Random Thoughts on the Universe

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year in Review

As 2010 comes to a close, it is a time to reflect on how the world has changed over the course of the last year. Here are a few highlights from the physics community:

  • The Large Hadron Collider finally starts! That's right, back in March after a year and a bit of delays, they finally fired up the biggest collider ever built. By the end of November the beam energies had reached 1.18 GeV officially making the LHC the highest energy particle accelerator in the world. We can only imagine what next year will bring in new data.
  • Einstein Was Right! In April, data from the Abell 3376 galactic cluster confirmed the prediction of general relativity, postulated by Einstein over 95 years ago and striking another blow against modified theories of gravity.
  • Symmetry Breaking at Fermilab? May saw the announcement from the team at Fermilab that they had discovered a rare B-meson decay which produced more matter than antimatter (or more precisely, it was more likely to decay into matter than into antimatter), raising hopes that the Universe's imbalance may finally be explained. As yet the asymmetrical decays have not been confirmed in other experiments, and most likely were regrettably only a statistical error.
  • Questionable Xenon? Also in May we saw the release of data from the Xenon experiment which suggested the two leading experiments, CDMS and DAMA, were conflicting with each other and with smaller experiments making dark matter even more bizarre. As with the last result, it is most likely caused by questionable data and processing by the Xenon team.
  • Unexplained Oscillator. In June the neutrino community was stunned by results from both the MINOS and miniBoone experiments which gives different properties to neutrinos and antineutrinos. The muon-neutrinos and their anti-partners were observed to oscillate into other flavors of neutrinos at very different rates, which also violates the symmetry laws of the Standard Model. Could this indicate new physics, or perhaps a heavier fourth neutrino type? Only time and more data will tell for certain.
  • Titanic Life? June also saw the announcement from NASA/JPL that they had found chemicals on the moon Titan which would be consistent with methane based life forms. If the data holds up, it could indicate the presence of other life within our very own solar system!
  • A Higgs? Back in July the physics world was buzzing with rumors that the group at the Tevatron had seen signs of a Higgs boson, beating out the LHC for the discovery. Unfortunately the results didn't appear in any formal reviewed format, so they were probably only rumors.
  • A Mirror Earth: In September astronomers were excited to discover a planet about 20 million light years away which appears to be in the perfect place to have liquid water. And as astrobiologists know, liquid water means a good chance of finding extraterrestrial life. Anyone ready for a 40M year tropical vacation?
These are just a few of the exciting new results in physics in the year 2010. The trend seems to be new data suggesting interesting new physics and new particles, but no hard evidence yet. But with the LHC just now gearing up for a serious attack on multi-TeV energy range, 2011 could be a year of decisive results. We look forward to reporting some amazing new discoveries in the coming year!

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