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Einstein passes toughest test


EINSTEIN'S THEORY of general relativity (GR), which describes how gravity is the result of mass, energy and the curvature of spacetime, has passed every test thrown at it since it was thought up in 1915.

But, despite its success, relativity isn’t expected to be the last word in gravity. 

Although it makes superbly accurate predictions for everyday gravitational objects, relativity hasn’t been tested in more extreme circumstances.

You don’t get much more extreme than this pair. The larger object is a fairly unremarkable white dwarf star, but the smaller one, a newly discovered pulsar, is an extremely remarkable object indeed.

Imagine an object that could sit quite happily on the Isle of Wight and you could walk around in just a few hours – now imagine that bundled up inside it is enough atoms to make two Suns; its surface is burning away at millions of degrees and it shoots high-energy jets of radiations out into space at millions of miles per hour. That’s extreme.

A series of unfortunate events that led to a medical revolution

It is 1912 and, in the polar desert at the bottom of the world, a man is freezing to death. Within his cells, the mitochondrial batteries that power his body are shutting down, leaving him without the energy he needs to battle the cold. 

To stem the flow of heat that is hemorrhaging into the Antarctic air, his hairs stand on end in a futile attempt to provide insulation. The blood vessels near his skin and throughout his extremities contract, shutting off their supply of blood and forcing its dwindling warmth into his core. 

His body is racked by violent spasms as his muscles attempt to shiver every last ounce of energy from their plummeting reserves. 
Finally, the cells that regulate the electrical activity of his heart can no longer do their job and, after a violent death dance, his heart arrests.
The legendary British explorer Robert Falcon Scott has died – just a few miles from safety and burdened with the knowledge that he had already failed to become the first man to stand at the South Pole.

Conquering the realm invisible

IMAGINE THAT THE MOST INTIMATE workings of the world around us were charted in a single sacred book, which, in a Greek myth fashion, the gods had denied mankind access to. We could gaze at the book on its shelf, but we couldn’t lift it, open it and leaf through its pages. Around it, there grew a white-clad priesthood who devoted their lives to unlocking the book’s secrets, but even they could never see beyond its spine. Then, one day, a father and son gave the priests a way to see inside the book and reveal the knowledge of the gods to all mankind...

Ok, that’s a little melodramatic but, in essence, it reflects the state of science at the start of the 20th century. The inner workings of the world were indeed locked away from the eyes of scientists – if it was too small to see with a microscope, it was beyond our reach. Then came what is probably the most important discovery you have never heard off.

One hundred years ago this week, a British physicist,William Henry Bragg, and his son, William Lawrence Bragg, found a way to look beyond the realm of the microscopic into the kingdom beneath of molecules and atoms and, in doing so, they unlocked the hidden mechanisms that drive the world in which we live.

Desperately seeking SUSY

THE STANDARD MODEL of physics, which describes the quantum world of particles and the stuff that makes them up, is one of the most successful theories in science. Since it was first thought up in the 1960s and 1970s, it has made hundreds of predictions that have been successfully tested – the most recent of which was the discovery of the Higgs boson (the particle representative of the Higgs field, which imbues particles with mass).

Despite its success in the quantum realm, the Standard Model (SM) only explains one part of the Universe – gravity, space and time just don’t fit. 

One theory that seeks to integrate SM with the workings of the Universe at large is known as Supersymmetry (or SUSY). SUSY is collection of theories (to be weeded out as evidence – or lack there of – come in) that predicts, for every particle in the SM pantheon, there exists a hidden, super-sized partner. 

Physicists are hoping the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will do for Supersymmetry what it did for the Higgs boson

Cosm: The merchandise


I have been inundated recently with literally ones of requests for Cosm-themed t-shirts. Not being one to ignore the needs of the masses, I have crafted a small selection of science-themed t-shirts that are ideal for the geek in your life.

There's only six designs at the moment, but I'm sure more will crop up eventually. If you like one, buy one (if you like two, buy two)... and so on. Have a look and then head over to the website and spend your heating money on a t-shirt or a hoodie (they are much better value for money than gas).

Our weird, wonderful, (almost) perfect Universe

The Cosmic Microwave Background as seen by the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope. The map shows tiny deviations from the average background temperature that represent the seeds from which galaxies grew (ESA/Planck Collaboration). Click here to see a supersize version.

A SPACECRAFT, which has been quietly mapping the oldest light in the cosmos, has revealed an ‘almost perfect Universe’ that confirms that much of what we thought about its earliest moments.

The map, created by the European Space Agency’s Planck space telescope, shows the first light released by the infant Universe. Called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the map reveals the foundations on which the Universe as we know it today was built. 

Planck is the latest satellite to study the faint signal of the CMB and is by far the most sensitive. The map’s mottled temperature patterns fit almost perfectly with our current best model of the Universe’s origins.

The craft has also made the most accurate measurement of the rate of the Universe’s expansion – pushing the date of its birth back from 13.73billion years to 13.81billion years. It has also refined measurements of the what the cosmos is made of  – there is a little more matter and little less ‘dark energy’, the mysterious agent thought to be driving the Universe apart at an ever-increasing rate.

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