Large Hadron Collider Smashes First Particles After Upgrade

The Large Hadron Collider has begun smashing protons together for the first time since it was shut down in 2013 for a 2-year upgrade intended to push the field of particle physics to new frontiers.

The first runs of particle collisions were at relatively low energy levels, part of testing and preparation for the next round of experiments at CERN, the European nuclear research facility near Geneva, Switzerland.

Beams of protons were sent in opposite directions around the 17-mile circumference of the LHC 450 then smashed together with gigaelectronvolts (GeV) of energy.

The current round of experiments is expected to eventually reach energies of 6.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV) per beam to yield collisions at 13 TeV.

On Tuesday, the first collisions sent subatomic particles cascading into the machine’s giant detectors.

“It’s a nice milestone today,” said Dave Charlton, spokesperson for the multipurpose Atlas detector. “There were a lot of smiling faces in the control room today.”

In addition to Atlas, the LHC has three other detectors – CMS, Alice and LHCb – all of which recorded collisions in the new tests.

The low power collisions are allowing physicists to tune and calibrate their experiments in preparation for the higher-energy runs.

“So just as the LHC team tests each component, system, and algorithm one after the other, the experiments go through checklists that confirm that everything is fully functional and no mistakes, bugs or failures are present when collisions are delivered at 13 TeV,” CERN said in a release.

The scientists at the LHC made news in 2012 with their discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that underlies the Standard Model of physics by conferring mass on other fundamental particles.

The new, high-power experiments may yield evidence of the existence of dark matter particles or clues to why there is more matter in the universe than antimatter, they say.

LHC operations are halfway through a scheduled 8-week period of testing of all systems to ensure they are working as expected in preparation for high-energy collisions set to begin in June.

Scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries have been involved in the design, construction and operation of the LHC, as have hundreds of laboratories and universities.

Construction took 10 years, from 1998 until the first beams were sent through it in 2008.


Halley’s Comet Dust Caused Droughts and Famine Centuries Ago – Study

Halley's Comet Dust Caused Droughts and Famine Centuries Ago – Study

Climate change in AD 535-536 was caused by dust spilled into the atmosphere by Halley’s Comet, according to a new study.

The dust is thought to have cooled the atmosphere to an extent causing unseasonal weather and crop failures, leading to droughts and famine.

The climate change and accompanying famines triggered by the dust veil are also believed to have rendered humans more susceptible to “Justinian’s plague” of AD 541-542, Europe’s first recorded emergence of Black Death.

The years are recorded in history for unusual and extreme weather events in much of the northern hemisphere. The event was believed to have been caused by an extensive dust veil, while the observed episode was explained using several hypotheses including a large volcanic eruption in the tropics and debris from comet impact.

Dallas Abbott, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Livescience that smoke from volcanic eruption alone cannot explain the spread of dust across continents.

Researchers have found evidence of cometary residue on Greenland ice laid down between AD 533 and 540.

“I have all this extraterrestrial stuff in my ice core”, Abott said at a meeting organised by the American Geological Union.

The ice cores from the seven-year period have deposits of tin, nickel and iron oxide spherules from an extraterrestrial source.

High levels of tin are associated with alien dust especially that of a comet, Abbott explained. Studies suggest that the alien particulate matter was deposited during spring time, coinciding with the Eta Aquarid meteor shower from Halley’s Comet.

Scientists say that in the next four to five years of the impact, the earth cooled by as much as 5.4° Fahrenheit (3° Celsius).

A 2004 study estimated that a comet fragment about 2,000 feet (600 metres) wide is enough to have caused AD 536-537 cooling event.

However, this is not the only comet impact to have affected human beings in the last 20,000 years after the end of the Stone Age.

About 13,000 years ago, a probable impact event over North America is suspected to have caused widespread forest fires in the continent, leading to the extinction of several animal species and the subsequent collapse of the North American Clovis culture.

