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25 May 2013

The future of physics: Beyond the numbers | The Economist

The future of physics: Beyond the numbers | The Economist:

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Cold Fusion Experiment Maybe Holds Promise … Possibly … Hang on a Sec ….

Cold Fusion Experiment Maybe Holds Promise … Possibly … Hang on a Sec ….:
Two images from the test of a E-Cat device performed on Nov. 20th 2012. Credit: Levi, Foschi et al.
Two images from the test of a E-Cat device
performed on Nov. 20th 2012. Credit: Levi, Foschi et al.
Cold fusion has been called one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs that might likely never happen. On the surface, it seems simple – a room-temperature reaction occurring under normal pressure. But it is a nuclear reaction, and figuring it out and getting it to work has not been simple, and any success in this area could ultimately – and seriously — change the world. Despite various claims of victory over the years since 1920, none have been able to be replicated consistently and reliably.
But there’s buzz this week of a cold fusion experiment that has been replicated, twice. The tests have reportedly produced excess heat with roughly 10,000 times the energy density and 1,000 times the power density of gasoline.

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10 May 2013

New Discovery Hints at Unknown Fundamental Force in the Universe

New Discovery Hints at Unknown Fundamental Force in the Universe:


What caused the matter/antimatter imbalance is one of physics' great mysteries. It's not predicted by the Standard Model---the overarching theory that describes the laws of nature and the nature of matter. An international team of physicists has now found the first direct evidence of pear shaped nuclei in exotic atoms. The findings could advance the search for a new fundamental force in nature that could explain why the Big Bang created more matter than antimatter---a pivotal imbalance in the history of everything.

"If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created at the Big Bang, everything would have annihilated, and there would be no galaxies, stars, planets or people," said Tim Chupp, a University of Michigan professor of physics and biomedical engineering and co-author of a paper on the work published in the May 9 issue of Nature.
Antimatter particles have the same mass but opposite charge from their matter counterparts. Antimatter is rare in the known universe, flitting briefly in and out of existence in cosmic rays, solar flares and particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, for example. When they find each other, matter and antimatter particles mutually destruct or annihilate.
The Standard Model describes four fundamental forces or interactions that govern how matter behaves: Gravity attracts massive bodies to one another. The electromagnetic interaction gives rise to forces on electrically charged bodies. And the strong and weak forces operate in the cores of atoms, binding together neutrons and protons or causing those particles to decay.
Physicists have been searching for signs of a new force or interaction that might explain the matter-antimatter discrepancy. The evidence of its existence would be revealed by measuring how the axis of nuclei of the radioactive elements radon and radium line up with the spin.
The researchers confirmed that the cores of these atoms are shaped like pears, rather than the more typical spherical orange or elliptical watermelon profiles. The pear shape makes the effects of the new interaction much stronger and easier to detect.
"The pear shape is special," Chupp said. "It means the neutrons and protons, which compose the nucleus, are in slightly different places along an internal axis."
The pear-shaped nuclei are lopsided because positive protons are pushed away from the center of the nucleus by nuclear forces, which are fundamentally different from spherically symmetric forces like gravity.

"The new interaction, whose effects we are studying does two things," Chupp said. "It produces the matter/antimatter asymmetry in the early universe and it aligns the direction of the spin and the charge axis in these pear-shaped nuclei."
To determine the shape of the nuclei, the researchers produced beams of exotic---short- lived---radium and radon atoms at CERN's Isotope Separator facility ISOLDE. The atom beams were accelerated and smashed into targets of nickel, cadmium and tin, but due to the repulsive force between the positively charged nuclei, nuclear reactions were not possible. Instead, the nuclei were excited to higher energy levels, producing gamma rays that flew out in a specific pattern that revealed the pear shape of the nucleus.
"In the very biggest picture, we're trying to understand everything we've observed directly and also indirectly, and how it is that we happen to be here," Chupp said.
The image below shows the phase transitions of quark-gluon plasma allows us to understand the behavior of matter in the early universe, just fractions of a second after the Big Bang, as well as conditions that might exist inside neutron stars. The fact that these two disparate phenomena are related demonstrates just how deeply the cosmic and quantum worlds are intertwined.


The research was led by University of Liverpool Physics Professor Peter Butler. "Our findings contradict some nuclear theories and will help refine others," he said.
The measurements also will help direct the searches for atomic EDMs (electric dipole moments) currently being carried out in North America and Europe, where new techniques are being developed to exploit the special properties of radon and radium isotopes.
"Our expectation is that the data from our nuclear physics experiments can be combined with the results from atomic trapping experiments measuring EDMs to make the most stringent tests of the Standard Model, the best theory we have for understanding the nature of the building blocks of the universe," Butler said.


Daily Galaxy via University of Michigan
Image credits: Brookhaven National Laboratory and University of Melbourne
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"Project 1640" --Amazing New Space Technologies Analyze the Molecular Chemistry of Alien Planets

"Project 1640" --Amazing New Space Technologies Analyze the Molecular Chemistry of Alien Planets:


Today, there are more than 800 confirmed exoplanets -- planets that orbit stars beyond our sun -- and more than 2,700 other candidates. What are these exotic planets made of? Unfortunately, you cannot stack them in a jar like marbles and take a closer look. Instead, researchers are coming up with advanced techniques for probing the planets' makeup.

