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APS 2010: Science and secrecy

APS 2010: Science and secrecy

Is the censorship of sensitive science becoming more or less pronounced? Yesterday, during a session on ‘science and secrecy’, Steven Aftergood, who leads the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, had numbers that told a mixed tale.  Read more

APS 2010: Sculpting physics

APS 2010: Sculpting physics

During a press conference today, I was pleased to meet the artist Jim Sanborn, a specialist in scientific sculptures who is probably one of the Washington DC’s most important artists. Sanborn is currently most famous for a piece, pictured here, that sits near the entrance to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Using techniques taught to him by a former CIA spook, Sanborn in 1990 created the undulating copper screen with its 1,800 encrypted characters. Most have already been hacked, and the letters translate to three ambiguous and slightly sinister messages. But the last part, 97 or 98 characters long, has remained unsolved.  Read more

APS 2010: American Physical Snowciety

APS 2010: American Physical Snowciety

So the physicists have arrived in Washington DC for the April APS meeting to find themselves surrounded by a couple feet of snow. This is because the April meeting, this year, is in February. Nice one. Normally, February wouldn’t be so bad in Washington. This year was different. For arriving physicists who have somehow ignored the news over the last week, Washington has been hit by two blizzards within a single week. First was Snowpocalypse (aka Snowmageddon), followed up four days later by Snoverkill. But everyone seems to be cozy here in the Mariott Woodley Park hotel, and attendance isn’t down too much. I hope to check in through the President’s Day weekend with newsy bits and blurbs.  Read more

APS 2009: Back to DC

I’m set to head to the airport in a bit, and so this is sayonara. As usual, I didn’t get to half the sessions that I wanted to, but that’s part of the appeal. Just to keep us on our toes, it looks like APS is having its next April meeting in February. But it will be in Washington, DC, my home, so I’ll be happy to offer insider tours. I’m a journalist, so my rates are cheap!  Read more

APS 2009: Pierre Auger backs off claims for cosmic ray source

APS 2009: Pierre Auger backs off claims for cosmic ray source

The mysterious origin of ultra-high energy cosmic rays is, it seems, still a mystery. Two years ago, scientists at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina thought they had it solved. They published a paper in Science, based on two dozen particles, that there was a correlation with the location of Active Galactic Nuclei — supermassive black holes that accelerate jets of material at near-light speed throughout the universe. At the time of the announcment, there was some doubt: The Hi-Res project, which scans the northern sky like Auger does the south, found no such correlation.  Read more

APS 2009: The muon shadow of the Moon

APS 2009: The muon shadow of the Moon

Astronomers typically use photons of some sort to figure out what’s happening up there. Sure, some astronomers look for cosmic rays (which are not rays but in fact charged particles like protons), and eventually, gravitational waves are going to be important. But light is the way 99% of astronomy has been done. Now, a new window on the heavens is about to open — and the window goes through the center of the Earth.  Read more

APS 2009: Fermi seeing dark matter’s signal?

APS 2009: Fermi seeing dark matter's signal?

Peter Michelson, head of the Large Area Telescope team on Fermi, the gamma ray telescope formerly known as GLAST, gave the opening talk this morning. He went through all the amazing things that it has found in its first 8 months: gamma-ray only pulsars, milli-second pulsars, and active galactic nuclei. But he saved the news for last: Fermi, like two other experiments PAMELA and ATIC, is seeing way too many electrons and positrons all around us — which could be an indirect signal from the annihilation or decay of dark matter, the stuff that makes up up to a quarter of the mass of the universe, but has yet to be detected directly as a particle.  Read more