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Thursday
Dec272012

News Highlights of the Holidays

Glitchiness

Indeed (NBC).

Pulsars: Those crazy-dense, fast-spinning leftovers of supernova explosions. Their spin rates are very stable over time, rivaling and often besting atomic clocks in their precision. Their rotation times decrease as the pulsars lose energy and grow old(er than they already are), but they decrease predictably—most of the time. Scientists have observed “glitches,” spin-ups that occur all of a sudden. The prevailing idea behind glitches is that the strange stars—which are believed to have a “crust” (of sorts) with a superfluid under the surface. The superfluid can transfer some of its rotational energy (it’s sloshingly spinning too) to the crust. When that happens, the spin as a whole (which we measure from the crust) is faster. Or so scientists thought. Dr. Nils Andersson and Dr. Wynn Ho from the University of Southampton say, “We don’t think so, and we’ve got some math.” The math says that the volume of superfluid inside a pulsar is not large enough to produce the observed effects. Isn’t it great to be wrong? University of Southampton.

 

The Universe’s Baby Picture

This will be so embarrassing when it's a teenager (WMAP).

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was launched in 2001 and took observations for nine years. It was looking at the cosmic microwave background, remnant radiation from the early universe that did not come from stars, galaxies, and the like but suffuses the entire universe with a (mostly) uniform “glow.” It’s the earliest picture we have, and it can tell us a lot about how that baby universe became this mature, grown-up thing we see today. Just like babies have uniform skin, skin, skin and then the “anomalies” of eyes, nose, mouth, the early universe was the same all over, except where it wasn’t. These anomalies—or anisotropies as they are called in cosmology-speak—are the seeds of structures to come later. Scientists have finally finished analyzing WMAP’s massive dataset and have some things to tell you:

  1. The universe is only 4.6% atoms.
  2. 24% of it is dark matter.
  3. 71% of it is dark energy.
  4. This place is weird; take me home.
  5. Stars first shone 400 million years after the Big Bang.
  6. Inflation—when the universe grew 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times in 1/1,000,000,000,000th of a second—happened. Anisotropies formed during this mind-blowing epoch.
  7. Surprise, the Big Bang happened. In case you were wondering.

Johns Hopkins University.

 

Germany Jumps on It

That's a whole lot of countries that have "our place in the universe" and "technological innovation" as a high priority. Notably absent: US. Click to enlarge this political and scientific mistake (SKA).

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is the largest, most sensitive, most expensive telescope every conceived, is an international collaboration by economic and space-based necessity (read more about this project’s background and purpose). It, if completed, will truly be one of the wonders of the twenty-first century world. And Germany has put forth the weapons (money) in the fight for scientific relevance. It joins Australia, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and the UK—aka, everybody besides us, the US—in the SKA Organization. SKA Telescope.

 

 

 

World Still Here

Don't run, John. It's not the end of the world (2012: The Movie).

In other news, the world did not end on December 21, 2012. You are still here. I am still here. John Cusack is still here. Let us move on to the next apocalyptic scenario. 

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