Astronomers discover black hole with 140 trillion times more water than Earth

Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away.

“The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”

A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that steadily consumes a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. Both groups of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which harbors a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as a thousand trillion suns.

Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before. There’s water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar, because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice.

 

And, the instruments they used:

Bradford’s team made their observations starting in 2008, using an instrument called “Z-Spec” at the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory, a 33-foot (10-meter) telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Follow-up observations were made with the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.

The second group, led by Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to find water.

 

Source: NASA – Astronomers Find Largest, Most Distant Reservoir of Water

 

 

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What is the Higgs boson and why does it matter? (in simple terms)

What is the Higgs boson and why does it matter? (in simple terms)

If you remember basic chemistry, the atom is made up a proton, neutron, and electron. Those were the basic building blocks of life when I was a kid. I remember illustrations showing the neutron and proton in the center with the electron orbiting around it.

In the 1960’s several physicists starting thinking about things smaller than atoms, called sub-atomic. They developed several theories about these sub-atoms until the 1970s, when one model stood out. This is called the Standard Model of physics.

In that model, there are 12 particles and 4 forces. The particles are called quarks and leptons, and the forces are called – strong, weak, gravity, and electromagnetic.

The forces are the most important because they describe some pretty amazing things. For example, the electromagnetic force is carried by a particle of light, called a photon. The photon has infinite range and great strength, giving the light of stars the ability to travel thousands of light years to be seen on Earth.

The force of gravity is carried by a particle called a graviton. It also has an infinite range but a very weak strength. For example, the Sun exerts a powerful pull on the Earth because it is very close, but when you get farther away that strength becomes minimal. It does not have the range that the photon does.

Both of these particles, and all of the particles that involve energy, are called bosons. These bosons are sub-atomic particles that transfer energy to each other.

Now, the interesting thing is figuring out why these photons can travel for infinite ranges, when other particles can barely keep moving.

The leading theory, calls for a Higgs field that covers the entire universe. It is an energy field made up of a particle called the Higgs boson. When a particle travels through the universe it either attracts the Higgs boson or pushes it away. If it attracts the Higgs boson then they combine to form matter and gain all the properties of mass (weight, gravity, etc.). If it repels the Higgs boson then it continues to travel as a form of energy over an infinite range (light).

The combination of the Higgs boson with other particles creates life as we know it, the matter that makes up humans, plants, rocks, etc. This is most likely the reason why it has come to be called the “God particle.”

The forces that ignore the Higgs boson do so at varying degrees. Photons of light ignore it completely. Other particles attract some Higgs bosons and slow down, eventually limiting their range and strength.

Of course, none of this was certain because scientists were unable to see the Higgs boson. Being a sub-atomic particle it is invisible to the naked eye and undetectable in a lab. It puts us in a weird predicament, how do you find something that you are not even sure exists?

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider solves that problem for us. This gigantic particle accelerator allows us to speed up particles and smash them together. Specifically, it smashes together hadrons which are multiple particles combined together.

When these particles are smashed together the scientists observe what happens. If everything acts like the Higgs theory says it does (i.e. there is a Higgs field with Higgs bosons that slow some particles but not photons), then they have proof.

With that proof the scientists of the world can move on to other more complex problems. Areas where this model falls short like with dark energy or the full theory of gravitation.

Another step in our greater understanding of the world. Each one allowing us to do more with energy, matter, and life.

 

Sources: CERN – the Standard Model, Guardian – What is the Higgs boson?, CERN – the Higgs boson, Wikipedia – Higgs boson

 

Continue reading What is the Higgs boson and why does it matter? (in simple terms)

Happy Birthday, Richard Feynman – the best mind since Einstein

Richard Feynman — Nobel-winning physics icon, curiosity champion, graphic novel hero, bongo drummer, wager-maker, no ordinary genius — would have been 94 today (May 11). To celebrate, here is one of Feynman’s most beloved classics, a 1964 lecture in which he distills with equal parts wit and wisdom the essence of the scientific method:

keep reading & watch a PBS biographyThe Best Mind Since Einstein

How close does an object have to be to earth to be pulled by gravity?

Pulled from Quora, here is one of the best, and most popular, answers to a question. Written by Mark Eichenlaub, a graduate student in physics.

How close does an object have to be to earth to be pulled by gravity?

This question doesn’t have a direct answer because, for lack of a less-direct way of saying it, that’s not the way it works. If there were no atmosphere, you could have the ISS be just above the surface of the Earth, high enough only to clear the mountains. On the other hand, you could have something as far out as the moon, and if it weren’t going fast enough and in the right direction, it would still fall back down. The ISS doesn’t stay up because of how high it is, but because of a combination of that and how fast it’s going.

One of the most difficult things to learn about physics is the concept of force. A force in a given direction does not make things go straight in that direction. Instead, it influences the motion to be a bit more in the direction of the force than it was before.

For example, if you roll a bowling ball straight down a lane, then run up beside it and kick it towards the gutter, you apply a force towards the gutter, but the ball doesn’t go straight into the gutter. Instead it keeps going down the lane, but picks up a little bit of diagonal motion as well.

Now we can talk about an very early thought experiment in physics. Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a cliff 100m tall. If you drop a rock off, it will fall straight down. If you throw the rock out horizontally, it will fall down, but it will keep moving out horizontally as it does so, and falls at an angle. (The angle isn’t constant – the shape is a curve called a parabola, but that’s relatively unimportant here.)

The the force is straight down, but that force doesn’t stop the rock from moving horizontally. If you throw the rock horizontally harder, it goes further, and falls at a shallower angle. The force on it is the same, but the original velocity was much bigger and so the deflection is less.

Now imagine throwing the rock so hard it travels one kilometer horizontally before it hits the ground. If you do that, something slightly new happens. The rock still falls, but it has to fall more than just 100m before it hits the ground. The reason is that the Earth is curved, and so as the rock traveled out that kilometer, the Earth was actually curving away underneath of it. In one kilometer, it turns out the Earth curves away by about 10 centimeters – a small difference, but a real one.

As you throw the rock even harder than that, the curving away of the Earth underneath becomes more significant. If you could throw the rock 10 kilometers, the Earth would now curve away by 10 meters, and for a 100 km throw the Earth curves away by an entire kilometer. Now the stone has to fall a very long way down compared to the 100m cliff it was dropped from. Continue reading How close does an object have to be to earth to be pulled by gravity?

Images of Albert Einstein’s 1921 Nobel Prize medal and certificate

In 1922, the Royal Swedish Academy awarded Albert Einstein the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. The official announcement came when Einstein was on a lecture tour in Japan. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was, at that time, still controversial and members of the Swedish Academy avoided the issue by granting him the prize for his groundbreaking contribution to the understanding of the Photoelectric Effect. Some of them did support General Relativity, but a mere eclipse was not enough proof for all committee members to risk their reputations on Einstein’s new theory.

via The Einstein Archives – His Personal Life

 

Much more available in the Einstein Archives.

Angry Birds in Space – NASA shows what happens to a slingshot with no gravity

It’s fun to watch the birds and pigs bounce around the International Space Station, plus check out the really cool game footage at the very end.