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   TBTF Log, week of 2000-02-13

This is the TBTF Log, week of 2000-02-13, an experiment in reporting important breaking news in a very timely way. The TBTF newsletter continues unchanged. The most recent issue is TBTF for 2000-02-06: Privacy at the boil.

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Saturday, February 19, 2000

2/19/00 1:47:59 PM

  • updated WIMP in a teacup. WIMPs are hypothetical weakly interacting massive particles, thought to exist in flattened spherical haloes surrounding every galaxy. An Italian team now claims to have bolstered earlier evidence for the detection of one such candidate particle, called a neutralino. Here's an abstract of the preprint put out by the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, and here is the full preprint in PDF form.

    The particle reported by the Italian team has a mass about that of a nickel atom, though it could be two or three heavier depending on the actual value of earth's velocity with respect to the presumed stationary (but possibly slowly rotating) cloud of WIMPs in which the Milky Way spins. WIMPs were detected by clocking seasonal variations in neutralino flux as earth's orbital motion first bolsters, then detracts from, our velocity due to the galaxy's rotation plus proper solar motion. The researchers base their claim on a close match in 4 years' data between predicted and observed variation, an effect on the order of 5 percent. This finding has not yet been verified by other researchers. But a number of WIMP experiments around the world are nearly ready to announce results, so confirmation or repudiation could come soon.

    The NY Times article referenced above notes that, at the presumed mass of the presumed neutralino, the galaxy would be imbedded in a cloud with a density of around one WIMP per teacup of space. Multiply the cross-section of a human body by 140 miles -- the distance you travel through the WIMP cloud in a second -- and divide by the volume of a teacup to conclude that about a billion of these puppies are streaming through you every second. Good thing they interact only weakly.

    [Note added 2000-02-20, 12:56 pm:] Not all of the matter in the universe is luminous. Dark matter is anything that doesn't shine brightly enough for us to detect it across whatever gap separates us. The matter we can see represents only about 30% of the amount needed to assure a "flat" universe, one which has exactly enough matter to keep it expanding forever. (The currently favored interpretation of the Big Bang and its aftermath leads theorists to prefer a flat universe.)

    Luminous matter is also insufficient to explain the rotation of galaxies. Unlike the solar system, in which the outer planets rotate more slowly than the inner, galaxies (including our own) act more like rigid disks. One explanation for this is that the galaxies are embedded in haloes of invisible matter far larger and more massive than the luminous parts we can see.

    The missing mass in the universe has always been assumed, I've assumed, to exist in the form of either WIMPs or MACHOs (massive compact halo objects) or, more recently, the Cosmological Constant. This latter is a hypothetical universal repulsive force that Einstein invented and later called "the worst mistake of my career." The CC would cause the expansion of the universe to accelerate over time. Weirdly enough, this is exactly what researchers inferred from data on distant supernovas beginning about 2 years ago.

    Interesting times when evidence for all three explanations for the "missing mass" is strengthening at once.

    • MACHOs: The recent Atlanta meeting of the AAS featured a number of papers on "microlensing" -- watching for gravitational distortions in the light from, say, the Lesser Magellanic Cloud as massive but nonluminous objects pass between it and us. Such objects might be MACHOs in the halo of either our own galaxy or of the LMC. An effort called the MACHO Project reported on 5.7 years' worth of data that includes 17 microlensing events against the LMC. Another Atlanta paper summarized a number of microlensing studies as concluding that MACHOs don't comprise the bulk of our galaxy's halo:

      Over 350 microlensing events have been reported (most by the MACHO Project) of which about 30 are towards the Magellanic Clouds. The most straightforward interpretation of these events is that they represent a significant component of the dark halo of the Milky Way. Alternative explanations have been advanced, and it has proved difficult to distinguish between the various suggestions. A robust conclusion, however, is that objects of substellar mass do not comprise much of the dark matter in the halo of the Milky Way.

    • Cosmological Constant: A recent issue of Science News features a solid survey of the unanimity the remarkable idea of an accelerating universal expansion has garnered in just two years -- so much so that the current best-guess value for the Cosmological Constant, the push factor, is engraved on a plaque at the top of the spiral "walk through time" in the new Rose Center (formerly the Hayden Planetarium) in NYC.

Friday, February 18, 2000

2/18/00 11:50:49 AM

    F/A-18C Hornet breaking the sound barrier
  • Bang explained. I'm taking the unusual step of reviving a week-old TBTF Log item because a better explanation has come in. Here's what I wrote last Friday:

    This photo won first place in the World Press Photo 2000 contest's Science and Technology Singles category. The image was captured last summer by US Navy Ensign John Gay. It shows an F/A-18C Hornet breaking the sound barrier. More details at this Navy site.

