North Magnetic Pole Moving East Due to Core Flux

Earth’s north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia at almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) a year due to magnetic changes in the planet’s core, new research says.

The core is too deep for scientists to directly detect its magnetic field. But researchers can infer the field’s movements by tracking how Earth’s magnetic field has been changing at the surface and in space.

Now, newly analyzed data suggest that there’s a region of rapidly changing magnetism on the core’s surface, possibly being created by a mysterious “plume” of magnetism arising from deeper in the core.

And it’s this region that could be pulling the magnetic pole away from its long-time location in northern Canada, said Arnaud Chulliat, a geophysicist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France.

Finding North

Magnetic north, which is the place where compass needles actually point, is near but not exactly in the same place as the geographic North Pole. Right now, magnetic north is close to Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

Navigators have used magnetic north for centuries to orient themselves when they’re far from recognizable landmarks.

Although global positioning systems have largely replaced such traditional techniques, many people still find compasses useful for getting around underwater and underground where GPS satellites can’t communicate.

The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year.

In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year.

A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

Wandering Pole

Geologists think Earth has a magnetic field because the core is made up of a solid iron center surrounded by rapidly spinning liquid rock. This creates a “dynamo” that drives our magnetic field.

(Get more facts about Earth’s insides.)

Scientists had long suspected that, since the molten core is constantly moving, changes in its magnetism might be affecting the surface location of magnetic north.

Although the new research seems to back up this idea, Chulliat is not ready to say whether magnetic north will eventually cross into Russia.

“It’s too difficult to forecast,” Chulliat said.

Also, nobody knows when another change in the core might pop up elsewhere, sending magnetic north wandering in a new direction.

Mysterious Light Display Leaves Norwegians and Astronomers Puzzled

A bizarre spiraling light show over Norway has raised speculations ranging from a Russian rocket test to an odd meteoric display. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute remains unsure of the phenomenon’s origins, but astronomers have said that it does not appear connected to the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.

A blue light first appeared from behind a mountain, and created a giant spiral in the sky within seconds. Perhaps even more baffling, a green-blue beam of light appeared to shoot from the center. The entire display remained in the sky for a good ten to twelve minutes–enough time for photographers across Norway to shoot hundreds of images and capture video:

Swedish archaeologists celebrate ancient find

People lived in the Torne River Valley on the border with Sweden and Finland some 11,000 years ago, an important new archaeological find has shown.

The settlement, found near Pajala in the far north of Sweden, are the oldest known find in the county of Norrbotten, according to the archaeologist Olof Östlund.

The find was uncovered when archaeologists were searching for ancient remains in the area around Kaunisvaar near Pajala where a new mine is set to open, according to a report in local newspaper Norrländska Socialdemokraten.

“Now the pages in the National Encyclopaedia regarding inland ice can be torn out and burned,” Östlund told the newspaper.

The archaeologists located the settlements in the beginning of September and they have now been dated with the help of radiocarbon dating.

“I had been expecting old dates. But when I saw that the first numbers were very high I felt immediately that this was bingo. When the second number was five figures – I felt faint,” Östlund explained to news agency TT.

He was surprised that the find was so old and compared it to another settlement located nearby in Kangofors five years ago. That settlement had been used 10,000 years ago.

The survey was conducted on commission from a company prospecting for mines in the vicinity of Pajala and will shed light on the first inhabitants of Norrbotten.

“So this is important. Especially as in archaological circles, in southern Sweden, the accepted theory is that there was no ancient age up here in northern Sweden it is thus important to raise the issue.”

Östlund compared the new discovery to the find in Voullerim in the middle of the 1980s of 6,000 year-old stone age shelters. Then the assumptions regarding the history of the pre-history of Norrland were revalued to take into account that people had actually lived there.

Archaeologists were also then given new types of remains to look for – and several finds were then later uncovered.

