Stories tagged universe

After months of analysis, NASA has posted this ScienceCasts report of a large meteoroid impact on the Moon on March 17, 2013. Lunar impacts aren't uncommon - hundreds occur each year - but this one was the brightest flash recorded in the eight year span of the agency's lunar monitoring program. NASA estimates that a 40 kg space rock slamming into the Mare Imbrium region caused the visible-to-the-naked-eye explosion. The bright flash wasn't produced by combustion - the Moon has no atmosphere - but by the glow of hot vapors and molten lunar rock heated up by the tremendous kinetic force of the impact.

Universe Today

This kind of thing has been around for a long time but I always find it fun and enlightening. Click and play


A star is born: Artist conception of a protostar
A star is born: Artist conception of a protostarCourtesy NASA/Caltech
Scientists have been studying a newly-forming star that’s blasting incredibly hot and gigantic pulses of water from its poles. The extreme temperature at work (180,000 degrees F.) means the water isn’t in liquid form but rather a super-hot concoction of unfused hydrogen and oxygen atoms. As the jet streams shoot into space away from the star’s accretion disk and outer gas cloud, they cool and the atoms interact with dust and each other, and water molecules form as ice.

The protostar, known as L1448-MM, is 750 light years from Earth, and located in the sky near the Pleiades star cluser. Using the European Space Agency’s,Herschel infrared orbiting telescope astronomers are able to measure the elements making up the baby star, and its bizarre behavior. Each powerful jet pulsating from the center of the star shoots “the equivalent of a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second”, at a speed of about 120,000 miles per hour. More incredible is the fact that each “pulse” is estimated to last for about a year! Merely a flash of time in cosmic terms.

Each pulse produces shockwave in the surrounding space. Scientists are uncertain of how long the pulsing phase continues during a star’s birth. It could be anywhere from 1 to 10 million years. But astronomers think “water” fountains like that detected on L1448-MM are a common occurrence in the creation of stars, and that our own Sun went through the same process as it was forming.

SOURCE and LINKS story
European Space Agency
Star formation info
More about L1448-MM

In this recent Ted Talk, historian David Christian of the Australian Academy of the Humanities lays out a Big History of the universe from the Big Bang to the internet, complete with many thresholds and all sorts of complexity.


Planck telescope map of the universe
Planck telescope map of the universeCourtesy ESA HFI and LFI consortia
A new map created from data gathered by the Planck Space Telescope shows new aspects of our universe not before seen. The telescope’s sensors captured in long wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye that show gigantic plumes of dust and matter swirling above and below the plane of our Milky Way galaxy.

"What you see is the structure of our galaxy in gas and dust, which tells us an awful lot about what is going on in the neighborhood of the Sun; and it tells us a lot about the way galaxies form when we compare this to other galaxies."-- Professor Andrew Jaffe, Planck Space Telescope team member

The Planck research team hopes to answer several questions concerning the origins and structures of the universe. It will concentrate on the cosmic microwave background, the remnant radiation from the Big Bang that permeates the entire universe. It will also search out the secrets of other phenomenon such as gravitational waves, and dark energy and matter. A second version of the map is in the process of being created and there are plans for two additional ones.

In May of 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Planck Space Telescope and the Herschel telescope together into space. Both telescopes function from an orbital position called the second Lagrange point located some one million miles away from the dark side of the Earth, and both in the infrared light range. Over the last six months the Planck telescope has been busy scanning and mapping the full sky searching out answers to how galaxy form and the very origins of the universe. The scope’s sensitive instruments were built to function in the extreme conditions of space, some at temperatures just 1/10th of a degree above absolute zero! Since the observatory is viewing the universe in long wavelengths of light it’s not really seeing stars themselves but rather the materials – dust and gas – from which stars are formed.

But if you’re like me, being restricted to a single wavelength just doesn’t do it, so for views of the universe in other wavelengths I suggest you visit, a nifty website that allows you to view the universe in all sorts of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Videos about the Planck and Herschel projects at
BBC story
USA Today story

Albert Einstein c. 1921: Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer
Albert Einstein c. 1921: Photo by Ferdinand SchmutzerCourtesy Public domain via Wikimedia
Scientists at Princeton University and elsewhere spent the last couple years testing Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and have come to the conclusion that the theory holds up just as well in the vast and distant regions of the universe as it does in our own solar system. First published in 1915, the landmark theory describes the very fabric of time and space, and gravity, and the way they interact with each other. It was further confirmed with experiments done during a total eclipse of the sun in 1919. The new research findings appear in the recent issue of Nature.

Princeton University story

This comes from the American Museum of Natural History.


For me, the greatest mystery in the universe is Lindsay Price, and how she continues to find work.: Not that great a mystery, I guess…
For me, the greatest mystery in the universe is Lindsay Price, and how she continues to find work.: Not that great a mystery, I guess…Courtesy catechism

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.

Birth of a planet in a binary star system: Could such a star system throw a planet into retrograde orbit?
Birth of a planet in a binary star system: Could such a star system throw a planet into retrograde orbit?Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
A newly detected planet about twice the size of Jupiter circling a distant star seems to be orbiting in the opposite direction the star is spinning. This is a first for astronomers, and goes against conventional wisdom since planets and stars are thought to form out of the same swirling nebulous gas. Scientists aren't sure why it's acting this way, but they speculate the planet could have been sent into retrograde orbit by an external force such as a near-miss with another undetected planet in the system or by a passing star. Kind of interesting whatever the case. The study has been submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, but you can read more about it here right now.