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Activity

Average numbers for the latest posts (max. 50 posts, posted within the last 4 weeks)

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 99

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2015-07-31 21:11:23 (99 comments, 12 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

"I have an astronomy question, and it is basically this: how many independent ways can we measure the age of the universe?"

The Big Bang was the birth of all the matter and radiation in the Universe, and signifies the beginning of what we know as all of existence. Yet it didn't happen an infinite or even an indeterminate amount of time ago: it happened precisely 13.81 billion years ago, with an uncertainty of just 120 million years. But despite all of our observations and data about the Universe, there are just two independent lines of evidence that lead us to that conclusion. At least they agree!

Most reshares: 31

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2015-08-29 00:11:51 (65 comments, 31 reshares, 198 +1s)Open 

"How is Hawking’s theory of black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon different than what Susskind said decades ago about black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon? Did Hawking just pull a Steve Jobs and proclaim something new that Android figured out years before? Or is this actually new stuff?"

Stephen Hawking is claiming that the black hole information paradox has now been resolved, with the information encoded on the event horizon and then onto the outgoing radiation via a new mechanism that he’ll detail in a paper due out next month, along with collaborators Malcom Perry and Andrew Strominger. Only, that’s not really what’s happening here. While he does have a new idea and there is a paper coming out, its contents do not solve the information paradox, but merely provide a hypothesis as to how it may be solved in the future.

Most plusones: 198

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2015-08-29 00:11:51 (65 comments, 31 reshares, 198 +1s)Open 

"How is Hawking’s theory of black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon different than what Susskind said decades ago about black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon? Did Hawking just pull a Steve Jobs and proclaim something new that Android figured out years before? Or is this actually new stuff?"

Stephen Hawking is claiming that the black hole information paradox has now been resolved, with the information encoded on the event horizon and then onto the outgoing radiation via a new mechanism that he’ll detail in a paper due out next month, along with collaborators Malcom Perry and Andrew Strominger. Only, that’s not really what’s happening here. While he does have a new idea and there is a paper coming out, its contents do not solve the information paradox, but merely provide a hypothesis as to how it may be solved in the future.

Latest 50 posts

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2015-09-03 21:49:55 (1 comments, 2 reshares, 8 +1s)Open 

“But this story was more than just an important milestone and step forward; when I saw it, I felt it was an opportunity to bring a much richer story to the world. There’s a story here — not of “the first Pakistani woman to get her Ph.D. in Astrophysics” — but of a human being who followed her passions to achieve her goals, the struggles she faced, the help and support she had along her way, and… a window into the unique life of a real person.”

What I found in the course of the interview — and in the aftermath — was not merely someone with an amazing story who achieved great things, nor merely someone who did good work that they loved. I found what turned out to be a remarkable person, and one that I’m glad to be in contact with three years later. Come learn the story of Mariam Sultana for today’s Throwback Thursday!

“But this story was more than just an important milestone and step forward; when I saw it, I felt it was an opportunity to bring a much richer story to the world. There’s a story here — not of “the first Pakistani woman to get her Ph.D. in Astrophysics” — but of a human being who followed her passions to achieve her goals, the struggles she faced, the help and support she had along her way, and… a window into the unique life of a real person.”

What I found in the course of the interview — and in the aftermath — was not merely someone with an amazing story who achieved great things, nor merely someone who did good work that they loved. I found what turned out to be a remarkable person, and one that I’m glad to be in contact with three years later. Come learn the story of Mariam Sultana for today’s Throwback Thursday!___

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2015-09-03 00:04:19 (5 comments, 12 reshares, 52 +1s)Open 

"There’s also a very, very subtle effect: neutrinos, which only make up a few percent of the energy density at these early times, can subtly shift the phases of these peaks and troughs. This phase shift — if detectable — would provide not only strong evidence of the existence of the cosmic neutrino background, but would allow us to measure its temperature, putting the Big Bang to the test in a brand new way."

A new technique taking advantage of data from the Planck satellite has just detected the cosmic neutrino background definitively and in a new way, with the subsequent polarization spectra — set to be released by the Planck team — ready to confirm the greatest prediction of all: the cosmic neutrino background’s temperature!

"There’s also a very, very subtle effect: neutrinos, which only make up a few percent of the energy density at these early times, can subtly shift the phases of these peaks and troughs. This phase shift — if detectable — would provide not only strong evidence of the existence of the cosmic neutrino background, but would allow us to measure its temperature, putting the Big Bang to the test in a brand new way."

A new technique taking advantage of data from the Planck satellite has just detected the cosmic neutrino background definitively and in a new way, with the subsequent polarization spectra — set to be released by the Planck team — ready to confirm the greatest prediction of all: the cosmic neutrino background’s temperature!___

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2015-08-31 18:41:22 (7 comments, 0 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

“So if there were a cosmic vortex somewhere, spooling out spacetime from a specific point, ultimately we would expect the way we observe the universe to be very different. It’s only because space is being created between all the objects which exist currently that we observe all galaxies to be moving away from us…”

When it comes to the Universe, physicists say things like: it originated in a Big Bang, it’s isotropic (or the same in all directions), and it’s homogeneous (the same everywhere), save for the effects of cosmic evolution. In every direction we look, we see galaxies expanding away from us, with the expansion rate increasing the farther away we look. But an expansion inherent to the fabric of space itself isn’t the only explanation; it’s conceivable that we see what we see because everything else in the Universe is speeding away from us, and that spacetime itself isstatic. But wha... more »

“So if there were a cosmic vortex somewhere, spooling out spacetime from a specific point, ultimately we would expect the way we observe the universe to be very different. It’s only because space is being created between all the objects which exist currently that we observe all galaxies to be moving away from us…”

When it comes to the Universe, physicists say things like: it originated in a Big Bang, it’s isotropic (or the same in all directions), and it’s homogeneous (the same everywhere), save for the effects of cosmic evolution. In every direction we look, we see galaxies expanding away from us, with the expansion rate increasing the farther away we look. But an expansion inherent to the fabric of space itself isn’t the only explanation; it’s conceivable that we see what we see because everything else in the Universe is speeding away from us, and that spacetime itself is static. But what does the Universe itself have to say about that? Jillian Scudder has the answer on Astroquizzical!___

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2015-08-31 13:45:46 (3 comments, 3 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

“In April, we found these storms are suppressed by water vapor in the lower layers of Saturn’s atmosphere. Being heavier than not only hydrogen and helium but also methane, the wet water vapor forms a layer underneath Saturn’s outer exosphere, insulating the inner part of the world. Eventually, the outer layers cool so much that they sink, allowing the inner, wet layers — and storms — to re-emerge.”

Every twenty years or so, Saturn develops a tremendous storm, streaking white across its surface and eventually encircling the entire globe, lapping itself. The 2010-2011 storm outdid itself, lasting more than eight months and becoming the largest storm since telescope technology advanced to the point where we could view them. Four years after it ended, we finally figured out the secret to what causes them, and why they only emerge every 20-to-30 years.

“In April, we found these storms are suppressed by water vapor in the lower layers of Saturn’s atmosphere. Being heavier than not only hydrogen and helium but also methane, the wet water vapor forms a layer underneath Saturn’s outer exosphere, insulating the inner part of the world. Eventually, the outer layers cool so much that they sink, allowing the inner, wet layers — and storms — to re-emerge.”

Every twenty years or so, Saturn develops a tremendous storm, streaking white across its surface and eventually encircling the entire globe, lapping itself. The 2010-2011 storm outdid itself, lasting more than eight months and becoming the largest storm since telescope technology advanced to the point where we could view them. Four years after it ended, we finally figured out the secret to what causes them, and why they only emerge every 20-to-30 years.___

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2015-08-30 20:12:53 (2 comments, 0 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

"The cake is where all very nearly came unstuck. I drastically under calculated (totally stuffed up actually) how much mud cake weighs. So the cab had some Styrofoam in it to help lighten the load a little."

If you wanted to have a birthday party that was Transformers-themed, what could be a better addition to it than an Optimus Prime cake?

The answer, of course, is an Optimus Prime Cake that transforms!

"The cake is where all very nearly came unstuck. I drastically under calculated (totally stuffed up actually) how much mud cake weighs. So the cab had some Styrofoam in it to help lighten the load a little."

If you wanted to have a birthday party that was Transformers-themed, what could be a better addition to it than an Optimus Prime cake?

The answer, of course, is an Optimus Prime Cake that transforms!___

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2015-08-29 15:07:07 (0 comments, 3 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

“Yet if you got into a spaceship, accelerated at 9.8 m/s^2 for about 30 years in your frame of reference, and then just coasted, you’d be able — assuming you didn’t run into something and fry yourself — to travel through billions of years of cosmic evolution. When you looked out your front windshield, the Universe would appear to evolve incredibly rapidly, as the galaxies you’d encounter would change tremendously in short order. The ones behind you, contrariwise would still appear just as ancient as when you left, since the photons would struggle to overtake you.

But the big surprise would come if you screeched to a halt, and slipped back into the CMB’s rest frame.”

If you missed any of the big news this week, from black holes to wildfires to artificially aging the Universe around you, you won’t want to miss our comments of the week. Check them out today!