Massive “Dark Halo” Discovered Beyond Edge of the Milky Way

The biggest things in the universe just got bigger – or rather, they’ve always been bigger and we somehow missed it up to now.  Supercomputer simulations of galactic core black holes indicate that instead of being a mere two billion times the mass of the sun, so insignificant you’d surely lose them if you sneezed, some could be as large as six billion suns -not including the “dark halo” that surrounds the Milky Way, which is more than ten times as much mass as all of the visible stars, gas, and dust in the rest of the galaxy.

The study by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Studies (which couldn’t sound smarter if it was Lex Luthor’s university degree) focused on Messier 87, a particularly bright active galaxy in the Virgo cluster whose size, strong signals and proximity to Earth make it a common astronomical experimentation subject.  Dr Karl Gebhart and colleagues ran a supercomputer simulation to calculate the mass of the monster at M87’s core.

You need to simulate a black hole’s size because there’s no way to observe its mass directly – you can only infer its immensity by studying the effects on the mass around it (little things like entire galaxies).  Where the new model differs from past efforts is its inclusion of the “dark halo”, an unobservable ring of dark matter which astrophysicists now believe surround galaxies.  Including something you can’t see might sound like a great way to get any answer you like, but the simulation worked it out by observing the effects of this halo on the visible stars, then accounting for those calculated effects when simulating the black hole – which is why the program took several days to run on a computer that could probably calculate you to ten decimal places in one minute.

The dark matter halo is the single largest part of the Milky Way, covering the space between 100,000 light-years to 300,000 light-years from the galactic center. It is now believed that about 95% of the Galaxy is composed of dark matter, which does not seem to interact with the rest of the Galaxy’s matter and energy in any way except through gravity. The dark matter halo is more than ten times as much mass as all of the visible stars, gas, and dust in the rest of the galaxy. While the luminous matter we see in the night skymakes up approximately 90,000,000,000 solar masses, he dark matter halo is believed to include around 600,000,000,000 to 3,000,000,000,000 solar masses of dark matter.

Don’t worry, the results aren’t entirely dependent on the dark matter magic-factor which affects so much of current cosmology – the results seem to explain observations which previously puzzled many scientists (always a good sign for a new result).  Recordings of distant quasars show evidence of black holes far larger than anything we’ve ever seen closer to home.  Now it seems that they were here all along, we just weren’t looking at them right.

Bacteria from Mars found inside ancient meteorite

Their fossilised remains have been found in the rock, which was blasted out of Mars 16 million years ago as the solar system was forming.

The meteorite, called Allen Hills 84001, made headlines in 1996 after fossils were found in it. Scientists believed they were bacteria from Earth that contaminated the rock while it lay in the frozen wastes.

But a Nasa report now says there is strong evidence they originated on Mars, according to The Sun.

Dr Emily Baldwin, deputy editor of the UK’s Astronomy Now magazine, said: “Many scientists argued that what looked like fossils in the meteorite were really caused by the explosive event, such as an asteroid impact, that blasted the rock out of Mars in the first place.

“But the Nasa team is now saying they have proved that they could not have been produced by the blast itself.

“If the features turn out to have an extraterrestrial, biological origin and were not formed during the 13,000 years the meteorite spent lying on Earth, this will have profound implications for our understanding of how life evolved in the solar system.”

Prof Colin Pillinger, of the Open University, who was behind Britain’s ill-fated Beagle 2 probe to the planet that was lost on Christmas Day 2003, said: “This is good quality work and more compelling evidence to add to the mix. These guys have been plugging away at this for years. It is a very careful study by very reputable people.”

The Nasa study, led by Kathie Thomas-Keprta, found carbonate discs and tiny magnetite crystals inside the space rock. Scientists were able to use high resolution electron microscopes that were not available 13 years ago.

They concluded “unusual chemical and physical properties” in the meteorite were “intimately associated within and throughout these carbonate disks”. That, they said, was evidence of interaction with water on Mars more than 3.5 billion years ago.

Nasa is expected to announce the findings, from its Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, later this week.

Second chance for Large Hadron Collider to deliver universe’s secrets

*Hmm…will something stop it?*

At first glance, the piece of metal in Steve Myers’s hands could be taken for a harmonica or a pen. Only on closer inspection can you make out its true nature. Myers, director of accelerators at the Cern particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, is clutching a section of copper piping from which a flat electrical cable is protruding.

