This Week In Tears

Discovery in its current home at Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo by Ruth Suehle.

Facebook is often the neon sign for synchronicity in our lives. A friend you haven’t seen since elementary school comments on your coworker’s post. One person posts a warning about ticks right above another announcing her son’s diagnosis with Lyme disease. This week, I was struck by a Facebook full of tears—not in friends’ devastation, but in links about completely unrelated things. A week in tears.

Discovery’s Tears

First was this page about the teardrop-like black tiles contrasting with the white tiles on the space shuttle Discovery, just under its right “eye” of a pilot’s window.

True Blood Teaser

The final season of True Blood starts on June 22. To tease it, HBO released this image of Sookie:

Image: HBO

And we all know what blood tears mean. What does this image mean!? The show long ago diverged from the books, so we can’t even swear she won’t be turned.

Tears in Hannibal

This one’s more spoilery since it’s an ep that’s already aired, but there were tears in the ending of Hannibal last week.

Tears as Art

LA-based photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher has complete a project called The Topography of Tears, in which she captures tears, whether caused by joy or pain or grief or chopping onions, and puts them under a microscope, then photographs the results.

The Trail of Tears

For the Cherokee Nation, May marks the anniversary of when in 1836, the Treaty of New Echota gave their people two years to move to the Indian Territory. Then on May 24, 1838, when 16,500+ remaining Cherokee were forced from their homes, resulting in the deaths of as many as 4-6,000, a thousand-mile march known as the Trail of Tears, or in Cherokee, Nu na da ul tsun yi, “the place where they cried.”

If you find yourself in Western North Carolina this summer, I recommend seeing Unto These Hills, one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the country, which tells the story of the Cherokee. (Michael Rosenbaum, who was Lex Luthor on Smallville, once played the Constable role!)

6 TV Networks That Aren't What They Started Out to Be

Original versions of network logos via Logopedia (


Perhaps you’ve seen this recent tweet from The West Wing’s fictional President Josiah Bartlet:

And it’s true — the television home of Honey Boo Boo and her rural Georgia clan was once exclusively educational content. (Not that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo isn’t educational … in its own way…) The network formerly known as The Learning Channel also isn’t the only network to have strayed far from its original purpose. In many cases, money is money, and TV goes where the money is.


NASA, along with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, wanted to show how local education could be improved through educational technology. From 1972-75, the Appalachian Educational Satellite Project gave graduate credit to Appalachian teachers who used the free material delivered by satellite to develop their own courses. The Appalachian Community Service Network (ACSN) channel was then independently incorporated in 1979 and offered 64 hours of programming per week in 42 states by 1982. Continue reading 6 TV Networks That Aren't What They Started Out to Be

Can You Hear the Higgs?

Photo: Score of the sonification. The bump corresponding to the new particle is represented by a F note which is two octaves above the preceding F note, a C which is the most acute note in the music, representing the peak of the Higgs, and a E note. Credit: Domenico Vicinanza

Have you ever wondered what one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time sounds like?

Wonder no longer! After the announcement of the Higgs boson discoveries last week, researcher Domenico Vicinanza immediately went to work sonifiying the data. Now that the general populous can finally hear what the Higgs boson evidence sounds like, hopefully all of us can understand the data leading to this momentous discovery.

Could the mysteries of the universe be holding a waltz beat? How about a jazz rhythm? R&B? Pop? Country? Turns out the score has a distinctly latin flair, similar to a habanera beat.

Can you pick out which note marks the Higgs in this recording?

Continue reading Can You Hear the Higgs?

Meet Pluto's Hidden Moons

Image courtesy NASA

While Pluto may have been demoted to dwarf planet status, it seems that the little celestial body has plenty more secrets to share. A fifth moon was found during a July 7th infrared observation, using the Hubble Space Telescope‘s Wide Field Camera 3. Temporarily known as S/2012 (134340) 1, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken June 26, 27, 29, and July 7 and 9.

The discovery team had been scouring the Plutonian system looking for potential collision threats to the NASA New Horizon spacecraft, expected to fly by in 2015. New Horizon, launched in 2006, will be traveling an expected 30,000 miles per hour by the time that it reaches the dwarf planet and would be severely damaged or destroyed by a particle as small as a BB-shot, so you can imagine the importance of determining everything orbiting within the Pluto system.

The official HubbleSite piece quotes Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO, the mission’s principal investigator: “The inventory of the Pluto system we’re taking now with Hubble will help the New Horizon team design a safer trajectory for the spacecraft.”

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 by astronomers using the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. Just before Pluto’s reclassification as a dwarf planet in 2006, two more moons were found, Nix and Hydra. Just last year, the 4th moon was found after closer examination of Hubble data. This 5th moon is just another piece to the puzzle in explaining just what happened to Pluto during its long history. The current theory is that there was a massive collision between Pluto and another Kuiper belt object, causing Pluto to shatter into many pieces and knocking the dwarf planet out of its former obit.

“The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system,” Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD explains in the HubbleSite article.

After New Horizon passes through the Plutonian system, researchers are planning to rely on additional infrared data provided by the James Webb Space telescope, to measure surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons and other Kuiper belt objects. These measurements will allow researchers to figure out which objects originally were parts of a larger planet or object.


What Finding the Higgs Boson Means

The LHC image from CERN

Speculation is building in the international physics community about the contents of a press conference that has been called by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), to be held at 9am Geneva time (3am EST) on July 4, 2012. Peter Higgs himself is flying to attend the press conference.

