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  • richardmitnick 11:51 am on May 9, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Saturn has a fuzzy core spread over more than half the planet’s diameter", , , Science News   

    From California Institute of Technology (US) via Science News : “Saturn has a fuzzy core spread over more than half the planet’s diameter” 

    Caltech Logo

    From California Institute of Technology (US)


    Science News

    May 6, 2021
    Ken Croswell

    Minute ripples in the rings of Saturn, seen in this 2010 image from the Cassini spacecraft, are helping astronomers deduce details about the planet’s hidden core.
    Cassini, JPL-Caltech (US)/National Aeronautics Space Agency (US), Space Science Institute (US).

    One of Saturn’s rings has revealed properties of its core, hidden deep beneath the planet’s golden atmosphere.

    That core isn’t the lump of rock and ice that many scientists had envisioned, the new study finds. Instead, the core is diffuse, pervaded by huge amounts of hydrogen and helium and so spread out that it spans 70,000 kilometers, or about 60 percent of the planet’s diameter, researchers report April 28.

    The new intel should help planetary scientists better understand not only how giant planets formed in our solar system but also the nature of such worlds orbiting other stars.

    To ascertain the structure of Saturn’s core, astronomer Christopher Mankovich and astrophysicist Jim Fuller, both at Caltech, examined the giant planet’s rings. Just as earthquakes help seismologists probe Earth’s interior, oscillations inside Saturn can reveal its internal composition. These oscillations alter Saturn’s gravitational forces, inducing waves in the rings —especially the C ring, which is the nearest of the three main rings to the planet (SN: 1/22/19).

    By analyzing a wave in that ring, along with data on Saturn’s gravity field from the now-defunct Cassini spacecraft (SN: 9/15/17), Mankovich and Fuller found that the core has about 17 Earth masses of rock and ice. But there’s so much hydrogen and helium mixed in, the core encompasses 55 Earth masses altogether — more than half of Saturn’s total, which is equivalent to the mass of 95 Earths. This “ring seismology” work will appear in a future Nature Astronomy.

    “It’s a new way to look at gas giant planets in the solar system,” says Ravit Helled, a planetary scientist at the University of Zürich [Universität Zürich ] (CH) who was not involved with the work. “This knowledge is important because it reflects on our understanding of giant exoplanets,” and indicates that giant planets in other solar systems probably have more complex structures than many researchers had thought.

    The discovery also illuminates how Saturn formed, says Nadine Nettelmann, a planetary scientist at the DLR German Aerospace Center [ Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.] (DE).

    Older theories posited that a gas giant such as Saturn arises when rock and ice orbiting the sun start to conglomerate. Tenuous gaseous envelopes let additional solid materials sink to the center, forming a compact core. Only later, according to this theory, does the core attract lots of hydrogen and helium — the ingredients that make up most of the planet. Although these elements are gases on Earth, Saturn’s great gravity squeezes most of them into a fluid.

    But newer theories say instead that plenty of gas got incorporated into the core of rock and ice when it was taking shape 4.6 billion years ago. As the planet accreted additional mass, the proportion of gas rose. The structure Mankovich and Fuller deduce for Saturn’s core preserves this formation history, Nettelmann says, because the planet’s very center, representing the oldest part of Saturn, has the greatest proportion of rock and ice. The fraction of rock and ice decrease gradually rather than abruptly from the core’s center to its edge, reflecting the core’s development over time.

    “I find the conclusions very important and very exciting and the line of reasoning very convincing,” Nettelmann says. Still, she cautions that additional waves in the rings should be analyzed for confirmation.

    The type of oscillation that Mankovich and Fuller detect inside Saturn also implies that the core is stable rather than bubbling like a pot of water on a hot stove, which is one way a planet can carry heat from its hot interior outward. The core’s stability may help explain a long-standing puzzle: why Saturn emits more energy than it gets from the sun.

    After the planet formed, it was warm with the heat of its birth, but then it cooled off. The core’s stability could have put a lid on some of this cooling, however, which helped the planet retain heat that it still radiates to this day. In contrast, if the core had instead transported heat via the upwelling and downwelling of material, the planet would have cooled off faster and no longer give off so much heat.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Caltech campus

    The California Institute of Technology (US) is a private research university in Pasadena, California. The university is known for its strength in science and engineering, and is one among a small group of institutes of technology in the United States which is primarily devoted to the instruction of pure and applied sciences.

    Caltech was founded as a preparatory and vocational school by Amos G. Throop in 1891 and began attracting influential scientists such as George Ellery Hale, Arthur Amos Noyes, and Robert Andrews Millikan in the early 20th century. The vocational and preparatory schools were disbanded and spun off in 1910 and the college assumed its present name in 1920. In 1934, Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities, and the antecedents of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (US)’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech continues to manage and operate, were established between 1936 and 1943 under Theodore von Kármán.

    Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphasis on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. First-year students are required to live on campus, and 95% of undergraduates remain in the on-campus House System at Caltech. Although Caltech has a strong tradition of practical jokes and pranks, student life is governed by an honor code which allows faculty to assign take-home examinations. The Caltech Beavers compete in 13 intercollegiate sports in the NCAA Division III’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).

    As of October 2020, there are 76 Nobel laureates who have been affiliated with Caltech, including 40 alumni and faculty members (41 prizes, with chemist Linus Pauling being the only individual in history to win two unshared prizes). In addition, 4 Fields Medalists and 6 Turing Award winners have been affiliated with Caltech. There are 8 Crafoord Laureates and 56 non-emeritus faculty members (as well as many emeritus faculty members) who have been elected to one of the United States National Academies. Four Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force and 71 have won the United States National Medal of Science or Technology. Numerous faculty members are associated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute(US) as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration(US). According to a 2015 Pomona College(US) study, Caltech ranked number one in the U.S. for the percentage of its graduates who go on to earn a PhD.


    Caltech is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity”. Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities in 1934 and remains a research university with “very high” research activity, primarily in STEM fields. The largest federal agencies contributing to research are National Aeronautics and Space Administration(US); National Science Foundation(US); Department of Health and Human Services(US); Department of Defense(US), and Department of Energy(US).

    In 2005, Caltech had 739,000 square feet (68,700 m^2) dedicated to research: 330,000 square feet (30,700 m^2) to physical sciences, 163,000 square feet (15,100 m^2) to engineering, and 160,000 square feet (14,900 m^2) to biological sciences.

    In addition to managing JPL, Caltech also operates the Caltech Palomar Observatory(US); the Owens Valley Radio Observatory(US);the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory(US); the W. M. Keck Observatory at the Mauna Kea Observatory(US); the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at Livingston, Louisiana and Richland, Washington; and Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory(US) in Corona del Mar, California. The Institute launched the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech in 2006; the Keck Institute for Space Studies in 2008; and is also the current home for the Einstein Papers Project. The Spitzer Science Center(US), part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center(US) located on the Caltech campus, is the data analysis and community support center for NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope [no longer in service].

    Caltech partnered with University of California at Los Angeles(US) to establish a Joint Center for Translational Medicine (UCLA-Caltech JCTM), which conducts experimental research into clinical applications, including the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer.

    Caltech operates several Total Carbon Column Observing Network(US) stations as part of an international collaborative effort of measuring greenhouse gases globally. One station is on campus.

  • richardmitnick 6:09 am on May 6, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A supernova in a galaxy called NGC 4666., , , , , Northwestern University (US), Science News, SN 2019yvr   

    From Northwestern University (US) via Science News : “A rare glimpse of a star before it went supernova defies expectations” 

    Northwestern U bloc

    From Northwestern University (US)


    Science News

    Maria Temming

    The discovery hints at unusual scenarios for how stars can evolve before they explode.

    A star that fueled a recent supernova in the nearby galaxy NGC 4666 (pictured) has astronomers scratching their heads. Credit: J. Dietrich/European Southern Observatory [Observatoire européen austral][Europäische Südsternwarte](EU)

    A rare glimpse of a star before it exploded in a fiery supernova looks nothing like astronomers expected, a new study suggests.

    Images from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that a relatively cool, puffy star ended its life in a hydrogen-free supernova. Until now, supernovas without hydrogen were thought to originate only from extremely hot, compact stars.

    The discovery “is a very important test case for stellar evolution,” says Sung-Chul Yoon, an astrophysicist at Seoul National University [서울대학교](KR) in South Korea, who was not involved in the work. Theorists have some ideas about how massive stars behave right before they blow up, but such hefty stars are scant in the local universe and many are nowhere near ready to go supernova, Yoon says. Retroactively identifying the star responsible for a supernova provides an opportunity to test scenarios of how stars evolve right before exploding.

    Finding those stars, however, is difficult, explains Charlie Kilpatrick, an astronomer at Northwestern University (US) in Evanston, Ill. A telescope must have looked at that exact region of the sky in the years leading up to the supernova. And the explosion must have happened close enough for light from its much fainter source star to have reached a telescope.

    Although both conditions are tricky to meet, Kilpatrick is undaunted by the hunt. After scientists discovered a supernova in December 2019, in a galaxy called NGC 4666 about 46 million light-years away, he and colleagues rushed to check old Hubble observations from the same region of the sky. They wanted to find the star behind the explosion, dubbed SN 2019yvr.

    After pouring over images and cross-checking observations with those from ground-based telescopes, the team found their quarry: a star at the same spot as the supernova, observed about 2.6 years before the explosion. It appeared to be a yellow star about 6,500° Celsius and about 320 times wider than the sun.

    “I was kind of puzzled by all that,” Kilpatrick says. The supernova SN 2019yvr lacked hydrogen, so its progenitor was expected to be hydrogen-deficient, too. But “if a star lacks a hydrogen envelope, then you expect to be seeing deeper inside of the star to the hotter layers,” Kilpatrick says. That is, the star should have looked extremely hot and blue and compact — maybe 10,0000 to 50,000° C, and no more than 50 times wider than the sun. The cool, large, yellow progenitor of SN 2019yvr, on the other hand, appeared to be padded with lots of hydrogen. The researchers report the results May 5 in the MNRAS.

    For this kind of star to have produced a supernova like SN 2019yvr, it must have shed much of its hydrogen before blowing up, Kilpatrick says. But how?

    He and colleagues have come up with a couple scenarios. The star could have expelled much of its hydrogen into space through violent eruptions, possibly caused by some instability in the star’s core or interference from another star nearby. Or perhaps the star’s hydrogen could have been stripped off by another star that was in orbit around it.

    To whittle these possibilities down, Jan Eldridge, an astrophysicist at the University of Auckland (NZ) in New Zealand, suggests turning the Hubble telescope back on that area of the sky. Astronomers should first make sure that the star seen 2.6 years before SN 2019yvr really is gone now, says Eldridge, who was not involved in the work. Researchers could also check whether a star that once orbited SN 2019yvr’s progenitor still remains.

    “They’ve found a mystery, and they’ve got some solutions,” Eldridge notes. Trying to figure out how such an unlikely star pulled off this particular supernova, she says, “is going to be fun.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Northwestern South Campus
    South Campus

    Northwestern University (US) is a private research university in Evanston, Illinois. Founded in 1851 to serve the former Northwest Territory, the university is a founding member of the Big Ten Conference.

    On May 31, 1850, nine men gathered to begin planning a university that would serve the Northwest Territory.

    Given that they had little money, no land and limited higher education experience, their vision was ambitious. But through a combination of creative financing, shrewd politicking, religious inspiration and an abundance of hard work, the founders of Northwestern University were able to make that dream a reality.

    In 1853, the founders purchased a 379-acre tract of land on the shore of Lake Michigan 12 miles north of Chicago. They established a campus and developed the land near it, naming the surrounding town Evanston in honor of one of the University’s founders, John Evans. After completing its first building in 1855, Northwestern began classes that fall with two faculty members and 10 students.
    Twenty-one presidents have presided over Northwestern in the years since. The University has grown to include 12 schools and colleges, with additional campuses in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.

    Northwestern is known for its focus on interdisciplinary education, extensive research output, and student traditions. The university provides instruction in over 200 formal academic concentrations, including various dual degree programs. The university is composed of eleven undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, which include the Kellogg School of Management, the Pritzker School of Law, the Feinberg School of Medicine, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the Bienen School of Music, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Medill School of Journalism, the School of Communication, the School of Professional Studies, the School of Education and Social Policy, and The Graduate School. As of fall 2019, the university had 21,946 enrolled students, including 8,327 undergraduates and 13,619 graduate students.

    Valued at $12.2 billion, Northwestern’s endowment is among the largest university endowments in the United States. Its numerous research programs bring in nearly $900 million in sponsored research each year.

    Northwestern’s main 240-acre (97 ha) campus lies along the shores of Lake Michigan in Evanston, 12 miles north of Downtown Chicago. The university’s law, medical, and professional schools, along with its nationally ranked Northwestern Memorial Hospital, are located on a 25-acre (10 ha) campus in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. The university also maintains a campus in Doha, Qatar and locations in San Francisco, California, Washington, D.C. and Miami, Florida.

    As of October 2020, Northwestern’s faculty and alumni have included 1 Fields Medalist, 22 Nobel Prize laureates, 40 Pulitzer Prize winners, 6 MacArthur Fellows, 17 Rhodes Scholars, 27 Marshall Scholars, 23 National Medal of Science winners, 11 National Humanities Medal recipients, 84 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 10 living billionaires, 16 Olympic medalists, and 2 U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Northwestern alumni have founded notable companies and organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, The Blackstone Group, Kirkland & Ellis, U.S. Steel, Guggenheim Partners, Accenture, Aon Corporation, AQR Capital, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Melvin Capital.

    The foundation of Northwestern University can be traced to a meeting on May 31, 1850, of nine prominent Chicago businessmen, Methodist leaders, and attorneys who had formed the idea of establishing a university to serve what had been known from 1787 to 1803 as the Northwest Territory. On January 28, 1851, the Illinois General Assembly granted a charter to the Trustees of the North-Western University, making it the first chartered university in Illinois. The school’s nine founders, all of whom were Methodists (three of them ministers), knelt in prayer and worship before launching their first organizational meeting. Although they affiliated the university with the Methodist Episcopal Church, they favored a non-sectarian admissions policy, believing that Northwestern should serve all people in the newly developing territory by bettering the economy in Evanston.

    John Evans, for whom Evanston is named, bought 379 acres (153 ha) of land along Lake Michigan in 1853, and Philo Judson developed plans for what would become the city of Evanston, Illinois. The first building, Old College, opened on November 5, 1855. To raise funds for its construction, Northwestern sold $100 “perpetual scholarships” entitling the purchaser and his heirs to free tuition. Another building, University Hall, was built in 1869 of the same Joliet limestone as the Chicago Water Tower, also built in 1869, one of the few buildings in the heart of Chicago to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1873 the Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern, and Frances Willard, who later gained fame as a suffragette and as one of the founders of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), became the school’s first dean of women (Willard Residential College, built in 1938, honors her name). Northwestern admitted its first female students in 1869, and the first woman was graduated in 1874.

    Northwestern fielded its first intercollegiate football team in 1882, later becoming a founding member of the Big Ten Conference. In the 1870s and 1880s, Northwestern affiliated itself with already existing schools of law, medicine, and dentistry in Chicago. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law is the oldest law school in Chicago. As the university’s enrollments grew, these professional schools were integrated with the undergraduate college in Evanston; the result was a modern research university combining professional, graduate, and undergraduate programs, which gave equal weight to teaching and research. By the turn of the century, Northwestern had grown in stature to become the third largest university in the United States after Harvard University(US) and the University of Michigan(US).

    Under Walter Dill Scott’s presidency from 1920 to 1939, Northwestern began construction of an integrated campus in Chicago designed by James Gamble Rogers, noted for his design of the Yale University(US) campus, to house the professional schools. The university also established the Kellogg School of Management and built several prominent buildings on the Evanston campus, including Dyche Stadium, now named Ryan Field, and Deering Library among others. In the 1920s, Northwestern became one of the first six universities in the United States to establish a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC). In 1939, Northwestern hosted the first-ever NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship game in the original Patten Gymnasium, which was later demolished and relocated farther north, along with the Dearborn Observatory, to make room for the Technological Institute.

    After the golden years of the 1920s, the Great Depression in the United States (1929–1941) had a severe impact on the university’s finances. Its annual income dropped 25 percent from $4.8 million in 1930-31 to $3.6 million in 1933-34. Investment income shrank, fewer people could pay full tuition, and annual giving from alumni and philanthropists fell from $870,000 in 1932 to a low of $331,000 in 1935. The university responded with two salary cuts of 10 percent each for all employees. It imposed hiring and building freezes and slashed appropriations for maintenance, books, and research. Having had a balanced budget in 1930-31, the university now faced deficits of roughly $100,000 for the next four years. Enrollments fell in most schools, with law and music suffering the biggest declines. However, the movement toward state certification of school teachers prompted Northwestern to start a new graduate program in education, thereby bringing in new students and much needed income. In June 1933, Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago(US), proposed a merger of the two universities, estimating annual savings of $1.7 million. The two presidents were enthusiastic, and the faculty liked the idea; many Northwestern alumni, however, opposed it, fearing the loss of their Alma Mater and its many traditions that distinguished Northwestern from Chicago. The medical school, for example, was oriented toward training practitioners, and alumni feared it would lose its mission if it were merged into the more research-oriented University of Chicago Medical School. The merger plan was ultimately dropped. In 1935, the Deering family rescued the university budget with an unrestricted gift of $6 million, bringing the budget up to $5.4 million in 1938-39. This allowed many of the previous spending cuts to be restored, including half of the salary reductions.

