There are older things than Orcs in the deep places of the world: Symmetry Magazine checks in with the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment happening a mile beneath Minnesota. As I’ve mentioned before, I came close to spending a summer in high school standing around a similar underground science project, searching for neutrinos. “The year 2013 should be an interesting one in the search for dark matter.”
This came out while I was in Seattle and I’ve been meaning to catch up: By measuring the cosmic background radiation still extant from the Big Bang, the ESA’s Planck satellite gives us our most detailed map of the universe yet.
“[T]he new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.”
I find these maps particularly fascinating because, as I said when NASA’s WMAP returned its data in 2003 (and here in 2002), I spent the summer of 1992 poring over the original COBE DMR version of this map for my high school senior thesis, in order to determine whether the radiation exhibited a fractal distribution. (And, honestly, how early 90′s is that?)
“‘A.M.S. has confirmed with exquisite precision and to high energy one of the most exciting mysteries in astrophysics and particle physics,’ said Justin Vandenbroucke, of the University of Wisconsin and Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.” In related news, NASA’s recently-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the ISS is helping physicists and cosmologists get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.
The A.M.S. has “confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that constitute electricity and chemistry…’Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin.’“
It’s been out in the fringe territories for a few years, but apparently now it’s official: Voyager I has left the Solar System. “We’re in a new region. And everything we’re measuring is different and exciting.”
Update: Belay that- NASA’s Voyager team says hold the champagne: “In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”
As CERN in Switzerland becomes the new frontier in particle discoveries, physicists worry the United States is falling behind. “How such efforts will fare in this age of sequestration and federal cutbacks is unknown, he admitted, but particle physics has produced important spinoffs into medicine, including imaging devices and beams to treat cancer, and in materials science.”
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d, And now a bubble burst, and now a world. And if the asteroids don’t get us, there’s always the chance that an alternate universe might pop and destroy everything, a la Richard Grant in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. “The problem, says Lykken, is the potential for vacuum instability — a phenomenon that could spawn an all-consuming alternate universe within our own.”
Not as pressing as asteroids, however — this event, if current calculations hold up, is most likely to happen round the End of the Universe anyway, so be sure to get a table by the window.
Just re-reading The Forever War at the moment, so this seems very apropos. io9 looks into the recent possible breakthrough on a functioning warp drive. “Mathematically, the field equations predict that this is possible, but it remains to be seen if we could ever reduce this to practice.“
Of course, while mathematicians might have gotten around the “ridiculous amounts of energy required” problem, there’s now the new issue of ridiculous amounts of energy expended — in a lethal frontward cone. “When the Alcubierre-driven ship decelerates from superluminal speed, the particles its bubble has gathered are released in energetic outbursts. In the case of forward-facing particles the outburst can be very energetic — enough to destroy anyone at the destination directly in front of the ship. ‘Any people at the destination,’ the team’s paper concludes, ‘would be gamma ray and high energy particle blasted into oblivion due to the extreme blueshifts for [forward] region particles.’”
Astronomers discover rogue planet CFBDSIR2149 a mere 75 light years away — not to be confused with Melancholia, of course, which is hiding behind the sun and will soon ruin weddings and kill us all in slow motion.
The Land of Chocolate? Astronomers find sugar molecules orbiting young star IRAS 16293-2422, 400 light years away. “‘A big question is: how complex can these molecules become before they are incorporated into new planets?’ Jørgensen said. “This could tell us something about how life might arise elsewhere, and ALMA observations are going to be vital to unravel this mystery.’”
Until now. NASA uses crowdsourcing to unveil “Hubble’s hidden treasures”. The impressive pic above is “NGC 1763, part of the N11 star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud,” submitted by one Josh Lake.
