Poetic Entanglement and Distant Water
In my last column, I talked about light passing through two slits and the conclusion that light behaves as both a particle and a wave, as well as other quantum oddities. I neglected to mention one of the weirdest oddities, entanglement, in which particles become coupled in such a way that they stay coupled even though they may travel to distances separating them by zillions of miles. Measure the spin of an entangled particle and you know the spin of its entangled partner even if it's at the other end of the universe. Einstein called entanglement "spooky" and Roger Penrose, in the Discover interview mentioned in the column, seemed unhappy with the concept.
After posting the column, I realized I had missed hearing a poem written by our daughter-in-law's sister, Julie Kane. Julie is well-known in poetry circles and her poem was read by my favorite radio personality, Garrison Keillor, on the September 16 Public Radio program The Writer's Almanac. I did manage to log on to the Almanac Web site and heard a podcast of Garrison reading the poem. The startling coincidence of this recitation happening the same week of posting my column on the slit stuff makes it mandatory for me to give a poet's take on entanglement. The poem is even more appropriate inasmuch as, just a few days ago, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox to clinch the American League East title. Here's the poem.
by Julie Kane
They say that photons fired through a slit
stay paired together to the end of time;
if one is polarized to change its spin,
the other does a U-turn on a dime,
although they fly apart at speeds of light
and never cross each other's paths again,
like us, a couple in the seventies,
divorced for almost thirty years since then.
Tonight a Red Sox batter homered twice
to beat the Yankees in their playoff match,
and sure as I was born in Boston, when
that second ball deflected off the bat,
I knew your thoughts were flying back to me,
though your location was a mystery.
From Jazzy Funeral. Reproduced by permission of Story Line Press. And thank you, Julie, for calling the Keillor program to my attention and getting permission to reproduce your poem here. Happily, Keillor's recent stroke was mild enough that he was able to kick off the new season of Prairie Home Companion on Public Radio last week.
I also thank my former Bell Labs colleague and fellow Old Guard member, Al M. R., for calling my attention to something I should have mentioned in connection with the discussion in that previous column of the Solvay conference held in 1927. Al reminded me that 1927 was the year of the Davisson-Germer experiment at Bell Labs. This experiment "proved" quantum mechanics in that the experiment showed that not only light, but also particles with mass, namely electrons, behave as waves under certain conditions. Davisson shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery but Germer was left out, even though he did the experiment! Al was fortunate to have worked with Germer at Bell Labs.
Speaking of Bell Labs and 1927, our editor, Brian Trumbore, called my attention to an article by Adrian Slywotzky in the August 27 Business Week. The article was titled "Where Have You Gone, Bell Labs?" and decried the loss of the large research organizations such as Bell Labs, IBM, RCA and others in which a major effort was devoted to pure research. The "loss" of some of these organizations may not be technically correct. For example, Bell Labs still exists but whereas it once had 30 thousand employees (4,000-5,000 at Murray Hill, where I worked), under Alcatel Lucent it now has only a thousand employees and is a mere shell of its former self. Among its many achievements such as the transistor, cellular telephony, the silicon solar cell, fax transmission, confirmation of the Big Bang, etc. was the 1927 first demonstration of long-distance TV.
Slywotzky's key point in his long article is that our business model is broken and that we need to reestablish a number of Bell Labs type organizations with critical masses of researchers, equipment and staff to allow new fundamental discoveries to be made that will in turn provide the innovations for new businesses that will provide large numbers of jobs.
But I digress. I had planned to write this week about water, particularly about new discoveries of water on the moon and on Mars. As opposed to quantum weirdness, this was something I could understand. Then on Saturday I read our editor's Brian Trumbore's Week in Review column and found that he beat me to the punch, mentioning both of these findings. I've observed that in the past year or so Brian has been mentioning more scientific items in his columns and I'm wondering if perhaps he's getting ready for Old Bortrum to hang up his figurative pen and truly retire?
