Field of Science

Sixty Symbols: The Coeffient of Restitution

Another installment in the Sixty Symbols series. I love the chaos inherent in this system and the simple underlying explanation.

Quantum Finance

A strange sort of failure this economy. What happened to our money? Did it dry up like raisins in the sun? Or did it implode because it never existed in the first place?

Lets look to the past to guide us. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which led to the Great Depression the United States Senate committee on Banking and Currency held an investigation into the causes of the market crash. The investigations were called the Pecora commission after one of the lead investigators Ferdinand Pecora dominated the commission and ultimately drove the investigation to conclude reforms of market regulation were necessary, but the commission unfortunately took on the atmosphere of a circus at times. We have seen worse times and many are saying this is no Great Depression. Leon Lederman jokes in The Atom Smashers, that students used to ask, "What are you going to be unemployed in when you graduate? ...Nobody worried about the economic situation because there wasn't any."
The Pecora trials descend into a circus literally when people began to remark, “We are having a circus,” so seizing on the comments, a press agent for the Ringling Brothers Circus had the shortest woman in the world sit on the lap of the richest man in the world [JP Morgan].

So maybe a senate of circus inquiry is not a good idea after all we still have an economy. Lets choose another American institution to run the inquiry. This American Life has held there own hearings with their own questions.
One of the biggest questions about this financial crisis gripping our economy: How did it happen? Wasn't someone supposed to watching things? Making sure people were acting prudently? Stopping, say, the largest insurance company in the world from making a 185 billion dollar bet that it couldn't make good on? This week, we hear the stories of the people who were supposed to be overseeing things.
You can catch the full 1930's style inquiry by This American Life in their episode: The Watchmen (and they also have shows on the economy and banks). The fallout from this recent collapse is still raining down, but lets hope it has as much bite as bark. The Economist has article on Obama's proposed reforms including plans for that stalwart institution the OTS (listen to The Watchmen episode to understand the OTS debacle) here.

But I have got the solution. Our money was in a quantum superposition of states and when we actually went to observe it we collapsed the wave function of finance. We can not let this happen again so I present the solution and the future of finance: Gravity Dual for Reggeon Field Theory and Non-linear Quantum Finance.

Rageh Inside Iran

This is not a documentary about the politics, fraud, or current events in Iran. This is a documentary about people in Iran. I watched this several years ago I want to share it because I believe understanding the people of Iran is better than interfering with the people of Iran.

Ten Thousand Things

I have been rather busy lately with finals, my graduate qualifying exam, and ten thousand other things. I had no time to blog and further I still have to figure out what happened last night because I was all too alacritous to celebrate with the graduate students after the qualifying exam (they threw us a fiesta afterwards where every time you mention the qualifiyng exam you have to take a shot).

On top of all that the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) collaboration meeting was this past week here in Seattle. The MWA is a radio telescope array that will explore a new scientific frontiers: the epoch of reionization, transient radio events, solar heliospheric and ionospheric research.

I have been getting involved with this project so now that the school semester is over it all starts again with research this summer. More on that as it develops.

Cosmic Distance Smashed

Of all the things that keep you up at night, you should add gamma-ray bursts to the list of terrible things that are actually real and scary (though incredibly unlikely). These intense explosions are thought to be the the deaths of massive stars and the birth of black holes. They are only observed far away from the Milky Way which is good because if one were to occur in the Milky Way it would probably destroy most life on earth.

On April 23 the NASA Swift satellite detected evidence for the most distant object ever observed. It was indeed a gamma-ray burst. It has a redshift of 8.2, that means it occurred about 200-300 million years after the Big Bang (for reference on the distance scale that places it somewhere roughly between the lines marking the cosmic microwave background and the first stars).
The object seen with Swift ultraviolet/optical (blue, green) and x-ray (orange, red) telescopes. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler
If you want to know more casual information about gamma-ray bursts try this. The gory gory details can be read on the arXiv here and here, but don't tell them I sent you because the article is pending publication in Nature and there is an intellectual embargo.

Saturn 3

In an isolated sector of our solar system suspended in orbit from the sixth planet from our sun lies a distant outpost. A technologically perfect world where mistakes are impossible because the impossible is unthinkable. It is called Saturn 3...

I haven't seen Saturn 3, but it sure looks like fun. I also just mentioned the science fiction gem Missing Pages a little while ago, but I forgot to mention what got me started thinking about alternative film. It was the Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF. It has been going on at a hand full of theatres across Seattle since May 21st and ends June 14 (and no it doesn't have any particular focus on science fiction, that is just me). There are lots of intriguing science fiction films out or coming out now, but I don't think any of them can match Saturn 3 at least as a candidate for Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Planets in Binary Systems, Planets Everywhere

A few weeks ago Debra Fischer from San Francisco State University gave a colloquium here at UW on the 'Formation of Planets in Binary Star Systems'. It was entertaining, enlightening, and involved our closest of friends the, Alpha Centauri binary. I didn't know how to explain how cool this subject or the project was at the time, but now SEED magazine has done the job for me here. Her talk at UW was tagged as
The theory of planet formation has evolved significantly with the detection of more than 300 planets orbiting nearby stars. However, half of stars similar to the Sun are members of binary or multiple star systems. A function of the binary star separation, evolution from the planetesimal to planet embryo stage faces some significant dynamical challenges and is not expected to occur for binary stars with close separations. Contradicting standard theory, a few planets have now been discovered even in close binary systems and provides an impetus to reconsider mechanisms for planet formation in these challenging environments.
The problem observers often face is finding a suitable target to invest intensive observing resources towards (and of course the other problem is having too many targets). There are clues from where past planets have been found, as mentioned above, and from theories of planet formation as the article explains
No one yet knows for certain precisely how planets form, but the process seems to be a complex chain reaction that is highly dependent upon initial conditions. It begins with the creation of a star, which forms from a gravitationally collapsing cloud of gas and dust. The leftovers flatten out, due to the conservation of angular momentum, forming a spinning disk of material. To create a rocky world like Earth, dust must condense in the disk to form grains, grains must settle to form pebbles and rocks, and rocks must collide to form planetesimals, kilometer-sized objects that can gravitationally attract each other. These planetesimals must collide to form embryos, Moon-sized objects that collide in turn to finally form a planet.
Fischer and many others (a team including Greg Laughlin who runs a blog on exoplanets, Systemic) have realized that the Alpha Centauri system's proximity make it a serendipitously excellent target for observing. There remain doubts as to whether a suitable planet can form in this particular binary system, but regardless the observing has begun. The team will be looking for doppler shifts in the motion of the two stars to determine if other massive bodies (a planet) are perturbing the orbit of the stars. It will be a cosmic starring contest lasting several years.

CTIO 1.5-meter telescope where the search happens every night (Copyright NOAO).

If I was a betting man I would bet that we will find an earth size object in the Alpha Centauri system, but I don't bet I count the cards. I claim astronomers will find an earth size object around a distant star within the next ten years, yeah, it is a longshot.