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Why stepping on Legos hurts more than stepping on just about anything else

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Lego

Right up there with how the gun on the original Duck Hunt game worked, why it hurts so much to step on a Lego brick is one of the questions we're asked the most, so it's high time we answered it.

As anyone who's done it knows, stepping on a Lego block is something akin to being shot in the foot by a knife soaked in wasp venom. In truth, this is an inherent danger of allowing a child to exist in your home.

While we'll never know who was the first person to step on a Lego block and curse the day Kirk Kristiansen "borrowed" the idea of Lego bricks from the patented "Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks," we can answer the question of why stepping on one of the little buggers hurts so much more than many other common household items.

The answer partially lies in how insanely sensitive to pressure, pain and practically everything else our leg-hands actually are.

The soles of the feet are one of the more sensitive areas of the human body, right up there with things like the lips, genitals, eyes and hands in terms of how sensitive to touch and pain stimuli they are.

If you're wondering why our feet need to be this sensitive, it's because our feet are constantly working to keep us balanced and the information from the nerves in them are vital for allowing the brain to adjust accordingly to keep a person from falling over.

But why is this such a major complaint of Legos and not so many other items? We mean, stepping on anything sharp and pointy is going to hurt, so why is it only Lego bricks that seem to be so often mentioned? Well, according to Lego, there are enough Lego bricks to give every person on Earth 83 bricks each.

legoSo you're bound to come in contact with one and, unlike sharp objects, people aren't as careful to keep them off the floor; often that's where kids play with them. Just as important is that unlike many objects which tend to have some give to them when you step on them, a single standard brick of Lego can be subjected to approximately 4,240 Newtons of force before it deforms.

This means a single, lowly Lego brick can support weights in excess of 432 kilos (953 pounds) before it reaches its breaking point and compresses.

So when you step on a Lego brick on a relatively solid surface, there is nowhere for the force you've just exerted to go but right back into your foot and into the huge cluster of nerves it contains.

This is compounded by the fact that the bricks have little knobs, relatively sharp corners, and the soles of the feet are subjected to impact forces that can be equal to around 9 times our own body weight while moving; even walking slowly can produce impact forces equal to double your body weight.

For an example, a standard 2×2 Lego brick has a surface area of roughly 2.25 centimetres squared (for the sake of simplicity we'll ignore the studs, which certainly aren't going to help matters for your foot anyway). Let's say a person weighing 75 kilos (165 pounds or 734 Newtons) steps onto it.

Now, the pressure on a given object is equal to the force applied divided by the area over which it is spread (P=F/A). So even if that 75 kilo person were just standing on the Lego with one foot, rather than having their foot accelerating downward at some rate as with walking, this gives us 734 N/0.000225 m2 = roughly 3,262,222 pascals of pressure!

legoFor reference, that is roughly 32 times standard atmospheric pressure, all suddenly forcing its knobbly, unforgiving way against one of the most sensitive regions of the body.

Of course, part of the rest of your foot will ultimately support some of your weight on the floor, taking quite a bit of the pressure off once that happens.

On the flipside, your foot will be stomping at some force downward skewing things the other way significantly (as mentioned, even walking slowly, the impact force can easily equal double your body weight, let alone if you're walking quickly); so this is just a very rough calculation, that nonetheless demonstrates how stepping on a Lego brick can produce some relatively large forces on the area of the foot the Lego brick is contacting.

So, to answer the question posed, the reason stepping on a Lego brick hurts so much is a combination of how sensitive the nerves in our feet are, how much force our feet hit the ground with as we walk, and the fact that Lego bricks are extremely rigid, somewhat jagged, and small, ensuring that the force is efficiently directed back into a tiny area of your foot. May God have mercy on your soul if you step on a Lego brick that is on a tiled, rather than carpeted, floor.

 

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The stars in the sky 'sing' but we’ll never be able to hear them

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stars, baby stars, star nursery

The surface of a star is a volatile place. Constantly in motion, a star's exterior flows with plasma and often accumulates new materials, which are drawn in by the star's immense gravitational pull.

Well it turns out these chaotic activities may produce a very distinctive sound on the star's surface. That's right: The stars make their own tunes! But alas, we poor humans will never hear it directly.

According to physicists, such a sound would have a frequency 6 million times higher than what any mammal could hear. Plus, space is a vacuum, so even if you had super-human ears that could discern such a frequency, the sound wouldn't be able to travel to them.

Researchers inadvertently stumbled upon this acoustic revelation while analyzing how plasma moves when hit with an ultra-intense laser.

Just a trillionth of a second after the laser strikes, the plasma disperses quickly, moving from areas of high density to areas of low density. However, this rapid movement creates a bit of a bottleneck, causing plasma to build up between the high- and low-density areas.

The resulting pressure buildup and collisions between the plasma's ions generated a series of sound wave pulsations with frequencies of nearly a trillion hertz. By comparison, dolphins and bats, some of Earth's best listeners, can only hear 100,000 hertz. Humans can hear just up to 20,000 hertz.

According to John Pasley, a physicist from the University of York and one of the scientists on the project, perhaps the only location in nature where such plasma interaction (and resulting acoustic generation) could be seen is on a star's surface.

"When they are accumulating new material stars could generate sound in a very similar manner to that which we observed in the laboratory – so the stars might be singing." However, material accretion is usually only seen in younger stars, so it's likely that our mature Sun has lost its voice.

 

This article originally appeared on Popular Science

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This article was written by Loren Grush from Popular Science and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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A physicist might be in trouble for what he revealed in his new book about the H bomb

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h bomb

According to the New York Times, physicist Kenneth Ford has defied the government’s orders to remove classified information from his new book, Building the H Bomb: A Personal History.

The Department of Energy, which maintains nuclear secrets, asked him to cut the material about the scientific breakthrough that allowed physicists to create the hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb. The government claims they are concerned the information will encourage non-friendly countries to develop thermonuclear technology.

For context, the hydrogen bomb is the most powerful weapon in the world and is hundreds, if not thousands, of times stronger than the atomic bomb. When scientists tested the H-bomb in 1952, it completely decimated Elugelab, an island in the Pacific, an act that makes the horror of the World War II-ending Nagasaki and Hiroshima‘s destruction look almost tame.

Since its invention, the government has tried to guard the secrets behind the H-bomb, but the classified details have still found ways to escape. Ford says he simply uses this already released information in his book.

Before going to print, Ford willingly submitted the manuscript to be vetted by the Department of Energy, but it was a move that blew up in his face. The result? “They wanted to eviscerate the book,” Ford told the New York Times. After six months of frustrating conversation and continued gridlock, publishers decided to release the book anyway.

Since Ford signed a nondisclosure agreement while working on the secret project, the government can technically pursue charges against him if they choose. However, others who have disclosed H-bomb secrets in the past have only sporadically been punished, and some believe the government would like to bring as little attention as possible to the book and its thermonuclear content.

Read the full story here.

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Scientists just made the crazy discovery that magnets can control heat and sound

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55102f7316120

Researchers at the Ohio State University have discovered how to control heat with magnetic fields, proving that both heat and sound have magnetic properties.

The study has shown that photons, the elementary particles that transmit both heat and sound, have magnetic properties. It implies that a strong magnetic field could be used to steer and control sound waves in the future.

Heat and sound are essentially the same form of energy, focused around the vibration of atoms, so by controlling one you can usually gain control of the other too.

The researchers published their report in the March 23 issue of the Nature Materials journal. It was funded by donors including the U.S. Army Research Office, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

The report describes how a magnetic field of around the same size of a medical MRI scanner reduced the amount of heat that could flow through a semiconductor by 12%. The semiconductor had to be chilled to -450 degrees Fahrenheit (-268 degrees Celsius) to slow the movements of the atoms in the conducting material. Close to absolute zero, this temperature made the movements of the phonons detectable.

Led by Ohio State postdoctoral researcher Hyungyu Jin, a piece of indium antimonide semiconductor was shaped into a tuning fork. One arm was 4mm wide and the other arm was 1mm wide. Heaters attached to the end of both arms.

The low temperatures of the experiment meant that the size of the semiconductor sample being tested became important as well as what atoms it was made of. A larger sample could transfer heat more quickly than a smaller sample so the larger arm of the tuning fork could transfer more heat than the smaller arm.

