June 22, 2012

Big science summer coming

Mars Science Laboratory
It looks like we're about to receive major news from the particle physics community. They've been looking for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider for some time (and at other colliders) and the rumor mill says they've found it.

It's pretty cool. The basic idea is that all things have mass only because of their reaction with the Higgs field. Higgs bosons are literally everywhere, at every point in space. Some things pass right through the field, as if nothing's there. Like neutrinos. For this reason, they have no mass. Zillions of neutrinos shoot through the Earth all the time, as if it isn't there. But some stuff gets caught by the Higgs field, as if it's passing through glue. It slows those particles down, and we see this as mass. The more interaction you have with the Higgs field, the greater the mass.

For quite some time, physicists have assumed that this particle exists. It's literally built into the Standard Model, the physics set-up as we know it. So if it wasn't there, we'd be in for some turbulent times in the physics community. They'd have to find another answer to the question, "Why does anything have mass?" That's one of the reasons why this upcoming announcement is very exciting.

Add to this the late summer landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, the coolest rover we've ever sent to a planet, and you've got one huge science summer. According to Wikipedia, the MSL:
is scheduled to land in Gale Crater at about 05:31 UTC on August 6, 2012. The rover's objectives include searching for past or present life, studying the Martian climate, studying Martian geology, and collecting data for a future manned mission to Mars.
Mark that date on your calendar. I am really looking forward to this landing. It'll be dicey, relying on a complicated technique we've never tried before. I'm going to be a nervous wreck by the time it's safely on the surface of Mars. (Let us hope.)

Exciting science is on the way. Woot!

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