Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) was a topic of NPR’s Morning Edition, August 17, 2016.


Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Read a full transcript or listen to the broadcast here (5 min 30s).

From a Berkeley Lab press release (July 21, 2016):

Scientists with the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment, which operates beneath a mile of rock at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in the Black Hills of South Dakota, have completed their search for the missing matter of the Universe. (See The Cosmos, Section 16.4c, p. 430.)

Although LUX’s sensitivity far exceeded the original expectations of the experiment,  it yielded no trace of a dark matter particle. LUX’s extreme sensitivity makes the team confident that if dark matter particles had interacted with the LUX’s xenon target, the detector would almost certainly have seen them. These new limits on dark matter detection will allow scientists to eliminate many potential models for dark matter particles, offering critical guidance for the next generation of dark matter experiments.

While the LUX experiment successfully eliminated a large swath of mass ranges and interaction-coupling strengths where so-called WIMPs might exist, physicists believe the WIMP model itself remains alive and viable.

Links: full LBL press release, LUX homepage.

Adapted from an article in the LA Times (July 15, 2016):

A layer of soot deposited after the K/T extinction event may explain why dinosaurs but not everything else died. (See The Cosmos, A Closer Look 8.5, p. 220.)

Researchers from Japan argue that the 6-mile-wide asteroid slammed into an oil field in the present day Yucatán Peninsula and triggered an inferno that launched a massive cloud of smoke into the sky. The resulting layer of soot that enveloped the globe would have been just the right thing to kill the dinosaurs and most other land-dwelling creatures.

Previous theories have postulated that the asteroid sparked the mass extinction by releasing high levels of sulfuric acid particles in the atmosphere. The particles would have caused complete darkness, near-freezing temperatures and acid rain. However, sulfuric acid particles don’t hang around for very long — and if they did, the results would have been catastrophic for many species besides dinosaurs. Instead, soot from the immense fire caused by the Chicxulub impact was a prime candidate.

The scientists collected soot samples from the thin band of rock that marks the timing of the extinction of dinosaurs and found the same composition from locations around the world. They hypothesize that soot was slowly deposited on land in the five years following the massive collision. The powdery substance is primarily made of black carbon that results from incineration of organic matter.

The tiny particles are about a million times more light-absorbing than carbon dioxide. They would have blocked about 85% of sunlight from reaching Earth and cut rainfall by nearly 80%, creating near-drought conditions, as well as causing temperatures to plummet. In this post-asteroid wasteland, plants began to die off, cutting off the food supply to creatures higher up the food chain — such as the dinosaurs — while allowing smaller mammals, birds and aquatic creatures to survive.

Link: the LA Times article