Friday, 15 October 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Inside The Soviet’s Secret Failed Moon Program

Posted: 15 Oct 2010 10:40 AM PDT

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Lunar Craft Antenna Dish

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By Matt Hardigree, Jalopnik

The Soviet lunar program was covered up, forgotten after failing to put a man on the moon. These rare photos from a lab inside the Moscow Aviation Institute show a junkyard of rarely-seen spacecraft, including a never-to-be-used Russian lunar lander.

Soviet scientists were well ahead of their American counterparts in moon exploration before President John F. Kennedy pronounced the U.S. would put a man there first. The Soviets had already landed the probe Luna 2 on the surface of the Moon in 1959 and had an orbiting satellite in 1966.

The Soviets developed a similar multi-step approach to NASA, involving a module used to orbit the moon and one for landing. Their version was decidedly less complex and lighter to account for inferior rockets. These photos show the LK "Lunar Craft" lander, which has a similar pod-over-landing gear structure but numerous key differences.

All the activities done by two astronauts is done by one. To make the craft lighter, the LK only fits the one cosmonaut, who was supposed to peer through a tiny window on the side of the craft to land it. After landing the vehicle the pod separates from the landing gear, as with the Apollo Lunar Module, but uses the same engine for landing as it does for take off as another weight savings.

The L2 Lunar Orbit Module designed to transport the LK into orbit around the Moon was similarly stripped down. There's no internal connection between the two craft so the cosmonaut had to space walk outside to get into the LK and head towards the surface. When the LK rejoined the L2 for the return trip home, the now likely exhausted would then climb back out into the abyss of space. The LK would then be thrown away.

Inside The Soviet's Secret Failed Moon ProgramThere were numerous political, scientific and financial reasons why the Soviets didn't make it to the Moon first, including a space agency with split priorities and therefore not single-mindedly dedicated to this goal. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon first on July 20, 1969, besting the Russians, who were still planning to visit the moon in the upcoming years.

They had the equipment, but they didn't have the rockets.

Getting to the Moon requires launching a command module and a lander. Both are heavy objects and require massive amounts of thrust to get into orbit. The Soviet's planned to use their N-1 rocket, but two failed launches in 1971 and 1972 destroyed dummy landing and control modules, as well as the rockets themselves, and led to the program being shelved for lack of a proper launch vehicle.

The LK was sent into space for numerous test missions. The first two unmanned flights were successful tests of the vehicle through a simulated orbit. The third flight ended when the N-1 rocket crashed. The fourth test in 1971 was a success, but years later the decaying test module started to return to Earth with a trajectory that would put it over the skies of Australia.

NASA explains in a report on the Soviet space program how they had to convince the Australians it wasn't a nuclear satellite:

To allay fears of a nuclear catastrophe, representatives of the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Australia admitted that Cosmos 434 was an "experiment unit of a lunar cabin," or lunar lander

Eventually, the program was deemed too expensive and unnecessary in light of the NASA success. The Soviets moved onto building space labs, successfully, and the remaining parts of the lunar program were destroyed or dispersed, including this amazing collection of parts hidden in the back of the Moscow Aviation Institute.

Apparently, students at the Moscow Aviation Institute are allowed access to this equipment, a Russian Livejournaler managed to get photos inside the lab that holds a lander, much of the docking equipment, and diagrams. The poster couldn't show everything and describes the vibe around the many parts as secretive. Not all of the other pieces are easily identifiable as more than "satellite" or "Soyuz spacecraft" or "awesome and Soviet."

Via (translated from Russian into English)

Send an email to Matt Hardigree, the author of this post, at

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Antarctic Ice Sheet Preserves Invisible Mountain Range

Posted: 15 Oct 2010 10:10 AM PDT

Buried deep beneath East Antarctica's ice sheet, the Gamburtsev Mountains are the world's most invisible range. New research suggests that overlying ice like that hiding them from view today could have preserved their rugged topography for the past 300 million years.

sciencenewsThe work bolsters the counterintuitive notion that glaciers, rather than just carving down young peaks into eroded hills like a buzzsaw, could sometimes protect high jagged terrain.