“Yet if you got into a spaceship, accelerated at 9.8 m/s^2 for about 30 years in your frame of reference, and then just coasted, you’d be able — assuming you didn’t run into something and fry yourself — to travel through billions of years of cosmic evolution. When you looked out your front windshield, the Universe would appear to evolve incredibly rapidly, as the galaxies you’d encounter would change tremendously in short order. The ones behind you, contrariwise would still appear just as ancient as when you left, since the photons would struggle to overtake you.

But the big surprise would come if you screeched to a halt, and slipped back into the CMB’s rest frame.”

If you missed any of the big news this week, from black holes to wildfires to artificially aging the Universe around you, you won’t want to miss our comments of the week. Check them out today!___

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2015-08-29 14:04:26 (3 comments, 0 reshares, 18 +1s)Open 

“These super star clusters will evolve into globular clusters. They're rarities in the Universe in this day and age, as most of our star formation history is behind us rather than in front of us. Nevertheless, globular clusters don't only form in isolation, but can form as giant regions in galaxies or from other bound structures. NGC 1783, in particular, is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is the final piece of the puzzle in checking this globular's fake ID.”

When you look at a globular cluster, you’re seeing a relic from the ancient Universe, where its stars formed back when the Universe was just a few percent of its present age. At least, that’s what you see in general, but a few globulars are much, much younger than that. Hubble has recently photographed a cosmic impostor, NGC 1783, which is only 10% the age of most globulars. Here's the secret of how it got tobe that... more »

“These super star clusters will evolve into globular clusters. They're rarities in the Universe in this day and age, as most of our star formation history is behind us rather than in front of us. Nevertheless, globular clusters don't only form in isolation, but can form as giant regions in galaxies or from other bound structures. NGC 1783, in particular, is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is the final piece of the puzzle in checking this globular's fake ID.”

When you look at a globular cluster, you’re seeing a relic from the ancient Universe, where its stars formed back when the Universe was just a few percent of its present age. At least, that’s what you see in general, but a few globulars are much, much younger than that. Hubble has recently photographed a cosmic impostor, NGC 1783, which is only 10% the age of most globulars. Here's the secret of how it got to be that way, and how to catch lying globulars in general.___

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2015-08-29 00:11:51 (65 comments, 31 reshares, 198 +1s)Open 

"How is Hawking’s theory of black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon different than what Susskind said decades ago about black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon? Did Hawking just pull a Steve Jobs and proclaim something new that Android figured out years before? Or is this actually new stuff?"

Stephen Hawking is claiming that the black hole information paradox has now been resolved, with the information encoded on the event horizon and then onto the outgoing radiation via a new mechanism that he’ll detail in a paper due out next month, along with collaborators Malcom Perry and Andrew Strominger. Only, that’s not really what’s happening here. While he does have a new idea and there is a paper coming out, its contents do not solve the information paradox, but merely provide a hypothesis as to how it may be solved in the future.

"How is Hawking’s theory of black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon different than what Susskind said decades ago about black holes storing information on the shell of an event horizon? Did Hawking just pull a Steve Jobs and proclaim something new that Android figured out years before? Or is this actually new stuff?"

Stephen Hawking is claiming that the black hole information paradox has now been resolved, with the information encoded on the event horizon and then onto the outgoing radiation via a new mechanism that he’ll detail in a paper due out next month, along with collaborators Malcom Perry and Andrew Strominger. Only, that’s not really what’s happening here. While he does have a new idea and there is a paper coming out, its contents do not solve the information paradox, but merely provide a hypothesis as to how it may be solved in the future.___

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2015-08-27 22:03:10 (5 comments, 12 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

"That’s okay, because you’re a scientist! Your old theory — or way of making sense of the world — now gets revised, and replaced with a new one that’s even better at describing the full suite of phenomena you’re aware of."

When you first venture out into the world, you're armed, as a human being, with an incredible intelligence, but with no experience. All sorts of basic things must be learned, often the hard way: hot things will burn you, hot things that don't look hot will also burn you, and that even very cold things will burn you, too. Figuring those things out -- and the process by which you learn them -- is science, in and of itself. But to move forward requires that we understand why, and that's where scientific theories, leaps and even revolutions come into play. Don't let bad science reporting take you away from what science is really allabout: the knowledg... more »

"That’s okay, because you’re a scientist! Your old theory — or way of making sense of the world — now gets revised, and replaced with a new one that’s even better at describing the full suite of phenomena you’re aware of."

When you first venture out into the world, you're armed, as a human being, with an incredible intelligence, but with no experience. All sorts of basic things must be learned, often the hard way: hot things will burn you, hot things that don't look hot will also burn you, and that even very cold things will burn you, too. Figuring those things out -- and the process by which you learn them -- is science, in and of itself. But to move forward requires that we understand why, and that's where scientific theories, leaps and even revolutions come into play. Don't let bad science reporting take you away from what science is really all about: the knowledge and joy of figuring out how the world and Universe really works.___

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2015-08-27 16:01:23 (4 comments, 4 reshares, 41 +1s)Open 

"Naysayers love to claim that nuclear fusion is always decades away — and always will be — but the reality is we’ve moved ever closer to the breakeven point and solved a large number of technical challenges over the past twenty years. Nuclear fusion, if we ever achieve it on a large scale, will usher in a new era for humanity: one where energy conservation is a thing of the past, as the fuel for our heart’s desires will literally be without limits."

The ultimate dream when it comes to clean, green, safe, abundant energy is nuclear fusion. The same process that powers the core of the Sun could also power everything on Earth millions of times over, if only we could figure out how to reach that breakeven point. Right now, we have three different candidates for doing so: inertial confinement, magnetic confinement, and magnetized target fusion. Recent advances have all three lookingpromisi... more »

"Naysayers love to claim that nuclear fusion is always decades away — and always will be — but the reality is we’ve moved ever closer to the breakeven point and solved a large number of technical challenges over the past twenty years. Nuclear fusion, if we ever achieve it on a large scale, will usher in a new era for humanity: one where energy conservation is a thing of the past, as the fuel for our heart’s desires will literally be without limits."

The ultimate dream when it comes to clean, green, safe, abundant energy is nuclear fusion. The same process that powers the core of the Sun could also power everything on Earth millions of times over, if only we could figure out how to reach that breakeven point. Right now, we have three different candidates for doing so: inertial confinement, magnetic confinement, and magnetized target fusion. Recent advances have all three looking promising in various ways, making one wonder why we don't spend more resources towards achieving the holy grail of energy.___

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2015-08-26 22:34:41 (59 comments, 23 reshares, 122 +1s)Open 

"At this point in time, we are certain that black holes exist, we know where they are, how they form, and how they’ll eventually, on timescales of 10^67 years and up, cease to exist. But the details of where the information that went into them goes are still up for grabs, and that’s one of the problems unique to black holes among all objects in the Universe."

Earlier this week, Stephen Hawking shook up the world when he announced that he had uncovered the solution to the black hole information paradox at a conference in Stockholm. When particles fall into (or create) a black hole, information is encoded on the black hole’s surface, but when the black hole decays into radiation, that information appears to be lost, as the radiation is thermal. But perhaps the information is stored on the event horizon, and can be encoded into the outgoing radiation thanks to the interplay ofgravi... more »

"At this point in time, we are certain that black holes exist, we know where they are, how they form, and how they’ll eventually, on timescales of 10^67 years and up, cease to exist. But the details of where the information that went into them goes are still up for grabs, and that’s one of the problems unique to black holes among all objects in the Universe."

Earlier this week, Stephen Hawking shook up the world when he announced that he had uncovered the solution to the black hole information paradox at a conference in Stockholm. When particles fall into (or create) a black hole, information is encoded on the black hole’s surface, but when the black hole decays into radiation, that information appears to be lost, as the radiation is thermal. But perhaps the information is stored on the event horizon, and can be encoded into the outgoing radiation thanks to the interplay of gravitation and matter. Details should be forthcoming in a paper to be released next month by Hawking, Malcom Perry and Andrew Strominger.___

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2015-08-26 00:08:53 (29 comments, 11 reshares, 56 +1s)Open 

"It means our Milky Way is being pulled by all the other galaxies, groups and clusters in our vicinity. It means that the closest, most massive objects around are going to be the ones that dominate our motion. And it means that not only our galaxy, but all the nearby galaxies are going to experience a “bulk flow” due to this gravitational force."

If you wanted to know how fast you were moving through space, you’d need to measure it all: the Earth’s rotation, our motion around the Sun, the Sun’s motion through the galaxy, the Milky Way’s speed within the local group, and finally how the local group moved relative to the Universe. All in all, it’s a daunting, virtually impossible task without literally measuring everything in the entire Universe itself. Or, you could take advantage of an amazing fact: the leftover glow from the Big Bang exhibits a redshift in one directionand a blueshi... more »

"It means our Milky Way is being pulled by all the other galaxies, groups and clusters in our vicinity. It means that the closest, most massive objects around are going to be the ones that dominate our motion. And it means that not only our galaxy, but all the nearby galaxies are going to experience a “bulk flow” due to this gravitational force."

