Some Pre-Holiday International Congratulations

I’m still kind of exhausted from the effort (see yesterday’s post) of completing our survey of some of the many unexpected ways that the newly discovered Higgs particle might decay. But I would be remiss if, before heading off into the holiday break, I didn’t issue some well-deserved congratulations.

The Jade Rabbit rover on the surface of the Moon, 15 December. Credit:Xinhua

Congratulations, first, to China — to the scientists and engineers who’ve managed to put a lander and a rover on the Moon. If you think that’s easy… think again! And they succeeded on their first attempt, a real coup. Now let’s see what science they can do with it, exploring a region of the Moon that apparently may offer answers to important questions about the Moon’s history. Specifically, by accident or by design, the rover is going to be able to explore an area of considerable geological importance, involving one of the Moon’s giant lava flows, a relatively young one (1-2.5 billion years rather than 3 billion or more).

Soyuz VS06, with Gaia, lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana, on 19 December 2013. Copyright: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2013

Congratulations, next, to the scientists and engineers of the European Union, who’ve put a fantastic telescope into space, destined to orbit the sun. The Gaia mission is aimed at doing the extraordinary: mapping, with ultra-high precision, the locations and motions of no less than 1 billion stars within our galaxy — nearly 1% of the total number. The distance to each of these stars will be determined by parallax — looking at how the positions of stars wobble, from the perspective of the spacecraft as it orbits the sun — and the real motions of the stars will be determined by how they drift across the sky, and by the Doppler effect for light.  This wealth of information will help scientists figure out the shape and history of the galaxy to a degree never previously possible.  Meanwhile, Gaia will also be able to do a lot of other science, picking up distant supernovas outside our galaxy, nearby asteroids orbiting our sun, and signs of planets around other stars, as well as brown dwarfs (small failed stars) that may be floating around between the stars. Gaia can even check some aspects of Einstein’s theory of gravity! Read here about all the wonderful things this mission can do.

Congratulations also to the scientists and engineers in Iran, who’ve apparently moved their rocketry program, and its potential application to human space flight, among other things, another step forward. A second monkey has made the trip to the edge of space, a suborbital trip. (Did the first survive? it’s not clear, and admittedly Iran is known for photo-shopping reality into supporting the story it wants to tell. Not that it matters; it took the US several tries, back over 60 years ago, before a monkey survived the trip, and the survival rate continued to be poor for a while. )  Anyway, it puts Iran well on its way toward its goal of a human in space by 2018.

And finally, congratulations to my own country, the United States, for having passed a budget deal. Not out of the woods yet, but at least it was bipartisan, and we’re not yet talking about another damaging government shutdown, or worse, default. Politics isn’t rocket science. We’ll have to hope our politicians can learn something from China: that it’s good to find some common and worthy goals to work toward together, rather than to fight about absolutely everything and bring the nation’s operations to a halt.

36 responses to “Some Pre-Holiday International Congratulations

  1. The cynics amongst us might see the Chinese activity as early stage exploration for raw materials, but lets give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment

  2. It’s easy to get everyone to agree when disagreement means ending up like Bo Xi Lai.

  3. Dubravka Juraga

    Happy new year to you Matt, and thank you for the blog. I enjoy reading it.

  4. Congratulations China. It is not a wonder for a tradition, having the first rocket of mankind in its history. Same is fit for Persian culture and history – of the greater Indo-European people.

    Iran’s aerospace program is a source of “national” pride. It is also one of the pillars of its aspirations to be seen as the technological hub for Islamic and developing countries.-

    In 1980s war with Iraq, Iran obtained Scud missiles from Libya and North Korea, and later acquired rocket components and know-how from both North Korea and China.

    All the above three achievements dwarf the Religious Animals, has been the trend for past few centuries.
    We must thank God, for continuing this trend further – based on secularism and science.
    Happy holidays.

  5. “…is known for photo-shopping reality into supporting the story it wants to tell…”

    LOL. What amazes me about that kind of thing is that they think they can get away with it.

