Scientists are hunting one of the biggest prizes in physics: tiny particles called wimps that could unlock some of the universe’s oldest secrets
A wimp—a weakly interacting massive particle—is thought to be the stuff of dark matter, an invisible substance that makes up about a quarter of the universe but has never been seen by humans.
Gravity is the force that holds things together, and the vast majority of it emanates from dark matter. Ever since the big bang, this mystery material has been the universe’s prime architect, giving it shape and structure. Without dark matter, there would be no galaxies, no stars, no planets. Solving its mystery is crucial to understanding what the universe is made of.
“If we don’t assume that 85% of the matter in the universe is this unknown material, the laws of relativity and gravity would have to be modified. That would be significant,” says physicist Giuliana Fiorillo, a member of the 150-strong team searching for the particles at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory, 80 miles east of Rome.
The quest for dark matter has intensified since the discovery of the Higgs boson particle two years ago, which helped to narrow the field in which wimps might be hiding. Today, more than 20 different teams of researchers are hunting for the elusive stuff, using some of the most elaborate and delicate experiments ever devised.
Dark-matter detectors have been installed on the sea bed nearly 8,200 feet beneath the surface. Others operate deep inside mines. There is one on the International Space Station. China’s new dark-matter experiment sits 1.5 miles beneath a marble mountain. When it restarts later this year, the Large Hadron Collider will look for wimps, too, by smashing together subatomic particles.
Scientists estimate that visible matter makes up just 4% of the universe, while dark matter makes up 23%. The remaining 73% is an even bigger puzzle, a repulsive force known as “dark energy.”
Dark matter neither emits nor absorbs light. We know it is out there, because scientists can measure the immense gravitational force it exerts on stars, galaxies and other cosmic bodies. The best candidate for what dark matter consists of is the wimp: an ethereal being that barely interacts with normal matter. Every second, billions of wimps flow through the Earth without hitting anything. Read the rest of this entry »
Curiosity’s handlers sent no commands to the rover for most of April, because Mars was on the opposite side of the sun from Earth at the time. But this planetary alignment, known as a Mars solar conjunction, is now over, and the mission team is planning to drill into a Red Planet rock soon and then send Curiosity off on an epic, miles-long trek to the base of a huge and mysterious mountain.
“A couple of weeks to move to the site and drill, and then the experiments themselves can take also a couple of weeks — that’s about the time scale we’re looking at,” said Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “And then we’d hopefully get going.”
He stressed, however, that this timeframe could shift depending on how the drilling operation goes, and what Curiosity discovers.
Curiosity healthy after ‘spring break’
The Curiosity rover wasn’t idle during conjunction. It continued monitoring Martian weather and radiation and perfomed some relatively simple science work using commands sent up in advance, Vasavada said.
“That all went fine — it kind of executed flawlessly a long set of preplanned activities,” he told SPACE.com. “We had never planned 30 days at once [before], so that was a relief.”
But things have picked up since mission controllers got back in touch with Curiosity late last week. They’ve already uploaded a minor software update to the rover, which emerged from conjunction in fine health, Vasavada said.
Curiosity continues to operate on its backup, or B-side, computer, which it switched to after a glitch knocked out its primary computer (or A-side) in late February.
The rover team has still not fully figured out what happened to the A-side, but engineers have made significant troubleshooting progress. For example, Curiosity would have been OK if an issue during conjunction had forced the rover to swap back over to the A-side computer, Vasavada said.
Drilling another hole
The rover team has already checked off this primary goal, announcing in March that a spot dubbed Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago. Scientists reached this conclusion after studying Curiosity’s analyses of material pulled from a 2.5-inch-deep (6.4 centimeters) hole the rover drilled into a Red Planet outcrop.
Now that conjunction’s over, the mission team wants to drill another hole in a nearby rock, to confirm and perhaps extend the exciting results gleaned from the first drilling activity.
“Probably in the next week or two, we will slightly move the rover to a new location, which the science team is actively choosing right now,” Vasavada said. “Primarily, it will be to duplicate the results from the first hole, because they were so exciting and, in some cases, unexpected that the people who run the experiments just want to make sure it’s really correct before writing all the papers up.” Read the rest of this entry »
Russian Bombers More Aggressive Near U.S. Territory
Sam LaGrone reports: While Russian military aircraft have stepped up their activity everywhere from the North Sea to the Baltic to the Black Sea in the last year they have also been spotted more frequently closer to the U.S. territory in the Arctic, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) told USNI News on Tuesday.
In particular – flights of Tupolev Tu-95 Bear ‘H’ Bombers have increased recently NORTHCOM’s Adm. Bill Gortney said.
“They’ve been very aggressive – under my NORAD hat – for us in the Arctic. Aggressive in the amount of flights, not aggressive in how they fly.”
Since the March seizure of the Ukrainian region of Crimea by Russian forces Moscow has significantly stepped up air patrols in Europe, Asia and near the Americas.
The flights extend as far North as the edge of American air space near Alaska and as far South as U.S. holdings in Guam.