Jin measured the temperature change in both arms of the tuning fork and subtracted one from the other, alternately with and without a 7-tesla magnetic field turned on, akin to those used in hospitals.

When the magnetic field was disabled, the larger arm of the tuning fork transferred more heat as expected. With the magnetic field, the heat flow through the larger arm slowed by 12% though.

The researchers found that the magnetic field had caused some of the phonons passing through the material to vibrate out of sync and collide with each other. In the larger arm, more collisions were experienced because of the increased area so more phonons were lost and less heat was transferred.

The study concludes that phonons must have magnetic properties and that heat and sound could be controlled magnetically in substances such as glass and plastic that are ordinarily magnetic, if a powerful enough magnet could be found. The effect isn't possible in metals, though: so much heat is transferred by electrons anyway that the contribution of the phonons would be essentially undetectable.

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Docking with the International Space Station is so insanely complicated it's a wonder we ever get it right

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The Soyuz Spacecraft docked to the International Space Station with Earth in the background

Imagine being chased by a 925,000 pound machine traveling at 17,500 miles per hour.

That's what's happens when astronauts dock with the International Space Station. Surprisingly though, the process can take a lot longer than you'd think.

Although a rocket can transport astronauts into space in less than 10 minutes, it takes hours, and even days, to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Case in point: On Friday, March 27, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko launched at 3:42 pm ET but were crammed inside of their Soyuz spacecraft for another 6 hours. They didn't dock with the ISS until 9:36 pm ET that evening.

So why does it take so long to reach the ISS? After all, once you're already in space, the ISS is only miles away. And Earth's gravitational pull is weak, which means a little power can take you a long way.

Despite being relatively close, the ISS is traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour in a circular orbit around Earth. Anything moving that fast, whether in space or on the ground, is going to be hard to catch.

As it turns out, the way you catch the ISS is counterintuitive: You actually let it catch you.

American engineer Destin Sandlin (who also founded the YouTube channel "Smarter Every Day") spoke with NASA astronauts about exactly how a Soyuz spacecraft, like the one Scott Kelly, Gennady Padalka, and Mikhail Kornienko flew on Friday, docks with the ISS.

Here are the crazy steps they took:

First, once they reach space, the astronauts fire the rockets parallel to Earth to get their spacecraft into orbit:

step1Next, they need to get farther away from Earth and closer to the ISS.

They can't just point their spacecraft away from Earth and gun the engines, though, because that would quickly take them out of range of the ISS and into deep-space.

Instead, they transfer from a lower circular orbit to a higher circular orbit by completing what is called a Hohmann Transfer. To do this, the spacecraft burns its engines twice: Once to boost the spacecraft farther into space and a again to keep the spacecraft in that second, circular orbit:

hohmann transferBecause every spacecraft and engine system is different, the astronauts can't predict exactly where that second circular orbit will be in space.

"We could be a little high, we could be a little low, a little fast, a little slow,"NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman told Sandlin.

So, the astronauts fire a series of short, brief, correction burns (shown below) to get them at just the right place in orbit where they're completing one orbit around Earth every 86 minutes — 4 minutes faster than the ISS. That small timing difference is key!

orbitThe final step is to perform a second Hohmann Transfer right as the spacecraft surpasses the ISS. That last transfer gets it to 250 miles above the surface, just out in front of the ISS. The pursuer has suddenly become the pursued.

At that point, the astronauts pull a U-turn in space, fire the spacecraft's engines one last time to slow down and allow the ISS to catch up:

step4

After that, it's just a matter of lining the two spacecrafts up:

dockingCheck out the full video below:

 

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MIT scientists just destroyed a quantum record

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entangled atoms

With just one particle of light, scientists successfully linked together over 3,000 atoms in a science fiction-sounding state known as "quantum entanglement."

The record-breaking number could lead to more precise atomic clocks and better GPS signals. The study was published March 26 in the journal Nature.

Quantum entanglement is a bizarre phenomenon where two particles become linked. Anything you do to one particle instantly affects the other no matter how far apart they are — even if one particle is on the Earth and the other is on the moon.

Quantum entanglement is important because scientists can use it to create atomic clocks that are crucial for accurate GPS. The most sophisticated atomic clocks are already really impressive. They're accurate to one second in 300 million years.

That means they "would be less than a minute off if they ran since the Big Bang," Vladan Vuletic, a physics professor at MIT, said in a press release.

This new means of quantum entanglement, however, could make atomic clocks even more accurate. It could also improve GPS navigation since GPS requires clocks with an accuracy to at least one billionth of a second to keep you from getting lost.

The best atomic clocks we have are based on the measurements of spinning atoms. Entangled atoms all spin together and keep a steady beat (just like a pendulum). Atomic clocks send laser light pulses across the field of entangled atoms. The laser measures atom's vibrations to figure out the length of a second. The more entangled atoms there are to measure, the more precise the clock is.

Normally physicists can only entangle pairs of particles or atoms. The previous record was only 100 entangled atoms. This discovery entangled over 3,000. The researchers were able to entangle so many more atoms by using a really weak laser where each laser pulse only contained a single light particle.

Weaker light is better since quantum entanglement is such a fragile state. It only takes a small disturbance to make the whole system collapse. Past experiments have sent thousands or millions of photons through clouds of atoms at once. A pulse with only one light particle is much less likely to disrupt the cloud of entangled atoms.

The researchers say it should be pretty straightforward to entangle even more atoms — even millions. (To put that into perspective, about 500,000 carbon atoms make up the width of a human hair).

This new method could improve the accuracy of atomic clocks by a factor of two. And Vuletic and the team of researchers are already working on a new state-of-the-art atomic clock that could become the new standard of accuracy and lead to better GPS.

The research could also be a step forward in figuring out how to beam encrypted quantum messages around the globe — a much faster way to securely communicate.

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We actually have no idea what the Higgs boson looks like

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In 2013, the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) caused an international press frenzy. Magazines and newspapers published dozens of stunning images to illustrate the news of the discovery to a general audience. But there was one important problem: none of these images really displayed the Higgs boson.

This came up during the Q&A session following a public lecture given by a particle physicist I’ll call Angelica* at the National Museum of Scotland. A non-physicist member of the audience asked, “Where is the Higgs boson in this image?”

To this seemingly simple question, the physicist replied, “There is actually no Higgs boson in it, but only its footprint.”

eemm_run195099_evt137440354_ispy_3d nologo 1024x655>The problem boils down to a situation that’s pervasive across science communication, which often relies on images to illustrate and represent complex scientific concepts. Images are powerful tools: they can attract people’s attention and provide intuitive truth much more easily than words can. The twisted ladder of DNA has become a symbol of the life sciences and life itself. Images of Earth from space, with its recognizable blue oceans, green continents, and swirly white clouds, represent our home planet, and have become powerful symbols for environmental stewardship. But, in seeing these as scientific, we tend to forget that these images are also social products, deliberately manipulated to convey a story or a subjective opinion—and often reflect the vision and culture of the scientific community.

A lot of invisible work goes into turning scientific data into visualizations for public consumption. Most images of a blue marble-like Earth aren’t captured by a single camera shot. They’re patchworks—mosaics fabricated by NASA from numerous photos of small parts of the Earth. If the Earth is too big for a single photograph, DNA is much too small for photographic treatment. Instead, visual artists and designers create images of the iconic double helix, selling them to multimedia companies as stock photos. The resemblance between an image and reality is actually a product of imagination. Images bound with scientific discourses and activities are not unbiased records of natural phenomena, but are instead artifacts and commodities representing—and often selling—certain ideas about nature.

In the case of the Higgs boson, while the audience expects to ‘see’ the physical form of the particle, this search is in vain. As the particle physicist points out, it is impossible to actually visualize the subatomic particles. But what do these images mean without an observable Higgs boson? How do they do the work of science communication? Why do science communicators produce such images for the public—and are these images useful inside the scientific community as well?

The Higgs Boson Is an Invisible Field

On the press preview day of the Collider exhibition in the Science Museum London, a journalist asked Peter Higgs about how he himself visualizes the Higgs boson. Higgs responded that he doesn’t visualize it at all.