If you wanted to know how fast you were moving through space, you’d need to measure it all: the Earth’s rotation, our motion around the Sun, the Sun’s motion through the galaxy, the Milky Way’s speed within the local group, and finally how the local group moved relative to the Universe. All in all, it’s a daunting, virtually impossible task without literally measuring everything in the entire Universe itself. Or, you could take advantage of an amazing fact: the leftover glow from the Big Bang exhibits a redshift in one direction and a blueshift in the other. In other words, the cosmic microwave background has a dipole, and that dipole tells us our motion relative to the Universe!___

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2015-08-24 14:12:27 (1 comments, 2 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

“RS Puppis is the Cepheid whose distance is measured most accurately (to ~1.4% precision), thanks to the copious amount of ejected gas surrounding the star. This gas is illuminated by the “pulse” of brightness-and-dimness emanating from the star, which varies by a factor of five in brightness over a period of 41.4 days.”

When stars are born of a certain mass -- between about 10 and 40 times the mass of the Sun -- they can evolve into yellow supergiants when they burn through the hydrogen in their cores. As the outer layers expand, cool, contract, heat up, and pulse in this fashion, they can occasionally be blown off to form a gaseous cloud surrounding the star. These Cepheid variable stars have been known and studied for over a hundred years, and vary tremendously in brightness over a period of days. Thanks to the properties and 3D structure of the gas surrounding it, RS Puppis -- imagedby Hubb... more »

“RS Puppis is the Cepheid whose distance is measured most accurately (to ~1.4% precision), thanks to the copious amount of ejected gas surrounding the star. This gas is illuminated by the “pulse” of brightness-and-dimness emanating from the star, which varies by a factor of five in brightness over a period of 41.4 days.”

When stars are born of a certain mass -- between about 10 and 40 times the mass of the Sun -- they can evolve into yellow supergiants when they burn through the hydrogen in their cores. As the outer layers expand, cool, contract, heat up, and pulse in this fashion, they can occasionally be blown off to form a gaseous cloud surrounding the star. These Cepheid variable stars have been known and studied for over a hundred years, and vary tremendously in brightness over a period of days. Thanks to the properties and 3D structure of the gas surrounding it, RS Puppis -- imaged by Hubble over a period of months -- is the most precisely measured Cepheid of all in terms of cosmic distance.___

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2015-08-23 19:07:08 (0 comments, 2 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

"The project originally started as a reaction against tired and cliché coverage of wildfire. News stations simply zoom in on the biggest flame and focus on the aircraft dropping flame retardant, and that’s what everyone sees. There’s an eerie beauty to the fires burning, and at the end of the day, it’s a natural process that I want to show. Perhaps I can create some order out of chaos."

Photographer Stuart Palley, through the use of long-exposure techniques, has somehow managed to capture both the combined terror and the eerie beauty that the phenomenon of wildfires brings. In addition, he hopes to use his art to raise awareness of how wildfires occur, how they’re linked to drought, and what we can all do to help prevent and mitigate the catastrophe that ensues. A fascinating combination of environment and art for this weekend!

"The project originally started as a reaction against tired and cliché coverage of wildfire. News stations simply zoom in on the biggest flame and focus on the aircraft dropping flame retardant, and that’s what everyone sees. There’s an eerie beauty to the fires burning, and at the end of the day, it’s a natural process that I want to show. Perhaps I can create some order out of chaos."

Photographer Stuart Palley, through the use of long-exposure techniques, has somehow managed to capture both the combined terror and the eerie beauty that the phenomenon of wildfires brings. In addition, he hopes to use his art to raise awareness of how wildfires occur, how they’re linked to drought, and what we can all do to help prevent and mitigate the catastrophe that ensues. A fascinating combination of environment and art for this weekend!___

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2015-08-22 14:20:53 (1 comments, 4 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

“If you give me the laws of physics and these 26 constants, I can throw these into a computer and tell it to simulate my Universe. And quite remarkably, what I get out looks pretty much indistinguishable from the Universe we have today, from the smallest, subatomic scales all the way up to the largest, cosmic ones.”

The standard model, gravity, and all the known particles and interactions can be semi-elegantly explained with only 26 parameters, including dark energy and neutrino masses. And yet with these 26 constants, we still don’t get everything: dark matter, the matter-antimatter asymmetry and cosmic inflation may yet dictate that more parameters are required to give us everything our Universe requires. Is there a more fundamental theory out there to describe it all more simply? Or is this simply a messy, inelegant Universe we’re stuck with?

“If you give me the laws of physics and these 26 constants, I can throw these into a computer and tell it to simulate my Universe. And quite remarkably, what I get out looks pretty much indistinguishable from the Universe we have today, from the smallest, subatomic scales all the way up to the largest, cosmic ones.”

The standard model, gravity, and all the known particles and interactions can be semi-elegantly explained with only 26 parameters, including dark energy and neutrino masses. And yet with these 26 constants, we still don’t get everything: dark matter, the matter-antimatter asymmetry and cosmic inflation may yet dictate that more parameters are required to give us everything our Universe requires. Is there a more fundamental theory out there to describe it all more simply? Or is this simply a messy, inelegant Universe we’re stuck with?___

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2015-08-22 13:38:19 (0 comments, 1 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

“Inflation came about for some interesting reasons, but the key realization was that a whole host of problems were solves and new, testable predictions would come about if the Universe had an early phase where it was dominated by a rapid, exponential expansion that came about from energy inherent to space itself. The prototype spacetime for this was known as de Sitter space, which has been well-studied since the 1920s.”

When you write about science on the internet, you inevitably get a ton of questions. This week, I got a whole slew, on topics from Star Trek’s transporter and holodeck to inflation, dark energy, gravitational and evolutionary theories and more. Check out all the bonus science -- plus the extra “finds” of objects in the Carina Nebula -- on this edition of our comments of the week!

“Inflation came about for some interesting reasons, but the key realization was that a whole host of problems were solves and new, testable predictions would come about if the Universe had an early phase where it was dominated by a rapid, exponential expansion that came about from energy inherent to space itself. The prototype spacetime for this was known as de Sitter space, which has been well-studied since the 1920s.”

When you write about science on the internet, you inevitably get a ton of questions. This week, I got a whole slew, on topics from Star Trek’s transporter and holodeck to inflation, dark energy, gravitational and evolutionary theories and more. Check out all the bonus science -- plus the extra “finds” of objects in the Carina Nebula -- on this edition of our comments of the week!___

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2015-08-21 21:15:35 (3 comments, 5 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

"What turns out to be true is that the Big Bang occurred everywhere in space 13.8 billion years ago, and this is true when viewed from all the galaxies out there. But what if there were galaxies out there that weren’t moving at hundreds or thousands of kilometers-per-second relative to the rest frame of the cosmic microwave background, but were moving at hundreds of thousands of km/s, or very close to the speed of light?"

It’s been 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang for us, and when we look out at a distant object in the Universe, we’re seeing it as it was in the past. Its age — as it appears — is determined only by how long the light took for it to travel from that object to our eyes, but to someone living there, it will also appear that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old. But it is actually possible for an observer living on another planet, star or galaxy to perceivethat sign... more »

"What turns out to be true is that the Big Bang occurred everywhere in space 13.8 billion years ago, and this is true when viewed from all the galaxies out there. But what if there were galaxies out there that weren’t moving at hundreds or thousands of kilometers-per-second relative to the rest frame of the cosmic microwave background, but were moving at hundreds of thousands of km/s, or very close to the speed of light?"

It’s been 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang for us, and when we look out at a distant object in the Universe, we’re seeing it as it was in the past. Its age — as it appears — is determined only by how long the light took for it to travel from that object to our eyes, but to someone living there, it will also appear that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old. But it is actually possible for an observer living on another planet, star or galaxy to perceive that significantly less time has passed since the Big Bang, so long as they were moving close to the speed of light relative to the CMB. Paradoxically, if they slowed their speed, they’d find that they themselves were very young, but living in a 13.8 billion year-old Universe.___

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2015-08-20 23:06:57 (6 comments, 6 reshares, 26 +1s)Open 

"One of the mind-numbing things about inflation — both its great power and its great mystery — is the fact that inflation wipes out any information that existed about the Universe before inflation. That’s right, except for the last 10^(-20)-to-10^(–36) seconds of inflation (depending on the exact model parameters you choose), we have zero information in our Universe today about what happened prior to that."

If we trace the evolution of our Universe back in time, we can arrive at a time before there were organic molecules, rocky planets, heavy elements, galaxies, stars, or even neutral atoms. The farther back we go, the hotter the Universe gets, the higher in density and temperature, and more uniform. But at some point, this hot, dense, expanding state ceases to describe our Universe. Because preceding it was a period of cosmic inflation: a period of indeterminateduration. It mu... more »

"One of the mind-numbing things about inflation — both its great power and its great mystery — is the fact that inflation wipes out any information that existed about the Universe before inflation. That’s right, except for the last 10^(-20)-to-10^(–36) seconds of inflation (depending on the exact model parameters you choose), we have zero information in our Universe today about what happened prior to that."