Explosion in Atmosphere

A major airburst caused by an asteroid or comet can be traced not too far back in recent history. In 1908, a large explosion in the atmosphere was caused by burning extraterrestrial rocky fragments near the Tunguska River in Russia.

Different Russian studies on the event reported that the native settlers heard sounds of explosion accompanied by a shock wave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows hundreds of kilometres away and levelled forests spread over an area of about 2,150 km2 (830 mi2).

Another DEVASTATING Chelyabinsk METEOR STRIKE: ‘7x as likely’ as thought NASA’s checked its space rock maths and it’s not good news

Another DEVASTATING Chelyabinsk METEOR STRIKE: '7x as likely' as thought NASA's checked its space rock maths and it's not good news

NASA has revealed fresh research on the Chelyabinsk meteorite that exploded over Russia in February, and the findings aren’t good: not only does it look like the astronomic models about the number of similar-sized things reaching Earth are wrong, but also the damage they can do is much greater than expected.

“If you look at the number of impacts detected by US government sensors over the past few decades you find the impact rate of kiloton-class objects is greater than would be indicated by the telescopic surveys,” said Bill Cooke, meteoroid environment office lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Over the past few decades we’ve seen an impact rate about seven times greater than the current state of the telescopic surveys would indicate.”

Cooke said that as the current state of asteroid surveys was expanded he expected we would find more meteorites in the vicinity to account for these impacts, but also that the amount of damage they caused was being reassessed.

The nuclear model used to estimate the amount of explosive force such incidents could cause had, in fact, been over estimating the blast impacts of such air-bursting meteors, he explained. But the amount of heat they generate, and the damage caused by the shockwave of air they push before them as they come down through the atmosphere, was significantly underestimated.

The Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest foreign body to come down to Earth since the Tunguska event in 1908, where a comet or meteor devastated 2,150 square kilometers of Siberia with an airburst, according to Lindley Johnson, NEO program executive of NASA’s planetary science division.

Thanks to the amount of dashcam videos, smartphones with cameras, the work of “citizen scientists,” and boffins around the world sharing their data, NASA has now piece together exactly what happened during the Chelyabinsk event he explained.

The meteorite arrived completely unexpectedly because it was coming at Earth with the Sun behind it, masking its progress NASA said. It hit our atmosphere at a speed of 42,500 mph (19 kilometers per second) and the vast majority of its mass was destroyed in the detonation 23 kilometers above Russia.

Around 9,000 to 13,000lb (4,000 to 6,000 kilograms) of the meteor survived the blast and fell to Earth, including several chunks that have been recovered. From an analysis of the remains scientists have concluded that fractures in the meteorite (formed from an impact with another space rock) left veins of silicates running throughout its body, making it much more likely to break up in the friction with our atmosphere.

The brightness of the object, and the amount of energy it transferred, surprised scientists. The meteor was briefly brighter than the Sun, even 100 kilometers from the site of the incursion, and the shockwave it created flattened buildings, shattered glass and injured 1,200 people.

Analysis of its remains show the Chelyabinsk meteorite was formed about 4.4 billion years ago and was 19 meters across. Objects under thirty meters wide aren’t expected to have the mass to make an impact with the Earth’s surface without disintegrating under the stress of atmospheric contact, according to NASA’s models.

Larger objects, such as the 40 meter asteroid 2012 DA14, which skimmed past Earth on the same day as the Chelyabinsk meteorite, could make it to the surface and cause considerable damage, Johnson said. But NASA did have viable plans to divert such dangers if they are spotted soon enough.

One idea is to launch a spacecraft directly at the incoming object. Provided it had sufficient mass, and could accurately hit the incoming rock, then the impact would slow the asteroid down to the point where Earth would have passed by the time it crossed our orbital plane.

If NASA had more of a warning it could send another mission to the asteroid which would use a “gravity tracker,” harnessing the attractive force of the spacecraft and the rock to subtly divert its course away, but said that this would take a number of years to achieve.