  6. So it appears the U.S. comes third in approbation, after China and Iran. Oh wait, we only got credit for passing a budget deal, not science or anything else. I guess Matt’s just being an objective scientist.

  7. In December a USA mission left for Mars, Maven. Europe launched no less than two major scientific missions with a total of four satelites, including one, the double telescope Gaia, built with a new material, silicon carbide, ten meters across (the machine, not the telescope), with the world first billion pixel camera chip (that will operate at minus 110 Celsius).

    Gaiai left from French Guyana, about the last pristine equatorial forest, on the Russian workhorse rocket, Soyuz, and will travel to the Lagrange point L2, at 1.5 million kilometers. Meanwhile Jade Rabbit, a Chinese robot, realized the first soft landing on the Moon in 37 years. And two USA astronauts, including a colonel, embarked on a series of spacewalks to repair the International Space Station, a place full of technological challenges.

    More deeply, a German team announced that it had achieved NON DESTRUCTIVE photon detection (that will open plenty of possibilities, some very practical, other very esoteric).
    This is how to make a better world: by achieving better, deeper understanding, not just by plotting, spying, cheating and stealing from others

  8. Non destructive photon detection: The light source in a Young’s slit experiment can be turned down to the point where it consists of individual photons going through the experiment, one after the other.
    If the spots of light made by individual photons arriving at the second screen (actually a photoelectric detector) are added together, they still form an interference pattern, as if each photon goes through both holes and interferes with itself on the way through the experiment. One hole is reflective, another went through is, as usual detected and destroyed. ?

    They chose rubidium because it can take on two distinct identities, which are determined by the arrangement of its electrons. In one state, it’s a 100 percent effective sentry, preventing photons from entering the cavity. In the other, it’s a totally useless lookout, allowing photons to enter the cavity. ?

    Feynman said, “nobody understands quantum mechanics” ?

    • Actually, how hard it is to set up slits so that edges of each slit are capable of sense/measure e.g. passing by electron? Passing by electron effects *more* atoms on edges of the slit it went through compared to the other slit?

      • Conventionally, the answer is no, because one lights up electrons with photons, and that destroys the interference pattern, as the Copenhagen School loved to insist. However completely new techniques using passively trapped atoms transitioning between states, as just done with individual photons, may bring unexpected results, I may venture to say. Who knows? And if not, that, in itself, is an important information.

        • My idea is that no photons are used for the measurement. Just sensing the changes in atoms on the slit edges when electrons passes by.

          • That’s what I alluded to, but I am far from feeling that the answer is clear. The situation could be very different from photon-non-destructed-yet-detected. At least in my vision of things.

    • The 2-slit has been run from separate lasers, one per slit, one photon at a time. That proves Dirac wrong (actually any beat on the radio does). At first sight that tends to show the picture of fields as most fundamental correct. But only at first sight.

      • /That proves wrong (actually any beat on the radio does) – The resonance state of one of the superposed state experience a phase shift by incoming photon is a *field* issue?
        The lack of rest mass within spacetime realm make the photon non-algorothmic. If it get the restmass, it makes “spacetime whirlpool” ?
        It also might lead to loopholes in quantum encryption techniques that rely on photon destruction.

    • Veeramohan: It’s precisely because nobody understands Quantum Mechanics, that we should keep on trying. Most probably we did not ask the right question to allow us to understand.

      • Mr Patrice Ayme, very nice of you,
        we ride on two horse(s?). Here is the need for extra dimension ?
        Water wave and ripple or field wave and ripple – I mean there is spacetime ?
        If the mirror image is replicated at plancks scale, we may get teleportation -but the high frequency (energy) lights up our real image may cause “spacetime whirlpool” and disappear into extra dimension ?

