Katrianna Brisack: December 2010 Archives

The Higgs Boson: Science Fiction?

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Particle Tracks.jpgDo you know the dark mystery that keeps physicists running around with giant magnets? Maybe you were afraid to ask. It is The Mystery... (It's getting suspenseful now) ... Of The Missing Boson!

Funny as it seems, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) has not been able to detect the Higgs boson. How could that be? It appears to particle physicists that there must be a Higgs boson, yet it remains a hypothetical prospect.

Theoretically, the role of the Higgs boson (this can be viewed as a "force") is to give other particles mass: it is similar to what happens when light goes through air. Light hits the air molecules and slows down: in this manner, particles traveling through a "Higgs field" are slowed down to a higher mass.

But the Higgs boson might not exist. The argument is that Higgs bosons are said to be hadrons made up of top quarks, and top quarks were made in the reheating period of the electroweak era. Now, they had to have mass, or else energy could not have cooled into them. As in E=mc squared, the energy equivalence is to mass, and not matter. When the Higgs boson formed in the quark epoch, it supposedly gave mass to all particles, which like the top quark already had mass.

In the case that the hypothetical Higgs boson is not a reality, here's my "Higgsless model" of how particles get their mass: 

According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared. Therefore, if a particle transforms its mass into energy, then it is traveling at the speed of light. That makes sense, as photons have no mass and are traveling at light-speed, and as neutrinos are almost massless and travel at almost the speed of light.

One of my counterarguments is that if the resulting particle had no mass, it would not produce energy. But the "rest mass" (the mass that all particles at a standstill would have) would produce energy, and that energy would determine the speed of the particle. This is the simple answer to why the Higgs boson has not been detected in the LHC!

Santa (Dew) Claws

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Rudolph Red-Nose Reindeer.jpgYou probably remember the names of the nine famous reindeer doing warm-ups this season: Prancer, Dancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Dasher, and, of course, Rudolph. But most likely you don't know the following interesting facts about caribou. (Which are really the same thing. You must caribou about that.)

Julius Caesar.jpg
Did you know that Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Julius Caesar all saw reindeer? Caesar's description of it was:

"There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows from between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top this horn spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same shape as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size."
                -Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Chapter 6.26)

Female reindeer stay in herds. Males are solitary, but join the girls during the breeding season. Like elk, the males win a group of females by rutting. Male reindeer horns fall off in the winter, but female horns don't. 

Reindeer often make a clicking sound that leads people to think they have hurt ankles. However, this species of deer has dew claws (these look like high heels) on the hooves. This sound is normal. Perhaps reindeer think they're cool tap dancers for doing it. 

Reindeer have predators: wolves, wolverines, bears, and coyotes. Reindeer prey on lichens, sedges, and other grasses, digging them out with their hooves in winter. In captivity, they are fed grains.

And, just to be on the safe side, I'll say most. But most reindeer do not have red noses!
Holly, mistletoe, amaryllis, poinsettia and pine probably are in your house this holiday season. Here are some interesting things about these plants:

Amaryllis is planted as a bulb. It has red, pink, or white flowers that bloom just after the leaves reach their greenest point. It originated (strangely for a Christmas plant) from the Cape of Good Hope. They need little nourishment, and will grow in peat moss or pebbles. 

Poinsettia.jpgPoinsettias' bright red petals are actually leaf bracts. If you look, you will most likely see a small bunch of yellow flowers. How did it become a Christmas tradition? Here's how the story goes:

A Mexican maiden had no money to buy a gift, so an angel appeared and told her to gather some of the weeds that grew abundantly by the road. She did and left them in front of the altar. They then bloomed into the first poinsettias. The star-shaped leaves are said to have been symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, and their red color represents sacrifice.

Untitled-1.gifMistletoe was considered to have magical healing powers by the Druids, so they hung it at wintertime. The Scandinavians made it out to represent peace, relating the plant to their god Frigga, who was goddess of love. And that is how the tradition originated of kissing under the mistletoe. But, when  the Church banned mistletoe because it was apparently a heathen custom, some farmers suggested using holly instead. Holly has therefore become another trademark of Christmas. 

Trees, as you might already know, came through Martin Luther and St. Boniface. The Norse people thought their god Thor lived in a tree. St. Boniface cut down the so-called Tree of Thor to undermine this myth, and he found a fir growing in its branches. He then decided to take the fir home. Martin Luther, however, decided it would be a good idea if those trees were a Christmas celebration. He saw it as an alternative to the traditional Catholic nativity scenes. And that is how they came around to be Christmas symbol.

Surprisingly, every Christmas plant has an interesting historical story behind it. 

Walking Bear in A Winter Wonderland

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Polar Bears Play Fight.jpgA polar bear, or an Ursus maritimus, is a type of bear that lives in the Arctic. It eats ringed seals and leaves its mother at one to two and a half years old. In the space between then and when they can mate the adolescent bears are called subadults.

In the fall, a pregnant female polar bear will dig a den where she spends the winter without eating anything. In the spring she comes out, normally with a litter of two cubs. Then, she makes her way with them down to the shore, where she catches a ringed seal, fish, or scavenges the remains of an animal (a beached whale, for instance) for the family's first meal. She will never go back to the den. 

In her den, a polar bear does not hibernate, in the technical sense. A hibernating animal is classified by a slower rate in breathing and a lower body temperature. She does not do any of these things. The female polar bears will fight any male bears who are near her showing signs of aggression against the cubs, even though male bears clearly have the advantage: a male weighs up to 1300 pounds, whereas a female weighs only 600. 

Contrary to popular belief, a polar bear does not hide its dark nose while waiting at a breathing-hole made by a seal. This was a misconception started by the fact that the cream-colored fur makes for good camouflage.

Unfortunately, polar bears are becoming endangered because of global warming, like in the movie Arctic Tale. Polar bears already overheat after excessive activity and it is worse for them the hotter it gets. (Just so you know, in Alaska a new refuge for these playful bears was created last Wednesday with 187,157 square miles in it. Click Here for more information.)
    
Polar Bear Fast Facts:

The longest-lived polar bear celebrated her last birthday when she was 42. Her name was Debby and she lived in a Canadian zoo.

When polar bears run, they can get very hot. This is due to extremely thick insulation underneath their fur, and, of course, their fur itself. 

Polar bear paws are covered in small bumps, which help them not slip on ice.

A polar bear is also known as an ice bear, nanook, sea bear, or walking bear.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Katrianna Brisack in December 2010.

Katrianna Brisack: August 2010 is the previous archive.

Katrianna Brisack: January 2011 is the next archive.

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