That’s because the Higgs boson isn’t really a ‘thing’ in the way that a non-particle physicist might understand the term. Rather, it is a perturbation, a ripple in an energy field. In 1964, Peter Higgs proposed that fundamental particles get their mass by interacting with an ever-present energy field. To prove the existence of the Higgs field, it has to be excited to create detectable ripples. If the Higgs field is an invisible sea, the Higgs boson is a wave on the surface that requires very expensive equipment to be able to ‘see’.

It took almost fifty years and many billions of dollars to prove that this field and this mass-giving mechanism exist, because it’s extremely difficult to produce these ripples—the Higgs boson—inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). And once it appears, it decays immediately, so particle physicists can only record the footprint of the collision. By analyzing the decay of this footprint, the physicists were able to infer that the Higgs field exists.

But the journalist’s question to the particle physicist was far from naïve. It demonstrates the challenge of understanding the details of particle physics without knowing the language, assumptions, and methods of the discipline. And, importantly, it also reflects how often the Higgs boson is strategically—and incorrectly—visualized to explain and represent the field’s knowledge. This is what science writers Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart have referred to as the ‘lie-to-children.’ To help make the leap from the LHC to the public, science communicators use sensational images and employ active verbs like ‘hunt’ and ‘look for’ to attract the lay audience’s attention to this otherwise obscure subject matter. The metaphor of a seeable and chaseable boson is intended as the first rung on the knowledge ladder for more engagement and interaction with the public.

Images for the Public

Screen Shot 2015 03 30 at 4.51.53 PMWhen I interviewed Angelica she told me that the images she used in her presentation were produced after she and other particle physicists found the evidence to prove the existence of the Higgs boson. The images therefore weren’t useful evidence for the particle physicists at all. They were created entirely to serve the purposes of public communication.

When creating these images, numeric information in particular is deliberately eliminated to generate a ‘photograph-like’ feeling. The CERN scientists used different images in different contexts—referring to the statistical bars and charts to identify the evidence and to communicate the discovery within the scientific community, while showing the graphic images to a lay audience that they imagined as being afraid of numbers and complex physics.

higgsstatisticsThe PhD students in the laboratories are often the artists behind these representations for public consumption; they import the collision data into CERN’s self-developed graphics application, and select images that are sleek enough to be displayed. Once these images have been vetted by the the members of CERN, they are uploaded to CERN’s document server and are free for use by journalists and other science communicators worldwide.

Despite the fact that these images are post-production artifacts, Angelica explains that these images can work as ‘photographs’ for a general audience, authentically reflecting what was happening during the experiments. Her idea reflects the widespread belief that photographs are representations of truth.

In her public lectures, along with a basic introduction of particle physics, she uses the photograph-like images as an invitation to the lay audience to virtually witness the eureka moment of the Higgs boson discovery. In Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer note the power of producing such ‘virtual witnessing’ technology. It has a literary and social function, and thus can transcend boundaries. It can travel from the experiment to the public sphere to multiply witnesses, beliefs, and—most importantly—trust.

Aesthetics in the Invisible Field

cortadaBeyond simple explanation, these photograph-like images provide the flexibility and mobility for further interpretation outside of the particle physics community, for example in enabling artists and designers to add on ‘more’ layers of aesthetics and imagination to the discovery of the Higgs boson. Particle physicists and museum curators work closely with artists and designers in order to generate an emotional path for the lay public to care about basic scientific research. When working to stimulate public engagement with particle physics, public communication practitioners use aesthetic tools to provide embodied experiences, rather than simply displaying or representing scientific evidence.

In studying the images of the discovery of the Higgs boson used in public communication settings alongside their cross-boundary trajectories, I found that scientific fidelity was not the priority. Instead, both the photograph-like images and the artistic images are stylish representations; they create culture while interpreting the culture of science. Often, they create representations that envision human progress in scientific research, and call for more support of the research.

This creates a paradox: using low-information images to represent scientific authority can often be a strategic choice in science communication. Scientists, artists and public communicators add in colors, shapes, and imagination to make science more compelling. In this way, the Higgs boson—which decays a practically instantaneous 10-22 seconds after it’s created—has been turned into a space for creative visual representations. Its invisibility allows for the sensational and emotional work that follows.

*because this article is drawn from research under human subjects protection, interview subjects have been given pseudonyms.

Chihwei Yeh is a doctoral student in the Science Studies Division at the University of Edinburgh, interested in the social life of particle physics.

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Here's the truth behind the strange phenomena that caused 2 men to sue the world’s largest particle lab

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large hadron collider

The world's largest, most powerful particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — is scheduled to turn back on in the next few days, according to a report in Nature on March 31.

Although this event is highly-anticipated around the world, there are two men who have remained silent: now-retired nuclear safety office, Walter Wagner, and Spanish journalist, Luis Sancho.

They have a history with the LHC.

Months before the particle collider was scheduled to turn on for the first time in 2008, Wagner and Sancho filed a lawsuit against the organizations behind the monster machine. The plaintiffs were:

  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • National Science Foundation
  • European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Needless to say, it takes a lot of guts, and perhaps a little insanity, to try and sue any one of those organizations, which are brimming with some of humanity's brightest intellectuals, let alone all of them. Especially right before they finished a $6 billion, 30-year project. In the two men's defense, Wagner and Sancho were trying to save the world from, what they thought, was almost-certain annihilation.

Among their concerns was that the LHC had the power to produce a mini black hole that would, quite literally, swallow Earth. In their lawsuit they state:

"Eventually, all of Earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting Earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc."

Ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed because the men failed to prove a "credible threat to harm." While the men's fears were clearly misguided — Earth is still here after the LHC has run for multiple consecutive years — it's important to understand why using the LHC for science is safe.

Below are the three concerns Wagner and Sachos proposed in their lawsuit and why none of these should worry you.

Death by black hole

Black HoleBlack holes are extremely dense compact objects with a mass range anywhere between 4 to 170 million times the mass of our sun. While black holes are generally huge, it's completely possible, at least in theory, that a small amount of matter, on the order of tens of micrograms, could be packed densely enough to make a black hole. This would be an example a microscopic black hole.

So far, no one has made or observed a microscopic black hole — not even the LHC. But before it was turned on for the first time in 2008, Wagner and Sancho feared that by accelerating subatomic particles to 99.99% the speed of light and then smashing them together, it would create a particle mash-up so dense as to spawn a black hole.

The physicists at CERN report that Einstein's theory of relativity predicts that it's impossible for the LHC to produce such exotic phenomena. But, Wagner and Sancho argued, what if Einstein was wrong?

Even so, another theory, developed by world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, predicts that even if a a microscopic black hole formed inside of the LHC , it would instantly disintegrate, posing no threat to Earth's existence.

In 1974, Hawking predicted that black holes don't just gobble stuff up, they also spit it out in the form of extremely high-energy radiation, now known as Hawking radiation. According to the theory, the smaller the black hole, the more Hawking radiation it expels into space, eventually wasting away to nothing. Therefore, a microscopic black hole, being the smallest kind, would disappear before it could wreak havoc and destruction. This could also by why we've never seen a micro black hole.

Death by strange matter

dark matterStrange matter is made up of individual, hypothetical particles, called strangelets, which are different from the normal matter that make up everything we see around us.

Wagner and Sancho worried that this strange matter could fuse with normal matter "eventually converting all of Earth into a single large 'strangelet' of huge size,"they write in their lawsuit.

However, the precise behavior of strange matter, or even a single strangelet, is unclear, which is partly why these particles have been suggested as candidates for the mysterious material called dark matter the permeates the universe.

To support that theory, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, have been trying to create a strangelet particle with Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider since the turn of the century. So far, nothing that resembles a strangelet has popped up. And because of the energies and types of particles that the LHC collides, Brookhaven has a better chance of making this strange matter.

If it succeeded, the concern is that the strangelets would bind with normal matter in a runaway reaction that would transform you, me, and everything on Earth into a clump of strange matter. Whether we would survive such a transformation and how that would change things is anyone's guess. But that unknown is scary enough.

