Extracts from the Internet

Measurement of the lifetime of antimuons μ+

The MuLan Collaboration at the Paul Scherrer Institute (Switzerland) has performed the most accurate to date measurements of the lifetime τμ+ of antimuons μ+. These particles were produced in the decay of π+ mesons and were stopped in the target material. Ferromagnetic foil and quartz disk were used as targets. In quartz μ+ formed hydrogen-like atoms of muonium (a bound pair of antimuon and electron). Positrons produced in the decays of μ+ were recorded using 170 pairs of triangular scintillator detectors. On the whole the experiment recorded 2 × 1012 such decays and it was possible to improve the precision of measuring τμ+ by a factor of 15 in comparison with the earlier results. The value obtained, τμ+ = 2196980,3 ± 2,2 ps, agrees to within experimental errors with the earlier results for τμ+ for free μ+ but is 2,5 σ below the current value of the Particle Data Group. The new measurements have also allowed the calculation of the Fermi constant GF with record accuracy. Source: Phys. Rev. Lett. 106 041803 (2011)

Thermal Casimir effect

S.K. Lamoreaux (Yale University, USA) and his colleagues have measured for the first time the force of attraction between two macroscopic bodies caused by thermal fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. This phenomenon, a variation of the Casimir effect, was predicted by E.M. Lifshitz in 1955 and was previously observed only in the case of the atom-surface interaction (the Casimir – Polder force). The ordinary Casimir effect, in contrast to the thermal effect, stems from zero-point quantum fluctuations and has previously been investigated in many experiments. S.K. Lamoreaux et al measured the force exerted on the metal plate by an approaching metal sphere. Both bodies were fixed on hinges and could transmit force to capacitor plates. The force was measured by the potential difference across the capacitor needed to compensate for the attraction of bodies investigated. The effect was observed at 300 K at distances between the plate and the sphere of d = 0,7-7 µm when the contribution of the zero-point quantum fluctuations (ordinary Casimir effect) is insignificant. Technical difficulties had to be overcome in preparation for the experiment: electrostatic forces, surface irregularities, vibrations, etc. In recent years, there was a debate about which method should be preferable for taking into account the dielectric constant of a body at low frequencies in calculations of the thermal Casimir force. While transverse electric mode with ω = 0 does not contribute to the attractive force in the Drude free-electron model, it becomes important in the plasma model and increases the force by a factor of two. The measurements of S.K. Lamoreaux et al are in excellent agreement with the Drude model, so much so that the plasma model in this case may be regarded as rejected. Sources: Nature Physics 7 230 (2011)

Scale invariance of phase transitions in two-dimensional Bose gases

As a rule, the properties of systems near phase transition points behave in a universal manner which weakly depends on the microscopic structure of systems. L.P. Pitaevskii and A. Rosch theoretically predicted in 1997 a universal scaling behavior of the degenerate two-dimensional Bose gas of particles in a wide fluctuation region near the point of the Berezinskii – Kosterlitz – Thouless phase transition in which long-range order is destroyed by thermal fluctuations. This versatility means a similarity of the properties of systems which have some identical specific combinations of parameters, composed of the effective constant of interaction between atoms, the system scale and other variables. However, there were no reliable experimental data obtained until recently on the presence of this scaling in 2D-systems. C.-L. Hung and his colleagues have demonstrated for the first time a universal behavior in the experiment with two-dimensional gas of cesium atoms 133Cs at different temperatures and different sizes of the system and with variable strength of interaction between atoms. A gas cloud consisting of 2 × 104 atoms was placed in a quasi-two-dimensional optical trap. The scattering length of atoms and correspondingly the interaction force were controlled by the magnetic field by using the Feshbach resonance. The gas was observed through a microscope and through a CCD-camera using the absorption technique. It was found that the shape of the thermodynamic functions of the gas has a universal form, depending only on certain combinations of parameters, which corresponds to the theoretically predicted scaling invariance. Source: Nature 470 236 (2011)

Light-induced superconducting transition

A group of researchers led by A. Cavalleri (the University of Oxford and the University of Hamburg) discovered the effect of transition of matter from normal to superconducting state when exposed to femtosecond infrared pulses of a powerful laser. The substances studied were cuprates La1.675Eu0.2Sr0.125CuO4 at a temperature of about 10 K. Superconductivity in a thin layer 10 µm deep under the sample surface was recorded by Josephson plasma resonances in the spectrum of reflected radiation in the THz range. The transitions occured very quickly, over not more than 1-2 ps. The relaxation back to insulator state was not fixed over time intervals up to 100 ps which could be observed in this experiment. This is indicative of sufficient stability of the new phase created by pulse illumination. The cause of the superconducting phase transition is likely to be light-induced displacements of oxygen atoms from their seats in the crystal lattice to quasistable new positions. Earlier experiments have observed transitions to the superconducting state of matter after exposure to light but in those cases transitions occured after the relaxation of heated charge carriers. In this experiment, light pulses were the direct cause of transitions. Source: Science 331 189 (2011)

Galaxy at z ≈ 10,3

It is possible that the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a galaxy with record high redshift z ≈ 10,3, visible in the epoch when the age of the Universe was ≈ 480  million years. The mass of this galaxy is approximately 1/100 of the mass of the Milky Way and is characterized by 10 times slower rate of star formation than found in galaxies with z ≈ 8, i.e. only about 170 million years older. Therefore, z ≈ 10 appears to constitute the beginning of the epoch of active star formation in the Universe. Stars could begin to be born through mergers of protogalaxies which thus reached the average mass favorable for certain gas-dynamic processes. Difficulties in observing such distant objects are caused by absorption of radiation by neutral hydrogen at frequencies below Ly - α (taking into account the cosmological redshift). The conclusion on the large z of the discovered galaxy was made by using the photometric method based on the color of the galaxy but so far there is no spectroscopic confirmation on the basis of spectral lines. For an alternative model whose probability level is estimated at 20%, the paper suggests reddening of a nearby galaxy due to matter present along the line of sight. At present the highest spectroscopically confirmed redshift of a galaxy stands at z ≈ 8,6. Source: Nature 469 504 (2011)

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The Extracts from the Internet is a section of Uspekhi Fizicheskih Nauk (Physics Uspekhi) — the monthly rewiew journal of the current state of the most topical problems in physics and in associated fields. The presented News is devoted to the fundamental discoveries of physics and astrophysics.

Permanent editor is Yu.N. Eroshenko.

It is compiled from a multitude of Internet sources.

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