the most efficient mode of travel for the orangutan.

Orangutan
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Orangutans, sometimes referred to as the “old man of the forest”, primarily dwell high in the tree canopy. They are the largest of the tree dwelling animals. Dr. Lewis Halsey of the University of Roehampton set out find out why it is they get about the forest the way they do. Using Parkour athletes, which are athletes that specialize in efficient movement around obstacles, they measured the energy it takes to move from tree to tree using different modes of locomotion. They outfitted the athletes with masks that measured their oxygen levels while performing various tasks similar to what the orangutans would do. Using humans as stand-ins was the only logical way as orangutans are not likely to cooperate with masks as they climbed about an obstacle course. In the BBC footage embedded below, you can see the athletes performing the various exercises.

[Video Link]

Parkour Research from University of Roehampton on Vimeo.

According to Dr. Halsey, the Parkour athletes were the perfect stand-in for they are “professional parkour practitioners (free runners) who display elite gymnastic and athletic abilities.” They used the athletes to measure 3 types of locomotion: swaying, climbing, and leaping. What the team discovered is that swaying through the trees is the most efficient way for these large animals to travel about. This also explains how the orangutans are able to live on a diet of mostly fruit which is not a significant source of energy.

These studies will provide more information about the habitat necessary to maintain the highly endangered species. For more information about the study visit the University of Roehampton’s website.

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.

Found!

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: http://webcast.web.cern.ch/webcast/

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: http://techie-buzz.com/science/higgs-boson-cern-conference.html

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: http://www.havewefoundthehiggsyet.com/

For an animated version, click on the link on that page. You’ll be led here: http://www.havewefoundthehiggsyet.com/index_animated.html

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: http://techie-buzz.com/science/higgs-boson-discovery-rumors.html

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.

China’s Shenzhou-9 Space Mission A Success!

China’s Xinhua news agency reports today that “China’s Shenzhou-9 Mission Successful“. The crew of the groundbreaking space mission landed safely in inner Mongolia on Friday. This marks a significant milestone in China’s rapidly developing space program.

This mission was historically significant on many levels. As earlier reported by our own Debjyoti Bardhan, China successfully docked their spacecraft with the Tiangong-I Space Station module not only once automatically, but a second time using manual controls. Also, of historical significance is the first female Chinese astronaut, Liu Yang, pictured on the far right below.

China's Astronauts
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang, and Liu Yang being celebrated after their return(Courtesy Xinhua/Zhang Ling)

Once on the ground, medical staff entered the capsule to report that all were in good condition. While in the capsule the astronauts reported to their command center, “We have returned, and we feel good.”

The success of this mission serves to bolster confidence that China can be a formidable player in manned space exploration. They are now confident that they can move on with the next stages of their space program.

The success of the procedure shows that China has completely grasped space rendezvous and docking technologies and the country is fully capable of transporting humans and cargo to an orbiter in space, which is essential for the country’s plans to build a space station around 2020.

It will be interesting to see how China’s future plans work out. Until now only the Russians and Americans were able to achieve such missions to space. Until this point the Americans had mostly objected to any participation by China in the International Space Station missions. China is spending massive amounts of money to bring this program online to the tune of billions of dollars. Hopefully, someday our countries can unify around a common goal and pool their resources to better serve all of humanity. For the time being, it appears everyone is just showing off what they can do on their own. Congratulations to China on this historic achievement!

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.

Lonesome George Dies At Age 100; Species Goes Extinct

Lonesome George has passed away!

The legendary tortoise, the rarest of its species and the last giant tortoise from the Galapagos island of Pinta, has died at the age of about 100 years. The Galapagos National Park, Ecuador, staff have said that George was the last of his species and now the species has gone extinct.

Lonesome George (Photo Courtesy: The Guardian)

The exact cause of George’s death is unknown and a post-mortem for the giant elder.

The story of George’s long life has been a sad one. Lonesome George has no offspring and there are no other individuals of his species left.

The story of his life

George had been a mascot of the Galapagos National Park breeding program. He lived with a female for 15 years on a nearby Wolf volcano and mated. However, the eggs were infertile. Slow reproduction rates for the species meant that George remained without an offspring.

He was picked up and kept with females from the nearby Espanola island in the archipelago. These females were genetically closer to him than those from Wolf volcano. But George wasn’t interested in a relationship. He did not mate with these females. George had just tagged himself ‘Lonesome’.