Physicists at CERN, however, say that if Brookhaven succeeded in making a strangelet, its chances of interacting and binding with normal matter are slim:

"It is difficult for strange matter to stick together in the high temperatures produced by such colliders, rather as ice does not form in hot water,"they explain on their website.

Death by magnetic monopoles

magnetic monopoleIn nature, magnets come with two ends — a north pole and a south pole. But in the late 19th Century physicist Pierre Curie, husband to Marie Curie, predicted that there's no reason why a particle with just one magnetic pole could not exist.

More than a century later, however, this particle, called a magnetic monopole, has never been made in the lab or observed in nature. So, it's purely hypothetical. But that didn't stop Wagner from suggesting that a powerful machine like the LHC could make history by creating the first ever magnetic monopole that could destroy Earth.

"Such particle might have the ability to catalyze the decay of protons and atoms, causing them to convert into other types of matter in a runaway reaction,"he and Sancho wrote.

The theory that a monopole could destroy protons — the subatomic building blocks of all matter in the universe — is speculative at best, CERN physicists explain. But let's say that theory is right. Well, these theories also predict that such a particle would have a certain mass, which happens to be too heavy for anything the LHC would create.

So, suffice it say: We're safe.

"The continued existence of the Earth and other astronomical bodies therefore rules out dangerous proton-eating magnetic monopoles light enough to be produced at the LHC,"CERN physicists explain.

Once the LHC is turned back on, physicists will spend the next few months ramping it up to maximum power, which will be about twice the energy it had during its first run. That's not going to change the fact that the chances of the LHC cooking up Earth-destroying mini black holes, strangelets, or magnetic monopoles are next-to-nothing.

If you're still not convinced, or the slightest bit worried, check out CERN's website regarding "The Safety of the LHC" where experts in astrophysics, cosmology, general relativity, mathematics, particle physics, and risk analysis have expressed their opinions on the machine's safety.

SEE ALSO: In 2012 the Large Hadron Collider found the game-changing Higgs — here's the next big mystery it could solve

LEARN MORE: Here's how proving supersymmetry could completely change how we understand the universe

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Exactly how long it would take to fall through the Earth to the other side of the world

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earth core_inre

How long would it take to fall down a hole in the Earth and reach the other side of the planet? Even less time than previously thought, a scientist reveals.

A scenario often presented to introductory physics classes is that of a "gravity tunnel"— a tube drilled from one side of the Earth to the other through the planet's center. The answer taught for nearly a half-century for how long a fall through such a hole would take was about 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

The solution to this problem depends on the strength of Earth's gravitational pull, which in turn is based on its mass. As one falls through the planet, there is less mass beneath whoever is making the descent over time, so the force of the gravity experienced would lessen as one approached Earth's center.

Still, assuming no air resistance, the momentum from the fall could sling one all the way to the surface on the other side. Anyone making the fall would have to make sure to get away from the exit hole as soon as they flew out of it, or else they could drop in again, hurtling back and forth inside the gravity tunnel, like a weight swinging at the end of a pendulum.

"I guess you can imagine it like a waterslide that takes about 40 minutes to fall through that takes you to speeds over 8 kilometers per second (17,895 mph)," said physicist Alexander Klotz at McGill University in Montreal. "Halfway through the ride, gravity would switch directions and you'd go from right-side up to upside down. You'd have to grab onto the other end or else you'd fall back down the way you came. If the waterslide was made of glass, it would be like zooming through a sea of lava."

Still, at least one major unrealistic assumption dogged this calculation ever since it was first made in 1966. Ignoring for a moment how drilling a hole about 7,918 miles (12,742 kilometers) long through the Earth is virtually impossible, the problem with the 42-minute solution was that it assumed the planet was uniform in density throughout like a marble.

Now, using a more realistic model of the Earth, Klotz finds the fall would take only about 38 minutes and 11 seconds, about 4 minutes faster than thought.

Klotz based his calculations on the internal structure of the planet as determined from seismic data. While the Earth's crust has a density less than about 187 lbs. per cubic foot (3 grams per cubic centimeter), Earth's center has a density of about 811 lbs. per cubic foot (13 grams per cubic centimeter).

The density of the planet does not rise in a straightforward manner the farther down one goes — there is a sharp 50 percent increase in density at the boundary of the planet's mantle and its outer core about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) below Earth's surface.

earthThe physicist assumed there was no air resistance in the gravity tunnel. "In my opinion, if you have the technology to dig such a tunnel, you have the technology to suck the air out," Klotz said.

Surprisingly, Klotz found that he calculated almost the identical answer if he assumed the strength of Earth's gravitational pull was uniform throughout the planet and equal to its value on the surface.

This assumption works because Earth's gravity "only changes by, like, 10 percent as you go deeper — first stronger, then weaker — for like the first 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles)," Klotz said. "So if you start falling and picking up speed, by the time you reach a region in which gravity is significantly different from its surface value, you are going so fast that you spend very little time in this region."

Don't expect anyone to test these calculations with a real tunnel through Earth anytime soon.

"The Soviets tried digging as deep a hole as they could from 1970 to 1989 and only got 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) deep, about 0.1 percent of the way through the Earth," Klotz said.

Klotz detailed his findings in the March issue of the American Journal of Physics.

 

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The world's largest particle collider found a penguin-shaped anomaly

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penguin anomaly

A penguin-shaped anomaly first detected two years ago has survived a comprehensive new analysis of data from the first run of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), scientists revealed today at a meeting in La Thuile, Italy.

The anomaly, an unexpected measurement of rare particle decays called “penguin processes,” isn’t statistically significant enough to constitute a discovery, but if the signal strengthens in the LHC’s upcoming second run, it will imply the existence of new elementary particles beyond those of the Standard Model — the precise but incomplete equations that have governed particle physics for 40 years.

“What we find is that this anomaly has persisted,” said Guy Wilkinson, a physicist at the University of Oxford and the spokesperson for the LHCb collaboration, which first detected the statistical bump in penguin decays in 2013. “This is extremely interesting.”

The finding comes as the LHC sputters back to life after a two-year upgrade that will nearly double its previous operating energy. The hopes of thousands of particle physicists are riding on the protons that in the coming years will collide there, shattering into petabytes of data that may carry long-awaited answers to fundamental questions about nature, and the penguin anomaly is one reason for optimism.

Most unexpected bumps in data go away as more data accumulate, just as you might get seven heads in your first 10 coin tosses only to end up with a 50-50 ratio after many more tosses. But after tripling their original sample size and analyzing approximately 2,400 of the rare penguin decays, the LHCb scientists say the anomaly hasn’t diminished. Instead, it has lingered at an estimated statistical significance of “3.7 sigma,” which means it is just as unlikely for such a large fluctuation to happen randomly as it would be to get 69 heads in 100 coin tosses. Physicists require a 5-sigma deviation from their expectations, equivalent to flipping 75 heads in 100 tosses (the odds of which are less than one in a million), to claim the discovery of a real effect.

The 1,100-member LHCb collaboration focuses its detectors on decay processes involving “b” or “anti-b” quarks at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.

LHC staff“To really nail this, we will need additional data that we will collect in the coming run of the LHC” beginning in May, Wilkinson said.

With precious few other leads, the penguin anomaly has tantalized theorists since LHCb first reported it. Most of the matter in the universe — the particles that make up “dark matter” — is completely missing from the Standard Model, and what is included seems fragmentary and suggestive of a larger pattern. Physicists built the most powerful machine in history to search for signs of those more complete laws of nature. But almost everything about the way particles shape-shifted and shattered during the first round of collisions at the LHC precisely matched Standard Model predictions. In the 3.7-sigma penguin anomaly — as well as another, 2.6-sigma deviation the group detected in a different penguin process — some particle physicists see a sliver of hope that new discoveries lie around the corner.

“We’re chasing an imaginary ambulance,” said Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist at Boston University, discussing the LHCb anomalies last week before he and most other experts had learned the results of the new analysis. “It could be very important, and also it could be nothing.”

