Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

Getting into shape

By Tushna Commissariat

Just think how handy it would be if your mobile phone could transform into different shapes depending on what you are using it for – nice and compact if you want to, say, securely enter a password in a public space or a broad console when playing a video game. That vision has moved one step closer to reality thanks to a prototype ultra-flexible mobile device unveiled yesterday by a group of researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Bristol University in the UK.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

What’s new with the ILC?

By Tushna Commissariat

Are you suffering from particle-collider withdrawal symptoms now that the LHC has begun its long shutdown? If so, you will be pleased to learn that you can focus your attention elsewhere.

The International Linear Collider Collaboration has posted an updated version of its 2013 Technical Design Report on the arXiv preprint server. It’s a short and sweet overview of the collider’s design, including “detailed descriptions of the accelerator baseline design for a 500 GeV e+e llinear collider, the R&D program that has demonstrated its feasibility, the physics goals and expected sensitivities, and the description of the ILD and SiD detectors and their capabilities”.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Old-school cosmological calculations

By Tushna Commissariat

Image of a calculator

Doing away with complex calculations? (CC-BY-2.0/Boaz Arad)

The next time you need to quickly convert the redshift of some distant cosmic object to parsecs or kilometres, and find that your laptop and phone have both run out of charge (the horror!), the “Paper-and-pencil cosmological calculator” might be just the thing for you. More of a chart than a “calculator”, the new table – that is based on the ΛCDM cosmological model of the universe – has been drawn up by Sergey Pilipenko from the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. And here’s the best bit – all the parameters that Pilipenko has plugged into his table are from the latest Planck results unveiled last month.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Voyager 1, where art thou?

Voyager 1 xkcd webcomic

The “Voyager 1” xkcd.com webcomic (Credit: Randall Munroe/Creative Commons)

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s a running joke at the Physics World news desk – the exact location of the Voyager 1 probe and how often we end up writing about how it really has nearly left the solar system this time. So we decided to wait and watch when the news broke on Wednesday evening this week that the probe had left the solar system for sure (again).

Unsurprisingly, the next morning our inboxes included a slightly sheepish “status update” message from NASA. “The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA’s Voyager 1 has left the solar system,” says Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012 the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space, and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Surround no sound?

By Tushna Commissariat

Image of the 3D acoustic cloak

A picture of the 3D acoustic cloak (left) and the cloak being tested in an anechoic chamber (right). (Courtesy: Physical Review Letters)

Invisibility cloaks seem to fascinate scientists and the public in equal measure, and every few months a novel design for some sort of metamaterial that cloaks either light or sound catches our eye, if you excuse the pun.

This week, we came across a group of researchers in Spain that claims to have designed, fabricated and tested the first “directional 3D acoustic cloak” that works for airborne sound. Previous designs of acoustic cloak work in water and air, but only if the sound propagates in 2D. Also, many cloaks only work within a narrow band of frequencies, limiting their uses.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

You spin me right round

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s not often that we come across a mention of an astronomical event measured in Earth years, let alone months or hours. So suffice to say I was pretty surprised by a recent XMM-Newton finding that talked about a star orbiting a black hole at the furious rate of once every 2.4 hours! Further investigation revealed that this has only broken the previous record by an hour, but these extremely short orbits still have me rather amazed. Certain short orbital period binary stars or pulsars do have even shorter periods of less than an hour, but this star orbits a stellar-mass black hole (it’s about three times more massive than the Sun) that is roughly a million kilometres away from it. The video below, courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA), is an animation showing one complete orbit of the star.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Which astronomical objects do you find the most fascinating?

By Tushna Commissariat

Artist's impression of a quasar

An artist’s impression of one of the most distant and brightest quasars ever seen. (Courtesy: NASA)

This week marks 50 years since astronomer Maarten Schmidt’s discovery of the quasar, using the giant Palomar Observatory telescope. Quasars or quasi-stellar objects are a kind of active galactic nucleus that astronomers believe are powered by supermassive black holes and are scattered throughout the universe. They have always fascinated me, being some of the brightest, most distant and highly red-shifted astronomical objects in our universe. Over the years, thousands of quasars have been identified and they have dramatically influenced our ideas about the scale of the observable universe and have helped astronomers shed some light on the early universe.

