“Pale Blue Dot” revisited

Click to enlargeNASA/JPL-Caltech

For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic views from the Voyager mission, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is publishing a new version of the image known as the “Pale Blue Dot.”

The updated image uses modern image-processing software and techniques while respecting the intent of those who planned the image. Like the original, the new color view shows Planet Earth as a single, bright blue pixel in the vastness of space. Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene, one of which happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth.

The view was obtained on Feb. 14, 1990, just minutes before Voyager 1’s cameras were intentionally powered off to conserve power and because the probe – along with its sibling, Voyager 2 – would not make close flybys of any other objects during their lifetimes. Shutting down instruments and other systems on the two Voyager spacecraft has been a gradual and ongoing process that has helped enable their longevity.

RTFA. Offer your memory an opportunity to deepen your sense of proportion.

Distant galaxy sends out 15 high-energy radio bursts

❝ Breakthrough Listen, an initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 brief but powerful radio pulses emanating from a mysterious and repeating source – FRB 121102 – far across the universe.

Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant but largely unknown sources, and FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat: more than 150 high-energy bursts have been observed coming from the object, which was identified last year as a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth.

❝ Possible explanations for the repeating bursts range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields – so-called magnetars – to a more speculative idea: They are directed energy sources, powerful laser bursts used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft, akin to Breakthrough Starshot’s plan to use powerful laser pulses to propel nano-spacecraft to our solar system’s nearest star, Proxima Centauri…

❝ Regardless of FRB 121102’s ultimate source, when the recently detected pulses left their host galaxy, our solar system was less than 2 billion years old, noted Steve Croft, a Breakthrough Listen astronomer at UC Berkeley. Life on Earth consisted only of single-celled organisms; it would be another billion years before even the simplest multi-cellular life began to evolve.

The dominant life-form on Earth still is pretty simple-minded. When we get round to relying uniformly and consistently on scientific fact and evidence-driven conclusions, we may finally creep beyond Jack and the Beanstalk mythology and ritual.

A Flight Through the Universe

There are 400,000 galaxies viewed in this animation. They are in their real relative positions.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is pretty average. It has between 200 to 400 billion stars – like our sun. Our galaxy is but one of these in the animation.

Realize, please, how unimportant human beings are in the universe. Reflect on the absurdity of superstitions. They all think our species is the center of something-or-other.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Astronomers discover largest known structure in the universe

Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe – a group of quasars so large it would take 4 billion years to cross it while traveling at speed of light.

The immense scale also challenges Albert Einstein’s Cosmological Principle, the assumption that the universe looks the same from every point of view…

The findings by academics from Britain’s University of Central Lancashire were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and reported on the society’s website on Friday.

Quasars are believed to be the brightest objects in the universe, with light emanating from the nuclei of galaxies from the early days of the universe and visible billions of light-years away.

“Since 1982 it has been known that quasars tend to group together in clumps or ‘structures’ of surprisingly large sizes, forming large quasar groups or LQGs,” the society said.

This newly discovered large quasar group has a dimension of 500 megaparsecs, each megaparsec measuring 3.3 million light-years.

Because the LQG is elongated, its longest dimension is 1,200 megaparsecs, or 4 billion light-years, the society said.

That size is 1,600 times larger than the distance from Earth’s Milky Way to the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda.

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” Roger Clowes, leader of the research team, said in a statement. “This is hugely exciting – not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.”

Wow. People who hate and fear science have no comprehensions of [1] the inherent conservatism of the craft – which requires an accumulation of validation to change a body of knowledge – and [2] the excitement engendered throughout whenever a quality is challenged by solid data.

Einstein’s Cosmological Principle may not be replaced in my lifetime – but, whatever replaces it will also face continued, disciplined poking and prodding based on a never-ending search for more understanding.

The Higgs boson: What’s God got to do with it?

Josef Kristofoletti’s painting of what a Higgs boson may look like
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

“We don’t call it the ‘God particle’, it’s just the media that do that,” a senior U.S. scientist politely told an interviewer on a major European radio station on Tuesday.

“Well, I am the from the media and I’m going to continue calling it that,” said the journalist – and continued to do so.

The exchange, as physicists at the CERN research centre near Geneva were preparing to announce the latest news from their long and frustrating search for the Higgs boson, illustrated sharply how science and the popular media are not always a good mix.

“I hate that ‘God particle’ term,” said Pauline Gagnon, a Canadian member of CERN’s ATLAS team of so-called “Higgs hunters” – an epithet they do not reject.

“The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that,” she told Reuters at a news conference after her colleagues revealed growing evidence, albeit not yet proof, of the particle’s existence…

The Higgs boson is being hunted so determinedly because it would be the manifestation of an invisible field – the Higgs field – thought to permeate the entire universe.

The field was posited in the 1960s by British scientist Peter Higgs as the way that matter obtained mass after the universe was created in the Big Bang. As such, according to the theory, it was the agent that made the stars, planets – and life – possible by giving mass to most elementary particles, the building blocks of the universe; hence the nickname “God particle…”

According to people who have investigated the subject, the term originated with a 1993 history of particle physics by U.S. Nobel prize winner Leon M Lederman.

The book was titled: “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?”

Physicists say Lederman, who over the years has been the target of much opprobrium from his scientific colleagues, tells friends he wanted to call the book “The Goddamned Particle” to reflect frustration at the failure to find it.

