Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Supermassive Black Hole Silhouette

A close-up image of the M87 galaxy core and the supermassive black hole at its center (Image: NASA).

On April 10, 2019, the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole's silhouette was captured and presented by a team of international astronomers. The network of telescopes known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) set out to obtain an image of a black hole using a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). This image depicts the center of the galaxy M87, 53 million light-years away with a noticeable dark spot at its core.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dark Energy, The CMB, & String Theory

The photonic emission of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation that happened about 380,000 years after the Big Bang provides a unique way to understand the emission of energized particles in every direction from a totally opaque and dense universe, which is similar to a plasma with no atoms. According to the holographic principle, if one wants to visualize something like dark energy as the driving force behind the expansion of our universe, then this event and its existence within at least the 5th dimension, which is the place where cosmic superstrings exist, space-time is curled up into a tiny 6-dimensional loop, and gravity is unified with the electromagnetic force, should be genuinely explored.

The CMB was first detected by the Holmdel Horn Antenna in 1964. The accelerating expansion of our universe through dark energy was originally conjectured in 1921, along with Kaluza-Klein theory as a precursor to string theory. Among this radiation one can find that the universe at its birth emitted many different kinds of particles, including lots of energy and matter. Both dark energy and the relic radiation can be measured together and directly related to each other due to the wavelengths of light that eventually red-shift over time. Today, the CMB sits around us everywhere in the sky as a microwave echo of energy from the abyss that was once emitted by the universe when it was only in its youth.

Dark energy, similar to vacuum energy in otherwise empty space, is thought to expand space from every point and in every direction. The CMB's photons emerged from a dark universe the same way as dark energy expands the particular space that it's inherent to. Experiments such as the Fermilab Holometer are currently working to find evidence that would show the universe itself is a giant hologram. This would eventually shed light on dark energy and also support modern interpretations of string theory, including M-theory, with its 11 dimensions of reality.

A 6-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold, as known to superstring theory and mirror symmetry (Image: Wolfram).

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gravitational Wave Signal

Gravitational waves from a double black hole merger about 1.3 billion light-years away from us were directly detected on September 14, 2015. This gigantic, distant, and ancient event caused our space-time to expand and contract by 1/100,000 of a nanometer due to the sub-atomic effects of passing gravitational waves. They were measured by the two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors last year, while it recently made big headlines earlier this year celebrating 100 years of Albert Einstein's general relativity. This measurement provides a verification of the theory's correctness, more proof for the existence of black holes, and reveals a phenomenon which had never before been directly seen in nature, opening windows into new areas of astronomy and cosmology research.

""These amazing observations are the confirmation of a lot of theoretical work, including Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicts gravitational waves,” says physicist Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge, UK" (source).

A double black hole merger from long ago recently caused minute changes in our space-time (Image: LIGO).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Extrasolar Planets

The status of Pluto as a planet was never entirely certain for over 75 years since its discovery. It is the tenth largest planetary object in order of ascending size, right after dwarf planet Eris. Our former ninth planet was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh on February 18, 1930, and it is the most widely recognized dwarf planet in our Solar System, and the Kuiper belt's largest object. Pluto's status as the ninth planet from our Sun was reviewed in 2006 due to an International Astronomical Union debate on how to classify such large objects. Even up to this current day and age, despite its status demotion to dwarf planet, Pluto is still widely regarded as a favorite among planetary objects in our Solar System and these provocative photographs were taken as firsts by the New Horizons satellite just last year to finally show just how much of a mysterious and puzzling place it really is.

The New Horizons space probe was designed by NASA to study the extreme conditions of dwarf planet Pluto and its natural satellite Charon, about 3.6 billion miles away from our Sun. This mission, not unlike NASA's Messenger probe, which also finalized a journey to explore the innermost conditions of our Solar System near Mercury earlier the same year, took nine and a half years to complete since its launch in January 19, 2006. The New Horizons satellite was successful at localizing and imaging Pluto and its moon, also detecting many surprising and familiar surface features including an atmosphere, glaciers, mountainous regions, great plains, and even water ice distributed all over its surface terrain. Arriving at Pluto has appealed to our collective sense of bewilderment for reminding us about how beautiful and exciting rediscovering a foreign planet really is.

Pluto with its moon Charon on the left as New Horizons quickly approaches its main objective (Image: NASA).

