Remembering Peter Higgs And The Gravity Of His Contributions To Physics

There are probably very few people on this globe who at some point in time haven’t heard the term ‘Higgs Boson’  zip past, along with the term ‘God Particle’. As during the 2010s the scientists at CERN were trying to find evidence for the existence of this scalar boson and with it evidence for the existence of the Higgs field that according to the Standard Model gives mass to gauge bosons like photons, this effort got communicated in the international media and elsewhere in a variety of ways.

Along with this media frenzy, the physicist after whom the Higgs boson was named also gained more fame, despite Peter Higgs already having been a well-known presence in the scientific community for decades by that time until his retirement in 1996. With Peter Higgs’ recent death after a brief illness at the age of 94, we are saying farewell to one of the big names in physics. Even if not a household name like Einstein and Stephen Hawking, the photogenic hunt for the Higgs boson ended up highlighting a story that began in the 1960s with a series of papers.

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Chandra X-ray Observatory Threatened By Budget Cuts

Launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in July of 1999, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the most capable space telescope of its kind. As of this writing, the spacecraft is in good health and is returning valuable scientific data. It’s currently in an orbit that extends at its highest point to nearly one-third the distance to the Moon, which gives it an ideal vantage point from which to make its observations, and won’t reenter the Earth’s atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Yet despite this rosy report card, Chandra’s future is anything but certain. Faced with the impossible task of funding all of its scientific missions with the relative pittance they’re allocated from the federal government, NASA has signaled its intent to wind down the space telescope’s operations over the next several years. According to their latest budget request, the agency wants to slash the program’s $41 million budget nearly in half for 2026. Funding would remain stable at that point for the next two years, but in 2029, the money set aside for Chandra would be dropped to just $5.2 million.

Drastically reducing Chandra’s budget by the end of the decade wouldn’t be so unexpected if its successor was due to come online in a similar time frame. Indeed, it would almost be expected. But despite being considered a high scientific priority, the x-ray observatory intended to replace Chandra isn’t even off the drawing board yet. The 2019 concept study report for what NASA is currently calling the Lynx X-ray Observatory estimates a launch date in the mid-2030s at the absolute earliest, pointing out that several of the key components of the proposed telescope still need several years of development before they’ll reach the necessary Technology Readiness Level (TRL) for such a high profile mission.

With its replacement for this uniquely capable space telescope decades away even by the most optimistic of estimates, the  potential early retirement of the Chandra X-ray Observatory has many researchers concerned about the gap it will leave in our ability to study the cosmos.

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Double-Checking NASA’s Eclipse Estimate At Home

If you were lucky enough to be near the path of totality, and didn’t have your view obscured by clouds, yesterday’s eclipse provided some very memorable views. But you know what’s even better than making memories? Having cold hard data to back it up.

Hackaday contributor [Bob Baddeley] was in Madison, Wisconsin for the big event, which NASA’s Eclipse Explorer website predicted would see about 87% coverage. Watching the eclipse through the appropriate gear at the local hackerspace was fun, but the real nerding out happened when he got home and could pull the data from his solar system.

A graph of the system’s generated power shows a very clear dip during the duration of the eclipse, which let him determine exactly when the occlusion started, peaked, and ended.

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Japan’s First Commercial Rocket Debuts With A Bang

Though it suffered through decades of naysayers, these days you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would still argue that the commercialization of space has been anything but a resounding success for the United States. SpaceX has completely disrupted what was a stagnant industry — of the 108 US rocket launches in 2023, 98 of them were performed by the Falcon 9. Even the smaller players, such as Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, are innovating and bringing new technologies to market at a rate which the legacy aerospace companies haven’t been able to achieve since the Space Race.

So it’s no surprise that other countries are looking to replicate that success. Japan in particular has been following NASA’s playbook by offering lucrative space contracts to major domestic tech companies such as Mitsubishi, Honda, NEC, Toyota, Canon, Kyocera, and Sumitomo. Over the last several years this has resulted in the development of a number spacecraft and missions, such as the Hakuto-R Moon lander. It’s also laid the groundwork for exciting future projects, like the crewed lunar rover Toyota and Honda are jointly developing for the Artemis program.

But so far there’s been a crucial element missing from Japan’s commercial space aspirations, an orbital booster rocket. While the country has state-funded launch vehicles such as the H-IIA and H3 rockets, they come with the usual bureaucracy one would expect from a government program. In comparison, a privately developed and operated booster holds the promise of reduced costs and a higher launch cadence, especially if there are multiple competing vehicles on the market.

With the recent test flight of Space One’s KAIROS rocket, that final piece of the puzzle may finally be falling into place. While the launch unfortunately failed shortly after liftoff, the fact that the private rocket was able to get off the ground — literally and figuratively — is a promising sign of what’s to come.

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User Beware: The Fine Line Between Content And Code

Everyone loves themes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a text editor or a smart display in the kitchen, we want to be able to easily customize its look and feel to our liking. When setting up a new device or piece of software, playing around with the available themes may be one of the first things you do without giving it much thought. After all, it’s not like picking the wrong one is going to do something crazy like silently delete all the files on your computer, right?

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened a few days ago to [JeansenVaars] while trying out a Plasma Global Theme from the KDE Store. According to their Reddit post, shortly after installing the “Gray Layout” theme for the popular Linux graphical environment, the system started behaving oddly and then prompted for a root password. Realizing something didn’t seem right they declined, but at that point, it was already too late for all of the personal files in their home directory.

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On An Aging Space Station, Air Leaks Become Routine

Anyone who’s ever owned an older car will know the feeling: the nagging worry at the back of your mind that today might be the day that something important actually stops working. Oh, it’s not the little problems that bother you: the rips in the seats, the buzz out of the rear speakers, and that slow oil leak that might have annoyed you at first, but eventually just blend into the background. So long as the car starts and can get you from point A to B, you can accept the sub-optimal performance that inevitably comes with age. Someday the day will come when you can no longer ignore the mounting issues and you’ll have to get a new vehicle, but today isn’t that day.

Looking at developments over the last few years one could argue that the International Space Station, while quite a bit more advanced and costly than the old beater parked in your driveway, is entering a similar phase of its lifecycle. The first modules of the sprawling orbital complex were launched all the way back in 1998, and had a design lifetime of just 15 years. But with no major failures and the Station’s overall condition remaining stable, both NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency have agreed to several mission extensions. The current agreement will see crews living and working aboard the Station until 2030, but as recently as January, NASA and Roscosmos officials were quoted as saying a further extension isn’t out of the question.

Still, there’s no debating that the ISS isn’t in the same shape it was when construction was formally completed in 2011. A perfect case in point: the fact that the rate of air leaking out of the Russian side of the complex has recently doubled is being treated as little more than a minor annoyance, as mission planners know what the problem is and how to minimize the impact is has on Station operations.

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Stacking Solar Cells Is A Neat Trick To Maximise Efficiency

Solar power is already cheap and effective, and it’s taking on a larger role in supplying energy needs all over the world. The thing about humanity, though, is that we always want more! Too much, you say? It’s never enough!

The problem is that the sun only outputs so much energy per unit of area on Earth, and solar cells can only be so efficient thanks to some fundamental physical limits. However, there’s a way to get around that—with the magic of tandem solar cells!

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