Daily Archives: November 24th, 2009

LHC Proton Smashing and Long Lost Martian Ocean

The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) has started to smash proton beams together:

The low-energy collisions came after researchers circulated two beams simultaneously in the LHC’s 27km-long tunnel earlier on Monday.

The LHC is smashing together beams of protons to shed light on the cosmos.

Operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern), the LHC is the world’s largest machine and will create similar conditions to those present moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists will search for signs of the Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that is crucial to our current understanding of physics.

Although it is predicted to exist, scientists have not yet detected it.

Researchers working on the collider have said they are delighted with the quick progress made since the machine restarted on Friday.

“It’s a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time,” said Cern’s director-general Rolf Heuer.

“But we need to keep a sense of perspective – there’s still much to do before we can start the LHC physics programme.”

This is just the warm-up phase. The LHC is at the point where last time it broke down.

Is it unscientific to cross one’s fingers at this juncture?

Cern’s Large Hadron Collider makes first collisions


Well, it’s official. The northern part of Mars once harbored an ocean:

The findings come just a week after Nasa, the American space agency, announced that they had found water on the surface of the Red Planet, raising hopes of finding life on Mars.

New maps showing that the valleys cover a larger area than previously appreciated has led scientists to believe there was once a single ocean covering much of planet’s northern half.

The extent of the Martian valleys, and what they mean for the chances of life on the planet, have been hotly debated since they were first discovered by the Mariner 9 Spacecraft in 1971.

Until now the only map of the networks was drawn by hand from satellite images in the 1990s.

These led some scientists to claim that the valleys were carved not by rivers but by “groundwater sapping”, small amounts of water springing or seeping out of the ground.

But the new evidence of the sheer scale of the network suggests that that is unlikely.

Scientists now believe that the rivers fed an ocean which covered around one third of the entire surface of Mars.

Their study also suggests that, billions of years ago, much of Mars had an “arid continental climate”, complete with rainfall, similar to that found in drier countries on Earth.

The new maps have been created by computer analysis of up to date satellite pictures.

In some regions of Mars the valley networks are almost as dense as they are on Earth, according to the findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets.

Prof Wei Luo, from Northern Illinois University in America, who led the research, said that it was now “difficult to argue against” the theory that rivers caused the erosion.

He added that the best explanation for the pattern of valleys was a large ocean in the northern half of the planet.

“All the evidence gathered by analysing the valley network on the new map points to a particular climate scenario on early Mars,” said Prof Luo.

“It would have included rainfall and the existence of an ocean covering most of the northern hemisphere, or about one-third of the planet’s surface.”

Dr Tomasz Stepinski, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, a co-author of the study, said: “The only other global map of the valley networks was produced in the 1990s by looking at images and drawing on top of them, so it was fairly incomplete and it was not correctly registered with current datum.

“Our map was created semi-automatically, with the computer algorithm working from topographical data to extract the valley networks.

“It is more complete, and shows many more valley networks.

“The presence of more valleys indicates that it most likely rained on ancient Mars, while the global pattern showing this belt of valleys could be explained if there was a big northern ocean.”

The latest research was also funded by NASA.

Two years ago a different team of scientists also suggested that Mars could once have been home to a large ocean, based on what appeared to be ancient coastlines on the surface of the planet.

Mars will likely have to wait another generation before NASA will even consider sending a manned crew to its surface.

Now Augustine Commission v2.0 suggested that NASA send instead an expedition in the 2020s to Phobos ( a Martian moon) and conduct robotic teleoperations from there to conduct reseach as a precursor to manned landings in the 2030s or ’40s.

Much is speculation on NASA’s future these days, but I suspect that the Pentagon already has a foothold on good ol’ Barsoom.

Huge ocean ‘once covered much of northern half of Mars’