In the midst of this first look at Pluto as our ex-ninth planet, we now have theories of a new extrasolar object, harboring ten times the gravity on Earth and a wondrously eccentric orbit, located right outside our Solar System. The ninth planet spot is now more coveted than ever!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Milky Way Domain

The acclaimed work by Nick Risinger, Photopic Sky Survey, can be admired here as a marvelous 360-degree photomosaic of the Universe joined together in 2011, and it portrays a boundless continuum of stars and galaxies, each one regularly visible to the naked eye on a really clear night. Begin the simulated arena looking towards the galactic center of the Milky Way, and every direction you go expands the background into a gorgeous panorama with rich interstellar details that appear to make the screen look replete with starry objects. It is honestly quite entertaining just to move around some particular region and then gain a better perspective back from planet Earth, the vantage point looking free through the atmosphere, set aside from the Sun and the Moon. A few major identifiable celestial objects include the Pleiades (M45), Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), and the Orion Nebula (M42), and they can easily be spotted in this 37,440-exposure, 5000-megapixel shot. The image provides an alluring insight into the breathtaking cosmic matter radiating light from the galactic realm of the Milky Way and space within the Virgo supercluster of the observable universe.

Andromeda (M31) is shown here as it is Milky Way's closest spiral galaxy neighbor (Image: NASA).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Scale of the Universe

If you need a guide for the Universe and everything in between, please go to this site and appreciate the beautiful dynamic art and imagery within "The Scale of the Universe 2" by the Huang brothers. Along with the process of viewing each object, which is really quite fascinating and attractive as it transitions from light to dark, find out that humans are actually closer in size to the whole of Earth than to an atom of Hydrogen. Marvel about interesting ideas like when the Dodo bird became extinct, or why beach balls are a classic pastime. Know that everything remains in proportion as you take an in-depth look into each object's relative size within a scaled environment. Please enjoy the link provided!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Venusian Surface Features

Reprocessed perspectives of Venus taken by the Venera 13 probe in 1982 (Images: CCCP).

Venus is the second planet from our Sun and it is sometimes referred to as our "sister planet" due to its similar mass and size. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and it shows its elegant charm in many ways. Besides not having a naturally orbiting satellite, Venus has the most circular revolution of any planet, a retrograde (clockwise) rotation, and a day that lasts longer than its own year. Its two main continents: the northern Ishtar Terra and southern Aphrodite Terra, are also both named after the Babylonian and Greek goddesses of love, respectively.

The images above are the first to truly capture a stunning view from on the planet's surface. Venus' geography and climate are radically different from that of Earth. Its exterior is believed to be shrouded in condensed sulfuric acid due to ongoing volcanic activity throughout its windy and craterless plains. Its atmosphere is almost entirely made up of carbon dioxide kept under a pressure that is 92 times greater than ours, with an average surface temperature of 735 K. Despite the harsh weather conditions, a Russian space probe was successfully able to gather this data before its electronics stopped working about two hours after touching the ground.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Journey to a Celestial Object

The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed last November 12, 2014, the very first time that a spacecraft, known by the name of Rosetta, was able to successfully drop its lander Philae onto the comet nucleus of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a ten year long voyage that began in March of 2004. As far as a soft landing goes, this event had a lengthy bounce to remember, placing the instrument in a deeply-shadowed region on the surface of 67P, where it was able to conduct partially its scientific exploration. After a few days of gathering data from the ice and vapor on the comet's exterior, Philae's batteries were almost completely depleted, with just enough energy to transmit fresh results back to the Rosetta mothership orbiting approximately 19 mi (30 km) above the surface. The lander, now in a state of hibernation, does have a backup solar-panel power source and just might receive enough sunlight to reactivate itself within the next few months. In addition, Rosetta is the first spacecraft to effectively orbit and escort a comet as it reaches its perihelion alongside component Philae.

Rosetta's Philae lander grips the surface of comet 67P in this illustration (Image: ESA).

