Physicists Close in on a Rare Particle-Decay Process

In the biggest result of its kind in more than ten years, physicists have made the most sensitive measurements yet in a decades-long hunt for a hypothetical and rare process involving the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. If discovered, the researchers say, this process could have profound implications for how scientists understand the fundamental laws of physics and help solve some of the universe's biggest mysteries.

 

Notes from the Back Row: "An Explosion of Explosions"

In his Watson Lecture given on April 25, Shri Kulkarni, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science and the director of the Caltech Optical Observatories, described how Caltech's fully automated Palomar Transient Factory—Kulkarni calls it "Transients 'R' Us"—is revolutionizing how we explore the changing sky.

Overactive Black Holes Shut Down Star Formation

A team of astronomers has found that the most active galactic nuclei—enormous black holes that are violently devouring gas and dust at the centers of galaxies—may prevent new stars from forming. The team, which includes several researchers from Caltech, reported its findings in the May 10 issue of the journal Nature.

Notes from the Back Row: "Electrons In Flatland"

In James Eisenstein's Watson lecture on January 18, 2012, he uses vivid analogies and nifty animations to lead us through the basics of quantum electronics to his own work with some very bizarre particles—even for quantum mechanics.

Fermi Space Telescope Helps Scientists Narrow Search for Dark Matter

Scientists have further narrowed the search for a hypothetical particle that could be dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up 80 percent of all the mass in the universe. Caltech postdoc Jennifer Siegal-Gaskins presented the researchers' results, compiled from two years' worth of data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Atlanta earlier this week.

Astronomers Find Light-Bending Quasars

Astronomers have found celestial objects called quasars that bend and distort the light coming from galaxies behind them. The discovery may finally allow astronomers to determine the masses of galaxies that host quasars.

Experiment Observes Elusive Neutrino Transformation

An international team of physicists—including several from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—has detected and measured, for the first time, a transformation of one particular type of neutrino into another type. The finding, physicists say, may help solve some of the biggest mysteries about the universe, such as why the universe contains more matter than antimatter—a phenomenon that explains why stars, planets, and people exist at all.

Vladimir Markovic Receives Clay Research Award

Caltech's Vladimir Markovic, professor of mathematics, has been chosen to receive the 2012 Clay Research Award from the Clay Mathematics Institute. 

A Powerful New Astronomy Instrument Gets Ready for Hawaii

It's time to go to Hawaii—at least, if you're MOSFIRE, a new near-infrared spectrometer that's now on its way to the W. M. Keck Observatory, atop Mauna Kea. But the powerful new instrument, six feet in diameter, about a dozen feet in length, and weighing in at 4,500 pounds—10,000 if you include the mount and packing crate—isn't going there to surf. MOSFIRE will be the newest weapon in the Keck's arsenal to survey the cosmos, helping astronomers learn about star formation, galaxy formation, and the early universe. 

Radio Stars

Growing up in rural northwest Ireland, beyond the reach of city lights, Gregg Hallinan fell in love with the night sky. "When you didn't have bad weather, and you didn't have clouds, the skies were nothing short of spectacular," he says. "From a young age, I was obsessed with astronomy—it's all I cared for. My parents got me a telescope when I was seven or eight, and from then on, that was it." Now, Hallinan has brought his celestial obsession to Caltech as a new assistant professor of astronomy.

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