The Center of the Universe
News broke earlier this week when it was discovered that physicists Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku (as well as actress Kate Mulgrew) were involved in a looney-tunes documentary called “The Principle,” which espouses, among other things, geocentrism and the strong anthropic principle. The film is the work of noted whackadoo Robert Sungenis, author of “Geocentrism 101: An Introduction into the Science of Geocentric Cosmology” and who, among other things, believes that “an anti-Christian, Jewish influence has infiltrated the Catholic Church at the very highest levels.” The story broke when Krauss took to Slate to deny in the strongest terms possible that he does not subscribe to Sungenis’s point of view: “I have no idea how I ended up in that stupid geocentrism documentary.” Kate Mulgrew, who provided the voiceovers for the not-technically-a-mockumentary further added “I do not subscribe to anything Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that.”
For more fun with geocentrism, you can always check out the designs by Jeremy over at controvery.wearscience.com. This one’s my favourite, but they have all sorts of fun “teach the controversy” shirts.
Security’s Bleeding Hearts
This week saw the revelation of the biggest security flaw on the internet in a decade with the announcement of the so-called heartbleed bug. What does it mean for you? By now almost all of the major sites have implemented the patch, so if you haven’t yet, now’s a great time to change all of your passwords. All of them. Do it. For more on the bug check out heartbleed.com or numerous other advice-givers, like the MIT technology review or The Atlantic.
In other news, Bloomberg is reporting that the NSA knew for two years about the bug but instead of telling anyone about it decided to use it for their own purposes. This has predictably been met with strong denials, but the NSA isn’t known for the honesty of their denials, so nobody really believes them.
The LHCb collaboration has announced this week that, after crunching a lot of data, they have very good evidence of a new kind of matter: tetraquarks. Let’s back up for a second and explain a teensy bit of particle physics.
One major classification of matter is called hadrons (the H in LHC) and includes things like protons and neutrons. Hadrons are made up of even smaller things called quarks. Hadrons can be further subdivided into two types, baryons and mesons: baryons are made up of three quarks, and mesons are made up of two. Scientists have now discovered a kind of baryon that’s made up of four.
Imagine you’ve got a magnet. It’s got two charges, positive and negative. Quarks, which operate under the strong nuclear force instead of electromagnetism, have three “charges” — we call them colours: Red, Green, and Blue. Red plus Green plus Blue equals neutral, and stable hadrons have to be colour-neutral. Mesons have only two quarks, and so they do it by using anti-quarks — one Red plus one anti-Red equals neutral.
What the scientists have discovered is essentially a particle made up of two pairs of quarks and anti-quarks, stuck together — two Red and two anti-Red, or a four-quark particle: a tetraquark.
What does this mean? Well the ramifications aren’t entirely clear unless you’re a particle physicist, but it’s another step toward a complete understanding of the way the universe works. It could change the way we understand neutron stars, for one, but more than that it helps us further refine our models for understanding the way matter holds itself together. That may not seem like much right now, but remember it took nearly 30 years to get from the discovery of the electron to the invention of the transistor — you never know what pure science might imply except in retrospect.
Meanwhile, here’s a great explanation of the standard model of physics, and an article by io9 detailing the discovery. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, here’s the article by the LHCb team on arxiv.org.
The Cassini mission has announced the discovery of a large body of water at the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, adding to the number of places in the solar system with large bodies of liquid water. The discovery was made by repeated fly-bys of the moon while tracking the speed of communications with the Cassini probe to Earth. By plotting the amount of time it took for signals to reach Earth, they could calculate the speed of the probe with such precision as to understand the gravity created by the moon, and from that, its composition. The results show a large area of high density under the southern pole that can only be water. Slate has more on the story.
In other lunar news, NASA-funded researchers have announced the discovery of a possible “exomoon” — a moon orbiting a planet in another solar system. There isn’t enough data yet to confirm its presence, but it’s evidence that points in the right direction.
The journal Nature is reporting this week that scientists may have formed a cohesive model of the mechanism by which the Earth’s tectonic plates formed. The new model suggests that the plates may have taken as long as a billion years to fully form, and may help to explain why other volcanically active planets, like Venus, lack the plates we see at home. The article was published this week.
The Rest of the Best
Other things seen this week include: getting voles drunk for science; the possibility of using tobacco to fight cancer; a beautiful tower that pulls water out of the air; and the launching of the ESA’s sentinel-1. And now to leave you for the week, here’s a video of the US Navy’s newest toy, the railgun, which uses magnets to propel metal slugs to insane speeds to devastating effect.
Have a great week.