Physicists expect that the announcement will be positive proof of the Higgs boson particle and a successful mission for the team. The anticipation reached a frenzied state yesterday when scientists from the Tevatron at Fermilab in Illinois announced that they had found significant supporting evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson.

So, you might be asking what’s so important about finding the Higgs boson?

The short answer is that the Higgs boson can account for all of the unexplained mass in the universe.

The long answer:

In particle physics, there is a theory called the “Standard Model” that endeavors to explain all electromagnetic and nuclear reactions between particles. The “Standard Model”, derived in the 1970’s, explains that the universe is completely comprised of matter (fermions) and force (bosons). The brilliance of the “Standard Model” is that it has been able to successfully explain nearly all experimental physics.

Particle physics is the study of the individual elements that comprise our universe. As most know, atoms are composed of smaller components; neutrons, electrons and protons. When electrons jump between atoms, new substances are formed, but the nucleus of an atom generally remains unchanged unless it undergoes a nuclear reaction. The  neutron/proton nucleus is also known as a hadron, which is made up of quarks. Quarks come paired in six different varieties; up and down, charm and strange, top and bottom. Quarks can also be classified as first, second, or third generation.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

According to the “Standard Model,” all matter consists of two different types of particles, quarks and leptons (i.e. electrons and neutrinos), held together by bosons. Bosons describe the force between particles.

There are three elementary bosons called gauge bosons; the photon (electromagnetic force), the W and Z boson (the weak force) and the gluons (the strong force). Then there are two additional suspected, yet unobserved, bosons, the Graviton and the Higgs.

The Higgs boson was originally suggested in the 1960’s by British physicist Peter Higgs. Higgs postulated that a particle gains mass by passing through the Higgs field, a combination of an electromagnetic field and a solid. Before the Higgs portion of the “Standard Model,” it was assumed that W and Z bosons interacted with other elementary particles, however, the mass of those bosons was always so large that it unbalanced and broke the “Standard Model”.

Thus, it was postulated that there had to be at least one other particle added to the mass equation, the Higgs boson. Ever since the search as been on to find the elusive Higgs, leading to the construction of the LHC.

The LHC is the world’s largest particle accelerator. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and situated along the border between France and Switzerland. LHC’s sole purpose is to be a platform in which to test particle physics theories. It is run by engineers and scientists from hundreds of universities and laboratories from over a hundred different countries.

One of the main objectives of the LHC, since its conception, is to find the Higgs boson. So how might the Higgs boson have been found? The Higgs boson is known to be unstable, decaying into certain particles based on its expected weight. The scientists designed their particle collision experiments in a way that will emit particles of a particular mass. If the particles within an expected range are more numerous then the collision alone can explain, then the rest of the observed particles are proof of the Higgs boson.

I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement tomorrow. If the scientists at the LHC found proof of the Higgs boson, it would be huge for the scientific community and the future of science as we know it.

What’s Up With Tranquillityite?


Tranquillityite, moon rock in Australia, space invasion,
It Came From Outer Space


A moon mineral has been discovered in Australia.

Tranquillityite was named after the Sea of Tranquility, site of Apollo 11’s 1969 landing site. Like the other two minerals found in rocks brought back from that mission, it was long assumed to be unique to the Moon’s surface. Well, until now.

We know science will provide a handy geological explanation, but it’s far easier and more amusing to look to the movies for answers. Consider the following.

The mineral was smuggled in by the Cybertronian spacecraft, Ark, but those scenes may have been cut from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

It was mined, along with helium-3, by automated harvesters but AI assistant GERTY ddn’t let Lunar Industries employee Sam Bell know why in Moon.

It was discovered in 1899 by Victorian astronauts, although not without trouble from those pesky lunar inhabitants, Selenites, and brought back to earth in a gravity-free shapeship, as shown in H.G. Well’s First Men In The Moon.

Unintentional crash landing of alien spacecraft brought the sample as we learn from the Ray Bradbury classic, It Came from Outer Space. (This implies that some Australians are actually aliens while their real forms have been abducted.)

Or it never came from the Moon at all. That’s what Capricorn One tells us.

What other movies do you think best explain the tranquillityite question?



Pretend You’re an Astronaut and Wake Up To Shatner

Unless you have a very specific interest in space program journalism, the NASA news feed is usually on the dry side–headlines like “Crew wraps up flight” or “Guy you never heard of just left his job.” But Monday when I got the NASA email, I got Captain Kirk, because the Discovery crew got to wake up to a special edition of the Star Trek theme song. At 3:23 a.m.!

NASA held a song contest before this final Discovery mission. The top two winners were to be used for crew wake-up calls. The Stark Trek theme won second place, behind “Blue Sky” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. You can see all the results of the voting. I like to think Star Trek won third place as well, since Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” was the song playing when Zefram Cochrane took the world’s first warp drive flight.

For the Discovery crew’s wake-up call, Shatner replaced the usual famous theme song’s voice over with, “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

STS-133 Mission Specialist Steve Bowen participates in the mission's second spacewalk. Image credit: NASA

If you’d like to wake up to Shatner, too (3:23 a.m. optional), you can download the sound file at under the name 03-07-11_STS-133_FD12_Crew_Wakeup (mp3 or wav). Today’s selection, “Blue Sky,” the contest winner, was broadcast on NASA’s live feed at 2:23 a.m. CST.