But, according to that account, his publisher rejected the epithet – possibly because of its potential to upset a strongly religious U.S. public – and convinced Lederman to accept the alternative he proposed.

No surprise at any level. The absurd enthusiasm for religious excuses for any sort of behavior are part and parcel of life in these United States – including the bigots who still would split the nation to reform the Confederacy, “God’s Country” for many of them.

Still, the old established denominations diminish at a steady pace. Losers remaining, thrashing about for explanations to justify their idealized loyalty to superstition move those remnants further into fundamentalism, trying to justify allegiance to failed explanations – when reality and science are simple enough, easy enough.

Is our entire universe inside a bubble?

The theory that our universe is contained inside a bubble, and that multiple alternative universes exist inside their own bubbles — making up the ‘multiverse’ — is, for the first time, being tested by physicists.

Two research papers published in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review D are the first to detail how to search for signatures of other universes. Physicists are now searching for disk-like patterns in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation — relic heat radiation left over from the Big Bang — which could provide tell-tale evidence of collisions between other universes and our own.

Many modern theories of fundamental physics predict that our universe is contained inside a bubble. In addition to our bubble, this `multiverse’ will contain others, each of which can be thought of as containing a universe. In the other ‘pocket universes’ the fundamental constants, and even the basic laws of nature, might be different…

“It’s a very hard statistical and computational problem to search for all possible radii of the collision imprints at any possible place in the sky,” says Dr Hiranya Peiris, co-author of the research from the UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy. “But that’s what pricked my curiosity.”

The team ran simulations of what the sky would look like with and without cosmic collisions and developed a ground-breaking algorithm to determine which fit better with the wealth of CMB data from NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). They put the first observational upper limit on how many bubble collision signatures there could be in the CMB sky…

The authors stress that these first results are not conclusive enough either to rule out the multiverse or to definitively detect the imprint of a bubble collision. However, WMAP is not the last word: new data currently coming in from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite should help solve the puzzle.

Rock on UCL!

Fermi gamma-ray image updates energy image of the visible universe

The Fermi space telescope has yielded the most detailed gamma ray map of the sky – representing the Universe’s most violent and extreme processes.

The telescope’s newest results, as well as the map, were described at the Third Fermi Symposium in Rome this week…

The space telescope was launched in 2008, and the Rome meeting gathered together the hundreds of scientists who worked with the data it produces.

Every three hours, the telescope gathers up a full scan of the sky, spitting out 40 million bits of information each second that it beams back to the Earth…

“When you look at the Universe with gamma-ray eyes what you’re seeing is the ‘extreme Universe’,” said Julie McEnery, Fermi project scientist.

“You’re looking at things where there’s enormous acceleration, enormous energy. We see neutron stars, we see supermassive black holes, we see particles moving at close to the speed of light smashing into gas in our galaxy,” she told BBC News…

“We’ve seen a lot of what we expected to see, and some things we didn’t expect to see,” Dr McEnery said…

But lurking among the data Fermi has collected is the promise of new physics – there are certainly unidentified gamma ray sources that may represent new kinds of celestial objects.

And yet to come may be hints of the dark matter that is believed to make up the majority of the mass of the Universe…

Dr Ritz said that such “indirect” dark matter detections in far-flung parts of the cosmos could complement the kind of searches for never-before-seen particles that are going on at facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider…

What is clear is that the scientists working on the project believe that the best is yet to come from Fermi.

RTFA for lots of detail, ideas and information worth noting for a greater understanding of where it is we actually live. Absolutely incomprehensible to anyone stuck into superstition, closed-end loops of ignorance.

Opening your mind to an understanding of the physical definitions of the universe can range from wonder to delight. I admit I still find it difficult to understand why individuals fear and refuse to admit to expanding knowledge. It can be as beautiful an experience as anything in your life.

Did the early universe have but one dimension?

Did the early universe have just one spatial dimension?

That’s the mind-boggling concept at the heart of a theory that University at Buffalo physicist Dejan Stojkovic and colleagues proposed in 2010.

They suggested that the early universe — which exploded from a single point and was very, very small at first — was one-dimensional (like a straight line) before expanding to include two dimensions (like a plane) and then three (like the world in which we live today).

The theory, if valid, would address important problems in particle physics.

Now, in a new paper in Physical Review Letters, Stojkovic and Loyola Marymount University physicist Jonas Mureika describe a test that could prove or disprove the “vanishing dimensions” hypothesis.

Because it takes time for light and other waves to travel to Earth, telescopes peering out into space can, essentially, look back into time as they probe the universe’s outer reaches.

Gravitational waves can’t exist in one- or two-dimensional space. So Stojkovic and Mureika have reasoned that the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a planned international gravitational observatory, should not detect any gravitational waves emanating from the lower-dimensional epochs of the early universe…

“What we’re proposing here is a shift in paradigm,” Stojkovic said. “Physicists have struggled with the same problems for 10, 20, 30 years, and straight-forward extensions of extensions of the existing ideas are unlikely to solve them…

Because the planned deployment of LISA is still years away, it may be a long time before Stojkovic and his colleagues are able to test their ideas this way.

If high energies do correspond with lower-dimensional space, as the “vanishing dimensions” theory proposes, researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator in Europe should see planar scattering at such energies.

Stojkovic says the observation of such events would be “a very exciting, independent test of our proposed ideas.”

Woo-Hoo. Interesting and exciting.