It is thought that because of this study, 67P's water composition is mostly different from that of Earth's, and objects with this kind of provenance or composition indigenous to the Kuiper belt are not responsible for Earthly aqueous bodies. This mission is considered to be a great accomplishment for astrophysics, uncovering new and old motivations for space travel including mining extraterrestrial objects and discovering water's potential origin. Although it is not unlike NASA's early landing on an asteroid in 2001, an upcoming German and Japanese satellite is expected to achieve a similar endeavor with another space rock in the future in order to gain a better understanding of the resources available from space that are relevant to life.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Primordial Gravitational Waves

On March 17, 2014, it was officially announced that signs of gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time, had been discovered in the data collected from the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation as an imprint left by our Universe approximately 380,000 years after the Big Bang. This is considered to be a plausible advance towards the indirect detection of Albert Einstein's gravity waves, originally predicted to exist in his general theory of relativity of 1916. The BICEP2 team, located at the South Pole, has identified a swirling pattern throughout the light of the CMB known as B-mode polarization, believed to be the result of inflationary gravitational waves. "We’ve found the smoking gun evidence for inflation and we’ve also produced the first image of gravitational waves across the sky" (source).

A polarized light pattern in the CMB caused by early gravitational waves (Image: BICEP2).

Finding gravitational waves embedded in the CMB would reasonably support the theory of inflation, originally proposed by physicist Alan Guth, which describes an initial period of highly accelerated expansion for the Universe that smoothed out irregularities in space-time and made the cosmos look almost the same in every direction. The CMB is the oldest electromagnetic radiation we can see from after that period, thought to have emerged at a time when matter was only beginning to form structures out of a hot and dense plasma. This early light now fills every region of space and reaches us in the form of microwaves with an average temperature of 2.725 K, while it is considered to be the Big Bang's afterglow. Along with providing important information about the universe's early development, including tentative effects of ancient gravity waves, the CMB also reveals key insights into features of today's universe such as apparent composition and overall uniformity.

Special Note: Although there is new evidence suggesting that interstellar dust levels may have modified the interpretation of these results by being higher than previously determined, the theoretical basis for gravitational waves is still very strong and this latest outcome does not completely rule out their existence. 8*]

Friday, March 28, 2014

Large-Scale Quantum Superposition

Scientists have succeeded in creating the first basic quantum machine using a small visible paddle that resonates in a mixed quantum state of moving and not moving. The system works by having the paddle connected to a superconducting electrical circuit, cooling it down, and then carefully setting it to vibrate. In doing so, they have shown that it is possible to induce a quantum-mechanical ground state from a regularly-sized object previously thought to only obey the laws of classical physics. It is currently considered to be the largest object ever placed in a quantum superposition of states artificially as of August, 2009.

In general, the larger an object is, the harder it is for it to maintain a coherent quantum superposition of states. This peculiar idea is commonly illustrated by a famous thought experiment devised by physicist Erwin Schrödinger, which points out the surprising behavior of the quantum world if it could be readily applied to objects on a macroscopic level. In Schrödinger’s cat, a sealed box governs the state of a cat that's inside it through a quantum radioactive process which occurs randomly and controls whether a vial of poison gas within the box is effectively broken or left intact. Since there is no way of knowing the cat's condition without looking inside the box, the cat is proposed to be in a combined state of both alive and dead, just as a quantum object can be in multiple states at once. However, as soon as the box is opened and an observer becomes entangled with a specific outcome, the cat's quantum superposition of states immediately decoheres into one apparent result.

Amazingly, in the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, developed by physicist Hugh Everett III, the universe itself is thought to exist in a quantum superposition of infinitely many states that each correspond to a different quantum "world," or parallel universe. These many worlds are similar to pocket universes existing within a unified multiverse but instead of them being far away from each other, they appear probabilistically within the same physical space. As a result, any event, no matter how small, may act as a point from which every possible future will diverge and exist within its very own timeline. This view allows both alive and dead states of the cat to persist simultaneously but only within separate realities, regardless of whichever one has been observed after the box is opened. Although moving and not moving states for a macroscopic object would normally be measured independently of one another as well, a small paddle is able to retain its combined state of motion through the use of an experimental setup that substantially delays the onset of decoherence. The achievement can be interpreted as a major step towards showing how the rules of quantum mechanics could also be applied to the movement of everyday objects.

Monday, November 11, 2013

General Relativity

Published in 1916, the general theory of relativity is often regarded as Albert Einstein's greatest achievement and one of the most remarkable scientific contributions of the 20th century. It is known for redefining gravity beyond the previous Newtonian interpretation and describing it as a geometric property of space-time. General relativity is viewed as an expansion of the special theory of relativity and it differs from the special case because it takes into account the motion due to gravitational fields and other accelerating reference frames, thought to be similar according to the equivalence principle. Along with quantum theory, general relativity is considered to be a central pillar of modern physics and is currently accepted as the leading theory for gravitation.