If we trace the evolution of our Universe back in time, we can arrive at a time before there were organic molecules, rocky planets, heavy elements, galaxies, stars, or even neutral atoms. The farther back we go, the hotter the Universe gets, the higher in density and temperature, and more uniform. But at some point, this hot, dense, expanding state ceases to describe our Universe. Because preceding it was a period of cosmic inflation: a period of indeterminate duration. It must have lasted at least some 10^-35 seconds, but it could have lasted much, much longer, including the possibility that it was around for an infinite amount of time. But we may never know, because the nature of inflation wipes that information out from our Universe altogether.___

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2015-08-19 22:28:51 (37 comments, 12 reshares, 84 +1s)Open 

"But most shockingly, the transporter of Star Trek seems to be one invention that’s forever beyond our reach, much to the chagrin of world travelers, would-be bank robbers and forbidden lotharios everywhere. While quantum teleportation is a real phenomenon, it’s very different to have a single particle tunnel through a small barrier than it is to have an entire person or macroscopic object broken down — particle by particle — and then reconstructed, identically and still alive, in another location."

Today would have been the 95th birthday of Gene Roddenberry, the mind that brought us the Universe of Star Trek. In addition to a utopia where maladies like hunger, disease and poverty were eradicated, Star Trek promised a future where technology was widely available and sufficiently advanced to the benefit of all of humanity. While many of these imagined advances intechnology have... more »

"But most shockingly, the transporter of Star Trek seems to be one invention that’s forever beyond our reach, much to the chagrin of world travelers, would-be bank robbers and forbidden lotharios everywhere. While quantum teleportation is a real phenomenon, it’s very different to have a single particle tunnel through a small barrier than it is to have an entire person or macroscopic object broken down — particle by particle — and then reconstructed, identically and still alive, in another location."

Today would have been the 95th birthday of Gene Roddenberry, the mind that brought us the Universe of Star Trek. In addition to a utopia where maladies like hunger, disease and poverty were eradicated, Star Trek promised a future where technology was widely available and sufficiently advanced to the benefit of all of humanity. While many of these imagined advances in technology have been met or even exceeded already, such as in the field of medical diagnostics and communication, others like warp drive and the Star Trek transporter may never come to fruition. No matter how much your technology advances, you still can’t circumvent the laws of nature.___

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2015-08-18 20:14:30 (4 comments, 6 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

"Tidal forces also affect the shape of the lunar orbit (specifically its eccentricity) over time as well. But even after tidal forces are taken into account, there is an extra bit that remains unaccounted for. It seems the difference between the Moon’s apogee and perigee is changing by an extra 3.5 millimeters per year, and we’re not entirely sure why that is."

Every time you follow the motion of a spacecraft, moon, planet or other object through the Solar System, you’re putting the theory of gravity to the test. On one hand, there’s a robust set of predictions for what the behavioral motion of these bodies ought to be, while on the other there’s what we actually observe. Sometimes, a mismatch indicates the need for something new, like a new planet or a new law of gravity. But other times, there are mundane explanations that account for these “apparent” discrepancies, suchas radioactiv... more »

"Tidal forces also affect the shape of the lunar orbit (specifically its eccentricity) over time as well. But even after tidal forces are taken into account, there is an extra bit that remains unaccounted for. It seems the difference between the Moon’s apogee and perigee is changing by an extra 3.5 millimeters per year, and we’re not entirely sure why that is."

Every time you follow the motion of a spacecraft, moon, planet or other object through the Solar System, you’re putting the theory of gravity to the test. On one hand, there’s a robust set of predictions for what the behavioral motion of these bodies ought to be, while on the other there’s what we actually observe. Sometimes, a mismatch indicates the need for something new, like a new planet or a new law of gravity. But other times, there are mundane explanations that account for these “apparent” discrepancies, such as radioactive decay, heating from the Sun or the fact that the Earth rotates on its axis. Not all the phenomena of our Solar System have been explained, however, including the flyby anomalies and the changing perigee/apogee difference of the Moon, with compelling indications that new physics may be right around the corner.___

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2015-08-17 14:11:40 (0 comments, 1 reshares, 24 +1s)Open 

“Lying some 7,500 light years distant, this giant molecular cloud of gas began forming stars about three million years ago. Inside, the stellar winds, ultraviolet radiation and occasional violent supernova fight against gravitational collapse, which attempts to form new stars. The resulting competition creates the pillars, mountains, bubble and tendrils highlighted above, with the violent outbursts currently triggering additional waves of star-formation.”

This is exactly what’s been taking place in the Carina Nebula for the past three million years, with much more to come as time goes on. Go check it all out for Mostly Mute Monday!

“Lying some 7,500 light years distant, this giant molecular cloud of gas began forming stars about three million years ago. Inside, the stellar winds, ultraviolet radiation and occasional violent supernova fight against gravitational collapse, which attempts to form new stars. The resulting competition creates the pillars, mountains, bubble and tendrils highlighted above, with the violent outbursts currently triggering additional waves of star-formation.”

This is exactly what’s been taking place in the Carina Nebula for the past three million years, with much more to come as time goes on. Go check it all out for Mostly Mute Monday!___

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2015-08-16 20:57:34 (2 comments, 0 reshares, 3 +1s)Open 

"[F]or those of us who push our bodies physically to be stronger, that often involves many hours hard at work in the gym, training in some way, shape or form.
And if you’re pushing yourself while you’re alone, you’re well aware that there are some exercises you shouldn’t do. There are some limits that simply aren’t safe to push, as your potential for injury if you work out to failure is simply… well, catastrophic."

Finally, technology has solved the great problem of our times: how to lift to failure, solo, without a spot and without fear of injury!

"[F]or those of us who push our bodies physically to be stronger, that often involves many hours hard at work in the gym, training in some way, shape or form.
And if you’re pushing yourself while you’re alone, you’re well aware that there are some exercises you shouldn’t do. There are some limits that simply aren’t safe to push, as your potential for injury if you work out to failure is simply… well, catastrophic."

Finally, technology has solved the great problem of our times: how to lift to failure, solo, without a spot and without fear of injury!___

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2015-08-15 15:53:41 (15 comments, 6 reshares, 53 +1s)Open 

"We have driven Scarecrow about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in the Marsyard over rocks and slopes much harsher than we expect for Curiosity. There are some dents and holes in these wheels, but the rover is still performing well. We will continue to characterize the wheels both on Mars and in the Marsyard, but we don’t expect the wear to impact our ability to get to Mt. Sharp."

There are holes and tears in the wheels of Curiosity, but it's still roving like a champ. Black holes absorb dark matter, but not too much. Starlight is missing from the nearby Universe, but it isn't a crisis, at least not yet. And Comet Swift-Tuttle surprised us with its off-by-17-days arrival in the 1990s; will it pose a threat to Earth? Come find out all your answers and go a little deeper into the Universe on our comments of the week!

"We have driven Scarecrow about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in the Marsyard over rocks and slopes much harsher than we expect for Curiosity. There are some dents and holes in these wheels, but the rover is still performing well. We will continue to characterize the wheels both on Mars and in the Marsyard, but we don’t expect the wear to impact our ability to get to Mt. Sharp."

There are holes and tears in the wheels of Curiosity, but it's still roving like a champ. Black holes absorb dark matter, but not too much. Starlight is missing from the nearby Universe, but it isn't a crisis, at least not yet. And Comet Swift-Tuttle surprised us with its off-by-17-days arrival in the 1990s; will it pose a threat to Earth? Come find out all your answers and go a little deeper into the Universe on our comments of the week!___

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2015-08-15 14:12:48 (21 comments, 13 reshares, 64 +1s)Open 

“The Death Star may have begun as a symbol of imperialism, military power and hubris run amok, but thanks to our understanding of physics, it's only a resourceful mad scientist away from becoming a reality. The power of science literally holds the secret, if we choose to make it so, to destroying an entire world.”

Generating the power necessary to unbind a planet — some 2.24 x 10^32 Joules — is simply impossible on board an object only the size of a small moon. But if, instead, you could house a 1-2 trillion ton asteroid (about 5-7 km across) made of antimatter and deliver it to the planet's core, Einstein's E=mc^2 ensures that the planet will be destroyed in seconds. And now, you will witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station!

“The Death Star may have begun as a symbol of imperialism, military power and hubris run amok, but thanks to our understanding of physics, it's only a resourceful mad scientist away from becoming a reality. The power of science literally holds the secret, if we choose to make it so, to destroying an entire world.”

Generating the power necessary to unbind a planet — some 2.24 x 10^32 Joules — is simply impossible on board an object only the size of a small moon. But if, instead, you could house a 1-2 trillion ton asteroid (about 5-7 km across) made of antimatter and deliver it to the planet's core, Einstein's E=mc^2 ensures that the planet will be destroyed in seconds. And now, you will witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station!___

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2015-08-14 23:27:11 (1 comments, 3 reshares, 37 +1s)Open 

"If it weren’t for dark energy — if all we had was matter and radiation — then in enough time, we could form structure in the Universe no matter how small those initial fluctuations were. But that inevitability of an accelerated expansion gives our Universe a sense of urgency that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and makes it absolutely necessary that the magnitude of the mean fluctuations be at least about 0.00001% of the average density in order to have a Universe with any notable bound structures at all.