What was needed he said was a dedicated infrared telescope in orbit to complete a more thorough survey of near-Earth objects. Searching on the IR band would make these objects stand out more he told El Reg, and give a better estimate to their size.

The Chelyabinsk meteorite had given new urgency to a campaign to bring more capabilities to addressing the issue of asteroid impacts (“It’s a great advertisement,” Johnson joked) and provided an incentive to improve our chances of spotting threats in the future. Whether governments are willing to put up the relatively small amounts of money needed to take things further is another matter however.

Sun sends 28 solar flares erupting through space in a week… and there may be more on the way


U.S. NOAA has issued four radio blackout warnings in two days
There have been 24 M-class and four X-class flares since October 23
The Sun is currently reaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle

More than two dozen solar flares have erupted from the Sun in the past seven days, catapulting radiation towards the Earth that could potentially play havoc with global communications.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued four radio blackout warnings in the past two days after solar weather suddenly turned turbulent.
Radiation from flares cannot penetrate Earth’s atmosphere to harm life on the ground, but when intense enough it can disturb the atmosphere in the ionosphere, where GPS and radio signals travel.

Since October 23 the Sun has let loose with 24 medium-strength M-class solar flares, and four X-class flares – the most powerful kind.
In fact, with our local star heading towards the peak of its 11-year cycle, a period known as the solar maximum, this shouldn’t be unusual. But lead up to the solar max has been unusually subdued this year.

Humans have tracked the solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun’s peak activity.
Holly Gilbert, a solar physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Los Angeles Times: ‘It hadn’t been active in months, so it’s like it finally woke up.
‘For those of us who study the dynamics of the sun, it is exciting because it gives us more events to study.’
Solar flares happen when energy stored in magnetic fields twisted across the surface of the Sun is suddenly released.
‘You get a tangled bunch of magnetic fields, and they get too tangled and too stressed, they end up erupting,’ added Dr Gilbert.

The recent solar flare activity has also been accompanied by several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), say Nasa officials.
There are another kind of solar phenomenon that send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later.
Like the radiation from solar flares, these particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth; but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.
CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they funnel energy into Earth’s magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time.
The CME’s magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth’s fields changing their very shape, distortions which can can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected surges in power grids.
They also can cause aurora. Storms are rare during solar minimum, but as the sun nears solar maximum, large storms occur several times per year.

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GIANT ASTEROID could ‘BLOW UP EARTH’, warns Russian space boss



Space rock murder 200 times more likely than you winning the lottery


A freshly discovered asteroid, with the classy name 2013 TV135, has a slight chance of smashing into Earth on August 26, 2032 and ruining everyone’s day in a very big way.

“A 400-metre asteroid is threatening to blow up the Earth,” Russian vice-premier Dmitry Rogozin, who runs Russia’s space industry, posted on his Twitter feed. “Here is a super target for the national cosmonautics.”


The space rock was spotted by astronomers at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in southern Ukraine last weekend and their findings have now been confirmed by star-gazers in Italy, Spain, the UK and Russia. The best guesstimate is that the asteroid has a one in 63,000 chance of smashing into Earth.

NASA has also assessed the data and has rated it as a level one threat on the Torino impact hazard scale, making 2013 TV135 one of only two bodies yet found that may threaten Earth. One is the lowest rating on the scale (a ten rating means we really are doomed) and the asteroid is expected to miss us by 1.7 million km. But we’ll have to wait until 2028 to get final confirmation of its course and likely impact point.

If 2013 TV135 does hit Earth then it will explode with an estimated force of 2,500 megatons of TNT. By contrast, the Tsar Bomba, the most ridiculously large nuclear device ever exploded, was the equivalent of 50 megatons.

The other asteroid rated by NASA on the Torino scale as a level one threat is VK184, discovered in 2007. That has a 1 in 1820 chance of hitting us on June 3, 2048, but it’s much smaller at 130 meters and would only blow with the equivalent of 40 megatons.

