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'God Particle' analogue spotted outside a supercollider: Scientists find Higgs mode in a superconductor
Posted: 25 Feb 2015 03:21 PM PST
Excerpt from dailymail.co.uk
Posted: 25 Feb 2015 03:13 PM PST
Excerpt from foxnews.com/science
A rare planet has been discovered, and it doesn’t seem like a stop anyone would want to make on an intergalactic cruise. Found by two research teams independently of each other, Kepler-432b is extreme in its mass, density, and weather. Roughly the same size of Jupiter, the planet is also doomed- in 200 million years it will be consumed by its sun. “Kepler-432b is definitively a rarity among exoplanets around giant stars: it is a close-in gas-giant planet orbiting a star whose radius is 'quickly' increasing,” Davide Gandolfi, from the Landessternwarte Koenigstuhl (part of the Centre for Astronomy of the University of Heidelberg), told FoxNews.com. “The orbit of the planet has a radius of about 45 million kilometers [28 million miles] (as a reference point, the Earth-Sun distance is about 150 million kilometers [93.2 Million miles]), while most of the planets known to orbit giant stars have wider orbits. The stellar radius is already 3 million kilometers [almost 2 million miles] (i.e., about 4 times the Sun radius) and in less than 200 million years it will be large enough for the star to swallow up its planet.”
Gandolfi, a member of one of the research groups who discovered the rare planet, explains that much like Jupiter, Kepler-432b is a gas-giant celestial body composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, and is most likely to have a dense core that accounts for 6 percent or less of the planet’s mass. “The planet has a mass six times that of Jupiter, but is about the same size!” he says. “This means that it is not one of the largest planets yet discovered: it is one of the most massive!” The planet’s orbit brings it extremely close to its host star on some occasions, and very far away at others, which creates extreme seasonal changes. In its year - which lasts 52 Earth days - winters can get a little chilly and summers a bit balmy, to say the least. According to Gandolfi, “The highly eccentric orbit brings Kepler-432b at ‘only’ 24 million kilometers [15 million miles] from its host star, before taking it to about three times as far away. This creates large temperature excursions over the course of the planet year, which is of only 52 Earth days. During the winter season, the temperature on Kepler-432b drops down to 500 degrees Celsius [932 degrees Fahrenheit], whereas in summer it can goes up to nearly 1000 degrees Celsius [1832 degrees Fahrenheit].”
Then again, if you are crazy enough to visit Kepler-432b, you’d better do it fast. As stated before, its host star is set to swallow the planet whole in 200 million years, making the celestial body a rare find. “The paucity of close-in planets around giant stars is likely to be due to the fact that these planets have been already swallowed up by their host stars,” Gandolfi says. “Kepler-432b has been discovered ‘just in time before dinner!” The host star, which is red and possesses 1.35 times the mass of our sun, has partly exhausted the nuclear fuel in its core, and is slowly expanding, eventually growing large enough to swallow Kepler-432b. According to Gandolfi, this is a natural progression for all stars. “Stars first generate nuclear energy in their core via the fusion of Hydrogen into Helium,” he explained. “At this stage, their radii basically do not change much. This is because the outward thermal pressure produced by the nuclear fusion in the core is balanced by the inward pressure of gravitational collapse from the overlying layers. In other words, the nuclear power is the star pillar! Our Sun is currently ‘burning’ hydrogen in its core (please note that I used quotes: ‘burning’ does not mean a chemical reaction- we are talking about nuclear fusion reaction). However, this equilibrium between the two pressures does not last forever. Helium is heavier than hydrogen and tends to sink. The stellar core of the Kepler-432b's host star is currently depleted of hydrogen and it is mainly made of inert helium. The star generates thermal energy in a shell around the core through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium. As a result of this, the star expands and cools down. This is why we call it ‘red giant’- the reddish color comes from the fact that the external layers of the atmosphere of the star are cooling down because they expand.”
Both research teams (the other was from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg) used Calar Alto Observatory’s 7.2- foot telescope in Andalucia, Spain. The planet was also studied by Landessternwarte Koenigstuhl researchers using the 8.5-foot Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, which is located in Spain’s Canary Islands.
Posted: 25 Feb 2015 03:11 PM PST
Excerpt from latimes.com
Computers have beaten humans at chess and "Jeopardy!," and now they can master old Atari games such as "Space Invaders" or "Breakout" without knowing anything about their rules or strategies.
Playing Atari 2600 games from the 1980s may seem a bit "Back to the Future," but researchers with Google's DeepMind project say they have taken a small but crucial step toward a general learning machine that can mimic the way human brains learn from new experience.
Unlike the Watson and Deep Blue computers that beat "Jeopardy!" and chess champions with intensive programming specific to those games, the Deep-Q Network built its winning strategies from keystrokes up, through trial and error and constant reprocessing of feedback to find winning strategies.
“The ultimate goal is to build smart, general-purpose [learning] machines. We’re many decades off from doing that," said artificial intelligence researcher Demis Hassabis, coauthor of the study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. "But I do think this is the first significant rung of the ladder that we’re on."
The Deep-Q Network computer, developed by the London-based Google DeepMind, played 49 old-school Atari games, scoring "at or better than human level," on 29 of them, according to the study.
The algorithm approach, based loosely on the architecture of human neural networks, could eventually be applied to any complex and multidimensional task requiring a series of decisions, according to the researchers.
The algorithms employed in this type of machine learning depart strongly from approaches that rely on a computer's ability to weigh stunning amounts of inputs and outcomes and choose programmed models to "explain" the data. Those approaches, known as supervised learning, required artful tailoring of algorithms around specific problems, such as a chess game.
