I don't know. Maybe.
And, let’s face it, who hasn’t had the urge now and then? At the “Quantum to Cosmos” physics conference in Waterloo, Canada, seven physicists were asked, "What keeps you awake at night?" (Apparently, they meant “what issue in science” as opposed to love, money, or lack thereof.) The panel came up with some pretty heavy questions:
Why are the fundamental laws of nature the way that they are? There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t be some other way. Are there, perhaps, other universes with other rules?
How does the Observer Effect work? This is a little deep for me, but apparently at the sub-atomic level, simply observing a particle over here can effect another particle thousands of miles away. How does nature do that?
What is the nature of matter, anyway? Especially the “dark matter” which is theorized to exist in outer space, messing up all our gravity calculations.
On a related note, will string theory ever be proven? String theory is the latest theory for how matter and energy interact at the sub-sub-sub-atomic level. And while it is very elegant and seems right on paper, no one has any idea how to conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it.
How do complex systems arise out of simple, basic particles and forces? You know, complex systems. Like life, the universe, and everything.
How did the universe begin, anyway? Physics can only take us back to a few fractions of a second after the Big Bang, a moment at which the universe was very small, very hot, and very dense. Before that, the laws of physics break down. No one knows how to describe the Bang itself, or how / why it happened.
Which brings us to, what are the limits of science? Science is based on observation and experiment. But, at some point, you run into ideas that can’t be tested. In theory, it’s entirely possible that there are other universes. But we’re stuck in this one—how would we ever know?
If anyone has answers to any of these questions, please send them to Canada ASAP. It sounds like there’s a bunch of scientists up there who could use a good night’s sleep.
Cool article that describes how dark matter will be able to be studied since it might glow.
Swedish cosmologist Max Tegmark thinks so.
Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe? That’s a hot topic, both among astronomers and right here on Science Buzz. The argument goes like this:
• There are about 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe
• Each galaxy has about 100 billion stars.
• Even if only a small fraction of them have planets, that’s still an awful lot. Ya gotta figure at least some of them developed intelligent life.
And thus we go looking for signs of life in outer space: probes to Mars, searches for organic molecules, even scanning the skies for radio signals. So far… nothing.
Nick Bostrom is glad. This Oxford professor argues that finding life on other planets would be bad news for us here on Earth.
The way he sees it is this:
• The Universe is about 14.5 billion years old.
• Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
• That’s plenty of time for intelligent life anywhere else in our galaxy, or even a nearby galaxy, to come pay a visit.
• They haven’t.
This convinces Bostrom that interstellar travel must be impossible – if it wasn’t, someone would have stopped in by now, if only to ask for directions.
What makes interstellar travel impossible? Bostrom and economist Robin Hanson theorize (or “theorise” – they are British, after all) the existence of one or more “Great Filters.” The evolution of life, from primordial ooze to galactic explorer, requires a vast number of steps, some so complicated as to be virtually impossible. Obviously, one of those steps has been preventing interstellar travel for the past 14.5 billion years, so it must be pretty good.
What does all this have to do with life here on Earth? Simply this: the identity of this filter, and whether it lies ahead of us or behind us, may very well determine the fate of all humanity.
If the filter lies behind us—especially if the filter lies wayyyy behind us—then we’re in good shape. We’ve passed the barrier that has stopped everybody else. But if the filter lies close to us—or, worse yet, ahead of us—then it spells big trouble. For example, perhaps the only way to travel the stars is to harness some great energy source: nuclear power, or perhaps something we haven’t discovered yet. And perhaps every civilization in the history of the Universe that discovered this power ended up blowing themselves up. It’s unlikely that we would be any different.
Bostrom’s conclusion is counter-intuitive but compelling. If, as we explore the Universe, we find life is rare, then that’s good news—Earth succeeded where every other planet failed. But if we find that life, especially complex, intelligent life, is common, then that doesn’t bode well at all. Whatever stopped those planets is likely going to stop us, too.
*(PS: The answer is, Tommy James and the Shondells, later covered by Tiffany -- both proof that intelligent life is exceedingly rare, even here on Earth.)
On March 19, there was a tremendous explosion in outer space. The massive gamma-ray burst was faintly visible to the naked eye, despite being 7.5 billion light years away. That’s half the distance across the Universe, and 1,000 times further than the previous record for most distant visible object. Gamma-ray bursts occur when giant stars run out of fuel and collapse, releasing huge amounts of energy.
Google Sky now works in a web browser (without a download). From within a web browser one can navigate the sky in a way similar to using Google Maps. Zoom or drag your way through a universe of stitched together images from telescopes and satellites. Try it out. It is lots of fun.
Astronomers in England have discovered 27 proto-galaxies -- lumps of gas and dust caught in the act of clumping together to form larger structures.
Every mad scientist movie of the 1950s featured, well, a mad scientist trying to destroy the world. Now it seems like normal, everyday scientists are on the verge of destroying the universe! Or so says a new theory by Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He says that the Universe started out unstable, and has slowly been stabilizing as it matures. Unfortunately, scientists have rest the clock, pushing the Universe back to its unstable beginnings, simply by looking at it!
This has to do with a well-known but little-understood property of some sub-atomic particles. According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (I think), these particles will actually change their behavior when they are observed. By observing the Universe scientists have changed the Universe, in ways that Krauss fears may be a bit on the catastrophic side.
Other scientists express skepticism, and point to the fact that mankind has been observing the Universe for tens of thousands of years, and has been observing sub-atomic particles for decades, and the Universe has resolutely refused to explode. I, however, agree with Krauss – this is far too elegant a theory to permit mere facts to sway us too much.