    Like other American research universities, Northwestern was transformed by World War II (1939–1945). Regular enrollment fell dramatically, but the school opened high-intensity, short-term programs that trained over 50,000 military personnel, including future president John F. Kennedy. Northwestern’s existing NROTC program proved to be a boon to the university as it trained over 36,000 sailors over the course of the war, leading Northwestern to be called the “Annapolis of the Midwest.” Franklyn B. Snyder led the university from 1939 to 1949, and after the war, surging enrollments under the G.I. Bill drove dramatic expansion of both campuses. In 1948, prominent anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits founded the Program of African Studies at Northwestern, the first center of its kind at an American academic institution. J. Roscoe Miller’s tenure as president from 1949 to 1970 saw an expansion of the Evanston campus, with the construction of the Lakefill on Lake Michigan, growth of the faculty and new academic programs, and polarizing Vietnam-era student protests. In 1978, the first and second Unabomber attacks occurred at Northwestern University. Relations between Evanston and Northwestern became strained throughout much of the post-war era because of episodes of disruptive student activism, disputes over municipal zoning, building codes, and law enforcement, as well as restrictions on the sale of alcohol near campus until 1972. Northwestern’s exemption from state and municipal property-tax obligations under its original charter has historically been a source of town-and-gown tension.

    Although government support for universities declined in the 1970s and 1980s, President Arnold R. Weber was able to stabilize university finances, leading to a revitalization of its campuses. As admissions to colleges and universities grew increasingly competitive in the 1990s and 2000s, President Henry S. Bienen’s tenure saw a notable increase in the number and quality of undergraduate applicants, continued expansion of the facilities and faculty, and renewed athletic competitiveness. In 1999, Northwestern student journalists uncovered information exonerating Illinois death-row inmate Anthony Porter two days before his scheduled execution. The Innocence Project has since exonerated 10 more men. On January 11, 2003, in a speech at Northwestern School of Law’s Lincoln Hall, then Governor of Illinois George Ryan announced that he would commute the sentences of more than 150 death-row inmates.

    In the 2010s, a 5-year capital campaign resulted in a new music center, a replacement building for the business school, and a $270 million athletic complex. In 2014, President Barack Obama delivered a seminal economics speech at the Evanston campus.

    Organization and administration


    Northwestern is privately owned and governed by an appointed Board of Trustees, which is composed of 70 members and, as of 2011, has been chaired by William A. Osborn ’69. The board delegates its power to an elected president who serves as the chief executive officer of the university. Northwestern has had sixteen presidents in its history (excluding interim presidents). The current president, economist Morton O. Schapiro, succeeded Henry Bienen whose 14-year tenure ended on August 31, 2009. The president maintains a staff of vice presidents, directors, and other assistants for administrative, financial, faculty, and student matters. Kathleen Haggerty assumed the role of interim provost for the university in April 2020.

    Students are formally involved in the university’s administration through the Associated Student Government, elected representatives of the undergraduate students, and the Graduate Student Association, which represents the university’s graduate students.

    The admission requirements, degree requirements, courses of study, and disciplinary and degree recommendations for each of Northwestern’s 12 schools are determined by the voting members of that school’s faculty (assistant professor and above).

    Undergraduate and graduate schools

    Evanston Campus:

    Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (1851)
    School of Communication (1878)
    Bienen School of Music (1895)
    McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science (1909)
    Medill School of Journalism (1921)
    School of Education and Social Policy (1926)
    School of Professional Studies (1933)

    Graduate and professional

    Evanston Campus

    Kellogg School of Management (1908)
    The Graduate School

    Chicago Campus

    Feinberg School of Medicine (1859)
    Kellogg School of Management (1908)
    Pritzker School of Law (1859)
    School of Professional Studies (1933)

    Northwestern University had a dental school from 1891 to May 31, 2001, when it closed.


    In 1996, Princess Diana made a trip to Evanston to raise money for the university hospital’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at the invitation of then President Bienen. Her visit raised a total of $1.5 million for cancer research.

    In 2003, Northwestern finished a five-year capital campaign that raised $1.55 billion, exceeding its fundraising goal by $550 million.

    In 2014, Northwestern launched the “We Will” campaign with a fundraising goal of $3.75 billion. As of December 31, 2019, the university has received $4.78 billion from 164,026 donors.


    In January 2009, the Green Power Partnership (sponsored by the EPA) listed Northwestern as one of the top 10 universities in the country in purchasing energy from renewable sources. The university matches 74 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of its annual energy use with Green-e Certified Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). This green power commitment represents 30 percent of the university’s total annual electricity use and places Northwestern in the EPA’s Green Power Leadership Club. The Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), supporting research, teaching and outreach in these themes, was launched in 2008.

    Northwestern requires that all new buildings be LEED-certified. Silverman Hall on the Evanston campus was awarded Gold LEED Certification in 2010; Wieboldt Hall on the Chicago campus was awarded Gold LEED Certification in 2007, and the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center on the Evanston campus was awarded Silver LEED Certification in 2006. New construction and renovation projects will be designed to provide at least a 20% improvement over energy code requirements where feasible. At the beginning of the 2008–09 academic year, the university also released the Evanston Campus Framework Plan, which outlines plans for future development of the university’s Evanston campus. The plan not only emphasizes sustainable building construction, but also focuses on reducing the energy costs of transportation by optimizing pedestrian and bicycle access. Northwestern has had a comprehensive recycling program in place since 1990. The university recycles over 1,500 tons of waste, or 30% of all waste produced on campus, each year. All landscape waste at the university is composted.


    Education and rankings

    Northwestern is a large, residential research university, and is frequently ranked among the top universities in the United States. The university is a leading institution in the fields of materials engineering, chemistry, business, economics, education, journalism, and communications. It is also prominent in law and medicine. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the respective national professional organizations for chemistry, psychology, business, education, journalism, music, engineering, law, and medicine, the university offers 124 undergraduate programs and 145 graduate and professional programs. Northwestern conferred 2,190 bachelor’s degrees, 3,272 master’s degrees, 565 doctoral degrees, and 444 professional degrees in 2012–2013. Since 1951, Northwestern has awarded 520 honorary degrees. Northwestern also has chapters of academic honor societies such as Phi Beta Kappa (Alpha of Illinois), Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Sigma Phi (Beta Chapter), Lambda Pi Eta, and Alpha Sigma Lambda (Alpha Chapter).

    The four-year, full-time undergraduate program comprises the majority of enrollments at the university. Although there is no university-wide core curriculum, a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences is required for all majors; individual degree requirements are set by the faculty of each school. The university heavily emphasizes interdisciplinary learning, with 72% of undergrads combining two or more areas of study. Northwestern’s full-time undergraduate and graduate programs operate on an approximately 10-week academic quarter system with the academic year beginning in late September and ending in early June. Undergraduates typically take four courses each quarter and twelve courses in an academic year and are required to complete at least twelve quarters on campus to graduate. Northwestern offers honors, accelerated, and joint degree programs in medicine, science, mathematics, engineering, and journalism. The comprehensive doctoral graduate program has high coexistence with undergraduate programs.

    Despite being a mid-sized university, Northwestern maintains a relatively low student to faculty ratio of 6:1.


    Northwestern was elected to the Association of American Universities (US)in 1917 and is classified as an R1 university, denoting “very high” research activity. Northwestern’s schools of management, engineering, and communication are among the most academically productive in the nation. The university received $887.3 million in research funding in 2019 and houses over 90 school-based and 40 university-wide research institutes and centers. Northwestern also supports nearly 1,500 research laboratories across two campuses, predominately in the medical and biological sciences.

    Northwestern is home to the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics, Northwestern Institute for Complex Systems, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, Materials Research Center, Center for Quantum Devices, Institute for Policy Research, International Institute for Nanotechnology, Center for Catalysis and Surface Science, Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies, the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, and the Argonne/Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center among other centers for interdisciplinary research.

    Student body

    Northwestern enrolled 8,186 full-time undergraduate, 9,904 full-time graduate, and 3,856 part-time students in the 2019–2020 academic year. The freshman retention rate for that year was 98%. 86% of students graduated after four years and 92% graduated after five years. These numbers can largely be attributed to the university’s various specialized degree programs, such as those that allow students to earn master’s degrees with a one or two year extension of their undergraduate program.

    The undergraduate population is drawn from all 50 states and over 75 foreign countries. 20% of students in the Class of 2024 were Pell Grant recipients and 12.56% were first-generation college students. Northwestern also enrolls the 9th-most National Merit Scholars of any university in the nation.

    In Fall 2014, 40.6% of undergraduate students were enrolled in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 21.3% in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, 14.3% in the School of Communication, 11.7% in the Medill School of Journalism, 5.7% in the Bienen School of Music, and 6.4% in the School of Education and Social Policy. The five most commonly awarded undergraduate degrees are economics, journalism, communication studies, psychology, and political science. The Kellogg School of Management’s MBA, the School of Law’s JD, and the Feinberg School of Medicine’s MD are the three largest professional degree programs by enrollment. With 2,446 students enrolled in science, engineering, and health fields, the largest graduate programs by enrollment include chemistry, integrated biology, material sciences, electrical and computer engineering, neuroscience, and economics.


    Northwestern is a charter member of the Big Ten Conference. It is the conference’s only private university and possesses the smallest undergraduate enrollment (the next-smallest member, the University of Iowa, is roughly three times as large, with almost 22,000 undergraduates).

    Northwestern fields 19 intercollegiate athletic teams (8 men’s and 11 women’s) in addition to numerous club sports. 12 of Northwestern’s varsity programs have had NCAA or bowl postseason appearances. Northwestern is one of five private AAU members to compete in NCAA Power Five conferences (the other four being Duke, Stanford, USC, and Vanderbilt) and maintains a 98% NCAA Graduation Success Rate, the highest among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

    In 2018, the school opened the Walter Athletics Center, a $270 million state of the art lakefront facility for its athletics teams.

    Nickname and mascot

    Before 1924, Northwestern teams were known as “The Purple” and unofficially as “The Fighting Methodists.” The name Wildcats was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by Wallace Abbey, a writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune, who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago, “Football players had not come down from Evanston; wildcats would be a name better suited to “[Coach Glenn] Thistletwaite’s boys.” The name was so popular that university board members made “Wildcats” the official nickname just months later. In 1972, the student body voted to change the official nickname to “Purple Haze,” but the new name never stuck.

    The mascot of Northwestern Athletics is “Willie the Wildcat”. Prior to Willie, the team mascot had been a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw, who was brought to the playing field on game days to greet the fans. After a losing season however, the team decided that Furpaw was to blame for its misfortune and decided to select a new mascot. “Willie the Wildcat” made his debut in 1933, first as a logo and then in three dimensions in 1947, when members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed as wildcats during a Homecoming Parade.


    Northwestern’s official motto, “Quaecumque sunt vera,” was adopted by the university in 1890. The Latin phrase translates to “Whatsoever things are true” and comes from the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Philippians 4:8), in which St. Paul admonishes the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi. In addition to this motto, the university crest features a Greek phrase taken from the Gospel of John inscribed on the pages of an open book, ήρης χάριτος και αληθείας or “the word full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
    Alma Mater is the Northwestern Hymn. The original Latin version of the hymn was written in 1907 by Peter Christian Lutkin, the first dean of the School of Music from 1883 to 1931. In 1953, then Director-of-Bands John Paynter recruited an undergraduate music student, Thomas Tyra (’54), to write an English version of the song, which today is performed by the Marching Band during halftime at Wildcat football games and by the orchestra during ceremonies and other special occasions.
    Purple became Northwestern’s official color in 1892, replacing black and gold after a university committee concluded that too many other universities had used these colors. Today, Northwestern’s official color is purple, although white is something of an official color as well, being mentioned in both the university’s earliest song, Alma Mater (1907) (“Hail to purple, hail to white”) and in many university guidelines.
    The Rock, a 6-foot high quartzite boulder donated by the Class of 1902, originally served as a water fountain. It was painted over by students in the 1940s as a prank and has since become a popular vehicle of self-expression on campus.
    Armadillo Day, commonly known as Dillo Day, is the largest student-run music festival in the country. The festival is hosted every Spring on Northwestern’s Lakefront.
    Primal Scream is held every quarter at 9 p.m. on the Sunday before finals week. Students lean out of windows or gather in courtyards and scream to help relieve stress.
    In the past, students would throw marshmallows during football games, but this tradition has since been discontinued.


    One of Northwestern’s most notable student charity events is Dance Marathon, the most established and largest student-run philanthropy in the nation. The annual 30-hour event is among the most widely-attended events on campus. It has raised over $1 million for charity ever year since 2011 and has donated a total of $13 million to children’s charities since its conception.

    The Northwestern Community Development Corps (NCDC) is a student-run organization that connects hundreds of student volunteers to community development projects in Evanston and Chicago throughout the year. The group also holds a number of annual community events, including Project Pumpkin, a Halloween celebration that provides over 800 local children with carnival events and a safe venue to trick-or-treat each year.

    Many Northwestern students participate in the Freshman Urban Program, an initiative for students interested in community service to work on addressing social issues facing the city of Chicago, and the university’s Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) programs, including group service-learning expeditions in Asia, Africa, or Latin America in conjunction with the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

    Several internationally recognized non-profit organizations were established at Northwestern, including the World Health Imaging, Informatics and Telemedicine Alliance, a spin-off from an engineering student’s honors thesis.


    Established in 1881, The Daily Northwestern is the university’s main student newspaper and is published on weekdays during the academic year. It is directed entirely by undergraduate students and owned by the Students Publishing Company. Although it serves the Northwestern community, the Daily has no business ties to the university and is supported wholly by advertisers.
    North by Northwestern is an online undergraduate magazine established in September 2006 by students at the Medill School of Journalism. Published on weekdays, it consists of updates on news stories and special events throughout the year. It also publishes a quarterly print magazine.
    Syllabus is the university’s undergraduate yearbook. It is distributed in late May and features a culmination of the year’s events at Northwestern. First published in 1885, the yearbook is published by Students Publishing Company and edited by Northwestern students.
    Northwestern Flipside is an undergraduate satirical magazine. Founded in 2009, it publishes a weekly issue both in print and online.
    Helicon is the university’s undergraduate literary magazine. Established in 1979, it is published twice a year: a web issue is released in the winter and a print issue with a web complement is released in the spring.
    The Protest is Northwestern’s quarterly social justice magazine.
    The Northwestern division of Student Multicultural Affairs supports a number of publications for particular cultural groups including Ahora, a magazine about Hispanic and Latino/a culture and campus life; Al Bayan, published by the Northwestern Muslim-cultural Student Association; BlackBoard Magazine, a magazine centered around African-American student life; and NUAsian, a magazine and blog on Asian and Asian-American culture and issues.
    The Northwestern University Law Review is a scholarly legal publication and student organization at Northwestern University School of Law. Its primary purpose is to publish a journal of broad legal scholarship. The Law Review publishes six issues each year. Student editors make the editorial and organizational decisions and select articles submitted by professors, judges, and practitioners, as well as student pieces. The Law Review also publishes scholarly pieces weekly on the Colloquy.
    The Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property is a law review published by an independent student organization at Northwestern University School of Law.
    The Northwestern Interdisciplinary Law Review is a scholarly legal publication published annually by an editorial board of Northwestern undergraduates. Its mission is to publish interdisciplinary legal research, drawing from fields such as history, literature, economics, philosophy, and art. Founded in 2008, the journal features articles by professors, law students, practitioners, and undergraduates. It is funded by the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies and the Office of the Provost.


    Established in January 2011, Sherman Ave is a humor website that often publishes content on Northwestern student life. Most of its staff writers are current Northwestern undergraduates writing under various pseudonyms. The website is popular among students for its interviews of prominent campus figures, Freshman Guide, and live-tweeting coverage of football games. In Fall 2012, the website promoted a satiric campaign to end the Vanderbilt University football team’s custom of clubbing baby seals.
    Politics & Policy is dedicated to the analysis of current events and public policy. Established in 2010 by students at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, and Medill School of Journalism, the publication reaches students on more than 250 college campuses around the world. Run entirely by undergraduates, it is published several times a week and features material ranging from short summaries of events to extended research pieces. The publication is financed in part by the Buffett Center.
    Northwestern Business Review is a campus source for business news. Founded in 2005, it has an online presence as well as a quarterly print schedule.
    TriQuarterly Online (formerly TriQuarterly) is a literary magazine published twice a year featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, literary essays, reviews, blog posts, and art.
    The Queer Reader is Northwestern’s first radical feminist and LGBTQ+ publication.

    Radio, film, and television

    WNUR (89.3 FM) is a 7,200-watt radio station that broadcasts to the city of Chicago and its northern suburbs. WNUR’s programming consists of music (jazz, classical, and rock), literature, politics, current events, varsity sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, and women’s lacrosse), and breaking news on weekdays.
    Studio 22 is a student-run production company that produces roughly ten films each year. The organization financed the first film Zach Braff directed, and many of its films have featured students who would later go into professional acting, including Zach Gilford of Friday Night Lights.
    Applause for a Cause is currently the only student-run production company in the nation to create feature-length films for charity. It was founded in 2010 and has raised over $5,000 to date for various local and national organizations across the United States.
    Northwestern News Network is a student television news and sports network, serving the Northwestern and Evanston communities. Its studios and newsroom are located on the fourth floor of the McCormick Tribune Center on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. NNN is funded by the Medill School of Journalism.

  • richardmitnick 1:33 pm on April 27, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Stars made of antimatter could lurk in the Milky Way", , , , , Science News   

    From Science News : “Stars made of antimatter could lurk in the Milky Way” 

    From Science News

    Maria Temming

    Fourteen celestial sources of gamma rays (colored dots in this all-sky map of the Milky Way; yellow indicates bright sources and blue shows dim sources) may come from stars made of antimatter. Credit: Simon Dupourqué/Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology [Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie ] (FR)

    Fourteen pinpricks of light on a gamma-ray map of the sky could fit the bill for antistars, stars made of antimatter, a new study suggests.

    These antistar candidates seem to give off the kind of gamma rays that are produced when antimatter — matter’s oppositely charged counterpart — meets normal matter and annihilates. This could happen on the surfaces of antistars as their gravity draws in normal matter from interstellar space, researchers report online April 20 in Physical Review D.

