Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Great Day for Science of the Big, Small, Far, and Near: Pluto and Pentaquarks

In honor of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft passing by Pluto just hours ago, I will share a drawing I made of the famed dwarf planet:

If you are having difficulties seeing anything, it is probably because I drew the planet to scale based on what you would see if you were looking directly at Pluto from the surface of the Earth with only your eyes. Pluto is really, really far away, as illustrated by this video depicting the New Horizons spacecraft's journey:

For something far easier to see than my drawing or looking outside, here is an image of Pluto taken from a much closer distance of 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers):

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The image was taken before the spacecraft's closest approach and many more should be on the way if all goes as planned.

Incredibly, the Pluto mission isn't the only big science news to report today:
The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the discovery of a class of particles known as pentaquarks. The collaboration has submitted a paper reporting these findings to the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said LHCb spokesperson Guy Wilkinson. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”
In honor of the discovery, I will share a drawing I made of a pentaquark:

Once again, if you are having difficulties seeing the pentaquark, it is probably because I drew it to scale. This time the challenge isn't that the object is really, really far away, but that it is really, really small. For something easier to see, here is an illustrated representation, not to scale, of a possible layout for the quarks in a pentaquark.

Credit: CERN/LHCb Collaboration

Compared to Pluto, though, it is far more complicated to talk about what a pentaquark "looks like". Suffice it to say here that our brains weren't built to interpret the world at such small scales, where the rules seem rather crazy compared to what we experience in our everyday lives.

But strange stuff that defies our expectations isn't limited to the small. And these two examples of today's science are just a taste of the many exciting discoveries still remaining to be made whatever the scale.

No comments:

Post a Comment