Thursday, July 12, 2012
There was just one thing going through my mind, when I found this fake Kickstarter campaign, and thought it was real: "I don't care HOW much money he's raised, this guy is not getting to the moon!" It seemed outrageous! Moon Computing? Servers on the Moon? When I discovered that it was a parody website, and not the real kickstarter, all I could do was laugh at myself -- because all the signs were there.
I'm worried that a similar thing might be going on with recent developments in the Higgs Boson saga, which is plastering itself over every media outlet. It seems that the data which seems to prove the existence of the Higgs-boson particle, responsible for the development of mass in the early universe (I hate when people call it the "God Particle"), may have another explanation. The explanations currently being offered are that this is evidence of an even more exotic particle, which makes me wonder a little bit about whether less exotic explanations have all been fully explored. I certainly hope they have. I found this article from 2011, which describes the conclusion that the Higgs-boson probably doesn't exist. It sort of bothers me when scientists are certain of something that is so hard to know, so I tend to believe that the Higgs-boson DOES exist, but I worry that this will be yet another "discovery" of the particle which turns out to have been hype. Either way this goes, there was a blanket statement made with certainty, by CERN, which should never have been made.
It's great to have new developments in science. Don't get me wrong. But the fact is that there is no absolute certainty about an experiment done on Earth to simulate the Big Bang. Could it be possible that the "more exotic" explanations indicate that CERN created a particle that didn't exist in the Big Bang, but in fact has never existed before? The issue here is either decay into photons that are indicated by additional mass, or it could be that the additional mass came from a moment of creation no one understands or has predicted. The experiment simply has to be repeated, with no assumptions that the Higgs-boson was the definitive result of the first experiment. Expensive equipment sometimes makes it seem as though rigor is a luxury. I submit to you that it is not.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Solar storms pose a grave threat to electrical devices on Earth. A large enough solar storm could wipe out power across half the globe, but new methods of predicting solar storms could give us enough warning to shut down the transformers in the affected areas so that they don't overload. A warning would also have to go out to everyone to turn off their electrical devices, so that the devices would not be irreversibly damaged. Solar storm forecasting would be useful for rare, once-in-a-lifetime solar storms, but what about ordinary Earth weather forecasting? It wouldn't be as helpful in preventing outages.
A recent storm blacked out power to millions of Americans for upwards of five days, while power companies struggled to repair downed lines and power stations damaged in the storm. It got me thinking about the whole idea of centralized power sources themselves. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells like those being sold by Bloom Energy could power a house, or more likely a block, with one refridgerator-sized "server" (known as a Bloom Box), without the need for a wasteful and expensive power grid that fails like a line of dominoes when even one part of it is compromised. Better yet, an SOFC can run on almost any fuel, so scarcity would not necessarily lead to increased prices for the energy. The biggest hurdle I see to this revolution in energy is that -- at present -- Bloom Boxes are prohibitively expensive for private use. That could change, however, if enough of them were sold.
A more immediate application of the technology might be to use Bloom Boxes, or another SOFC, to power the neutron detectors at the South Pole, which would be used to calculate the presence of electrons related to Solar radiation to predict Solar Storm activity [see link above]. Something like that might already be in practice, but my research into the neutron detectors didn't extend to power sources. If this is what's already being done, bravo researchers! If not, that's something to consider. Either way, a future where Bloom Boxes are in wider use has the potential to make a more energy-efficient, lower emission, and generally better world for all of us. They still would be susceptible to Solar Storms, however, and it would be more of a headache to shut them all down. Nothing's perfect.