Plus: New Evidence for the Possibility of Life on Mars and Fun Facts from Amazon’s Holiday Sales.
LHC Finds Hint of Higgs Boson
For the first time since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was opened beneath the Swiss-French countryside in 2009, new data show “intriguing hints” of the Higgs boson, according to news last month. If it pans out, the last missing piece in the Standard Model puzzle will be found.
“The two biggest experiments in the Large Hadron Collider, ATLAS and CMS, announced their data updates [on Dec. 13]. Both ATLAS and CMS have found a signal with relatively high significance suggesting that the Higgs boson is real and that it has a mass of roughly 135 times the mass of a proton (or, to you experts, approximately 125 GeV),” science and sci-fi blog io9 says. “This is a big deal because 1) The Higgs boson is the last undetected particle in the Standard Model of physics, and 2) The Higgs field is what gives other particles their mass.”
According to New Scientist, this is the first time both experiments have seen a signal at nearly the same mass.
The particle accelerator was built with the key goal of hunting down the Higgs boson. The machine operates by smashing beams of protons together in head-on collisions.
While CERN physicists say they have made significant progress in their search, the result does not provide definitive evidence for the long-sought particle.
“Although [last month's] news fresh from the LHC supercooled magnets isn’t confirmation about a Higgs boson discovery, it is an indication that this is the closest we’ve come in the search for the mysterious particle,” Discovery News explains. “And the endgame is nearing.
“The existence of the Higgs particle will either be confirmed or denied by the LHC in the next few months. 2012 will be the year when the final piece of the Standard Model puzzle slots into place,” Discovery News continues. “No more rumors, no more ‘tentative glimpses’; 2012 will answer the big question: Does the Higgs boson exist?”
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Credit: Wikimedia Commons
New Evidence for the Possibility of Life on Mars
Last month, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity found some of the best evidence yet that water flowed on the Red Planet. The rover, which landed on Mars with its twin Spirit nearly eight years ago, discovered a thin, bright mineral vein along the rim of a huge crater called Endeavour. This mineral is almost certainly gypsum that was deposited by liquid water billions of years ago, researchers said.
“This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,” according to Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity. “This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can’t be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It’s not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.”
(In August 2012, NASA’s Rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down on Mars’ surface in August 2012.)
Soon after the announcement that Mars was once a wet and likely temperate place, a study published in the scientific journal Astrobiology said the planet has even more habitable space than Earth.
Comparing models of temperature and pressure conditions on Earth with those on Mars, researchers from the Australian National University extrapolated how much of the distant planet was livable for Earth-like organisms, Agence France-Presse explains. Life occupies only 1 percent of Earth, if you consider the entire planet’s volume from core to upper atmosphere. Apparently 3 percent of Mars could be habitable, although most of it is underground.
Fun Facts from Amazon’s Holiday Sales
Amazon.com’s last “local express delivery” order shipped in time for Christmas went to Seattle, Wash. It was a Sony rechargeable battery pack that was ordered at 2:35 p.m. PST on Christmas Eve and arrived at 6:15 p.m. PST that same evening, according to the online retailer.
In its post-Christmas sales results (lots of Kindles sold!), Amazon reports some additional fun facts, including:
- Amazon.com customers purchased enough copies of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs book to create a stack taller than Mt. Everest;
- The cumulative weight of the Bowflex 552 Adjustable Dumbbells purchased by Amazon customers would outweigh more than 70 adult elephants;
- If you unfolded and stacked each pair of jeans bought on Amazon this holiday, the height would be 2,500 times taller than the Statue of Liberty; and
- Amazon customers purchased enough sweaters to outfit each of Santa’s reindeer during Christmas Eve deliveries for the next 14,000 years.
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