And the Darwin angle

The legend of Lonesome George has as much of a foothold in the history of the island as it has got in the annals of science. The ancestors of Lonesome George, the giant Galapagos tortoises, of which the giants from Pinta are integral members, had been instrumental in suggesting toDarwin, what was then, the hypothesis of evolution.

It was this and his uniqueness that made Lonesome George the star of Pinta Island, attracting close to 200,000 visitors every year.

The star no longer shines.

China Achieves Successful Manual Docking Of Spacecraft With Space Station

China has done what only the Americans and the Russians have had the right to brag about till now. Not only that, they did it, undid it and did it again! I am talking about the manual docking of the Shenzhou spacecraft on their Tiangong-I Space Station module.

Docking with the Tiangong-1 space station module.

The First Docking

The Chinese had launched their their Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to rendezvous with the Tiangong space station module on the 16th of June. Now, finally, on the 24th of June, the Chinese have attempted and succeeded in docking the modules. While Tiangong-1 is unmanned, Shenzhou wasn’t.

This is China’s first shot at an unmanned docking, marking a historic day when they achieve what only the Americans and the Russians have been able to achieve before them. But then, if it’s the Chinese, there’s always something more.

Docking Once More!

The Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts as they are called, undocked the two modules earlier today, and drove them apart by almost 400 meters. Then they attempted to manually maneuver the Shenzhou capsule, with Liu Wang, China’s first woman astronaut and a former fighter pilot, at the steering wheel. The procedure was a grand success! The refitted spacecraft-module configuration is now orbiting the Earth about 343 meters above the Earth’s surface.

China’s Manned Space Mission Program guys are a happy lot. Says Wu Ping, spokeswoman of the Manned Space Program:

The success of the manual rendezvous and docking mission represents another important phase achievement of the Shenzhou 9 and Tiangong 1 rendezvous and docking mission

And then adds

The three astronauts will once again enter the orbiting module of Tiangong 1 to carry out scientific experiments.

The crew returns on the 28th of June, touching down on Earth on the 29th.

CERN Conference On The Higgs Boson To Be Held On 4th Of July

The latest status of the Higgs Boson search at the LHC will be announced on the 4th of July. The conference will be held in Geneva. Incidentally, the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP), 2012, will also commence on the same date, but in faraway Melbourne.

A Higgs to 4 lepton event. Simulated.

The Higgs announcement

The announcement is expected to a big one – especially with the predicted discovery of the Higgs by the end of the year. The status of the Higgs will not be changed to ‘discovered’, but we will get to know how far we have actually reached.

We have already told you why you shouldn’t believe the rumors going around about the Higgs being discovered (LINK). It hasn’t been discovered as yet!

Just to sum up that post in the link, we predict that the CERN conference will announce that the Higgs bump in 8 TeV data matches with the bump in the 7 TeV data. Better make your way to that post!

CERN and murky money matters

CERN’s problem with making the official announcement from ICHEP in Melbourne is that Australia is not a ‘member state’ of CERN. Why make an official announcement in a country that doesn’t foot the bill for running of the LHC? So Geneva it is! And July 4th.

The CERN conference is scheduled for 0900 hours Geneva local time, which is GMT + 2 hours (i.e. it is two hours ahead of GMT) currently, due to daylight savings.

Do stay tuned to our coverage of the announcement.

“Odd Couple”: Kepler Exoplanets Defy Known Planet Formation Theories

As if astrophysics didn’t have enough problems on its hands, it seems that a new discovery has handed over a new challenge. An exoplanet pair, discovered by the exoplanet hunting Kepler Space Telescope, unimaginatively named Kepler 36-b and Kepler 36-c according to accepted catalog practices, turns out to be spectacular blow for established planet-formation theories.

An artist’s impression of the how the second planet would look standing on Kepler 36-b, when the two planets are close to one another. (Photo Courtesy: David Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

A problem…

The two planets are very close to one another. They orbit their parent star, but they are separated by only 1.9 million kilometers. This turns out to be 0.01 AU, an AU being an ‘Astronomical Distance’, which is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. So the two planets are a hundred times closer to each other than the Earth is to the Sun.

Astrophysicists wouldn’t be worried, yet. True this is very odd, but it doesn’t transgress the rule books. Here comes the blow: The two planets are as different as Venus and Neptune!

How is it a problem?

