Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

NASA: Then and Now

0 Commentsby   |  07.24.13  |  Uncategorized

NASA Mission Control celebrates return of Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on July 24, 1969.

NASA Mission Control celebrates the successful return of Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on July 24, 1969.

44 years ago today, the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission returned to Earth by splashing gently into the Pacific 400 miles off the coast of Wake Island.

This is the mission that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to become the first humans to ever set foot on the moon.   The achievement of reaching the moon with 1960′s technology is simply incredible.  For example, the Apollo Guidance Computer weighed 70 pounds, ran at 2 MHz (about 500-1,000 times slower than an average smartphone), and had 2K of RAM (one million times less than a modern computer).  NASA released this picture of the epic celebration in mission control when the mission ended successfully.

So, that was 44 years ago.  Where are we now?


Also in 1969, NASA developed a plan for reusable spacecraft called the Space Transportation System, which became unofficially known as the space shuttle.  The shuttles, typically credited for being the most complex vehicles ever built, ultimately flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011.   But now the shuttle program is officially retired:

Abstruse Goose - history of flight

History of Flight, from Abstruse Goose

Even though humans haven’t been to the moon since 1972, but in the meantime, NASA has gotten to be quite good at launching robots into space.  This blog post is really about three really awesome images from satellites.

1.  If you were standing outside on July 19th, then the Cassini spacecraft took a picture of you.  Of course, it was 900 millions away behind the rings of Saturn, so it might be hard to pick yourself out of the crowd, but nonetheless the JPL was encouraging everyone to go outside and wave.  The picture is staggering:

Picture of Earth through Saturn's rings from the Cassini spacecraft

Picture of Earth through Saturn’s rings from the Cassini spacecraft

2.  This recent NASA Picture of the Day was taken two weeks after a tornado ripped through central Oklahoma on May 20, 2013.  In this false-color image, vegetation is red while roads and buildings are gray.   The tornado track leaves a jagged scar running across the middle of the picture.

Track from the May 20th tornado through Moore, Oklahoma

Track from the May 20th tornado through Moore, Oklahoma

3.  If zoom in a bit more on Cassini’s picture, we might get something like this:

Texas cities from space

This picture was taken from the International Space Station 240 miles above Earth.  Houston is visible near the bottom-right.  Near the top-middle you get the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, and I-35 running to left with Waco, Austin, and San Antonio.  Of course, the bright spot to the left of the metroplex is none other than Abilene.

The shuttle program may be over, but we are still exploring space.  Curiosity is waiting for us on Mars–time for a visit!

-Dr. D


An Arm and a Leg

0 Commentsby   |  02.06.13  |  Uncategorized

Last Friday was March 1, 2013, the date of the budget sequestration.  Due to the inaction of congress, the U.S. faces an $85-billion budget cut which includes an 8% cut to scientific research.  PhD Comics, as always, does a good job of explaining the situation:

PhD Comics - Budget Sequestration Explained. Click to enlarge.

These cuts were originally slated to take place on January 2nd, but a last-minute compromise bill delayed the Fiscal Cliff until now.  The White House Fact Sheet explains the effect of the “sequester” this way:

Cuts to research and innovation: In order to compete for the jobs of the future and to ensure that the next breakthroughs to find cures for critical diseases are developed right here in America, we need to continue to lead the world in research and innovation.  Most Americans with chronic diseases don’t have a day to lose, but under a sequester progress towards cures would be delayed and several thousand researchers could lose their jobs.  Up to 12,000 scientists and students would also be impacted.

In science, funding equals jobs, and for every job lost there is a significant “brain drain” effect where people leave science careers for other options.  Much of the lost funding won’t be replaced by other sources–the cuts mean that some innovations just have to wait.

Even ignoring the direct technology benefits (such as the development of the internet) and the indirect applications (the iPhone is an excellent example of the combined results of physics research), fundamental science is a investment in the economy.  For example, FermiLab’s Tevatron cost about $4 billion to build, but returned about $40 billion to the economy.  For a clearer picture of the value of science, take a few minutes to read the response when a nun wrote a letter to NASA asking how we can justify the cost of the space program.  The reply begins:

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as “Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!” In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Regardless of logic and reason, we now must live with the consequences of the sequestration.  We now have to figure out how to do Science missing an arm and a leg.

-Dr. D



0 Commentsby   |  07.26.12  |  Uncategorized

Haven’t had your recommended daily allowance of DANGO?  Well, you’re in luck:

Research on, my friends.