Make your fluctuations smaller than that, and you’ll have a Universe with nothing at all. But elevate those fluctuations up to a “massive” 0.003% level, and you have no problem getting a Universe that looks just like ours."

When you visualize our Universe today, you probably think about the great clumps of matter — planets, stars, galaxies andclusters — separated by... more »

"If it weren’t for dark energy — if all we had was matter and radiation — then in enough time, we could form structure in the Universe no matter how small those initial fluctuations were. But that inevitability of an accelerated expansion gives our Universe a sense of urgency that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and makes it absolutely necessary that the magnitude of the mean fluctuations be at least about 0.00001% of the average density in order to have a Universe with any notable bound structures at all.

Make your fluctuations smaller than that, and you’ll have a Universe with nothing at all. But elevate those fluctuations up to a “massive” 0.003% level, and you have no problem getting a Universe that looks just like ours."

When you visualize our Universe today, you probably think about the great clumps of matter — planets, stars, galaxies and clusters — separated by huge distances. But on the largest of all scales, tens of billions of light years in diameter, any given region of the Universe is virtually indistinguishable from any other. But this structured Universe only came about because our Universe was born with initial fluctuations at the start of the hot Big Bang. Without those fluctuations of a sufficiently large magnitude, no structure would have formed at all before dark energy ruined the possibility of anything happening, ever.___

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2015-08-14 01:15:30 (1 comments, 3 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

"When those stars all die — when they finally run out of fuel and end their lives in a planetary nebula/white dwarf combination, neutron star/black hole/supernova, or simply contract down (for the lowest mass stars) into a helium white dwarf — they will emit much smaller amounts of light for trillions or even quadrillions of years, as they take tremendous timescales to cool. But they are no longer truly “stars” as we understand them, so while there’s still light to be had from them, it’s no longer starlight."

We like to think of the stars as fixed, as their position doesn’t perceptibly change from night-to-night or even year-to-year. Not only that, but their brightness and color doesn’t appear to change, either. But is that actually true, or is that only because we don’t have the capabilities — as humans — to view these stars on the sufficiently longtimescales that they do evolv... more »

"When those stars all die — when they finally run out of fuel and end their lives in a planetary nebula/white dwarf combination, neutron star/black hole/supernova, or simply contract down (for the lowest mass stars) into a helium white dwarf — they will emit much smaller amounts of light for trillions or even quadrillions of years, as they take tremendous timescales to cool. But they are no longer truly “stars” as we understand them, so while there’s still light to be had from them, it’s no longer starlight."

We like to think of the stars as fixed, as their position doesn’t perceptibly change from night-to-night or even year-to-year. Not only that, but their brightness and color doesn’t appear to change, either. But is that actually true, or is that only because we don’t have the capabilities — as humans — to view these stars on the sufficiently long timescales that they do evolve on? It’s very much the latter, as stars evolve in both color and brightness over time, with their life cycle absolutely predestined from the moment of the star’s birth.___

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2015-08-12 20:48:02 (0 comments, 1 reshares, 10 +1s)Open 

"If you ever took introductory physics, you might remember that there’s a formula for kinetic energy: KE = 1/2 M v^2, where M is the mass of the particle in motion and v is the particle’s velocity. The mass of these dust grains might be tiny, but the velocity is tremendous! All meteors move at tens of thousands of miles per hour, but the Perseid meteors move an average of 133,000 miles per hour, giving them significantly more kinetic energy than many of the other showers."

When the debris path of a comet or asteroid crosses Earth's orbit, a meteor shower is the result. Some showers are duds, with the meteors being infrequent, inconsistent, short-lived and dim. Hardly worth mentioning. On the other hand, meteor showers can be spectacular, with frequent events, consistent displays year-to-year, lasting many consecutive nights and with bright, luminous fireballs. The Perseids,pea... more »

"If you ever took introductory physics, you might remember that there’s a formula for kinetic energy: KE = 1/2 M v^2, where M is the mass of the particle in motion and v is the particle’s velocity. The mass of these dust grains might be tiny, but the velocity is tremendous! All meteors move at tens of thousands of miles per hour, but the Perseid meteors move an average of 133,000 miles per hour, giving them significantly more kinetic energy than many of the other showers."

When the debris path of a comet or asteroid crosses Earth's orbit, a meteor shower is the result. Some showers are duds, with the meteors being infrequent, inconsistent, short-lived and dim. Hardly worth mentioning. On the other hand, meteor showers can be spectacular, with frequent events, consistent displays year-to-year, lasting many consecutive nights and with bright, luminous fireballs. The Perseids, peaking tonight, are all four of these things, and we have its unique history and origins to thank for it!___

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2015-08-10 12:46:24 (22 comments, 27 reshares, 103 +1s)Open 

“When Mars Curiosity survived its “seven minutes of terror” to land on the red planet, it immediately began photographing, measuring and taking data on the surface of the martian world. In its time there so far, it’s learned about the martian soil, geology, water presence, methane (of possibly biological origin), the radiation/cosmic rays reaching the surface and more.

But from a perspective that more humans can relate to, it’s given us the grandest, highest-resolution landscapes — and the ultimate selfie — ever taken of another world.”

In addition to the panoramas, the soil analysis and all that we've learned, some very clever equipment and techniques have enabled Curiosity to photograph itself, producing a unique view never before seen on another planet.

“When Mars Curiosity survived its “seven minutes of terror” to land on the red planet, it immediately began photographing, measuring and taking data on the surface of the martian world. In its time there so far, it’s learned about the martian soil, geology, water presence, methane (of possibly biological origin), the radiation/cosmic rays reaching the surface and more.

But from a perspective that more humans can relate to, it’s given us the grandest, highest-resolution landscapes — and the ultimate selfie — ever taken of another world.”

In addition to the panoramas, the soil analysis and all that we've learned, some very clever equipment and techniques have enabled Curiosity to photograph itself, producing a unique view never before seen on another planet.___

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2015-08-09 17:19:15 (1 comments, 1 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

"Broccoli and parsley might sometimes look like a forest, or the tree leaves floating on the surface of the water might sometimes look like little boats. Everyday occurrences seen from a pygmy’s perspective can bring us lots of fun thoughts."

By taking everyday, familiar-sized objects and recasting them as props in a creative scene, Japanese miniature artist Tatsuya Tanaka manages to express a certain beauty — or at least forces you to look at that experience in a different way — to even mundane activities. Go check out the wonders and joys of the Miniature Calendar.

"Broccoli and parsley might sometimes look like a forest, or the tree leaves floating on the surface of the water might sometimes look like little boats. Everyday occurrences seen from a pygmy’s perspective can bring us lots of fun thoughts."

By taking everyday, familiar-sized objects and recasting them as props in a creative scene, Japanese miniature artist Tatsuya Tanaka manages to express a certain beauty — or at least forces you to look at that experience in a different way — to even mundane activities. Go check out the wonders and joys of the Miniature Calendar.___

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2015-08-08 14:06:57 (8 comments, 18 reshares, 63 +1s)Open 

“It’s an amazing story, when you think about it: a leftover body – a failed planet – from the early days of our Solar System was kicked out of the orbit it was in for billions of years, sent hurtling by a gas giant world near the Sun. It’s slowly being torn apart by heat and tidal forces, and the leftover dust from that tearing gets stretched into a giant ellipse, which our planet passes through. Once per year, we slam into this debris stream, where the tiny grains, no bigger than a piece of sand, smash into our atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour.”

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and 13th. Here’s the cosmic story of where meteor showers come from, how we found out, and how to get the most out of next week’s spectacular show!

“It’s an amazing story, when you think about it: a leftover body – a failed planet – from the early days of our Solar System was kicked out of the orbit it was in for billions of years, sent hurtling by a gas giant world near the Sun. It’s slowly being torn apart by heat and tidal forces, and the leftover dust from that tearing gets stretched into a giant ellipse, which our planet passes through. Once per year, we slam into this debris stream, where the tiny grains, no bigger than a piece of sand, smash into our atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour.”

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and 13th. Here’s the cosmic story of where meteor showers come from, how we found out, and how to get the most out of next week’s spectacular show!___

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2015-08-08 13:22:51 (18 comments, 3 reshares, 38 +1s)Open 

“There are different degrees of wrong, and they mean very different things for science depending on how wrong you are (or aren’t). For example, it’s wrong to say the Earth is flat, but it’s also wrong to say the Earth is a sphere. In reality, the Earth is an oblate spheroid, with perturbations to that based on complex geophysics and outside gravitational and tidal effects.

But saying “the Earth is flat” and “the Earth is a sphere” are not equally wrong. In fact, being wrong in an almost-right way will often get you a lot farther than being right for the wrong reason. That latter case often involves making multiple mistakes that only give you the right answer because the two mistakes work to cancel each other out in that one particular case. If you try to apply that reasoning or approach to other problems, it can lead to immediate disaster.”

Ever wonder about the holesin dark matter th... more »

“There are different degrees of wrong, and they mean very different things for science depending on how wrong you are (or aren’t). For example, it’s wrong to say the Earth is flat, but it’s also wrong to say the Earth is a sphere. In reality, the Earth is an oblate spheroid, with perturbations to that based on complex geophysics and outside gravitational and tidal effects.

But saying “the Earth is flat” and “the Earth is a sphere” are not equally wrong. In fact, being wrong in an almost-right way will often get you a lot farther than being right for the wrong reason. That latter case often involves making multiple mistakes that only give you the right answer because the two mistakes work to cancel each other out in that one particular case. If you try to apply that reasoning or approach to other problems, it can lead to immediate disaster.”

Ever wonder about the holes in dark matter theory? How well-known the Universe’s “aging” process is? Or how confident we are that the CMB really is the leftover glow from the Big Bang? There are some amazing topics that came up in the comments of our blog this week, and I take on the best of them – as always – on this edition of our Comments of the Week!___

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2015-08-07 21:46:10 (86 comments, 31 reshares, 107 +1s)Open 

"If dark matter has gravity, why doesn’t it form black holes or other structures?"

If you want to form a structure like a planet, star or black hole, you need a large amount of mass together in one place. The way to bring that mass together, of course, is through the force of gravity, which attracts everything with mass towards one another in this Universe. So why, then, would the greatest source of mass in the Universe — dark matter — be entirely unable to form these structures at all? It has mass, it experiences gravity, and yet there’s no such thing as a dark matter planet, star, or black hole. As it turns out, gravity and mass, by themselves, aren’t enough to do the job.

"If dark matter has gravity, why doesn’t it form black holes or other structures?"

If you want to form a structure like a planet, star or black hole, you need a large amount of mass together in one place. The way to bring that mass together, of course, is through the force of gravity, which attracts everything with mass towards one another in this Universe. So why, then, would the greatest source of mass in the Universe — dark matter — be entirely unable to form these structures at all? It has mass, it experiences gravity, and yet there’s no such thing as a dark matter planet, star, or black hole. As it turns out, gravity and mass, by themselves, aren’t enough to do the job.___

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2015-08-06 22:57:30 (2 comments, 3 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

"Worried that there are “anomalies” at all when it comes to the expected behavior of the Universe? Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Yes, there appears to be some “extra” stuff that’s not on the line predicted by the best-fit parameters to our theory. In other words, these are the locations where — if we subtract out the expected fluctuations from the expected best-fit — there’s a little bit of extra (or too little) power, or temperature fluctuations that are a little too big or a little too small.

If you show them on the “anomalies” chart, above, they look pretty menacing. And no doubt, there may be new physics there. But I can show this to you in a different way."

If you traveled into deep, intergalactic space, you’d still be bathed in radiation: not just from distant starlight, but from the afterglow of the Big Bang itself. This cosmicmicrowave background, all by it... more »

"Worried that there are “anomalies” at all when it comes to the expected behavior of the Universe? Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Yes, there appears to be some “extra” stuff that’s not on the line predicted by the best-fit parameters to our theory. In other words, these are the locations where — if we subtract out the expected fluctuations from the expected best-fit — there’s a little bit of extra (or too little) power, or temperature fluctuations that are a little too big or a little too small.

If you show them on the “anomalies” chart, above, they look pretty menacing. And no doubt, there may be new physics there. But I can show this to you in a different way."

If you traveled into deep, intergalactic space, you’d still be bathed in radiation: not just from distant starlight, but from the afterglow of the Big Bang itself. This cosmic microwave background, all by itself, tells us what the Universe is made out of today. But there are anomalies in this radiation. Does that mean new physics is present? Maybe, but a robust analysis shows that these "anomalies" aren't particularly egregious, and might simply be a consequence of the fact that we only get one Universe to measure.___

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2015-08-06 00:37:55 (9 comments, 10 reshares, 42 +1s)Open 

"The lifetime of the Universe may be long, and a year may be short in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless, things change. If we look closely enough and precisely enough, we, too, can feel the flow of time passing by. Not just here on our home world, mind you, but in the Solar System, the galaxy, and in the Universe beyond.

May the next year be the one where we collectively come together and reach for those greatest distances as one."

With a lifetime of 13.8 billion years so far, a single year hardly makes a difference in the Universe. On large scales — the solar system, the galaxy and the entire Universe — what difference could a single year possibly make? Yet when it comes to the Earth's rotation, the Moon's distance, the Sun's temperature, the stars in our galaxy, the temperature of the CMB or the reachable limits of our Universe, it all changes in aqua... more »

"The lifetime of the Universe may be long, and a year may be short in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless, things change. If we look closely enough and precisely enough, we, too, can feel the flow of time passing by. Not just here on our home world, mind you, but in the Solar System, the galaxy, and in the Universe beyond.

May the next year be the one where we collectively come together and reach for those greatest distances as one."

With a lifetime of 13.8 billion years so far, a single year hardly makes a difference in the Universe. On large scales — the solar system, the galaxy and the entire Universe — what difference could a single year possibly make? Yet when it comes to the Earth's rotation, the Moon's distance, the Sun's temperature, the stars in our galaxy, the temperature of the CMB or the reachable limits of our Universe, it all changes in a quantifiable, terrifying fashion. You'll never look a birthday the same again.___

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2015-08-04 16:27:57 (22 comments, 13 reshares, 44 +1s)Open 

"News reports featuring contemporary individuals able to perform remarkable mental feats inevitably compare them to Einstein and other brilliant minds of the past. Often, such comparison is made using IQ. The trouble is that there is no record of Einstein taking a full IQ test and having it scored objectively by psychologists. It has just been guessed, not measured. Moreover, over the decades there have been many different types of IQ tests, each of which has its own range and scoring criteria. Consequently, any IQ comparison between Einstein and a purported modern-day savant is essentially meaningless."

Ever seen a headline about a person who scored incredibly on an IQ test, and is heralded as "smarter than Einstein?" Not only did Einstein never take an IQ test, he loathed standardized testing, having very public feuds with Thomas Edison and Carl Brigham (the inventor of the... more »

"News reports featuring contemporary individuals able to perform remarkable mental feats inevitably compare them to Einstein and other brilliant minds of the past. Often, such comparison is made using IQ. The trouble is that there is no record of Einstein taking a full IQ test and having it scored objectively by psychologists. It has just been guessed, not measured. Moreover, over the decades there have been many different types of IQ tests, each of which has its own range and scoring criteria. Consequently, any IQ comparison between Einstein and a purported modern-day savant is essentially meaningless."

Ever seen a headline about a person who scored incredibly on an IQ test, and is heralded as "smarter than Einstein?" Not only did Einstein never take an IQ test, he loathed standardized testing, having very public feuds with Thomas Edison and Carl Brigham (the inventor of the SATs) over the biases and lack of accuracy inherent in testing as an evaluative tool. Did you ever take issue with the assumption that measuring performance on one such test was a good measure of aptitude of any sort? You've got good company.___

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2015-08-03 14:09:07 (2 comments, 3 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

“A towering sight in the night sky, the Milky Way appears as nothing more than a diffuse band of stars and dark dust lanes in visible light, littered by the occasional star cluster or nebulous object. But in the infrared, the true complexity of the structure of new star-forming regions, neutral gas, young clusters and stellar remnants are revealed in ways visible light could never hope to match.”

Looking in infrared light, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveals the intricate structure behind many objects that are entirely invisible to even the world’s most powerful visible light telescopes, showcasing the dynamics of the neutral, warm gas that’s invisible to optical instruments. WISE surveyed the entire sky, lasting a mere 13 months before running out of coolant, with the information showcased in this colossal mosaic covering less than 3% of what’s available.

“A towering sight in the night sky, the Milky Way appears as nothing more than a diffuse band of stars and dark dust lanes in visible light, littered by the occasional star cluster or nebulous object. But in the infrared, the true complexity of the structure of new star-forming regions, neutral gas, young clusters and stellar remnants are revealed in ways visible light could never hope to match.”

Looking in infrared light, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveals the intricate structure behind many objects that are entirely invisible to even the world’s most powerful visible light telescopes, showcasing the dynamics of the neutral, warm gas that’s invisible to optical instruments. WISE surveyed the entire sky, lasting a mere 13 months before running out of coolant, with the information showcased in this colossal mosaic covering less than 3% of what’s available.___

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2015-08-02 21:38:54 (2 comments, 10 reshares, 47 +1s)Open 

"This is all possible thanks to the unique way these particular rubber trees grow: often high on a cliff or boulder, with their roots extending far down to the low water level below. By shaping these malleable roots carefully over long stretches of time — particularly if there are two good trees on opposite banks — spans in excess of 30 meters (100 feet) can easily be crossed."

The self-strengthening root bridges of India have lasted for hundreds of years, and only get stronger with time. Forget steel, concrete and modern alloys; the rubber tree Ficus Elastica seems to be the greatest architectural material of all!

"This is all possible thanks to the unique way these particular rubber trees grow: often high on a cliff or boulder, with their roots extending far down to the low water level below. By shaping these malleable roots carefully over long stretches of time — particularly if there are two good trees on opposite banks — spans in excess of 30 meters (100 feet) can easily be crossed."

