Space Fan News #44: Higgs' Promising Boson; NASA's Mission to Europa; VLT's Fastest Rotating Star

Uploaded by tdarnell on 14.12.2011

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News.
First up, there was a big announcement on Tuesday from the particle accelerator at Cern
where particle physicists say it's looking good that the Higgs Boson exists.
What's a Higgs Boson?
It's the only elementary particle left in the Standard Model that hasn't been found
The Standard Model of particle physics is a framework that describes all the particles
and their associated forces that describe most everything we see in nature.
The Higgs Boson would be the particle that, if found, would be responsible for giving
particles their mass. The Higgs Boson is the particle that transmits mass to things like
electrons, protons and neutrons in the Higgs field.
Imagine the Higgs field as a sort of molasses that all matter flows through, but some particles
go through it easier than others. The ones that goes through the easiest are the lightest,
so protons go though the Higgs molasses field slower than electrons.
And photons, which have no mass whatsoever aren't slowed down in the Higgs field at all.
They zip right through.
So, the big deal right now in physics is to try and find that particle. In order to do
that, they need to create beams with lots of energy to smash particles with. These energies
can only be provided by the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland and on Tuesday, they
announced the results after sifting through the data from their first few smashes.
What did they find?
Well, they found promising signs that it's there. After sorting through lots of data,
scientists believe they have caught their first glimpse of the Higgs Boson.
At least everything they are seeing is consistent with the existence of the Higgs Boson at energies
around 123-126 GeV. The data aren’t nearly conclusive enough to say that it’s definitely
there. But the LHC is purring along, and they say a year from now we’ll know a lot more.
There are many scientists just as eager to NOT discover it as those that are. If the
Higgs boson is not found, then that means that this one theory of where particles get
their mass is wrong, but there are plenty of others to take their place.
With this announcement however, things are looking better that it may actually exist.
If the Higgs is discovered, it will represent one of the greatest triumphs of humanity.
It will vindicate 50 years spent building one of the most complicated machines ever
built that puts the finishing touches on one of the greatest theoretical frameworks in
all of science.
Next, NASA is planning a mission to Europa in 2020.
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are preparing a mission that could launch
in 2020 and deliver a lander to Europa in 2026.
The lander will investigate whether life could ever have existed on this Jovian moon, which
likely hosts an ocean of liquid water beneath its ice-shrouded surface.
The proposed mission, much like NASA's recently launched Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity
rover, would assess Europa's ability to support past and present life.
The concept calls for launching two identical landers, with one a backup, each of which
weighs 320 kilograms and carries 36 kg of scientific instruments.
Each robot would use a mass spectrometer, seismometers and several different cameras
to study its landing site. The mass spectrometer would be able to detect various organic chemicals
if they exist in Europa's ice, whereas the cameras and seismometers would gather data
on the moon's geology..
For now, the lander mission is just a concept, and many details would have to be worked out
before it could ever get off the ground.
There is a similar mission in the works already at JPL called Europa Jupiter System Mission.
It will consist of two orbiters, one to go around Europa and another at Ganymede.
The JGO, or Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter will be led by the European Space Agency. This
orbiter will look at the Jupiter system as a whole to try and answer questions like How
did the Jupiter system form?; How does it work?; and does Jupiter harbor a habitable
The JEO. or Jupiter Europa orbiter, will focus on investigating Europa's habitability. This
mission will attempt to characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper
interior; it will also characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water; it will try
to determine global surface compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability;
and attempt to understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent
or current activity, and identify and characterize candidate sites for future exploration.
The Jupiter Europa Orbiter mission would launch in February 2020 and cost about $4.7 billion.
Finally, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, or VLT, has discovered
the fastest rotating star found so far. This massive, bright young star lies in the Tarantula
Nebula in the large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy just next door, about 160,000 light
years away.
This star - known as VFTS 102 - is rotating three hundred times faster than the Sun at
two million kilometers per second. This is so fast that it's close to the point at which
it would be torn apart from centrifugal forces trying to throw material out.
The astronomers also found that this star, which is around 25 times the mass of the Sun
and about one hundred thousand times brighter, was moving through space at a significantly
different speed from its neighbours
This could imply that VFTS 102 is a runaway star - a star that has been ejected from a
double star system after its companion exploded as a supernova. This idea is supported by
two further clues: a pulsar and an associated supernova remnant in its vicinity.
So here's what they think could have happened:
It could have started out as one of two stars in a binary star system. If the two stars
were close, gas from the companion could have streamed over and in the process the star
would have spun faster and faster.
After a short lifetime of about ten million years, the massive companion would have exploded
as a supernova — explaining the supernova remnant found nearby. The explosion would
also have led to the ejection of the star which would explain the difference in speed
between it and that of other stars in the region. As it collapsed, the massive companion
would have turned into the pulsar that is observed today.
Just like downtown.
Well, that's it for now Space Fans, as always thank you for watching, and Keep Looking Up.