Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Global Warming Doomsday: Meat Rationing?

If you don't think global warming and climate change has political overtones, think again. Often people focus on those like Sarah Palin who don't "believe" in global warming, but attention also needs to be turned on scientists who are promoting doomsday views on global warming because they have an extreme leftist agenda. A recent example of this is a study by the "Food Climate Research Network which states that meat and milk will have to be rationed because of climate change. WOW. I'm sorry, but this is leftist nonsense. The study was led by left-leaning liberal wacko Tara Garnett, who says that since people won't voluntarily cut back on items like meat (and apparently alcohol and chocolate) the government should force them to do so. Sorry Tara, I think you're a lot more dangerous than global warming.

I'm not a right wing wacko at all. I accept that global warming is happening-I just don't think its the catastropic doomsday that some scientists are saying it is. In fact global warming might actually be a positive. First lets consider that in the past, many times in the earth's history, the planet has been warmer than it is now. Despite this life continued, even thrived during those times. Global warming will probably allow food production to increase and help reduce the need for things like home heating oil in northern lattitudes. It might actually make life a little easier. So what if sea levels rise? People can move inland if that happens. Ask yourself this. When has life on earth been hardest? One answer might be during ice ages. Global cooling is probably a much worse alternative to global warming. The little ice age that occurred circa 1400's or so in Europe was not good for agriculture.

With that in mind, I plan to eat a steak with 2 glasses of wine tonight, with cheers for Tara Garnett, left-leaning wacko that gives scientists a bad name.

Susskind lecture on Quantum Entanglements

Monday, September 29, 2008

First Order Differential Equations Math DVD/Video Tutor

Notice: This video is temporarily unavailable

Differential equations is the foundation of engineering, physics, and the other sciences. It allows us to solve problems involving rates of change, from population growth to radioactive decay to heat transfer. Despite its fundamental importance, differential equations can be intimidating when encountering it the first time (scroll down for sample video).

The Differential Equations Video Series
Solving Differential Equations on Video aims to change that. Available now on DVD, the first set is comprised of four one hour lectures that will increase your understanding of differential equations and show you how to solve problems. Each DVD is packed with multiple solved examples that will help you do your homework and take the fear out of differential equations.

Now Available DVD Set 1: First Order Differential Equations
This four hour video series includes:

Section 1: Introduction to linear differential equations
Section 2: Inhomogenous differential equations
Section 3: The integrating factor method
Section 4: The method of undetermined coefficients
Section 5: Solving separable ordinary differential equations
Section 6: Implicit solutions of differential equations
Section 7: Elementary Numerical Techniques
Section 8: Applications: Population growth, electrical circuits, and radioactive decay

All topics on these DVD's are approached using a teach by example method, developed for the Demystified series of books published by McGraw Hill. Homework and exam style problems are solved for the viewer in explicit detail, making the videos perfect for self-study, for exam preparation, as a tutorial aid, or to prepare for math qualifying exams.

The four hour DVD program on First Order Differential Equations is now available for just $34.95 plus $5 for shipping and handling (please allow 7-10 days for delivery). You can order now using Pay Pal, all major credit cards or eCheck accepted (international orders outside the U.S., please add $10).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Large Hadron Collider on 60 Minutes

I'm always afraid I'll miss something interesting on 60 minutes and this week I was right. They talked about the Large Hardon Collider. In case you missed it too, I've posted it right here.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Chinese Astronauts Space Walk

The New York Times reports that Chinese astronauts space walked for 18 minutes on Saturday afternoon. This bold step, somewhat reminiscent of NASA's early days with the Gemini program, carried China closer to their ambitions to build a space station and visit the moon.

I've been impressed with China's rapid progress. According to the article, they're first long-term goal is to build a space station by 2020 and then land on the moon, although no specific date has been given for that apparently. With the missions they've done so far, they've shown rapid progress and some boldness that seems to be lacking in America's space program. Who knows, maybe they'll beat us back to the moon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chinese Fake Space Mission

OK that's just a joke-a play on the people who think the moon landings were faked. Today China launched three former fighter pilots on a first ever space mission for the country that will involve a space walk. The Chinese space program seems to be retracing the steps of NASA during the 1960's. I wonder if they will beat us back to the moon.

Read the story here

Oldest Rocks Known Discovered

In a bit of news sure to leave creationists scratching their heads scientists have discovered what may be the oldest rocks on earth. As reported in Science and distilled into laymens terms in the NY Times, Richard W. Carlson and his colleagues have found bedrock which dates to 4.28 billion years old. If the discovery holds up, these rocks would be about 250 million years older than the previous find, in northwestern Canada. What is really significant about these rocks is not necessarily their age, but the fact that they indicate the earth had pretty much taken its present day form even way back then. The commonly held view is that at that time, the earth was a mess of molten lava. But this discovery puts that view in doubt, the form of the rocks indicates that the earth was pretty much like it is today, even 4.28 billion years ago. Regardless of whether that holds up, I find it amazing some idiots hold to the view the earth is just 6,000 years old.

Large Hadron Collider Operation Delayed Until Next Year

This morning the NY Times reported that the Large Hadron Collider will remain shut down until next year. In fact scientists say the collider won't begin operation until April, because of the need to repair electrical and other problems. One reason this takes so long is that the huge magnets, which are kept at near absolute zero temperatures, have to be slowly warmed up to make the repairs, and then cooled back down again. So I guess we'll have to wait to find out if there is a Higgs particle.

Read the details here

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Leonard Susskinds Modern (Quantum) Physics Lectures

Leonard Susskind (famous string theory advocate at Stanford) teaches an interesting set of courses in physics in continuing education. I will be posting some of his lectures here. I will be posting his quantum mechanics lectures. The first lecture posted here is about 2 hours long. Susskind is a great communicator, so well worth watching-especially for those interested in self-study of quantum mechanics, relativity and string theory.

New Extra-Solar Planets Discovered?

In a publication put up as a pre-print today, astronomers announced they had discovered two Jupiter like planets around an F-type star which as at least two planets in its solar system, one at 1 Jupiter mass and one at 2.5 Jupiter masses. An F-type star is a bit larger and more energetic than our sun (a "G" type star) that is yellow-white in color and less energetic than the bigger "A" type stars. Astronomers remember the rather arbitrary star classification according to the moniker "Oh Be a Fine Girl and Kiss Me", or OBAFGAKM. So O stars are the biggest (blue) hottest stars, G stars like the sun are in the middle and yellow, and M stars are the smallest and least energetic (and hence red). So an F-type star is slightly larger, more energetic, and whiter than our own sun.

The abstract of this paper reads thus:

Extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs around A-F type stars V. A planetary system found with HARPS around the F6IV-V star HD 60532

Aims: In the frame of the search for extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs around early-type stars, we present the results obtained for the F-type main-sequence star HD 60532 (F6V) with HARPS.
Methods: Using 147 spectra obtained with HARPS at La Silla on a time baseline of two years, we study the radial velocities of this star.
Results: HD 60532 radial velocities are periodically variable, and the variations have a Keplerian origin. This star is surrounded by a planetary system of two planets with minimum masses of 1 and 2.5 Mjup and orbital separations of 0.76 and 1.58 AU respectively. We also detect high-frequency, low-amplitude (10 m/s peak-to-peak) pulsations. Dynamical studies of the system point toward a possible 3:1 mean-motion resonance which should be confirmed within the next decade.