Penguin decays were so named by the physicist John Ellis in 1977; when a loss at darts obliged him to use the word “penguin” in his next academic paper, he noticed that diagrams of the decays discussed in the paper happened to resemble the flightless birds. The decays are intriguing precisely because they are sensitive to the effects of unknown particles. During a penguin decay, one type of quark transforms into another, momentarily giving rise to ghostly virtual particles along the way. Before disappearing, the virtual particles — which may be photons, Z bosons or other, unknown participants that are not part of the Standard Model — might emit a lepton-antilepton pair. (A lepton is a particle category that includes electrons.) If some as-yet-undiscovered particle does play a ghostly role in penguin decays, it will spew leptons with unexpected combinations of energies and directions, skewing measurements. Sure enough, the LHCb scientists measured a 3.7-sigma discrepancy with the Standard Model in some outgoing particles’ combined energies and directions.

In the related 2.6-sigma anomaly, the scientists found that penguin processes produced more of some leptons than others, violating a Standard Model rule called “lepton universality.”

When LHCb scientists plot the energies and directions of particles produced in penguin decays (points) against the predictions of the Standard Model (orange boxes), they observe a 3.7-sigma deviation between the predicted and measured distributions spanning the fourth and fifth “bins,” or detector measurement channels. (No reliable Standard Model predictions exist for the two rightmost bins.)

penguin anomaly Researchers say the two anomalies have boosted each other’s perceived importance, because a single hypothetical particle could explain both. Candidates for this mystery participant in penguin processes have been proposed, including the hypothetical Z’ boson and the leptoquark. The two possibilities point to more complete frameworks for understanding quarks and leptons, which might explain why there are six “flavors” of each — information not provided in the Standard Model. “We don’t know what flavor is,” said Javier Virto, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Siegen in Germany. “If we can find out whether the new physics is this or that, then probably we can try to figure out the answer.”

But models of Z’ bosons and leptoquarks struggle to work around the apparent nonparticipation of the particles in other, related decays, which show little evidence of deviations from the Standard Model. “There is no compelling framework in which all the data fits nicely,” said Adam Falkowski, a theoretical physicist at the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics in Orsay, France.

When the LHC resumes bashing particles together in May, LHCb scientists will continue tracking penguin decays in hopes that the anomalies in the data will climb to 5-sigma certainty, signifying an indirect discovery of “new physics.” Meanwhile, the two biggest scientific collaborations at the LHC, known as ATLAS and CMS, will search directly for the new particles that might be responsible for the penguin anomalies — if the anomalies are real.

The anomalies could go the way of so many others detected in high-energy experiments, including some measured by LHCb in recent years, and flatline as more data accumulates. “LHCb has broken my heart so many times,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

With no immediate plans for the construction of a larger, more powerful particle collider, and no hard 5-sigma data on which to build theories, particle physicists are desperate for something to show up during the LHC’s next run. Some are rooting for leptoquarks, while others hold out hope for particles predicted by a theory called “supersymmetry,” which could account for dark matter and help explain the masses of particles in the Standard Model. Still other experts expect to find cousins of the Higgs boson, the last missing particle of the Standard Model, which was discovered in 2012.

“I have this now-or-never feeling,” Falkowski said. “Personally, I’m counting most on additional Higgs-like [particles] to show up, but I will take anything that is offered.”

Correction 3/23/15: The original article misspelled “Siegen” as “Seigen.”

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Breaking glass looks insane in slow motion

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It seems to happen in an instant. One second, you're holding a glass of water. The next, it's slipping out of your hand, there's a shattering sound, and suddenly the glass is in a million little pieces all over the floor.

Cleaning up broken glass is no fun. But watching glass shatter in slow motion, the fractures spreading and separating pieces that fly apart, well, that's fun. Check it out:

ball shattering plate glassOn a molecular level, when glass shatters the bonds that keep the atoms together are stretching and breaking apart. At least that's what scientists have long thought happened when brittle substances like glass break.

But looking really close at breaking glass — we're talking nanoscale close — scientists saw that glass actually breaks similarly to ductile materials like metal. Instead of stress breaking atomic bonds apart all at once, tiny empty spaces open up ahead of the tip of the crack, making a path of weakness the crack will follow through the glass.

What causes that stress can be physical force, like what happens when a water glass hits the floor. Or it can be sound. Watch a wine glass go to pieces in slow motion with just the power of sound waves:

wine glass breakingWhat's happening here? The wine glass is being bombarded by sound waves at its resonant frequency, the frequency at which its molecules bop around next to each other. If the sound is loud enough and lasts long enough, it'll make the molecules in the glass move around so much they break apart, and the wine glass shatters.

Even when the cause is less melodic, like a ball hitting a sheet of glass, watching cracks spread through glass in super slow motion is pretty amazing:

super slow mo glass

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If parallel universes exist, here's how we could actually find the evidence

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multiverse

Imagine a physicist sitting in a chamber with a gun pointed directly at her head.

Every few seconds, the spin direction of a random particle in the room is measured. If the particle is spinning one direction then the gun goes off and the physicist dies. If the particle is spinning in the opposite direction, there's just a clicking sound and the physicist survives.

She has a 50/50 chance of surviving, right?

It might not be that simple if we live in a multiverse — the idea that multiple universes, apart from the one we call home, exist.

This scenario with the physicist and the gun is the start of a famous thought experiment called "quantum suicide," and it's one way for physicists to consider if we really are living in just one of many (and potentially infinitely many) universes. 

This thought experiment relies on quantum mechanics and the idea that there is no single objective reality. Everything that we see around us is just one possible configuration of all the probabilities of any one thing happening. One interpretation of quantum mechanics is that all the other arrangements of probabilities could exist in their own separate universe. So if you follow the thought experiment all the way through with this idea in mind, then the second that first particle is measured, the universe splits into two universes, based on two possible outcomes: one in which the physicist lives and one in which she dies.

Her survival is now tied to a quantum probability, so she'll be both dead and alive at once — just in different universes. If a new universe splits off every time a particle is measured and the gun either fires or doesn't, then in one of those universes, the physicist will end up surviving, say 50 particle measurements. You can think of this as flipping a coin 50 times in a row. You have an extremely low likelihood of getting heads each of those 50 times — less than a 1 quadrillion chance, but it is possible.

And if it happens, that's enough for the physicist to conclude that the multiverse is real, and effectively she becomes immortal in the universe in which the gun never goes off. But she also becomes the only person who knows that parallel universes exist.  

This probably sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, but there are other, more reasonable-sounding versions of the multiverse that are backed up by math and are potentially testable. 

"Some people conflate parallel universes with jumping through a portal into another world, or something like that," Matthew Johnston, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute, told Business Insider. "But it's not really like that at all." 

Actual observational evidence of a multiverse will be tricky to find, but it is possible. Here's how physicists will do it:

big bangMultiverse versions

There are actually many different multiverse theories, and the multiverse from the quantum suicide thought experiment, where every possibility becomes reality, is one of the most radical.

A convenient way to think about different multiverse theories is MIT physicist Max Tegmark's multiverse hierarchy where he organizes them into four different levels. 

We will focus just on level one multiverses — the version with the most traction in physics, and thankfully the easiest to wrap the mind around. Level one is also where we have the best chance of actually finding evidence that proves the multiverse is real. 

Multiple universes are predictions of the math behind existing theories, and the level one multiverse idea is predicted by a very well-respected and central concept in physics: inflation. 

So it's an idea that physicists have to take seriously, Johnson said.

What we mean by 'universe'

To think about the idea of multiple universes, we first have to pin down what we mean by universe. Our definition of "the universe" has been changing since the invention of the first telescope when we peered out into the cosmos and learned that the Earth is not the totality of existence.    

But the universe is a lot bigger than what we could ever see with a telescope, Johnson said. Our universe is just the spherical amount of light that has had time to reach us. If we wait another billion years for more light to reach us, our definition of the universe would change, Tegmark told Business Insider.

Someone standing on a planet trillions of lightyears away would have a completely different picture of "the universe" based on how much light has reached their planet.

By definition there's no way to get to these other bubble universes because we'd have to travel faster than the speed of light. While we can't see them, physicists think we could still find traces of them from their birth. 

Where's the evidence?

The idea of inflation holds that our infant universe experienced a period of rapid expansion (right after the Big Bang) where a nanometer of space suddenly exploded into over 250 million lightyears of space in less than a trillionth of a second.

