Microsoft co-founder announces Stratolaunch Systems
An artist's concept of the Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft.
December 13th, 2011
04:41 PM ET

Microsoft co-founder announces Stratolaunch Systems

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced his new space project today. Stratolaunch Systems will reunite Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan as they work to develop a new mobile launch system. The duo previously collaborated on SpaceShipOne, in 2004.

Stratolaunch Systems' new launch system will have three main components: a carrier aircraft, a multistage booster rocket, and a mating and integration system that will allow the aircraft and booster to work together. The carrier aircraft will be developed by Rutan's Scaled Composites, the same company that built SpaceShipOne. The booster will be built by Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Dynetics will be responsible for the mating and integration system.

The goal is to bring quick-turnaround, "airport-like operations" to spaceflight, first with payloads and eventually with humans, with plans for a first flight within the next five years. Compared with launching from the ground, launching from the air will cost less and be safer, more flexible, and more responsive.

The carrier plane will be the largest plane in the world: it's designed to have a wingspan of more than 380 feet and will fly using six Boeing 747 engines. Takeoff and landing will require a runway 12,000 feet long.

Follow @Stratolaunch, @Dynetics and @SpaceXer on Twitter.

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Filed under: In Space • News
Scientists: ‘God particle’ proof closer than ever
Traces of particle collisions are illustrated in this graphic from the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
December 13th, 2011
01:37 PM ET

Scientists: ‘God particle’ proof closer than ever

Scientists said Tuesday that they’re a little bit closer to answering one of the biggest questions of particle physics: Does the so-called God particle exist?

Gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, experts from around the world revealed results of their search for the particle – known officially as the Higgs boson - using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atom smasher.

The Higgs boson, which has been theorized but never glimpsed, plays a fundamental role in the workings of our universe. One expert called it the “missing piece of the jigsaw.”

Related: Why is the 'God particle' so important?

Scientists at Tuesday's event said they had made strides in their search for the Higgs boson but did not have strong enough conclusions to claim a discovery.

“The first important results are that we have been able to restrict the most likely mass region over the last months to a very narrow range,” Fabiola Gianotti said Tuesday at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. “In this mass region, we see some excessive events.  It’s too early to tell if this excess is due to a fluctuation in the background or something more interesting.”

The collider fires together protons, which are positively charged particles that make up all atoms that can interact in many different ways. Scientists are looking very closely for a "Higgs bump," which is "literally a bump in a graph which will pop up and say, 'that's it!' " said physicist Martin Archer of the Imperial College of London.

Related: Higgs coming into focus

"It is too early to draw a definite conclusion. More studies and more data are needed. We have built solid foundations for the exciting months to come," Gianotti added. “We are discussing something, which is the last chapter we hope for a story which lasts since 47 years.”

Two groups of scientists worked independently on different parts of the hydrogen collider to watch and analyze the particle collisions.

Scientists say Higgs boson particles won’t be discovered by actually observing the particles themselves. They will be discovered by observing how other particles react to them.

"As of today, what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of the boson,” said Guido Tonelli, another scientist who participated in the research. “Refined analyses and additional data delivered in 2012 by this magnificent machine will definitely give an answer.”

The Standard Model is the theory physicists use to describe the behavior of fundamental particles and the forces that act between them. It describes the ordinary matter from which we, and everything visible in the universe, are made and does it extremely well. Nevertheless, the Standard Model does not describe the 96% of the universe that is invisible: so-called Dark Matter. One of the main goals of the collider's research program is to go beyond the Standard Model, and the Higgs boson could be the key, CERN scientists explained.

“The very good news that we know from today that in the next year, it’s very likely we might get an answer that we could consider solid,” Tonelli said.

Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter

December 13th, 2011
01:34 PM ET

Apollo 17 Extravehicular Activity – 39 Years Ago Today

"39 years ago, today, scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt is photographed standing next to a huge, split lunar boulder during the third Apollo 17 extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), which transported Schmitt and Eugene A. Cernan to this extravehicular station from their Lunar Module (LM), is seen in the background. The mosaic is made from two frames from Apollo 17 Hasselblad magazine 140. The two frames were photographed by Cernan."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen

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