Artist impression of Cassini orbiting Saturn (NASA)
In a previous Astroengine article, I explored the possibility that the variation in radioactive decay rates may be synchronised with Earth’s orbital variations in distance from the Sun. Naturally, this would be a huge discovery, possibly questioning the fundamental law that nuclear decay rates are constant, no matter where the material is in the Universe. One of the conclusions in the original decay rate research suggested that we should attach a sample of a radioisotope onto an interplanetary mission far beyond the orbit of Earth. By doing this, the relationship between decay rates and distance from the Sun should become obvious, and terrestrial decay rate variations can be tested.
But wait a minute, let’s have a think about this. Haven’t we already sent radioactive material on board interplanetary missions? What about all that plutonium we use to power interplanetary probes like Voyager, Pioneer, Galileo or Cassini? Plutonium is pretty radioactive… isn’t it?
The Long-March II-F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-7 spaceship plus three crew blasts off (Xinhua/Li Gang)
China has high hopes to be the third nation to successfully carry out a spacewalk after launching three taikonauts into orbit today. According to officials, the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft has successfully completed its first orbital manoeuvres and is currently orbiting 343 km above the Earth. The world now waits for news that the first Chinese astronaut has successfully left the capsule to explore the vacuum of space for the first time. It all sounds rather exciting doesn’t it?
But this feat pails into insignificance when compared with another stunning achievement. The Chinese authorities have shown that not only can they blast man into space – following in the pioneering footsteps of Russia and the USA – they also have the ability to foresee the future. Either that, or they’ve found a way to travel through time. Amazing as it may sound, it really did happen; transcripts of a “future” conversation between the Shenzhou-7 astronauts, whilst in orbit, were published on the official Chinese news website hours before the rocket engines had even ignited…
You did NOT just say that! Brian Cox's expression says it all... (still from the BBC's Newsnight program)
It’s days like this that I worry for the future of science in the UK…
Sure, Sir David King is the former Chief Scientific Advisor for the UK government, but the opinions he voiced on last week’s BBC Newsnight airing caught my breath. If his short-sighted and ill informed ideas are indicative of the UK government’s science funding strategy, I’d suggest all UK-funded particle physicists pack up and move to Europe or the US.
In the aftermath of the LHC grand event on Wednesday, outspoken Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman was joined by King and the ever impressive Professor Brian Cox. The topic focused on how the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will benefit mankind. As the media had been buzzing about the event for weeks, it was great to see a leading news opinion program set aside six minutes for a particle physics debate.
And what a debate it was! Let’s put it this way, Brian Cox got pretty irritated by King’s point that “brilliant people” should be attracted into other challenges to mankind, rather than focusing their attention on “navel searching” projects like the LHC. Brian’s response was awesome…
The LHC computers are some of the most advanced in the world... but they can still be hacked... (CERN)
As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) circulated its first beam of particles last Wednesday, there was an electronic battle being waged inside the computer systems of the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS), one of the four LHC detectors. The detector’s monitoring systems (CMSMON) were compromised and Greek hackers were able to upload half a dozen files during September 9th and 10th forcing CMS software engineers to scour all the systems for any more hidden files as the historic LHC “switch on” happened around them. The detector’s website displayed the Greek Security Team‘s (GST) replacement, mocking the poor security of the international particle accelerator facility, CERN.
This chain of events will of course raise a few eyebrows as to how this could possibly have happened at the multi-billion pound experiment (after all, CERN was the birthplace of the World Wide Web back in 1991), but the LHC is a huge target for hackers, if there’s a flaw, someone will eventually exploit it. CERN officials have pointed out that the security breach did not affect any experiment-critical systems, but there was bound to be some worried faces at CMS last week…
The new European proton superhighway (CERN)
The biggest experiment ever conceived by mankind was powered up today (Wednesday morning, GMT) and successfully circulated the first beam of protons. This is the first step toward LHC particles attaining relativistic velocities, completing 11,000 laps of the 27 km (17 mile) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) per second. This incredible feat of accelerator engineering is unparalleled, eventually allowing two counter-rotating beams of particles to be focused and collided within scales previously unimaginable. It is hoped the LHC will accelerate particles to such high energies that 14 TeV collisions will be possible by 2010, possibly revealing undiscovered particles, including the much sought-after Higgs Boson.