"It's feasible for topography to be preserved," says Stephen Cox, a graduate student at Caltech and coauthor of a paper scheduled to appear in Geophysical Research Letters. A supercold cap of ice could have allowed the ancient Gamburtsevs to look like the Alps instead of the highly eroded Appalachians.

Russian scientists first identified the Gamburtsevs in 1958 as part of a survey during the International Geophysical Year, and geologists have been puzzled ever since about how the range came to be. The mountains are in a stable part of the continent that hasn't seen much tectonic activity — usually the way mountains are born — in more than 500 million years. "The Gamburtsevs are either really old, or some big part of the tectonic puzzle is missing," says Cox.

His team tackled the question by looking at how quickly the mountains eroded over time. Because the range is buried, researchers have to study it indirectly — in this case by probing mineral grains at the bottom of Prydz Bay in East Antarctica, where pieces of rock washing off the Gamburtsevs ended up.

Grains of the mineral apatite preserve a record, known as a cooling age, of how fast the mountains were eroded. Cox's team analyzed the apatite in two ways — the amounts of uranium, thorium and helium it contained, and the number of "fission tracks" left by decaying uranium — to build a cooling history of the Gamburtsevs.

The team concluded that over the past 250 million years, mountains inland of Prydz Bay eroded just 2.5 to five kilometers — an order of magnitude slower than modern erosion in places like the Alps. Earlier studies had suggested slow Antarctic erosion
over the past 118 million years, but the new study takes it farther back in time and supports the idea that the Gamburtsevs really are ancient.

Cold glaciers or ice sheets atop the mountains could have protected them from wearing away, Cox suggests.

A paper published in Nature last month describes how glaciers could similarly be preserving topography in the southernmost Andes today.

"When you get to colder climates, glaciers are actually frozen to the rock," says geologist Stuart Thomson of the University of Arizona in Tucson, a coauthor of that paper and a member of Cox's team. "They flow a little, but they don't erode much at all."

Radar surveys of the Gamburtsevs conducted in 2008 and 2009 confirm that the range is unusually rugged, with V-shaped valleys rather than the U-shaped ones that are characteristic of glacial erosion.

Still, another Antarctic expert warns against drawing too many conclusions about ice atop the Gamburtsevs, especially over the past few tens of millions of years. The new work can't reveal anything explicit about when big ice sheets or smaller mountain glaciers were actually present, says John Goodge, a geologist at the University of Minnesota in Duluth.

Yet studying erosion rates could help researchers better figure out the history of Antarctic ice, says Thomson. He is now working on more detailed studies of erosion over the past 34 million years, when the great East Antarctic ice sheet is thought to have started growing.

"We're trying to look at where sediments come from and what they tell us," he says. Then researchers who use computer models can include those data and see whether current ideas about how Antarctica got icy are correct.

Images: 1) Michael Studinger/International Polar Year. 2) Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province Project/IPY.

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Large Hadron Collider Starts Edging Out Rivals

Posted: 15 Oct 2010 10:00 AM PDT

The Large Hadron Collider has made its first steps beyond the standard model of particle physics. With just four months of data gathered, the monster collider has already edged past the Tevatron, its particle-smashing rival.

"The surprising thing for me is how quickly the experiments started to top the Tevatron data," commented theoretical particle physicist Ulrich Baur of the State University of New York at Buffalo, who is not on the LHC team but whose theoretical predictions laid the groundwork for new research done there. "You really see the power of the Large Hadron Collider coming in here."

The contest concerns an exotic hypothetical particle called an excited quark. In the standard model — the theoretical picture of what physicists think matter is made of — atomic nuclei are broken down into protons and neutrons, which are broken down further into fundamental particles called quarks and gluons. Electrons, which orbit atomic nuclei and give atoms their distinctive characters, are also considered fundamental particles.

Under the standard model, that's as far as it goes. You can't break a quark or an electron into anything smaller.

"But it turns out the model, we know it's not the complete picture," said particle physicist Andreas Warburton of McGill University in Montreal. Particle physicists turn to enormous colliders to refine the model and search for particles that break it.

The excited quark is one such "exotic beast," Warburton says. It's a lot like a regular quark, only heavier, meaning it's composed of an even more fundamental particle the standard model doesn't account for.