    “If, by any chance, one can prove the existence of the antistars … that would be a major blow for the standard cosmological model,” says Pierre Salati, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Laboratory of Annecy-le-Vieux for Theoretical Physics [Laboratoire d’Annecy-le-Vieux de physique des particules] (FR) not involved in the work. It “would really imply a significant change in our understanding of what happened in the early universe.”

    It’s generally thought that although the universe was born with equal amounts of matter and antimatter, the modern universe contains almost no antimatter (SN: 3/24/20). Physicists typically think that as the universe evolved, some process led to matter particles vastly outnumbering their antimatter alter egos (SN: 11/25/19). But an instrument on the International Space Station recently cast doubt on this assumption by detecting hints of a few antihelium nuclei. If those observations are confirmed, such stray antimatter could have been shed by antistars.

    Intrigued by the possibility that some of the universe’s antimatter may have survived in the form of stars, a team of researchers examined 10 years of observations from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

    Among nearly 5,800 gamma-ray sources in the catalog, 14 points of light gave off gamma rays with energies expected of matter-antimatter annihilation, but did not look like any other known type of gamma-ray source, such as a pulsar or black hole.

    Based on the number of observed candidates and the sensitivity of the Fermi telescope, the team calculated how many antistars could exist in the solar neighborhood. If antistars existed within the plane of the Milky Way, where they could accrete lots of gas and dust made of ordinary matter, they could emit lots of gamma rays and be easy to spot. As a result, the handful of detected candidates would imply that only one antistar exists for every 400,000 normal stars.

    If, on the other hand, antistars tended to exist outside the plane of the galaxy, they would have much less opportunity to accrete normal matter and be much harder to find. In that scenario, there could be up to one antistar lurking among every 10 normal stars.

    But proving that any celestial object is an antistar would be extremely difficult, because besides the gamma rays that could arise from matter-antimatter annihilation, the light given off by antistars is expected to look just like the light from normal stars. “It would be practically impossible to say that [the candidates] are actually antistars,” says study coauthor Simon Dupourqué, an astrophysicist at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology [Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie ] (FR). “It would be much easier to disprove.”

    Astronomers could watch how gamma rays or radio signals from the candidates change over time to double-check that these objects aren’t really pulsars. Researchers could also look for optical or infrared signals that might indicate the candidates are actually black holes.

    “Obviously this is still preliminary … but it’s interesting,” says Julian Heeck, a physicist at the University of Virginia (US) not involved in the work.

    The existence of antistars would imply that substantial amounts of antimatter somehow managed to survive in isolated pockets of space. But Heeck doubts that antistars, if they exist, would be abundant enough to account for all the universe’s missing antimatter. “You would still need an explanation for why matter overall dominates over antimatter.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 3:56 pm on April 22, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Fast radio bursts could help solve the mystery of the universe’s expansion", Science News   

    From Science News : “Fast radio bursts could help solve the mystery of the universe’s expansion” 

    From Science News

    This work recognizes research by:

    1.The Oskar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics, Department of Physics, Stockholm University [Stockholms universitet](SE)
    2. Ruhr-University Bochum [Ruhr-Universität Bochum] (DE), Faculty of Physics and Astronomy, Astronomical Institute (AIRUB),German Centre for Cosmological Lensing
    3. Department of Physics, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology [ הטכניון – מכון טכנולוגי לישראל] (IL)


    Short-lived bursts of radio waves from deep space, possibly from eruptions on magnetic stars (one illustrated), are now being used to measure the expansion of the universe.Credit: European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)

    Astronomers have been arguing about the rate of the universe’s expansion for nearly a century. A new independent method to measure that rate could help cast the deciding vote.

    For the first time, astronomers calculated the Hubble constant — the rate at which the universe is expanding — from observations of cosmic flashes called fast radio bursts, or FRBs. While the results are preliminary and the uncertainties are large, the technique could mature into a powerful tool for nailing down the elusive Hubble constant, researchers report April 12 at MNRAS.

    Ultimately, if the uncertainties in the new method can be reduced, it could help settle the long-standing debate that holds our understanding of the universe’s physics in the balance (SN: 7/30/19).

    “I see great promises in this measurement in the future, especially with the growing number of detected repeated FRBs,” says Stanford University (US) astronomer Simon Birrer, who was not involved with the new work.

    Astronomers typically measure the Hubble constant in two ways. One uses the cosmic microwave background [CMB], the light released shortly after the Big Bang, in the distant universe.

    The other uses supernovas and other stars in the nearby universe. These approaches currently disagree by a few percent. The new value from FRBs comes in at an expansion rate of about 62.3 kilometers per second for every megaparsec (about 3.3 million light-years). While lower than the other methods, it’s tentatively closer to the value from the cosmic microwave background, or CMB.

    “Our data agrees a little bit more with the CMB side of things compared to the supernova side, but the error bar is really big, so you can’t really say anything,” says Steffen Hagstotz, an astronomer at Stockholm University. Nonetheless, he says, “I think fast radio bursts have the potential to be as accurate as the other methods.”

    No one knows exactly what causes FRBs, though eruptions from highly magnetic neutron stars are one possible explanation (SN: 6/4/20). During the few milliseconds when FRBs blast out radio waves, their extreme brightness makes them visible across large cosmic distances, giving astronomers a way to probe the space between galaxies (SN: 5/27/20).

    As an FRB signal travels through the dust and gas separating galaxies, it becomes scattered in a predictable way that causes some frequencies to arrive slightly later than others. The farther away the FRB, the more dispersed the signal. Using measurements of this dispersion, Hagstotz and colleagues estimated the distances to nine FRBs. Comparing those distances to the speeds at which the FRBs’ host galaxies are receding from Earth, the team calculated the Hubble constant.

    The largest error in the new method comes from not knowing precisely how the FRB signal disperses as it exits its home galaxy before entering intergalactic space, where the gas and dust content is better understood. With a few hundred FRBs, the team estimates that it could reduce the uncertainties and match the accuracy of other methods such as supernovas.

    “It’s a first measurement, so not too surprising that the current results are not as constraining as other more matured probes,” says Birrer.

    New FRB data might be coming soon. Many new radio observatories are coming online and larger surveys, such as ones proposed for the Square Kilometre Array, could discover tens to thousands of FRBs every night. Hagstotz expects there will sufficient FRBs with distance estimates in the next year or two to accurately determine the Hubble constant. Such FRB data could also help astronomers understand what’s causing the bright outbursts.

    “I am very excited about the new possibilities that we will have soon,” Hagstotz says. “It’s really just beginning.”

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 9:42 am on April 13, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Corals’ hidden genetic diversity corresponds to distinct lifestyles", , Science News   

    From Oregon State University via Science News : “Corals’ hidden genetic diversity corresponds to distinct lifestyles” 

    From Oregon State University


    Science News

    April 12, 2021
    Devin A. Reese

    Understanding how corals behave could be key to preserving ocean biodiversity, experts say.

    A silvertip shark swims past a steeply sloping section of reef in the Coral Sea north of Australia, where researchers collected samples of the most widespread coral in the region. Credit: Pim Bongaerts.

    Stony corals that build reefs have been hiding their diversity in plain sight. A genetic analysis of the most widespread reef coral in the Indo-Pacific revealed that rather than being a single species (Pachyseris speciosa), it was actually four distinct species of coral, researchers report April 2 in Current Biology.

    Coral reefs are the condominiums of ocean biodiversity, supporting more species per square meter than any other marine habitat. Understanding which coral species foster that biodiversity and how those corals behave is vital to taking care of them, especially as a warming climate threatens overall ocean biodiversity (SN: 5/6/20). “Just knowing what’s there is critical to tracking what we are losing,” says Rebecca Vega-Thurber, a marine microbiologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who was not involved in the new study. The results suggest other corals thought to be a single species may actually be much more diverse than researchers realized.

    Using a combination of scuba gear and remotely operated vehicles, marine biologist Pim Bongaerts of the California Academy of Sciences (US) in San Francisco and colleagues sampled more than 1,400 P. speciosa corals from the ocean surface down to 80 meters. In the lab, the sampleslooked identical, and their internal structures were indistinguishable in scanning electron microscope images. Yet, their genomes — their full genetic instruction books — revealed the corals had diverged millions of years ago. That made sense for one of the species in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, which was geographically separated from the others. But the other three newly identified species lived together on the same reefs in the waters off South Asia. If the corals were living together, why didn’t one overtake the other two, the team wondered.

    Examining habitat data from their dives, the researchers found the three distinct coral species favored different water depths, with one abundant in the top 10 meters and the other two flourishing deeper down. The three coral species also had different concentrations of photosynthetic algae and pigments, suggesting they had distinct strategies for hosting their algae partners that provide food. And spawning times of these three species were slightly spread out too. One released most of its gametes five days after the full moon, another seven days after, and the third at nine days and counting. The separation of spawning could help the eggs and sperm of each species hook up with its correct species match.

    Marine biologists Pim Bongaerts and Norbert Englebert collect coral samples during a dive at Holmes Reef in the Coral Sea north of Australia. Credit: David Whillas.

    This study is the first to show how a set of cryptic reef corals are splitting up their shared ecological space — by depth, physiology and spawning time, Bongaerts says. “There are all these cryptic lineages occurring, but they’ve largely been ignored from an ecological point of view.”

    The results open the door to the possibility that many other doppelgänger corals may be multiple species that coexist thanks to ecological differences, says reef genomicist Christian Voolstra at the University of Konstanz [Universität Konstanz] (DE). “There is a minimal chance that they picked the unicorn, but I highly doubt it. This paper shows that in all likelihood there is a huge diversity of reef corals with distinct ecologies.”

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Oregon State University (OSU) is a public land-grant research university in Corvallis, Oregon. The university currently offers more than 200 undergraduate-degree programs along with a variety of graduate and doctoral degrees. Student enrollment averages near 32,000, making it the state’s largest university. Since its founding over 230,000 students have graduated from OSU. It is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” with an additional, optional designation as a “Community Engagement” university.

    OSU a land-grant university and it also participates in the sea-grant, space-grant and sun-grant research consortia; it is one of only four such universities in the country (University of Hawaii at Manoa, Cornell University and Pennsylvania State University are the only others with similar designations). OSU consistently ranks as the state’s top earner in research funding.

  • richardmitnick 10:09 am on April 11, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Peering inside the atom", , , , , , , , Science News, Undated compilation of the History of Particle Physics   

    From European Organization for Nuclear Research (Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire)(EU) [CERN] via Science News : “Peering inside the atom” 

    Cern New Bloc

    Cern New Particle Event

    From European Organization for Nuclear Research (Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire)(EU) [CERN]


    Science News

    Undated compilation of the History of Particle Physics

    About Century of Science | Science News
    © De Agostini Picture Library/SCIENCE SOURCE.

    How physicists revealed subatomic particles and cracked matter’s secrets | Science News
    Copyright: Connie Zhou / OTTO.

    Matter is a lush tapestry, woven from a complex assortment of threads. Diverse varieties of subatomic particles intertwine to fabricate the universe we inhabit. But a century ago, people believed that matter was so simple that it could be constructed with just two types of subatomic fibers — electrons and protons. That vision of matter was a no-nonsense plaid instead of an ornate brocade.

    Physicists of the 1920s thought they had a solid grasp on what made up matter. They knew that atoms contained electrons surrounding a positively charged nucleus. And they knew that each nucleus contained a number of protons, positively charged particles identified in 1919. Combinations of those two particles made up all of the matter in the universe, it was thought. That went for everything that ever was or might be, across the vast, unexplored cosmos and at home on Earth.

    The scheme was appealingly tidy, but it swept under the carpet a variety of hints that all was not well in physics. Two discoveries in one revolutionary year, 1932, would force physicists to peek underneath the rug. First, the discovery of the neutron unlocked new ways to peer into the hearts of atoms and even split them in two. Then came news of the positron — identical to the electron but with the opposite charge. Its discovery would foreshadow many more surprises to come. Additional particle discoveries ushered in a new framework for the fundamental bits of matter, now known as the Standard Model.

    Standard Model of Particle Physics via Particle Fever movie.

    A particle track in a cloud chamber in the early 1930s was the first evidence of a positron, a positively charged particle with the mass of an electron. The track curves due to a magnetic field, and the curvature increases as the positron loses energy after crossing the center lead plate from below. Credit: C. D. Anderson/Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

    And that annus mirabilis — miraculous year — would set physicists on two parallel tracks of exploration. One would blossom into the modern discipline of particle physics. After the positron’s appearance, the discovery of dozens more particles would lead to a new insight: Protons and neutrons aren’t elementary. They have even smaller components called quarks. Particle physics scrutinizes those most fundamental bits of matter — quarks, electrons, positrons and the like.

    The other track would lead to modern nuclear physics, concerned with the workings of atoms’ hearts, how they decay, transform and react. Discoveries there would put scientists on a trajectory toward a most devastating technology: nuclear weapons. The bomb would cement the importance of science — and science journalism — in the public eye, says nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. “The atomic bomb becomes the ultimate proof that … indeed this is world-changing stuff.”

    In the decades that followed, these fields would fundamentally alter how humankind understood and manipulated matter. Soon, physicists were busier than ever. — Emily Conover


    Goodbye, two particles

    Physicists of the 1920s embraced a particular type of conservatism. Embedded deep in their psyches was a reluctance to declare the existence of new particles. Researchers stuck to the status quo of matter composed solely of electrons and protons. It’s an idea that has been dubbed the “two-particle paradigm,” and it held until about 1930. In that time period, says historian of science Helge Kragh of the University of Copenhagen [Københavns Universitet](DK), “I’m quite sure that not a single mainstream physicist came up with the idea that there might exist more than two particles.” The utter simplicity of two particles explaining everything nature’s bounty could produce was so appealing to physicists’ sensibilities that they found the idea difficult to let go of.

    The paradigm held back theoretical descriptions of the neutron and the positron, two particles found one after the other in 1932. And another would-be new particle, the neutrino, proposed in 1930, was likewise considered unappealing. “To propose the existence of other particles was widely regarded as reckless and contrary to the spirit of Occam’s razor,” science biographer Graham Farmelo wrote in Contemporary Physics in 2010.

    Still, during the early 20th century, physicists were diligently investigating a few puzzles of matter that would, after some hesitation, inevitably lead to new particles. These included unanswered questions about the details of radioactive decay, the identities and origins of energetic particles called cosmic rays, and why chemical elements occur in different varieties called isotopes, which have similar chemical properties but varying masses.

    Physicists including Ernest Rutherford investigated the atom at the Cavendish Laboratory at University of Cambridge(UK) (Rutherford’s lab shown) in the 1920s.Science History Images/Alamy Stock Photo.

    New Zealand–born British physicist Ernest Rutherford stopped just short of positing a fundamentally new particle in 1920. He realized that neutral particles in the nucleus could explain the existence of isotopes. Such particles came to be known as “neutrons.” But rather than proposing that neutrons were fundamentally new, he thought they were composed of protons combined in close proximity with electrons to make neutral particles. He was correct about the role of the neutron, but wrong about its identity.

    Rutherford’s idea was convincing, British physicist James Chadwick recounted in a 1969 interview, “The only question was how the devil could one get evidence for it.” The neutron’s lack of electric charge made it a particularly wily target. In between work on other projects, Chadwick began hunting for the particles at Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, then led by Rutherford. Chadwick found his evidence in 1932 — reporting that mysterious radiation emitted when beryllium was bombarded with the nuclei of helium atoms could be explained by a particle with no charge and with a mass similar to the proton’s. In other words, a neutron. Chadwick didn’t expect the important role his discovery would play. “I am afraid neutrons will not be of any use to anyone,” he told The New York Times shortly after his discovery.

    Physicists would grapple with the neutron’s identity over the following years before accepting it as an entirely new particle, not the amalgamation that Rutherford had suggested. For one, a proton-electron mash-up conflicted with the young theory of quantum mechanics, which characterizes physics on small scales. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle — which states that if the location of an object is well known, its momentum cannot be — suggests an electron confined within a nucleus would have an unreasonably large energy. And certain nuclei’s spins, a quantum mechanical measure of angular momentum, likewise suggested that the neutron was a full-fledged particle, as did improved measurements of the particle’s mass.

    Physicists also resisted the positron, until it became difficult to ignore.

    The positron’s 1932 detection had been foreshadowed by the work of British theoretical physicist Paul Dirac. But it took some floundering about before physicists realized the meaning of his work. In 1928 Dirac formulated an equation that combined quantum mechanics and the special theory of relativity, formulated by Albert Einstein back in 1905, which describes physics close to the speed of light. Now known simply as the Dirac equation, the expression explained the behavior of electrons in a way that satisfied both theories.

    The Dirac equation in the form originally proposed by Dirac is:


    But the equation suggested something odd: the existence of another type of particle, one with the opposite electric charge. At first, Dirac and other physicists clung to the idea that this charged particle might be the proton. But the two particles should have the same mass, and protons are almost 2,000 times as heavy as electrons. In 1931 Dirac proposed a new particle, with the same mass as the electron but with opposite charge.

    Meanwhile, American physicist Carl Anderson of California Institute of Technology(US), independent of Dirac’s work, was using a device called a cloud chamber to study energetic particles originating in space, called cosmic rays. Cosmic rays, discovered in 1912, fascinated scientists because they didn’t fully understand what the particles were or how they were produced. Within Anderson’s chamber, liquid droplets condensed along the paths of energetic charged particles, a result of the particles ionizing gas molecules as they zipped along. The experiments revealed positively charged particles with masses equal to an electron’s. Soon, the connection to Dirac’s theory became clear.

    Science News Letter, the predecessor of Science News, had a hand in naming the newfound particle. Editor Watson Davis proposed “positron” in a telegram to Anderson, who had independently considered the moniker, according to a 1933 Science News Letter article. In a 1966 interview, Anderson recounted mulling over Davis’ suggestion during a game of bridge, and finally going along with it. But he later regretted the choice, saying in the interview, “I think that’s a very poor name.”

