Archive for November 2011
Breaking Physics… Again
The lab that produced the neutrinos that traveled faster than light reproduced its findings the other day. This time they controlled for a possible error, so that’s one less reason that their findings are wrong. However, an Italian lab is disputing this whole faster-than-light problem by saying that the first lab failed to account for the neutrinos’ energy properly. So, for now we’re still stuck debating the question as to whether or not the speed of light can be broken.
Engineering the Heaviest Element
Two teams of scientists are both trying to create the heaviest elements ever by firing titanium beams at a wafer of berkelium. The premise is that the 22 protons in titanium will mesh with berkelium’s 97 protons to create the new element 119. However, detecting that element could be difficult, since element 118 lasted only 1.8 milliseconds and element 119 isn’t expected to last that long before decaying.
Probing Mars for Life
The curiosity rover launched Saturday and will probe Mars for signatures of life. The rover won’t reach Mars until August 2012. Once it’s there it will use the most sophisticated tools ever used on the Martian surface to help scientists better understand Mars’ geography and see if life was once feasible on the red planet.
Everyday scientists are finding new planets, called exoplanets, which may have the ability to harbor life. While most of these exoplanets are gas giants, like Jupiter, earth-like rock planets and moons of gas giants are being discovered more frequently. So, with all of these discoveries, how can we narrow down which planets are most likely to have signatures of life? Leave that to astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch. In a recent interview, he outlined a two dimensional plan to map the likelihood of finding life on possible planets.
The first dimension is called the Earth Similarity Index… which, just as it sounds, compares newly found planets to earth in terms of size, whether or not there is water, proximity to a star, and atmosphere. The second dimension is called the Planetary Habitability Index. This index takes into account the idea that life may not need earth-like conditions to exist. For example, Jupiter’s larges moon Titan has oceans of methane. Titan has a high score on the PHI because life may be able to utilize methane the way life on our planet utilizes water.
As technology becomes more advanced and we start exploring these exoplanets, I think it’s only a matter of time until we find signatures of life on other planets.
Justin Hall is trying to solve our big, big energy problems by going very, very… small. Hall gathered some of the best and brightest scientists from around the globe to find cheap, flexible solutions to the energy problems plaguing the globe. At a TED conference, Hall presented his work. You should definitely check the video out. It’s remarkable.
Now, whether or not Hall’s solutions will be adopted on a grand scale is another matter entirely. For whatever reason, cutting edge energy solutions have been hard to find adopters. Maybe Hall’s solutions will be different… but only time will tell.
Entropy is, in short, a measure of how ordered things are in the universe. The universe is continually moving toward a less ordered universe. Entropy may also be the reason that we experience time, as the change in entropy is the only change that distinguishes the past from the present and the future. The video below gives a much better explanation:
Also, one of my favorite short stories, The Last Question, deals with the problem of entropy. I highly suggest you read it.
So now you know what the deal with entropy is, and why you experience time.
Strides are continuing to be made in the world of quantum computing. The most advanced quantum computer contains about 12 quibits… meaning it can hold 4096 pieces of data simultaneously. So how does quantum computing work? With normal computers, a bit may be represented by a group of electrons. In a quantum computer, information is stored by a single particle, maybe just a single electron. Because the rules of quantum mechanics dictate that a single particle can be in two places at once, that single particle can store two pieces of information. Information is exchanged by hitting these particles with microwaves. Because they can hold twice as much information, quantum computers can perform calculations much faster. As a result, quantum computing will wind up pushing the current limits of computing power.