Physicists don't know how much the excited quark should weigh, if it exists, but they have set lower limits on its mass. The Tevatron, housed at Fermilab in Illinois, ruled out the existence of excited quarks with masses less than 870 billion electronvolts (about 927 times more massive than a proton).

The ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) experiment has beaten that record by about 75 percent. In a paper published October 11 in Physical Review Letters, Warburton — plus a nine-page-long list of collaborators, presented alphabetically from Aad to Zutshi — reported a lower mass limit of 1,260 billion electronvolts. In a report posted on the ATLAS collaboration website but not yet published in a journal, the team pushed the limit up to 1,530 billion electronvolts.

"What you're seeing here is the incredible power of the LHC's higher energy," Warburton said. "In four months of data we were able to significantly extend the previous limit with just a fraction of the data sample."

The feat is "kind of a milestone" for LHC physicists, Warburton says. It's even more impressive considering the collider's rocky start, beginning with an accident in 2008 and other setbacks that led to a shutdown lasting more than a year.

"After all these delays and accidents two years ago, [the LHC] is now delivering," Baur said. "It is delivering at a very rapid pace, and the experiments are really doing a terrific job analyzing the data that are coming out."

There are some areas where the LHC, which already has 3.5 times the Tevatron's peak energy and expected to double, just has the older collider beat. But in some contests — most notably the hunt for the Higgs boson, the theoretical particle that may be the reason all other particles have mass — the Tevatron still has a fighting chance.

"We have an edge, because we've been taking data for such a long time. We're really ahead of the game," said Fermilab particle physicist Jacobo Konigsberg. "Right now we have been excluding regions of mass where the Higgs might be already at the Tevatron. It'll be a while until the LHC starts doing that."

Konigsberg, Baur and Warburton all mentioned that they're looking forward to new limits on the excited quark mass from ATLAS's competitor within the LHC, CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid).

"Things are moving very quickly," Konigsberg said. "The LHC is really taking off, and that's a wonderful thing to see."

Image: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN

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Love Makes You Increasingly Ignorant of Your Partner

Posted: 14 Oct 2010 12:08 PM PDT

BASEL, Switzerland — Long-lasting marriages may thrive on love, compromise and increasing ignorance about one another. Couples married for an average of 40 years know less about one another's food, movie and kitchen-design preferences than do partners who have been married or in committed relationships for a year or two, a new study finds.

sciencenewsTwo University of Basel psychologists, Benjamin Scheibehenne and Jutta Mata, working with psychologist Peter Todd of Indiana University in Bloomington, observed this counterintuitive pattern in 38 young couples aged 19 to 32, and 20 older couples aged 62 to 78. The greatest gap in partner knowledge was in predicting food preferences, an area with particular relevance to daily life, the scientists report in a paper scheduled to appear in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

"That wasn't what we expected to find, but this evidence lends support to a hypothesis that accuracy in predicting each other's preferences decreases over the course of a relationship despite greater time and opportunity to learn about each other's likes and dislikes," Todd said October 13 during a visit to the University of Basel.

Older couples' knowledge decline partly reflects a tendency by partners to pay increasingly less attention to one another, because they view their relationship as firmly committed or assume that they have little left to learn about each other, the researchers propose. Consistent with that hypothesis, long-term partners in the new study expressed more overconfidence in their knowledge about each others' preferences than people in short relationships did.

In long relationships, partners may also come to perceive an unduly large amount of similarity between themselves, the scientists add. Members of long-term relationships often attributed their own food, movie and design preferences to partners who had different opinions.

If the new finding holds up, reasons for a declining ability to predict a partner's preferences over time would require closer study, comments University of Basel psychologist Ralph Hertwig, who was not involved in the research. In the case of food, taste perception suffers as people get older, Hertwig notes, which could make it more difficult for long-term partners to keep track of each others' increasingly inconsistent food likes and dislikes.

It's also possible that older couples in the new study come from a generation in which men and women generally knew less about each other to begin with than couples do today, Hertwig says.

What's more, long-term partners may be especially apt to tell "white lies" to each other in order to keep the relationship running smoothly, thus diluting their knowledge of one another.

Participants in the new study, who were recruited in Berlin, rated their own and their partners' preferences on a four-point scale, from "don't like it at all" to "like it very much." Judgments were made about 40 food dishes taken from a website that displays cooking recipes and images of finished dishes, 40 movies taken from offerings on a website that sells movies not shown in theaters but available on DVD, and 38 kitchen designs chosen from online furniture catalogues.

On average, members of younger couples accurately predicted a partner's food preference 47 percent of the time, versus 40 percent for members of older couples. A comparable disparity emerged for movies and kitchen designs, but accuracy was slightly lower for everyone making those predictions.

Despite their relative disadvantage in predicting partners' preferences, long-term couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships than did younger couples.

Image: Flickr/Josh Liba

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How to Make a White Hole in Your Kitchen Sink

Posted: 14 Oct 2010 10:13 AM PDT

That ring of water in your kitchen sink is actually a model white hole. For the first time, scientists have shown experimentally that liquid flowing from a tap embodies the same physics as the time-reversed equivalent of black holes.

When a stream of tap water hits the flat surface of the sink, it spreads out into a thin disc bounded by a raised lip, called the hydraulic jump. Physicists' puzzlement with this jump dates back to Lord Rayleigh in 1914. More recently, physicists have suggested that, if the water waves inside the disc move faster than the waves outside, the jump could serve as an analogue event horizon. Water can approach the ring from outside, but it can't get in.

"The jump would therefore constitute a one-directional membrane or white hole," wrote physicist Gil Jannes and Germain Rousseaux of the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and colleagues in a study on ArXiv Oct. 8. "Surface waves outside the jump cannot penetrate in the inner region; they are trapped outside in precisely the same sense as light is trapped inside a black hole."

The analogy is not just surface-deep. The math describing both situations is exactly equivalent. But so far, no one had been able to prove experimentally that what's going on in the kitchen sink really represents a white hole.

There are two ways to tackle the question experimentally. The most obvious strategy is to directly measure the speeds of the surface waves inside and outside the hydraulic jump, and see if the waves inside are indeed faster than the waves outside.

But these wave speeds are notoriously difficult to measure. A popular method for visualizing and measuring fluid flow, called Particle Image Velocimetry, is impractical because the fluid film is thinner than the materials used to image them. The way the wave itself interacts with the jump and the fact that waves of different wavelengths travel at different speeds can also complicate measurements.

"So from the point of view of the white hole analogy, direct measurements… are probably not the best strategy," the team wrote.

Rather than measuring each wave speed individually, Jannes and colleagues measured their ratio by making a Mach cone. Mach cones are best known as the cone-shaped envelope of waves emitted when an object breaks the sound barrier. Interrupting the fast flow at the edge of the hydraulic jump makes a smaller but geometrically identical cone.

When the cone opens at an angle of exactly 90 degrees, it means the speed of the incoming waves is equal to the speed of the outgoing waves, which is exactly what is expected at the event horizon of a black or white hole.

To create the white hole, the physicists pumped silicon oil through a steel nozzle onto a square PVC plate about a foot across. Using silicon oil made the flow smoother and more predictable, and guaranteed the hydraulic jump was a circle, rather than a polygon or some other complicated shape.

Then they stuck a needle in the oil to make the Mach cone. Just outside the spot where the jet of oil hit the plate, the water parted around the needle at an angle of about 18 degrees. As the physicists move the needle outward, the angle smoothly increased to about 45 degrees, then rapidly opened up to reach 90 degrees near the ridge of the jump.

That implies that the speed of the waves inside the ring is equal to the speed of the waves outside the ring, "and hence constitutes a clear proof that the jump indeed represents a white hole horizon for surface waves," the team wrote. "The fact that the circular jump represents a white hole horizon illustrates that the concept of horizons is not limited to relativity."

"This is a brilliant experiment: Kitchen-sink physics is turned into a black-hole analogue," commented Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist at the University of St Andrews in Scotland who works on making analogue black holes in fiber-optic cables. "Germain Rousseaux and his team used sophisticated equipment and did very careful measurements, but at its heart, the experiment is based on a simple idea everyone can understand and try at home."

Images: 1) Wikimedia Commons. 2) G. Jannes et al.

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