In our own Solar System, Venus is a rocky planet meaning that it has a solid rocky ground to stand on. It’s not a ball of compressed gas. In fact, Venus very much has a surface and it is riddled with numerous volcanic features, like volcanic domes, large fissures on the ground and rolling planes formed by large sheets of solidified lava flows. Kepler 36-b is not quite Venus in the volcanic sense, but is definitely rocky. It’s more like Earth, minus the oceans. Only that it is four times heavier than Earth, suggesting that is very dense.

Neptune is as unlike Venus as a planet can get. It is a gas giant and has no solid ground to stand on. It’s much larger than either Venus or Earth. Kepler 36-c resembles this gas giant.

Making planets

Planet formation theories suggest that when the disc of rocks, gas and dust spinning around a parent star coalesces in clumps to form planets, the gas and dust are naturally flung far away from the center, while the rockier bits of the initial soup of raw materials stay within the vicinity of the parent star. They coalesce to form rocky planets. This explains the occurrence of rocky planets to the interior and the presence of the gas giants farther out for our own Solar System.

Since the forces involved in this process are those of gravitation (due to the star) and the centripetal forces (due to the rotation of the disc of raw materials), scientists would have expected the same rule to work for any planetary system, as these forces are both ubiquitous and inescapable.

But that can’t be the whole story!

That however is not the case apparently. The atmospheres are also very fascinating. Kepler 36-c has an atmosphere which is 10 times as dense as Kepler 36-b, even though they are at almost the same distance from their parent star.

Scientists like puzzles, especially those which can rewrite books. Nothing is ever sacred, not even the physics of the heavenly bodies.

Don’t Believe The Rumors – The Higgs Boson Has NOT Been Discovered! Really!

In a few days, the floodgates will open and you’ll hear about the Higgs Boson being already found. The Holy Grail of particle physics will have been found and only CERN will need to confirm it in their press release. When CERN will deliver the promised press release, they will inevitably say that the Higgs is still far from being discovered and that they have only see a ‘statistically significant fluctuation’ about some energy range. The whole non-high energy physics world will breathe out a collective sigh and, defeated, ask ‘How much longer?’

Not quite yet! (A Higgs to four muon event)

 Higgs Not Discovered!

In order to spare at least our readers from being part of this international collective gasping team, I would like to mention this: The Higgs Boson’s status on its road to being discovered hasn’t changed since the December CERN update. It hasn’t been discovered as yet!

I predict that this is the line that CERN will adopt when it gives the Higgs Boson status update during the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) that will be held in Melbourne from the 4th of July to the 11th of July.

The Last Six Months at the LHC

But then what has changed in the last six months? Has the LHC been doing nothing?

The LHC is now operating at a new energy scale. The LHC had been colliding beams at 7 TeV energy last year, and, beginning this year, it has been colliding beams at 8 TeV energy. The good news is that they still see the 125 GeV bump in the 8 TeV data they saw in the 7 TeV data, which has been attributed to the Higgs Boson. This means that the 125 GeV bump is not some random fluctuation, but an actual particle – probably the Higgs.

Why Is It Still Not A Discovery?

However, the data collected is not enough to guarantee a discovery, not even when integrated with the 7 TeV data. The 7 TeV data had yielded a confidence level of 1.9 sigma from the CMS detector and a confidence level of 2.3 sigma from the ATLAS detector. Both numbers are far from the 5 sigma confidence level needed to guarantee a discovery. However, the coincidence of the mass range for the fluctuation in the two detectors is heartening.

As I have explained here, ‘confidence level’ is a quantitative measure which tells physicist how unlikely it is that a certain signal is a mere fluctuation. So 3 sigma means that the chances that a signal is a fluke are less than 0.13%. High Energy physics demands very high rigour at 5-sigma confidence level – that’s the doubts reducing from 0.13% to less than .00007%.

What To Expect From ICHEP

The ICHEP announcement will say that the Higgs has been seen in the same energy range – 125 to 126 GeV mass range – and that the amount of data is not enough to say that it is really there. The 8 TeV data is far too small – giving at most a 1.5 sigma confidence level and no more. Integrated with the 7 TeV data, the confidence levels for both detectors might swell up to 2.5 to 3-sigma (taking into account the look-elsewhere effect), which, though significant, is still not a discovery. Sorry for the disappointment!

The good news is that this is exactly what is to be expected. The Higgs search is expected to end by the end of this year. That is when you will REALLY get to know whether the Higgs actually exists or not.

As for ICHEP and Higgs announcements by CERN, you can rely on us for the information. We will post them as they are announced. Not before!