    The Feb. 25, 1933 issue of Science News Letter reported the discovery of the “positron,” a particle that the publication’s editor helped to name.Science News

    The discovery of the positron, the antimatter partner of the electron, marked the advent of antimatter research. And today, antimatter’s existence still seems baffling. Every object we can see and touch is made of matter, making antimatter seem downright extraneous. Antimatter’s lack of relevance to daily life — and the liberal use of the term in Star Trek — means that many nonscientists still envision it as the stuff of science fiction. But even a banana sitting on a counter emits antimatter multiple times a day, periodically spitting out positrons in radioactive decays of the potassium it contains.

    Physicists would go on to discover many other antiparticles — all of which are identical to their matter partners except for an opposite electric charge — including the antiproton in 1955. The subject still keeps physicists up at night. Scientists think the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts matter and antimatter, so researchers today are studying how antimatter became rare.

    In the 1930s, antimatter was such a leap that Dirac’s hesitation to propose the positron was understandable. Not only would the positron break the two-particle paradigm, but it would also suggest that electrons had mirror images with no apparent role in making up atoms. When asked, decades later, why he had not predicted the positron after he first formulated his equation, Dirac replied, “pure cowardice.”

    The discoveries came on the heels of yet another particle prediction, the neutrino. Reluctantly postulated by Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli in 1930, the particle has no electric charge and interacts very rarely, suggesting it would never be detected: “I have done something very bad today by proposing a particle that cannot be detected; it is something no theorist should ever do,” Pauli reportedly said.

    Pauli’s prediction was what he called a “desperate remedy.” Researchers studying a type of radioactive decay known as beta decay had hit on a quandary that threatened to undermine the basics of physics. In beta decay, an atom spits out an electron and converts into a different element. A central physics principle, conservation of energy, suggests that the particles emitted in radioactive decays from identical atoms should always carry the same amount of energy. But the wayward electrons had a range of energies. That apparent noncompliance led some physicists to propose the radical idea that energy was not always conserved.

    In a letter to a group of nuclear physicists, which Pauli famously addressed, “Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen,” he proposed that the electron in beta decay was accompanied by a second, undetected particle that would carry away some energy.

    Soon, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi would popularize the name “neutrino” for the particle, Italian for “little neutral one.” In 1934 he would come up with a mathematical theory based on the particle’s existence that successfully described beta decay. In Fermi’s scheme, the electron and neutrino were released when a neutron converted into a proton in the atom’s nucleus. That general interpretation still stands, though today’s physicists now refer to the particle as an electron antineutrino, because three types of neutrinos and their antiparticles are now known. Fermi’s explanation bolstered belief in neutrinos, conclusively detected in 1956.

    So by the mid-1930s, the two-particle paradigm was out. Physicists’ understanding had advanced, but their austere vision of matter had to be jettisoned. That shift in mindset would soon be reinforced with even more particle discoveries, and the simple picture of nature was further demolished. — Emily Conover

    Many, many particles

    Physicists have long revered elegance, expecting that nature at its most basic should be simple. That sensibility was evident in the 1920s insistence that the electron and proton made up all of matter. But after the conceptual logjam against new particles broke down, and technological advances opened up new ways to explore the subatomic realm, physicists found themselves drowning in a flood of new particles. Fleshing out an explanation would consume physicists for decades.

    In the 1950s and ’60s, new particles were detected by the dozens, forming an alphabet soup of Greek letters: phi baryons, xi baryons, eta mesons and many, many more. “If I could remember the names of all these particles I’d be a botanist,” physicist Enrico Fermi famously said. Many of these newfound particles were exotic varieties, formed when particles collide at high energies and not present within atoms.

    Physicists quickly tired of the deluge. In 1955, physicist Willis Lamb, Jr. recounted a saying of the time, “the finder of a new elementary particle used to be rewarded by a Nobel Prize, but such a discovery now ought to be punished by a $10,000 fine.”

    At first, the particles were found gradually, by studying natural collisions, produced from energetic particles from space called cosmic rays. But in the mid-1950s, particle accelerators kicked things up a notch. With this new technology, physicists could boost beams of particles to high speeds, smashing them into targets or other beams of particles, to see what might emerge from the smashups.

    Today, scientists use large detectors such as Super-Kamiokande (JP) (shown) in Hida, Japan to detect and study the mysterious particles called neutrinos.The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images.

    At the time, scientists couldn’t explain why so many apparently fundamental particles existed, especially given that everyday matter required only protons, neutrons and electrons. “By 1960 or so it was a widespread feeling that there were too many particles, and that there had to be some family resemblance between them,” says historian of science Helge Kragh of the University of Copenhagen. Soon the concept of quarks would bring some order to the menagerie.

    As Science News Letter reported in 1964, “A quark is not an animal out of Alice in Wonderland or the sound a duck might make.” Instead, quarks, proposed in 1964 and confirmed in experiments over the next decade, are smaller particles that, mashed together in different combinations, make up many of the particles previously considered fundamental, including protons and neutrons.

    Additional work led physicists to a coherent picture of the fundamental particles and forces of nature, called the standard model. The work of many physicists operating independently and in groups, the framework consists of 17 particles, plus antiparticle partners. Included on the list are six types of quarks and six leptons. Electrons and their heavier relatives, muons and taus, are leptons, as are a trio of lightweight particles called neutrinos. Rounding out the crew are bosons, which, among others, include the particles of light called photons and the Higgs boson, which explains the origin of particles’ mass.

    All the standard particles

    The standard model is the theory of the fundamental particles and forces of nature. It includes 12 particles that make up the material world: matter, shown on the left of this diagram, and their antimatter partners. Another four particles (right) transmit the forces of nature and one, the Higgs boson, results from the process by which fundamental particles gain mass.

    The standard model also accounts for three of the four known fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force. The weak force governs certain radioactive decays, and the strong force holds quarks together inside particles. (One of nature’s most familiar forces, gravity, is not yet incorporated into the framework.)

    Four decades passed between the establishment of the standard model in the 1970s and the detection of all its particles. The effort to find each and every particle required a succession of increasingly larger and more energetic particle accelerators, to unleash more exotic particles and those with higher masses. Accelerators advanced from a few billions of electron volts in the mid-1950s to the trillions of electron volts needed to discover the final predicted standard model particle, the Higgs boson, found with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (CH) near Geneva in 2012.

    Physicists frequently describe the standard model as one of the most successful theories ever created, as it has correctly predicted a wide variety of experimental results. But despite the successes, physicists can’t explain why its various fundamental particles and forces exist.

    “The standard model is a great thing … but it leaves unanswered an enormous number of questions, and … in so far as the theory can talk it says, ‘I can’t answer those questions. Find something better,’ ” physicist Sheldon Glashow said in a 1998 interview.

    Physicists have been searching for that “something better” by studying potential additions or modifications to the standard model. For example, an idea called supersymmetry gained traction in the 1970s, proposing that every known particle has a heavier partner. Among other appealing characteristics, supersymmetry, if it exists, could reveal that the standard model’s three fundamental forces are actually different aspects of one unified force.

    But so far, there’s no evidence for supersymmetry or any other modifications to the standard model. Adding to the frustration is the clear evidence that the standard model can’t explain everything. For example, cosmic observations suggest the universe contains an unidentified type of matter, known as dark matter. Though evidence of its existence came in 1933, just a year after the neutron’s discovery, dark matter remains an enduring puzzle, showing that scientists still have more to learn about the foundations of matter. After decades of searches with increasingly more sensitive detectors, a favored class of hypothetical dark matter particles called WIMPs have failed to turn up. Yet there’s still hope: A new generation of experiments is beginning, and searches for another proposed type of dark matter particles, called axions, are just getting going.

    Particle physicists are now struggling to move forward. Some are pushing for even bigger colliders, but such projects may be prohibitively expensive. Dark matter hunters and others are focused on performing highly precise experiments looking for rare, subtle effects that might hint at a new theory. And some are studying the strange behavior of neutrinos, which could reveal new secrets about the differences between matter, common in the universe, and the rarer antimatter.

    One of these tactics, physicists hope, will lead to a new, simpler, more satisfying theory of matter. — Emily Conover

    Unleashing the atom

    n August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki (shown), the only time nuclear weapons have been used in combat.Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

    Radioactive decay hints that atoms hold stores of energy locked within, ripe for the taking. Although radioactivity was discovered in 1896, that energy long remained an untapped resource. The neutron’s discovery in the 1930s would be key to unlocking that energy — for better and for worse.

    Opening up a better understanding of the nucleus, the neutron’s discovery gave scientists new abilities to split atoms into two or transform them into other elements. Developing that nuclear know-how led to useful technologies, like nuclear power, but also devastating nuclear weapons.

    Just a year after the neutron was found, Hungarian-born physicist Leo Szilard envisioned using neutrons to split atoms and create a bomb. “[I]t suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction, liberate energy on an industrial scale, and construct atomic bombs,” he later recalled. It was a fledgling idea, but prescient.

    Because neutrons lack electric charge, they can penetrate atoms’ hearts. In 1934, physicist Enrico Fermi and colleagues started bombarding dozens of different elements with neutrons, producing a variety of new, radioactive isotopes. Each isotope of a particular element contains a different number of neutrons in its nucleus, with the result that some isotopes may be radioactive while others are stable. Fermi had been inspired by another striking discovery of the time. In 1934 French chemists Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie reported the first artificially created radioactive isotopes, produced by bombarding elements with helium nuclei, called alpha particles. Now, Fermi was doing something similar, but with a more penetrating probe.

    There were a few scientific missteps on the way to understanding the results of such experiments. A major goal was to produce brand-new elements, those beyond the last known element in the periodic table at that time, uranium. After blasting uranium with neutrons, Fermi and colleagues reported evidence of success. But that conclusion would turn out to be incorrect.

    German chemist Ida Noddack had an inkling that all was not right with Fermi’s interpretation. She came close to the correct explanation for his experiments in a 1934 paper, writing, “When heavy nuclei are bombarded by neutrons, it is conceivable that the nucleus breaks up into several large fragments.” But Noddack didn’t follow up on the idea. “She didn’t provide any kind of supporting calculation and nobody took it with much seriousness,” says physicist Bruce Cameron Reed of Alma College (US) in Michigan.

    In Germany, physicist Lise Meitner and chemist Otto Hahn had also begun bombarding uranium with neutrons. But Meitner, an Austrian of Jewish heritage in increasingly hostile Nazi Germany, was forced to flee in July 1938. She had only an hour and a half to pack her suitcases. Hahn and a third member of the team, chemist Fritz Strassmann, continued the work, corresponding from afar with Meitner, who had landed in Sweden. The results of the experiments were puzzling at first, but when Hahn and Strassmann reported to Meitner that barium — a much lighter element than uranium — was a product of the reaction, it became clear what was happening. The nucleus was splitting.

    Meitner and her nephew, physicist Otto Frisch, worked together to explain the phenomenon, a process the pair would call “fission.” Hahn received the 1944 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of fission, but Meitner never won a Nobel, in a decision now widely considered unjust. Meitner was nominated for the prize in either physics or chemistry a whopping 48 times, most after the discovery of fission. “Her peers in the physics community recognized that she was part of the discovery,” says chemist Ruth Lewin Sime of Sacramento City College (US), who has written extensively about Meitner. “That included just about anyone who was anyone.”

    Lise Meitner (left) and Otto Hahn are shown in their lab in Germany in 1913. Together, they established that atoms could split, or fission, when bombarded with neutrons. The two worked together before Nazi policies forced Meitner to flee to Sweden.Credit: Science Source.

    Word of the discovery soon spread, and on January 26, 1939, renowned Danish physicist Niels Bohr publicly announced at a scientific meeting that fission had been achieved. The potential implications were immediately apparent: Fission could unleash the energy stored in atomic nuclei, potentially resulting in a bomb. A Science News Letter story describing the announcement attempted to dispel any concerns the discovery might raise. The article, titled Atomic energy released, reported that scientists “are fearful lest the public become worried about a ‘revolution’ in civilization as a result of their researches,” such as “the suggested possibility that the atomic energy may be used as some super-explosive, or as a military weapon.” But downplaying the catastrophic implications didn’t prevent them from coming to pass.

    The question of whether a bomb could be created rested, once again, on neutrons. For fission to ignite an explosion, it would be necessary to set off a chain reaction. That means each fission would release additional neutrons, which could then go on to induce more fissions, and so on. Experiments quickly revealed that enough neutrons were released to make such a chain reaction feasible.

    In October of 1939, shortly after Germany invaded Poland at the start of World War II, an ominous letter from Albert Einstein reached President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Composed at the urging of Szilard, the letter reported, “it is conceivable … that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed.” American researchers were not alone in their interest in the topic: German scientists, the letter noted, were also on the case.

    Roosevelt responded by setting up a committee to investigate. That step would be the first toward the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project.

    On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi, who by then had immigrated to the United States, and 48 colleagues achieved the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in an experiment with a pile of uranium and graphite at the University of Chicago (US). Science News Letter would later call it “an event ranking with man’s first prehistoric lighting of a fire.” While the physicists celebrated their success, the possibility of an atomic bomb was closer than ever. “I thought this day would go down as a black day in the history of mankind,” Szilard recalled telling Fermi.

    The first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction took place in a pile of uranium and graphite (illustrated, right) at the University of Chicago (US) in 1942. Credit: Atomic Energy Commission/National Archive.

    The experiment was a key step in the Manhattan Project. And on July 16, 1945, at about 5:30 a.m., the scientists, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, detonated the first atomic bomb, in the New Mexico desert — the Trinity test.

    It was a striking sight, as physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi recalled in his 1970 book, Science: The Center of Culture. “Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen. It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way right through you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; although it lasted about two seconds. Finally it was over, diminishing, and we looked toward the place where the bomb had been; there was an enormous ball of fire which grew and grew and it rolled as it grew; it went up into the air, in yellow flashes and into scarlet and green. It looked menacing. It seemed to come toward one. A new thing had just been born; a new control; a new understanding of man, which man had acquired over nature.”

    Physicist Kenneth Bainbridge put it more succinctly: “Now we are all sons of bitches,” he said to Oppenheimer in the moments after the test.

    The bomb’s construction was motivated by the fear that Germany would obtain it first. But it turned out that the Germans weren’t even close to producing a bomb when Germany surrendered in May 1945. Instead, the United States’ bombs would be used on Japan. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed by another August 9 on Nagasaki. In response, Japan surrendered. More than 100,000 people died as a result of the two attacks, and perhaps as many as 210,000.

    “I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air,” survivor Setsuko Thurlow recalled in a speech given upon the awarding of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. She was 13 years old when the bomb hit Hiroshima. “Thus, with one bomb my beloved city was obliterated. Most of its residents were civilians who were incinerated, vaporized, carbonized.”

    Humankind entered a new era, with new dangers to the survival of civilization.

    “With nuclear physics, you have something that within 10 years … goes from being this arcane academic research area … to something that bursts on the world stage and completely changes the relationship between science and society,” says Reed.

    In 1949, the Soviet Union set off its first nuclear weapon, kicking off the decades-long nuclear rivalry with the United States that would define the Cold War. And then came a bigger, more dangerous weapon: the hydrogen bomb. Whereas atomic bombs are based on nuclear fission, H-bombs harness nuclear fusion, the melding of atomic nuclei, in conjunction with fission, resulting in much larger blasts. The first H-bomb, detonated by the United States in 1952, was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Within less than a year, the Soviet Union also tested an H-bomb. The H-bomb had been called a “weapon of genocide” by scientists serving on an advisory committee for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which had previously recommended against developing the technology.

    Fears of the devastation that would result from an all-out nuclear war have fed repeated attempts to rein in nuclear weapons stockpiles and tests. Since the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the United States, Russia and many other countries have a maintained a testing moratorium. However, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon as recently as 2017.

    Shown in 1962, the first full-scale commercial nuclear power plant, known as Calder Hall, switched on in 1956 in Cumbria, England.Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images.

    Still, the dangers of nuclear weapons were accompanied by a promising new technology: nuclear power.

    In 1948, scientists first demonstrated that a nuclear reactor could harness fission to produce electricity. The X-10 Graphite Reactor at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US) in Tennessee generated steam that powered an engine, lighting up a small Christmas lightbulb. In 1951, Experimental Breeder Reactor-I at Idaho National Laboratory (US) near Idaho Falls produced the first usable amount of electricity from a nuclear reactor. The world’s first commercial nuclear power plants began to switch on in the mid- and late 1950s. But nuclear disasters dampened enthusiasm for the technology, including the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. In 2011, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan rekindled society’s smoldering nuclear anxieties. But today, in an era when the effects of climate change are becoming alarming, nuclear power is appealing because it emits no greenhouse gases directly.

    Concerns about the dangers of nuclear power came to the forefront after an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant (shown in background) near Middletown, Pa. in 1979.Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images.

    A 2011 tsunami caused an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Explosions and meltdowns at the plant led to widespread evacuations of the surrounding areas.Cedit: IAEA ImageBank/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    And humankind’s mastery over matter is not yet complete. For decades, scientists have been dreaming of another type of nuclear power, based on fusion, the process that powers the sun. Unlike fission, fusion power wouldn’t produce long-lived nuclear waste. But so far, progress has been slow. The ITER experiment has been in planning since the 1980s.

    ITER Tokamak in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, which is in southern France.

    Once constructed in southern France, ITER aims to, for the first time, produce more energy from fusion than is put in. Whether it is successful may help determine the energy outlook for future centuries.

    From today’s perspective, the breakneck pace of progress in nuclear and particle physics in less than a century can seem unbelievable. The neutron and positron were both found in laboratories that are small in comparison to today’s, and each discovery was attributed to a single physicist, relatively soon after the particles had been proposed. And the discoveries kicked off frantic developments that seemed to roll in one after another.

    Now, finding a new element, discovering a new elementary particle or creating a new type of nuclear reactor can take decades, international collaborations of thousands of scientists, and huge, costly experiments.

    As physicists uncover the tricks to understanding and controlling nature, it seems, the next level of secrets becomes increasingly difficult to expose. — Emily Conover.

