Another great week has passed and it’s time to take a look at what’s been happening in the world of physics. As always, here are the top 3 news stories including the corresponding links. For more news register for our email newsletter.
A new possible use for the elusive neutrino particles has been uncovered recently by a team of physicists at College of Science at Virginia Tech. Prof Patrick Huber and his colleagues discovered ways to monitor plutonium production.
Measuring neutrino emissions allows scientists to infer the plutonium content of a reactor from outside the building. “By making moderate improvements in existing neutrino-detector technology, we can fit a detector system into a standard 20-foot shipping container to monitor the Iranian heavy water reactor at Arak as part of a non-proliferation measure,” Huber said. “Neutrino monitoring is non-intrusive and doesn’t rely on a continuous history of reactor operations.”
Could the Higgs boson have played a major role in the inflation?
Recently scientists have identified the first known dust particles from outside our Solar System, in samples returned to Earth by a NASA space mission. The material that forms interstellar dust is a product of the aeons of stellar birth, evolution and death that went into building our cosmic neighbourhood. These molecules originated in the extremely hot interior of other stars and were expelled into interstellar space where they condensed into tiny rocks as they cooled down. The material was captured by the Stardust spacecraft and brought back to Earth in 2006.
Having these particles on Earth means that scientists can characterise them in unprecedented detail. The composition and structure of the collected samples could help explain the origin and evolution of dust in space.
Fedor Bezrukov from the RIKEN–BNL Research Center and Mikhail Shaposhnikov from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have recently proposed that the Higgs boson, which was recently confirmed to be the origin of mass, may have also been responsible for the mode of inflation and shape of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang.
It is now known that the coupling between the Higgs boson and other fundamental particles provides mass. It is also possible that, during the first moments of the Universe, the coupling between the Higgs field and gravity accelerated the expansion of spacetime. An important parameter for this coupling is the mass of the Higgs boson, which is now believed to be very close to a critical value that separates two possible types of Universe—the stable one we know or a potentially unstable alternate. Bezrukov and Shaposhnikov have now studied the implications arising from the Higgs mass being near this critical boundary and the impact this has on cosmological inflation. Scientists in their recent paper argue that as the mass of the Higgs approaches the critical value, gravitational waves from the Big Bang become strongly enhanced and could potentially be detected.