It looks unremarkable. Yet a piece of cable like this one was responsible last year for the world’s most expensive short-circuit. More than £30m-worth of damage was done to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most advanced particle accelerator ever built, a few days after its ceremonial opening. It has taken Myers – and hundreds of other Cern scientists – more than a year to pinpoint the guilty piece of cable and repair the wreckage. “It was a very small piece, but it did immense damage,” he said. It remains to be seen whether Myers can fix Cern’s tattered technological reputation in the process – when his team restart their great machine in a few weeks. “I am not a nervous person,” said the 63-year-old Belfast-born engineer. “And that is probably just as well.”

The LHC had been inaugurated at 9.30am on 10 September 2008 to a barrage of global media attention. This was the God Machine that would unravel the secrets of the universe, it was claimed. Beams of protons, one of the key constituents of the atom’s nucleus, were successfully fired round the machine’s subterranean 18-mile circular tunnel under the Jura mountains outside Geneva.

Over the following weeks, it was predicted, scientists would recreate conditions that existed a trillionth of a second after the universe’s birth and start making sensational discoveries as they smashed beams of protons into each other.

Discoveries would include the God Particle, a tiny entity also called the Higgs Boson, which is believed to give objects – including people – their mass. In addition, dark matter, a mysterious, invisible form of matter that permeates the universe, would be uncovered, along with a host of other revolutionary discoveries.

“It was all looking so good,” said Myers. Then, at 11.45am on 19 September, things went spectacularly wrong. Faulty soldering in a small section of cable carrying power to the machine’s huge magnets caused sparks to arc across its wiring and send temperatures soaring inside a sector of the LHC tunnel.

A hole was punched in the protective pipe that surrounds the cable and released helium, cooled to minus 271C, into a section of the collider tunnel. Pressure valves failed to vent the gas and a shock wave ran though the tunnel.

“The LHC uses as much energy as an aircraft carrier at full speed,” said Myers. “When you release that energy suddenly, you do a lot of damage.”

Firemen sent into the blackened, stricken collider found that dozens of the massive magnets that control its proton beams had been battered out of position. Soot and metal powder, vaporised by the explosion, coated much of the delicate machinery. “It took us a long time to find out just how serious the accident was,” said Myers.

A 400-metre chunk of the £2.5bn device had been wrecked, it was discovered. Worse, when scientists traced the cause to a tiny piece of soldering, they realised that they would have to redesign major parts of the collider’s entire safety systems to prevent a repeat event. That has taken more than a year to achieve.

Now Cern scientists have begun firing protons round one small section of the collider as they prepare for its re-opening. Over the next few weeks, more and more bunches of protons will be put into the machine until, by Christmas, beams will be in full flight and can be collided.

The LHC will then start producing results – 13 years after work on its construction began.

“There was so much expectation that we were about to make great discoveries last year and then the accident occurred,” said Cern researcher Alison Lister. “Morale was very low when we found out just how bad it was. However, we should now be getting results by Christmas, and you couldn’t get a better present than that.”

When fully operational, the LHC will soak up 10 times more power than any other particle accelerator on Earth, consuming 120 megawatts of electricity – enough for an entire Swiss canton – to accelerate bunches of protons, kept in two beams, each less than a hair’s breadth in diameter, to speeds that will come “within a gnat’s whisker of the speed of light”, according to Myers.

One beam will circulate clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. Then, at four points along the collider’s tunnel, the beams will cross.

Bunches of protons – each containing 100bn particles – will slam into other oncoming bunches, triggering collisions that will fling barrages of sub-atomic detritus in all directions.

These explosive interactions will form the core of the great collider’s operations and will generate new types of particle, including the Higgs, that will pop fleetingly into existence before disintegrating into a trail of other sub-atomic entities. New physics will be uncovered with Nobel prizes following in their wake. And that is not all, say sceptics. They argue that miniature black holes will be created and one of these could eventually grow to swallow up the Earth. The LHC would then not only be the world’s biggest experiment – but its last. This fear has led protesters to make legal attempts to close down the LHC, one even making it to the European Court of Human Rights. All have failed, though one case – in Germany – has still to be resolved.