You can download the original paper here:

Extra-Solar Planets

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Neandertal Extinction

One of the most fascinating topics in science is the extinction of the neandertals. After a pretty successful run in Europe during the ice age, they disappeared soon after modern humans arrived on the scene. In the greatest who done it in history, scientists have been trying to figure out for more than a hundred years what happened. Did neandertals get bred into humans? Did humans kill off neandertals? Or did they simply out-compete them gradually?

The interbreeding idea is currently in vogue among lots of anthropologists. But I think they're naive. Looking at some facial reconstructions of neandertals, I'm thinking you'd need some serious beer goggles to go down that road. Personally, I'm not seeing the mating argument as very persuasive.

The outright kill hypothesis doesn't seem that persuasive either, but my feeling is a combination of hostility and simple out-competition is probably what happened. In any case, some exciting DNA research is underway which might reveal whether or not we carry any neandertal genetics in our blood.

Molecule Important for Life found in Interstellar Space

Something that blows me away is scientists have found several complicated molecules necessary for life in interstellar space. The most recent of these is napthalene, a chemical composed of two benzene rings. Isn't that amazing that something that complicated would be formed in interstellar gas clouds? It was found by Susana Iglesias Groth and others in a region of star formation in the constellation Persius. Finding chemicals like this in interstellar space is good circumstantial evidence that life can probably be found in other solar systems.

Read the details here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Collider down for Two Months

CNN is reporting this morning that the Large Hadron Collider will be out of commission for at least two months. Engineers at CERN say that the damage from the two incidents described in the previous post is worse than they thought, and the device will have to be warmed up from its cold operating temperatures to repair it.

Hopefully they will wait until after Christmas to operate the machine again. It would be sad if an earth destroying black hole were to eat the earth on December 23d as we did our last minute shopping.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sarah Palin says Teach Creationism

If there is one idea among all the pseudo-scientific and silly beliefs that permeate American Society that I hate the most-its creationism and in particular the notion that the earth is only 6,000 years old or 10,000 years old or whatever it is. People want to say that God directed evolution-fine. People want to say there is no God and evolution just happens-fine. But people who want to say evolution didn't happen, the fossil record is a trick of satan or that the earth is only a few thousand years old-well quite frankly you've got your head right up your ass.

Well one of those people with their head right up their ass is possibly our future Vice President-Governor Sarah Palin. Palin says he wants creationism taught in science class. That my friends, is reason enough for me to vote for Obama. All other issues aside, having a scientific education I can't put the nation and the world in a position where our President might be some young earth wacko who completely dismisses the past 500 years of scientific progress. Well, wait, we've already done that with George W. Bush. Funny how W is making his dad look like a great President the way the past 8 years has gone.

Apparently the Alaskan Repulican Platform goes so far as to explicitly support creationism and intelligent design. Are you kidding me? What would people say if the Democratic platform supported witchcraft? Is there a difference? I'm not seeing it.

Intelligent design, as a general idea, isn't really one I can argue with. Sure lets say a creator being ("God") directed the show and for some reason took 4. 5 billion years to grace the earth with its true purpose-mankind. But you have to wonder why there are so many fits and starts in the fossil record-a pattern that's really more of the rule than the exception. Honestly I don't think the fossil record supports intelligent design all that much. You could say that a God fired up the universe without any specific goal in mind other than intelligent life developing-that I can agree with. But postulating that God created the universe for the creation of us but took 5 billion years of earth history with myriads of now extinct life forms to do it, and calling this intelligent design, well that only rings true among the mentally ill if you ask me. That sounds like the creation of someone with manic-depressive disorder and OCD, than it does intelligent.

Palin, along with others of her ilk, say "don't be afraid of information". But Sarah, its you creationist wackos that are afraid of information. Something people don't understand about science is that scientists really don't care so much about a theory in particular so much as the evidence in support of it. In other words if some persuasive evidence that evolution was completely bull shit came out tomorrow morning, biologists would for the most part accept it and build a new theoretical framework that better explained the data. Adherence to evolution, relativity, or the big bang is not a religious adherence for most scientists (though there are some that do hold quasi-religious views about this stuff). No Sarah, its the creationists and religious wackos that are afraid of information.

Evolution in no way precludes the idea of God or a spiritual existence. What it does is put some constraints on the matter. The earth is not a few thousand years old, and species to change and develop with time. This is more characteristic of a God with an indirect temperament, one that set the universe off and running and is letting it run its course.

Is that such a bad idea? I tend to think of it like raising a child. You tend very closely to a child while the kid is young, but as they get older you let them go and find their own way in the world (in a healthy relationship that is). What if God created the universe this way? God gave the universe everything it needed for intelligent life to develop, but now its up to us to make something of it, and our ultimate fate isn't up to our parent, but up to ourselves. I think that is a more satisfying outlook than the neat and tidy and controlled fake 6,000 year old universe of Sarah Palin.

Quantum Doomsday Delayed

Problems at the Large Hadron Collider have delayed the first test actually involving the collision of particles until mid-October. It seems that a little transformer (30 ton) failed and in an unrelated incident, a bit of helium was spilled. Actual experiments are even further off, these initial tests will be low energy compared to what the collider will use when actually doing experiments. So please ignore any doomsday predictions for the month of October.

Scientific Illiteracy

The level of scientific illiteracy in this country is holding steady at stupendous levels. From the Republican Vice Presidential candidate all the way down to the man on the street, we've got people worrying that the world is going to end in 2012, whether we landed on the moon, or thinking that the earth is 5,000 years old. What kind of ass hat would think the earth is 5,000 years old? Sarah Palin?

A recent sampling of postings on Yahoo Answers brings to light the level of ignorance in our society. This dumb ass is one among millions who thinks the world is going to end in 2012. According to him, its a prediction of "Nostradamus":

Scientist say the earths magnetic field is starting to switch Could this be the 2012 doomsday fortold many years ago by Nostradamus Merlin, and many others. The earth is going to reverse it's polarity supposedly it has happened 1000s of times before it's an event that happens every 750000 years.

Of course most people get the 2012 date from the vaunted Mayan calendar:

The mayan calender ends on the winter soltice on dec 2012.There is evidence to support a grand alighnment of the sun,earth,and the center of the galaxy.Has this happened before?If so what were the effects?What are the predictions for this event?

And of course there is endless speculation we really didn't land on the moon. Some of the best evidence is that the flag on the moon was blowing in the wind.

It goes without saying that millions of people were afraid of death by the Large Hadron Collider. So where do all these ignorant, moronic views come from? I see two causes:

  • The Media/entertainment culture
  • Bad science education
OK I'm not a genius, but the media fills peoples heads full of crap day in and day out. There are a few bright spots, PBS, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel. But they're lost in a haze surrounded by Brittney Spears, Tom Cruise, and endless entertainment drivel. And even the good cable channels promote pure bullshit all the time, presenting UFO shows and Ghost shows on the History Channel as if they had a basis in fact. Ratings rule because money rules.