    Today’s nuclear power plants produce energy via fission, the splitting of atomic nuclei. The ITER experiment, illustrated, under construction in France, aims to produce power from nuclear fusion, the melding of nuclei.Credit: ITER.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Meet CERN in a variety of places:

    Quantum Diaries

    Cern Courier








    CERN AEgIS 1T antimatter trap stack


    CERN ALPHA Antimatter Factory.

    CERN ALPHA-g Detector

    CERN ALPHA-g Detector








    CERN Antiproton Decelerator




    BASE: Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment

    CERN BASE experiment


    CERN CAST Axion Solar Telescope








    CERN FASER experiment schematic




    CERN ISOLDE Looking down into the ISOLDE experimental hall.



    CERN NA62

    CERN NA62

    CERN NA64.





    CERN UA9

    CERN UA9

    CERN Proto Dune

    CERN Proto Dune

  • richardmitnick 8:41 pm on March 30, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The ‘USS Jellyfish’ emits strange radio waves from a distant galaxy cluster", , , , , , Science News   

    From Science News : “The ‘USS Jellyfish’ emits strange radio waves from a distant galaxy cluster” 

    From Science News

    March 26, 2021
    Ken Croswell

    Low-frequency radio waves (red, orange, yellow, white) outline a huge “jellyfish,” 1.2 million light-years across, in galaxy cluster Abell 2877, whose center emits X-rays (magenta). Credit:Torrance Hodgson, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR): International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research/Curtin University (AU)

    Something’s fishy in the southern constellation Phoenix.

    Strange radio emissions from a distant galaxy cluster take the shape of a gigantic jellyfish, complete with head and tentacles. Moreover, the cosmic jellyfish emits only the lowest radio frequencies and can’t be detected at higher frequencies. The unusual shape and radio spectrum tell a tale of intergalactic gas washing over galaxies and gently revving up electrons spewed out by gargantuan black holes long ago, researchers report on March 10 in the The Astrophysical Journal.

    Spanning 1.2 million light-years, the strange entity lies in Abell 2877, a cluster of galaxies 340 million light-years from Earth. Researchers have dubbed the object the USS Jellyfish, because of its ultra-steep spectrum, or USS, from low to high radio frequencies.

    “This is a source which is invisible to most of the radio telescopes that we have been using for the last 40 years,” says Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, an astrophysicist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. “It holds the record for dropping off the fastest” with increasing radio frequency.

    Johnston-Hollitt’s colleague Torrance Hodgson, a graduate student at Curtin, discovered the USS Jellyfish while analyzing data from the Murchison Widefield Array, a complex of radio telescopes in Australia that detect low-frequency radio waves.

    The Murchison Widefield Array (AU) consists of 4,096 radio antennas grouped into 256 “tiles” (one pictured) spanning several kilometers in a remote region of Western Australia.Pete Wheeler, ICRAR.

    These radio waves are more than a meter long and correspond to photons, particles of light, with the lowest energies. Remarkably, the USS Jellyfish is about 30 times brighter at 87.5 megahertz — a frequency similar to that of an FM radio station — than at 185.5 MHz.

    “That is quite spectacular,” says Reinout van Weeren, an astronomer at Leiden University [Universiteit Leiden] (NL) who was not involved with the work. “It is quite a neat result, because this is really extreme.”

    The USS Jellyfish bears no relation to previously discovered jellyfish galaxies. “This is absolutely enormous compared to those other things,” Johnston-Hollitt says. Indeed, jellyfish galaxies are a very different kettle of celestial fish. Although they also inhabit galaxy clusters, they are individual galaxies passing through hot gas in a cluster. The hot gas tears the galaxy’s own gas out of it, creating a wake of tentacles. The much larger USS Jellyfish, on the other hand, appears to have formed when intergalactic gas and electrons interacted.

    Hodgson and his colleagues note that two galaxies in the Abell 2877 cluster coincide with the brightest patches of radio waves in the USS Jellyfish’s head. These galaxies, the researchers say, probably have supermassive black holes at their centers. The team ran computer simulations and found that the black holes were probably accreting material some 2 billion years ago. As they did so, disks of hot gas formed around each of them, spewing huge jets of material into the surrounding galaxy cluster.

    This ejected material had electrons that whirled around magnetic fields at nearly the speed of light, so the electrons emitted radio waves. Over time, though, the electrons lost energy, and the most energetic electrons, which had been emitting the highest radio frequencies, faded the most. Then a wave of gas sloshed through the entire cluster, reaccelerating the electrons around the two galaxies.

    “It’s a very gentle process,” Johnston-Hollitt says. “The electrons don’t get that much energy, which means they don’t light up at high frequencies.” Instead, the gentle gas wave caused electrons to emit radio waves with the lowest energies and frequencies, giving the USS Jellyfish the extreme spectrum it has today.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 12:22 pm on March 14, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A magnetic trap captures elusive ultracold plasma", , , , Science News   

    From Rice University(US) via Science News: “A magnetic trap captures elusive ultracold plasma” 

    From Rice University(US)


    Science News

    March 8, 2021
    Maria Temming

    Cold plasma is squirrely, but researchers found a new way to hold it in place for a bit.

    Using magnets, physicists can pin a laser-cooled plasma (experiment shown) in one place for up to half a millisecond — about 10 times longer than it would otherwise last. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

    In terms of difficulty, trapping a plasma is right up there with catching a cloud and pinning it down, or holding a moonbeam in your hand. But physicists have devised a new way to magnetically bottle an ultracold plasma in the lab.

    Using magnetism to trap frigid plasmas, in which particles move around sluggishly, could allow physicists to study plasma behavior in slow motion, researchers report in the Feb. 26 Physical Review Letters. That may reveal new details about how plasmas behave in much hotter, more frenetic environments — such as the roiling interiors of fusion reactors or stars.

    “It takes a lot of tricks” to stopper a cold plasma, says physicist Thomas Killian of Rice University in Houston. He and colleagues first boiled a lump of strontium metal and channeled that vapor down a tube. There, light from a laser beam slowed the atoms almost to a standstill — effectively cooling them to just three-thousandths of a degree above absolute zero (–273° Celsius). Using a second laser, the researchers knocked an electron off each atom, creating a plasma of negatively charged electrons and positive strontium ions.

    This ionized gas couldn’t be stashed inside an ordinary container. “We have to completely isolate this plasma,” Killian says. “If it bumps into a wall, [the particles] will just stick to the wall … or the wall will heat it up,” because even room-temperature equipment is much warmer than the plasma. Left out in the open, the plasma would dissipate within tens of microseconds. So Killian’s team created their plasma between two coils of electric current, which formed opposing magnetic fields. These equal and opposite magnetic forces on the charged particles held the plasma together for up to 500 microseconds.

    See the full article here .


    Stem Education Coalition

    Rice University(US) [formally William Marsh Rice University] is a private research university in Houston, Texas. It is situated on a 300-acre campus near the Houston Museum District and is adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

    Opened in 1912 after the murder of its namesake William Marsh Rice, Rice is a research university with an undergraduate focus. Its emphasis on education is demonstrated by a small student body and 6:1 student-faculty ratio. The university has a very high level of research activity. Rice is noted for its applied science programs in the fields of artificial heart research, structural chemical analysis, signal processing, space science, and nanotechnology. Rice has been a member of the Association of American Universities since 1985 and is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”.

    The university is organized into eleven residential colleges and eight schools of academic study, including the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, the George R. Brown School of Engineering, the School of Social Sciences, School of Architecture, Shepherd School of Music and the School of Humanities. Rice’s undergraduate program offers more than fifty majors and two dozen minors, and allows a high level of flexibility in pursuing multiple degree programs. Additional graduate programs are offered through the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business and the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. Rice students are bound by the strict Honor Code, which is enforced by a student-run Honor Council.

    Rice competes in 14 NCAA Division I varsity sports and is a part of Conference USA, often competing with its cross-town rival the University of Houston. Intramural and club sports are offered in a wide variety of activities such as jiu jitsu, water polo, and crew.

    The university’s alumni include more than two dozen Marshall Scholars and a dozen Rhodes Scholars. Given the university’s close links to NASA, it has produced a significant number of astronauts and space scientists. In business, Rice graduates include CEOs and founders of Fortune 500 companies; in politics, alumni include congressmen, cabinet secretaries, judges, and mayors. Two alumni have won the Nobel Prize.


    Rice University’s history began with the demise of Massachusetts businessman William Marsh Rice, who had made his fortune in real estate, railroad development and cotton trading in the state of Texas. In 1891, Rice decided to charter a free-tuition educational institute in Houston, bearing his name, to be created upon his death, earmarking most of his estate towards funding the project. Rice’s will specified the institution was to be “a competitive institution of the highest grade” and that only white students would be permitted to attend. On the morning of September 23, 1900, Rice, age 84, was found dead by his valet, Charles F. Jones, and was presumed to have died in his sleep. Shortly thereafter, a large check made out to Rice’s New York City lawyer, signed by the late Rice, aroused the suspicion of a bank teller, due to the misspelling of the recipient’s name. The lawyer, Albert T. Patrick, then announced that Rice had changed his will to leave the bulk of his fortune to Patrick, rather than to the creation of Rice’s educational institute. A subsequent investigation led by the District Attorney of New York resulted in the arrests of Patrick and of Rice’s butler and valet Charles F. Jones, who had been persuaded to administer chloroform to Rice while he slept. Rice’s friend and personal lawyer in Houston, Captain James A. Baker, aided in the discovery of what turned out to be a fake will with a forged signature. Jones was not prosecuted since he cooperated with the district attorney, and testified against Patrick. Patrick was found guilty of conspiring to steal Rice’s fortune and he was convicted of murder in 1901 (he was pardoned in 1912 due to conflicting medical testimony). Baker helped Rice’s estate direct the fortune, worth $4.6 million in 1904 ($131 million today), towards the founding of what was to be called the Rice Institute, later to become Rice University. The board took control of the assets on April 29 of that year.

    In 1907, the Board of Trustees selected the head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy at Princeton University, Edgar Odell Lovett, to head the Institute, which was still in the planning stages. He came recommended by Princeton’s president, Woodrow Wilson. In 1908, Lovett accepted the challenge, and was formally inaugurated as the Institute’s first president on October 12, 1912. Lovett undertook extensive research before formalizing plans for the new Institute, including visits to 78 institutions of higher learning across the world on a long tour between 1908 and 1909. Lovett was impressed by such things as the aesthetic beauty of the uniformity of the architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, a theme which was adopted by the Institute, as well as the residential college system at Cambridge University in England, which was added to the Institute several decades later. Lovett called for the establishment of a university “of the highest grade,” “an institution of liberal and technical learning” devoted “quite as much to investigation as to instruction.” [We must] “keep the standards up and the numbers down,” declared Lovett. “The most distinguished teachers must take their part in undergraduate teaching, and their spirit should dominate it all.”

    Establishment and growth

    In 1911, the cornerstone was laid for the Institute’s first building, the Administration Building, now known as Lovett Hall in honor of the founding president. On September 23, 1912, the 12th anniversary of William Marsh Rice’s murder, the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Letters, Science, and Art began course work with 59 enrolled students, who were known as the “59 immortals,” and about a dozen faculty. After 18 additional students joined later, Rice’s initial class numbered 77, 48 male and 29 female. Unusual for the time, Rice accepted coeducational admissions from its beginning, but on-campus housing would not become co-ed until 1957.

    Three weeks after opening, a spectacular international academic festival was held, bringing Rice to the attention of the entire academic world.

    Per William Marsh Rice’s will and Rice Institute’s initial charter, the students paid no tuition. Classes were difficult, however, and about half of Rice’s students had failed after the first 1912 term. At its first commencement ceremony, held on June 12, 1916, Rice awarded 35 bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree. That year, the student body also voted to adopt the Honor System, which still exists today. Rice’s first doctorate was conferred in 1918 on mathematician Hubert Evelyn Bray.

    The Founder’s Memorial Statue, a bronze statue of a seated William Marsh Rice, holding the original plans for the campus, was dedicated in 1930, and installed in the central academic quad, facing Lovett Hall. The statue was crafted by John Angel. In 2020, Rice students petitioned the university to take down the statue due to the founder’s history as slave owner.

    During World War II, Rice Institute was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which offered students a path to a Navy commission.

    The residential college system proposed by President Lovett was adopted in 1958, with the East Hall residence becoming Baker College, South Hall residence becoming Will Rice College, West Hall becoming Hanszen College, and the temporary Wiess Hall becoming Wiess College.

    In 1959, the Rice Institute Computer went online. 1960 saw Rice Institute formally renamed William Marsh Rice University. Rice acted as a temporary intermediary in the transfer of land between Humble Oil and Refining Company and NASA, for the creation of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now called Johnson Space Center) in 1962. President John F. Kennedy then made a speech at Rice Stadium reiterating that the United States intended to reach the moon before the end of the decade of the 1960s, and “to become the world’s leading space-faring nation”. The relationship of NASA with Rice University and the city of Houston has remained strong to the present day.

    The original charter of Rice Institute dictated that the university admit and educate, tuition-free, “the white inhabitants of Houston, and the state of Texas”. In 1963, the governing board of Rice University filed a lawsuit to allow the university to modify its charter to admit students of all races and to charge tuition. Ph.D. student Raymond Johnson became the first black Rice student when he was admitted that year. In 1964, Rice officially amended the university charter to desegregate its graduate and undergraduate divisions. The Trustees of Rice University prevailed in a lawsuit to void the racial language in the trust in 1966. Rice began charging tuition for the first time in 1965. In the same year, Rice launched a $33 million ($268 million) development campaign. $43 million ($283 million) was raised by its conclusion in 1970. In 1974, two new schools were founded at Rice, the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management and the Shepherd School of Music. The Brown Foundation Challenge, a fund-raising program designed to encourage annual gifts, was launched in 1976 and ended in 1996 having raised $185 million. The Rice School of Social Sciences was founded in 1979.

    On-campus housing was exclusively for men for the first forty years, until 1957. Jones College was the first women’s residence on the Rice campus, followed by Brown College. According to legend, the women’s colleges were purposefully situated at the opposite end of campus from the existing men’s colleges as a way of preserving campus propriety, which was greatly valued by Edgar Odell Lovett, who did not even allow benches to be installed on campus, fearing that they “might lead to co-fraternization of the sexes”. The path linking the north colleges to the center of campus was given the tongue-in-cheek name of “Virgin’s Walk”. Individual colleges became coeducational between 1973 and 1987, with the single-sex floors of colleges that had them becoming co-ed by 2006. By then, several new residential colleges had been built on campus to handle the university’s growth, including Lovett College, Sid Richardson College, and Martel College.

    Late twentieth and early twenty-first century

    The Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations was held at Rice in 1990. Three years later, in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy was created. In 1997, the Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ and Recital Hall and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, renamed in 2005 for the late Nobel Prize winner and Rice professor Richard E. Smalley, were dedicated at Rice. In 1999, the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology was created. The Rice Owls baseball team was ranked #1 in the nation for the first time in that year (1999), holding the top spot for eight weeks.

    In 2003, the Owls won their first national championship in baseball, which was the first for the university in any team sport, beating Southwest Missouri State in the opening game and then the University of Texas and Stanford University twice each en route to the title. In 2008, President David Leebron issued a ten-point plan titled “Vision for the Second Century” outlining plans to increase research funding, strengthen existing programs, and increase collaboration. The plan has brought about another wave of campus constructions, including the erection the newly renamed BioScience Research Collaborative building (intended to foster collaboration with the adjacent Texas Medical Center), a new recreational center and the renovated Autry Court basketball stadium, and the addition of two new residential colleges, Duncan College and McMurtry College.

    Beginning in late 2008, the university considered a merger with Baylor College of Medicine, though the merger was ultimately rejected in 2010. Rice undergraduates are currently guaranteed admission to Baylor College of Medicine upon graduation as part of the Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars program. According to History Professor John Boles’ recent book University Builder: Edgar Odell Lovett and the Founding of the Rice Institute, the first president’s original vision for the university included hopes for future medical and law schools.

    In 2018, the university added an online MBA program, MBA@Rice.

    In June 2019, the university’s president announced plans for a task force on Rice’s “past in relation to slave history and racial injustice”, stating that “Rice has some historical connections to that terrible part of American history and the segregation and racial disparities that resulted directly from it”.


    Rice’s campus is a heavily wooded 285-acre (115-hectare) tract of land in the museum district of Houston, located close to the city of West University Place.

    Five streets demarcate the campus: Greenbriar Street, Rice Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Main Street, and University Boulevard. For most of its history, all of Rice’s buildings have been contained within this “outer loop”. In recent years, new facilities have been built close to campus, but the bulk of administrative, academic, and residential buildings are still located within the original pentagonal plot of land. The new Collaborative Research Center, all graduate student housing, the Greenbriar building, and the Wiess President’s House are located off-campus.

    Rice prides itself on the amount of green space available on campus; there are only about 50 buildings spread between the main entrance at its easternmost corner, and the parking lots and Rice Stadium at the West end. The Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum, consisting of more than 4000 trees and shrubs (giving birth to the legend that Rice has a tree for every student), is spread throughout the campus.

    The university’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, intended for the campus to have a uniform architecture style to improve its aesthetic appeal. To that end, nearly every building on campus is noticeably Byzantine in style, with sand and pink-colored bricks, large archways and columns being a common theme among many campus buildings. Noteworthy exceptions include the glass-walled Brochstein Pavilion, Lovett College with its Brutalist-style concrete gratings, Moody Center for the Arts with its contemporary design, and the eclectic-Mediterranean Duncan Hall. In September 2011, Travel+Leisure listed Rice’s campus as one of the most beautiful in the United States.

    Lovett Hall, named for Rice’s first president, is the university’s most iconic campus building. Through its Sallyport arch, new students symbolically enter the university during matriculation and depart as graduates at commencement. Duncan Hall, Rice’s computational engineering building, was designed to encourage collaboration between the four different departments situated there. The building’s foyer, drawn from many world cultures, was designed by the architect to symbolically express this collaborative purpose.

