Small but Mighty: KPD 0005+5106, the 200,000K White Dwarf

Sirius B1 - one of the more famous white dwarf stars (Frank Gregorio)

A white dwarf called KPD 0005+5106 has been identified as the hottest star observed, ever. KPD 0005+5106 lives in the globular cluster M4, 7,200 light years away, and astronomers have always been intrigued by this stellar lightweight as its emissions have previously hinted it was quite toasty. Now, astronomers using data from the defunct NASA Far-Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), have studied the white dwarf in more detail. KPD 0005+5106 emits radiation in the far-ultraviolet, indicating that its surface has a temperature of 200,000K. This is an unprecedented discovery, far-ultraviolet emissions are usually reserved for superheated stellar coronae. It may be small, but it’s a record-breaker
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A Mystery Aurora above Saturn’s Mysterious North Pole Hexagon

The aurora above Saturn's North Pole hexagon (NASA)

Not only does Saturn have a mysterious hexagonal shape etched into the bands of cloud above its north pole, it also has a unique magnetic structure. This is suggested by recent results recorded by the NASA Cassini probe that passed over the pole to see a huge active auroral region, much larger and more dynamic than expected. Interestingly, the NASA press release has not linked the strange aurora with the long-lived hexagonal shape in the gas giant’s atmosphere. Could the hexagon be formed by a unique magnetic structure above Saturn? Or could both phenomena be connected in some other way?
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4 – 1 Odds That God Exists

Q: What does God, Russell Brand and the Higgs boson all have in common?
A: Unsurprisingly, not a lot.

'Eye of God' (a.k.a. the Helix Nebula), Russell Brand (with Kristin Bell on the set of the excellent movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and my Higgs boson (from the Particle Zoo)

The candidates (from left to right): 'Eye of God' (a.k.a. the Helix Nebula), Russell Brand (with Kristin Bell on the set of the excellent movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and my Higgs boson (from the Particle Zoo)

OK, so it’s been a “stupid news day” today. First I find out that 52% of voters in the great state of California believe that same-sex marriage is a bad thing, voting in the draconian Proposition 8. And then I read that a UK betting company has taken the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) search for the “God particle” literally.

So, that’s why The Eye of God (Helix Nebula as taken by Hubble) and my Higgs particle plushie are in the picture above… but where does Russell Brand and Kristin Bell come into it? Actually, there’s no reason for Bell to be in the picture at all (apart from being the first ever bikini-wearing actress to grace pages of Astroengine – don’t get used to it!), but it appears that Brand has some “god-like” qualities himself, coming a close second to old Higgsy…

Hold on to your muon detectors, this is about to get silly
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‘The Hills’ Girls Suffer LHC Information Overload

"Why are they doing that?" The Hills Girls bravely confront the LHC and the Big Bang (E! Channel)

'Why are they doing that?' The Hills Girls bravely confront the LHC and the Big Bang (E! Channel)

Superb! The Large Hadron Collider has barged its oversized supercooled magnets into the very popular US teenie drama, “The Hills.”

Now I’ve heard it all. Not only did the LHC grand switch-on event appear as headline news on every newspaper, website, TV and radio news channel back on September 10th, the LHC has now been worked into the script of The Hills.

The program usually deals with fever-pitch relationship battles between the cast of over-privileged teenagers who shop and fill their days saying “yeah… that’s cute.” For the vast majority of the world who may not have seen the show, imagine a hoard of Paris Hilton clones, struggling by on the mean streets of the Beverley Hills (having just moved from that other well-known dive, Laguna Beach) dressed in Prada, sipping tall-skinny-chai-lattes, moaning about boys. And don’t get me started on the guys, just think “metro-sexual” with a heavy dose of Boy George thrown in…
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Will the Real Walter Wagner Please Stand Up (and Put the Geiger Counter Down)

Wagner discovers tiles of uranium-filled death (MSNBC)

Wagner discovers tiles of uranium-filled death (MSNBC)

After chatting with Walter Wagner (the guy who filed the LHC “Doomsday Suit” in an Hawaiian court… only for it to be thrown out last month) on Paranormal Radio in July, I was left a little unsatisfied.