“These findings provide new insight into how the most massive galaxies in the Universe may have acquired their stars,’ said Michael McDonald, a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the study…’Our current understanding is that these massive galaxies assemble via mergers with smaller galaxies, but in this one cluster it looks like cooling-induced starbursts may be an equally important process.’“
Take that, Ed McMahon and Simon Cowell: Astronomers identify a galaxy cluster that is spewing out 3820 new stars a year, the fastest rate in the known universe. “Comparatively, the Milky Way forms stars at an average rate of just one solar mass (one star equal in mass to Earth’s Sun) per year. Other galaxies form an average of one star every 20 years.“
“The results were a big surprise. ‘We were shocked,’ says Kuhn. The sun doesn’t bulge much at all. It is 1.4m kilometres across, but the difference between its diameter at the equator and between the poles is only 10 kilometres.” Meanwhile closer to home, after fifty years of effort, astronomers conclude that our sun is the “most perfectly round natural object known in the universe.…Scaled to the size of a beachball, that difference is less than the width of a human hair.“
Moreover, just today scientists announced the discovery of two Earth-sized planets — Kepler 20e and Kepler 20f. “‘For the first time, we’ve crossed the threshold of finding Earth-size worlds,’ Torres says. ‘The next step is having an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone.’” And apparently Kepler 20f may have once had water, not unlike a planet closer to home…
“This is the single most bullet-proof observation that I can think of that we’ve made this entire mission regarding the liquid water.” Something to consider if we don’t manage to tackle global warming by 2006 — the prior existence of water on Mars is further confirmed through a trail of gypsum left within an ancient rock. “Both the chemistry and the structure ‘just scream water,’ Squyres added.“
And, on a grander scale, astronomers have begun to uncover supermassive black holes (no, not those ones) at the centers of galaxies. These are “the biggest, baddest black holes yet found in the universe, abyssal yawns 10 times the size of our solar system into which billions of Suns have vanished like a guilty thought.” In other words, plenty of room for Maximillian Schell to get lost in there…Tread carefully.
As broke everywhere last week, CERN appears to find evidence of neutrinos moving faster than light(!) — time travel possible which would, well, basically rewrite the laws of physics and make. (See what I did there? Anyway, kind of a big deal!)
Fermilab is currently trying to reproduce the results, but for now, the scientific community is, shall we say, skeptical. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I think it will be perceived in retrospect as an embarrassment that this claim received so much publicity–the inevitable consequence of posting a preprint on the Web.“
Update: Sorry, aspiring Marty McFlys: As expected, rumors of relativity’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s the rub: “[T]he distance that the neutrinos had to travel in their reference frame is longer than the distance that the neutrinos had to travel in our reference frame, because in our reference frame, the detector was moving towards the source.” Thus, thte experiment “helps to reinforce relativity rather than question it.”
Gliese 581g, meet HD85512b. Among the 50 new planets astronomers announced on Monday is a “Super-Earth” that lies within the inhabitable zone and could hold water. “The new super-Earth is 3.5 times the mass of Earth.“
And, how are we going to get there, you ask? While DARPA works its mojo, NASA announces its most recent plans for a successor to the Shuttle: A new Space Launch System. “Administration officials said the new rocket system…would be the most formidable launch system deployed since the Saturn V…The new rocket coupled with a deep-space crew capsule already under development should enable an un-crewed test flight of the exploration system in 2017 and a crewed test flight by 2021, officials said.” If history is any guide, you’ll probably want to tack a few years on to those dates.
While we wait, here’s another interesting cosmic find to ponder: Astronomers have found an honest-to-goodness twin-sunned Tatooine in Kepler 16b, 200 light years away. “‘This is an example of another planetary system, a completely different type that no one’s ever seen before,’ Doyle said. ‘That’s why people are making a big deal out of this.’“
From the folks who brought you the Internet, DARPA announces the 100-Year Starship Study, offering $500,000 in seed money to whomever comes up with the best plan for developing the technology needed for interstellar travel. “To stimulate discussion on the research possibilities, DARPA officials will hold a symposium that brings together astrophysicists, engineers and even sci-fi writers so they can brainstorm what it would take to make this starship enterprise a success.“
European astronomers find the farthest quasar yet discovered, 12.9 billion light years away and dating to only 770 million years after the Big Bang. “This brilliant beacon, powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun, is by far the brightest object yet discovered in the early Universe.“
As explained by Discover‘s Phil Plait, a NASA-funded study using gravitational lensing finds possible evidence of billions of rogue planets wandering the cosmos between the stars. “In fact, these free-floaters may outnumber ‘regular’ planets by a factor of 1.5 or so. There are more of them than there are of us!…It’s thoughts that like which make me glad to be an astronomer, especially one living now. Just when you think the Universe is running low on surprises, it reminds us it’s a lot more clever than we are.”
Building on the LHC’s success last November, scientists in Geneva, Switzerland manage to trap anti-matter for a full sixteen minutes, 10,000 times longer than ever before. “This time around, they used the same method but also cooled the antiprotons used to create the antihydrogen, which lowered the energy of the antimatter,but increased the chance that more could be collected.“
Using “the most perfect spheres ever made by humans,” a NASA experiment known as Gravity Probe B finds evidence of space-time curvature, as Einstein predicted under general relativity. “Everitt recalls some advice given to him by his thesis advisor and Nobel Laureate Patrick M.S. Blackett: ‘If you can’t think of what physics to do next, invent some new technology, and it will lead to new physics. Well,’ says Everitt, ‘we invented 13 new technologies for Gravity Probe B. Who knows where they will take us?’”