    The campus is organized in a number of quadrangles. The Academic Quad, anchored by a statue of founder William Marsh Rice, includes Ralph Adams Cram’s masterpiece, the asymmetrical Lovett Hall, the original administrative building; Fondren Library; Herzstein Hall; the original physics building and home to the largest amphitheater on campus; Sewall Hall for the social sciences and arts; Rayzor Hall for the languages; and Anderson Hall of the Architecture department. The Humanities Building winner of several architectural awards is immediately adjacent to the main quad. Further west lies a quad surrounded by McNair Hall of the Jones Business School; the Baker Institute; and Alice Pratt Brown Hall of the Shepherd School of Music. These two quads are surrounded by the university’s main access road, a one-way loop referred to as the “inner loop”. In the Engineering Quad, a trinity of sculptures by Michael Heizer, collectively entitled 45 Degrees; 90 Degrees; 180 Degrees are flanked by Abercrombie Laboratory; the Cox Building; and the Mechanical Laboratory housing the Electrical; Mechanical; and Earth Science/Civil Engineering departments respectively. Duncan Hall is the latest addition to this quad providing new offices for the Computer Science; Computational and Applied Math; Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Statistics departments.

    Roughly three-quarters of Rice’s undergraduate population lives on campus. Housing is divided among eleven residential colleges which form an integral part of student life at the university The colleges are named for university historical figures and benefactors.While there is wide variation in their appearance; facilities; and dates of founding are an important source of identity for Rice students functioning as dining halls; residence halls; sports teams among other roles. Rice does not have or endorse a Greek system with the residential college system taking its place. Five colleges: McMurtry; Duncan; Martel; Jones; and Brown are located on the north side of campus across from the “South Colleges”; Baker; Will Rice; Lovett, Hanszen; Sid Richardson; and Wiess on the other side of the Academic Quadrangle. Of the eleven colleges Baker is the oldest originally built in 1912 and the twin Duncan and McMurtry colleges are the newest and opened for the first time for the 2009–10 school year. Will Rice; Baker; and Lovett colleges are undergoing renovation to expand their dining facilities as well as the number of rooms available for students.

    The on-campus football facility-Rice Stadium opened in 1950 with a capacity of 70000 seats. After improvements in 2006 the stadium is currently configured to seat 47,000 for football but can readily be reconfigured to its original capacity of 70000, more than the total number of Rice alumni living and deceased. The stadium was the site of Super Bowl VIII and a speech by John F. Kennedy on September 12 1962 in which he challenged the nation to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. The recently renovated Tudor Fieldhouse formerly known as Autry Court is home to the basketball and volleyball teams. Other stadia include the Rice Track/Soccer Stadium and the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. A new Rec Center now houses the intramural sports offices and provide an outdoor pool and training and exercise facilities for all Rice students while athletics training will solely be held at Tudor Fieldhouse and the Rice Football Stadium.

    The university and Houston Independent School District jointly established The Rice School-a kindergarten through 8th grade public magnet school in Houston. The school opened in August 1994. Through Cy-Fair ISD Rice University offers a credit course based summer school for grades 8 through 12. They also have skills based classes during the summer in the Rice Summer School.

    Innovation District

    In early 2019 Rice announced the site where the abandoned Sears building in Midtown Houston stood along with its surrounding area would be transformed into the “The Ion” the hub of the 16-acre South Main Innovation District. President of Rice David Leebron stated “We chose the name Ion because it’s from the Greek ienai, which means ‘go’. We see it as embodying the ever-forward motion of discovery, the spark at the center of a truly original idea.”

    Students of Rice and other Houston-area colleges and universities making up the Student Coalition for a Just and Equitable Innovation Corridor are advocating for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)-a contractual agreement between a developer and a community coalition. Residents of neighboring Third Ward and other members of the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development Without Displacement (HCEDD) have faced consistent opposition from the City of Houston and Rice Management Company to a CBA as traditionally defined in favor of an agreement between the latter two entities without a community coalition signatory.


    Rice University is chartered as a non-profit organization and is governed by a privately appointed board of trustees. The board consists of a maximum of 25 voting members who serve four-year terms. The trustees serve without compensation and a simple majority of trustees must reside in Texas including at least four within the greater Houston area. The board of trustees delegates its power by appointing a president to serve as the chief executive of the university. David W. Leebron was appointed president in 2004 and succeeded Malcolm Gillis who served since 1993. The provost six vice presidents and other university officials report to the president. The president is advised by a University Council composed of the provost, eight members of the Faculty Council, two staff members, one graduate student, and two undergraduate students. The president presides over a Faculty Council which has the authority to alter curricular requirements, establish new degree programs, and approve candidates for degrees.

    The university’s academics are organized into several schools. Schools that have undergraduate and graduate programs include:

    The Rice University School of Architecture
    The George R. Brown School of Engineering
    The School of Humanities
    The Shepherd School of Music
    The Wiess School of Natural Sciences
    The Rice University School of Social Sciences

    Two schools have only graduate programs:

    The Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management
    The Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies

    Rice’s undergraduate students benefit from a centralized admissions process which admits new students to the university as a whole, rather than a specific school (the schools of Music and Architecture are decentralized). Students are encouraged to select the major path that best suits their desires; a student can later decide that they would rather pursue study in another field or continue their current coursework and add a second or third major. These transitions are designed to be simple at Rice with students not required to decide on a specific major until their sophomore year of study.

    Rice’s academics are organized into six schools which offer courses of study at the graduate and undergraduate level, with two more being primarily focused on graduate education, while offering select opportunities for undergraduate students. Rice offers 360 degrees in over 60 departments. There are 40 undergraduate degree programs, 51 masters programs, and 29 doctoral programs.

    Faculty members of each of the departments elect chairs to represent the department to each School’s dean and the deans report to the Provost who serves as the chief officer for academic affairs.

    Rice Management Company

    The Rice Management Company manages the $6.5 billion Rice University endowment (June 2019) and $957 million debt. The endowment provides 40% of Rice’s operating revenues. Allison Thacker is the President and Chief Investment Officer of the Rice Management Company, having joined the university in 2011.


    Rice is a medium-sized highly residential research university. The majority of enrollments are in the full-time four-year undergraduate program emphasizing arts & sciences and professions. There is a high graduate coexistence with the comprehensive graduate program and a very high level of research activity. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as well as the professional accreditation agencies for engineering, management, and architecture.

    Each of Rice’s departments is organized into one of three distribution groups, and students whose major lies within the scope of one group must take at least 3 courses of at least 3 credit hours each of approved distribution classes in each of the other two groups, as well as completing one physical education course as part of the LPAP (Lifetime Physical Activity Program) requirement. All new students must take a Freshman Writing Intensive Seminar (FWIS) class, and for students who do not pass the university’s writing composition examination (administered during the summer before matriculation), FWIS 100, a writing class, becomes an additional requirement.

    The majority of Rice’s undergraduate degree programs grant B.S. or B.A. degrees. Rice has recently begun to offer minors in areas such as business, energy and water sustainability, and global health.

    Student body

    As of fall 2014, men make up 52% of the undergraduate body and 64% of the professional and post-graduate student body. The student body consists of students from all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, two U.S. Territories, and 83 foreign countries. Forty percent of degree-seeking students are from Texas.

    Research centers and resources

    Rice is noted for its applied science programs in the fields of nanotechnology, artificial heart research, structural chemical analysis, signal processing and space science.

    Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship – supports entrepreneurs and early-stage technology ventures in Houston and Texas through education, collaboration, and research, ranked No. 1 among university business incubators.
    Baker Institute for Public Policy – a leading nonpartisan public policy think-tank
    BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) – interdisciplinary, cross-campus, and inter-institutional resource between Rice University and Texas Medical Center
    Boniuk Institute – dedicated to religious tolerance and advancing religious literacy, respect and mutual understanding
    Center for African and African American Studies – fosters conversations on topics such as critical approaches to race and racism, the nature of diasporic histories and identities, and the complexity of Africa’s past, present and future
    Chao Center for Asian Studies – research hub for faculty, students and post-doctoral scholars working in Asian studies
    Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (CSWGS) – interdisciplinary academic programs and research opportunities, including the journal Feminist Economics
    Data to Knowledge Lab (D2K) – campus hub for experiential learning in data science
    Digital Signal Processing (DSP) – center for education and research in the field of digital signal processing
    Ethernest Hackerspace – student-run hackerspace for undergraduate engineering students sponsored by the ECE department and the IEEE student chapter
    Humanities Research Center (HRC) – identifies, encourages, and funds innovative research projects by faculty, visiting scholars, graduate, and undergraduate students in the School of Humanities and beyond
    Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) – facilitates the translation of interdisciplinary research and education in biosciences and bioengineering
    Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology – advances applied interdisciplinary research in the areas of computation and information technology
    Kinder Institute for Urban Research – conducts the Houston Area Survey, “the nation’s longest running study of any metropolitan region’s economy, population, life experiences, beliefs and attitudes”
    Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) – a resource for education and research breakthroughs and advances in the broad, multidisciplinary field of nanophotonics
    Moody Center for the Arts – experimental arts space featuring studio classrooms, maker space, audiovisual editing booths, and a gallery and office space for visiting national and international artists
    OpenStax CNX (formerly Connexions) and OpenStax – an open source platform and open access publisher, respectively, of open educational resources
    Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) – space for undergraduate students to design, prototype and deploy solutions to real-world engineering challenges
    Rice Cinema – an independent theater run by the Visual and Dramatic Arts department at Rice which screens documentaries, foreign films, and experimental cinema and hosts film festivals and lectures since 1970
    Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) – inspires, educates, and develops ethical leaders in technology who will excel in research, industry, non-engineering career paths, or entrepreneurship
    Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) – a research, training and outreach program working to advance understandings of the role of religion in public life
    Rice Design Alliance (RDA) – outreach and public programs of the Rice School of Architecture
    Rice Center for Quantum Materials (RCQM) – organization dedicated to research and higher education in areas relating to quantum phenomena
    Rice Neuroengineering Initiative (NEI) – fosters research collaborations in neural engineering topics
    Rice Space Institute (RSI) – fosters programs in all areas of space research
    Smalley-Curl Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (SCI) – the nation’s first nanotechnology center
    Welch Institute for Advanced Materials – collaborative research institute to support the foundational research for discoveries in materials science, similar to the model of Salk Institute and Broad Institute
    Woodson Research Center Special Collections & Archives – publisher of print and web-based materials highlighting the department’s primary source collections such as the Houston African American, Asian American, and Jewish History Archives, University Archives, rare books, and hip hop/rap music-related materials from the Swishahouse record label and Houston Folk Music Archive, etc.

    Student life

    Situated on nearly 300 acres (120 ha) in the center of Houston’s Museum District and across the street from the city’s Hermann Park, Rice is a green and leafy refuge; an oasis of learning convenient to the amenities of the nation’s fourth-largest city. Rice’s campus adjoins Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center, and a neighborhood commercial center called Rice Village. Hermann Park includes the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre and an 18-hole municipal golf course. NRG Park, home of NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, is two miles (3 km) south of the campus. Among the dozen or so museums in the Museum District was (until May 14, 2017) the Rice University Art Gallery, open during the school year from 1995 until it closed in 2017. Easy access to downtown’s theater and nightlife district and to Reliant Park is provided by the Houston METRORail system, with a station adjacent to the campus’s main gate. The campus recently joined the Zipcar program with two vehicles to increase the transportation options for students and staff who need but currently don’t utilize a vehicle.

    Residential colleges

    In 1957, Rice University implemented a residential college system, which was proposed by the university’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett. The system was inspired by existing systems in place at Oxford(UK) and Cambridge(UK) and at several other universities in the United States, most notably Yale University. The existing residences known as East, South, West, and Wiess Halls became Baker, Will Rice, Hanszen, and Wiess Colleges, respectively.

    List of residential colleges:

    Baker College, named in honor of Captain James A. Baker, friend and attorney of William Marsh Rice, and first chair of the Rice Board of Governors.
    Will Rice College, named for William M. Rice, Jr., the nephew of the university’s founder, William Marsh Rice.
    Hanszen College, named for Harry Clay Hanszen, benefactor to the university and chairman of the Rice Board of Governors from 1946 to 1950.
    Wiess College, named for Harry Carothers Wiess (1887–1948), one of the founders and one-time president of Humble Oil, now ExxonMobil.
    Jones College, named for Mary Gibbs Jones, wife of prominent Houston philanthropist Jesse Holman Jones.
    Brown College, named for Margaret Root Brown by her in-laws, George R. Brown.
    Lovett College, named after the university’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett.
    Sid Richardson College, named for the Sid Richardson Foundation, which was established by Texas oilman, cattleman, and philanthropist Sid W. Richardson.
    Martel College, named for Marian and Speros P. Martel, was built in 2002.
    McMurtry College, named for Rice alumni Burt and Deedee McMurtry, Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
    Duncan College, named for Charles Duncan, Jr., Secretary of Energy.

    Much of the social and academic life as an undergraduate student at Rice is centered around residential colleges. Each residential college has its own cafeteria (serveries) and each residential college has study groups and its own social practices.

    Although each college is composed of a full cross-section of students at Rice, they have over time developed their own traditions and “personalities”. When students matriculate they are randomly assigned to one of the eleven colleges, although “legacy” exceptions are made for students whose siblings or parents have attended Rice. Students generally remain members of the college that they are assigned to for the duration of their undergraduate careers, even if they move off-campus at any point. Students are guaranteed on-campus housing for freshman year and two of the next three years; each college has its own system for determining allocation of the remaining spaces, collectively known as “Room Jacking”. Students develop strong loyalties to their college and maintain friendly rivalry with other colleges, especially during events such as Beer Bike Race and O-Week. Colleges keep their rivalries alive by performing “jacks,” or pranks, on each other, especially during O-Week and Willy Week. During Matriculation, Commencement, and other formal academic ceremonies, the colleges process in the order in which they were established.

    Student-run media

    Rice has a weekly student newspaper (The Rice Thresher), a yearbook (The Campanile), college radio station (KTRU Rice Radio), and now defunct, campus-wide student television station (RTV5). They are based out of the RMC student center. In addition, Rice hosts several student magazines dedicated to a range of different topics; in fact, the spring semester of 2008 saw the birth of two such magazines, a literary sex journal called Open and an undergraduate science research magazine entitled Catalyst.

    The Rice Thresher is published every Wednesday and is ranked by Princeton Review as one of the top campus newspapers nationally for student readership. It is distributed around campus, and at a few other local businesses and has a website. The Thresher has a small, dedicated staff and is known for its coverage of campus news, open submission opinion page, and the satirical Backpage, which has often been the center of controversy. The newspaper has won several awards from the College Media Association, Associated Collegiate Press and Texas Intercollegiate Press Association.

    The Rice Campanile was first published in 1916 celebrating Rice’s first graduating class. It has published continuously since then, publishing two volumes in 1944 since the university had two graduating classes due to World War II. The website was created sometime in the early to mid 2000s. The 2015 won the first place Pinnacle for best yearbook from College Media Association.

    KTRU Rice Radio is the student-run radio station. Though most DJs are Rice students, anyone is allowed to apply. It is known for playing genres and artists of music and sound unavailable on other radio stations in Houston, and often, the US. The station takes requests over the phone or online. In 2000 and 2006, KTRU won Houston Press’ Best Radio Station in Houston. In 2003, Rice alum and active KTRU DJ DL’s hip-hip show won Houston Press‘ Best Hip-hop Radio Show. On August 17, 2010, it was announced that Rice University had been in negotiations to sell the station’s broadcast tower, FM frequency and license to the University of Houston System to become a full-time classical music and fine arts programming station. The new station, KUHA, would be operated as a not-for-profit outlet with listener supporters. The FCC approved the sale and granted the transfer of license to the University of Houston System on April 15, 2011, however, KUHA proved to be an even larger failure and so after four and a half years of operation, The University of Houston System announced that KUHA’s broadcast tower, FM frequency and license were once again up for sale in August 2015. KTRU continued to operate much as it did previously, streaming live on the Internet, via apps, and on HD2 radio using the 90.1 signal. Under student leadership, KTRU explored the possibility of returning to FM radio for a number of years. In spring 2015, KTRU was granted permission by the FCC to begin development of a new broadcast signal via LPFM radio. On October 1, 2015, KTRU made its official return to FM radio on the 96.1 signal. While broadcasting on HD2 radio has been discontinued, KTRU continues to broadcast via internet in addition to its LPFM signal.

    RTV5 is a student-run television network available as channel 5 on campus. RTV5 was created initially as Rice Broadcast Television in 1997; RBT began to broadcast the following year in 1998, and aired its first live show across campus in 1999. It experienced much growth and exposure over the years with successful programs like Drinking with Phil, The Meg & Maggie Show, which was a variety and call-in show, a weekly news show, and extensive live coverage in December 2000 of the shut down of KTRU by the administration. In spring 2001, the Rice undergraduate community voted in the general elections to support RBT as a blanket tax organization, effectively providing a yearly income of $10,000 to purchase new equipment and provide the campus with a variety of new programming. In the spring of 2005, RBT members decided the station needed a new image and a new name: Rice Television 5. One of RTV5’s most popular shows was the 24-hour show, where a camera and couch placed in the RMC stayed on air for 24 hours. One such show is held in fall and another in spring, usually during a weekend allocated for visits by prospective students. RTV5 has a video on demand site at rtv5.rice.edu. The station went off the air in 2014 and changed its name to Rice Video Productions. In 2015 the group’s funding was threatened, but ultimately maintained. In 2016 the small student staff requested to no longer be a blanket-tax organization. In the fall of 2017, the club did not register as a club.

    The Rice Review, also known as R2, is a yearly student-run literary journal at Rice University that publishes prose, poetry, and creative nonfiction written by undergraduate students, as well as interviews. The journal was founded in 2004 by creative writing professor and author Justin Cronin.