Even stranger is the claim by another group of physicists who say the production of Higgs bosons may be so abhorrent to nature that their creation would ripple backwards through time to stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveller trying to halt his own birth.

“All Higgs machines shall have bad luck,” said Dr Holger Bech Neilson of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Thus the cable meltdown that afflicted the LHC was an inevitable effect of the laws of time, a notion that leaves most Cern scientists scratching their heads in bafflement.

In fact, the real problem facing the LHC is simple. It is a vast device the size of London’s Circle Line but is engineered to a billionth of a metre accuracy. Ensuring that no flaws arise at scales and dimensions like these pushes engineering to its absolute limits.

Cern almost succeeded last year. Now it is convinced that it has got it right this time. “All I can say is that the LHC is a much safer, much better understood machine than it was a year ago,” said Myers.

Most physicists believe he is right. “If it works, we will have built the most complex machine in history,” said one. “If not, we will have assembled the world’s most expensive piece of modern art.”

Le futur sabote-t-il la recherche sur le boson de Higgs ?

Le LHC (Large Hadron Collider) le grand accélérateur de particules du CERN, près de Genève, serait-il victime d’une malédiction venue du futur? Cette monstrueuse machine dont la construction a nécessité 15 ans de travaux et coûté plus de 6 milliards d’euros est tombée en panne en novembre dernier, peu après sa mise en service. Elle est destinée à produire une mystérieuse particule, le boson de Higgs, qui n’aurait existé qu’au tout début du big-bang et qui est censée être à l’origine de la masse de la matière. Pour la recréer, les chercheurs ont donc conçu une expérience consistant à accélérer des protons dans un anneau souterrain avec une énergie proche de celle qui a régné pendant le premier trilionième de seconde de la naissance de l’univers.

Cette entreprise hors du commun a déjà inspiré toutes sortes d’élucubrations: peu avant qu’elle ne démarre, en septembre 2008, deux Américains prétendant qu’elle allait déclencher la formation d’un trou noir susceptible d’absorber la terre ont assigné le Cern devant un tribunal d’Hawaï en demandant l’arrêt des travaux -ils ont été déboutés. Cette fois, ce sont deux physiciens reconnus et respectés qui lancent une hypothèse pour le moins iconoclaste: selon Holger Nielsen, chercheur à l’institut Niels Bohr de Copenhague, et Masao Ninomiya, de l’institut de physique théorique de l’université de Kyoto, il serait possible qu’une mystérieuse contrainte venue du futur sabote le projet pour empêcher la découverte du fameux boson de higgs! Leur théorie ne date pas d’hier: ils l’ont exposé il y a plus d’un an dans deux papiers publiés dans des revues scientifiques et passés pratiquement inaperçus (1).

Cette influence maligne pourrait, selon eux expliquer pourquoi les Etats-Unis ont abandonné en 1993 un projet d’accélérateur similaire au LHC destiné à produire le boson, après que des milliards de dollars aient été investis. L’idée chère aux auteurs de science-fiction que le temps puisse être réversible et qu’il soit possible de voyager dans le passé n’est plus aujourd’hui considérée comme délirante par les physiciens, qui ne s’interdisent plus de cogiter sur des univers parallèles ou l’influence du futur sur le présent, dans la mesure où les lois universelles de la physique sont, pour nombre d’entre eux, réversibles. Il serait ainsi possible que l’univers limite fortement la probabilité de certaines découvertes en raison du danger que celles-ci représenteraient pour l’univers lui-même.

Pour en avoir le coeur net, Nielsen et Ninomya proposent que le Cern réalise un “test de chances” consistant à utiliser un générateur de nombres aléatoires équivalent à tirer des millions de cartes dans un jeu afin de savoir si certaines figures improbables apparaissent. Ce qui signifierait que les probabilités pour que le LHC fonctionne correctement sont très minces…