Endeavour takes antimatter hunter to the space station

image by NASA

A few weeks ago we were all ready to look up for an evening sighting of the space shuttle Endeavour as it separated from its external fuel tank while passing over the UK.  That launch was delayed but NASA is set to try again today.

Endeavour is the newest vehicle in the shuttle fleet.  It was built as a replacement for Challenger.  This will be Endeavour’s last mission and its task is to carry the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) up to the International Space Station.

Launch is scheduled for 1.56pm UK time and you can watch it live on NASA TV.  Alternatively, you can watch the launch as a webcast from CERN, starting at 1.45pm.

AMS is designed to search for antimatter, a substance first proposed by British Physicist Paul Dirac.

Physicists believe that there should be a balance between matter and antimatter .  The problem is that we live in a universe that seems to be made from matter, not matter and antimatter, so the question is…

where did all of the antimatter go?

Particle physicists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have an experiment that is looking for an answer to this question.  The particle physics research teams at CERN were given the job of building the AMS, which was transferred to the Kennedy Space Centre earlier this year.

The videos below are from CERN’s multimedia library for the AMS project and will give you an idea of the role of AMS.  The first film is less than one minute long and designed to act as a trailer for the project.  The second is longer (15 minutes) and has several interviews with key project staff.

the cloud chamber

The cloud chamber has played a massive role in particle physics.  Saturated alcohol vapour in a container allows us to display the path of a particle, such as a muon, as it passes through the chamber.  The video below shows the kind of trails that a cloud chamber will produce.

Cloud chamber from momo on Vimeo

I’m posting about the cloud chamber after reading an article in Scotland on Sunday about its inventor,  CTR Wilson – winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize for Physics.  I didn’t know Wilson was Scottish and I didn’t know that his research was inspired by the cloud observations he performed while posted to the Highlands, Ben Nevis to be precise.

He’s not the only particle physicist to have found inspiration in our back yard.  Peter Higgs, of Higgs boson fame, came up with his theory to explain the source of mass during a Highland holiday.

bad particle physics

The Large Hadron Collider never seems to be out of the news for long, so it makes sense for someone to provide something for non-physicists to help them understand some of the language of particle physics.

Well done to Reuters, who published a short article called Factbox: Glossary of particle physics terms last week.  Unfortunately, it’s not entirely correct. Follow the link above and use your knowledge of particle physics from unit 2 of the AH Physics course to correct the errors.  It’s always possible that Reuters might pull the article due to the errors so I have attached a pdf of the page below, no excuses!

Thanks to Zapperz for his original post about the article.