Another casualty of the lousy economy and the budget crises (in this case, California’s) SETI’s Allen Telescope Array goes dark. “‘We have the radio antennae up, but we can’t run them without operating funds,’ he added. ‘Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company.‘”
After its initial sweep of 1/400th of the sky, NASA’s Kepler telescope finds over 1200 planets — 54 of them potentially inhabitable. (The picture above is a rendering of the six-planet Kepler-11 system, 2000 light-years away.)
Discover‘s Phil Plait puts today’s findings in proper perspective: “Mind you, Kepler is only looking at a sample of stars that is one one-millionth of all the stars in the Milky Way. So it’s not totally silly to take these numbers and multiply them by a million to estimate how many planets there may be in the galaxy…70 million Earth-size planets, and a million in the habitable zone of their stars. A frakking million. In our galaxy alone.”
From a few days ago: The Hubble — also the subject of an excellent IMAX-3D movie I saw on Saturday — (probably) finds the oldest, farthest galaxy yet discovered. “Spectroscopic observations with the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, however, are needed to cement the identification of the smudge as a galaxy…The Webb telescope, which is expected to be launched later this decade once NASA figures out how to pay for it, has been designed to find these primordial galaxies and thus illuminate the dark ages.”
“‘Needless to say, none of us expected it was going to be operating for so long,’ said Krimigis, now 72. ‘We were all praying to get to Neptune [in 1989]. But after that? Who thought we could be with this 33 years [after launch]?’“
Though it’s past 11 billion miles, it’s feeling very still (after all, no more solar wind)…
By way of a friend, and as the spacecraft reaches the outer edge of the solar system, the Baltimore Sun checks in on Voyager 1 and its makers. “Voyager was the pinnacle of his career, said Ness, now 77. “There is never going to be a mission in anybody’s lifetime, now living, that is ever going to get these observations in hand. So it’s once in a lifetime.“
“We may have to abandon this notion of using the Milky Way as a template for the rest of the universe,” Dr. van Dokkum said. If the findings are correct, an undercount of dwarfs would mean astronomers have underestimated the masses of galaxies, and that would mean that galaxies developed earlier and faster than currently thought.“
Another big happening on the astrobiology front. As first seen at Dangerous Meta, a joint Harvard-Yale study published in Nature finds that our universe may have three times as many stars as we thought. “That suggests a universe of roughly 100 sextillion stars, with an approximate margin of error of about 10 times fewer or 10 times more.“
Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern have found a way to hold atoms of antimatter for a fraction of a second. “[T]he ability to study such antimatter atoms will allow previously impossible tests of fundamental tenets of physics….’[W]e need a lot more atoms and a lot longer times before it’s really useful – but one has to crawl before you sprint.’”
By way of cdogzilla, PhysOrg’s Lisa Zyga describes a new cosmological theory by Wun-Yi Shu of Taiwan that, among other things,does away with the Big Bang. “Essentially, this work is a novel theory about how the magnitudes of the three basic physical dimensions, mass, time, and length, are converted into each other…The theory resolves problems in cosmology, such as those of the big bang, dark energy, and flatness, in one fell stroke.”
“‘This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.’ So wrote Albert Einstein in a letter to his one time collaborator, the mathematician Marcel Grossmann in 1920.“
A recent history-of-science paper by a Jeroen van Dongen of Utrecht University looks into the anti-relativity theory movement of the 1920′s, and how it compares to today’s climate change denialism. “Anti-relativists were convinced that their opinions were being suppressed. Indeed, many believed that conspiracies were at work that thwarted the promotion of their ideas.” (See also: Evolution and Scopes.)
“If DAMA’s signal were due to dark matter, Xenon 100 would have seen dozens of events — unless the properties of dark matter are very different than expected, says Lang. ‘If DAMA really does see dark matter, it has to be something very, very exotic, something much different from what we expect, so it’s getting a bit unlikely.‘” A new study casts doubt on apparent discoveries of dark matter particles by the DAMA experiment. Back to MOND, then?
