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Roger's Equations

This blog is all about science and technology (with occasional math thrown in for fun). The goal of this blog is to try and pass on the sense of excitement and wonder I feel when I read about these topics. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Google Making Progress in Quantum Computing

Posted March 05, 2015 9:12 AM by Roger Pink

Last year Google leapt into Quantum Computing by hiring Dr. Martinis and his quantum computing research group from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Here is an article on that hiring to catch you up. The hiring of Dr. Martinis by Google was another indication of its strong commitment to creating a Quantum Computer.

Recently in the journal Nature, google announced a crucial error correcting step needed to make quantum computing practical. Much of the work was done before Dr. Martinis' hiring, however it will no doubt prove useful to his efforts at Google. Here's an article detailing the recent error checking advancement.

Google Researchers Make Quantum Computing Components More Reliable

Researchers from a university and Google demonstrate a crucial error-correction step needed to make quantum computing practical.

A solution to one of the key problems holding back the development of quantum computers has been demonstrated by researchers at Google and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Many more problems remain to be solved, but experts in the field say it is an important step toward a fully functional quantum computer. Such a machine could perform calculations that would take a conventional computer millions of years to complete.+

The Google and UCSB researchers showed they could program groups of qubits-devices that represent information using fragile quantum physics-to detect certain kinds of error, and to prevent those errors from ruining a calculation. The new advance comes from researchers led by John Martinis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who last year joined Google to set up a quantum computing research lab. Martinis now holds a joint position between UCSB and Google, leading work on superconducting aluminum chips that operate at a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. Most of the work behind the new results, reported today in the journal Nature, took place before Martinis joined Google.

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3753 Cruithne

Posted March 03, 2015 3:54 PM by Roger Pink

Space is a vast, empty wasteland filled with debris. Take for instance the region of space in the vicinity of Earth's orbit. We are all familiar with the moon, but did you know about the Apollo Asteroids? The Apollo Asteroids are named after 1862 Apollo, a 1.5 km wide asteroid with a semimajor axis of 1.4 AU. Apollo Asteroids cross Earth's orbit and often Venus's as well.

Then there are the Aten Asteroids, named after 2062 Aten, a 1 km wide asteroid with a semi-major axis of less than 1 AU discovered in 1976. There are many Aten Asteroids (see list here) and even more possible candidates. One of the Aten Asteroids is 3753 Cruithne.

3753 Cruithne is a 5 km wide co-orbiting object, orbiting the sun in 1:1 orbital resonance with the Earth. This type of orbit is interesting because of how bizarre it appears from the Earth's perspective. Notice in the image on the right there are three orbits. The blue is Earth's orbit, the red is 3753 Cruithne's orbit about the Sun, and the yellow is how Cruithne appears to orbit from the perspective of Earth. I recommend going to this Wiki to better understand through a gif.

This orbit type, colloquially called a Horseshoe Orbit , is not that uncommon. It is important to note that the image above and the gif on wikipedia given earlier aren't precisely correct. A more correct gif of Cruithne's horseshoe orbit can be found here. If you viewed that last link, you saw that bean shaped orbit in the picture on the right precesses around the sun, creating the horseshoe shape. The total time it takes for one cycle of precessing to create the horseshoe shape is 770 years.

Cruithne's discovery in 1986 has since led to the discovery of other coorbiting objects with similiar resonances such as 5409 YORP, (85770) 1998 UP1, 2002 AA29 and 2009 BD.

So it turns out the solar system is filled with debris trapped in resonances. The two types of asteroids I mentioned today are just two of many different classes of similarly sized objects locked in orbits in resonance with the major planets such as Earth. It's easy to envision space as a vast empty nothing, and it is to a certain extent, but it is maybe a bit more chaotic than we envision in our simple solar system diagrams.

3 comments; last comment on 03/04/2015
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New Titanium-Making Process

Posted March 02, 2015 8:17 AM by Roger Pink

Recently I posted an article about a new Steel Alloy stronger than Titanium. It looks like there's been an advancement in the processing of titanium that should reduce its cost and make it available for new markets. So here's my second recommended article in my unexpected series: Steel vs. Titanium: The Future of Cheap, Light, and Strong.

New Titanium-Making Process Could Result in Lighter Aircraft

A new process for producing titanium-a metal that's increasingly used in aircraft to reduce weight and fuel consumption-is significantly cheaper and less energy-intensive than conventional methods. The technique could lead to titanium being used to reduce the weight of cars, helping automakers meet tightening fuel economy regulations. Titanium normally takes a significant amount of energy to make. The conventional method, called the Kroll process, involves multiple steps requiring very high temperatures.