Actually, Brian mentioned the findings only briefly and, on reading the NASA/JPL press releases of September 24, I found enough additional information to warrant mention here. Let's take our moon first. I gather that the amounts of water on the moon are not nearly as large or as accessible as the water on Mars. The water apparently consists of water molecules and hydroxyl groups, OH, (you can write water as HOH), but not in the form of liquid water or ice. The water is reacted with the upper millimeters of the lunar soil. Astronauts aching for a drink of water had better bring along their own supply of Poland Springs water or equivalent. To get just a quart of water out of the moon, you might have to "mine" about a ton of the top layers of the moon's surface.
I was intrigued by the sources of the data on the moon's water. There were measurements of infrared spectra from three different spacecrafts. One measurement was from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, on the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Another was from the High-Resolution Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on NASA's EPOXI spacecraft. What surprised me was the third source, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. We've all seen and read about the Cassini findings in its orbit around Saturn and the launching of the Lander on Titan, the moon. Just within the past few weeks, Cassini has found lumpiness in the rings of Saturn. It was thought previously that the width of the rings was probably no more than the equivalent of the height of a two-story building, now Cassini is reporting clumps of material (ice?) ranging as high as the Rocky Mountains.
But why and when did Cassini have anything to do with water on our moon? It turns out that back in 1999, before heading out to the vicinity of Saturn, Cassini flew by the moon and detected signs of water and hydroxyl but the results were held back for confirmation, which is now forthcoming from the M3 results. With the new data it seems that virtually the entire surface of the moon is "hydrated" at some time during the lunar day. This latter conclusion comes about from the EPOXI data, EPOXI having flown by the moon back in June of this year on its way to a future rendezvous with the comet Hartley 2. Obviously, our spacecrafts headed for distant planets aren't just fooling around when they're circling around our vicinity before getting slung out into deeper space.
This week I've been watching the wonderful Ken Burns TV series on our National Parks. The programs brought back memories of a 1949 auto trip three other grad students and I made from Pittsburgh out west to California and back in 17 days. We went by bus to Des Moines, Iowa where we picked up my best friend's parents' car. We took sleeping bags and slept in Rocky Mountain National Park and under the sequoias in California. It's the closest I've come to duplicating the experiences of John Muir, a key figure in Burns' National Parks saga. However, I'll never forget our first night in sleeping bags in a Nebraska field, which turned out to be a lover's lane. The lovers and the mosquitoes prevented us from opening our sleeping bags in the oppressive heat and I saw more shooting stars that night than in my entire life since then.
Knowing that the meteorites would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, I wasn't worried about getting hit by one. After all, it's news when one does get to the ground near a human habitat. However, the atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than our own atmosphere and the chances of a flying object surviving without burning up is, I assume, much more likely than here on Earth. Indeed, this has led to the finding of water on Mars at latitudes about halfway between the Martian North Pole and its equator. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter records about 200 images a week. Comparing past and current images of the same spots, the Orbiter team has detected craters or clusters of craters that weren't there in previous images. Clearly, falling objects are getting to the Martian surface. The craters ranged from a foot and a half to eight feet deep.
In August last year, the team noted a crater that wasn't there the last time they had imaged that area and the team brought into play their higher resolution camera, which revealed a whitish material in the fresh crater. The color seemed suspiciously like ice but the amount was too small to get a good infrared spectrum to confirm the suspicion. However another fresh crater was larger and showed the same whitish material, which did indeed turn out to be ice.
With the finding of ice at these latitudes, the researchers believe that way back in 1976, had NASA's Viking Lander 2 been able to dig just a few more inches deeper into the Martian surface, it might have found ice over twenty years before the recent Phoenix Lander conclusively dug up and "touched" ice.
Finally, completely out of context, a follow-up on the orchid. In an earlier column we discussed devious orchids that use sexual lures to attract insects into pollinating the flowers. The October Smithsonian magazine notes an orchid on China's Hainan Island that has evolved a scent that resembles a honeybee alarm pheromone. There's a hornet that dines on honeybees and, attracted by the scent, it attacks the flower, only to find no bee (and no nectar). However, the orchid gets pollinated. Orchids are smart. If they can't seduce the pollinator, make it think you're the main course for dinner.
Next column October 15.
Allen F. Bortrum