Posts about space

Why do we Need Dark Energy to Explain the Observable Universe?

Why do we need dark energy to explain the observable universe?

Against all reason, the universe is accelerating its expansion. When two prominent research teams dropped this bombshell in 1998, cosmologists had to revise their models of the universe to include an enormous and deeply mysterious placeholder they called “dark energy.” For dark energy to explain the accelerating expansion, it had to constitute more than 70 percent of the universe. It joined another placeholder, “dark matter,” constituting 20 percent, in overshadowing the meager 4 percent that make up everything else—things like stars, planets, and people.

An accelerating wave of expansion following the Big Bang could push what later became matter out across the universe, spreading galaxies farther apart the more distant they got from the wave’s center. If this did happen, it would account for the fact that supernovae were dim- they were in fact shoved far away at the very beginning of the universe. But this would’ve been an isolated event, not a constant accelerating force. Their explanation of the 1998 observations does away with the need for dark energy.

And Smoller and Temple say that once they have worked out a further version of their solutions, they should have a testable prediction that they can use to see if the theory fits observations.

Another interesting example of the scientific inquiry process at work in cosmology.

Shouldn’t the National Academy of Science (NAS), a congressionally chartered institution, promote open science instead of erecting pay walls to block papers from open access? The paper (by 2 public school professors) is not freely available online. It seems like it will be available 6 months after publication (which is good) but shouldn’t the NAS do better? Delayed open access, for organizations with a focus other than promoting science (journal companies etc.), is acceptable at the current time, but the NAS should do better to promote science, I think.

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Neil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

From the interview of Neil Degrasse Tyson from 3 July 2009.

“If you are scientifically literate the world looks very different to you. Its not just a lot of mysterious things happening. There is a lot we understand out there. And that understanding empowers you to, first, not be taken advantage of by others who do understand it. And second there are issues that confront society that have science as their foundation. If you are scientifically illiterate, in a way, you are disenfranchising yourself from the democratic process, and you don’t even know it.”

I agree, and, as I have said before, when a society allows a scientific illiteracy to continue then the potential for abuse by those that manipulate those that are scientifically illiterate leaves the society vulnerable to making very bad choices.

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Physics from Universe to Multiverse

2005 video of Dr. Michio Kaku speaking on BBC on physics from Universe to Multiverse.

Unfortunately BBC leaders decided to hide this from the world and removed the video. Maybe scientists should stop talking to organizations won’t share the output with the world.

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Extremophile Hunter

NSF has begun publishing a new web magazine: Science Nation. The inaugural article is Extremophile Hunter

Astrobiologist Richard Hoover really goes to extremes to find living things that thrive where life would seem to be impossible–from the glaciers of the Alaskan Arctic to the ice sheets of Antarctica.

“It may be that when we ultimately get a chance to bring back samples of ice from the polar caps of Mars, we might find biology that looks just like Earth life and it might be that it originated on Earth and was carried to Mars,” said Hoover. “Of course, if it can happen that way, it could have happened the other way. So we may never know the ultimate answer to how did life originate.”

Some of the structures he has imaged from these meteorites are intriguing, bearing striking similarities to bacteria here on Earth. Could these be the fossilized remains of extraterrestial life?

“I am convinced that what I am finding in the carbonaceous meteorites are in many cases biological in nature, and I think they are indigenous and not terrestrial contaminants,” said Hoover.

It is a highly controversial interpretation. “We have for a long time thought that all life, as we know it, originated on Earth. And there isn’t any life anywhere else,” he said. “That’s an idea, it’s a hypothesis, it’s a totally unproven hypothesis.”

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Sun Missing It’s Spots

image of sun with sun spots and withoutImage courtesy of SOHO, shows an image of the sun on July 19th 2000 and March 18th 2009.

Sun Oddly Quiet

The sun is the least active it’s been in decades and the dimmest in a hundred years. The lull is causing some scientists to recall the Little Ice Age, an unusual cold spell in Europe and North America, which lasted from about 1300 to 1850. The coldest period of the Little Ice Age, between 1645 and 1715, has been linked to a deep dip in solar storms known as the Maunder Minimum.

Sunspots, which can be visible without a telescope, are dark regions that indicate intense magnetic activity on the sun’s surface. Such solar storms send bursts of charged particles hurtling toward Earth that can spark auroras, disrupt satellites, and even knock out electrical grids.

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Scientists Study Saskatchewan Meteorite

Scientists unravelling mysteries of Saskatchewan meteorite

Video surveillance cameras at motels and gas stations captured the flashes of brilliant light and the shadows they cast. A week later, Milley was part of the team led by U of C geologist and geophysicist Alan Hildebrand at Buzzard Coulee. It was she who spotted the first meteorite fragment in a frozen pond.

Later, she studied the flashes and shadows from the various surveillance and amateur videos. She used the information to plot the fireball’s path as it fell to Earth and then tried to figure out its orbit. Milley’s tentative conclusion, which she discussed in Saskatoon Monday, was that it didn’t look like the space rock came from beyond the orbit of Mars.

“It looks like it’s a very kind of tight inner solar system orbit,” she said. “It’s not something that’s extended into the asteroid belt.” If she’s correct, it would be the first time researchers have found debris from a meteorite so close to Earth, Milley said.

In terms of the composition, Milley and her colleagues have determined it’s a relatively common type of meteorite with a high iron content. However, there is still much more to learn about it, they say. More than 100 fragments have already been recovered, but this spring, researchers will be resuming their search for more.

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Evolution, Methane, Jobs, Food and More

photo of sunset on Mars
Photo from May 2005 by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit as the Sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars.