    Alert reader Robert Hettinga alerted a numerical physicist of his acquaintence, Michael Frese, who laid down the law. His explanation is posted here by permission.

    This photograph shows the condensation of a probably supersaturated mixture of water vapor in air often caused by changes in pressure.

    The particular change in pressure seen here is probably caused by the shock which develops in the flow of air over a blunt body at subsonic but near supersonic flow condition. The fact that the shock does not trail from the front of the plane proves that the plane's velocity is subsonic.

    However, shocks only develop in supersonic flows. This flow has supersonic regions in it because the passage of the front of the plane causes the pressure to drop above it, smoothly and gradually on the time scale of the plane's passage. This pressure drop causes a decrease in the sound speed in the air, because cooler air has a lower sound speed.

    When the aft parts of the plane arrive, they are then moving faster than the local sound speed, and cause sharp changes in pressure, known as shock waves.

    This flow condition is known as trans-sonic flight, because some of the flow is subsonic and some is supersonic. Trans-sonic flow is a steady-state flow, not a transient one, and is not dependent for its existence on the acceleration of the plane. This picture is thus unusual mostly because of the atmospheric conditions required rather than the exact speed of the plane.

    In other words, the guy who took the picture probably had a long time to get his camera up, on, pointed, and adjusted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2000

2/16/00 1:09:54 PM

  • updated Telemarketing to domain-name holders. A while back Network Solutions stirred up a hornet's nest when it began spamming domain-name holders by email looking to drum up new business. Those wild 'n' crazy guys have now taken to annoying their customers by telephone. Some of said customers are not best pleased.

    This rant was posted by Alan Wexelblat on a private list. I think it nicely exemplifies the outrage NSI is going to engender by this latest step over the line.

    I just got a phone spam from Network Solutions.

    Those <>'s used their own database of contact phone numbers to spam for more domain registrations.

    This really pisses me off. I use a real phone number there in case there's a real problem and someone actually needs to get ahold of me, not so these bubble-headed excuses for over-evolved nematodes can fill up my voicemail with their crapola.

    Anyone know who I should complain to? Preferably a phone number. I wanna call this dickless, brainless, spineless, useless waste of valuable oxygen.

    NSI apparently has company in the shady business of telemarketing to domain-name holders' phone numbers of record. This Newsbytes piece recounts an Oklahoma man's 39 successful lawsuits against unsolicited phone telemarketers. Robert Braver's latest suit names bulkregister.com, which Braver says had robots call his home and office phones and his wife's cell phone. This practice is illegal under both federal and Oklahoma law.

    [Note added 2000-02-18, 1:16 pm:] Brian McWilliams wrote to note that he had written a story for InternetNews earlier this week on the bulkregister.com phone spam.

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

2/15/00 12:59:37 PM

  • updated TBTF named to Forbes Magazine's Best of the Web. The review is here on the Web and on a newsstand near you. Quoth:

    Created by consultant Keith Dawson in 1994, this site culls ten weekly stories from reader e-mails, Internet news and a stable of contributors. Coverage spans topics from quantum computing to Microsoft's lesser-known court cases. The Web links are purposeful and there are no ads to distract. This site will make you sound smart to your boss.

    In the obligatory "best and worst" section Forbes notes that the site's worst feature is its design. "It has none," they say. (Go on, tell me what you really think.)

    Forbes has set up a reader reviews section at deja.com (vote here; results).

    [Note added 2000-02-18, 11:25 pm:] You folks are awesome. Thirty-six of you have ranked and commented on TBTF, and the repudiation of the "no design" comment is strong -- an overall reader rating of 4.2 out of 5 on that criterion, and 4.1 overall. Of the 20 other listed sites in the Technology News category, only four have garnered one or two reader rankings; the rest have none.

Sunday, February 13, 2000

2/13/00 10:43:47 AM

  • updated NASA gets a Valentine from Mars, another from Eros 433. As if saying Happy St. Valentine's Day from the Red Planet, the Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera captured this unique view of a bright, heart-shaped mesa in the south polar region. Here's the whole story, which neglects to mention that the image was actually captured on November 16, 1999. The heart is about 279 yards across.

    Earlier in 1999 the Mars Global Surveyor captured an even more perfect valentine heart, this one expressed as a pit instead of as a mesa.

    Thanks to studly TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid, who did all the research on this one.

    [Note added 2000-02-15, 1:15 pm: NASA must have hearts on its mind here lately. This story describes yet another heart-shaped crater that the NEAR spacecraft captured Friday, at a distance of 1609 miles from the surface of Eros 433. Here's the photo on its own. NEAR entered orbit around the space rock yesterday. Here's the first light image from a distance of 210 miles.

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