Earth's mass warps space-time and shapes the Moon's geodesic orbit (Image: NASA).

General relativity describes the attractive force of gravity as being the result of an acceleration produced when something interacts with curved space-time, usually there because of an object with a very large mass. The more mass an object has, the more it warps the space-time around it and the larger its gravitational field is. Any object with some mass or just energy is thought to have a gravitational influence as well but will always experience an attractive pull when it is close enough to another object with a sufficient amount of gravity. Even rays of light that approach a gravitational field will bend towards it in a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This effect was confirmed to exist when the light from stars behind the Sun was observed to travel around it during the total solar eclipse of 1919.

Other tests of general relativity include the observation of a gravitational redshift in visible light emerging from a gravitational field, which loses energy and increases its wavelength, shifting towards a redder color. When entering a gravitational field, it behaves in the opposite way by gaining a shorter wavelength and a bluer appearance. Gravitational redshift was first measured in the light emitted by white dwarf star Sirius B in 1925. When a very massive object rotates on its axis, it will also twist the space-time around it as it spins. This is known as frame-dragging and it too was confirmed to exist by observing the orbital shifts that emerged from satellites traveling around our planet. General relativity predicts the existence of gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time that propagate at the speed of light and are caused by sudden changes in an object's gravitational field, but their direct detection is currently a subject of on-going research.

From the smallest interaction of an elementary particle to the behavior of the cosmos itself, Albert Einstein's ideas have altered the way we view our physical surroundings on many scales. While general relativity accurately describes the gravitational attraction between celestial objects, it is additionally useful for describing other processes such as the expansion or contraction of a universe. Exotic objects such as black holes, white holes, and wormholes are also predicted to exist according to the equations of general relativity. Einstein's dream was to find a theory of everything that could combine the fundamental interactions of nature, specifically gravity and electromagnetism, to show that they were all facets of the same unified force. The search for a theory of everything continues to this day with the goal of bringing together Einstein's laws of general relativity with those of the quantum world in order to develop a consistent theory for quantum gravity.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Special Relativity

Albert Einstein, a German-born physicist and mathematician, is revered as a genius and one of history's greatest thinkers. In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics for accurately describing the photoelectric effect as being a result of light's discreet quantized nature. His special theory of relativity was introduced in 1905, and it greatly increased our understanding of motion, atomic energy, and space and time. It was originally devised as a way to explain how electromagnetic waves could propagate without the need for a medium, known at the time as a luminiferous ether. The ideas that followed revolutionized the way people think about our universe.

Special relativity builds upon Galileo Galilei's work that describes how all uniform, or steady, motion is viewed as being relative to a specific frame of reference. In other words, an object that appears to be moving from one observer's perspective may also appear to be motionless to another observer situated on that very same object. There is no absolute, or fixed, reference frame from which to define objects that are in motion. Special relativity adds to this that while many of the basic properties of motion may vary relatively between any two observers, the speed of light will always be invariant. This is because it is the universal speed limit for matter and energy in motion. Additionally, the physical laws by which these systems undergo any changes are experienced the same in every frame of reference, and the arena in which they happen is referred to as space-time: a unified version of space and time with three dimensions for space and one dimension for time.

Einstein's most widely recognized equation sets forth the mass-energy equivalence (Image: Me).

One of the most important revelations of the special theory of relativity is the mass-energy equivalence. It allows the mass of an object to be seen as a measure of its energy content. Einstein used this now famous relation to describe how matter is able to transform into radiated energy.

Peculiar differences in measurements regarding the passage of time, when an event happens, or even the apparent length of an object may arise if two observers are traveling through space-time with different frames of reference relative to each other. For example, a relative increase in an object's apparent velocity and/or its proximity to a gravitational source causes it to experience time more slowly. This phenomenon is known as as time dilation, and in everyday conditions its influence is very small. However, it can be verified to exist experimentally through the use of separate atomic clocks, one placed on the ground and the other traveling in orbit around the Earth. Varying frames of reference for different observers can also make it difficult to know whether two spatially separated events happen at exactly the same time. Relativity of simultaneity allows for one such event to appear to precede the other from one frame of reference, while in the opposite order from a different perspective, except when one event is the direct cause of the other. Lastly, an observer watching an object approaching an extremely high relative velocity may see the object's apparent length decreasing in the direction of its motion. Length contraction is an effect only noticeable for objects moving at velocities close to the speed of light and is not apparent at everyday speeds.