        The plancks constant h is the minimum amount of energy required to form an EM field (a quantum or photon). If this energy (photon) is spent it is destroyed.
        In the above experiment, the trick was manipulating the rubidium so that it was in a so-called quantum superposition of these two states, allowing one atom to be an overachiever and a slacker at the same time. Consequently, each incoming photon took multiple paths simultaneously, both slipping into the cavity undetected and being stopped at the door and reflected away. Each time the attentive state of the rubidium turned away a photon, a measurable property of the atom called its phase changed. If the phases of the two states of the rubidium atom differed, the researchers knew that the atom had encountered a photon.

        Even after doing some work, if that photon remains intact, then the uncertainty of “h” confuse here ?

        • veeramohan: I’m not sure I understand all what you say. A few points: the energy of a photon can approach zero, if so does its frequency, of course. You point at something I do not understand myself (sort of): how can a photon induce a change (even a phase change) without… changing? At first sight that seems to violate (however slightly) conservation of energy.

          • Yes Mr Patrice, only the mass energy become zero, vacuum energy starts prominance – because something is starts missing at this event horizon ?

  9. I’m very happy to read that Gaia had a successful launch and is now well on its way. Gaia is going to be an exciting experiment to follow.

    Congratulations for the completed survey, Prof. Strassler, and thank you for a year of very interesting blog posts! Merry Christmas!

  10. Talking of photons, are these two equations equivalent E=(nh)f and E=h(nf). If so then the implication is that the same amount of EM energy can be transfered either by a) low frequency but large EM field perturbation radius or b) by high frequency but small field perturbation radius.It may seem straight forward but has huge implications when applied to gravity waves as it leads directly to gravitons

  11. Why is the Chinese landing a ‘a real coup’? The U.S. succeeded in their first attempt at a lunar soft landing also, with Surveyor 1. The Soviets only on their 9th attempt and the Soviets never succeeded with Mars. I guess for a communist country it is a coup.

  12. “If the distance between the atom and the mirror is very small, it is physically impossible to distinguish between these two paths,” .

    “The fascinating thing about this experiment”, the scientists say, “is the possibility of creating a quantum superposition state, using only a mirror, without any external fields.” In a very simple and natural way the distinction between the particle and its mirror image becomes blurred, without complicated operations carried out by the experimenter.

  13. Marshall Eubanks

    Congratulations to you for getting quoted in Nature :

    “I doubt we’ve thought through all the interesting possibilities,” says theorist Matt Strassler, a visiting physicist at Harvard University. “We may get lucky” and find the answer soon, he says, “or this may drag on for 100 years or more.”

  14. In 2012, researchers claimed to have identified the path each particle had taken without any adverse effects at all on the interference pattern generated by the particles. In order to do this, they used a setup such that particles coming to the screen were not from a point-like source, but from a source with two intensity maxima ?

    The predominant interaction of a gamma ray of energy greater than 10 MeV, as it enters the earth’s atmosphere, is pair production. The probability of pair production in photon-matter interactions increases with increasing photon energy.

    /”I would be horrifically disappointed if we didn’t discover dark matter,” Rosenberg says. “It is within our grasp, and I really want to know what it is.”/

    In a region of strong gravitational tidal forces, the two particles in a pair may sometimes be wrenched apart before they have a chance to mutually annihilate. When this happens in the region around a black hole, one particle may escape while its antiparticle partner is captured by the black hole.

    Creation of relativistic bremsstrahlung and keeping the physical reality of uncertainty principle (quantum mechanical symmetry?) together, may cause the high energy photons to manifest Dark matter ?

  15. My congrats too go the various countries for further extending the frontiers of science. Particular outstanding was the last one about US. It touched me to the core. My own country Ghana bleeds because of petty partisan politics. What a day it would be when politics from different parties would push together for national good in Ghana!

  16. Markus Harder

    Congratulations also to the scientists and engineers of Peru, who got the first Peruvian satellite named UAP-SAT-1 successfully into orbit on January 9, 2014. The purpose of this satellite is climate-related research, in particular meteorology. The launch vehicle was an Antares rocket provided by NASA, but the satellite itself was built in and is operated from Peru.

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