In fact, just this week an international team of researchers announced the discovery of an extremely rare triple quasar system – only the second one observed to date. These systems are considered to be extremely rare and are difficult to spot. By combining multiple telescope observations and advanced modelling, the team – led by Emanuele Farina of the University of Insubria in Como, Italy – was able to discover the triplet quasar, called QQQ J1519+0627. The researchers say that light from the quasars has travelled nine billion light-years to reach us, meaning that it was emitted when the universe was only a third of its current age. Advanced analysis confirmed that what the team found was indeed three distinct sources of quasar energy and that the phenomenon is extremely rare.

So in light of these exciting findings, in this week’s Facebook poll we are asking you to pick your favourite astronomical objects.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged | 2 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Of mice and ‘little green men’

By Tushna Commissariat

Pop-culture image of a green alien

Just called to say hello?
(Wikimedia Commons/Crobard)

There’s nothing quite like mentioning extraterrestrials or aliens to get us “Earthlings” all excited or riled up! Late last week, a paper popped up on arXiv, by astronomer Alan Penny from the University of St Andrews. He outlines an incident where, for a short while, the possibility of alien contact was seriously considered. He was talking about what was ultimately the discovery of the first pulsar; but at the time the researchers couldn’t help but wonder if they had come across the first “artificial signal” from outer space.

The exciting happenings began in August 1967, when Jocelyn Bell Burnell (then a graduate student working with Antony Hewish – controversially, only Hewish won the Nobel prize for the pulsar discovery in 1974) at the University of Cambridge, noticed a particular source that had a “flickering pattern” that, over a few weeks, she realized showed up regularly each day at the same sidereal time. That December Bell pinpointed the specific position of the source in the sky using another telescope and the discovery was confirmed. In the coming months, three more similar patterns were found and the researchers agreed on “pulsating stars” or pulsars being the source. But during those winter months, the possibility that they had encountered the first alien signal loomed large. In fact, Brunell and colleagues dubbed the first pulsar LGM-1 or “Little Green Men”; although it was changed to CP 1919, and is now known as PSR B1919+21.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Same old Standard Model

A simulation of an ATLAS event

(Courtesy: CERN)

By Tushna Commissariat

After the rather disappointing news for SUSY researchers from the Hadron Collider Conference in Kyoto this week, it seems as if physicists at the conference have not had anything exciting to say about the Higgs boson either. While both the CMS and ATLAS collaborations did present their latest results, from data collected since the historic Higgs discovery in July, all the current results still point to a Standard Model Higgs.

As a number of other bloggers have already pointed out, what is probably most interesting about these latest results is what is missing – both CMS and ATLAS have only updated certain channels. Conspicuous by its absence was the diphoton (gamma–gamma) channel, which was not updated by either collaboration. The reason for this seems to be some discrepancy between the analysis done by the two experiments, with concerns regarding systematic errors and calibration. Adam Falkowski, who writes the Resonances blog, explains these discrepancies in some more depth.

Papers with the new results from both CMS and ATLAS are available, but the usual blog suspects – Peter Woit, Matt Strassler and the viXra – all agree that the results are anti-climactic. It seems as though we will have to wait until the mysterious diphoton channel gives up its secrets, hopefully by sometime next year, before there is Higgs euphoria again.

Posted in General | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Stamping across the solar system

Royal Mail Stamps: Sun

By Tushna Commissariat

Earlier this week, the UK’s Royal Mail issued a set of six special stamps to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first satellite – Ariel 1 – that was launched on 26 April 1962. While the Royal Mail has issued stamps with space images on them in the past, the new set “takes the theme forward, exploring the solar system in greater depth than ever before”, according to the company.

All six images are taken from missions conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) and include the cavernous craters of Mars, the dizzying rings of Saturn, a close-up image of the Sun and a filament, a green-tinged picture of Titan – Saturn’s largest moon, the Lutetia asteroid and a shimmery picture of the south pole of Venus. Andrew Hammond, the Royal Mail stamps spokesperson, said “Britain has played an important role in space exploration over the last half a century and our Space Science issue is a fitting tribute.”

You can buy the set at the Royal Mail website.

Royal Mail Stamps: Saturn

Royal Mail Stamps: Titan

Royal Mail Stamps: Venus

Royal Mail Stamps: Mars

Royal Mail Stamps: Lutetia

Posted in General | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile