Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wild, wacky stuff

The universe is strange. If I'd ever been so foolish as to think I understood the place, any of the following recent discoveries would have disabused me of the notion.

Apparently the sun affects the decay rates of radioactive elements here on Earth. The effect is tied to solar flares and the rotation rate of the sun's core.

Unrelated (perhaps), a case can be made that dark matter may be lurking at the heart of the sun.

Meanwhile, experimenters at FermiLab have done an experiment that converted energy (from proton/anti-proton collisions) into different amounts of matter and antimatter. By virtue of our existence, there's reason to believe nature must, for some reason, favor matter over antimatter -- but why is a mystery. The Standard Model of matter certainly does not predict the 1% imbalance noted at FermiLab.

(Not current with modern thinking on subatomic particles? io9 has a great two-part field guide, covering both what we (think we) know and what remains speculative.)

And what happens when fundamental constants of the universe ... aren't? That seems to be the case with the fine-structure constant. Since this constant relates to the strength of electromagnetic interaction, the implication (if these recent findings hold up) is that the very nature of matter would differ in different parts of the universe.

Finally, the ancient (as human spacecraft go) Voyager 2 probe is starting to talk funny. Contrary to some, I'm not prepared ot interpret that as Voyager 2 has been hijacked by aliens. Voyager 2 is 33 years old! Think of the electronics we had in 1977, when this craft was launched. The marvel is that the equipment still works at all.

There you have it: a few days' worth of wonder. It's enough to send me back to my writing.

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