Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan quake halts physics and space experiments

20:56 14 March 2011

David Shiga, reporter

Some major physics and space activities have stopped in the wake of the Japanese earthquake.

The human toll and the ongoing nuclear emergency have understandably been the focus of news coverage so far. But news has also started trickling out on how the quake has affected science facilities in Japan.

Japan's Tsukuba Space Center, about 50 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, has been evacuated due to earthquake damage, Discovery News reports. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) normally uses the centre to control its Kibo laboratory (foreground), which is part of the International Space Station.

NASA has taken control of Kibo in the meantime. Experiments in the laboratory were reportedly shut down before the centre was evacuated.

The Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC), 200 kilometres south of Sendai, has also been shut down, Physics World reports. Among other things, it was used to send a beam of neutrinos towards the Super-Kamiokande detector 300 kilometres to the southwest.

An experiment called T2K had been measuring the beam at J-PARC and Super-Kamiokande to better understand the ability of neutrinos to spontaneously transform from one type to another, which might shed light on why there is a preponderance of matter over antimatter in the universe.

The J-PARC buildings appear to be only lightly damaged, but the condition of the sophisticated equipment they house is unknown, since no one has been inside them since the earthquake.

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