Even good scientific programs suffer from some major problems. NOVA aired a good three part series on string theory. But the problem is, you have this magical thinking populace watching a show about extra dimensions when they don't even know basic astronomy and physics. So in a way a show featuring Brian Greene on string theory plays into their magical outlook.

When it comes to education, we've got some serious problems. Frankly I don't think some physics professors even give a shit. Many of them are so wrapped up in themselves and their imagined special, elite status as great thinkers they would rather get on with their research and don't care what the general public thinks. Others can't teach worth a damn. How often have you heard about boring, boring, boring, introductory physics classes? If you can't get the freshmen or high school students excited about physics, how are you going to create a scientifically literate population?

In any case, we've got a serious problem. We've got a major energy crisis on our hands thats only going to get worse. We live in a world with nuclear weapons and religious fanaticism. We have to make choices about space exploration and tools like the Large Hadron Collider. How can the population and their elected representatives make informed choices when they are completely scientifically illiterate? Most people are just along for the ride. They have a cell phone, a TV and a laser pointer and don't know or even care how they work or where they came from. And the scientists and engineers that made them don't care that the population doesn't know or care, they think non-scientific people are stupid and ignorant. This is a bad mix that's going to lead to trouble down the road.

String Theory Physics Lecture

This video is 20 minutes long, but is worth watching. Physicist Brian Greene talks about extra spatial dimensions, physics, and string theory.

Picture of Planet Orbiting Star

Astronomers at the University of Toronto believe they have the first ever picture of a planet in another solar system orbiting a star. The star, located about 500 light years away in the constellation Scorpius, goes by the obscure designation 1RXS J160929.1-210524. Some uncertainty still exists as to whether the object actually orbits the star in question and whether or not its really a planet and not a brown dwarf. More research will be needed to answer these questions in the coming months.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dr. Kaku on Big Thinkers Talks about String Theory

Michio Kaku is a rarity in physics, a man who not only mastered theoretical physics but who can communicate with the general public. This guy is not your typical physics professor, I mean he is like, normal?

A few years back Kaku appeared on a show on Tech TV called Big Thinkers. I'm not sure if it still airs, I got Tech TV several years back when I had Dish Network, but alas I switched to Comcast and don't get it anymore. Kaku talks about string theory in this 20 minute presentation broken up into four parts. Great viewing for those interested in physics!

Part 1: Michio Kaku lives for one goal: to find a single equation maybe one inch long which will summarize everything in the physical universe. This is the goal of a unified theory of physics: to "Read the Mind of God" as Kaku puts it. Kaku says physicists are the only scientists who can say the word "God" without blushing.

Part 2: Kaku describes how he feels the power of Newton's laws of motion while ice skating, and its relation to symmetry-a key idea in modern physics. Then he describes the problem in modern physics in that relativity and quantum theory are so different. The beauty of string theory is that unifies them into a single theoretical framework.

Part 3: Kaku describes the harmony of strings.

Part 4: Kaku says to test string theory rigorously, we have to recreate the big-bang, which is not possible. He also says nobody on earth is smart enough to solve the equations of string theory. But when someone finally comes along smart enough to solve the equations, our universe would appear as one of the solutions if string theory is correct.

Kaku artile on Large Hadron Collider on Forbes

Michio Kaku has also posted an article about the large hadron collider on Forbes.com. Amazing that the hype about the large hadron collider reached a level where Forbes would include commentary on it.

Survived Large Hadron Collider T-Shirts

A reader sent me a link to these LHC themed t-shirts:


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brian Greene and Michio Kaku on the Large Hadron Collider

In Yesterdays New York Times Brian Greene wrote a nice editorial outlining some of the more exciting things the Large Hadron Collider might discover. The list includes:

  • The Higgs Boson
  • Supersymmetry
  • Transdimensional particles-that is particles that carry energy away into "extra" spatial dimensions
  • and last but not least-Micro-Black holes
Read the details here.

My favorite physics writer, Michio Kaku has also chimed in, with a short post about the Large Hadron Collider on the Wall Street Journal.

Physics Lecture for poets (or future Presidents) on Relativity

The following video is of a lecture by Richard Muller from UC Berkeley on relativity I found on You Tube. It lasts about an hour and is focused on basic concepts.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quantum Entanglement for Detection

Science Daily reports that engineer Seth Lloyd has proposed using quantum mechanically entangled photons to develop detection systems that would be a million times more efficient than anything currently in existence. The quantum based photodection system would have widespread applications, from more efficient night-vision equipment to CT scanners that used lower levels of radiation.

For the more technically inclined, here is a paper by Lloyd and his colleagues on enhanced imaging utilizing quantum theory:


Just to note, this area of research was pioneered by Jonathan K. Dowling and others, who are not mentioned in the Science Daily article:


As an aside, here is a video of Seth Lloyd, talking about quantum computers, and interestingly their capacity (if one could be built) to surpass the capacity of a human brain. I am really interested in this point because I don't believe classical computers or current artificial intelligence (AI) can do this, no matter how advanced they become.

Something Lloyd says is "You don't have to understand the nature of things to build cool devices". OK, spoken like a true Geek. "Cool" devices are one thing, but personally, I am more interested in how the universe works and why it works the way it does rather than some engineering marvel. I want to understand the nature of reality like David Deutsch does.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How Do Black Holes Form?

The universe is full of mysterious objects called black holes-objects that distort spacetime so much that not even light can escape from their gravitational grip. Many people want to know:where do these mysterious objects come from? Can the sun become a black hole?

There are basically two known types of black holes. The essential difference between them is their size. At the centers of most if not all galaxies we find the supermassive black holes, black holes so big that they contain the mass of literally millions of suns. These black holes play a significant role in the evolution and behavior of galaxies, but we aren't going to talk about them in this post. We're going to talk about how most black holes form. These are smaller mass black holes, on the order of a few solar masses (8-10 solar masses). These small mass black holes are the remnants of stars, formed by complete gravitational collapse at the end of a supernova.

To understand how this happens we need to take a step back and learn a little about what a star is and how it operates. A star is basically just a big ball of gas. The center of the star is so hot and the pressures are so high that nuclear fusion, a reaction that combines two light atoms into a single heavier atom-takes place at the center of the star. Nuclear fusion has a couple of byproducts that are beneficial for things like life on earth: it gives off heat and light. Nuclear fusion is the power source of the star and is what makes stars shine.

Nuclear fusion is also the support structure of the star. Gravity wants to pull those outer layers of gas down towards the center of the star, and would do so if it were not for nuclear fusion. The heat and pressure produced by fusion basically prop up the outer layers of the star. A star lives its life in a delicate balancing act: gravity pulling inward and nuclear fusion pushing outward. When nuclear fusion stops, there is nothing to prevent gravity from taking over.

Just like your car runs out of gas, a star runs out of fuel. Its got a finite amount of hydrogen in its core. The first fusion reaction that takes place, which is the one happening in our sun, is hydrogen atoms are fused together to make helium nuclei. Eventually, there will be no more hydrogen to fuse. When this happens, fusion stops and there is no more heat and pressure propping up the star. The outer layers begin to collapse inward. Basic thermodynamics takes over, and the heat and pressure in the center of the star increases. This is good because to fuse heavier atoms, you need more heat and pressure. The star will collapse and gravity will squeeze the atoms of the core together until it becomes hot enough for a new round of fusion to begin: helium begins to fuse together to make carbon and oxygen.

Large stars run through their fuel much faster than smaller stars. Its kind of like the guy in the red sports car driving fast, he runs out of gas first. Hugely massive stars live fast and die young. This is because the higher mass makes conditions in the core hotter and generates higher pressure, so fusion reactions take place more rapidly and they run out of fuel faster. They are also able to fuse heavier elements because higher temperatures and pressures will be reached. The sun will only be able to make carbon and some oxygen, heavier stars will continue the fusion process toward heavier elements.

The sun is a mid-sized star, with an expected lifetime of around 10 billion years. There are smaller stars, so small and dim the sun makes them seem downright puny. They may be small, but they will be long-lived, they can have lifespans of a trillion years or more. In contrast, a large star destined to end its life as a neutron star will probably live a hundred million years. And a super-massive star destined to become a black hole will burn through its fuel in a mere million years.

At each point in the nuclear fusion cycle, a star burns up its fuel until fusion can no longer proceed. So a hydrogen core is fused until its entirely helium, then fusion stops. Gravity takes over and pushes the core closer together raising the temperature and pressure enough so that helium can fuse into carbon and oxygen. This continues until the core is entirely made of carbon and oxygen, then fusion stops again. Gravity takes over, crushing the core even more, raising the temperature enough so that a new round of fusion can begin. Now carbon atoms are fused together to make magnesium. The process keeps repeating itself. Heavier elements continue to be made: sulfur, silicon, and nickel. At each step, the temperature of the core soars to higher values, reachign 3 billion degrees. And the lifetime of the star shortens. When the core is made of magnesium and neon, there may only be a thousand years until the star dies. Eventually fusion proceeds until the core is a ball of iron, and fusion stops once again. But this is the end of the line. A reaction will proceed spontaneously if it liberates energy. Up to the fusion of iron, nuclear fusion liberates energy. But you would need to add energy to fuse two iron atoms together. In fact its something that just doesn't happen. So when the core of the star is iron, the days of nuclear fusion for the star have ended.

Now fusion stops and there is no more heat and pressure available to prop up the outer layers of the star. When the center of the star is a ball of iron, it may last another few days. Then gravity takes over and the outer layers of the star begin to collapse inward. There is one force left that can impact the outer layers of the star: the nuclear force. When the outer layers of gas strike the core the nuclear force leads to a rebound effect and creates a massive shock wave. This is a supernova: a cosmic explosion with so much energy that the neutrons and protons in the star are forged into the heavy elements so familiar on earth: copper, gold, and uranium are among them. The shockwave carries these elements out into the interstellar gases of the galaxy, where they are incorporated into later generations of stars and planets. Every element you're familiar with on earth was made this way, cooked in a supermassive star that lived long ago before our sun.

The fate of the iron core depends on how massive it is, and hence on how massive the original star was. If it wasn't that massive, it will collapse down until nuclear repulsion prevents the protons and neutrons from squeezing together any further, and nuclear reactions will convert the whole mess into a neutron star. But if the star was big enough, the force of gravity will be so strong that not even the nuclear force can stop it. The core will collapse down to a single point in space-time, producing a dimple from which not even light can escape. This is how small black holes are made: from the ashes of giant stars that once lived in the galaxy.

In future posts we'll talk about related topics from this article in more detail: neutron stars, supermassive black holes, and nuclear fusion.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Universe Slide Show

Some of NASA's best photos of bodies in the solar system and universe.

Moon Landing Hoax

I'm sorry, but if you believe the moon landings were a hoax your head has to be as far up your ass as it can go. I'm not sure if believing something that stupid is worse than worrying about the world ending in 2012 or not, or that black holes produced in the Large Hadron Collider will swallow the earth, but I imagine there is a lot of cross over among the various groups of wackos.

Here is a video I found on You Tube. Supposedly, someones granddaddy worked at NASA and they found this TOP SECRET video among his things after he passed on. The wackos elegantly point out that the official NASA clip has no static and better video quality. WOW what an observation. Now, supposedly there is a mysterious figure in black intruding onto the scene (a stagehand????). NASA apparently tried to crop this guy out but didn't entirely succeed.

Its amazing that NASA would declare a video TOP SECRET and let granddaddy take it home. Oh, I guess he snuck it out at great risk to his own life. Now tell me something, why should anyone believe some wacko who posts a video on You Tube? Wake up people. Only a moron would doubt the moon landings were real.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Space Travel to the Moon Slide Show

Notice: The World Isn't Going to End

I hate to say it, but all of this end of the world talk that sprung up around the collider is really starting to get on my nerves. The plain fact is people have been watching too much television without taking the time to learn science and get some idea about how the world really works. Aliens aren't going to come down and enslave us, the sun isn't going to explode, and the collider is not going to produce a super black hole that eats the earth or a goo of strangelets that turns the earth into green mush.

Things got worse this morning when I came across a post by a girl asking if the world was going to end in 2012. The reason? Because some old calendars ended before 2012. HELLO? Are you kidding me??? This has to be the worst example of magical thinking I've ever heard of. Because some old fart that lived in 1300 made a calendar that doesn't extend past 2012, the world is going to end? Are calendar makers that powerful? Maybe I should make a calendar with $ signs on it so I can get rich.

The origin of the 2012 myth comes from the Mayans. Their calendar had these cycles and the latest cycle happens to end in 2012. NEWSFLASH: The stuff the Mayans believed in is nothing more than a load of crap. The world isn't going to end in 2012 because the MAYANS SAID SO. Yes, the Mayans were great at making pyramids, but that doesn't mean they had some private line to the supernatural world the rest of us can't access. And where are the Mayans anyway? They abandoned their cities a long time ago because of drought the last I heard. Doesn't sound like they had everything figured out, does it.

The fact is the world IS going to end someday, but its going to do so way in the future. The end of the world isn't going to affect your life at all. Not one bit. Global warming isn't going to kill us all, the Large Hadron Collider isn't going to swallow the earth, and Mayans aren't going to reappear in 2012 to destroy civilization.

Life on earth will end. It will certainly end when the sun runs out of fuel and the solar system becomes a planetary nebula. That won't happen for another 5-7 billion years, but life on earth might end a lot sooner for other reasons. In a few hundred million years old, the sun might be pumping out more energy making earth really fricking hot. So hot that life won't be sustainable anymore, at least not complicated, multicellular life.

If technology allows advanced life to survive on earth, something that I find doubtful for a lot of reasons, maybe our descendants will pack up and move to another planet or solar system, avoiding death by a sunbake.

