Modern art has the Biennale, modern physics has ICHEP. The field's largest (biennial) conference took place at the happening COEX venue in Seoul, gathering a thousand physicists for eight days. To summarize it briefly, everything is, well, under control. I mean, no surprises to report. At the Large Hadron Collider front, some refined Higgs-related investigations now bear pineapple. In addition, these, along with searches for hypothesized new physics, expect to benefit from this year's quite high rate of proton collisions offered by the collider. (Which is an idiom for the former tending more and more towards the Standard Model predictions and the latter not giving anything. Which I still say is good, because Standard Model
At the intersection of particles and cosmology, the IceCube observatory announced that it might have solved an open mystery by using the red-hot trend: multimessenger astronomy.
IceCube is made of sensors suspended by 86 cables two kilometres deep within the ice of Antarctica. It looks for neutrinos, the particles infamously capable of crossing Earth without stopping. So it's built inside one cubic kilometer of ice in order to increase the chance that some neutrinos will fall head-on on the surrounding atoms, leaving a signal that IceCube picks up.
This nice instrument catches occasional super-energetic neutrinos from outer space - but their origin is a mystery. Last September though, things started to shift. The electronics at Antarctica localized the direction
which a neutrino that honoured them came from, and within one minute they alerted collaborating satellites and observatories. The orbital X-ray telescope Swift looked at the matching patch of sky and marked nine candidate objects for accelerating our neutrino. More telescopes chimed in, and over the following days one supermassive black hole, 4 billion light years away, was pinpointed as strong enough to (although not the definite answer yet).
A similar story had also happened one month earlier, when the LIGO experiment and a handful of terrestrial and orbital telescopes observed in unison the merging of two neutron stars, in both gravitational waves and several different electromagnetic frequencies. This combination of different types of observations to pinpoint astrophysical objects is the thing named multimessenger astronomy, which era has dawned spectacularly.
In more observational cosmology and astrophysics, a small cluster of galaxies (4 billion light years away) was seen to have irregularly distributed dark matter (hey, we are so much in the dark on this one that every little finding helps). But more amazingly, this was seen by using gravitational lensing
; when light coming towards us meets a galaxy, it curves and multiplies due to the galaxy's huge mass, giving our telescopes several elongated patterns
. Detection using lensing has become so precise that things like this one are now done.
Meanwhile, in an exemplary use of catchy names, some strangely moving stars in the recently released Gaia catalogue imply that the Milky Way probably collided with a "Sausage Galaxy" some 10 billion years ago. This could have resulted in its characteristic central bulge and made it regrow its disk (like a cosmic lizard?).
And, speaking of which, 64 African radio telescopes combined last month to create an image of Milky Way's center (a mere 25 thousand light years away) which you have to see
Water on Mars
Incredibly, this old sensation suddenly became very real. Although liquid water has been found by now elsewhere in the solar system (Europa, Enceladus) the possibility of water on Mars never fails to capture the imagination.
The Mars Express spacecraft that radared Mars while orbitting it in 2008-15 announced a liquid lake 1 mile beneath the planet's south pole and 12 miles across. However, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter didn't see such a thing, maybe because of scanning at different wavelengths, maybe because the "lake" will turn out to be a collection of sediment instead of actual, legit, sovereign water. The only one who can tell is time and more observations.
Now, call me a romantic, but as my mind is blown by planetary tomography, neutrino detection in the ice, capture of gravitational waves and tracing of ancient stars, I can't help recalling that the species who achieves them has a portion of one of its genders living without the right to work, be entertained, walk alone or even show their head. The thoughts only lead me to more alcoholic cocktails, which inevitably result in more astronomy, which brings the circle back to its starting point.