The self-strengthening root bridges of India have lasted for hundreds of years, and only get stronger with time. Forget steel, concrete and modern alloys; the rubber tree Ficus Elastica seems to be the greatest architectural material of all!___

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2015-08-01 14:38:15 (1 comments, 3 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

“If antimatter falls up, we would be tremendously surprised. A lot of things would be wrong. E=mc^2 would be wrong, for one, or gravitational and inertial mass would not be identical. We're doing the experiment because we have to check all our theories and expectations against the evidence, but we have been attempting to measure this for maybe 50+ years now, and haven't been able to create and track neutral antimatter precisely enough to check it out. We will keep trying, and hopefully we'll verify that it falls in a gravitational field just like we expect.

We see antimatter ejecting out of galactic "jets" with the same velocity profiles as we see for normal matter, so we do expect it to behave gravitationally just like matter does. But we don't know for certain until we check. Still, if it turned out that antimatter falls up, I would say it'd be the biggests... more »

“If antimatter falls up, we would be tremendously surprised. A lot of things would be wrong. E=mc^2 would be wrong, for one, or gravitational and inertial mass would not be identical. We're doing the experiment because we have to check all our theories and expectations against the evidence, but we have been attempting to measure this for maybe 50+ years now, and haven't been able to create and track neutral antimatter precisely enough to check it out. We will keep trying, and hopefully we'll verify that it falls in a gravitational field just like we expect.

We see antimatter ejecting out of galactic "jets" with the same velocity profiles as we see for normal matter, so we do expect it to behave gravitationally just like matter does. But we don't know for certain until we check. Still, if it turned out that antimatter falls up, I would say it'd be the biggest surprise and discovery of the 21st century. I'll keep watching.”

Ever wonder if antimatter falls up? If black holes could be dark matter? If life in other galaxies is different from our own? Or if there’s any evidence besides spinning galaxies for dark matter halos? Come find out all this and more on this edition of our comments of the week!___

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2015-08-01 14:23:52 (12 comments, 9 reshares, 52 +1s)Open 

"The reason it doesn’t occur is because all of its isotopes are radioactive, with the longest-lived ones having a half-life of just a few million years. Even if the Earth was created with significant amounts of it, the odds are minuscule that there’s even one atom of it left by now, after more than four billion years have passed. In fact, it’s only from the decay of materials like Uranium ore (below) that Technetium is naturally produced, with each gram of Uranium giving rise to approximately one picogram (10^-12 g) of Technetium."

Beyond hydrogen and helium, every atom of every element we have on Earth was made in a star, processed in space and then finally condensed to form our world some 4.5 billion years ago. All the elements of the periodic table up through Uranium are found on our world, except one: technetium, element 43. But technetium is found in (some) stars, thanks toan am... more »

"The reason it doesn’t occur is because all of its isotopes are radioactive, with the longest-lived ones having a half-life of just a few million years. Even if the Earth was created with significant amounts of it, the odds are minuscule that there’s even one atom of it left by now, after more than four billion years have passed. In fact, it’s only from the decay of materials like Uranium ore (below) that Technetium is naturally produced, with each gram of Uranium giving rise to approximately one picogram (10^-12 g) of Technetium."

Beyond hydrogen and helium, every atom of every element we have on Earth was made in a star, processed in space and then finally condensed to form our world some 4.5 billion years ago. All the elements of the periodic table up through Uranium are found on our world, except one: technetium, element 43. But technetium is found in (some) stars, thanks to an amazing reaction: the s-process.___

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2015-07-31 21:11:23 (99 comments, 12 reshares, 36 +1s)Open 

"I have an astronomy question, and it is basically this: how many independent ways can we measure the age of the universe?"

The Big Bang was the birth of all the matter and radiation in the Universe, and signifies the beginning of what we know as all of existence. Yet it didn't happen an infinite or even an indeterminate amount of time ago: it happened precisely 13.81 billion years ago, with an uncertainty of just 120 million years. But despite all of our observations and data about the Universe, there are just two independent lines of evidence that lead us to that conclusion. At least they agree!

"I have an astronomy question, and it is basically this: how many independent ways can we measure the age of the universe?"

The Big Bang was the birth of all the matter and radiation in the Universe, and signifies the beginning of what we know as all of existence. Yet it didn't happen an infinite or even an indeterminate amount of time ago: it happened precisely 13.81 billion years ago, with an uncertainty of just 120 million years. But despite all of our observations and data about the Universe, there are just two independent lines of evidence that lead us to that conclusion. At least they agree!___

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2015-07-30 22:22:53 (1 comments, 3 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

"The craziest thing of all is that if you wait long enough or look precisely enough, you’ll find that every star will undergo a period of variability in its life. Like many things in this Universe, the only constant is change."

Those constant, fixed points of light in the night sky — the stars — turn out not to be so constant if you looked with great precision at them. A star like our Sun varies in brightness, periodically, by about 0.1% over the span of a few years, but many stars vary by 99% or more from brightest to dimmest. For centuries, we knew of only a handful of these objects, yet now they’re known to be commonplace. Here's what causes their behavior and underlies it, along with the story of their discovery.

"The craziest thing of all is that if you wait long enough or look precisely enough, you’ll find that every star will undergo a period of variability in its life. Like many things in this Universe, the only constant is change."

Those constant, fixed points of light in the night sky — the stars — turn out not to be so constant if you looked with great precision at them. A star like our Sun varies in brightness, periodically, by about 0.1% over the span of a few years, but many stars vary by 99% or more from brightest to dimmest. For centuries, we knew of only a handful of these objects, yet now they’re known to be commonplace. Here's what causes their behavior and underlies it, along with the story of their discovery.___

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2015-07-29 23:05:15 (7 comments, 13 reshares, 49 +1s)Open 

"While any one piece of evidence on its own may be argued away or can replace dark matter with an alternate explanation, the full suite of evidence points towards the incontrovertible existence of dark matter.

Any Universe without it simply wouldn’t look like ours."

Everywhere we look in the Universe, we find more Universe that looks an awful lot like we do, with planets, stars, galaxies, groups and clusters similar to our own. Yet the Universe we see isn't all of what's out there, with normal matter (or any of the Standard Model particles) unable to explain even a simple majority of what we observe. Instead, we require five times as much dark matter to explain the mass we see, with at least seven independent lines of evidence supporting that inescapable conclusion.

"While any one piece of evidence on its own may be argued away or can replace dark matter with an alternate explanation, the full suite of evidence points towards the incontrovertible existence of dark matter.

Any Universe without it simply wouldn’t look like ours."

Everywhere we look in the Universe, we find more Universe that looks an awful lot like we do, with planets, stars, galaxies, groups and clusters similar to our own. Yet the Universe we see isn't all of what's out there, with normal matter (or any of the Standard Model particles) unable to explain even a simple majority of what we observe. Instead, we require five times as much dark matter to explain the mass we see, with at least seven independent lines of evidence supporting that inescapable conclusion.___

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2015-07-29 01:06:38 (10 comments, 10 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

“6. It’s responsible for the structures in the universe.

Since dark matter doesn’t interact much with itself and other stuff, it’s the first type of matter to settle down when the universe expands and the first to form structures under its own gravitational pull. It is dark matter that seeds the filaments along which galaxies later form when visible matter falls into the gravitational potential created by the dark matter. If you look at some computer simulation of structure formation, what is shown is almost always the distribution of dark matter, not of visible matter. Visible matter falls into, and hence, is assumed to follow the same distribution at later times.”

When it comes to dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up the vast majority of the mass in the Universe, there's a whole lot we don't understand or know about it. You might think that there areso many u... more »

“6. It’s responsible for the structures in the universe.

Since dark matter doesn’t interact much with itself and other stuff, it’s the first type of matter to settle down when the universe expands and the first to form structures under its own gravitational pull. It is dark matter that seeds the filaments along which galaxies later form when visible matter falls into the gravitational potential created by the dark matter. If you look at some computer simulation of structure formation, what is shown is almost always the distribution of dark matter, not of visible matter. Visible matter falls into, and hence, is assumed to follow the same distribution at later times.”

When it comes to dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up the vast majority of the mass in the Universe, there's a whole lot we don't understand or know about it. You might think that there are so many unknowns that are so huge that -- quite reasonably -- perhaps it doesn't exist at all, and there's some other explanation for the behavior of masses on galactic scales and up? And yet, you can't make that leap unless you've honestly (and scientifically) considered the full suite of evidence and facts that speak to the question of dark matter's existence. Sabine Hossenfelder does exactly that.___

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2015-07-28 20:45:09 (2 comments, 3 reshares, 37 +1s)Open 

"Grand design spirals (which make up only about 10% of galaxies) tend to have 2 or 4 strong spiral arms, and they’re often extremely photogenic and pleasingly symmetric objects in the sky. But the method of forming and maintaining those arms has been remarkably hard to explain.

The problem with explaining spiral arms lies fundamentally in that the components of a galaxy rotate at different speeds; the inner part of the galaxy rotates faster than the outer parts. So the easiest explanation — that the arms are actually just areas of the galaxy that are physically more dense, and a fixed association — doesn’t work."

