News Round-up: Higgs (probably), Dark Matter’s skeleton, Private Asteroid Detective, TV-Powered GPS, Libel Dismissed

Higgs boson found … probably

Image: CERN

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva have announced the discovery of a new elementary particle consistent with the Higgs boson. The announcement, given to a packed auditorium at CERN and broadcast live over the Internet, was met with standing ovations from scientists across the world.

Although the discovery has a confidence level of 5 sigma – meaning that there’s only a 0.00003% chance that the bump in the data is a statistical fluke – not enough is known yet to confirm that the particle is, in fact, the Higgs, or if it has the properties we expect. However, researchers are confident that its discovery will be confirmed within the year.

The so-called ‘God particle’ is a by-product of our Standard Model of physics – it is what gives other particles mass. Similar to how photons make up an electromagnetic field, Higgs bosons are thought to form a Higgs field that extends throughout the universe. When other particles interact with this Higgs field, they acquire mass, and the stronger the interaction, the more massive the particle.

Dark matter’s skeleton observed

Image: University of Michigan/University Observatory Munich

For the first time, cosmologists have detected the filaments of dark matter that run throughout the universe. Jörg Dietrich, at the University Observatory Munich, and colleagues from the USA and Europe, looked at two neighbouring galaxies – Abell 222 and 223 – and found that light from distant stars was being distorted by passing between them. General relativity tells us that something with a large mass can affect the path of light, but only 20% of the necessary mass was accounted for by observable gases and stars. The rest, says Dietrich, is dark matter – a substance that makes up almost 80% of the mass of the universe, but gives off no light or radiation.

If true, this would be strong evidence to support our current cosmological models, which suggest that filaments of dark matter stretch across the universe like a web; where two strands meet, the resultant mass draws in ordinary matter, forming galaxies. While dark matter has previously been detected in clouds ejected from colliding galaxies, this is the first time the thinner strands between them have been detected.

Private asteroid hunter proposed

Image: B612 Foundation

Following in the footsteps of Space X, which last month sent the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, a non-profit organisation is proposing to build a privately-funded space telescope to monitor the skies for dangerous asteroids.

The B612 Foundation – named after the asteroid that was home to The Little Prince – aims to launch its Sentinel telescope in 2017, to orbit the Sun at the same distance as Venus, and face out towards the Earth. Infrared cameras will photograph the sky roughly four times a month, and examine the results for any moving objects. The foundation hopes to find more asteroids in its first month than all previous efforts combined – current estimates put this figure at just 1 percent of all asteroids large enough to cause severe damage to Earth.

Its announcement comes as the Siding Spring Survey – the only project to monitor the southern skies for Earth-bound asteroids – has confirmed a lack of funding means it will be unable to continue its task beyond July.

NAVSOP – GPS that runs off TV signals?

Image: BAE Systems

As anyone who has tried to get a GPS fix indoors knows, GPS signals are weak. Unsurprising, as the satellites that broadcast the signal orbit at an altitude of around 20,200 km (12,500 miles). As a result, BAE Systems has proposed a supplementary technology that can operate when GPS is unavailable, called Navigation via Signals of Opportunity (NAVSOP).

NAVSOP works by monitoring the airwaves for TV, radio, mobile phone and even Wi-Fi signals, all of which operate at standardised strengths and frequencies. From this, the system can calculate its position even if GPS is too weak – or jammed. Since these broadcasting units are already in place, the system also has a significant cost advantage, and the company claims that NAVSOP chips could be integrated into current GPS devices. However, in sparsely populated areas, or during a widespread powercut, the system would be less successful – hence why BAE has proposed this as a complement to GPS rather than a replacement.

Nature wins libel case

Image: flickr | Sense About Science

An Egyptian physicist who attempted to sue the journal Nature after it published an article critical of his work, has had his case thrown out of court.

Mohamed El Naschie, founder and former editor of the journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, was the subject of a news story in the November 2008 edition of Nature after it emerged that in one year, he penned almost 60 papers for his own journal. The article quoted scientists who criticised the quality of his work, and stated that the peer-review system for the journal was either very poor, or non-existent. It also showed that a number of his credentials – such as a supposed fellowship of the Institute of Physics at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt – were false or unverifiable.

El Naschie subsequently attempted to sue the publishers of Nature for libel, but this week’s ruling by Mrs Justice Sharp dismissed his claim, instead praising the article as responsible and honest journalism. Sense About Science, a group campaigning for libel reform, welcomed the result but warned that the ‘win’ for Nature took three years and cost an undisclosed amount in legal fees – a situation they claim would leave less wealthy defendants with no option but to settle.

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One thought on “News Round-up: Higgs (probably), Dark Matter’s skeleton, Private Asteroid Detective, TV-Powered GPS, Libel Dismissed

  1. Great selection of stories here! The libel case is particularly interesting as it’s been going on for AGES. Good news round up, Conor! 🙂

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