A Particle Full of Charm

The Xicc++ particle will become a tool to observe the strong force in another light.

By Shelby Traynor

Collage by Alex Hanson using an image representing the new particle observed by LHCb, containing two charm quarks and one up quark. (Image credit: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

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. Continue reading “A Particle Full of Charm”

The HERpothesis Golden Record

Photos and songs for the alien civilization that finds this addendum to the Golden Record.

Featuring photos by Julia Arciga, Alice Liu, Alex Hanson, Megan Harger, Katie Smythe, Shelby Traynor, and Melody Xu

Playlists created by Savana Ogburn, Jo Guelas, Kylie Obermeier, and Megan Schaller of Sonic Blume Zine. Playlist graphics created by Savana Ogburn.

To The Alien Civilization That Finds This,

Greetings from Earth!

My name is Alex Hanson, and I’m the editor of HERpothesis, the website that created this Golden Record addendum: a collection of music and images to show you what life is like on Earth, our home planet (and currently the only one occupied by humans, although we have our sights set on Mars). HERpothesis is made by young women inspired by the intersections of STEM and art, and this Golden Record is our way of showing you how we see and interact with our planet today. Continue reading “The HERpothesis Golden Record”

Dark Matter: The Jess Mariano of the Universe

We know more about what dark matter isn’t than what dark matter is.

By Shelby Traynor

Collage by Alex Hanson, using an image of the Coma Cluster 

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. Continue reading “Dark Matter: The Jess Mariano of the Universe”

Jupiter’s Big Day

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.”

by Shelby Traynor

Image credit: NASA/JPL

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.” Continue reading “Jupiter’s Big Day”

Batten Down the Hatches: The Rise of the Cephalopod

Tell us your secrets, you squirmy inkfish!

By Shelby Traynor

Illustration by Alex Hanson

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 a study published last week in Current Biology, our squishy, tentacled friends are thriving. Continue reading “Batten Down the Hatches: The Rise of the Cephalopod”

The Probable Volcano Problem of the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The timing of volcanic eruptions—and the fallout from said eruptions—coincided with the unrest in the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

teBy Shelby Traynor

Collage by Alex Hanson

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. Continue reading “The Probable Volcano Problem of the Ptolemaic Kingdom”

LSD, the Brain, and Aldous Huxley

Now we know a lot more about what was going on in Aldous Huxley’s brain sixty-one years ago.

By Shelby Traynor 

Image via Imperial/Beckley Foundation

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. Continue reading “LSD, the Brain, and Aldous Huxley”