One breakthrough to come in recent years is direct imaging of exoplanets. Ground-based telescopes have begun taking infrared pictures of the planets posing near their stars in family portraits. But to astronomers, a picture is worth even more than a thousand words if its light can be broken apart into a rainbow of different wavelengths.
Those wishes are coming true as researchers are beginning to install infrared cameras on ground-based telescopes equipped with spectrographs. Spectrographs are instruments that spread an object's light apart, revealing signatures of molecules. Project 1640, partly funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., recently accomplished this goal using the Palomar Observatory near San Diego. The Project 1640 image above shows the four exoplanets orbiting HR 8977.
"In just one hour, we were able to get precise composition information about four planets around one overwhelmingly bright star," said Gautam Vasisht of JPL, co-author of the new study appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. "The star is a hundred thousand times as bright as the planets, so we've developed ways to remove that starlight and isolate the extremely faint light of the planets."
Along with ground-based infrared imaging, other strategies for combing through the atmospheres of giant planets are being actively pursued as well. For example, NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes monitor planets as they cross in front of their stars, and then disappear behind. NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will use a comparable strategy to study the atmospheres of planets only slightly larger than Earth.
In the new study, the researchers examined HR 8799, a large star orbited by at least four known giant, red planets. Three of the planets were among the first ever directly imaged around a star, thanks to observations from the Gemini and Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in 2008. The fourth planet, the closest to the star and the hardest to see, was revealed in images taken by the Keck telescope in 2010.
That alone was a tremendous feat considering that all planet discoveries up until then had been made through indirect means, for example by looking for the wobble of a star induced by the tug of planets.
Those images weren't enough, however, to reveal any information about the planets' chemical composition. That's where spectrographs are needed -- to expose the "fingerprints" of molecules in a planet's atmosphere. Capturing a distant world's spectrum (image below) requires gathering even more planet light, and that means further blocking the glare of the star.

Project 1640 accomplished this with a collection of instruments, which the team installs on the ground-based telescopes each time they go on "observing runs." The instrument suite includes a coronagraph to mask out the starlight; an advanced adaptive optics system, which removes the blur of our moving atmosphere by making millions of tiny adjustments to two deformable telescope mirrors; an imaging spectrograph that records 30 images in a rainbow of infrared colors simultaneously; and a state-of-the-art wave front sensor that further adjusts the mirrors to compensate for scattered starlight.
"It's like taking a single picture of the Empire State Building from an airplane that reveals a bump on the sidewalk next to it that is as high as an ant," said Ben R. Oppenheimer, lead author of the new study and associate curator and chair of the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History, N.Y., N.Y.
Their results revealed that all four planets, though nearly the same in temperature, have different compositions. Some, unexpectedly, do not have methane in them, and there may be hints of ammonia or other compounds that would also be surprising. Further theoretical modeling will help to understand the chemistry of these planets.
Meanwhile, the quest to obtain more and better spectra of exoplanets continues. Other researchers have used the Keck telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope near Tucson, Ariz., to study the emission of individual planets in the HR8799 system.
In addition to the HR 8799 system, only two others have yielded images of exoplanets. The next step is to find more planets ripe for giving up their chemical secrets. Several ground-based telescopes are being prepared for the hunt, including Keck, Gemini, Palomar and Japan's Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Ideally, the researchers want to find young planets that still have enough heat left over from their formation, and thus more infrared light for the spectrographs to see. They also want to find planets located far from their stars, and out of the blinding starlight. NASA's infrared Spitzer and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) missions, and its ultraviolet Galaxy Evolution Explorer, now led by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have helped identify candidate young stars that may host planets meeting these criteria.
"We're looking for super-Jupiter planets located faraway from their star," said Vasisht. "As our technique develops, we hope to be able to acquire molecular compositions of smaller, and slightly older, gas planets."
Still lower-mass planets, down to the size of Saturn, will be targets for imaging studies by the James Webb Space Telescope.
"Rocky Earth-like planets are too small and close to their stars for the current technology, or even for James Webb to detect. The feat of cracking the chemical compositions of true Earth analogs will come from a future space mission such as the proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder," said Charles Beichman, a co-author of the P1640 result and executive director of NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech.
Though the larger, gas planets are not hospitable to life, the current studies are teaching astronomers how the smaller, rocky ones form.
"The outer giant planets dictate the fate of rocky ones like Earth. Giant planets can migrate in toward a star, and in the process, tug the smaller, rocky planets around or even kick them out of the system. We're looking at hot Jupiters before they migrate in, and hope to understand more about how and when they might influence the destiny of the rocky, inner planets," said Vasisht.
NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute manages time allocation on the Keck telescope for NASA. JPL manages NASA's Exoplanet Exploration program office. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
A visualization from the American Museum of Natural History showing where the HR 8799 system is in relation to our solar system is online at .
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