With the arrival of the special theory of relativity, the constancy of the speed of light was established and the need to account for space and time as being absolute and independent of one another had disappeared. Albert Einstein was able to show that perceived time, along with distances, varied between observers in different circumstances. Matter and energy also emerged as two versions of the same substance, linked together by a relation which is now considered fundamental for explaining processes in nuclear and particle physics. Special relativity has created an impression in modern day science that few other theories have been able to match by quickly gaining widespread acceptance and exciting the imagination of many through its extraordinary implications.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Young's Double-Slit Experiment

At the Physics Department website of the University of Colorado in Boulder, I found a contemporary example of Young's double-slit experiment useful for showing how light behaves when traveling through either one or two slits. This experiment is well-known for first presenting evidence to suggest the wave nature of light in a time when many were only aware of its particle nature. Originally performed by professor Thomas Young in 1801, the outcome played an important role in the general acceptance of a wave theory of light and the natural wave-particle duality of different kinds of particles. The experiment is also thought to be at the heart of all quantum-mechanical weirdness.

A projector and background display setup with two slits (Image: CU).

Basically, light fired at a thin plate with single slit cut in it will travel through and onto a background surface appearing as a one-band pattern. Interestingly, light in the double-slit version of this experiment reaches the two slits and diffracts like a wave, interfering with itself either constructively or destructively to create a background pattern of bright and dark fringes (see above).

Now, if you were to perform the experiment with individual particles of matter such as electrons, it is surprising that a similar interference pattern begins to take shape in the background as well. Classical particles fired one by one would be expected to go through either slit by chance and create a simple pattern of just two bands. According to quantum theory, a fringe interference pattern could only happen if a single electron behaves as a physical wave of potentials and then interferes with itself after going through both slits, maintaining its wave-like nature until it arrives at the background surface as a particle. Other proposed solutions include the electron passing through one slit, the other slit, or even neither slit.

Many thought this explanation deviated too much from the presumed behavior of only going through one slit at a time. However, when scientists place an observing device at the slits in order to see what an approaching electron actually does, its classical particle nature suddenly emerges and changes the background pattern into a mere two bands. It acts as if the information gathered about which way a particle goes through prevents any wave-like behavior from taking effect. This suggests that certain observation techniques will affect how objects interact at a quantum level. A successful attempt to determine the path of a particle, while leaving the fringe interference pattern produced by wave-like behavior intact, was completed in January of 2012 by using entangled photons and a light source with two intensity maxima. This method also allows particle and wave-like natures to be viewed simultaneously.

In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the act of observation instantly measures and reduces a system's set of possible outcomes to randomly assume one probable value. This phenomenon is referred to as a collapse of the wave function, and it links an object or a system's unobserved state to recognizable properties such as momentum or position. In fact, a quantum entity is thought to exist in all of its theoretically possible states until one of them is observed or naturally evolves with time via physicist Erwin Schrödinger's famous equation. For this case, directly observing a particle as it goes through the slits is enough to break the delicate quantum superposition of states necessary to achieve an interference pattern from wave-like behavior. This experiment is significant for showing light and matter's wave-particle duality and how an observer can have a role in determining the reality of a quantum-mechanical situation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Robotic Vehicles on Mars

Interest in exploring the Red Planet started with the first robots designed to investigate it in the 1960s, and continues today with the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, where recent efforts have shown to be what looks like evidence of an ancient riverbed and organic compounds on the Martian surface. Organic compounds are those with molecules containing carbon and are potential indicators of life.

Mars and Earth riverbeds in comparison (Image: NASA).

A landscape of Mars captured by Pathfinder in 1997 (Image: NASA).

Mars is the fourth planet from our Sun and is believed to be about 10.7% the mass of Earth and approximately half of its size. It is currently thought that sustainable life on Mars may be possible and might have existed there a long time ago, if Earth and Mars share similar planetary histories. We know that they both have polar ice caps, an atmosphere, and exceptional terrain features. With several vehicles set to test for habitability on Mars in the future, humans will be able to properly assess whether a manned mission to Mars prevails as a safe and advantageous exploration plan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Higgs Boson Found

In around December of 2011, preliminary research efforts began to hint at the presence of a new bosonic particle with Higgs-like properties. It was officially announced on July 4, 2012, by the ATLAS and CMS teams working at CERN, that these findings were definitely signs of something important. Regarded as the key to understanding the origin of mass, even the spark that caused the Big Bang, the new Higgs boson's unique yet brief appearance quickly became the object of joyous celebration worldwide as the excitation ripples of a particle collision revealed a signal, measuring near the 125-126 GeV mass-energy range, that had finally brought into reality the standard model particle predicted to exist since 1964.

