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Posts Tagged ‘universe’

Hubble floats above Earth

April 24th of this year marked the twentieth anniversary of Hubble, the telescope that orbits Earth. It is one of NASA’s most successful and long-lasting science missions.

Why did NASA put the telescope in space? So its view would not be compromised by the Earth’s atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light reaching our planet. This is one of the biggest disadvantages from which ground-based telescopes trained at the outer space suffer.

Hubble’s discoveries have helped in the advancement of scientists’ understanding of the universe enormously. The telescope’s unique position gives it the best seat to view the universe around it and record it. The information Hubble has gathered over the years has helped scientists look at the universe in a whole new light.

Here are some fascinating facts about The Hubble Space Telescope (gathered from its official site):  

  • It was launched into space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.
  • It sweeps around the Earth once every 97 minutes.
  • It has revealed the age of the universe to be about 13 to 14 billion years, much more accurate than the old range of anywhere from 10 to 20 billion years.
  • It has played a key role in the discovery of dark energy, a mysterious force that causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
  • It is kept up to date and on target by periodic servicing missions from astronauts high above the atmosphere.
  • It has a ‘ground crew’ that tells it what to do.
  • It’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is currently in the works. It is scheduled to launch in 2014.
  • It is expected that Hubble’s components will slowly, over the years, degrade to the point at which it will stop working. When that happens, Hubble will continue to orbit Earth until its orbit decays, allowing it to spiral toward Earth.

Messages for Hubble:

NASA has many things planned for celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the telescope. Among them is its invitation for Hubble’s fans to leave a message in Hubble archives, and hence for posterity.

Never is the adage a picture speaks volumes more appropriate than in this context. So, without further ado, I bow out and leave you with some more astounding pictures (courtesy: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album) from Hubble’s album that has been created over the past two decades.

For further information and many more mind-blowing pictures, visit: http://hubblesite.org.

Spiral Galaxy M100

 

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The universe – stars, planets, nebulae, the Milky Way, black holes – in its entirety and infiniteness has always fascinated me. Hence, the Big Bang Theory that explains how the universe came into existence has been close to my heart for a long time.

I would like to share some really exciting latest developments related to this interest of mine with you, my friends, with your permission today.

Headlines with names like Search for Higgs boson and Massive Hunt for the God Particle have splashed across newspapers, the net, and TV lately.

So, what is Higgs boson, also popularly referred to as the God Particle?

Simply put, it is a subatomic particle, which is the fundamental building block of matter.

Why is the search for it making news so suddenly?

Actually, the biggest and most ambitious science experiment undertaken to discover the elusive Higgs boson is not at all new. Scientists at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland have been working on it tirelessly for a few years now.

How is it done?

Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – also known as the “atom smasher” and the “super collider” – is basically a particle accelerator; this is the gigantic scientific instrument that is used in this search. It spans the border between Switzerland and France, near Geneva, about 100 m deep beneath the Alpine meadows.

This instrument will be used to smash atom against atom at speeds approaching that of light, in order to shake out the Higgs boson from inside the nucleus of the atom.

The detectors inside the machine are four huge underground instruments, some as big as a gothic cathedral, which will act as microscopes to identify a Higgs particle in a fraction of the split second it takes to make an appearance before it disappears once more.

What will this experiment, and the subsequent discovery of Higgs boson, prove?

It may:

  • Revolutionize our understanding, from atomic level all the way up to the vastness of the universe. Hence, it may help answer the fundamental questions about why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is at odds with quantum mechanics. (The former deals with world on a large scale, whereas the latter deals with matter too small to see.)
  • Help discover new properties of nature.
  • Discover the possibility that there are hidden dimensions to the universe.
  • Explain why objects have mass, while some phenomenon, such as light, do not.

Basically, if facts were to follow theory, this trial will help answer some of the questions that are at the heart of our understanding of the creation of the universe, and the end of time.

Has it been smooth sailing all along?

No. Many problems plagued the super collider until very recently – problems that ranged all the way from a bird dropping a bit of a baguette into the accelerator, making the machine shut down, up to faulty joints and connect magnets coming loose.

No wonder some maintain that the devil is in the details.

While scientists have been working at getting the super collider to work, several myths and protests have been making rounds regarding the whole attempt.

  • It is not right to play with forces that have only existed in theory before.
  • It will create an uncontrollable big bang.
  • The immense energy involved in the experiment may generate mini black holes.
  • These black holes could somehow merge to form a larger, destructive entity that could swallow up the entire earth or chunks of the universe.
  • The experiment is infringing on the territory of the almighty, and hence may cause a major catastrophe.

What are the latest developments?

Finally after months of hard work and preparation – including some major and minor hiccups up to the very last minute – on Tuesday March 30th, the LHC successfully began to make subatomic collisions.

And the myths surrounding the experiment have proved to be just that. The super collider did succeed in smashing atoms and nothing unusual has happened: the earth continues to rotate and revolve as usual, and we all go about our lives, most of us unaware that we were supposedly standing at the brink of possible extinction just over a week ago.

What now?

The scientists will have to pore through the reams of data, collected by the super collider, for the next however many years, before they can say what it is that the collider has helped us discover.

Are we on the verge of the biggest breakthrough of science?

No one can say definitively.

Not all important (or fundamental, for that matter) discoveries are accompanied by a big bang. How about Newton and the proverbial apple falling on his head leading him to discover, eventually, the force of gravity? Could any discovery, of such epic proportions, have been less dramatic?

Also, most times, the majority of humanity are not even aware that something life-altering has occurred until after a few years or decades have gone by. Case in point: the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei proving (with the use of the first-ever astronomical telescope) Copernicus’s theory that earth revolved around the sun – a theory that was in direct opposition to the then existing belief that earth was at the center of the universe.

Ergo, we all just have to wait and see what the results from this latest attempt at attaining deeper insights into the beginning of time mean to the future of humanity.

What does the possible discovery of Higgs boson, and an eventual definitive theory about the origin of universe, mean to you?

  • Do you believe, in the first place, that this experiment will lead to a revolutionary view of the universe?
  • Will it possibly change the way you look at science?
  • Will it force you to look at religion differently?
  • Is it even likely to have an effect on you in any way?

I would dearly love to know what you all think…

If you’d like more details about this extraordinary journey, here are some good sites to begin with:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/in-search-of-the-god-particle-805757.html – Whence it all began: An interesting article about Prof. Higgs, and the sheer magnitude of LHC.

http://www.cern.ch/

http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHC-en.html

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