The new process, being developed by SRI International, takes fewer steps, uses less energy, and produces titanium powder, rather than ingots. The powder can be pressed and fused into something that's very close to the shape of the final product, which reduces the amount of machining required. SRI's process uses plasma arcs to facilitate reactions between molecules of hydrogen and titanium chloride, a chemical produced from titanium ore. "Arcs, like lightning bolts, crack the hydrogen, producing atomic hydrogen that can readily react," says Barbara Heydorn, senior director of the Energy Center at SRI. The reactions produce titanium vapor that quickly solidifies and forms titanium powder.

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12 comments; last comment on 03/05/2015
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Why is Pluto Not a Planet?

Posted February 24, 2015 3:43 PM by Roger Pink

In the excellent video below, an explanation is provided as to why Pluto is not considered a planet anymore. It is quite a reasonable and articulate argument.

I personally feel Pluto should have held on to its planet classification out of tradition, but the deed is done and there is no going back now. As NASA's New Horizons approaches the "dwarf planet" Pluto, and we get clearer and clearer images and data from the probe, I can't help but feel like a circle is being closed in my life.

When I was a young child, I used to read and reread an old picture book of the Solar System we had in our house. I was obsessed with the book and memorized its every detail. I learned about the Viking and Voyager Missions. I knew the order of the planets, their respective sizes, how Uranus spun on its side, how Venus was hotter than Mercury even though Mercury was closer to the Sun, etc. If anyone was careless enough to bring up the planets around the ten year old version of me, they were subjected to all these facts and more. It was my first real passion and it was my gateway drug for science.

To me, Pluto will always be a Planet. I can't help it. I can't betray that 10 year old that spent all that time memorizing the planets and their stats, dreaming about them drifting along in cold, empty space. Wondering when we would finally visit the rest of them, especially distant, lonely Pluto at the edge of everything. At the time there wasn't much information on Pluto and the book was filled with estimates and question marks where its stats should be. I stared at those question marks, trying to guess what they were. I was obsessed. I wanted to know. No, I needed to know!

As you would expect, I'm much more excited about New Horizons than I probably should be. After all, it's just a flyby of a Kuiper Belt object. A small, icy dwarf planet in a region filled with dwarf planets. Sure we'll have a better idea of what Pluto looks like and about its composition, but there isn't likely to be any huge discoveries. More like a filling in of the blanks. Still, for me it's important. if only because in July I will finally, after 30 years get to see the last of those question marks on Pluto's page filled in.

18 comments; last comment on 03/02/2015
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The 1000 Meter High Kingdom Tower

Posted February 19, 2015 10:03 AM by Roger Pink

Right now, in Saudi Arabia, a skyscraper is being built that when completed will exceed 1 km in height. That's 3281 feet tall, taller than the Empire State Building (1,454 ft) and the Willis Tower** (1729 ft) combined. When completed in 2020, it will be the tallest building in the world. **Willis Tower was formerly known as the Sears Tower** I recently wrote an article about it:

Scraping the Sky: The 1 km-Tall Kingdom Tower

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has long served as a port for Muslims arriving by sea for the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. With a population of 5.1 million, Jeddah is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia and ranks as the largest city on the Red Sea. If all goes as planned, by 2020 pilgrims flooding the city will be treated to a modern marvel, a skyscraper more than 1 km in height called the Kingdom Tower.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, chairman and CEO of the Kingdom Holding Co., which is building the Kingdom Tower, has a vision for Jeddah. On a 5.2 km2 plot, 20 km north of Jeddah, he plans to build Kingdom City, an ultra-modern district. At a cost estimated at $20 billion, it will take 10 years to construct with the Kingdom Tower built in the center. At 1 km in height, the Kingdom Tower will soar over Kingdom City and Jeddah. Preliminary estimation places the cost at $1.23 billion for the tower alone, a price that is most likely to go up if the $1.5 billion price tag of the current tallest building in the world (at 830 meters), the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, UAE, is any indication.

The tower, already under construction, is slated to be finished by 2020. It will be the first building to exceed 1 km in height with 167 floors and a floor area of 319,000 m2. It will contain 59 elevators, 54 single and 5 double-deck elevators. The building will have the highest observation deck in the world at 500 meters. The architect is the American Andrain Smith, designer of the Burj Kalifa.

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8 comments; last comment on 02/20/2015
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A Star Passed Through Our Oort Cloud 70,000 Years Ago

Posted February 17, 2015 3:45 PM by Roger Pink

Here's a cool article from AAAS about a close call for our solar system 70,000 years ago. Apparently a dim star likely passed through our solar system's Oort cloud (0.8 light years away).

A close call of 0.8 light years

A group of astronomers from the US, Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system's distant cloud of comets, the Oort Cloud. No other star is known to have ever approached our solar system this close - five times closer than the current closest star, Proxima Centauri.

In a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, lead author Eric Mamajek from the University of Rochester and his collaborators analyzed the velocity and trajectory of a low-mass star system nicknamed "Scholz's star."

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9 comments; last comment on 02/21/2015
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