By the July 28th radio show, I’d only written about the LHC lawsuit a couple of times and had little time to prepare for the discussion. However, after only a few minutes of digging for some background information Wagner I’d unearthed a couple of things. For one he had previously attempted to sue the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000. This attempt had failed on the basis that Wagner’s “evidence” that the RHIC could create strangelets (that will spawn the end of the world) and black holes (spawning… well… the end of the world) was too flimsy to warrant any serious investigation. Then I uncovered something a little unsettling: Wagner had a rather unhealthy scrape with the law. At the time I didn’t want to follow this up, as I was going on air in 30 minutes, the RHIC lawsuit was enough for the time being.

Today, another piece has been added to the puzzle of what drives Walter Wagner. Over at the hilariously named “The Physics Anti-Crackpot Blog” there’s a link to an article chronicling Wagner’s Geiger counter crusade against radioactive tiles (oh yes!). I’ll leave it for you to read, it is both entertaining and unsettling.

Wagner believes he is a public safety crusader, and I doubt we’ll hear the last of him (besides superheroes love the attention, whether it is good or bad).

Why does Mr. Wagner hate the LHC? Well, the short and simple answer — ironically, this is the short and simple answer — is that Mr. Wagner and a lot of other people who like physics but don’t really understand it as well as they think they do have latched onto the notion that the LHC will spontaneously generate black holes, which will destroy the Earth. – Excerpt from Return of the Radiation Man (Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets)

Source: The Physics Anti-Crackpot Blog

Probing Variable Black Holes

Artist impression of a black hole feeding off its companion star... and a rogue Higgs particle (ESO/L. Calçada)

Artist impression of a black hole feeding off its companion star... and a rogue Higgs particle (ESO/L. Calçada/Particle Zoo)

Black holes are voracious eaters. They devour pretty much anything that strays too close. They’re not fussy; dust, gas, plasma, Higgs bosons, planets, stars, even photons are on the menu. However, for astronomers, interesting things can be observed if a star starts to be cannibalized by a neighbouring black hole. Should a star be unlucky enough to have a black hole as its binary partner, the black hole will begin to strip the stars upper layers, slowly consuming it on each agonizing orbit. Much like water spiralling down a plug hole, the tortured plasma from the star is gravitationally dragged on a spiral path toward the black hole’s event horizon. As stellar matter falls down the event horizon plug hole, it reaches relativistic velocities, blasting a huge amount of radiation into space. And now, astronomers have taken different observations from two observatories to see how the visible emissions correlate with the X-ray emissions from two known black hole sources. What they discovered came as a surprise
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Higgs Boson Discovered on Doorstep

You don’t need the Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higgs boson after all…

The moment of discovery. It turns out Higgsy is a little shy.

The moment of discovery. It turns out Higgsy is a little shy.

This evening I went outside to investigate a noise. On opening the door I saw a small box lying awkwardly on its side against a flower pot. A little confused (as there was no knock on the door to say there was a delivery), I picked the small package. The box was heavy. I gave it a shake. Something was rolling around in there. It didn’t make a sound.

On opening the box I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, hiding under styrofoam packaging, neatly wrapped in a clear plastic bag, the one particle EVERYONE wants to meet… the Higgs boson!

Far from being smug, the little guy was actually pretty shy and was reluctant to leave the comfort of his box. After a brief chat I assured him that he was safe from particle physicists wanting to see him spontaneously decay…

As you might have guessed, I didn’t discover a real Higgs particle on my doorstep (although we all know that it must be full of them… theoretically anyhow). My Higgs boson plushie has just travelled from the caring hands of its creator, Particle Zookeeper Julie Peasley…
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