Most mental images of galaxies invoke thoughts of two giant arms, spiraling out from the center and wrapping around, covered richly in stars. Yet this picture, though incredibly common, represents only about 10% of galaxies. Moreover, the galaxiesthat do have tw... more »

"Grand design spirals (which make up only about 10% of galaxies) tend to have 2 or 4 strong spiral arms, and they’re often extremely photogenic and pleasingly symmetric objects in the sky. But the method of forming and maintaining those arms has been remarkably hard to explain.

The problem with explaining spiral arms lies fundamentally in that the components of a galaxy rotate at different speeds; the inner part of the galaxy rotates faster than the outer parts. So the easiest explanation — that the arms are actually just areas of the galaxy that are physically more dense, and a fixed association — doesn’t work."

Most mental images of galaxies invoke thoughts of two giant arms, spiraling out from the center and wrapping around, covered richly in stars. Yet this picture, though incredibly common, represents only about 10% of galaxies. Moreover, the galaxies that do have two grand, spiral arms won't have them for very long, as the classic picture we have of spirals represents only an intermediate stage in galaxy evolution.___

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2015-07-27 13:58:33 (2 comments, 9 reshares, 35 +1s)Open 

“Ultraviolet images from Swift and GALEX showcase the hottest, youngest, bluest stars, which are found in clusters along the spiral arms and in the very center. In the infrared, from WISE and Spitzer, the cool gas shows where future generations of stars will form next. The shorter infrared wavelengths also highlight stars irrespective of whether galactic dust obscures them or not.”

If we want to know where new stars have formed, where the hottest ones are, where new ones will be forming and what lies behind the dust, we have to look in wavelengths beyond what our eyes can see. Yet our greatest space observatories can do exactly this, at both longer and shorter wavelengths, revealing a whole galaxy’s worth of secrets!

“Ultraviolet images from Swift and GALEX showcase the hottest, youngest, bluest stars, which are found in clusters along the spiral arms and in the very center. In the infrared, from WISE and Spitzer, the cool gas shows where future generations of stars will form next. The shorter infrared wavelengths also highlight stars irrespective of whether galactic dust obscures them or not.”

If we want to know where new stars have formed, where the hottest ones are, where new ones will be forming and what lies behind the dust, we have to look in wavelengths beyond what our eyes can see. Yet our greatest space observatories can do exactly this, at both longer and shorter wavelengths, revealing a whole galaxy’s worth of secrets!___

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2015-07-26 18:54:37 (0 comments, 0 reshares, 7 +1s)Open 

"During the day hours, a series of images from the specific location are shown on the display. We replace the missing background and create a magic dimensional window. A dynamic motion parallax effect occurs as the vehicle passes the location."

"Unvertising" artist Brian Kane is turning ClearChannel billboards into visual simulations of the lost, missing natural world. His project, Healing Tool, showcases the nature that would be present if the billboard (and urbanization) were absent. And you've got to see what it looks like at night!

"During the day hours, a series of images from the specific location are shown on the display. We replace the missing background and create a magic dimensional window. A dynamic motion parallax effect occurs as the vehicle passes the location."

"Unvertising" artist Brian Kane is turning ClearChannel billboards into visual simulations of the lost, missing natural world. His project, Healing Tool, showcases the nature that would be present if the billboard (and urbanization) were absent. And you've got to see what it looks like at night!___

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2015-07-25 14:52:40 (4 comments, 3 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

"[T]here are pros and cons to Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of M-stars. The pros are easy: M-stars are more numerous, they’re less likely to have giant worlds in there, they’re longer lived that the Sun, they’re more stable in luminosity over time than the Sun, they give off less ionizing radiation, and their planets are in closer orbit and thus better protected from chance encounters originating from interplanetary or interstellar space.

But the cons are rough:

* more frequent and nastier solar flares,
* less energy available from starlight/sunlight for spurring life processes,
* and tidal locking is a much greater danger at such close distances."

Are Sun-like stars the best place to look for Earth-like worlds?
Is asteroid mining for real?
How do we know that pentaquarks are really bound states of five things, andnot a... more »

"[T]here are pros and cons to Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of M-stars. The pros are easy: M-stars are more numerous, they’re less likely to have giant worlds in there, they’re longer lived that the Sun, they’re more stable in luminosity over time than the Sun, they give off less ionizing radiation, and their planets are in closer orbit and thus better protected from chance encounters originating from interplanetary or interstellar space.

But the cons are rough:

* more frequent and nastier solar flares,
* less energy available from starlight/sunlight for spurring life processes,
* and tidal locking is a much greater danger at such close distances."

Are Sun-like stars the best place to look for Earth-like worlds?
Is asteroid mining for real?
How do we know that pentaquarks are really bound states of five things, and not a meson and a baryon just found together?
Check these (and more) out on our comments of the week!___

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2015-07-25 14:13:27 (2 comments, 15 reshares, 68 +1s)Open 

"Even outer to Iapetus lies Phoebe, a smaller moon that’s most likely a captured object from the Kuiper belt. Unlike all of Saturn’s other moons, Phoebe orbits in the opposite direction, is far more distant, and most importantly, is very, very dark. In addition, Phoebe has been emitting a steady stream of particles for a very long time, as the Sun’s radiation and minor collisions are strong enough to kick dust grains off of Phoebe’s loosely-held-together surface."

When Giovanni Cassini discovered Saturn's moon Iapetus in 1671, he was puzzled to find that it was easily visible on the western side of the planet, but unable to be seen along the eastern side. Only 34 years later did he find it on the east side, finding it two full magnitudes dimmer. His theory was that Iapetus was locked to Saturn, and that it had one light hemisphere and one dark one. It took another 300 years,but now... more »

"Even outer to Iapetus lies Phoebe, a smaller moon that’s most likely a captured object from the Kuiper belt. Unlike all of Saturn’s other moons, Phoebe orbits in the opposite direction, is far more distant, and most importantly, is very, very dark. In addition, Phoebe has been emitting a steady stream of particles for a very long time, as the Sun’s radiation and minor collisions are strong enough to kick dust grains off of Phoebe’s loosely-held-together surface."

When Giovanni Cassini discovered Saturn's moon Iapetus in 1671, he was puzzled to find that it was easily visible on the western side of the planet, but unable to be seen along the eastern side. Only 34 years later did he find it on the east side, finding it two full magnitudes dimmer. His theory was that Iapetus was locked to Saturn, and that it had one light hemisphere and one dark one. It took another 300 years, but now we finally know what caused this two-toned world: a captured Kuiper belt object is to blame!___

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2015-07-24 22:16:55 (2 comments, 4 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

"How long would it take for stars to cool down after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel? Will there be any ‘black’ dwarfs? Are there any today?"

While the stars exist in tremendous numbers (some 10^23+ in our observable Universe) and great varieties, every star that ever has shone or will shine will someday run out of fuel and die. When that happens, the inner core of the star contracts down to form a tiny, degenerate but very hot object. But even so, no object with a finite amount of energy can shine forever. At some point, even those stellar remnants will cool down out of the visible portion of the spectrum. But how long will that take, how will that happen, and has the Universe been around long enough (yet) so that such an object exists? Answers here.

"How long would it take for stars to cool down after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel? Will there be any ‘black’ dwarfs? Are there any today?"

While the stars exist in tremendous numbers (some 10^23+ in our observable Universe) and great varieties, every star that ever has shone or will shine will someday run out of fuel and die. When that happens, the inner core of the star contracts down to form a tiny, degenerate but very hot object. But even so, no object with a finite amount of energy can shine forever. At some point, even those stellar remnants will cool down out of the visible portion of the spectrum. But how long will that take, how will that happen, and has the Universe been around long enough (yet) so that such an object exists? Answers here.___

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2015-07-23 22:42:21 (23 comments, 7 reshares, 29 +1s)Open 

"The key in all of this — and the point you should take away — is that finding a “twin” of Earth isn’t the holy grail it’s touted to be. It’s that if we want to find that which we most desire, to find a world that has the same secrets that ours has, the key is not to look for an identical twin, or at least to not limit ourselves to looking for identical twins. Rather, it’s to look for the full suite of the right conditions, and to realize that while they do occur on identical twins, that isn’t the most common place to find them."

Earlier today, NASA announced the most Earth-like exoplanet yet, a planet just 60% larger in radius than our own, orbiting a star of the same spectral class as our Sun and with an almost identical orbital period: 385 days. But is this really the most Earth-like planet we’ve discovered? It’s significantly larger and five times asmassive, and may actually be ... more »

"The key in all of this — and the point you should take away — is that finding a “twin” of Earth isn’t the holy grail it’s touted to be. It’s that if we want to find that which we most desire, to find a world that has the same secrets that ours has, the key is not to look for an identical twin, or at least to not limit ourselves to looking for identical twins. Rather, it’s to look for the full suite of the right conditions, and to realize that while they do occur on identical twins, that isn’t the most common place to find them."

Earlier today, NASA announced the most Earth-like exoplanet yet, a planet just 60% larger in radius than our own, orbiting a star of the same spectral class as our Sun and with an almost identical orbital period: 385 days. But is this really the most Earth-like planet we’ve discovered? It’s significantly larger and five times as massive, and may actually be more like Neptune than like Earth. In fact, other properties may be much more important if we truly want to find a “twin” to Earth: a rocky planet teeming with advanced chemical-based life.___

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