After a much-prolonged absence, I would like to reintroduce readers to the Spacetime Report, which brings you the latest astronomy, cosmology and physics news and oddities.
Let’s start with something pretty. Be sure to play the following video back in 720p and make it full-screen. This array of radio telescopes is located on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile. The stars you see rolling by are therefore southern hemisphere stars, so you Contrarian readers below the equator might recognize some constellations floating by. The lovely Milky Way is recognizable from anywhere.
John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, warns that in the time since we humans have become reliant upon advanced technology (communications satellites, GPS, smart-grid electrical systems, etc.) we’ve been unusually lucky where space weather is concerned. Things have been mostly quiet and non-disruptive. But these technologies are all quite fragile where solar wind is concerned. The biggest “solar storm” on record was in 1859, before we were so dependent on electronic technology. Another event like that could trigger a “global Katrina,” Beddington warns:
“GPS is a critical part of almost everything we do,” said Thomas Bogdan, director of the Space Weather Prediction Centre in Colorado. “The ubiquitous need for an uninterrupted power supply, satellite-delivered services – every time you go to a gas station and purchase a gallon of gas with your credit card, that’s a satellite transaction taking place – and, of course, aviation and communications. We have made our lives increasingly dependent on these things, but each of them carries vulnerabilities to space weather with them.”
Around 10-20 minutes after the initial flare would come a burst of energetic protons. “Now at risk would be satellites at geostationary orbit – if they do not have sufficient shielding around their sensitive electronics, they could be subject to problems with the internal computational activities,” said Bogdan.
Pop quiz: What do you get when you mix Alien, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity, give the film the title of a They Might Be Giants album and set it on the Moon?
Okay, smarty pants. What happens when you stick your head into an operating particle accelerator? Well, nothing good, but the one guy who did it (back in 1978) lived. He’s the Phineas Gage of particle physics.
That guy probably could have used an anti-laser. What’s an anti-laser, you ask? Why, it’s like a regular laser, except it has multiple beams trapped in a cavity that exactly cancel each other out and dissipate their energy as heat. Duh. Anyway, some evil geniuses scientists at Yale have gone and built one. Make sure you have one of these with you the next time you want to stick your head into a particle accelerator.