Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spectacular new NASA video shows Curiosity Mars rover's daring touchdown (+video)

Shot by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's descent camera, a new HD video released by NASA show's the craft's harrowing plunge through the Red Planet's thin atmosphere.

A spectacular new video shows the Mars rover Curiosity's harrowing Red Planet landing in sharp detail, while another captures the drama and excitement surrounding the historic Aug. 5 event.

The first video — taken by Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager camera, or MARDI — gives a rover's-eye view of the daring touchdown. NASA released a low-resolution version of this one just hours after the rover's landing; at the time, MARDI principal investigator Mike Malin promised the full-frame video would be "exquisite."

And indeed it is.

RELATED: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz!

The high-definition video chronicles the final 2.5 minutes of Curiosity's 7-minute plunge through the Martian atmosphere in real time, starting just after the rover jettisoned its heat shield. The first few seconds show the heat shield falling away toward the red dirt ofGale Crater far below. [Video: Curiosity's Landing in High Resolution]

Other milestones follow, such as parachute deploy and ignition of the engines on Curiosity's "sky crane" descent stage, which lowered the 1-ton rover to the Martian surface on cables. Audio from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., plays over the video, describing the nail-biting action. 

As Curiosity nears the Martian surface, huge dust clouds billow around the $2.5 billion robot, kicked up by the sky crane's rockets. Then the view clears to show a close-up, static shot of scattered pebbles.

"Touchdown confirmed! We're safe on Mars!" Curiosity entry, descent and landing operations lead Al Chen announces, and deafening cheers erupt in the control room.

The second NASA video documents similar emotional outbursts from the crowds of onlookers that gathered at various places around the country to watch the Mars rover landing.

Over the course of 3.5 minutes, the scene shifts from mission control at JPL to other NASA sites, such as Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The video also captures the atmosphere at New York City's Times Square, The Planetary Society's Planetfest 2012 event in Pasadena and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, among other places.

When Chen confirms the successful touchdown, these audiences cheer and clap wildly as well, showing how Curiosity's bold and unprecedented landing attempt had riveted millions of people around the country.

"Wow! This brings out the best in us!" Planetary Society CEO (and former TV "Science Guy") Bill Nye exclaimed at Planetfest, to deafening and sustained applause.

The good news has continued after landing for Curiosity, whose main task is to investigate whether Mars could ever have supported microbial life. While scientists are still checking out the rover and its 10 science instruments, everything is working well so far.

Curiosity has already snapped thousands of photos, taken a variety of science measurements and gone on a short test drive on the floor of Gale Crater. The rover could be ready to make its first big move — toward a science target researchers have dubbed Glenelg — within the next week or so, team members have said.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What’s Next After the Higgs?

Michio Kaku on July 30, 2012, 4:52 PM

Earth and Beyond


The discovery of the Higgs boson was a real milestone for physics, a tremendous vindication of the hard work of thousands of physicists and engineers for the past 30 years.
But this is just the beginning. The recent Higgs boson is just the first of a series of new forms of matter and energy. The Higgs boson will probably get a Nobel prize for Prof. Peter Higgs and colleagues, but a shelf of Nobel Prizes awaits the physicists who can decipher the next generation of particles.
The Higgs boson was the last missing particle in the current Standard Model of particles, which describes just 4% of the known universe, and contains electrons, neutrinos, quarks, etc.
But 23% of the universe is made of Dark Matter, and 73% is made of Dark Energy, and we physicists are clueless to understand what they are. So most of the universe, 96% in fact, is beyond our present day understanding. (So all high school textbooks which say that the universe is mainly made of atoms are wrong and have to be revised.)
To understand the big picture of where all this fits in, recall that there are 4 fundamental forces which rule the universe:
gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force.
We physicists believe that, at the instant of Genesis, all four forces were probably unified into a single Superforce, which was highly symmetrical and beautiful. (The leading candidate for the Superforce is String Theory, which is what I do for a living. That is my day job).
All particles had the same mass (zero) and were manifestations of a single object, the Superforce, at the beginning of time, before the big bang. Think of it as a perfect crystal, gorgeous in its symmetry and beauty, but it had a flaw. It was unstable, and shattered into 4 pieces.
The universe today is highly unsymmetrical. We have rocks, planets, asteroids, comets, etc. Something must have shattered the original symmetry of the Superforce. We think the thing which shattered the symmetry of the Superforce was a series of Higgs bosons.
The first Higgs boson is called the inflaton, and we think set the big bang into motion. It put the “bang” in the big bang. (The press calls the Higgs boson the God particle, which makes physicists cringe. But there is some truth there. In the Bible, God set the universe into motion. Physicists believe the universe was created by a big bang 13.7 billion years ago. But what set the expanding universe into motion? We think it was a Higgs-like boson.)
We think that a particle like the “inflaton” shattered the original symmetry, so the Superforce broke into two pieces, gravity, and the grand unified theory (GUT), the later which contains all the matter in the universe.
i.e. Superforce  ->  Gravity + GUT
Later, another Higgs boson shattered the symmetry of the GUT, and we have the the GUT breaking into the strong and electro-weak force:
i.e. GUT -> Strong + Electro-weak force
Finally, we have the last Higgs particle (the one just found last month) which breaks the electro-weak force into the usual electromagnetic and weak nuclear force:
Electro-weak force -> Electromagnetism + Weak Force
So the Higgs just discovered is the latest in a series of Higgs boson, each of which breaks the original symmetry of the Superforce into the highly broken universe of today.
The leading candidate for the Superforce is String Theory, which is yet unproven. But the Large Hadron Collider might be powerful enough to create Dark Matter, a new form of invisible matter. So far, the leading candidate for Dark Matter is the sparticle, or super particle, which is a higher resonance of the string.
So in this picture, the Standard Model and Einstein’s theory of gravity is just the lowest octave of the string. But the string has higher notes or resonances, and we string theorists believe that Dark Matter is just a higher musical note of the string.
In conclusion, the Higgs boson is just the first of a series of new particles. One class of Higgs bosons, for example, was the match or spark which set off the big bang. So all of us, in some sense, are byproducts of this Higgs boson.
Next, we hope to find evidence of Dark Matter with the Large Hadron Collider, which may be a higher resonance of the string. And beyond that, we hope to find evidence of parallel universes and higher dimensions predicted by string theory.
So the adventure is just beginning. One day, we may find the Superforce, and perhaps fulfill Einstein’s dream of a theory of everything, which will allow us to “read the Mind of God,” as Einstein so eloquently wrote.
String theory, in fact, is the only theory which can give us a candidate for the mind of God. If string theory is correct, then the mind of God is cosmic music resonating in 11 dimensional hyperspace.

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