    The Rice Standard was an independent, student-run variety magazine modeled after such publications as The New Yorker and Harper’s. Prior to fall 2009, it was regularly published three times a semester with a wide array of content, running from analyses of current events and philosophical pieces to personal essays, short fiction and poetry. In August 2009, The Standard transitioned to a completely online format with the launch of their redesigned website, http://www.ricestandard.org. The first website of its kind on Rice’s campus, The Standard featured blog-style content written by and for Rice students. The Rice Standard had around 20 regular contributors, and the site features new content every day (including holidays). In 2017 no one registered The Rice Standard as a club within the university.

    Open, a magazine dedicated to “literary sex content,” predictably caused a stir on campus with its initial publication in spring 2008. A mixture of essays, editorials, stories and artistic photography brought Open attention both on campus and in the Houston Chronicle. The third and last annual edition of Open was released in spring of 2010.

    Vahalla is the Graduate Student Association on-campus bar under the steps of the chemistry building.


    Rice plays in NCAA Division I athletics and is part of Conference USA. Rice was a member of the Western Athletic Conference before joining Conference USA in 2005. Rice is the second-smallest school, measured by undergraduate enrollment, competing in NCAA Division I FBS football, only ahead of Tulsa.

    The Rice baseball team won the 2003 College World Series, defeating Stanford, giving Rice its only national championship in a team sport. The victory made Rice University the smallest school in 51 years to win a national championship at the highest collegiate level of the sport. The Rice baseball team has played on campus at Reckling Park since the 2000 season. As of 2010, the baseball team has won 14 consecutive conference championships in three different conferences: the final championship of the defunct Southwest Conference, all nine championships while a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and five more championships in its first five years as a member of Conference USA. Additionally, Rice’s baseball team has finished third in both the 2006 and 2007 College World Series tournaments. Rice now has made six trips to Omaha for the CWS. In 2004, Rice became the first school ever to have three players selected in the first eight picks of the MLB draft when Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Townsend were selected third, fourth, and eighth, respectively. In 2007, Joe Savery was selected as the 19th overall pick.

    Rice has been very successful in women’s sports in recent years. In 2004–05, Rice sent its women’s volleyball, soccer, and basketball teams to their respective NCAA tournaments. The women’s swim team has consistently brought at least one member of their team to the NCAA championships since 2013. In 2005–06, the women’s soccer, basketball, and tennis teams advanced, with five individuals competing in track and field. In 2006–07, the Rice women’s basketball team made the NCAA tournament, while again five Rice track and field athletes received individual NCAA berths. In 2008, the women’s volleyball team again made the NCAA tournament. In 2011 the Women’s Swim team won their first conference championship in the history of the university. This was an impressive feat considering they won without having a diving team. The team repeated their C-USA success in 2013 and 2014. In 2017, the women’s basketball team, led by second-year head coach Tina Langley, won the Women’s Basketball Invitational, defeating UNC-Greensboro 74–62 in the championship game at Tudor Fieldhouse. Though not a varsity sport, Rice’s ultimate frisbee women’s team, named Torque, won consecutive Division III national championships in 2014 and 2015.

    In 2006, the football team qualified for its first bowl game since 1961, ending the second-longest bowl drought in the country at the time. On December 22, 2006, Rice played in the New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana against the Sun Belt Conference champion, Troy. The Owls lost 41–17. The bowl appearance came after Rice had a 14-game losing streak from 2004–05 and went 1–10 in 2005. The streak followed an internally authorized 2003 McKinsey report that stated football alone was responsible for a $4 million deficit in 2002. Tensions remained high between the athletic department and faculty, as a few professors who chose to voice their opinion were in favor of abandoning the football program. The program success in 2006, the Rice Renaissance, proved to be a revival of the Owl football program, quelling those tensions. David Bailiff took over the program in 2007 and has remained head coach. Jarett Dillard set an NCAA record in 2006 by catching a touchdown pass in 13 consecutive games and took a 15-game overall streak into the 2007 season.

    In 2008, the football team posted a 9-3 regular season, capping off the year with a 38–14 victory over Western Michigan University in the Texas Bowl. The win over Western Michigan marked the Owls’ first bowl win in 45 years.

    Rice Stadium also serves as the performance venue for the university’s Marching Owl Band, or “MOB.” Despite its name, the MOB is a scatter band that focuses on performing humorous skits and routines rather than traditional formation marching.

    Rice Owls men’s basketball won 10 conference titles in the former Southwest Conference (1918, 1935*, 1940, 1942*, 1943*, 1944*, 1945, 1949*, 1954*, 1970; * denotes shared title). Most recently, guard Morris Almond was drafted in the first round of the 2007 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. Rice named former Cal Bears head coach Ben Braun as head basketball coach to succeed Willis Wilson, fired after Rice finished the 2007–2008 season with a winless (0-16) conference record and overall record of 3-27.

    Rice’s mascot is Sammy the Owl. In previous decades, the university kept several live owls on campus in front of Lovett College, but this practice has been discontinued, due to public pressure over the welfare of the owls.

    Rice also has a 12-member coed cheerleading squad and a coed dance team, both of which perform at football and basketball games throughout the year.

  • richardmitnick 12:20 pm on February 28, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Solar storms can wreak havoc. We need better space weather forecasts", A CME’s biggest threat-its giant cloud of plasma which can be millions of kilometers wide-typically takes between one and three days to reach our planet., A recent near miss occurred in the summer of 2012. A giant solar storm hurled a radiation-packed blob in Earth’s direction at more than 9 million kilometers per hour., , , It was 19th century German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe who realized that solar activity ebbs and flows during 11-year cycles., Science News, Scientists learned about the 2012 event after the fact only because it struck a NASA satellite designed to watch for this kind of space weather., , That 2012 storm was the most intense researchers have measured since 1859., The 1859 solar storm came to be known as the Carrington Event named after British astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed intensely bright patches of light in the sky and recorded what he saw., The most recent sun cycle ended in December 2019., The sun’s magnetic field completely flips every 11 years., There have been a few cases of satellites damaged by solar storms., When the September 1859 storm hit the Northern Hemisphere people were not so lucky. Many telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America failed and the electrified lines shocked some people.   

    From Science News: “Solar storms can wreak havoc. We need better space weather forecasts” 

    From Science News

    February 26, 2021
    Ramin Skibba

    Scientists are expanding efforts to probe outbursts from the sun and understand their occasionally Earthbound paths.

    A burst of solar activity unleashed a huge coronal mass ejection that just missed Earth in July 2012. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

    Since December 2019, the sun has been moving into a busier part of its cycle, when increasingly intense pulses of energy can shoot out in all directions. Some of these large bursts of charged particles head right toward Earth. Without a good way to anticipate these solar storms, we’re vulnerable. A big one could take out a swath of our communication systems and power grids before we even knew what hit us.

    A recent near miss occurred in the summer of 2012. A giant solar storm hurled a radiation-packed blob in Earth’s direction at more than 9 million kilometers per hour. The potentially debilitating burst quickly traversed the nearly 150 million kilometers toward our planet, and would have hit Earth had it come just a week earlier. Scientists learned about it after the fact only because it struck a NASA satellite designed to watch for this kind of space weather.

    That 2012 storm was the most intense researchers have measured since 1859. When a powerful storm hit the Northern Hemisphere in September of that year, people were not so lucky. Many telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America failed, and the electrified lines shocked some telegraph operators. It came to be known as the Carrington Event, named after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed intensely bright patches of light in the sky and recorded what he saw [MNRAS].

    The world has moved way beyond telegraph systems. A Carrington-level impact today would knock out satellites, disrupting GPS, mobile phone networks and internet connections. Banking systems, aviation, trains and traffic signals would take a hit as well. Damaged power grids would take months or more to repair.

    Especially now, during a pandemic that has many of us relying on Zoom and other video-communications programs to work and attend school, it’s hard to imagine the widespread upheaval such an event would create. In a worst-case scenario conceived before the pandemic, researchers estimated the economic toll in the United States could reach trillions of dollars, according to a 2017 review [Wiley Online Library] in Risk Analysis.

    To avoid such destruction, in October then-President Donald Trump signed a bill that will support research to produce better space weather forecasts and assess possible impacts, and enable better coordination among agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    “We understand a little bit about how these solar storms form, but we can’t predict [them] well,” says atmospheric and space scientist Aaron Ridley of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor(US). Just as scientists know how to map the likely path of tornadoes and hurricanes, Ridley hopes to see the same capabilities for predicting space weather.

    The ideal scenario is to get warnings well before a storm disables satellites or makes landfall, and possibly even before the sun sends charged particles in our direction. With advance warning, utilities and governments could power down the grids and move satellites out of harm’s way.

    Ridley is part of a U.S. collaboration creating simulations of solar storms to help scientists quickly and accurately forecast where the storms will go, how intense they will be and when they might affect important satellites and power grids on Earth. Considering the havoc an extreme solar storm could wreak, many scientists and governments want to develop better forecasts as soon as possible.

    Ebbs and flows

    When scientists talk about space weather, they’re usually referring to two things: the solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flowing away from the sun, and coronal mass ejections, huge outbursts of charged particles, or plasma, blown out from the sun’s outer layers (SN Online: 3/7/19). Some other phenomena, like high-energy particles called cosmic rays, also count as space weather, but they don’t cause much concern.

    Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, the most threatening kind of solar storms, aren’t always harmful — they generate dazzling auroras near the poles, after all. But considering the risks of a storm shutting down key military and commercial satellites or harming the health of astronauts in orbit, it’s understandable that scientists and governments are concerned.

    Astronomers have been peering at our solar companion for centuries. In the 17th century, Galileo was among the first to spy sunspots, slightly cooler areas on the sun’s surface with strong magnetic fields that are often a precursor to more intense solar activity. His successors later noticed that sunspots often produce bursts of radiation called solar flares. The complex, shifting magnetic field of the sun also sometimes makes filaments or loops of plasma thousands of kilometers across erupt from the sun’s outer layers. These kinds of solar eruptions can generate CMEs.

    “The sun’s magnetic field lines can get complicated and twisted up like taffy in certain regions,” says Mary Hudson, a physicist at Dartmouth College. Those lines can break like a rubber band and launch a big chunk of corona into interplanetary space.

    It was 19th century German astronomer Samuel Heinrich Schwabe who realized that such solar activity ebbs and flows during 11-year cycles. This happens because the sun’s magnetic field completely flips every 11 years. The most recent sun cycle ended in December 2019, and we’re emerging from the nadir of sun activity while heading toward the maximum of cycle 25 (astronomers started numbering solar cycles in the 19th century). Solar storms, particularly the dangerous CMEs, are now becoming more frequent and intense, and should peak between 2024 and 2026.

    Up and down
    The number of sunspots, and other solar activity that generates solar storms, rises and falls in an 11-year cycle. Solar cycle 25 began in December 2019 and is expected to peak in 2025. Source: SILSO data/Royal Observatory of Belgium 2021.

    Solar storms develop from the sun’s complex magnetic field. The sun rotates faster at its equator than at its poles, and since it’s not a solid sphere, its magnetic field constantly roils and swirls around. At the same time, heat from the sun’s interior rises to the surface, with charged particles bringing new magnetic fields with them. The most intense CMEs usually come from the most vigorous period in a particularly active solar cycle, but there’s a lot of variation. The 1859 CME originated from a fairly modest solar cycle, Hudson points out.

    A CME has multiple components. If the CME is on a trajectory toward Earth, the first thing to arrive — just eight minutes after it leaves the sun — is the electromagnetic radiation, which moves at the speed of light. CMEs often produce a shock wave that accelerates electrons to extremely fast speeds, and those arrive within 20 minutes of the light. Such energetic particles can damage the electronics or solar cells of satellites in high orbits. Those particles could also harm any astronauts outside of Earth’s protective magnetic field, including any on the moon. A crew on board the International Space Station, inside Earth’s magnetic field, however, would most likely be safe.

    But a CME’s biggest threat — its giant cloud of plasma, which can be millions of kilometers wide — typically takes between one and three days to reach our planet, depending on how fast the sun propelled the shotgun blast of particles toward us. Earth’s magnetic field, our first defense against space weather and space radiation, can protect us from only so much.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase.

    Satellites and ground-based observations have shown that a CME’s charged particles interact with and distort the magnetic field. Those interactions can have two important effects: producing more intense electric currents in the upper atmosphere and shifting these stronger currents away from the poles to places with more people and more infrastructure, Ridley says. With an extremely powerful storm, it’s these potentially massive currents that put satellites and power grids at risk.

    A bright cloud of particles blew out from the sun in 2013. Activity in the current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2025. Credit: SDO/Goddard/NASA/Flickr.


    Anyone who depends on long-distance radio signals or telecommunications might have to do without them until the storm blows over and damaged satellites are repaired or replaced. A powerful storm can disturb airplanes in flight, too, as pilots lose contact with air traffic controllers. While these are temporary effects, typically lasting up to a day, impacts on the electrical grids could be worse.

    A massive CME could suddenly and unexpectedly drive currents of kiloamps rather than the usual amps through power grid wires on Earth, overwhelming transformers and making them melt or explode. The entire province of Quebec, with nearly 7 million people, suffered a power blackout that lasted more than nine hours on March 13, 1989, thanks to such a CME during a particularly active solar cycle. The CME affected New England and New York, too. Had electricity grid operators known what was coming, they could have reduced power flow on lines and interconnections in the power grid and set up backup generators where needed.

    Early warning

    But planners need more of a heads-up than they get today. Perhaps within the next decade, improved computer modeling and new space weather monitoring capabilities will enable scientists to predict solar storms and their likely impacts more accurately and earlier, says physicist Thomas Berger, executive director of the Space Weather Technology, Research and Education Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    Space meteorologists classify solar storms, based on disturbances to the Earth’s magnetic field, on a five-level scale, like hurricanes. But unlike those tropical storms, the likely arrival of a solar storm isn’t known with any precision using available satellites. For storms brewing on Earth, the National Weather Service has access to constantly updated data. But space weather data are too sparse to be very useful, with few storms to monitor and provide data.

    Two U.S. satellites that monitor space weather are NASA’s ACE spacecraft, which dates from the 1990s and should continue to collect data for a few more years, and NOAA’s DSCOVR, which was designed at a similar time but not launched until 2015. Both orbit about 1.5 million kilometers above Earth — which seems far but is barely upstream of our planet from a solar storm’s perspective. The two satellites can detect and measure a solar storm only when its impact is imminent: 15 to 45 minutes away. That’s more akin to “nowcasting” than forecasting, offering little more than a warning to brace for impact.

    Eyes on the sun

    Three main satellites have been monitoring space weather, starting as early as 1995, but can only pick up an imminent impact.

    NASA ACE Advanced Composition Explorer. Launched in 1997.

    NOAA/DSCOVR. Launched in 2015.

    ESA/NASA SOHO.Launched in 1995

    “That’s one of the grand challenges of space weather: to predict the magnetic field of a CME long before it gets [here] so that you can prepare for the incoming storm,” Berger says. But aging satellites like SOHO, a satellite launched by NASA and the European Space Agency in 1995, plus ACE and DSCOVR monitor only a limited range of directions that don’t include the sun’s poles, leaving a big gap in observations, he says.

    Ideally, scientists want to be able to forecast a solar storm before it’s blown out into space. That would give enough lead time — more than a day — for power grid operators to protect transformers from power surges, and satellites and astronauts could move out of harm’s way if possible.

    That requires gathering more data, particularly from the sun’s outer layers, plus better estimating when a CME will burst forth and whether to expect it to arrive with a bang or a whimper. To aid such research, NOAA scientists will outfit their next space weather satellite, scheduled to launch in early 2025, with a coronagraph, an instrument used for studying the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, while blocking most of the sun’s light, which would otherwise blind its view.

    An artist’s rendering of the SWFO-L1 satellite.

    A second major improvement could come just two years later, in 2027, with the launch of ESA’s Lagrange mission.

    ESA Lagrange will be the first mission with a satellite (illustrated) at L5, to monitor the sun from the side to try and spot Earth-bound coronal mass ejections much earlier. Credit: WMAP Science Team/NASA.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA.

    It will be the first space weather mission to launch one of its spacecraft to a unique spot: 60 degrees behind Earth in its orbit around the sun. Once in position, the spacecraft will be able to see the surface of the sun from the side before the face of the sun has rotated and pointed in Earth’s direction, says Juha-Pekka Luntama, head of ESA’s Space Weather Office.

    That way, Lagrange will be able to monitor an active, flaring area of the sun days earlier than other spacecraft, getting a fix on a new solar storm’s speed and direction sooner to allow scientists to make a more precise forecast. With these new satellites, there will be more spacecraft watching for incoming space weather from different spots, giving scientists more data to make forecasts.

    Meanwhile, Berger, Ridley and colleagues are focused on developing better computer simulations and models of the behavior of the sun’s corona and the ramifications of CMEs on Earth. Ridley and his team are creating a new software platform that allows researchers anywhere to quickly update models of the upper atmosphere affected by space weather. Ridley’s group is also modeling how a CME shakes our planet’s magnetic field and releases charged particles toward the land below.

    Berger also collaborates with other researchers on modeling and simulating Earth’s upper atmosphere to better predict how solar storms affect its density. When a storm hits, it compresses the magnetic field, which can change the density of the outer layers of Earth’s atmosphere and affect how much drag satellites have to battle to stay in orbit.

    Satellite safety

    There have been a few cases of satellites damaged by solar storms. The Japanese ADEOS-II satellite stopped functioning in 2003, following a period of intense outbursts of energy from the sun. And the Solar Maximum Mission satellite appeared to have been dragged into lower orbit — and eventually burned up in the atmosphere — following the same 1989 solar storm that left Quebec in the dark.

    Satellites affected by solar storms could be at risk of crashing into each other or space debris, too. With mega-constellations of satellites like SpaceX’s being launched by the hundreds (SN: 3/28/20, p. 24), and with tens of thousands of satellites and bits of space flotsam already in crowded orbits, the risks are real of something drifting into the path of something else. Any space crash will surely create more space junk, too, tossing out debris that also puts spacecraft at risk.

