Saturday, September 24, 2011

Unseating Einstein, 08.24.11

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider research facility in Cern have made a discovery that, if proven true, would literally be the greatest scientific discovery of the last 100 years. The researchers are asking other facilities around the world to take their findings and test them to see if they glean the same results. The shocking discovery? They have made the unsettling observation that a certain type of particle is capable of travelling faster than the speed of light.
The particles in question are neutrinos, electrically neutral, weakly-interacting subatomic particles. They can often be found in the emissions from our own star, the sun. They tend to stream directly through things without making hardly any impact, which, with more study, could be the key to something big.
Ever since Albert Einstein published some of his physics theories in 1905 on the basis that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, physics and astronomy calculations have grown and matured around that idea. For the past three years though, Cern has conducted various experiments with over 16,000 of the neutrino particles, and the stunning part is the it was such a simple time of travel calculation. If the results from Cern are confirmed, though, everything will change. Never have scientists ever been so nervous about asking their peers to check their math.
Big deal, you say, so the things move fast. What does this mean for me? Remember that big thing we mentioned earlier that could come about because the neutrinos pass through material with little to no interaction? Scientists are actually hypothesizing that the particles are able to travel as fast as they are because they are actually travelling in between different dimensions. Yeah, we said it; different dimensions. As in, alternate realities. The kind of stuff you only wonder about and see in science fiction. If these findings are confirmed, not only will scientists finally have something to work with to get us started on a path for lightspeed space travel, but travel to alternate dimensions.
If you remember from grade school, many of the “educated” hundreds of years ago believed that everything in our solar system orbited around Earth. Then, more observations were made and the theory was put forward that maybe we weren’t the center of it all, that maybe we orbit the Sun instead. There was huge uproar, some people were ostracized from society and the scientific community, the church had a tendency to call such theories heresy…you get the picture. Eventually, though, people opened up their minds just a bit and started to look at the situation with that little “what if” bug nibbling at the back of their minds, and eventually people came around and began to see how very silly the other idea that they had followed for centuries had been. While it is not confirmed yet – and even the scientists who made the observations are skeptical about it – IF it is confirmed, this discovery would be on that same scale. It would rock the world. So, sit back and grab onto something while some serious math gets done. We’ll keep you posted for tremors.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The sky is falling! 08.15.11

*UPDATE: NASA is now saying that they expect UARS to make impact at some point late tonight or early tomorrow morning. While it is impossible to pinpoint its exact crash site now, they estimate it will be somewhere off the coast of the Philippines. For NASA’s information about the UARS mission, visit:

The sky is falling! Well, not exactly. Something in the sky is falling, though. A 13,000-pound research satellite, to be precise. The word from NASA is to keep an eye out for falling debris.

UARS. Image credit:
UARS, or the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, has said its farewells to space and will be returning to Earth. NASA is slightly nervous about the giant research satellite, though, because it will be a true free-fall back to earth. What is more: they have no idea where the pieces that survive re-entry back into earth’s atmosphere will land.

According to NASA, they estimate about 1,000 pounds of the satellite will crash back into Earth, but will probably break up in the atmosphere and descend in a rain of debris that could cover an area about 500 miles in length.

As of right now, they cannot predict where or even when the remains of the satellite should make it back to Earth, but should be able to begin calculating it’s projected landfall about four days before it lands. They estimate it should be “landing” at the end of this month, or in early October. As it becomes closer and closer to Earth, they will attempt to give proper warning about the projected landing area.

According to NASA, no injuries have ever been reported due to re-entering space program equipment, and only minor property damage has ever been reported.

Just the same, we recommend keeping your eyes and ears open just in case UARS decides to land near you.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Packing power, 09.07.11

NASA is working on a power source that could revolutionize space exploration. A nuclear reactor the size of a regular suitcase, it is strong enough to power eight average US homes, yet portable enough to travel in small, compact space craft. Designed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, the generator is not actually in production yet, but given that its true value is proven, it could be venturing outside Earth’s atmosphere in a few decades or less.
A concept lunar space station. Image credit:
So, what could such a generator be used for? More dependable that solar power panels, the generators would be smaller, more durable, much easier to repair, and portable. They could be used on the “dark side” of whatever planet they happened to be stationed on (yes, we are dreaming about space stations on the Moon or Mars). They would also generate far more power than a solar cell of comparable size.
Wait a minute, what about nuclear meltdown? In light of disasters light Chernobyl and the recent leaks in earthquake and tsunami-wrecked Japan, would we really want to rely on nuclear reactors? Well, it turns out the suitcase-sized reactors would be much more stable than the monster, factory-sized reactors located throughout our nation and across the world. According to James Werner, the lead researcher on the project, “There would be no danger of meltdown… Because of the low power level…if we did have a situation where the power failed, the reactor itself would just shut down.”
Of course, one also has to take into consideration what sort of waste these things would generate, how often they would have to be refueled, and more. But, in light of the massive boost in exploration power they could provide (pun intended), such details seem to be exactly that: details. For now, researches are bent on thorough testing to see if these power packs are viable options.