Higgs Boson may tear us apart again

Monday, 15 September, 2014

There’s bad news, and there’s good news here. British physicist Stephen Hawking has warned that particle accelerator experiments involving the Higgs Boson, or “God particle”, may cause it to become unstable, something that may result in the destruction of the universe. Thing is though, said particle accelerator would need to be the size of planet Earth…

He wrote: “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn gigaelectronvolts (GeV).” What might this lead to? Hawkins explained: “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”

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If there a were a king of the dinosaurs, Dreadnoughtus was it

Friday, 12 September, 2014

At twenty-six metres in length, remember most taller people are not quite two metres in height, and weighing in at close to sixty metric tonnes, a previously unknown dinosaur, whose skeletal remains were found a few years ago in Patagonia, Argentina, has been aptly named Dreadnoughtus schrani.

As a comparison, this beast would have been seven times heavier than Tyrannosaurus rex. Luckily for us – if people had been around at the time – Dreadnoughtus was a herbivore, meaning the species wouldn’t have had much interest in humans as a food source. Heaven help any creature that did something to annoy them though.

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And here’s a shout out to all the residents of Laniakea

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

It’s nice, in a way, to know that the universe is divided into suburbs of sorts, and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is, along with some one hundred thousand of its closest galactic neighbours, part of a region that has been named Laniakea… doesn’t that make the cosmos feel all more homely then?

Astronomers were able to identify the boundaries of Laniakea by charting the flow of more than 8,000 galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. By that yardstick, they discovered that the Milky Way, along 100,000 other galaxies, is sailing toward a region named the Shapley super-cluster.

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So do we crave times of silence or not?

Friday, 29 August, 2014

While a lack of silence, or more to the point, incessant noise, can be harmful to our well being, it would seem our brains don’t exactly enjoy a state of complete silence either

As it turned out, even though all the sounds had short-term neurological effects, not one of them had a lasting impact. Yet to her great surprise, Kirste found that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses. This was deeply puzzling: The total absence of input was having a more pronounced effect than any sort of input tested.

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Is there a scientific formula for finding satisfying work?

Wednesday, 20 August, 2014

Is finding the sort of work that is right for you a matter of applying a scientific formula? Whatever helps I say, but much of the science here seems more like common sense.

Given that perceptions of common sense vary considerably however, taking a structured approach might be a better option though.

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The science of the science fiction “Star Wars” films

Thursday, 14 August, 2014

US scientist Andy Howell discusses the science of the “Star Wars” films… which he actually describes as “space fantasy”. Could it be that more people might focus on the fiction, rather than the science, of sci-fi stories if they were referred to as fantasy more often?

In any event, some of the apparent science presented to us in the films isn’t too far off the mark.

If Star Wars really happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we might be able to watch it through a telescope right now, or at some point in the future.

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In the event of a solar storm, what might happen?

Tuesday, 12 August, 2014

There’s been a bit of talk recently about solar storms, being flares, or charged particles, emanating from the Sun, and how they might impact on us, were there to be a repeat of the 1859 event. While the inhabitants of Earth should remain unscathed should there be another such storm, it would certainly make a mark otherwise.

With the space weather satellites we have up now, we would have about a half-day’s warning to shut down our power stations and voluntarily shut off the grid in the event of such a flare. These things can not be predicted, and neither can their interaction with the interplanetary-and-Earth’s magnetic field, so you must never listen to fear-mongers who tell you a catastrophic solar flare is imminent; we can only be prepared to react when one is detected.

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A tree that threatens to make orchards much smaller

Friday, 1 August, 2014

A single tree that can bear forty different types of stone fruit? The notion sounds incredible, but thanks to some complicated grafting techniques, branches from various fruit trees were attached to one, bringing forth the “Tree of 40 Fruit”.

Working with a pool of over 250 varieties of stone fruit, Van Aken developed a timeline of when each of them blossom in relationship to each other and started grafting a few onto a working tree’s root structure. Once the working tree was about two years old, Van Aken used a technique called chip grafting to add more varieties on as separate branches. This technique involves taking a sliver off a fruit tree that includes the bud, and inserting that into an incision in the working tree. It’s then taped into place, and left to sit and heal over winter. If all goes well, the branch will be pruned back to encourage it to grow as a normal branch on the working tree.

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The field of physics needs your help to solve these problems

Thursday, 31 July, 2014

As if there wasn’t enough to think about… there are still unsolved problems in the field of physics… here are ten of them:

Why does the universe appear to have one time and three space dimensions? “Just because” is not considered an acceptable answer. And just because people can’t imagine moving in extra directions, beyond up-and-down, left-and-right, and back-and-forth, doesn’t mean that the universe had to be designed that way. According to superstring theory, in fact, there must be six more spatial dimensions, each one curled up too tiny to detect. If the theory is right, then why did only three of them unfurl, leaving us with this comparatively claustrophobic dominion?

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There’s more physics to playing a guitar than meets the eye

Wednesday, 30 July, 2014

Dr David Robert Grimes, an Oxford University based physicist, makes playing the guitar seem more like a science experiment, than anything else:

Dr Grimes derived equations describing how string bending, vibrato and whammy bars change the pitch of a note. He found that the properties of the strings had a big effect on the change in pitch – in particular the Young’s modulus (a measure of how much the string stretches under force) and how thick the strings are. He also worked out how easy hammer-ons and pull-offs are, depending on the height of the guitar strings above the finger board. Finally, he confirmed the equation for string bends experimentally, measuring the frequency of the sound produced for strings bent through different angles on a guitar.

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