Although today is a hugely significant time for science (and a historic one for mankind), the first collisions will take place in October; today is a “dry run,” allowing the protons to circulate one-way. According to sources, today’s protons were accelerated around the instrument without issue, prompting LHC engineers to cheer when it was confirmed everything was on track…
Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo
The recording of the September 1st Paranormal Radio show featuring Captain Jack and myself is now available for your listening pleasure. The show was entitled “Ten Mysteries of the Solar System” and it related to an article of the same name I wrote for the Universe Today on August 18th. It was great to be asked back to the show for the fourth time, and it looks like I might have a regular slot! As Jack said toward the end of the show, I am rapidly becoming PR’s resident “myth buster” – I am very honoured to have been given this task! Hopefully I’ll be appearing monthly to discuss the weird and wonderful goings on in our Universe, and Jack is a fantastic host, so we often go off on a tangent (as can be witnessed in this 3-hour show, I think it took me an hour just to talk about the first two mysteries of the ten!).
On writing the article “Anyone Who Thinks the LHC Will Destroy the World is a Tw*t.” on Astroengine.com, I had no idea it would hit the front page of Digg.com and generate thousands of hits (booting Astroengine offline for 20 minutes). I wrote the supportive post as I believe Brian’s quote (from the Telegraph website), summed up the strain particle physicists are beginning to feel.
The original quote could be misconstrued as being offensive, but I believe the vast majority understood what he was saying. Brian was responding to reports that LHC scientists had received death threats in the run-up to the September 10th start date of the particle accelerator. With a combination of disinformation being spread by certain ill-informed individuals, media hype and mass hysteria, a solid statement was needed by a leading physicist to tame the unnecessary fear being whipped up.
I’ve been banging on about how safe the LHC is for some time, and I even vowed not to post another LHC doomsday debunking article as, quite frankly, I’m sick to death with the idiotic claims that micro-black holes, stranglets or gremlins could be produced by the LHC. The fact is that there is no danger and Brian explains why…
I’m a huge fan of Brian Cox. He’s often referred to as the “rockstar of physics,” which is a big complement considering the stereotypical physicist in everyone’s mind. From the get-go you know that Professor Cox is a guy you want in your laboratory, and you can see why from this excellent TED lecture he gave in Monterey, CA, this year. He is a tireless advocate of communicating science to the world and his outreach style is second-to-none. But like many modern scientists who are working on cutting-edge research, they are often at the mercy of public misconception, media hype and personal attacks. So when I hear news that some Large Hadron Collider (LHC) physicists are receiving death threats, I lose my faith in humanity…
Big science at the LHC (Credit: QrczaQ)
…actually, it’s 50 days until the first particle collisions, but who’s counting?
Right, this is officially the last Astroengine.com article I will write about the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. All future articles will be consumed by the stunning science being carried out at this historic facility near Geneva in Switzerland. I realised months ago that scientists are on a losing battle when it comes to using scientific reasoning to quell the misinformation being communicated about what the LHC can do. Firstly, micro black holes will most likely not be produced (and besides, if they are, they will only live for an infinitesimally short period of time). Secondly, stranglets and magnetic monopoles have a vanishingly small chance of even existing in theoretical physics (they are speculative at best), let alone the nigh-on impossible event any man-made experiment could ever generate them. They are hypothetical particles.
To put the probability of the LHC creating a doomsday scenario into perspective, there is a better probability that a) all the air in my office will spontaneously drift to the other side of the room, leaving me to suffocate; b) I will spontaneously disappear as every single subatomic particle in my body decides to return their energy to the vacuum, or c) our four-dimensional space (three spatial and one temporal) will instantaneously become more “space-like,” freezing us in a strange new Universe where nothing happens (sorry, I’m getting a little carried away now). The point I am trying to make is that there is a higher risk of something “strange” happening to us in the “real world” than there is of something “strange” happening to the entire planet after being triggered by the LHC…
Still, the LHC lawsuit grumbles on and the media is still reporting silly science needlessly worrying people, distracting them from what the LHC is really going to do: revolutionize science.
Gary McKinnon being interviewed via phone by Jerry Pippin (jerrypippin.com)
Gary McKinnon, a British computer analyst, has failed in his appeal against extradition to the US. McKinnon is accused of accessing 97 US military and NASA computers during his search for information about a possible US government conspiracy to cover up the existence of UFOs. According to the Glasgow-born 42 year old, the computers he accessed were totally unprotected and surprisingly easy to hack. However, the US government says his actions were malicious and the biggest breach of US government computers of all time. McKinnon’s activities allowed him access to 16 NASA computers between 2001 and 2002.
For the record, it is my opinion that McKinon is the victim of his own curiosity. He most certainly is not an organized terrorist wanting to bring down the US government. What’s more the UK has tough laws that he can be prosecuted by, so why is he being extradited to a country where he has never set foot before? Having followed this unfolding story for some years, I feel compelled to mention it on Astroengine.com. This man should not be extradited. The apparent ease at which this individual walked into NASA networks is astonishing; it’s not McKinon that needs to be taken to court, it’s NASA’s Internet security experts who need to be taken to task…