Results consistent with the expected signature of the Higgs boson (Image: CMS).

Out of the four fundamental interactions known to exist: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force, it is believed that the exchange of a boson acting as a force carrier particle is what allows each kind of field or interaction to work. Just as the photon mediates the electromagnetic force, and the strong force gluon holds together particles inside the nucleus of an atom, the Higgs boson is responsible for converting Higgs field energy into corresponding elementary particles with mass.

Although fermions are the elementary particles that acquire mass to become the basic building blocks of ordinary matter, coupling with the Higgs field, an invisible energy condensate which permeates throughout everything and the vacuum of empty space, is also thought to give the weak nuclear force bosons: W+, W-, and Z, their exceptionally large masses. This process is due to a spontaneous symmetry breaking of the electroweak interaction, which sets apart the electromagnetic and weak forces, described to be unified parts of the same interaction only in an environment like that of the early Universe.

The level of certainty in this finding suggests that there is enough evidence to conclude a reasonably sound discovery. "A 5-sigma result represents a one-in-3.5 million chance of the result being noise. This is undeniable proof that a boson, with very Higgs-like qualities, has been discovered by the two detectors" (source). Along with being its own antiparticle, various other specific properties characterize the standard model Higgs boson, a few of which were accurately detected in the experimental results of this year. The recently found boson's rapid decay into the appropriate lighter particles, for example, serves as some evidence to label it the Higgs boson and to support the concept of the Higgs field. Future research efforts in this area may also clear the way for an new sector of physics entirely. "Supersymmetry provides both a natural context for the Higgs field and a possible explanation for the small but finite value of dark energy" (source). Known for its major innovations in modern science, the Large Hadron Collider's recent landmark achievement will serve as a crowning jewel for everyone who has patiently worked hard in anticipation of the new boson's arrival.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Deep Space Satellite Exploration

Both Voyager 1 and 2 are displayed above (Images: NASA).

The NASA/JPL Voyager Satellite Program actively controls these two satellites. Launched in 1977, they are at the present moment the farthest known, still working man-made objects to ever travel across our Solar System. Please enjoy the link provided!

Special Note: The first artificial satellite to complete an orbital circuit around our planet was Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957. This date marks the beginning of what is classically referred to as the Space Age. :-]

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Matter and Antimatter Tales

The distinct inequality between everyday matter and antimatter in the Universe is one of the most fascinating and extraordinary puzzles known to modern cosmology. Baryon asymmetry shows that there is an inferable amount of antimatter unavailable within our observable Universe. The natural phenomenon is left to generate wonder about whether it is simply missing or located somewhere else.

Daily experience is mostly due to baryonic matter's physical influence on reality as regular matter. Not to be confused with matter from the element Barium, a particle of baryonic matter, or a baryon, is a type of composite particle (hadron) made up of three elementary particle quarks, same as a proton or a neutron. An electron is a different kind of elementary particle that is classified as a lepton but also plays an important role as a fundamental constituent of the atom.

Antimatter is the substance composed entirely out of antiparticles, which are equal in mass to their respective matter counterparts but carry the opposite (occasionally neutral) charge and quantum spin. Antielectrons (positrons) for example, appear naturally from specific radioactive decay (Beta+), deep within atmospheric thunderstorm activity, and traveling along cosmic rays projected by stars and black holes. The first person to ever predict antimatter existed was Nobel laureate Paul Dirac in 1931, following his work for the Dirac sea, his theoretical model of the vacuum. Determinately, I believe dark matter is inherently different from antimatter because Earthly antimatter is more recurrent.

When a particle of matter collides with its antimatter partner, the result is they annihilate one another in an exciting flash of energy producing photons and then they disappear. Given presumed equal initial amounts of matter and antimatter, this process is thought to have taken place repeatedly in the moments early after the Big Bang, while somehow leaving behind a significant portion of baryonic matter that characterizes the universe we live in today.

