The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


The End Of The Universe, The Higgs And All The 'Ifs'

Feb 27, 2013

As if calling the Higgs particle "the God particle" didn't cause enough confusion and misinformation, here we go again, with the Higgs hitting the spotlight once more, but now as prophet of doom.

Yes, dear readers, it seems that the destiny of the Universe is in the hands of this particle or, more precisely, of the value of its mass.

Everything starts in the kitchen, an excellent laboratory for the physical sciences (and others). As we know, the properties of a substance, say, water, depend on its temperature: too cold, and water freezes; too hot, and it becomes steam. These changes in water and many other substances (simple and complex) are known as phase transitions.

Quite surprisingly, the Universe itself — or the matter within it — went through at least one or two phase transitions, if not more. And it could happen again.

Our cosmic history begins at the Big Bang, the event that marks the beginning of time. Right after the bang, space started to expand like a balloon and the matter and radiation within it got progressively cooler. Back to the kitchen, we see that the expansion of the Universe works as a kind of refrigerator, causing the temperature to go down. Did matter in the early stages of cosmic history also pass through a phase transition?

We know that it did. Very early on, the temperature was so high that particles had no mass. (Think, minimally, of electrons and quarks. There were others, but it doesn't make a difference to our argument.) The one particle that did have a mass was the Higgs; but it didn't interact yet with the other particles.

As the temperature dropped, the Higgs started to interact with the other particles with more intensity, giving them what it can, their masses. This process of getting a mass — related to the growing intensity of the interaction of the Higgs with the other particles — is a phase transition that happened when the cosmos was about a trillionth of a second old. (This may seem like a ridiculously small time; but for particles, it's an eternity.)

During July of last year, scientists at the the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) found a particle that looks very much like the Higgs. Even if we aren't quite sure if it is the same Higgs that gives mass to every other particle, it's looking very promising. In fact, I am at CERN this week and will be reporting back on the latest news. Stay tuned.

The problem is that the mass of the presumed Higgs boson is somewhere between 124 and 126 times that of a proton. With such a mass value for the Higgs, the Universe could go through another phase transition. It's as if we were in a liquid phase and could decay into a solid phase in the future. When a phase transition of this kind happens, bubbles of the new phase suddenly appear within the old phase (where we are) and expand very quickly. In cosmology, with a speed near that of light. These bubbles collide with one another, finally converting the whole volume to the new phase.

It would be the end of the Universe, at least as we know it today.

Before causing widespread panic or being accused of needless alarmism, I do have some good news. The calculations indicating that the Higgs mass is dangerously close to the value that would indicate phase instability are based in the supposition that no new physics exists between the energies probed by CERN and those near the beginning of time, a difference of 16 orders of magnitude (ten-thousand trillion). Although this is possible, it is highly improbable. New physics could rescue our phase, making it the stable one.

The calculations are also very sensitive to the exact values of certain particles (for the experts, the top quark and the strong coupling constant), which are presently known only within a fairly large window. Furthermore, and best of all, even if unstable, the calculations also show that our current phase is very long-lived: we are safe for billions of years.

(But, being a bit perverse, it is always possible that new physics could also help destabilize our phase faster; we will only know when we can probe higher energy interactions.)

As a last pacifier, even if a bubble were to pop up somewhere in the Universe, odds are it will be very far from us. So, even if traveling at the speed of light, it will take billions of years to get to us.

To summarize, the possibility that we live in an unstable phase is real, and the Universe could decay into an explosion of coalescing bubbles of a new phase. But nothing is conclusive at the moment, due to many uncertainties in the calculation, some controllable (better measurements of particle masses) and some not (new physics at higher energies). Even if the Universe is slated to decay into a new phase, it will take a very very long time.

In any case, I will be talking this week to some of my colleagues from CERN who are responsible for the calculations to see if there is anything new. And maybe I will add to the calculation myself and try to rescue the cosmos from oblivion with pen and paper in hand.

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

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