Once inflation starts, it never completely stops. It does stop in some regions of space-time where chunks of space pinch off into bubbles like the universe we see around us today, but space continues expanding every where else. If expansion is infinite, which many believe it is, then new bubble universes are constantly forming. You can almost think of it as running with a bubble wand held out behind you: you'd leave a trail of bubbles.

multiverse bubbles

So essentially we might be drifting through space-time in a frothy bubble bath of universes. 

Again, there's no way to get in touch with any of these other bubble universes because we can't travel faster than the speed of light. That being said, we should theoretically be able to prove they exist. Here's how:

When our own bubble universe first formed, it's possible that we collided with other bubble universes forming around ours. We're probably not near any of those bubble neighbors anymore because the continued expansion of space-time is carrying us farther and farther away.

However, the impact of an early collision could have sent ripples through the cosmic microwave background radiation (heat that is left over from the Big Bang). Theoretically, we should be able to spot those ripples with telescopes, Johnson said. It would show up as a disc of discoloration — like a bruise.

multiverse

Johnson is looking for those bruises, but a lot depends on how fast other bubble universes sprang into existence and how many there are. If only a few other bubbles exist, they might have not hit us. 

The Planck space telescope is currently listening to the skies, searching for the evidence of these multiverse collisions.

A multiverse hiding in the LHC

Some physicists have theorized a different version of the multiverse. This version arises from string theory and the idea that there are many more dimensions that we don't have access to (think Matthew McConaughey in the fifth dimension in "Interstellar"). Some physicists think parallel universes lurk in those extra dimensions.

This multiverse idea is testable too.

Physicists will be searching for mini black holes when the Large Hadron Collider turns back on this month. It's impossible for the LHC to produce any type of black hole that would be remotely dangerous, but this theory speculates that microscopic black holes that disappear almost immediately could be generated from the high-power particle collisions in the LHC. The presence of black holes would indicate that gravity from our universe is seeping into extra dimensions.

"As gravity can flow out of our universe into the extra dimensions, such a model can be tested by the detection of mini black holes at the LHC," physicist Mir Faizal told Phys.org. "We have calculated the energy at which we expect to detect these mini black holes in gravity's rainbow [a new theory]. If we do detect mini black holes at this energy, then we will know that both gravity's rainbow and extra dimensions are correct." 

That would be compelling evidence for both string theory and parallel universes, and it would help explain why gravity seems to be so much weaker than the other fundamental forces.

Still, there's no hard evidence yet. And some still doubt that these universes exist. 

"I only believe in things with concrete, verifiable experimental evidence supporting them, and that's not the case right now with the concept of parallel universes," Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University, said in a video discussing the multiverse.

The key, though, is that physicists are getting away from just philosophical discussions of the multiverse, Johnson said. They're actually putting the idea to the test.

Some are still betting on the more radical and so far untestable versions of multiverse theory. Tegmark has joked that he'll try the quantum suicide experiment when he's old and no one will miss him when he's gone.

We hope that he doesn't.

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Watch sound waves put out fire

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A pair of engineering students from George Mason University in Virginia have created a device that can put out a blaze using only a blast of sound.

In this demonstration video, Viet Tran and Seth Robertson use their portable extinguisher to douse flames in seconds by blasting low-frequency sound waves at it.

sound fire extinguisherThey told the Washington Post the invention was conceived for a final year undergraduate project after the pair were inspired by research on how sound waves could disrupt flames, and spotted a gap in the market for a no-mess fire extinguisher.

The resulting hand-held sound generator and amplifier works by blasting a fire with low frequencies between 30 and 60 hertz range.

"The extinguisher separates oxygen from fuel", Tran explains. “The pressure wave is going back and forth, and that agitates where the air is. That specific space is enough to keep the fire from reigniting.”

pan fire going outSo far they have put out only fires started with surgical spirit, but the students have applied for a provisional patent, which gives them a year to do further testing on other flammable chemicals.

Although conceived with small kitchen fires in mind, Tran and Robertson believe that with some modifications, their invention could be used in other environments, such as forest fires, or even in space.

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3 life lessons Neil deGrasse Tyson swears by

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicists probe the nature of our universe — a place too vast and grand for a single human mind to fully comprehend — and while that might make some feel small, Neil deGrasse Tyson has said time and again that the knowledge he's acquired over the years as an astrophysicist makes him feel not small, but big.

To deGrasse Tyson, knowledge is essential to leading a prosperous, meaningful life.

Even after publishing nearly a dozen books, narrating the hit series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and directing the Hayden Planetarium in New York, deGrasse Tyson still tries to learn something new every day, he recently told 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose.

Here are some of the few, but fundamentally important, life lessons that he says are his constant sources of inspiration.

"One of them is every day try to lessen the suffering of others by however amount," he told Rose.

The way deGrasse Tyson does this is through his role as a science educator.

As host of the widely-popular podcast StarTalk Radio and Cosmos star, deGrasse Tyson strives to make the wonders of the universe accessible to all.

If you understand your connection to the universe — that we are all made of the same stuff as the tens of billions of stars in our galaxy — then that knowledge gives you a sense of relevance and connection that you might never feel otherwise. And, according to deGrasse Tyson, feeling relevant in the world is what we, as a species, look for in life.

"Also I try to learn something today that I did not know yesterday," he told Rose. "Why not? There's so much to learn."

This is good advice for us all. In fact, experts say learning something new everyday will make you smarter overall and protect your brain from some of the negative aspects of normal aging.

Learning new things isn't just important for the brain, however. Several studies have found that people who regularly experience awe in their lives generally feel less stressed, more humble, and more satisfied too. So it's in our best interest to seek out those special quirks that awe and inspire us as we learn more about life and the universe.

Last, but not least, deGrasse Tyson tries to live his life by following the advice of a 19th Century American politician and educator, Horace Mann: "Be ashamed to die until you've scored some victory for humanity."

DeGrasse Tyson reiterated Mann's words with his own.

"You want the world to be a slightly better place for you having lived in it," he told Rose. "If you have the power and the influence to make it a slightly better place and you don't, what kind of life is that?"

When deGrasse Tyson saw Mann's quote for the first time, he decided that he would strive to one day deserve those words as his epitaph.

We think he's doing a pretty good job so far.

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The LHC is being resurrected this weekend — here's how it could change physics forever

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lhc, large hadron collider, cern

The revamped Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the monstrous underground atom smasher that hurls particles at near light speed, will turn back on this weekend after two years.

The LHC already revolutionized physics with the discovery of the Higgs boson. Now the revamped particle smasher is 60% more powerful than before, and it's poised to change what we know about the universe yet again.

"Now is a very exciting time to be a physicist," Jon Butterworth, a physics professor at University College London, said during a public lecture at the Perimeter Institute on April 2 discussing the next LHC run.

Butterworth explained some of the biggest mysteries in physics that the LHC could help solve when it gets revved up again:

1. Supersymmetry

The Higgs boson was the last particle predicted by the reigning theory in particle physics: the standard model. Scientists have known for a long time that this is an incomplete theory though.

Supersymmetry predicts that a yet-to-be-discovered partner particle for every particle within the standard model exists. The new and improved LHC will be shooting protons at each other into head-on collisions that generate intensely hot clouds full of exotic subatomic particles. Physicists hope they'll see evidence of these supersymmetric particles in the clouds from the high speed collisions.

dark matter2. Dark matter

A mysterious, invisible, and so far undetected substance makes up more than a quarter of our universe. It's called dark matter, and its discovery would be just as important to physics as that of the Higgs boson.

"When you look at a galaxy you're only seeing a very small part of its mass," Butterworth said. The rest is tied up in dark matter.

There's still no direct or observational evidence that it exists though. Physicists know that it's not made up of any type of particle that we already know about. One of the particles that supersymmetry predicts is the perfect candidate for a dark matter particle. Physicists think it must be a really heavy particle that requires a really powerful collision (that's why we didn't see it in the first LHC run) and that it weakly interacts with other particles (which is why we haven't been able to observe it).

3. Antimatter

Physics tells us that every single particle has an antiparticle partner. That means that the Big Bang should have produced an equal amount of matter and antimatter, Butterworth said.

Physicists have demonstrated that any time matter and antimatter come into contact, they obliterate each other. But if an equal amount of matter and antimatter were created by the Big Bang, doesn't that mean the universe would have destroyed itself? It seems there's far more matter than antimatter, but physicists have no idea why.