-Dr. D

Winning the Ultimate Prize

0 Commentsby   |  06.27.12  |  Uncategorized

This week we enjoy our very small piece of the ultimate prize one could ever hope to achieve.  Not the Nobel Prize, or a Fields Medal, or knighthood, or the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.  Oh no.  This prize is better.  We at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider officially now hold the Guinness World Record for highest man-made temperature:

In February 2010, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider on Long Island, New York, USA, announced that they had smashed together gold ions at nearly the speed of light, briefly forming an exotic state of matter known as a quark-gluon plasma. This substance is believed to have filled the universe just a few microseconds after the Big Bang. During the experiment the plasma reached temperatures of around 4 trillionºC, some 250,000 times hotter than the centre of the Sun.

Fair enough, but what about the Large Hadron Collider?  Every expectation is that their lead-lead collisions will reach higher energies.  I like the explanation from the BNL Science Blog (the emphasis is mine):

But despite ALICE’s prowess, the collaboration has not published an official temperature measurement of its quark-gluon plasma, and the Guinness team is nothing if not official. For the time being, RHIC reigns, having driven physics forward by creating that revelatory multi-trillion degree matter many billions of times. But as with all records, RHIC’s Guinness is destined to be broken.


Enjoying it while it lasts,

-Dr. D


UPDATE:  The ACU press release is up at


Fermilab Speed Limit

0 Commentsby   |  03.30.12  |  Uncategorized

We’ve been working hard at Fermilab this year, and have been making several trips up as our SeaQuest experiment collects data.  We recently spotted a sign on the Fermilab campus:

For the record, the OPERA result suggesting that neutrinos go faster than the speed of light is thoroughly dead, and all of the nails are quite securely in the coffin.  The experiment was refuted twice by ICARUS, and then OPERA eventually traced the problem down to a connection between a fiber optic cable and a hardware board.  Apparently, the spokesperson for OPERA is stepping down, but don’t try to read any scandal here.  Science is hard, which is why unexplainable results are both exciting and terrifying, but in the end we will learn what holds up in the lab.

Happy Fun Friday.


Welcome to the earliest Spring in 116 years

0 Commentsby   |  03.21.12  |  Uncategorized

I ran across a great article on about our new season at  From the article:

Across much of the United States, this has been an unusually mild winter, especially for those living east of the Mississippi. Not a few people have noted that spring seems to have come early this year.  Of course, in a meteorological sense that could be true, but in 2012 it will also be true in an astronomical sense as well, because this year spring will make its earliest arrival since the late 19th century: 1896, to be exact.

Remember, the equinox is defined as the time when the sun’s path in the sky intersects the Earth’s equator, so this is a well-defined time.  The equilux is defined as the day when you get exactly 12 hours each of day and night, and this date changes depends on where you are in the world. As for the weather deciding to go ahead and actually act like Spring, that is something else entirely…

-Dr. D



Higgs boson makes cameo appearance on Colbert

0 Commentsby   |  03.20.12  |  Uncategorized

This is too good to pass up:

Colbert Report, March 7 2012 on Hulu

Of course, nearly every single detail he gives is wrong, but in the end, he does a remarkable job in proving that physics jokes are harder to make.

For the latest on actual Higgs news, check out the recent Physics Viewpoint by Howard Haber.  Overall, while we don’t have enough statistical evidence to officially claim discovery of the Higgs, there can be no doubt by now that we have found it.

Life Imitating Art: Is The Big Bang Theory producing physics majors?

0 Commentsby   |  12.08.11  |  Uncategorized

Freakonomics, among other places, has picked up on a recent story from the Guardian that the uber-geeky sitcom Big Bang Theory is causing more students to become physics majors.

The show debuted in the U.S. in September 2007, and the American Institute of Physics does a fantastic job of publishing statistics, so we can give the data a preliminary check.  First we have high school enrollment:

showing a steady increase since 1985.  The results for undergraduate enrollment are quire similar and show a roughly linear increasesince 1999.  Academic year 2009-2010 produced more physics bachelors and PhD’s than any other year in history.

The data definitely show that physics enrollment has been increasing since Big Bang Theory first aired, but by eye it is hard to spot a change in the trends from 2007 onward.  There are many, many, many factors that effect college major choice.  While I’m glad to have shows about science (though personally, the Big Bang Theory does have its moments, but the laugh track just drives me crazy; look for clips on YouTube that show the pre-canned-laughs footage for a chilling and eerie experience), and I’m thrilled for the increases in physics, I doubt that the two are related.  I’ll leave the final conclusion to xkcd: