A Particle Full of Charm

Almost two-hundred metres beneath the France-Switzerland border, physicists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have observed a new particle. A charming particle. They’ve been on the look-out for him for some time, and now they’ve got him— Xicc++.

The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but this guy is more than meets the eye. He’s heavy. He’s charming. He’s a subatomic particle, and he’s a real catch. CERN’s particle smasher— based near Geneva, Switzerland— spotted the fellow during the Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment, or the LHCb experiment for short.

Xicc++ is the elusive brother of the proton, neutron, and of a number of other composite subatomic particles. These particles are all a part of the same family, because they’re all made up of three quarks. What are quarks, you ask? Well, let’s dive in.

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Dark Matter: The Jess Mariano of the Universe

A mile underground, in a converted mine somewhere in South Dakota, scientists have been trying to detect an elusive substance that makes up around 27 per cent of all the mass and energy in the observable universe: dark matter.

For twenty months, from October 2014 to May 2016, the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment was trying to detect dark matter. But at last week’s International Dark Matter Conference (a name I call immediate dibs on in case I start a girl band), Professor of Physics at Brown University Rick Gaitskell said: “What we have observed is consistent with background alone.”

The LUX experiment had failed. Dark matter remains as mysterious as Jess Mariano in season two of Gilmore Girls.

However, as the Sanford Underground Research Facility prepares for round two with an experiment 70 times more sensitive than LUX, now is a good time to talk about why dark matter is so darn hard to detect.

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Collage by Alex Hanson

Jupiter’s Big Day!

In Ancient Roman mythology, Jupiter claimed domain over the sky and the thunder. He cloaked himself in cloud to hide his mischief— but his wife, Juno, could see past it all. It’s no accident that NASA named a spacecraft after her (though they did give the craft a backronym in an attempt to cover their sentimental tracks), or that she has been zipping through space at almost 19 miles per second for the past five years, her sights set on Jupiter and it’s mysteries.

Juno snuck its way into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th. At 11:18 PM Eastern Time the main engine started firing, slowing the spacecraft enough so it could fall into the planet’s orbit. At 11:53 PM, those engines were shut off. Almost four hundred million miles away, NASA received a three-second beep to reassure them that the spacecraft had made it into orbit in one piece. Juno project manager Rick Nybakken told the room: “We just did the hardest thing NASA’s ever done.”

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Batten Down the Hatches: The Rise of the Cephalopod

Off the coast of Norway and Greenland lies the memory of the hopefully-fictional Kraken, a Giant Squid capable of snapping a galleon sailing ship in two. The storybook sea monster takes up the ocean, its tentacles reaching for unassuming sailors and its heart set on destruction. If the Kraken had been real—if it had existed today, alongside its brethren of very-real Giant Squid—eager scientists would call it a cephalopod.

The oceans are a cephalopod’s stomping ground—squid, octopus, and cuttlefish can be found in the waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Arctic oceans. They’re feisty and adaptable, adorable and terrifying, and according to astudy published last week in Current Biology, our squishy, tentacled friends are thriving.

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Art by Alex Hanson

The Probable Volcano Problem of the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The fall of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in 30 BC was nothing if not dramatic: there was unrest and uprising in Egypt, the death of Queen Cleopatra VII, and the surge of the Roman Empire. According to researchers addressing the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in April, volcanic eruptions probably had a hand in the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty as well. That’s right, volcanoes.

A team of volcanologists and historians, including Joseph Manning of Yale and Francis Ludlow of Trinity College Dublin, got together to compare notes. When they studied historical accounts alongside data from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica (samples acting as chemical roadmaps to the past), they found the timing of eruptions—and the fallout from said eruptions—coincided with the unrest in the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

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Collage by Alex Hanson

LSD, the Brain, and Aldous Huxley

It’s Christmas Eve, 1955, and renowned writer and intellectual Aldous Huxley is on LSD. He reports his findings in his book The Doors of Perception:

“Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe.”

Since LSD was synthesized in 1938, the world hasn’t exactly been deprived of first person accounts of its effects (see: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles, or this subreddit).

However up until April 11, 2016 the world was deprived of something pretty major: modern scans of the brain high on LSD.

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Solar Storms and Jupiter’s Dancing Lights

In case you thought Jupiter couldn’t get any cooler, a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research has laid out evidence that solar storms are causing Jupiter’s auroras (think the Northern Lights, the Southern Lights, or that scene from Brother Bear) to brighten by almost eight times their usual brilliance.

The interaction was spotted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope orbiting above the Earth to look for X-ray emissions in that big, old universe of ours.

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IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/CXC/UCL/W.Dunn et al, Optical: NASA/STScI