All that antimatter is MIA, and the LHC will be studying matter and antimatter particles in more depth to try and solve the mystery.

gravity waves4. Gravity

"It's very clear that gravity doesn't work with the standard model," Butterworth said.

Gravity isn't even represented by any of the particles that we know about. Some physicist think a gravity particle exists (called a "graviton") and we may find evidence of it in the new and improved LHC.

Some physicists even have a wild theory that gravity from our universe is seeping into extra dimensions that we can't see, and we'd find evidence for this in microscopic black holes that could pop up in the LHC and disappear almost immediately.

5. Dark energy

When cosmologists figured out that the universe is still expanding, and continuing to expand at an increasing rate, it marked a revolution in the field.

It also caused another problem for gravity. If gravity exists, there must be some other force that is fueling this rapid expansion of the universe. Physicists refer to this force as dark energy, but we know very little about it.

Some think it's tied up in supersymmetry, and the much faster and more powerful particle collisions in the LHC could reveal some insights.

Discovering more about dark energy will "hopefully lead to a revolution in gravity and quantum mechanics," Butterworth said.

The LHC will take a few months to get revved up to maximum power, but when it does, it's possible that we could find something that turns all of physics on its head.

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There's an insane optical illusion that makes a full moon look squished — here's why it happens

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Who broke the moon?

moon trick

Believe it or not, that's a real photo of the full moon taken in 2012 by an astronaut on board the International Space Station (ISS). Here's another photo with the moon even more squished:

moon trick

Why does that happen?

It's actually an optical illusion created by Earth's atmosphere. The ISS orbits Earth 250 miles above the surface, which is well above the planet's lower atmosphere. 

This crazy trick-of-the-eye happens when the moon and the ISS are on opposite sides of the Earth. The light that bounces off the moon and into the astronauts' eyes has to first pass through Earth's atmosphere, which bends the light, distorting the image. Check out this amazing Vine of the same effect:

 If you've ever looked at a straw that's half in air and half in water, you've noticed that the part of the straw in the water looks larger than the part in air. That's because the water, just like Earth's atmosphere, bends the light that you see. So why, then does the Earth look squished and not bigger? 

It's all about the direction the light is bent.

Earth's atmosphere is thinner the higher you go, and the light from the top-half of the moon travels through less atmosphere than the bottom half. In order to reach the astronaut's eyes, the light from the bottom half is bent upward, which makes it look severed in half.

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The world's most powerful particle accelerator just started running again — here's what it may find

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Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the giant underground particle accelerator that brought us the Higgs boson, restarted on Easter Sunday (April 5).

The LHC laid dormant for two years while it was retrofitted with upgrades, but on Sunday at 10:41 a.m. local time near Geneva, Switzerland, physicists flipped the switch and the first proton beam fired and zipped around the ring-shaped particle accelerator.

Physicists will slowly start cranking up the energy of the beams and eventually the LHC will hurl atoms with 60% more power than before.

"After two years of effort, the LHC is in great shape," Frédérick Bordry, CERN director for accelerators and technology, said in a statement. "But the most important step is still to come when we increase the energy of the beams to new record levels."

Those record-level proton beams will circle the LHC in opposite directions and barrel into each other in head-on collisions. Each crash produces hot clouds of tiny particles, and physicists hope the clouds will hold never-before-seen particles.

New particles would completely change what we know about physics. During a public lecture at the Perimeter Institute, Jon Butterworth, a physics professor at University College London, explained what mysteries physicists hope the LHC will solve once it revs up to full power:

1. Supersymmetry

The Higgs boson was the last particle predicted by the reigning theory in particle physics: the standard model. Scientists have known for a long time that this is an incomplete theory though.

Supersymmetry predicts that a yet-to-be-discovered partner particle for every particle within the standard model exists. The new and improved LHC will shoot protons at each other at record energy levels, and physicists hope they'll see evidence of these supersymmetric particles in the clouds from the collisions.

dark matter2. Dark matter

A mysterious, invisible, and so far undetected substance makes up more than a quarter of our universe. It's called dark matter, and its discovery would be just as important to physics as that of the Higgs boson.

"When you look at a galaxy you're only seeing a very small part of its mass," Butterworth said. The rest is tied up in dark matter.

There's still no direct or observational evidence that it exists though. Physicists know that it's not made up of any type of particle that we already know about. One of the particles that supersymmetry predicts is the perfect candidate for a dark matter particle. Physicists think it must be a really heavy particle that requires a really powerful collision (that's why we didn't see it in the first LHC run) and that it weakly interacts with other particles (which is why we haven't been able to observe it).

3. Antimatter

Physics tells us that every single particle has an antiparticle partner. That means that the Big Bang should have produced an equal amount of matter and antimatter, Butterworth said.

Physicists have demonstrated that any time matter and antimatter come into contact, they obliterate each other. But if an equal amount of matter and antimatter were created by the Big Bang, doesn't that mean the universe would have destroyed itself? It seems there's far more matter than antimatter, but physicists have no idea why.

All that antimatter is MIA, and the LHC will be studying matter and antimatter particles in more depth to try and solve the mystery.

gravity waves4. Gravity

"It's very clear that gravity doesn't work with the standard model," Butterworth said.

Gravity isn't even represented by any of the particles that we know about. Some physicist think a gravity particle exists (called a "graviton") and we may find evidence of it in the new and improved LHC.

Some physicists even have a wild theory that gravity from our universe is seeping into extra dimensions that we can't see, and we'd find evidence for this in microscopic black holes that could pop up in the LHC and disappear almost immediately.

5. Dark energy

When cosmologists figured out that the universe is still expanding, and continuing to expand at an increasing rate, it marked a revolution in the field.

It also caused another problem for gravity. If gravity exists, there must be some other force that is fueling this rapid expansion of the universe. Physicists refer to this force as dark energy, but we know very little about it.

Some think it's tied up in supersymmetry, and the much faster and more powerful particle collisions in the LHC could reveal some insights.

Discovering more about dark energy will "hopefully lead to a revolution in gravity and quantum mechanics," Butterworth said.

The LHC will take a few months to get revved up to maximum power, but when it does, it's possible that we could find something that turns all of physics on its head.

SEE ALSO: In 2012 the Large Hadron Collider found the game-changing Higgs — here's the next big mystery it could solve

CHECK OUT: Here's how proving supersymmetry could completely change how we understand the universe

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NOW WATCH: An Astronaut Compressed 6 Months In Space Into This Amazing Time-Lapse

The crazy phenomena that caused 2 men to sue the machine that brought us the Higgs boson

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large hadron collider

Easter Sunday was a very happy day for scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research because — after two long years of maintenance — the moment they've all been waiting for arrived: the restart of the world's largest, most powerful particle accelerator: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is a monster machine made of a long tunnel wrapped around in the shape of a 17-mile-wide underground circle. When it was completed in 2008, the scientific community saw it as a marvelous feat of engineering, but some saw it not as a miraculous achievement but a dangerous threat.

Months before the particle collider was scheduled to turn on for the first time in 2008, now-retired nuclear safety officer, Walter Wagner and Spanish journalist Luis Sancho filed a lawsuit against the organizations behind the monster machine. The plaintiffs were:

  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • National Science Foundation
  • European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Needless to say, it takes a lot of guts, and perhaps a little insanity, to try and sue any one of those organizations, which are brimming with some of humanity's brightest intellectuals, let alone all of them. Especially right before they finished a $6 billion, 30-year project. In the two men's defense, Wagner and Sancho were trying to save the world from, what they thought, was almost-certain annihilation.

Among their concerns was that the LHC had the power to produce a mini black hole that would, quite literally, swallow Earth. In their lawsuit they state:

"Eventually, all of Earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting Earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc."

Ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed because the men failed to prove a "credible threat to harm." While the men's fears were clearly misguided — Earth is still here after the LHC has run for multiple consecutive years — it's important to understand why using the LHC for science is safe.

They have not spoken up since the lawsuit was dismissed in 2010.

Below are the three concerns Wagner and Sachos proposed in their lawsuit and why none of these should worry you.