The computer instead relies on random exploration of keystrokes bolstered by human-like reinforcement learning, where a reward essentially takes the place of such supervision.
“In supervised learning, there’s a teacher that says what the right answer was," said study coauthor David Silver. "In reinforcement learning, there is no teacher. No one says what the right action was, and the system needs to discover by trial and error what the correct action or sequence of actions was that led to the best possible desired outcome.”
The computer "learned" over the course of several weeks of training, in hundreds of trials, based only on the video pixels of the game -- the equivalent of a human looking at screens and manipulating a cursor without reading any instructions, according to the study.
Over the course of that training, the computer built up progressively more abstract representations of the data in ways similar to human neural networks, according to the study.
There was nothing about the learning algorithms, however, that was specific to Atari, or to video games for that matter, the researchers said.
The computer eventually figured out such insider gaming strategies as carving a tunnel through the bricks in "Breakout" to reach the back of the wall. And it found a few tricks that were unknown to the programmers, such as keeping a submarine hovering just below the surface of the ocean in "Seaquest."
The computer's limits, however, became evident in the games at which it failed, sometimes spectacularly. It was miserable at "Montezuma's Revenge," and performed nearly as poorly at "Ms. Pac-Man." That's because those games also require more sophisticated exploration, planning and complex route-finding, said coauthor Volodymyr Mnih.
And though the computer may be able to match the video-gaming proficiency of a 1980s teenager, its overall "intelligence" hardly reaches that of a pre-verbal toddler. It cannot build conceptual or abstract knowledge, doesn't find novel solutions and can get stuck trying to exploit its accumulated knowledge rather than abandoning it and resort to random exploration, as humans do.
“It’s mastering and understanding the construction of these games, but we wouldn’t say yet that it’s building conceptual knowledge, or abstract knowledge," said Hassabis.
The researchers chose the Atari 2600 platform in part because it offered an engineering sweet spot -- not too easy and not too hard. They plan to move into the 1990s, toward 3-D games involving complex environments, such as the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise. That milestone could come within five years, said Hassabis.
“With a few tweaks, it should be able to drive a real car,” Hassabis said.
DeepMind was formed in 2010 by Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, and received funding from Tesla Motors' Elon Musk and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, among others. It was purchased by Google last year, for a reported $650 million.
Hassabis, a chess prodigy and game designer, met Legg, an algorithm specialist, while studying at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College, London. Suleyman, an entrepreneur who dropped out of Oxford University, is a partner in Reos, a conflict-resolution consulting group.
Posted: 25 Feb 2015 03:05 PM PST
Excerpt from space.com
Astronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old.
It remains a mystery how black holes could have grown so huge in such a relatively brief time after the dawn of the universe, researchers say.
Supermassive black holes are thought to lurk in the hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies. The largest black holes found so far in the nearby universe have masses more than 10 billion times that of the sun. In comparison, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is thought to have a mass only 4 million to 5 million times that of the sun.
So far, astronomers have discovered 40 quasars — each with a black hole about 1 billion times the mass of the sun — dating back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. Now, scientists report the discovery of a supermassive black hole 12 billion times the mass of the sun about 12.8 billion light-years from Earth that dates back to when the universe was only about 875 million years old.
This black hole — technically known as SDSS J010013.02+280225.8, or J0100+2802 for short — is not only the most massive quasar ever seen in the early universe but also the most luminous. It is about 429 trillion times brighter than the sun and seven times brighter than the most distant quasar known.
The light from very distant quasars can take billions of years to reach Earth. As such, astronomers can see quasars as they were when the universe was young.
This black hole dates back to a little more than 6 percent of the universe's current age of 13.8 billion years.
"This is quite surprising because it presents serious challenges to theories of black hole growth in the early universe," said lead study author Xue-Bing Wu, an astrophysicist at Peking University in Beijing.
Accretion discs limit the speed of modern black holes' growth. First, as and dust in the disks get close to black holes, traffic jams slow down any other material that's falling into them. Second, as matter collides in these traffic jams, it heats up, emitting radiation that drives gas and dust away from the black holes.
gravitational pulls of black holes — hence, their name — black holes are often bright. That's because they're surrounded by features known as accretion disks, which are made up of gas and dust that heat up and give off light as it swirl into the black holes. Astronomers suspect that quasars, the brightest objects in the universe, contain supermassive black holes that release extraordinarily large amounts of light as they rip apart stars.
Scientists still do not have a satisfactory theory to explain how these supermassive objects formed in the early universe, Wu said.
"It requires either very special ways to quickly grow the black hole or a huge seed black hole," Wu told Space.com. For instance, a recent study suggested that because the early universe was much smaller than it is today, gas was often denser, obscuring a substantial amount of the radiation given off by accretion disks and thus helping matter fall into black holes.
The researchers noted that the light from this black hole could help provide clues about the dark corners of the distant cosmos. As the quasar's light shines toward Earth, it passes through intergalactic gas that colors the light. By deducing how this intergalactic gas influenced the spectrum of light from the quasar, scientists can deduce which elements make up this gas. This knowledge, in turn, can provide into the star-formation processes that were at work shortly after the Big Bang that produced these elements.
"This quasar is the most luminous one in the early universe, which, like a lighthouse, will provide us chances to use it as a unique tool to study the cosmic structure of the dark, distant universe," Wu said.
The scientists detailed their findings in the Feb. 26 issue of the journal Nature.
Posted: 25 Feb 2015 02:59 PM PST
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