Just for good measure, I posted a picture of supernova 1987A with this article. Sure sometimes things do go wrong! But if you know science you know when they're coming. If there were any inhabitants of planets surrounding that star, I hope they studied astrophysics so they had some idea their star was going to explode.

The Death of Stars: Planetary Nebulae

The death of a star is one of the most fascinating topics in astronomy and astrophysics. Throughout its life, a star fights a battle against the force of gravity, which wants to pull in the outer layers of the star and cause it to collapse. This is prevented by nuclear fusion taking place in the core of the star. That provides an outward force against gravity with pressure produced by light and heat. This works as long as nuclear fusion continues.

In a massive star, there is more pressure in the core and so fusion proceeds rapidly and the star can fuse heavier and heavier elements. But this is the cause of the stars death. Nuclear fusion can only proceed up to Iron-56. When the core of a large star becomes composed of Iron, fusion can no longer continue and the pressure that used to keep the star upright is no longer there. The outerlayers collapse against the iron core and rebound-and the result is a supernova, one of the most violent events in the galaxy. Massive stars go through their fuel rapidly, they live fast and die young.

A star like the sun won't have a violent death, but its dramatic nonetheless. The sun is a smaller star, and paradoxically even though it starts out with less fuel it burns it more slowly so lives alot longer. Nuclear fusion of hydrogen in a star like the sun can go on for about 10 billion years, turning the hydrogen in the core into helium. As the helium builds up in the core, the energy output of the sun will decrease causing the outer layers to collapse in a bit causing a rise in pressure. The increased pressure saves the sun for awhile as fusion of helium begins. During this period, the sun will fuse helium into carbon atoms releasing as much as a thousand times more energy than it did when it was fusing hydrogen. This will cause the outer layers of the star to puff out or swell, and the sun will become a red giant perhaps swallowing the earth into its outer layers.

When the sun runs out of helium and fusion stops again, the outer layers will collapse down just like in a big star. But, there is a lot less material so the collapse isn't all that dramatic. The sun will collapse into a "white dwarf" which maintains its shape due to the laws of quantum mechanics, which basically say you can't force two electrons together into the same point of space (the "Pauli exclusion principle"). Since the sun is a lot smaller than a huge star that supernovas, there is not enough force in the collapsing gas layers to overcome the repulsion of the electrons. So the left over matter in the core forms a dense ball and the outer layers of gas kind of puff out into space. The planetary nebula may not be violent and exciting, but the images are quite dramatic. They are the ghosts of the universe, remnants of once vibrant powerful forces of life, stars like the sun.

This has already happened in dramatic fashion throughout the universe. Here are some pictures. The first one is the "cats eye nebula" pictured at the beginning of this article. The outward traveling gases produce an amazing picture, with the dying star at the center. There is some belief that this is actually a binary system. As a star dies, it blows off gas at different times and at different speeds, giving the amazing and unique patterns that make up these beautiful images. The variation in color is due to the differing elemental composition of the gas, for example Oxygen can lead to green colors.

This amazing picture is the Eskimo nebula, taken by the Hubble space Telescope.

Here is another one called IC418.

There is no doubt about it, someday in the distant future our sun will follow the same fate as the stars in these images. Makes you wonder if there was once life on planets that orbited these now dead stars. I wonder what they were like, if they had advanced civilizations, and what became of them. If life on earth gets very advanced maybe they will move to another younger star system or engineer the sun so this won't happen. But that is such a daunting prospect, and there is no evidence any stars have been "engineered", I doubt that will happen.

Creatures Survive Outerspace

For those wondering if life can exist in the vacuum of space, the New York Times reports that at least one form of life from earth can. Tardigrades are little segmented animals that live in water. Very small, adults only reach a size of about 1.5 mm in length. They're small but successful, they can be found virtually anywhere on earth-from the ocean to the polar regions. According to the article they are commonly called "water bears" but I've never heard of them until now. The European Space Agency sent some of these things up in a spacecraft. Going into low earth orbit (160 miles up) the creatures were divided into two groups. One group was exposed to the vacuum of space but protected from UV rays, while the other was exposed to the vacuum and the UV rays.

The group that was exposed to the vacuum survived, and even some members of the other group survived as well. This makes me think of panspermia, the idea that bacteria could be transported from one planet to another by natural processes spreading life. This research brings to life the possibility that multicellular organisms could be transported as well. Granted only a few survived the harsh radiation environment, but evolution would take care of that and produce some hardy souls that would survive just fine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Large Hadron Collider 101: Black Hole Production

Over the past few days there has been a lot of buzz about black hole production at the Large Hadron Collider. Its been largely debunked. But is it scientifically possible to produce black holes at the Large Hadron Collider? The answer is YES.

A black hole will be formed when enough mass or energy is concentrated into a small enough volume of space. The Large Hadron Collider will be concentrating large amounts of energy into small volumes of space, so in principle it is possible to create a black hole. Any black hole that would be created would be tiny, microscopic-so for a lot of reasons its nothing to worry about. The actual probability of creating a black hole is uncertain at this point. One reason is that to know how likely it is to form a black hole under those conditions, you have to know something about physics beyond the standard model. Right now people aren't all that sure about those sorts of things. In particular, the uncertainty comes about because we don't understand gravity at TeV energy scales, and there is a lot of uncertainty about quantum gravity. To really predict what will happen you have to know a lot about quantum gravity.

One possibility is in the realm of string theory. It may be that if string theory is true, or on another related front large extra dimensions exist, it might be easier to generate black holes. Here are some posted papers that explore this possibility.

Calculations for Black Hole Production at the Large Hadron Collider

Microcanonical Treatment of Black Hole Decay at the Large Hadron Collider

Black hole production at Large Hadron Collider

One thing we do know is that black holes radiate or decay (evaporate). The smaller the black hole, the faster it decays. The microscopic black holes produced at the LHC, if there are any, will decay almost instantly. This is one reason they are not a threat. But make no mistake: It is possible to produce black holes at the LHC.

Large Hadron Collider 101: The Higgs Boson

The Large Hadron Collider has been in the news a lot lately-mainly because some people are worried its going to destroy us by creating an earth swallowing black hole. Now that the collider has started operating-although it hasn't yet actually collided any particles together-the doomsday scenarios ought to be losing some credibility. In any case, all this publicity has lots of people wondering what the Large Hadron Collider is about. So, without getting bogged down by technical details, lets answer that question. In this post we're going to discuss the first item on the agenda at the LHC: the Higgs boson.

All objects you are familiar with have weight. Including yourself. You might get on the scale and find you weigh 140 pounds. But what does that mean? Your weight is determined by two things: the mass of your body and the force of gravity pulling on that mass.

Weight is not a fundamental quantity, because it depends on the force of gravity you are experiencing. Go to the moon, and your weight will be different. This is because the gravitational field of the moon is not the same as the gravitational field of the earth. But there is one thing that hasn't changed: the mass of your body. In a sense the mass of your body is the amount of "stuff" that makes it up. So while your weight might change, your mass does not, unless you go on a vigorous exercise program.

