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Jon Cartwright: October 2008 Archives

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Hubble’s “perfect 10” (Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio)

By Jon Cartwright

After a month in “safety mode” following an error on its onboard data formatter, the Hubble is back online and taking photos again.

To evidence its good health, the grand old telescope has produced a “perfect 10” image of the galaxy pair Arp 147. According to a press release, the blue ring of the right galaxy formed its “0” shape when the left galaxy (the “1”) passed through. At the moment of impact a circular wave of dense material rippled through the right galaxy, colliding with material moving inwards from the galaxy’s gravitational pull. The resultant shockwaves and dense gas stimulated stars to form in a circle.

By Jon Cartwright

Awarding Nobel prizes, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) proved earlier this month, is no easy business. Sometimes the the prize-worthy research is the responsibility of one or two inspirational scientists. But, as is more and more often the case, the research is a joint effort among many.

Take the Higgs boson, predicted by Peter Higgs in 1963 and now the one of the most sought after particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN lab near Geneva. If the LHC does detect a Higgs boson, who deserves a Nobel? Just Higgs himself? Perhaps also the LHC project leader, Lyn Evans? Or maybe the entire LHC crew?

By Jon Cartwright

A new instrument at the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) in the US proves that Europeans are not the only scientists equipped to study the Big Bang.

The Fundamental Neutron Physics Beamline (FNPB) has just become operational at the SNS, which is based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Although just one of 25 instruments that will eventually power up at the SNS, the FNBP will not be using neutrons to study other materials. Rather, scientists will use it to perform studies of the neutron itself.

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Should Nicola Cabibbo have shared this year’s Nobel prize? (Credit: Marcella Bona)

By Jon Cartwright

There was a reason why science reporters like me groaned at the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Physics yesterday. “Drat,” we thought in synchrony. “Now I have to explain what symmetry breaking is.” Maybe that’s why we on physicsworld.com all hoped for more fathomable research, like dark energy or neutrino oscillations.

For some particle physicists, there was a less selfish reason to be irritated. Two of the three new Japanese-born laureates, Toshihide Maskawa of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics and Makoto Kobayashi of the KEK lab, were awarded the prize for figuring out how to encompass so-called charge–parity violation in the Standard Model. The crucial part of their work was in describing the decays of quarks, for which they created the CKM matrix — “M” for Maskawa and “K” for Kobayashi. So why did the Nobel committee appear to disregard the first initial — “C” for the Italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo?

arXiv thrives

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Paul Ginsparg, creator of the arXiv e-print server

By Jon Cartwright

The electronic dust may have only been settling on arXiv for 17 years or so, but the world’s favourite e-print server has already amassed half a million papers.

arXiv started out life in 1991 as xxx.lanl.gov, a server created by Paul Ginsparg, then at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, to share preprints among a small number of high-energy physicists. It was a simple yet surprisingly popular idea, receiving some 400 subscriptions in its first six months alone. By 1999 when xxx.lanl.gov had changed its name to arXiv, the repository was accumulating almost two thousand new articles every month. In 2001, when Ginsparg headed to Cornell University, arXiv went too, and continued to grow.

arXiv began its operations before the World Wide Web, search engines, online commerce and all the rest, but nonetheless anticipated many components of current ‘Web 2.0’ methodology,” said Ginsparg in a statement on Friday, when the server officially passed the 500,000 mark. “It continues to play a leading role at the forefront of new models for scientific communication.”

• If you are interested to read Ginsparg’s thoughts on the development of scientific communication on the Web, why not read Physics World’s online feature?