The massless photon and the hypothetical graviton are both bosonic particles considered to be their own antiparticle. A neutrino is another particle, an electrically neutral lepton, that has an antiparticle mostly due to its different spin. "Neutrinos are fundamental particles that were first formed in the first second of the early universe, before even atoms could form" (source). It is now known that neutrinos have a non-zero mass and, through a special process called neutrino oscillation, periodically morph into one of three uniquely-termed flavors: electron, muon, and tau. Neutrinos are variably encountered as a part of the large amount of radiation emitted by our Sun, and are relatively abundant throughout the relic particle radiation left from the Big Bang. Also found within nuclear reactions, neutrinos were first postulated by Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli in 1930.

Modern neutrino oscillation research has led scientists to believe that neutrinos played an important role by inducing the baryonic asymmetry in the developing cosmos. "Reactions involving neutrinos and antineutrinos in the early universe could have skewed the ratio of matter and antimatter production, leading to our matter-dominated universe" (source). A fourth kind of sterile neutrino depends upon the existence of a particle with some mass that is essentially detectable only through its gravitational influence. "In addition, data from WMAP show the most likely number of neutrino families in the early Universe was four, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory detected faint pulses of X-rays (from a dim dwarf galaxy) suggesting the decay of heavier neutrinos into lighter ones" (source). Sterile neutrino masses are theorized to be their own antiparticle, which enables neutrinoless double beta decay, and they are also granted to be the ideal candidate to explain dark matter. "Not only could this "sterile" neutrino be the stuff of dark matter, thought to make up the bulk of our universe, it might also help to explain how an excess of matter over antimatter arose in our universe" (source).

For the first time, low-temperature antihydrogen was produced and isolated by physicists at CERN using the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) in 2010. The next year, more antihydrogen atoms were captured and studied for an outstanding duration of 1000 seconds. The very latest research efforts are geared towards providing useful information on the emission spectrum, potentially equal to that of the element hydrogen, by using microwave radiation on the trapped anti-atoms. Whether or not antimatter is destined to exist here on Earth indefinitely is worth the contemplation.

Studying ephemeral antimatter is done to look for discrepancies in the Charge, Parity, and Time reversal symmetry of the physical laws that operate within our world. A particle moving forward through time in our universe is described to be virtually indistinguishable from an antiparticle moving backwards through time in a mirror universe, according to fundamental CPT symmetry. Investigating the cause for the apparent abundance of matter over antimatter in the universe would help to resolve the baryon asymmetry conundrum while also expanding our knowledge on the physical processes required for a universe to develop into one like ours. An improved understanding of the nature of antimatter might eventually shed light on any unexplored aspects of its behavior and what techniques can be employed for its practical use.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Water on the Moon

With the discovery of evidence confirming the existence of water on the Moon on October 9, 2009, the Moon is no longer thought of as a dry space rock. NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, has reportedly found a significant amount of frozen water on the floor of a lunar crater.

Centaur being launched towards the Moon by LCROSS (Image: NASA).

LCROSS was designed to look for signs of water near the Moon's South Pole. The probe itself was successful at detecting natural water in the form of ice particle debris within the impact plumes created by the empty Centaur rocket stage's collision with the Moon.

The satellite's impact locations on the Moon's surface (Images: NASA).

The satellite made a total of two collisions on the Moon's surface, which were studied by it, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) partner satellite, and telescopes all over the world. The first LCROSS impact was from the Centaur rocket component, ejected towards Cabeus crater (red) near the Moon's South Pole (green). Once water particles were successfully identified, the second impact was caused by the LCROSS probe itself crashing into the surrounding Cabeus crater area (blue) to complete the mission. The LRO remained in orbit collecting data and did not undergo any collision.

Lunar water can be used by astronauts as a natural resource while in space. It is not practical to transport the amount of Earth water needed for long-term human space exploration into space, so this discovery provides astronauts with a longer potential stay on the Moon. The LCROSS and LRO were the first two missions carried out by NASA as a part of the United States' 2004 Vision for Space Exploration program, designed to increase public enthusiasm for space exploration.

NASA has been preparing for a return mission to the Moon in order to conduct research and attempt to live off the land in 2018 or 2019, a date that would mark the 50th Anniversary of NASA's first manned Moon landing, Apollo 11 (1969).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Particle Accelerator by CERN

Tonight, I write to express my interest in Earth's largest operating machine. The Large Hadron Collider is the most complex scientific instrument in use today. It is run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and it is buried 574 ft (175 m) below ground on the border of France and Switzerland, near Geneva, Switzerland.

