Saturday, September 24, 2011

UARS and Neutrinos

Two pieces of science related news drew my attention this week.

UARS - the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, fell to earth last night or early this morning, but space agency still don't know where it falls yet.

According to USA Today report, the satellite was used to measure ozone and chemical compounds in the ozone layer. The satellite's mission was to last 3 years, but NASA decommissioned it nearly 14 years later. The satellite ran out of fuel and died in 2005. This caused the uncontrollable reentry of the large size space debris, and some uneasiness.

I am curious about how "NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth would get hurt at 1-in-3,200". I do, however, have a more concrete understanding that the sky beyond our view is full of man-made space junk. Disaster can descend from "heaven".

The bigger news was from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (abbreviation per french), the famed nuclear physics laboratory. CERN announced last Friday that they found out through their experiment that neutrinos runs just a little bit faster than speed of light!! This potentially can be a serious challenge to Einstein's theory of relativity.

I was very interested at the subject and read a little bit more about it.

" A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting subatomic particle, meaning "small neutral one", it is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electrons, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. Because neutrinos are electrically neutral, they are not affected by the electromagnetic field which act on electrons. Neutrinos are affected only by the weak sub atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances within matter without being affected by it. Neutrinos also interact gravitationally with other particles."

Since CERN announced the finding through media hoopla, it seems to me CERN is more interested in media attention than scientific discovery. They should have gone through regular peer review, let outside experts check their work.

Early AP news was "particle might travel faster than light, Einstein could be wrong". After the hoopla, the media was calmer, and now headline read "Challenging Einstein usually a losing venture"!!

Even if the observation was confirmed, it would not invalidate relativity, it would just expose its limitations. This just like Newton mechanics which was pronounced wrong by media when relativity was established. In fact Newton Mechanics is still the very theoretical foundation of our civilization; it just has limitations.

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