Death by black hole

Black HoleBlack holes are extremely dense compact objects with a mass range anywhere between 4 to 170 million times the mass of our sun. While black holes are generally huge, it's completely possible, at least in theory, that a small amount of matter, on the order of tens of micrograms, could be packed densely enough to make a black hole. This would be an example a microscopic black hole.

So far, no one has made or observed a microscopic black hole — not even the LHC. But before it was turned on for the first time in 2008, Wagner and Sancho feared that by accelerating subatomic particles to 99.99% the speed of light and then smashing them together, it would create a particle mash-up so dense as to spawn a black hole.

The physicists at CERN report that Einstein's theory of relativity predicts that it's impossible for the LHC to produce such exotic phenomena. But, Wagner and Sancho argued, what if Einstein was wrong?

Even so, another theory, developed by world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, predicts that even if a a microscopic black hole formed inside of the LHC , it would instantly disintegrate, posing no threat to Earth's existence.

In 1974, Hawking predicted that black holes don't just gobble stuff up, they also spit it out in the form of extremely high-energy radiation, now known as Hawking radiation. According to the theory, the smaller the black hole, the more Hawking radiation it expels into space, eventually wasting away to nothing. Therefore, a microscopic black hole, being the smallest kind, would disappear before it could wreak havoc and destruction. This could also by why we've never seen a micro black hole.

Death by strange matter

dark matterStrange matter is made up of individual, hypothetical particles, called strangelets, which are different from the normal matter that make up everything we see around us.

Wagner and Sancho worried that this strange matter could fuse with normal matter "eventually converting all of Earth into a single large 'strangelet' of huge size,"they write in their lawsuit.

However, the precise behavior of strange matter, or even a single strangelet, is unclear, which is partly why these particles have been suggested as candidates for the mysterious material called dark matter the permeates the universe.

To support that theory, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, have been trying to create a strangelet particle with Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider since the turn of the century. So far, nothing that resembles a strangelet has popped up. And because of the energies and types of particles that the LHC collides, Brookhaven has a better chance of making this strange matter.

If it succeeded, the concern is that the strangelets would bind with normal matter in a runaway reaction that would transform you, me, and everything on Earth into a clump of strange matter. Whether we would survive such a transformation and how that would change things is anyone's guess. But that unknown is scary enough.

Physicists at CERN, however, say that if Brookhaven succeeded in making a strangelet, its chances of interacting and binding with normal matter are slim:

"It is difficult for strange matter to stick together in the high temperatures produced by such colliders, rather as ice does not form in hot water,"they explain on their website.

Death by magnetic monopoles

magnetic monopoleIn nature, magnets come with two ends — a north pole and a south pole. But in the late 19th Century physicist Pierre Curie, husband to Marie Curie, predicted that there's no reason why a particle with just one magnetic pole could not exist.

More than a century later, however, this particle, called a magnetic monopole, has never been made in the lab or observed in nature. So, it's purely hypothetical. But that didn't stop Wagner from suggesting that a powerful machine like the LHC could make history by creating the first ever magnetic monopole that could destroy Earth.

"Such particle might have the ability to catalyze the decay of protons and atoms, causing them to convert into other types of matter in a runaway reaction,"he and Sancho wrote.

The theory that a monopole could destroy protons — the subatomic building blocks of all matter in the universe — is speculative at best, CERN physicists explain. But let's say that theory is right. Well, these theories also predict that such a particle would have a certain mass, which happens to be too heavy for anything the LHC would create.

So, suffice it say: We're safe.

"The continued existence of the Earth and other astronomical bodies therefore rules out dangerous proton-eating magnetic monopoles light enough to be produced at the LHC,"CERN physicists explain.

Once the LHC is turned back on, physicists will spend the next few months ramping it up to maximum power, which will be about twice the energy it had during its first run. That's not going to change the fact that the chances of the LHC cooking up Earth-destroying mini black holes, strangelets, or magnetic monopoles are next-to-nothing.

If you're still not convinced, or the slightest bit worried, check out CERN's website regarding "The Safety of the LHC" where experts in astrophysics, cosmology, general relativity, mathematics, particle physics, and risk analysis have expressed their opinions on the machine's safety.

SEE ALSO: In 2012 the Large Hadron Collider found the game-changing Higgs — here's the next big mystery it could solve

LEARN MORE: Here's how proving supersymmetry could completely change how we understand the universe

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NOW WATCH: Animated map of what Earth would look like if all the ice melted

The European Space Agency is using a 10,000-year-old fishing net design to clean up space

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satellite clean up

Aerospace engineering usually focuses on finding the next best thing, developing complex new technologies to explore the final frontier.

But sometimes it is just as innovative to recycle old ideas in new ways. That's how the European Space Agency (ESA) decided to use a 10,000-year-old technology for its latest project.

As part of their Clean Space Initiative, the ESA has designed nets modeled after a willow mesh fishing net dated back to 8300 B.C. in order to catch space debris. The proposal is just one of many ideas to be discussed as part of the ESA's e.DeOrbit symposium this May, but it has already captured the space community's attention for its elegant simplicity.

The nets are shot out of compressed air cannons in a parabolic arch at different angles and speeds to catch debris of various sizes. The ESA is not the only agency considering revitalizing simple fishing technologies for high-tech space debris retrieval missions. Japan's space agency, JAXA, has been developing a magnetic aluminum and steel space net for the same purpose.

But why is space trash such a big deal? According to the ESA, there are over 23,000 space objects orbiting Earth, which amasses to 6,300 tons of technological waste material. There have been over 200 fragmentation events in the past half-century, as well as a few serious collisions between defunct satellites and their functioning counterparts. As 60 to 70 satellites are launched every year, the debris will continue to amass and collisions will become more frequent.

Building satellites is expensive, and the services they provide to our planet for communications, military, and other purposes are indispensable in the modern world. The point is that there is limited real estate in Earth's orbit, and we can't have a bunch of garbage taking up essential space.

The project has been tested with rousing success, but scientists are still deciding what the best method is for meeting the Clean Space Initiative's goals. A robot arm may seem like an obvious choice, but it would likely be less suited to handling different rotation rates—if it grabs onto something spinning too quickly, the whole probe may be thrown into a chaotic tailspin.

Another proposed option that stays within the seafaring theme is to fire harpoons and reel interstellar garbage in using a tether, but this requires more aim than a net.

The main advantage of the net is its ability to handle a wide range of targets in a single shot, but there is still the issue of disposing its collections and whether the net will cause collisions during the collection stages. The e.DeOrbit mission begins in 2021, so the engineers still have plenty of time to address these issues in their design…but time's ticking.

SEE ALSO: The crazy phenomena that caused 2 men to sue the machine that brought us the Higgs boson

SEE ALSO: Epically awesome photos of Mars

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Everything you need to know but were too afraid to ask about the biggest machine on Earth — the newly revamped and restarted Large Hadron Collider

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lhc, large hadron collider, cernThe Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest machine ever built, restarted on April 5, and it's powering up to uncover some potentially game-changing discoveries in physics.

The LHC brought us the Higgs boson during its first run in 2012, and now in it's new and improved state, physicists think it has the potential to uncover even more exciting particles.

Physicists first proposed the idea for the LHC in the 1980s and construction was finally completed in 2008 at CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. It's one of several particle accelerators at CERN, but it stole the limelight with its discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 and the documentary "Particle Fever" that detailed the discovery. Now it's second run has again captured world wide attention.

But what does this $10 billion machine do? And what does it actually look like on the inside? 

Simply put, the LHC is a 17-mile underground ring-shaped tunnel lined with supercooled magnets, accelerator tubes, and huge cameras that snap photos of proton beams crashing into one another at nearly the speed of light. It's so huge you can fit the whole of central London inside its ring.



The LHC is located near Geneva, Switzerland. It was first proposed in the 1980s and the idea was ridiculed by many for being too grandiose. However, the proposal eventually gained traction and the LHC was completed in 2008.



There's no machine on Earth quite like it. “The first time I ever saw it I remember walking in and just being stunned,” Monica Dunford, a physicist who works at the LHC, said in the trailer for the documentary "Particle Fever."“Five stories completely filled with custom-designed, hand-soldered microelectronics.”



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