For today’s Friday Roundup, the LHC probes quark soup, plate tectonics are discovered on Mars, and a quantum entanglement record has been shattered. Also a method for extracting energy from wastewater could turn water treatment plants into giant batteries.
LHC Reaches Highest Artificial Temperature Ever
At the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, Switzerland, physicists reached the highest temperatures ever produced by man.
The experiment was conducted at ALICE, a companion to the ATLAS project, which recently discovered a particle consistent with the properties of the Higgs.
ALICE is a heavy-ion collider. It smashes together the nuclei of atoms, rather than smaller subatomic particles. Collisions between the cores of lead atoms produced an exotic substance called quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed just moments after the Big Bang, the birth of the entire universe.
While quark-gluon plasma has been produced before, it has never been created at these energy levels. Physicists hope to observe new properties of this unique state of matter in order to learn more about the origins of reality.
While a conclusive measurement of the temperatures involved has not yet been conducted, physicists expect them to ballpark around 5.5 trillion degrees Celsius.
This is roughly 38% higher than previous records. (Yes, the previous record was four trillion degrees, set in 2010.)
Quarks are the elementary particles that make up protons and neutrons (among all the related particles called hadrons). Gluons are the particle associated with the strong nuclear force, which typically holds the quarks together, preventing protons and neutrons from falling apart.
The strong force is, appropriately, the strongest force in the universe. Unlike gravity or electromagnetism, its strength does not diminish with distance, which is why hadrons are so incredibly stable.
Also unlike the electromagnetic force, it is also carried by three different types of charges, called “colors,” rather than just the one type of charge seen in electricity (positive/negative).
These two properties make the behavior of the force extremely difficult to model on a computer, one reason why these experiments are being conducted.
Back in 2005, physicists at Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) discovered that quark-gluon plasma behaves like a frictionless liquid. While the LHC probes higher energy interactions, the RHIC plans to study how quark-gluon plasma cools down into “normal” plasma.
Related: From Atoms to Quarks
Previous Quantum Entanglement Record Blown Away
Just a few weeks ago, I reported that a new record for quantum entanglement had been set at 20 meters. Well that record has been expanded upon…to 97 kilometers. Chinese experimenters successfully used laser-guided systems to separate entangled photons across Qinghai Lake.
In the experiment, a crystal was stimulated with ultraviolet light to produce a pair of entangled photons. When photons are entangled, they can be thought of as a single entity, or wave, consisting of two units of energy. When the polarization of one of the photons is measured, this wave collapses, and the polarization of the other photon is instantaneously known, regardless of how distant it is.
Laser guided systems were necessary in order to align the detectors across this vast distance. Otherwise, small shifts in the Earth’s crust and atmospheric disturbance would have made the experiment impossible. This also means the experiment can currently only be conducted at night.
This breakthrough brings the possibility of quantum communication, which is infinitely secure, and quantum computation, which can solve certain types of problems essentially instantaneously, closer to reach.
Plate Tectonics Discovered On Mars
While Curiosity roams the surface of Mars, a scientist at UCLA has made a discovery using images taken by the unrelated orbital probes Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The discovery changes everything we thought we knew about Mars, and even the solar system.
Mars has plate tectonics.
Plate tectonics is the motion of pieces of land across a planet’s surface. This motion is driven by currents in the magma below the planet’s surface.
While volcanic activity was understood to exist on Mars and other places in the solar system, plate tectonics was previously thought to exist only on Earth.
After analyzing roughly 100 photos of Mars, An Yin discovered about a dozen that strongly suggested plate tectonics. The images suggested the existence of strike-slip faults on Mars.
A strike-slip fault is an area where two pieces of land slide past one another, This produces geological formations that are more or less in a straight line.
Valles Marineris is the largest canyon in the solar system, but its origins have been uncertain. Now, the images of the canyon that Yin analyzed contained deformations. These indicated that the canyon is a fault line. The pieces of land appear to have slid past one another by 150 or 160 kilometers.
The fault line is roughly 2000 kilometers in length. The large scale of the fault line and the amount of motion can currently only be explained by plate tectonics.
Related: Landscapes of Mars: A Visual Tour
Electricity From Wastewater
Currently, about 3 percent of the electricity consumed by developed nations is used to treat wastewater. Since most electricity comes from fossil fuels, this means that wastewater plants contribute to global warming.
But now, at Oregon State University, engineers have discovered a way to transform these wastewater stations into batteries. The new technique has a 10-100 fold advantage over previous attempts.
It works like this. Bacteria are used to break down the organic waste. This chemical reaction produces electrons, which can then be channeled from the fuel cell’s anode to its cathode. This generates an electrical current. The process is essentially the same as that of a battery.
This process recovers more energy than using the waste to generate methane, and actually does a better job of cleaning the wastewater.
Related: Why are We Producing Biofuels?