October 23, 2014

Review: Brilliant Blunders by Mario Livio

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Many scientific discoveries often come out of left field.

The history of science (if we learn any of the history of science at all in school) is often depicted as a neat, tidy progression from ignorance to enlightenment. How could Isaac Newton not have formulated his laws of gravity and motion, or Einstein not have stumbled on his Theory of Relativity? It all seems foreordained in hindsight. [Read more...]

Life in the Astro-Blogosphere May 2013: They’re Out There, Man…

Why yes, we HAVE seen the ISS!

You just never know when you’ll come face-to-face with Woo.

We recently wrote about Comet ISON on Universe Today and how conspiracy crackpots are already lining up to capitalize on the projected “Comet of the Century.” It’s really win-win for them; if the comet lives up to expectations, there’ll be lots to hype, and if it’s a fizzle, hey, NASA’s “secret mission” must’ve taken it out…

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Review: The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw.

On sale now from Dacapo Press!

Quantum physics is perhaps the most arcane field of research out there today. It’s a field where particles pop in and out of existence, actions happen at a distance, and cats in boxes appear to be both alive and dead depending on the actions of the observer. Although there has been much written on the odd world of quantum physics, there are very few books out there for the curious layperson. [Read more...]

24.02.11: Hefty Anti-particle Found.

Staring into STAR. (Credit: From the Brookhaven National Laboratories’ Flickr stream).

The menagerie of bizarre sub-atomic particles just got stranger, as scientists at Long Islands Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider recently unveiled the discovery of the heaviest anti-particle yet discovered. Dubbed the antihypertriton, this strange beast sits at 200 milli-electron volts (for comparison, an electron volt about 1.602 x 10-19 joules), beating out old fashioned anti-helium. [Read more...]

Review: How Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form? By Abraham Loeb.

 

Out Now from Princeton University Press!

   One of the crucial questions in modern cosmology is: why is there anything at all? Why are we here to admire the cosmos, and create books and blogs about how clever we are to figure it all out? Why didn’t the early universe promptly annihilate itself in a massive matter/anti-matter collision? [Read more...]

11.05.10: Ancient Galaxy Mergers.

Hickson Compact Group 31. (Credit: NASA/HST/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).

Hickson Compact Group 31. (Credit: NASA/HST/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).

 

   Astronomers may have found a cosmological missing link in the realm of galactic evolution. The early universe was a crowded place; galaxy mergers must have been much more common in the primeval universe than they are today. But studying those early collisions has been problematic; the immense distances involved over time and space mean that resolving clusters and individual stars are out of the question. Now, a team from the University of Western Ontario led by Sara Gallagher has published a study of an object which may serve as a “living fossil” of those early times; Hickson Compact Group 31. A cluster of irregular galaxies “only” 166 million light years away in the constellation Eridanus, this merger has somehow escaped coalescence over 10 billion years of cosmic history to just begin merging. “Because HCG 31 is so nearby,” Gallagher notes, “we can indentify individual star clusters.” In fact, two main components of HCG 31 approach visual magnitude +13 and have been snared by amateur instruments. HCG 31 is approximately 75,000 light years in diameter, and will probably one day form one huge elliptical galaxy. To conduct this study, Gallagher utilized time and instruments that spanned the spectrum, from Hubble in visible light to Spitzer in infrared to Galex and Swift in the ultraviolet. It is amazing that astronomers now have such capabilities in their bag of tricks at their ready disposal!

02.02.10 In Search of Life, Gravity Waves, and Everything.

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

Astronomers have added a key tool to their arsenal in probing the very early universe. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory, is a pair of “observatories” one in Hanford, Washington, and one in Livingston, Louisiana that monitor the universe for that most exotic of beasts; gravity waves. Each L-shaped detector is comprised of two 2.25 mile long arms and by monitoring the minute changes in length as measured by laser beam, LIGO can detect changes as small as 1/1,000th of the width of an atomic nucleus.   By comparing the measurements from the two observatories and its sister companion, a European detector known as Virgo, directional magnitude of cosmic gravity waves can be measured. LIGO saw first “gravity light” in 2002. Late last year, data was released comprising two years’ worth of observations, and a sort of “all-sky map” in gravity waves is emerging. Unlike microwave energy, which can only probe the universe back to an age of about 380,000 years old, gravity waves were generated just moments after the Big Bang, and promise to paint a picture of that youthful era of our universe. LIGO may also prove to be one of the very few testable platforms for string theory, a theory that is very much in need of observational data. And be sure to keep an eye out in 2014 for Advanced LIGO, a detector to go online with 10x the present accuracy… can’t wait? YOU can join the citizen science brigade in the hunt for gravity waves before bedtime; checkout Einstein@home!