Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Small Step

In the late evening hours of July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people watched in rapt attention the grainy black-and-white footage of Neil Armstrong as he exited the lunar module Eagle and became the first man to set foot on the moon. As he did, he uttered the now-famous line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That step culminated an eight-year project to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s goal of beating the Soviet Union to the moon. It took more than 400,000 scientists, engineers and technicians and about $100 billion in today’s currency to achieve.

Innovations that developed as a result of space technology number in the hundreds of thousands. Among these are cordless tools, memory foam, medical imaging, material used in sports dome covers, electronic devices and scratch-proof lenses.

For years it was speculated that Apollo 11’s trip to the moon would result in the establishment of a moon base and then interplanetary travel. But NASA bogged down on the construction of the International Space Station (the roots of which began in 1972) and the Space Shuttle program. Now NASA doesn’t even have a craft capable of putting a man in orbit.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tringl fm Harry Irons Trilogy

Thanks to Roger fm California for the fan pic!

Bonus pic of beetle fm Stolen Worlds

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Higgs Boson and Harry Irons

Perhaps you’ve heard news of something called the Higgs boson lately. The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle theorized to exist by Peter Higgs, a British theoretical physicist and professor at the University of Edinburgh. Higgs is best known for his proposal of broken symmetry in electroweak theory, which explains the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and of the W and Z bosons in particular. The “Higgs mechanism” predicts the existence of a new particle, called the Higg’s boson.

CERN announced on 4 July 2012 that they had experimentally established the existence of a Higgs-like boson, but further work is needed to see if it has the properties expected from the Standard Model Higgs boson. Physicists now generally agree that it is the Higgs mechanism which lends mass to everything.

The rules of the Standard Model require all elementary particles to be massless, which would make it impossible for the particles to form bound states like atoms do. In 1964, three groups of physicists released papers describing how masses could be given to particles using approaches known as symmetry breaking. Symmetry breaking allows particles to obtain mass without breaking the rules for other parts of particle physics theory. The theory became known as the Higgs Mechanism and was confirmed by experiments.

The theory goes like this: if a particular kind of "field" (let’s call it, the Higgs Field) happened to permeate space everywhere, and it could interact with fundamental particles in a particular way, then it would give rise to a Higgs Mechanism in nature which would be the mechanism for the creation of what we call "mass" (for you remedialists out there, remember, mass and weight are distinctly different). In the 1960s and 70s the Standard Model of physics was developed and it included a prediction and requirement that for these things to be true, there had to be an undiscovered boson - one of the fundamental particles - as the counterpart of this field. This would be the Higgs boson. If the Higgs boson were proven to exist as the Standard Model suggested, then it would appear that the Standard Model was fundamentally correct.

Finding the proof for the existence of the Higgs boson has been difficult. The Higgs boson exists only for a fraction of a second, so detection is made by identifying the results of its decay. Compared to other fundamental particles, the Higgs boson requires more energy to create, and so it requires a massive particle accelerator to create collisions energetic enough to create it. Think CERN, the world’s largest hadron collider.

In 2008, the Large Hadron Collider ("LHC") came online and made it possible to conduct the required experiments in the search for the Higgs’ boson. Finally, in late 2011, data from two of the LHC's experiments independently suggested detection of a Higgs boson at around 125 GeV (the unit of particle mass). The next July, 2012, CERN announced that a boson had been formally discovered at that energy level which was consistent with the detection of a Higgs boson.

Testing will continue and more details will be derived from the study of the Higgs boson and the Higgs Field. The nature of what may be revealed could, and most likely will, lead to extraordinary new technologies and a blending of current technologies. Associated fields like symmetry breaking and superconductors could also open up broad avenues for astounding new technologies.

What sort of technologies? Anti-gravity, for one. If an object’s mass could be set to zero, then it might theoretically fly. Think of the savings on shipping costs from Amazon.

Another technology? Amorphous shape-shifting. Turn the exterior of anything you want into whatever you want. Women would love a make-up base made of this stuff.

Whatever practical uses may fall out of the analyses of the Higgs boson, the knowledge that this piece of the Standard Model puzzle is correct is important for the advancement of the human spirit. If one does not believe in God, I should think it would give some reassurance to that individual that the universe is complete, without question; while to the faithful, the correctness of the Standard Model can only further reveal the glory of God. Everyone wins.

Of course, it’s never that easy. In the Harry Irons Trilogy, written by yours truly, specifically in Minerva’s Soul and my new sequel to the series, Among The Stars, I write about tapping into the power of the Higgs Field and the unforeseen consequences that could result. Look for Among The Stars by Thomas C. Stone soon at your favorite online ebook outlet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day 2012

Independence Day is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the announced separation of the British Empire's New World Colonies in America by the adoption of a document Americans call the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Naturally, this action occurred prior to the revolutionary war with Great Britain back when honest men announced their intentions as the colonists did. In turn and predictably, those honest men, those revolutionaries, were denounced as traitors by the British government. It was a fair assessment and one the founding fathers had gravely considered while sharing their vision for a form of government that would allow free men to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. 

Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and patriotic speeches, in addition to other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States.

Over time and through the vagaries of public opinion molded by political propaganda as well as the  revisionism of new administrations, many modern Americans fail to understand the significance of what these "old white guys" did for the transcendent value of human liberty as well as for the role of government in the lives of free citizens. The new republic was intended to advance social harmony, which until then, other forms of government such as a monarchy, or an aristocracy did not.

In regard to the British authorities, Thomas Jefferson said, “We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations.” Jefferson justified separation from Britain as much on the basis of its moral abandonment of the colonies as of an unjustifiable use of power. When a people were treated thoughtlessly and callously, when their rulers failed to show genuine concern for their happiness, subjecting them to “injuries and usurpations,” they, as an abused people, had every right to protest loudly and even rebel, so as to obtain “new guards for their future security.”

There is a dimension to that viewpoint which connotes fairness, justice, magnanimity – which would sound more like a progressive media sound bite if the notion of the free individual is not kept in the foreground. Freedom should trump, not a desire for fairness, or misguided notions of enforced correctness. The moral impetus is inherent in the language of the Declaration of Independence, but the prime intent in the formation of our constitution and government was the preservation of freedom for individuals. By the way, the term 'freedom' is explicitly used to differentiate what are currently called 'rights'. The truth is, if you were a 'free' individual, the concept of 'rights' would not exist. Conversely, if you believe you have rights, then you cannot be a free individual because the act of delineating what an individual may or may not do draws a line and limits freedom. Think of it this way: God gives freedom but only the government can give you 'rights'.

Some of the same, basic questions that were asked in 1776 are being asked today. Such as, how far should government go to provide comfort? What should it not do? When does magnanimity become too much government? Yet, still the government grows in power unabated at the expense of extremely important notions of freedom and liberty for the individual. Maybe the focus of this particular national holiday should be the intention of the founders, that is, the preservation of freedom for the individual in North America and how that idea has been narrowed down to a set of defined rights.

Have a happy holiday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Space-time and the Expanding Universe

Spacetime is a four-dimensional coordinate system containing three spatial dimensions and one time dimension that is an essential element in Einstein's theory of relativity -- you know, that genius mathemetician that described to the rest of us how the universe works.

The concept of a spacetime coordinate system was introduced in 1907, two years after Einstein originally proposed the theory of special relativity which describes 'special' circumstances in the greater theory. Hermann Minkowski, a former professor of Einstein, presented the idea of this spacetime coordinate system. The ideas were inherent in Einstein's version of the theory, but he hadn't thought of it that way. In a 1908 talk called "Space and Time," Minkowski elaborated on these concepts and they began to gain popularity among the general public.

In modern cosmology, it's possible for spacetime to expand. Einstein noticed this in his original equations for general relativity, but thought that expanding space made no sense, so he put in a correction called the cosmological constant. Years later, Edwin Hubble discovered that space was indeed actually expanding. The modern theory of inflation actually indicates that space was once accelerating faster than the speed of light. To be clear, nothing in space can move faster than the speed of light, however space itself can move faster. I'll give you a minute to get your mind around that.

The cosmological constant is a constant term in field equations of general relativity, represented by the Greek symbol Lambda (uppercase Λ, lowercase λ; Greek: Λάμβδα or Λάμδα, lamda or lamtha is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet.), which allows for a static universe. Later evidence supported the fact that the universe was indeed expanding and the cosmological constant was believed to be zero. Evidence in the late 1990s has begun supporting the idea that the universe is not only expanding, but that the expansion rate is actually accelerating due to the presence of dark energy.

When Albert Einstein developed his theory of general relativity, he realized that they implied an unstable equilibrium position. Any slight unevenness would cause spacetime to expand or contract. He had the philosophical belief (as did most physicists of the time) in a static universe, so he added a constant term which was allowed (but not required) onto the end of his equation when he published the theory in 1916.

In 1929, however, the astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered evidence that distant galaxies were receding from our own galaxy. Though Einstein's model, with the cosmological constant, other models by Alexander Friedmann and Willem de Sitter (which didn't include the cosmological constant) had predicted such an expansion quite clearly. Einstein quickly accepted the new evidence and told physicist George Gamow that the cosmological constant idea was the "biggest blunder" of his life.

In 1998, two different teams of researchers discovered evidence that the universe's expansion was actually speeding up. This meant that the cosmological constant wasn't just zero, as expected, but had to have a very slight positive value. The theory that has grown up around this positive cosmological constant is the theory of dark energy.