In December, two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets intercepted a two Bears near the Beaufort Sea entering a U.S. and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Read the rest of this entry »
Designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, this “female” robot could be the precursor to robo-astronauts that will help colonize Mars.
What if NASA’s Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a “superhero robot.” Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what’s shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel. In an interesting twist, Valkyrie seems to be a girl. Read the rest of this entry »
— ABC News (@ABC) February 10, 2015
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) February 6, 2015
Originally posted on TIME:
NASA’s space probe New Horizons has sent back its first images of Pluto and its moon Charon during the probe’s final approach towards the dwarf planet, which the agency released Wednesday.
The publishing of the images coincides with the birth anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto’s discoverer, who died in 1997.
“This is our birthday tribute to Professor Tombaugh and the Tombaugh family, in honor of his discovery and life achievements,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.
The spacecraft, which has traveled 3 billion miles across the solar system for over nine years, is currently scheduled to fly past Pluto and its moons on July 14. (It took the above grainy but exciting images from about 126 million miles away.)
“Pluto is finally becoming more than a pinpoint of light,” said the mission’s project scientist Hal Weaver.
Narrated by Tim Allen (voice of Buzz Lightyear), this is a complete behind-the-scenes feature on the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the largest incentivized prize in history. Adapted from the award-winning digital planetarium show, the 24-minute movie chronicles 18 teams from around the world looking to make history by landing a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the Moon. This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world. Learn more
Japan successfully completed the launch of a radar reconnaissance satellite on Sunday morning, the Kyodo news agency reports. The launch was performed from the Tanegashima Space Center in the Kagoshima Prefecture in the south of Japan at 10:21 local time (01:30 GMT). The satellite was taken into orbit by the H-2A (H-IIA) carrier rocket.
This is the fifth spy satellite that Japan has launched into the Earth’s orbit. It will allow to capture objects on the surface of the Earth at high resolution during nighttime and through clouds. The other four Japanese satellites that are orbiting the Earth include two optical imaging spacecraft and two radar imagers.
Japan plans to launch another reconnaissance satellite in March, as part of the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) series. The IGS program was initiated after North Korea attempted to launch a satellite in August 1998. The rocket carrying the satellite overflew Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean.
Source: Sputnik News
The seven-member crew of the STS-107 mission was just 16 minutes from landing on the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, when Mission Control lost contact with the shuttle Columbia. A piece of foam, falling from the external tank during launch, had opened a hole in one of the shuttle’s wings, leading to the breakup of the orbiter upon re-entry.
Addressing the nation, President Bush said, “mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.”
On January 31, 1961, a Mercury-Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral carried a chimpanzee named Ham, aka Ham the Astrochimp, on a journey to become the first great ape in outer space. As you can see in the photoset, Ham was fitted with bio-censors and fastened into a “flight couch,” a biopack placed inside the space capsule. But Ham wasn’t just a passenger.
Unlike previous simian spacemen, Ham was trained to perform a lever-pulling task in response to a flashing blue light. (Training involved rewards of banana and the “positive punishment” of mild electric shocks. More on that later.) Like any good mission specialist, Ham bravely did his job, all while racing 640 kilometers down range in an arching trajectory that reached a peak of 254 kilometers above the Earth.
This humble primate, born in the wilds of Cameroon, didn’t set out to beat both Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard in the race to space. But when history came calling, he stepped up. After splashdown in the Atlantic, Ham the Space Hero was lavished with love and apples….(more)
On January 31, 1961, a brave 3-year-old chimpanzee was strapped into a capsule inside the Mercury Redstone rocket and launched 160 miles above the earth. For 16 minutes, he orbited at a speed of 5857 mph before crashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, a little dehydrated, but otherwise unharmed. Read the rest of this entry »
After a Voyage of More than 3 Billion Miles, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft is Ready to Begin Exploring PlutoPosted: January 23, 2015
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto. The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14 with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet, 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth.
“We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring.”
– Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado
“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”
The fastest spacecraft when it was launched, New Horizons lifted off in January 2006. It awoke from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than 3 billion miles, and will soon pass close to Pluto, inside the orbits of its five known moons.
“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system. The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”
– Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division
In preparation for the close encounter, the mission’s science, engineering and spacecraft operations teams configured the piano-sized probe for distant observations of the Pluto system that start Sunday, Jan. 25 with a long-range photo shoot.
The images captured by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of Pluto’s moons. The images also will play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto.
“We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Read the rest of this entry »
The system, referred to as Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses Aegis radar, and airborne sensor and SM-6 missile to find, track and destroy approaching threats such as cruise missiles at ranges well beyond the typical radar horizon, Navy officials said.
Alongside Aegis radar and an SM-6 missile, NIFC-CA uses an E-2D Hawkeye aircraft as an airborne sensor to help relay threat information to the ship from beyond its normal radar range.
“We are looking at alternative airborne sensors,” the executive said.
The idea with a demonstration, sources indicate, would be to use the F-35 as an airborne relay node or sensor in place of the E-2D Hawkeye. This could allow NIFC-CA to operate against an increasingly complex set of targets such as stealthy targets, the Lockheed executive explained. Read the rest of this entry »