While the mass of your body might change, for fundamental particles mass is an intrinsic, fixed property that never changes. The value of the mass depends on the type of particle we are talking about. Scientists usually measure mass using metric units called Kilograms (kg). The electron, which is a fundamental particle, has a mass of 9.31 * 10^-31 kg. On the other hand, the photon has zero rest mass. Every particle has a characteristic mass that doesn't change.

So what is mass? You can think of mass as a type of charge that determines how a given particle will respond to a gravitational field. We saw that earlier, in that a person with more mass is going to have more weight. In addition, mass determines how a particle behaves as a source of gravitational field. More mass means that the object in question produces a larger gravitational field.

So why is it that particles have the masses that they do? Why does an electron have a certain mass, and a photon no mass?

To find the answer to this question, we can turn to the notion of a field. Think of a magnet and how it has a magnetic field around it. That field interacts with other magnets and changes their behavior. Might there be some kind of field that interacts with particles and gives them mass? Is it gravity?

It turns out gravity does not give particles their mass. Even worse, when physicists figured out how particles interacted with each other, their theories acted as if fundamental particles had no mass. Not just photons, but all particles. This was very perplexing. The theory that describes the known fundamental particles and their interactions is called the standard model.

Then Peter Higgs came along and developed a solution. He proposed that a kind of field existed which filled all of space. Particles interact with the field and acquire mass as a result. As an analogy, think of a swimming pool and waving your arm up and down. When you're not in the pool, you can wave your arm up and down very easily. When you get in the pool and go under water, waving your arm up and down is not nearly as easy. Your arm will move more slowly because of the resistance of the water. Imagine being out of the pool as the universe with no Higgs field. In that case all particles would be massless and would move at the speed of light. Getting under water is like "turning on" the Higgs field. The resistance of the water is akin to a particle interacting with the Higgs field and acquiring some mass.

Different particles interact with the Higgs field in different ways. This is because each type of particle has its own unique characteristics, so they all respond to the Higgs field individually. That is why electrons have mass, but photons don't.

Now bring in the quantum theory. To each field, there is a quantum, or particle manifestation of that field. You already know about quanta. The photon is the quantum of the electromagnetic field. The Higgs field also has a quantum, its called the Higgs Boson.

Interestingly, the Higgs boson interacts with the Higgs field too-so it also has mass. It has a rather large mass so large energies are needed to see it. Think of Einstein's famous equation: E=mc^2. This tells us that with energy E we can create a particle of mass m. But, the speed of light, c is a large number, and since m is multiplied by c^2 we need a very large energy to create a particle of mass m. To create the particle you need to concentrate that energy in a small volume of space.

The Higgs Boson actually has a pretty large mass, so lots of energy will be needed to create one. In fact until now the technology has not existed that would be able to see a Higgs boson. The Large Hadron Collider will be able to do it.

Something to keep in mind: the Higgs Boson is nothing more than a hypothesis at this point, even if its a very good one. We will have to wait until the experimental tests are done over the next year to find out whether or not the Higgs really exists. It might not. In that case other ideas are going to have to be explored. This is actually an exciting possiblity! That is one of the things that makes science interesting. While most physicists do expect the Higgs to be found because there is a lot of good theoretical reasoning to believe it, they'll be holding their breaths when the experiments are actually done.

Next time we'll talk about some other things the Large Hadron Collider will be used to investigate in the next decade.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LA Times Report on Large Hadron Collider Startup

Here is a video on the startup of the Large Hadron Collider from the LA Times.

Large Hadron Collider Update: We are still here

Well the first big day has come and gone. The Large Hadron Collider went into operation, and alas, we are all still alive.
But lets not get too optimistic-remember this was just a test run. The proton beam just went around in circles and there were no collisions. Things haven't gotten hairy yet, but they will soon when the scientists actually start colliding protons together. But my prediction is that we don't disappear into a black hole sink then either.

The phenomenon-if you can call it that-of people thinking the end of the world is around the corner is an old one. It may be old but it has a lot of life, and in our modern world this idea, which had previously been tied up solely with religion, has taken on scientific tones. What I find interesting among some is the notion that we aren't "supposed" to be exploring nature and we are messing around with God's creation by doing so, and we're going to be punished. I've had several friends that held fast to that very belief. So somehow by investigating the nature of matter and physics God is going to get upset and punish us. Interestingly, he is going to punish the entire earth because of the activities of a few scientists, a tiny minority of the population.

These sorts of views are explored in this interesting NY Times article.

The Law of Attraction

How to... Manifest a Miracle

It seems to be evident that people often bring things on themselves-good or bad. If you worry about something too much, like expecting your girlfriend to cheat on you-voila! she does it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people expect good things to happen, and it seems like they always do. This is the so-called "Law of Attraction".

When I first heard about Manifest a Miracle, I thought to myself, 'oh great, another product rehashing "The Secret"'. It seems like there's way too much redundant information on the "Law of Attraction" out there, and nothing ever seems to work. But my friend urged me to grab a copy, citing his own success. So I bought it, just to humor him.

Man, was I ever wrong!

Manifest a Miracle is easily the best Law of Attraction book I've read to date, and I've read several.

First off, what all other manifestation products lack, this one embodies from beginning to end. Manifest a Miracle has been lovingly crafted and is meant to teach anyone how to immediately change their life for the better. Where other products offer a theoretical background but little helpful practical advice, Manifest a Miracle contains page after page of practical, useful exercises and processes that can actually get the Law of Attraction working!

Nothing dull or dry - it's all fun stuff!

The author's knowledge and warmth pervade this book. It's obvious that Gary is manifesting his desires, because his happiness and excitement radiate from each page. There is no better teacher than one who is a living example, and Gary is definitely living the life he desires!

Most importantly, the processes given within Manifest a Miracle are easy to practice and surprisingly fun! No more dry, repetitive visualizations - here are some exercises that are really easy to get into, and truly do what they are supposed to do. You'll be feeling great in no time!

And best of all, Gary describes how best to work these exercises into your daily routine in order to wake up feeling good, feel good all day, and go to bed feeling good. Within three days of starting my own schedule, I was feeling fantastic! Two days later and I found my first desire had manifested. Since then, there has been no turning back, and I have Manifest a Miracle to thank for this.

Just think. What would have happened if I hadn't grabbed this book? I'd still be creating a reality I wasn't happy with. I had no idea how easy it really is to attract everything I want!

If you're looking for the one Law of Attraction guide that will give you all of the tools you need to truly manifest your desires with ease, grab a copy of Manifest a Miracle today. It's truly the "feel good" book of the year!

Click here to learn the REAL secrets to attract your dream life!