Meanwhile, your chance of winning the UK lottery is 1 in 13,983,816. Sleep tight.


Terminator-style self-assembling robots unveiled by scientists

Robotic cubes that can jump, flip, roll and assemble themselves into different shapes have been revealed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Known as M-Blocks, the cube-shaped robots have no external moving parts, but each contains a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. When brakes are applied to the flywheel, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube, causing it to move.
Each M-Block has two cylindrical magnets, mounted like rolling pins on each edge. When two cubes approach each other, the magnets rotate so that north poles align with south and vice versa, allowing any face of any cube to attach to any face of any other. By climbing over and around one another, the cubes can assemble into different shapes.

As with any modular-robot system, the hope is that the cubes can be miniaturised, according to the researchers. The ultimate aim is to create hordes of swarming microbots that can self-assemble, like the “liquid steel” androids in the film “Terminator II.”
In the nearer term, however, the researchers believe that a more refined version of their system could prove useful even at something like its current scale. Armies of mobile cubes could temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects, for example.

They could also assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed. And they could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganise themselves to provide solutions.
“In the vast majority of other modular systems, an individual module cannot move on its own,” said Kyle Gilpin, postdoc at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “If you drop one of these along the way, or something goes wrong, it can rejoin the group, no problem.”
Meanwhile, Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University, descibed the M-Block as “a low-tech solution to a problem that people have been trying to solve with extraordinarily high-tech approaches”.
“They showed several modes of locomotion. Not just one cube flipping around, but multiple cubes working together, multiple cubes moving other cubes — a lot of other modes of motion that really open the door to many, many applications, much beyond what people usually consider when they talk about self-assembly,” said Lipson.
In ongoing work, the MIT researchers are building an army of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction, and designing algorithms to guide them.
“We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand,” said MIT research scientist John Romanishin.

‘Space burials’ on offer in Japan for a third the cost of UK burial

'Space burials' on offer in Japan for a third the cost of UK burial

Elysium Space transports a ‘symbolic portion’ of the deceased’s ashes into space alongside commercial satellite launches from the US

A company offering ‘space burials’ transporting loved ones’ ashes into the firmament has opened for business in Japan.

Elysium Space promises to make “space burial affordable for everyone”, charging customers $1,990 to transport “a symbolic portion of the remains from a cremation” into space alongside commercial and scientific satellites.

Families and friends are invited to watch the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida – although the event will also be webcast – and then track the rocket’s flight with a specially created app.

“Depending on the initial altitude of the [launch], our memorial spacecraft will respectfully and peacefully orbit the Earth from a few months to several years,” says Elysium Space. “Eventually, in a last poetic moment, the spacecraft will harmlessly reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, blazing as a shooting star.”

The company first announced their services in the US in August but has now expanded to Japan, with their first launch scheduled for summer 2014.

The decision to expand to Japanese shores seems particularly germane given the country’s rapidly aging population and weakening of family ties – a societal trait that had ensured that the expense of funerals was spread among individuals.

Bloomberg reports that the cost of renting a burial plot and buying a tomb stone in Tokyo is approximately 2.7 million yen, or £17,000.

This compares favourably to the $1,990 (£1,229) price charged by Elysium Space, though this only provides the desired gravitas of a funeral ceremony and doesn’t include the price of cremation itself.

Founded by an ex-Nasa engineer, Elysium Space must be enjoying a healthy demand for its services to allow overseas expansion, and perhaps it will open shop in the UK next.

Last month, academics in the UK called for a change in legislation to allow for graves older than 75 years to be ‘re-used’ to avert a “crisis”. Research suggests that nearly half of the UK’s ceremonies could be full within the next two decades, and that the cost of dying has risen 7.1 per cent from last year to an average of £7,622.

With the average burial in the UK now costing £3,914 and the average price of cremation estimated at £2,998 it might not be long until Elysium Space opens for business here as well.