Large Hadron Collider generates a mini Big Bang

The Large Hadron Collider has successfully created a “mini-Big Bang” by smashing together lead ions instead of protons.

The scientists working at the enormous machine on Franco-Swiss border achieved the unique conditions on 7 November. The experiment created temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun…

Up until now, the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator – which is run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) – has been colliding protons, in a bid to uncover mysteries of the Universe’s formation.

Proton collisions could help spot the elusive Higgs boson particle and signs of new physical laws, such as a framework called supersymmetry. But for the next four weeks, scientists at the LHC will concentrate on analysing the data obtained from the lead ion collisions. This way, they hope to learn more about the plasma the Universe was made of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago…

“This process took place in a safe, controlled environment, generating incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs with temperatures of over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun.

“At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma…”

He explained that by studying the plasma, physicists hoped to learn more about the so-called strong force – the force that binds the nuclei of atoms together and that is responsible for 98% of their mass.

It’s hot enough to turn angel wings into instant crisps. Just in case you wondered.

Dutch government provides scratch’n sniff aids for informers

In a novel bid to combat illegal cannabis cultivation, Dutch authorities started handing out 30,000 cards with a marijuana odour Monday to alert citizens to what their neighbours may be up to.

“Citizens must be alerted to the dangers they face as a result of these plantations, and if they become aware of any suspect situations they must report them,” Arnie Loos, spokesman for a government-appointed working group on cannabis cultivation, told journalists in the port city of Rotterdam.

Yes. Bureaucrats in Holland retrieve that quaint history of informing on your friends and neighbors from the garbage heap of fascism. Will they provide bonuses if those you turn to the police are close relatives?

Though it remains technically illegal, the Netherlands decriminalised the consumption and possession of under five grammes of cannabis in 1976 under a “tolerance” policy.

Authorities turn a blind eye to citizens growing no more than five plants for personal use. Bulk cannabis cultivation and retail remain illegal…

Organisers said the project, a pilot for possible expansion, was a first for the Netherlands.

“If people do in fact call the number listed on the card, we could make this a national operation,” Loos told journalists, standing in the middle of about 200 plants of what he called “green gold” in the attic of an apartment building in Rotterdam.

The ugly vision of morality police working their way through public gatherings, say, in Tehran or Riyadh, should remind voters dim enough to think conservative politicians only represent a fiscal agenda – to peer back over their shoulder at what was constructed in so many lands by a Joe McCarthy, Vidkun Quisling or – Anton Mussert.

When a couple of trains carrying gasoline and oil collide…

Wow!

In much of the world, trains are the best, most modern, fuel-efficient and least polluting means of freight and passenger transport.

In much of the world – they are leftover from industrialization a century ago, colonial empire-building even older. Lacking modern safety technology and design, they can be as lethal and harmful as the worst tanker-bomb ever devised.

The United States mostly fits into the latter category. As does Poland. A shame – for there really is no excuse other than governments acting almost exclusively on behalf of some claque of corporate interests or slovenly politicians or both.

Geoffrey Crawley delicately debunked the Cottingley fairies

Were there really fairies at the bottom of the garden, or was it merely a childhood prank gone strangely and lastingly awry?

That, for six decades, was the central question behind the Cottingley fairies mystery, the story of two English schoolgirls who claimed to have taken five pictures of fairy folk in the 1910s and afterward.

Set awhirl by the international news media, the girls’ account won the support of many powerful people, including one of the most famous literary men in Britain. It inspired books and, later on, films, including “Fairy Tale: A True Story” (1997), starring Peter O’Toole, and “Photographing Fairies” (1997), starring Ben Kingsley.

From the start, there were doubters. But there was no conclusive proof of deception until the 1980s, when a series of articles by the English photographic scientist Geoffrey Crawley helped reveal the story for what it was: one of the most enduring, if inadvertent, photographic hoaxes of the 20th century.

A polymath who was variously a skilled pianist, linguist, chemist, inventor and editor, Mr. Crawley died on Oct. 29, at 83, at his home in Westcliff-on-Sea, England…

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Colin Harding, curator of photographic technology at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, discussed Mr. Crawley’s role in the debunking of the Cottingley fairies case: “He took a scientific and analytical approach that was objective to something that had been previously subjective and so full of emotion,” he said.

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On the way to CO2-free power plants

The Technische Universität Darmstadt dedicated today a pilot plant for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) contained in flue gases of power plants. Its Institute for Energy Systems and Technology plans to utilize the plant for investigating two innovative methods for CO2 capture that require less energy and lower operating costs than earlier approaches.

Combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, fuel oil, or natural gas, liberates large quantities of carbon dioxide, a gas that significantly affects global climate. A key technology that would reduce emissions and lead to more environmentally friendly power plants is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from flue gases of power plants (carbon capture and storage (CCS))…

Earlier approaches to CO2-capture require expending significantly more energy and entail greatly increased operating costs, which raises questions regarding their efficiency and acceptance. The TU Darmstadt’s Institute for Energy Systems and Technology’s new pilot plant will be utilized for investigating two new methods for CO2 capture that will allow nearly totally eliminating CO2 emissions and require virtually no additional energy input and entail only slight increases in operating costs.

Over the next two years, the institute’s director, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Epple, and his 26 coworkers will be investigating the “carbonate looping” and “chemical looping” methods for CO2 capture. Both methods employ natural substances and reduce the energy presently required for CO2-capture by more than half. As Epple put it, “These methods represent milestones on the way to CO2-free power plants. They might allow coal-fired, oil-fired, and natural-gas-fired power plants to reliably and cost-effectively generate power without polluting the environment.”

The carbonate looping method involves utilizing naturally occurring limestone to initially bind CO2 from the stream of flue gases transiting power plants’ stacks in a first-stage reactor. The resultant pure CO2 is reliberated in a second reactor and can then be stored. The advantage of the carbonate-looping method is that even existing power plants can be retrofitted with this new method.

On new power plants, the chemical looping method will even allow capturing CO2 with hardly any loss of energy efficiency. Under this method, a dual-stage, flameless, combustion yields a stream of exhaust gases containing only CO2 and water vapor. The CO2 can then be captured and stored.

Hope they’re successful. I haven’t an excess of confidence in the politics of coal-generated electricity in the United States. The mentality hasn’t changed since the 1930’s. Rip the coal out of the ground. Burn it. Pay us!

Not only have Europeans a longer timeline of experimentation with some of these processes, there is a tradition of civil service oversight, fiscal and environmental, that may be a pain-in-the-butt sometimes; but, it guarantees fewer lies to citizens, less collaboration between politicians and corporate barons.

Nothing holy or sanctimonious about it. Just systems more reactive and preventive than our two-party tomfoolery. We just witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico how reliable our civil servants can be – when guided by a government in bed with the Oil Patch Boys.

Bushes molded the Supreme Court – Obama gets the Pentagon


Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

With critical decisions ahead on the war in Afghanistan, President Obama is about to receive an unusual opportunity to reshape the Pentagon’s leadership, naming a new defense secretary as well as several top generals and admirals in the next several months.

It is a rare confluence of tenure calendars and personal calculations, coming midway through Mr. Obama’s first term and on the heels of an election that challenged his domestic policies. His choices could have lasting consequences for his national security agenda, perhaps strengthening his hand over a military with which he has often clashed, and are likely to have an effect beyond the next election, whether he wins or loses.

That is all the more reason that Mr. Obama’s choices are certain to face scrutiny in a narrowly divided Senate, whose Republican leadership has declared itself intent on defeating him.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he plans to retire next year, while the terms of four members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are scheduled to end: Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman; Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman; Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief; and Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations…

At the top of the new pantheon of military power, the president needs a heavyweight to succeed Mr. Gates, an unexpected holdover from the Bush administration who stayed longer than many expected to become perhaps the most influential member of the Obama cabinet…

Any commander in chief is theoretically free to replace his top civilian and military subordinates whenever he chooses, but it rarely happens all at once.

RTFA. Long, it contains all the what-ifs and scary-terrorist-under-the-bed scenarios plus a few Cold War clangers thrown in for good measure.

I presume the Republicans will try to build a furious defense against any change, any progress in modernizing our military – and worst of all – any attempt to reduce taxpayer welfare to the military-industrial corporations who still own the oldest geezers in the Republican Party.

Canada and Hong Kong air security fooled by mask

A bizarre case of a young Asian man successfully boarding a plane disguised as an elderly Caucasian man has the governments in Hong Kong and in Canada scrambling to review their security procedures at airports and placed an airline under scrutiny for its passenger screening procedures.

The story of the Asian man in his 20s who stowed away aboard a Hong Kong-to-Vancouver flight continues to play prominently in newspapers and TV news broadcasts as well. And it has captivated a public puzzled over how screening staff at airports would fail to halt a person who wore a silicone mask disguised to be significantly older than his actual age of a different race…

What is known is that the man boarded the plane wearing the disguise and presenting a U.S. passport of a Caucasian man born in 1955. The aging face contrasted with the traveler’s “young-looking hands,” according to a Canadian Border Service bulletin issued over the case. Sometime during the flight the man removed his disguise, further alerting airplane staff who notified the Canadian authorities. Border officers met the man as he arrived in Vancouver…

Golly! They actually noticed the difference.

No link to terrorism has been suggested in the case.

Phew! I’m glad I needn’t worry about that for another day or two.

RTFA and you can add all the excuses to your list of Homeland Insecurity favorites.