(Maybe Black Mesa? That was a joke, ha ha, fat chance.) Y’know, to be honest, I blame the time travelers from the future who should’ve come back and prevented these catastrophic rips in the fabric of space-time. Bang up job, you effing slackers.
“The second law states that a force is proportional to an object’s mass and its acceleration. But since the 1980s, some physicists have eyed the law with suspicion, arguing that subtle changes to it at extremely small accelerations could explain the observed motion of stars in galaxies.” Also on the subject of spinning, a new experiment finds a way to test Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) on Earth, which, if successful, could revise Newton’s heretofore ironclad 2nd law…and explain away the longstanding dark matter problem. (By way of my new favorite Twitter feed, @newscientist.)
“‘There’s going to be all kinds of weird stuff out there,’ said Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, who wasn’t part of the research. ‘This is an unparalleled data set. The universe really is a weird place. It’s fantastic.’” In the midst of its current planet-hunting sweep, NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers two examples of a new type of heavenly body that are “too hot to be planets and too small to be stars.” (Although some think they’re recently-born planets; others dying “white-dwarf” stars.) “‘The universe keeps making strange things stranger than we can think of in our imagination,’ said Jon Morse, head of astrophysics for NASA.”
‘We’ve looked at far, far fewer than 10 million stars since 1960, and so we really can’t say anything worthwhile yet about whether or not intelligent life is out there,’ Drake said. ‘Given our capabilities now, we might have something useful to say one way or another in 25 years.’“
In the wake of all these new planets, the WP takes a gander at the new and improved SETI program. “‘We’re finding new extra-solar planets every week,’ she said. ‘We now know microbes can live in extreme environments on Earth thought to be impossible for life not very long ago, and so many more things seem possible in terms of life beyond Earth.’”
“Charbonneau said it’s unlikely that any life on the newly discovered planet would be similar to life on Earth, but he didn’t discount the idea entirely. ‘This planet probably does have liquid water,’ he said.” Don’t mean to turn GitM into the We Found a Planet Weekly, but this also seems like big doings: Astronomers discover a watery, Earth-like planet relatively nearby. (As in 40 light years away, orbiting GJ 1214b.) “While the planet probably has too thick of an atmosphere and is too hot to support life similar to that found on Earth, the discovery is being heralded as a major breakthrough in humanity’s search for life on other planets.” I’ll say.
Update: “‘I was instantly excited because the glint reminded me of an image of our own planet taken from orbit around Earth, showing a reflection of sunlight on an ocean,’ Stephan said. ‘But we also had to do more work to make sure the glint we were seeing wasn’t lightning or an erupting volcano.’” Might be some more water closer to home too: NASA confirms liquid on Saturn’s moon of Titan.
“‘The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon,’ the space agency said in a written statement.” It’s official: Data from NASA’s LCROSS impact of a few weeks ago confirms the recent findings of Chandraayan-1: It ain’t Hoth or Rura Penthe, but there is a “significant amount” of water on the moon, like, ice-field size.
“The amount of water they found in the plume was a couple of hundred kilograms in total, but that indicates there is a lot more still lying on the surface. They don’t know how much exactly just yet.” (As we found out recently, the same might also hold true of Mars.)
“‘The full understanding of the LCROSS data may take some time. The data is that rich,’ said Colaprete. ‘Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances. The permanently shadowed regions of the moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years.‘” I’m very reminded of James Hogan’s Inherit the Stars right now. Also, it’s probably about time to start taking lunar exploration a bit more seriously again, eh?
Speaking of NASA, somebody page Jim Starlin (and file this next to the Great Eye): Another holdover from last week, The agency’s Chandra X-Ray Laboratory captures an eerie and beautiful galactic “hand” reaching across the cosmos. “[T]he display is caused by a young and powerful pulsar, known by the rather prosaic name of PSR B1509-58…The space agency says B1509 — created by a collapsed star — is one of the most powerful electromagnetic generators in the Galaxy. The nebula is formed by a torrent of electrons and ions emitted by the 1,700-year-old phenomenon. The finger-like structures are apparently caused by ‘energizing knots of material in a neighboring gas cloud,’ NASA says.”
“‘There is ‘something new and interesting going on in the universe,’ said Alan Kogut of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.” Aspiring Jor-Els: Best get to work on those interstellar child-bearing rockets. Scientists detect a distant — and very loud — roar on the other side of the universe. “‘The universe really threw us a curve,’ Kogut said. ‘Instead of the faint signal we hoped to find, here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted.’” (Sssh, listen…there went Earth-2.)