I was sent or came across a few interesting links that relate to things covered on this blog and/or of general scientific interest.
It was announced yesterday that the European Physical Society 2013 High Energy Physics Prize was awarded to the collaboration of experimental physicists that operate the ATLAS and CMS experiments that discovered a type of Higgs particle, with special mention to Michel Della Negra, Peter Jenni, and Tejinder Virdee, for their pioneering role in the development of ATLAS and CMS. Jenni and Virdee are both at the LHCP conference in Barcelona, which I’m also attending, and it has been a great pleasure for all of us here to be able to congratulate them in person .
One thing that came up a couple of times regarding weather forecasting (for instance, in forecasting the path of Hurricane Sandy) is that the European weather forecasters are doing a much better job of predicting storms a week in advance than U.S. forecasters are. And I was surprised to learn that one of the the main reasons is simple: U.S. forecasters have less computing power than their European counterparts, which sounds (and is) ridiculous. The new director of the U.S. National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini, has been successful in his goal of improving this situation, as reported here. [Thanks to two readers for pointing me to this article.]
One of the possible interpretations of the new class of high-energy neutrinos reported by IceCube (see yesterday’s post) is that they come from the slow decay of a small fraction of the universe’s dark matter particles, assuming those particles have a mass of a couple of million GeV/c². [That’s much heavier than the types of dark matter particles that most people are currently looking for, in searches that I discussed in a recent article.] I didn’t immediately mention this possibility (which is rather obvious to an expert) because I wanted a couple of days to think about it before generating a stampede or press articles. But, not surprisingly, people who were paying more attention to what IceCube has been up to had recently written a paper on this subject. [Here’s an older, related paper, but at much lower energy; maybe there are other similar papers that I don’t know about?] At the time these authors wrote this paper, only the two highest energy neutrinos — which have energies that, within the uncertainties of the measurements, might be equal (see Figure 2 of yesterday’s post) — were publicly known. In their paper, they predicted that (just as any expert would guess) in addition to a spike of neutrinos, all at about 1.1 million GeV, one would also find a population of lower-energy neutrinos, similar to those new neutrinos that IceCube has just announced. So yes, among many possibilities, it appears that it is possible that the new neutrinos are from decaying dark matter. If more data reveals that there really is a spike of neutrinos with energy around 1.1 million GeV, and the currently-observed gap between the million-GeV neutrinos and the lower-energy ones barely fills in at all, then this will be extremely strong evidence in favor of this idea… though it will be another few years before the evidence could become convincing. Conversely, if IceCube observes any neutrinos near but significantly above 1.1 million GeV, that would show there isn’t really a spike, disfavoring this particular version of the idea.
Regarding yesterday’s post, it was pointed out to me that when I wrote “The only previous example of neutrinos being used in astrophysics occurred with the discovery of neutrinos from the relatively nearby supernova, visible with the naked eye, that occurred in 1987,” I should also have noted that neutrinos were and are used to understand the interior of the sun (and vice versa). And you could even perhaps say that atmospheric neutrinos have been used to understand cosmic rays (and vice versa.)
In sad news, in the “all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end” category, the Kepler spacecraft, which has brought us an unprecedented slew of discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, may have reached the end of the line (see for example here), at least as far as its main goals. It’s been known for some time that its ability to orient itself precisely was in increasing peril, and it appears that it has now been lost. Though this has occurred earlier than hoped, Kepler survived longer than its core mission was scheduled to do, and its pioneering achievements, in convincing scientists that small rocky planets not unlike our own are very common, will remain in the history books forever. Simultaneous congratulations and condolences to the Kepler team, and good luck in getting as much as possible out of a more limited Kepler.