Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Catch-up Time: New Planets & Not-So-Fast Neutrinos

WOW. It's been almost 2 months since I've been here? Goes to show you how much time teaching takes out of your day... A few quick tidbits to catch up on recent sciency stuff:
1. It was the Cable Guy's Fault! CERN made a public announcement about a loose cable possibly being the culprit in the results that pointed to superluminal neutrinos last Fall. Seems a tech didn't attach an optic fiber cable to a computer securely. This computer was essential for interpreting time from a GPS system. Once that was found - coincidentally, not till AFTER they had run a 2nd testing and came up with the same results - it resulted in an additional 60μs; the exact amount of time the neutrinos had beaten light in a race through the earth... However, during the press conference I saw online at CERN.ch/, J Gillies said, and I seriously paraphrase here,
"The cable means the neutrinos got there later than we had originally measured. However, we found another problem with a synchronization of an extrapolated flux capacitor [my term since I don't know what the heck he actually said] that may indicate the neutrinos actually arrived sooner than we originally thought. So, what does this mean? Well, the neutrinos may have been slower than we said, the same speed as we said, or faster than we said..."
Yeah, thanks, Spanky. That really helps. Stay tuned. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. I personally think this is an International conspiracy to hide the discovery of the Higgs-Boson and his lesser known little brothers, the Higgs-Moron and Higgs-Peon...

2. Super-Earth found. NASA reported earlier this month of an earth-like planet orbiting one member of a three-star system nearby. Found by Kepler, the orbiting planet-finder telescope thingee, the cleverly named GJ 667Cc is only 22 light-years away (practically in our astronomical backyard if not on the back deck...), is 4 times bigger than earth, and is in the "Goldilocks Zone" of habitation; not too cold, not too hot, just right. Space.com reports there are now 1497 exoplanet candidates with 709 solidly confirmed.

3. And talking about planets, it seems the planet GJ 1214b, first discovered in 2009, is a "waterworld". New info from Hubble indicates this planet, only twice as large as earth, is a steamy watery world. Although this water may not be the type you could comfortably jump into and enjoy on a summer day... From ScienceNews.com:
“It’s an exciting thing that we don’t have in our solar system,” says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer who divides her time between Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge. “And it’s a fun puzzle trying to figure out what the atmosphere of that planet is really made of.”

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