Quantum Mechanics Demystified Follow-Up

For some time now I've been wanting to put together a follow up book to Quantum Mechanics Demystified which covers the second semester of a quantum mechanics course. The editors are finally interested. I was originally going to call it 'Advanced Quantum Mechanics Demystified' but they are against using the word 'Advanced'. I really don't know what else to call it, maybe 'Quantum Theory Demystified' or 'Quantum Physics Demystified'. However these titles might compete with the existing Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory books. Ideas? Any reader feeback would be helpful.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hurricanes From Space

Getting off the Large Hadron Collider for just a bit I wanted to pull your attention to these really cool hurricane photos that are posted on boston.com. Many of these were taken by the International Space Station. The first picture shown to the left is of Hurricane Felix, taken just last year on September 3, 2007. The intensity of the storm is totally evident with the solid white cloud cover, and the eye, which appears as a dimple in the center, makes the entire thing seem kind of surreal.

The next photo is an image of Hurricane Ivan. Taken on about September 15, 2004, Ivan had winds of 135 miles per hour in the eye wall. Talk about holding onto your hat.

Here is another picture of Hurricane Ivan, taken from the International Space Station. This is a great shot, capturing the blackness of space in the background plus giving you an idea of the scope of this huge storm. The picture was taken by astronaut Edward Finke. Great job.

Saving the best image for last, here we have Hurricane Emily with the moon posing for us in the background. Wow what a shot this is-it ought to be sold as a poster if it isn't already. The shot was taken on July 16, 2005 also from the International Space Station, although the photographer is not identified.

Death Threats at the Large Hadron Collider

I was able to track down the news report about scientists receiving death threats at the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN. Chances are these threats are nothing but hot air, but the report says many scientists have been getting emails and even phone calls threatening bodily harm over the startup of the collider.

As I understand it, fortunately for the earth the collider will only be operating in a short of test mode for awhile. Beams will be sent around the collider but there won't actually be any high energy collisions, at least for now. So although the collider is set to turn on tonight at 3:30 AM eastern time (U.S.) earth won't be swallowed up by a black hole or strangelets at least for a couple of months.

The head of public relations for the collider, James Gillies, reports that some of the communications from the public have made him "slightly angry". He and other scientists are dismayed at the lack of understanding of science evident among the general public. A professor Brian Cox, notes:

Prof Brian Cox of Manchester University, adding: "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t---."

Hmmm, what is a "t---"?

If the general public is incapable of understanding how the collider works and that the probability that its operation will destroy the earth is nil, whose fault is it? I would put the blame squarely on the physicists themselves. Brian Cox would resort to name calling, but maybe he sucks at teaching and devotes little time to educating the general public about science and that's why people don't understand what's going on here. OK, anyone that would resort to death threats is a little wacky. That being said, I would challenge people like Brian Cox to stop name calling and get out and explain to the public what the LHC/CERN is about, why anyone should care, and why they shouldn't be afraid of it.

Perhaps the final word on the matter should come from cosmic rays which bombard the upper atmosphere of the earth all the time. It has been pointed out that the energies accessed by the collider routinely occur in collisions up there, but the earth is still here. So the doomsday scenarios have already been ruled out by experiments being conducted by nature.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More On the Large Hadron Collider

The Telegraph has an interesting article or two about the Large Hadron Collider coming online soon. My favorite is the link that says scientists are receiving death threats over the upcoming "end of world" experiment. Unfortunately the link isn't working or I'd post it here.

Some interesting highlights. In regards to my previous post, physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed from the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton says he would be "a years salary" that the LHC will find the Higgs. He also thinks there is a good chance the collider will find particles of dark matter.

In contrast Nobel prize winning physicist Martin Veltman says he won't be surprised if they don't find the Higgs. Maybe Cahills alternative idea will gain some life after all. Being ever the pessimist, Veltman also says he doubts supersymmetry will be found.

Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith, Director-General of CERN 1994-1999 says that there is a 95% probability of finding the Higgs and a 60% probability of detecting supersymmetry.

Well no matter what the experts say, experiment will decide everything. You can read the detailed comments over here.

Collider Countown: Two More Days

September 10, 2008: the day when humanity will end when a black hole eats the earth, is soon approaching. According to the New York Times the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will fire up for operation at 3:30 AM Eastern Time. That's 1:30 AM where I live, so I will be fast asleep, unless the black holes that get produced cause some sort of disturbance before we get swallowed up.

Incidentally, at one time or another I mentioned that a physicist named Kevin Cahill proposed a particle theory which gave masses to particles without the Higgs. If the Higgs isn't found by the Large Hadron Collider Cahill's theory might come to the forefront. It had been looked at many years ago by Lee Smolin, but it never really caught on. Here is a sample paper of a toy model. Want to take up the mantle and apply the method to the standard model?

Read this document on Scribd: Soluble Gauge Theory

String Theory and the Size of Fundamental Particles

A reader of String Theory Demystified recently emailed me a question on the size of fundamental particles. I thought I would state the question here because it may be a point of confusion for other readers:

I'm in Chapter 2 of String Theory and enjoying it very much thus far. But I have a fundamental misunderstanding. Fundamental particles are supposed to be strings according to the text. But strings are of Planck scale length [10**(-35) m], which is twenty orders of magnitude smaller than fundamental particles. So how can strings & particles be one in the same? Does that mean it takes on the order of 10**(20) strings to make a particle?

The answer to this question is no. A fundamental particle, like an electron-is a string. Moreover its a single string. In the standard model, the fundamental particles which include electrons and quarks are point particles-they have zero extension in space. Think of a string as having a tiny bit of extension along one direction.

The scale he is referring to is a composite system. Let's take for example, the Bohr model of the atom. So, the size of an atom is often quoted as about 0.3 nm (nanometers). But what this value quotes is not the size of any fundamental particle, but is rather an average estimate for the radius of the electron orbit about the nucleus.

Now a proton or neutron is not a fundamental particle. Its a bound state of three quarks. The size of a proton or neutron is the boundary within which the quarks are trapped so to speak. It is this size which is compared to the Planck length to give the 20 orders of magnitude.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Woman in love with .... the Berlin wall

Well this is kind of off topic of science/physics, but is interesting from a mental health perspective, and why not include psychology in a discussion about science. Anyway a friend sent me a link about a woman in love with the Berlin wall. Since it was taken down some twenty years ago, she is in despair the way a normal person would be if their lover/spouse died. The woman claims to have married the Berlin wall on June 17, 1979.

As if that weren't strange enough, it appears that this woman is not alone. An entire community of people find themselves sexually attracted to inanimate objects. According to this website, they claim that this bizarre behavior is actually a sexual orientation. People with this condition are "attracted" to objects possessing a certain geometry or function, and they even "fall in love" with inanimate objects.

Wow. This is interesting on several levels. For one, it illustrates the complexity of the human brain and what can go wrong. Taking sexuality and love and directing it towards an inanimate object is obviously not going to help you from a Darwinian perspective. No passing on of the genes there. What is really interesting is that somehow an inability to form attachments with humans translates into forming attachments with inanimate objects. This is pretty dysfunctional. In a way its kind of harmless, if someone is in love with a brick wall I guess that's their problem, but it is pretty sad. Also what if its YOUR wall. I'm not sure I want someone sexually attracted to my wall around my house.

Click on the "Expressions" link and read about the woman who married the Eiffel tower.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Large Hadron Collider as a Time Machine?

