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2011 News

Saturday 10 December 2011 – new element names

As of 1 December 2011 elements 114 and 116 have proposed names under consideration by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The proposed names are flerovium (symbol Fl) for element number 114 and livermorium (symbol Lv) for element number 116. A Provisional Recommendation was released on 8 December 2011. Before the names are made official there are other steps to go through, including a five month period for public comment. Read the initial announcement or the Provisional Recommendation on the IUPAC web site or Wikipedia's articles on Ununquadium and Ununhexium.

Tuesday 6 December 2011 – habitable zone planet confirmed

NASA has confirmed the first extra-solar planet in the habitable zone, the area around a Sun-like star in which liquid water can exist. (This does not mean the planet actually is habitable or has liquid water on it.) There are presently a total of 48 candidate planets, of which the newly named Kepler-22b is the only one to be confirmed. It has an estimated average surface temperature of 22°C, with a radius roughly 2.4 times Earth's radius; its mass is still undetermined. Kepler-22b is roughly 600 light years from Earth. Keplep-22b was discovered with the Kepler space telescope.

Friday 21 October 2011 – flux pinning gives stable levitation

In a demonstration of the rather cool effect of flux pinning, aka quantum locking, the folk at the Association of Science-Technology Centers show off a version of superconducting levitation that doesn't wobble. It's possible because imperfections in a thin layer of superconductor pin the magnetic flux in certain positions, meaning the superconductor doesn't want to move relative to the magnetic field – even if it's upside down.

Thursday 6 October 2011 – Steve Jobs has passed away

Co-founder of Apple Steve Jobs has died after a long illness, aged 56. He will be remembered as a visionary and a creative genius, and as a man who changed the computer, music, and cellphone industries.

Friday 23 September 2011 – faster than light neutrinos?

CERN has announced that they have evidence that they have some neutrinos that they have measured as traveling faster than light. Story here. Basically, they sent a stream of neutrinos through the Earth to a detecting laboratory several hundred kilometres away. The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds before they should have if they were traveling at the speed of light. The margin of error was only 10 nanoseconds and the scientists haven't been able to find anything to explain the results other than that the neutrinos were faster than light.

As one of the comments to that article points out, neutrinos cannot travel at the speed of light if they change type during their travel. This is because anything traveling at the speed of light doesn't experience any passage of time. So if they're not traveling at the speed of light, they have to be traveling faster or slower than the speed of light.

It could take years to sort out what's actually happening. Don't hold your breath waiting for this one.

Update 12 June 2012: All sorted out – it seems a loose fibre optic cable (only discovered in February 2012) was causing timing problems, and neutrinos "travel at light speed, as predicted". (However, see the paragraph above about neutrinos changing type, meaning that neutrinos cannot travel at light speed.) Extensive further testing has failed to show any sign of faster than light travel.

Thursday 22 September 2011 – Auckland Science Fair

The NIWA Auckland City Science and Technology Fair has been and gone, and the prizegiving ceremony was held last night. All three of the Auckland Home Educators students that entered, placed in their categories (a 3rd, 1st and 1st), and won a total of three extra prizes as well. The overall prize was won by a very impressive study on the fungi attacking kauri trees. Congratulations to them all.

Monday 15 August 2011 – snow, sleet and ice pellets

This afternoon I looked out my window and noticed a few white particles drifting downward. Drifting! Not falling. Living in warm Auckland that's a rather unusual site, so I shot outside... and got sleeted on. To be precise, it was something called ice pellets, which are small, translucent balls of ice, smaller than hailstones. Ice pellets are formed by snowflakes melting as they fall through a band of warm air, before hitting cold air again and refreezing. This implies that it was snowing above where I live... but sadly not at ground level, except for the few original snowflakes I may have seen.

Less than a kilometre away my brother experienced graupel, also called soft hail or snow pellets.

Saturday 13 August 2011 – new record for multiplication grid

Today one of my home tutoring students achieved a time of 1 minute 50 seconds for a 10x10 multiplication grid. I'm impressed.

Thursday 4 August 2011 – split the atom at home?

A Swedish man has been arrested for trying to split atoms in his kitchen. "I have always been interested in physics and chemistry," Handl said, adding he just wanted to "see if it's possible to split atoms at home."

Read more on Stuff.co.nz.

Thursday 4 August 2011 – Science Fair one week away

One week to go until the Auckland Home Educators Science & Technology Fair 2011. The fair will be held at New Lynn Bible Chapel hall, 3123 Great North Road, New Lynn.

Judging will be on Thursday evening 11 August, while the fair itself will be open to the public on the morning and early afternoon of Friday 12 August 2011.

The Fair is the fifth for Auckland homeschoolers and is based on the Genesis Energy National Science & Technology Fairs open to students at schools.

Thursday 28 July 2011 – Earth companion discovered

A 300 metre wide asteroid has been discovered accompanying Earth in its orbit. It orbits 60° ahead of Earth, making it a Trojan – objects that orbit 60° ahead of or behind the parent body (in this case Earth) at the gravitationally stable Lagrangian L4 (60° ahead) and L5 (60° behind) points.

The asteroid has been dubbed 2010_TK7 after being discovered in October 2010 by the WISE satellite. It took a long time to discover because for much of the time it's in the daytime sky, as viewed from Earth. It also has a chaotic orbit, as shown in the pic (click for larger version). It will take a couple more years of observations before its orbit is known precisely and a formal name will be considered.

2010_TK7 is the first Trojan observed in Earth's orbit, but Trojans have previously been observed in the orbits of Mars, Jupiter and Neptune. Trojan moons have also been observed around Saturn.

Tuesday 12 July 2011 – Neptune completes an orbit

The planet Neptune was discovered on 23 September 1846. Because its orbit takes just under 165 years, it completes its very first orbit since its discovery on this day. Neptune is the most distant of the Sun's planets, and has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the planet on 25 August 1989.

Neptune had been observed by several other astronomers over the years (the first possibly being Galileo in late 1612 and early 1613) but at the time of observation none of them recognised it as a new planet.

Neptune next completes an orbit on 4 May 2176. (Star Wars Day!)

Monday 4 July 2011 – Earth aphelion

Earth is at aphelion today, the point in its orbit furthest from the Sun.

Thursday 16 June 2011 – lunar eclipse

The lunar eclipse that occurred this morning was the longest eclipse in a decade. The eclipse lasted 100 minutes and the next such eclipse is forecast to take place only in 2141. Early risers in the far south of New Zealand has a slightly better view than those living in the north, but unfortunately it wasn't very visible in Auckland because it started just before dawn.

Read more about eclipses.

Monday 6 June 2011 – new pages

Electrical Units added to Electronics section. Covers current, capacity, voltage, resistance, power, energy and intensity.

LEDs added Electronics section.

Sunday 22 May 2011 – planetary conjunction continues

A nice arrangement of the planets and very good viewing conditions meant another good opportunity to take photographs.

Jupiter is on its own at the top, then the very bright Venus was the topmost of the trio with Mars quite dim down to the left and Mercury down to the right.

The moon was also visible, but well off to the left of these views.

Read more about planetary conjunctions.

Monday 16 May 2011 – planetary conjunction

For most of this month there has been a series of conjunctions occurring between several of the planets, starting on May 1 between Mars and Jupiter. The conjunctions continue. Jupiter is on its own at the top, then the very bright Venus is in the middle with the much dimmer Mercury out to the right. Mars is very dim and straight below Venus.

Read more about planetary conjunctions.

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