The LHC can be found buried underground in Europe (Image: CERN).

The central LHC accelerating ring. It spans a 5.3 mile long (8.6 km) diameter (Image: CERN).

When powered up, the LHC releases beams made up of protons or other ions through a series of interconnected ring-shaped tunnels. Accelerated by giant superconducting magnets, the particles reach speeds approximating 99.9% the speed of light. As they approach the largest ring (highlighted in yellow), which is nearly 17 mi (27 km) in circumference, engineers collide the particles in testing rooms the size of warehouses. Results are then recorded by sensors placed in these rooms and studied in order to provide useful information about the nature of the particles that belong to the standard model of particle physics. Scientists and engineers examine the results of current research efforts either to try to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the key to the origin of mass in the universe, or to gain additional knowledge regarding the dynamics of subatomic particles.

Engineers working inside the LHC (Image: CERN).

Engineers have been maintaining and upgrading the LHC ever since achieving the first successful particle beam circulation in September of 2008. This year, on March 30, 2010, the LHC broke the record for the highest-energy man-made collision event ever planned between two 3.5 teraelectronvolt beams. It might also be able to shed light on the unification of fundamental forces, such as that of the electroweak interaction, found at very high temperatures. With a maximum operating energy of 14 TeV, the LHC is set to advance a new era in physics over the next few years.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Innumerable Galaxies

From September 2003 to January 2004, the NASA Hubble Space Telescope was pointed at a region of space with a low brightness and only a few stars in the near field. The region was about the size of a grain of sand at a distance of one meter away from the human eye. With all of the data accumulated during that time, the telescope captured an image that exemplifies just how immense the universe really is.

"Humankind's deepest portrait of the visible universe ever" as referred to by NASA (Image: NASA).

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image is considered to be one of the most humbling and profound images of all time. The countless number of individual galaxies revealed is not only surprising but also very informative. An image like this makes the universe look like it is truly abundant with other galaxies and stars. It is also interesting to note that the light from the farthest galaxies in this picture has been traveling towards us since early after the Big Bang and represents what those galaxies looked like about 13 billion years ago. This information has enabled a base measurement of early galaxies' distribution and their evolution.

Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled to be up and running in 2018.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Universes and Black Holes

When I read articles about physics and astronomy, I can't help but get excited when a brand new theory catches my attention and completely changes the way I look at the world around me. A while ago, I stumbled upon such a theory developed by theoretical physicist Nikodem Poplawski, which instills in me great admiration towards modern cosmology research.

An artist's rendition of a universe containing a black hole (Image: Unattributed).

A black hole is a region of space from which light and matter cannot escape. It is twice as wide as its Schwarzschild radius and contains a singularity of infinite density and zero volume at its center. Here is an article from the National Geographic website that describes just how every black hole may contain another universe.

So, after reading this article, I was interested to know if anyone else was silently questioning their Earthly existence and what they thought about this. I wasn't about to get too excited before Discover Magazine was amusingly there to remind me just how our universe is not a black hole by clearing up the confusion.

"If anything, our universe bears a passing resemblance to a white hole" with a singularity in the past and no singularity in the future (source).

In this article, I learned that a solution to Albert Einstein's equation that describes the universe expanding from the Big Bang can be used to show how the time-reversal of a black hole is actually very similar. The author Sean Carroll is also careful to compare the extent of our observable universe (characterized as the Hubble length) with the Schwarzschild radius of a black hole in order to validate how the universe is spatially flat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Blagburn Surname

Good evening!

It's a bit late to be blogging right now but I felt like I needed to do some research. I do like my last name, and I am intrigued to know of its origin and significance. It is a compound-word surname and a variation of "Blackburn," which comes from the location of the same name in Lancashire, England. Just for kicks, let's examine it more in depth. Here are a few definitions:

Blag - A phonetic derivative of the word "black," as in the color of coal, ravens, night, or outer space. To blag may also mean to gain access into a private club or party. Lord knows I've tried that!

Burn - "Burn" refers to an Old English word for a brook or stream. To burn may also mean to combust or to light on fire. I tend to not light things on fire though. :-)

Ideally, a "blagburn" is a peaceful river reflecting dim light on a typical British afternoon.

It is also interesting to note that, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the same root relative for black produced the word bleach as well... This may be "perhaps because both black and white are colorless, or because both are associated with burning" (source).

The Blagburn surname is known to have been around since as early as the 16th century, and I hope it carries on.