Science Friday is a great National Public Radio show. The week was a great show covering Antimicrobial Copper, Top Jobs for Math and Science, Human-Driven Evolution, Methane On Mars, Fish with Mercury and more. This show, in particular did a great job of showing the scientific inquiry process in action.

“Fishing regulations often prescribe the taking of larger fish, and the same often applies to hunting regulations,” said Chris Darimont, one of the authors of the study. “Hunters are instructed not to take smaller animals or those with smaller horns. This is counter to patterns of natural predation, and now we’re seeing the consequences of this management.” Darimont and colleagues found that human predation accelerated the rate of observable trait changes in a species by 300 percent above the pace observed within purely natural systems, and 50 percent above that of systems subject to other human influences, such as pollution

Very interesting stuff, listen for more details. A part of what happens is those individuals that chose to focus on reproducing early (instead of investing in growing larger, to reproduce later) are those that are favored (they gain advantage) by the conditions of human activity. I am amazed how quickly the scientists says the changes in populations are taking place.

And Methane On Mars is another potentially amazing discovery. While it is far from providing proof of live on Mars it is possibly evidence of life on Mars. Which would then be looked back on as one of the most important scientific discoveries ever. And in any even the podcast is a great overview of scientists in action.

This week astronomers reported finding an unexpected gas — methane — in the Martian atmosphere. On Earth, a major source of methane is biological activity. However, planetary scientists aren’t ready to say that life on Mars is to blame for the presence of the gas there, as geochemical processes could also account for the finding. The find is intriguing especially because the researchers say they have detected seasonal variations of methane emissions over specific locations on the planet.

Martian Methane Reveals the Red Planet is not a Dead Planet
The Mars Methane Mystery: Aliens At Last?

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Does the Earth Have Two Cores?

Did Earth’s Twin Cores Spark Plate Tectonics?

a new theory aims to rewrite it all by proposing the seemingly impossible: Earth has not one but two inner cores.

The idea stems from an ancient, cataclysmic collision that scientists believe occurred when a Mars-sized object hit Earth about 4.45 billion years ago. The young Earth was still so hot that it was mostly molten, and debris flung from the impact is thought to have formed the moon.

Haluk Cetin and Fugen Ozkirim of Murray State University think the core of the Mars-sized object may have been left behind inside Earth, and that it sank down near the original inner core. There the two may still remain, either separate or as conjoined twins, locked in a tight orbit.

Their case is largely circumstantial and speculative, Cetin admitted. “We have no solid evidence yet, and we’re not saying 100 percent that it still exists,” he said. “The interior of Earth is a very hard place to study.”

The ancient collision is a widely accepted phenomenon. But most scientists believe the incredible pressure at the center of the planet would’ve long since pushed the two cores into each other.

I must say two cores seems very far-fetched to me. But it is another great example of the scientific discovery process and an interesting idea.

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A Microscopic Layer of Diamonds Beneath the Surface of North America

Diamonds show comet struck North America, scientists say

A discovery of microscopic diamonds a few feet beneath the surface of North America reveals that a comet caused a cataclysm of fire, flood and devastation nearly 13,000 years ago that extinguished mammoths and mastodons and dealt a blow to early civilization, scientists said Friday.

The nanodiamonds, so small that they are barely visible in an electron microscope, are thought to be remnants of that comet, which would have hit about 65 million years after the much larger collision that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Battered by fire and ice, as many as 35 species of mammals, including American camels, the short-faced bear, the giant beaver, the dire wolf and the American lion, either immediately vanished or were so depleted in number that humans hunted them to extinction.

The humans, a Paleo-Indian grouping known as the Clovis culture for the distinctive spear points they employed, suffered a major population drop, disappearing in many areas for hundreds of years.

gems can only be created under the extreme temperatures and pressures of a massive explosion, such as a comet striking the Earth’s surface.

“There’s no other way we can interpret the presence of these diamonds other than an extraterrestrial impact,” said James Kennett, a paleooceanographer.

Such an impact would be the most likely source of nanodiamonds, critics agreed. But many argued that the one-page paper in Science did not provide enough evidence to support the authors’ claim.

“Nanodiamonds could be a good indicator of an impact event . . . but after reading the paper, I wasn’t convinced they found diamonds,” said physicist Tyrone Daulton of Washington University in St. Louis. “Maybe they found diamonds and maybe they didn’t.”

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Learning About the Moon

Planetary scientist Jennifer Heldmann discusses the Moon. From Fora.tv which has a wide selection of great webcasts.

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Before the Big Bang

Did our cosmos exist before the big bang?

The theory that the recycled universe was based on, called loop quantum cosmology (LQC), had managed to illuminate the very birth of the universe – something even Einstein’s general theory of relativity fails to do.

LQC is in fact the first tangible application of another theory called loop quantum gravity, which cunningly combines Einstein’s theory of gravity with quantum mechanics. We need theories like this to work out what happens when microscopic volumes experience an extreme gravitational force, as happened near the big bang, for example.

If LQC turns out to be right, our universe emerged from a pre-existing universe that had been expanding before contracting due to gravity. As all the matter squeezed into a microscopic volume, this universe approached the so-called Planck density, 5.1 × 1096 kilograms per cubic metre. At this stage, it stopped contracting and rebounded, giving us our universe.

In classical cosmology, a phenomenon called inflation caused the universe to expand at incredible speed in the first fractions of a second after the big bang. This inflationary phase is needed to explain why the temperature of faraway regions of the universe is almost identical, even though heat should not have had time to spread that far – the so-called horizon problem. It also explains why the universe is so finely balanced between expanding forever and contracting eventually under gravity – the flatness problem. Cosmologists invoke a particle called the inflaton to make inflation happen, but precious little is known about it.

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