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February 2007

Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions

Trance_2Einstein's General Theory of Relativity about matter, space, gravity and time seems incompatible with the theory of quantum mechanics, which governs the microworld of quarks and leptons. Physicists have been searching for ways to make a bridge the two worlds. In 1999, Lisa Randall of Harvard and Raman Sundrum of Johns Hopkins University co-authored two of the most important scientific papers on extra spatial dimensions, explaining how our visible world of four dimensions could be embedded in a higher-dimensional universe.

Randall's work has influenced advocates of string theory, and technology may be coming closer to verifying string theory, which she presents in her book, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions. Proof of an extra dimension could occur when the new Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland begins operations next year, it may have enough energy to produce particles that travel in or through an extra dimension, or even produce microscopic black holes.

Story Link

Wikia -The People's Universe of Knowledge

Unbound_timoreilly_5_2At last week's Google Unbound event in New York City on digital publishing, Web 2.0 guru and technology publisher Tim O'Reilly described the evolution of a subject entry in Wikipedia graphically based on the cumulative number of changes, edits, and additions contributed by our planet's human knowledge engine. In many ways the image looks like the journey through time one sees in layers of eons geological strata (image left -sort of a human-created Grand Canyon of knowledge).

As Tracy Sheridan points out in the attached link, there's a reason Wikipedia is one of the world's major brands (right behind Google and Apple, and hand-in-hand with You Tube) ... and it has everything to do with free culture. Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, will be applying the same power-of-the-people structure to the world of search, which he's naming Wikia, currently dominated by Google. In the new world of Wiki's, people are the algorithm.


Hints of Huge Aquifers

GlobalaltimtharhemThe Guardian reported on Tuesday that according to a team of British scientists, a vast, dust-covered ocean of ice is the most likely place to discover life on Mars.

The frozen ocean was captured by cameras aboard the European Space Agency's Express probe, which revealed an expanse of pack ice just north of the Martian equator, in Elysium, a region strewn with dormant volcanoes.

Dust kicked up by violent storms appears to have settled on the icy surface, outlining fragmented ice rafts covering an area as large as the North Sea. The water is believed to have seeped up from fissures several kilometres beneath the surface, perhaps carrying ancient microbes with it, before freezing some 5 million years ago.

Elsewhere, The New Scientist has reported that is losing little water to space, according to new research, and that much of its ancient abundance may still be hidden beneath the surface.

Dried up riverbeds and other evidence imply that once had enough water to fill a global ocean more than 600 metres deep, together with a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide that kept the planet warm enough for the water to be liquid. But the planet is now very dry and has a thin atmosphere.The European Space Agency's Express spacecraft has revealed that the rate of water loss from solar winds is much lower that previously estimated. Its measurements suggest the whole planet loses only about 20 grams per second of oxygen and CO2 to space. Either some other process removed the water and CO2 or they are still present and hidden somewhere on Mars, probably underground in huge reserviors.

Guardian Link

New Scientist Link

An Infinite Universe

Nworld1A new cosmological model demonstrates the universe can endlessly expand and contract, providing a rival to Big Bang theories and solving a thorny modern physics problem, according to physicists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.The cyclic model has four key parts: expansion, turnaround, contraction and bounce.

During expansion, dark energy -- the unknown force causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate -- pushes and pushes until all matter fragments into patches so far apart that nothing can bridge the gaps. Everything from black holes to atoms disintegrates. This point, just a fraction of a second before the end of time, is the turnaround.

At the turnaround, each fragmented patch collapses and contracts individually instead of pulling back together in a reversal of the Big Bang. The patches become an infinite number of independent universes that contract and then bounce outward again, reinflating in a manner similar to the Big Bang. One patch becomes our universe.

Cosmologists first offered an oscillating universe model, with no beginning or end, as a Big Bang alternative in the 1930s, but he idea was abandoned because the oscillations could not be reconciled with the rules of physics, including the second law of thermodynamics.

New satellites currently under construction, such as the European Space Agency’s Planck Satellite, could gather enough information to determine dark energy’s equation of state.


The 6th Mass Extinction?

Banner_gd4Of all species that have existed on Earth, 99.9 percent are now extinct. Many of them perished in five cataclysmic events.

The classical "Big Five" mass extinctions identified by Raup and Sepkoski (1982) are widely agreed upon as some of the most significant: End Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, End Triassic, and End Cretaceous.

According to a recent poll, seven out of ten biologists think we are currently in the throes of a sixth mass extinction. Some say it could wipe out as many as 90 percent of all species living today. Yet other scientists dispute such dire projections.

The following link will take you to a great debate sponsored by PBS on the issue; they also consider how one species -- Homo sapiens -- may be triggering the sixth great extinction event.

PBS Link

Extraterrestrial Origins of Life

Wardpeter Don't miss Peter Ward's third lecture, The Undesigned Universe in this Princeton Online series on astrobiology, where he argues for the possibility that DNA-bearing, carbon-based life is not the only form of life that may have evolved on earth. Ward, professor of astrobiology at the University of Washington and author of Life as We Know It -NASA Search for Alien Life, redraws the evolutionary tree to include RNA life, and conceivably many thousands or millions of other non-DNA-bearing lifeforms, which may have competed with, and lost out to, DNA-bearing life. He also explores the probability that we are in fact not a native Earth species but Martians who have evolved from earlier lifeforms to live on this planet. The lectures can be downloaded as audio or video.

Audio or Video Link

"Second Life" Gene Pool

255_1Check out the Gene Pool on Second Life's Info Island, which explores the laws of inheritance (physical traits of a plant could be thought of terms of pairs of parental factors), which were discovered by Johann Gregor Mendel in the mid-nineteenth century. The Abbey of Saint Thomas in Mendel’s Garden is patterned after the still active monastery in the Czech Republic in Brno. Textures used in Second Life have been donated by the Mendel Museum. 

While you're there check out Second Life's InfoIsland with a heads up on upcoming interactive Marie Antoinette Exhibit, a book discussion of Sir Walter Scott's Invanhoe, and Squirrelverse, a cool cafe for teens 18 and over to hang and discussion life and learning with adult educators and librarians,

Second Life Blog Link

InfoIsland Link