Time travel is one of the most radical ideas of science. What's fascinating about it is that it may be allowed by relativity. Now then, as if worrrying about the Large Hadron Collider destroying the world with an earth-eating black hole or ball of strangelets were not enough. I. V. Volovich and I. Ya. Aref'eva are proposing the device can function as a time machine. In a paper posted last year, the pair proposed that the LHC would be capable of producing wormholes, which can function as time machines-at least in principle. The researchers state:

"Causality is one of fundamental physical principles. We suggest in this note that there is a
possibility to test causality in experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This
is related with a possibility of wormhole production in proton-proton collisions at the LHC.
The wormholes contain small spacetime regions with closed timelike curves (CTC) which
violate the standard causality condition."

Well this is unlikely, but certainly fascinating. This idea was also proposed in another very interesting paper which discusses how to detect the presence of such time machines here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Paparazzi Physicists?

As if the bubble fusion controversy was not enough, now there's the "Pamela" controversy. Two papers have been published on the "archives" which basically hijacked data from a presentation given by an Italian-led research team. The data in question involves the recent reported observation of "dark matter". Doing something I find absolutely incredible, Marco Cirelli and Alessandro Strumia published this paper on the archive and Lars Bergstrom, T. Bringmann, and J. Edsjo published this paper. Both papers used data obtained by taking photographs of slides shown at a presentation given by the scientists who compiled the PAMELA data. Un-f&*%king-believable.

These so-called paparazzi physicists took photographs of slides that researchers were displaying at a talk about the PAMELA project, then used the photographs to write the aforementioned papers! Naturally, the project lead for PAMELA, a P. Picozza was extremely upset by the use of their data in other people's papers in this manner.

To his credit, Marco Cirelli acknowledged the source of the data in his paper. But he said "we had our cameras ready". To me, this sounds completely cheesy. Photographing someones data and writing a paper based on it is incredibly self-serving and is nothing more than looking for a shortcut.

Honestly I don't care what justification Cirelli or the others make. This behavior can only be described as childish. When you think about it, the bubble fusion controversy and this one both come down to the same thing. Pressure on scientists to publish, publish, publish, and get grant money.

But that doesn't excuse the scientists. Honesty and ethics need to take priority. Since Cirelli did acknowledge the source of his data, on an unethical scale maybe this is a 3/10, but it still doesn't make Cirelli look all that great in my book. Taking a photograph of someone's data and then writing a paper about is just lame. The authors should demonstrate that they are adults and professionals by taking the papers down now.

These days waaaaaaaay too many papers are published. Probably 2/3 of the papers on the archive are a waste of space, people publishing for the sake of getting papers out. So stop publishing papers for the sake of getting yet another one out.

NASA to extend Space Shuttle life?

The space shuttle started out as a novel concept-a reusable spacecraft-but ended up being relatively unsafe and basically a waste of money in a dead end space program that lacks any vision.

In recent years, the Bush administration, in one of the few good things its done-put the brakes on the space shuttle with the announcement of the "constellation" program. In addition to setting a goal of returning humans to the moon, constellation aims to replace the space shuttle. I say great idea. The space shuttle is too complicated, its out of date, and its a huge waste of money. I used to hear stupid arguments from people I knew that worked at NASA that we MUST keep the space shuttle going to keep humans in space. I don't think that follows. Being against the shuttle doesn't mean you're against humans flying in space. It means your against wasting huge amounts of money to fly people around and around and around in orbit.

I once heard that each shuttle mission costs in the neighborhood of $600 million. Are you kidding me? What if we had taken all that money starting say 10 years ago and put it into a moon program. If we had, instead of insisting on continuing to develop the "international space station", a tin can in the sky, we would be well along the way to sending humans back to the moon.

Well one thing about government programs is they never go as planned, at least in the United States. It looks like NASA's planned retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 may be put on the shelf. One concern is deteriorating relations with Russia. There seems to be some concern that reliance on the Russians for space flights to the international space station could be risky business. A group of senators, including Presidential hopeful John McCain, urged NASA to hold off on a final decision about retiring the shuttle for at least another year. Further complicating matters, the Orion space ship, which looks quite a bit like Apollo in drawings I've seen, won't be ready until 2015. Well that is the projection. Since the US government is involved, I would say 2018 is a more realistic date. Or maybe they'll wait until say 2014, after billions have been spent on it, and cancel the program. Remember the superconducting super collider? Instead of letting the U.S. hold onto the lead in particle physics congress spent billions shutting down the program after billions had already been spent starting to construct it. Government has already set a precedence in willingness to do stupid stuff like that, so why not cancel Orion at the last minute?

I for one say good riddance to the space shuttle and the space station. I'm not against space exploration, in fact I'm all for it. But lets be real about it. Set real concrete goals that get people and missions out in space instead of doing endless studies on weightlessness in a tin can.

Regardless of your point of view, you can read the article on BBC news here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Quantum Computer Building Block Created

The holy grail of computing might be quantum computing. Exploiting the bizarre ability of microscopic systems to be in a superposition of two exclusive possible states at once, a quantum computer relies on a "quantum bit" to do computation. Unlike an ordinary bit, which can be in a state 0 or state 1, a quantum bit can be in a superposition of 0 and 1. Although when you measure it the result is either 0 or 1, the fact it exists in a superposition in between measurements allows you to do lots of things that are impossible using today's computer technology. In fact, a quantum computer, if it could be built, would be able to do things a computer based on today's design principles could never do, even in principle or how advanced technology became.

One of those things a quantum computer could do is create unbreakable codes. A regular computer could create a code that is very hard to break, and that is what banks, the FBI, and the Defense department do today. But while those codes are hard to break, they could be broken, meaning they aren't completely secure. And it turns out quantum computers would be very good at breaking codes too. The ability to put states in superpositions allows quantum computers to factor numbers quite easily-if only a quantum computer could be built. If you could factor numbers easily you could break anyone's secure code very quickly. So a quantum computer would make today's secure codes obsolete but at the same time give people the ability to achieve total data security.

With that in mind its no surprise that the quest for a quantum computer is on the minds of lots of people. Keeping a quantum bit in a superposition of 0 and 1 for any useful length of time has been a challenge, and researchers have also been concerned about scalability, that is the ability to build a useful computing system out of individual quantum building blocks. One hope for scalability is to build a quantum computer out of semiconductors. This would be done using quantum dots and maybe silicon. The good news is that we already know a lot about manufacturing silicon devices on a large scale.

Recently it was revealed that the news is even better, because researchers figured out a way to make a reasonably stable superposition state for a quantum bit in a semiconductor. They do this by putting a trapped electron in the desired superposition state using lasers. The electron is in a so-called "dark state", meaning it doesn't interact with light and hence the state is stable in regards to additional photon interactions. This would allow researchers to put a quantum bit into a superposition state and keep it there, making quantum computing, including "programming", possible.

It remains to be seen whether this development will really lead to stable, useful quantum computers. Also, what will those computers be able to do when actually built. There has been a lot of hype around this area of research, maybe this development will let us gain a glimpse into the reality of quantum computers.

To learn more about quantum computers, read George Johnson's A Shortcut Through Time.