    These are all strong motivators for Ridley, Berger and colleagues to study how storm-driven drag works. The U.S. military tracks satellites and debris and predicts where they’ll likely be in the future, but all those calculations are worthless without knowing the effects of solar storms, says Boris Krämer, an aerospace engineer at the University of California, San Diego who collaborates with Ridley. “To put satellites on trajectories so that they avoid collisions, you have to know space weather,” Krämer says.

    It takes time to create simulations estimating the drag on a single satellite. Current models run on powerful super-computers. But if a satellite needs to use its onboard computer to make those computations on the fly, researchers need to develop sufficiently accurate models that run much more quickly and with less energy.

    New data and new models probably won’t be online in time for the upcoming solar storm season, but they should be in place for solar cycle 26 in the 2030s. Perhaps by then, scientists will be able to give earlier red alerts to warn of an incoming storm, giving more time to move satellites, buttress transformers and stave off the worst.

    The goal of improving space weather forecasts has drawn broad federal government support and interest from industry, including Lockheed Martin, because of the threats to important satellites, including the 31 that constitute the U.S. GPS network.

    The growing interest in space weather led to the 2020 law, known as the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow Act, or PROSWIFT. And the National Science Foundation and NASA have thrown support behind space weather research programs like Berger’s and Ridley’s. For instance, Ridley, Krämer and their collaborators recently received $3.1 million in NSF grants to develop new space weather computer simulations and software, among other things.

    Our reliance on technology in space comes with increasing vulnerabilities. Some space scientists speculate that we’ve failed to find alien civilizations because some of those civilizations were wiped out by the very active stars they orbit, which could strip a once-habitable world’s atmosphere and expose life on the surface to harmful stellar radiation and space weather. Our sun is not as dangerous as many other stars that have more frequent and intense magnetic activity, but it has the potential to be perilous to our way of life.

    “Globally, we have to take space weather seriously and prepare ourselves. We don’t want to wake up one day, and all our infrastructure is down,” ESA’s Luntama says. With key satellites and power grids suddenly wrecked, we wouldn’t even be able to use our phones to call for help.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 11:49 am on February 4, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Einstein’s theory of general relativity unveiled a dynamic and bizarre cosmos", , , , , , , Science News   

    From Science News: “Einstein’s theory of general relativity unveiled a dynamic and bizarre cosmos” 

    From Science News

    February 3, 2021
    Elizabeth Quill

    The predictions were right about black holes, gravitational waves and universe expansion.

    Neutron stars (one illustrated) squash the mass equivalent of the sun into the size of a city. Credit: Casey Reed/Penn State.

    Albert Einstein’s mind reinvented space and time, foretelling a universe so bizarre and grand that it has challenged the limits of human imagination. An idea born in a Swiss patent office that evolved into a mature theory in Berlin set forth a radical new picture of the cosmos, rooted in a new, deeper understanding of gravity.

    Out was Newton’s idea, which had reigned for nearly two centuries, of masses that appeared to tug on one another. Instead, Einstein presented space and time as a unified fabric distorted by mass and energy. Objects warp the fabric of spacetime like a weight resting on a trampoline, and the fabric’s curvature guides their movements. With this insight, gravity was explained.

    Einstein presented his general theory of relativity at the end of 1915 in a series of lectures in Berlin. But it wasn’t until a solar eclipse in 1919 that everyone took notice. His theory predicted that a massive object — say, the sun — could distort spacetime nearby enough to bend light from its straight-line course. Distant stars would thus appear not exactly where expected. Photographs taken during the eclipse verified that the position shift matched Einstein’s prediction. “Lights all askew in the heavens; men of science more or less agog,” declared a New York Times headline.

    Even a decade later, a story in Science News Letter, the predecessor of Science News, wrote of Riots to understand Einstein theory (SN: 2/1/30, p. 79). Apparently extra police had to be called in to control a crowd of 4,500 who “broke down iron gates and mauled each other” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to hear an explanation of general relativity.

    By 1931, physicist Albert A. Michelson, the first American to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences, called the theory “a revolution in scientific thought unprecedented in the history of science.”

    But for all the powers of divination we credit to Einstein today, he was a reluctant soothsayer. We now know that general relativity offered much more than Einstein was willing or able to see. “It was a profoundly different way of looking at the universe,” says astrophysicist David Spergel of the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute in New York City, “and it had some wild implications that Einstein himself didn’t want to accept.” What’s more, says Spergel (a member of the Honorary Board of the Society for Science, publisher of Science News), “the wildest aspects of general relativity have all turned out to be true.”

    What had been masquerading as a quiet, static, finite place is instead a dynamic, ever-expanding arena filled with its own riot of space-bending beasts. Galaxies congregate in superclusters on scales vastly greater than anything experts had considered before the 20th century. Within those galaxies reside not only stars and planets, but also a zoo of exotic objects illustrating general relativity’s propensity for weirdness, including neutron stars, which pack a fat star’s worth of mass into the size of a city, and black holes, which pervert spacetime so strongly that no light can escape. And when these behemoths collide, they shake spacetime, blasting out ginormous amounts of energy. Our cosmos is violent, evolving and filled with science fiction–like possibilities that actually come straight out of general relativity.

    “General relativity opened up a huge stage of stuff for us to look at and try out and play with,” says astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley.

    Saul Perlmutter [The Supernova Cosmology Project] shared the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with Brian P. Schmidt and Adam Riess [The High-z Supernova Search Team] for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

    He points to the idea that the universe changes dramatically over its lifetime — “the idea of a lifetime of a universe at all is a bizarre concept” — and the idea that the cosmos is expanding, plus the thought that it could collapse and come to an end, and even that there might be other universes. “You get to realize that the world could be much more interesting even than we already ever imagined it could possibly be.”

    An expanding picture

    Einstein’s equations of general relativity were a wellspring from which our current view of the cosmos has flowed. That the theory continues to supply so many rich questions is part of what makes it “just incredible,” says David Spergel, an astrophysicist at the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute in New York City. Over the last century, we’ve detected cosmic beasts that defy the imagination. We’ve also learned some crucial facts about our cosmos: The universe is expanding, and at an accelerating rate. The universe began with a bang 13.8 billion years ago. And mysterious forms of matter and energy are shaping the cosmos in unexpected and largely unknown ways. Read about some of the milestones in our expanding picture, including Vera Rubin’s contributions.

    Dark Matter Background
    Fritz Zwicky discovered Dark Matter in the 1930s when observing the movement of the Coma Cluster., Vera Rubin a Woman in STEM denied the Nobel, some 30 years later, did most of the work on Dark Matter.

    Fritz Zwicky from http:// palomarskies.blogspot.com.

    Coma cluster via NASA/ESA Hubble.

    In modern times, it was astronomer Fritz Zwicky, in the 1930s, who made the first observations of what we now call dark matter. His 1933 observations of the Coma Cluster of galaxies seemed to indicated it has a mass 500 times more than that previously calculated by Edwin Hubble. Furthermore, this extra mass seemed to be completely invisible. Although Zwicky’s observations were initially met with much skepticism, they were later confirmed by other groups of astronomers.
    Thirty years later, astronomer Vera Rubin provided a huge piece of evidence for the existence of dark matter. She discovered that the centers of galaxies rotate at the same speed as their extremities, whereas, of course, they should rotate faster. Think of a vinyl LP on a record deck: its center rotates faster than its edge. That’s what logic dictates we should see in galaxies too. But we do not. The only way to explain this is if the whole galaxy is only the center of some much larger structure, as if it is only the label on the LP so to speak, causing the galaxy to have a consistent rotation speed from center to edge.
    Vera Rubin, following Zwicky, postulated that the missing structure in galaxies is dark matter. Her ideas were met with much resistance from the astronomical community, but her observations have been confirmed and are seen today as pivotal proof of the existence of dark matter.

    Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965, worked on Dark Matter (The Carnegie Institution for Science).

    Vera Rubin measuring spectra, worked on Dark Matter (Emilio Segre Visual Archives AIP SPL).

    Vera Rubin, with Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) image tube spectrograph attached to the Kitt Peak 84-inch telescope, 1970. https://home.dtm.ciw.edu.

    General relativity has become the foundation for today’s understanding of the cosmos. But the current picture is far from complete. Plenty of questions remain about mysterious matter and forces, about the beginnings and the end of the universe, about how the science of the big meshes with quantum mechanics, the science of the very small. Some astronomers believe a promising route to answering some of those unknowns is another of general relativity’s initially underappreciated features — the power of bent light to magnify features of the cosmos.

    Today’s scientists continue to poke and prod at general relativity to find clues to what they might be missing. General relativity is now being tested to a level of precision previously impossible, says astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale ​University. “General relativity expanded our cosmic view, then gave us sharper focus on the cosmos, and then turned the tables on it and said, ‘now we can test it much more strongly.’ ” It’s this testing that will perhaps uncover problems with the theory that might point the way to a fuller picture.

    And so, more than a century after general relativity debuted, there’s plenty left to foretell. The universe may turn out to be even wilder yet.

    Ravenous beasts

    Just over a century after Einstein unveiled general relativity, scientists obtained visual confirmation of one of its most impressive beasts. In 2019, a global network of telescopes revealed a mass warping spacetime with such fervor that nothing, not even light, could escape its snare. The Event Horizon Telescope released the first image of a black hole, at the center of galaxy M87 (SN: 4/27/19, p. 6).

    EHT map.

    Messier 87*, The first image of the event horizon of a black hole. This is the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87. Credit: JPL/ Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released on 10 April 2019.

    “The power of an image is strong,” says Kazunori Akiyama, an astrophysicist at the MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford, Mass., who led one of the teams that created the image. “I somewhat expected that we might see something exotic,” Akiyama says. But after looking at the first image, “Oh my God,” he recalls thinking, “it’s just perfectly matching with our expectation of general relativity.”

    For a long time, black holes were mere mathematical curiosities. Evidence that they actually reside out in space didn’t start coming in until the second half of the 20th century. It’s a common story in the annals of physics. An oddity in some theorist’s equation points to a previously unknown phenomenon, which kicks off a search for evidence. Once the data are attainable, and if physicists get a little lucky, the search gives way to discovery.

    In the case of black holes, German physicist Karl Schwarzschild came up with a solution to Einstein’s equations near a single spherical mass, such as a planet or a star, in 1916, shortly after Einstein proposed general relativity. Schwarzschild’s math revealed how the curvature of spacetime would differ around stars of the same mass but increasingly smaller sizes — in other words, stars that were more and more compact. Out of the math came a limit to how small a mass could be squeezed. Then in the 1930s, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Hartland Snyder described what would happen if a massive star collapsing under the weight of its own gravity shrank past that critical size — today known as the “Schwarzschild radius” — reaching a point from which its light could never reach us. Still, Einstein — and most others — doubted that what we now call black holes were plausible in reality.

    The term “black hole” first appeared in print in Science News Letter. It was in a 1964 story by Ann Ewing, who was covering a meeting in Cleveland of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (SN: 1/18/64, p. 39). That’s also about the time that hints in favor of the reality of black holes started coming in.

    Just a few months later, Ewing reported the discovery of quasars — describing them in Science News Letter as “the most distant, brightest, most violent, heaviest and most puzzling sources of light and radio waves” (SN: 8/15/64, p. 106). Though not linked to black holes at the time, quasars hinted at some cosmic powerhouses needed to provide such energy. The use of X-ray astronomy in the 1960s revealed new features of the cosmos, including bright beacons that could come from a black hole scarfing down a companion star. And the motions of stars and gas clouds near the centers of galaxies pointed to something exceedingly dense lurking within.

    Quasars (one illustrated) are so bright that they can outshine their home galaxies. Though baffling when first discovered, these outbursts are powered by massive, feeding black holes. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Source.

    Black holes stand out among other cosmic beasts for how extreme they are. The largest are many billion times the mass of the sun, and when they rip a star apart, they can spit out particles with 200 trillion electron volts of energy. That’s some 30 times the energy of the protons that race around the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

    CERN (CH) LHC Map

    SixTrack CERN (CH) LHC particles.

    As evidence built into the 1990s and up to today, scientists realized these great beasts not only exist, but also help shape the cosmos. “These objects that general relativity predicted, that were mathematical curiosities, became real, then they were marginal. Now they’ve become central,” says Natarajan.

    We now know supermassive black holes reside at the centers of most if not all galaxies, where they generate outflows of energy that affect how and where stars form. “At the center of the galaxy, they define everything,” she says.

    Sgr A* from ESO VLT.

    Star S0-2 Andrea Ghez Keck/UCLA Galactic Center Group at SGR A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

    SGR A and SGR A* from Penn State and NASA/Chandra.

    Though visual confirmation is recent, it feels as though black holes have long been familiar. They are a go-to metaphor for any unknowable space, any deep abyss, any endeavor that consumes all our efforts while giving little in return.

    Real black holes, of course, have given plenty back: answers about our cosmos plus new questions to ponder, wonder and entertainment for space fanatics, a lost album from Weezer, numerous episodes of Doctor Who, the Hollywood blockbuster Interstellar.

    For physicist Nicolas Yunes of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, black holes and other cosmic behemoths continue to amaze. “Just thinking about the dimensions of these objects, how large they are, how heavy they are, how dense they are,” he says, “it’s really breathtaking.”

    What does a black hole look like? [Updated] |
    Science News.

    Spacetime waves

    When general relativity’s behemoths collide, they disrupt the cosmic fabric. Ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves emanate outward, a calling card of a tumultuous and most energetic tango.

    Einstein’s math predicted such waves could be created, not only by gigantic collisions but also by explosions and other accelerating bodies. But for a long time, spotting any kind of spacetime ripple was a dream beyond measure. Only the most dramatic cosmic doings would create signals that were large enough for direct detection. Einstein, who called the waves “gravitationswellen”, was unaware that any such big events existed in the cosmos.

    Gravitational waves ripple away from two black holes that orbit each other before merging (shown in this simulation). The merging black holes created a new black hole that’s much larger than those found in previous collisions. Credit: Deborah Ferguson, Karan Jani, Deirdre Shoemaker and Pablo Laguna/Georgia Tech, Maya Collaboration.

    Beginning in the 1950s, when others were still arguing whether gravitational waves existed in reality, physicist Joseph Weber sunk his career into trying to detect them. After a decade-plus effort, he claimed detection in 1969, identifying an apparent signal perhaps from a supernova or from a newly discovered type of rapidly spinning star called a pulsar. In the few years after reporting the initial find, Science News published more than a dozen stories on what it began calling the “Weber problem” (SN: 6/21/69, p. 593). Study after study could not confirm the results. What’s more, no sources of the waves could be found. A 1973 headline read, “The deepening doubt about Weber’s waves” (SN: 5/26/73, p. 338).

    Weber stuck by his claim until his death in 2000, but his waves were never verified. Nonetheless, scientists increasingly believed gravitational waves would be found. In 1974, radio astronomers Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor spotted a neutron star orbiting a dense companion. Over the following years, the neutron star and its companion appeared to be getting closer together by the distance that would be expected if they were losing energy to gravitational waves. Scientists soon spoke not of the Weber problem, but of what equipment could possibly pick up the waves. “Now, although they have not yet seen, physicists believe,” Dietrick E. Thomsen wrote in Science News in 1984 (SN: 8/4/84, p. 76).

    It was a different detection strategy, decades in the making, that would provide the needed sensitivity. The Advanced Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, which reported the first confirmed gravitational waves in 2016, relies on two detectors, one in Hanford, Wash., and one in Livingston, La. Each detector splits the beam of a powerful laser in two, with each beam traveling down one of the detector’s two arms. In the absence of gravitational waves, the two beams recombine and cancel each other out. But if gravitational waves stretch one arm of the detector while squeezing the other, the laser light no longer matches up.

    MIT /Caltech Advanced aLigo .

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA.

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Hanford, WA, USA.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy.

    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy.

    The machines are an incredible feat of engineering. Even spacetime ripples detected from colliding black holes might stretch an arm of the LIGO detector by as little as one ten-thousandth of the width of a proton.

    When the first detection, from two colliding black holes, was announced, the discovery was heralded as the beginning of a new era in astronomy.

    Localizations of gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO in 2015 (GW150914, LVT151012, GW151226, GW170104), more recently, by the LIGO-Virgo network (GW170814, GW170817). After Virgo (IT) came online in August 2018.

    It was Science News’ story of the year in 2016, and such a big hit that the pioneers of the LIGO detector won the Nobel Prize in physics the following year.

    Scientists with LIGO and another gravitational wave detector, Virgo, based in Italy, have by now logged dozens more detections (SN: 1/30/21, p. 30). Most of the waves have emanated from mergers of black holes, though a few events have featured neutron stars. Smashups so far have revealed the previously unknown birthplaces of some heavy elements and pointed to a bright jet of charged subatomic particles that could offer clues to mysterious flashes of high-energy light known as gamma-ray bursts. The waves also have revealed that midsize black holes, between 100 and 100,000 times the sun’s mass, do in fact exist — along with reconfirming that Einstein was right, at least so far.

    Just five years in, some scientists are already eager for something even more exotic. In a Science News article about detecting black holes orbiting wormholes via gravitational waves, physicist Vítor Cardoso of Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal, suggested a coming shift to more unusual phenomena: “We need to look for strange but exciting signals,” he said (SN: 8/29/20, p. 12).

    Gravitational wave astronomy is truly only at its beginnings. Improved sensitivity at existing Earth-based detectors will turn up the volume on gravitational waves, allowing detections from less energetic and more distant sources. Future detectors, including the space-based LISA, planned for launch in the 2030s, will get around the troublesome noise that interferes when Earth’s surface shakes.

    “Perhaps the most exciting thing would be to observe a small black hole falling into a big black hole, an extreme mass ratio inspiraling,” Yunes says. In such an event, the small black hole would zoom back and forth, back and forth, swirling in different directions as it followed wildly eccentric orbits, perhaps for years. That could offer the ultimate test of Einstein’s equations, revealing whether we truly understand how spacetime is warped in the extreme.

    See the full article here .


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