Welcome to this week’s fix of news of space and science –a random journey from Planet Earth through the Cosmos– that has the capacity to provide clues to our existence and add a much needed cosmic perspective in our current epoch.
This Week’s Space and Science News
Could We Harness Energy from Black Holes? –A new Columbia University study indicates energy can be extracted from black holes through reconnection of magnetic field lines. “A remarkable prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity—the theory that connects space, time, and gravity—is that rotating black holes have enormous amounts of energy available to be tapped. For the last 50 years, scientists have tried to come up with methods to unleash this power. Nobel physicist Roger Penrose theorized that a particle disintegration could draw energy from a black hole; Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes could release energy through quantum mechanical emission; while Roger Blandford and Roman Znajek suggested electromagnetic torque as a main agent of energy extraction.”
Extremely Boring Aliens, Perhaps other life in the universe is, in the end, utterly dull, reports Columbia University astrophysicist, Caleb Scharf, for Scientific American. “The recently leaked news about an intriguing, potentially extraterrestrial radio signal detected as part of the Breakthrough Listen project may not turn out to be “it”—the unequivocal sign of a technological species out there in our galaxy—but still offers a great opportunity for some reflection on the nature of cosmic life.”
“The Red Mirage” –Oldest Planets in the Universe May Suffer Early Heat Death Killing Chance of Life, reports The Daily Galaxy.
Physicists Find New State of Matter in a One-Dimensional Quantum Gas– “Beyond My Wildest Conception”, reports SciTech Daily. By adding some magnetic flair to an exotic quantum experiment, physicists produced an ultra-stable one-dimensional quantum gas with never-before-seen “scar” states – a feature that could someday be useful for securing quantum information.
The cracks in cosmology: Why our Universe doesn’t add up –In terms of our understanding of the Universe, some things just don’t add up. Which means either our measurements are wrong, or our theories are, reports Marcus Chown for BBC Science Focus. “It’s perfectly possible that the contradictions will disappear as our estimates of cosmic parameters improve. But it’s also possible that the contradictions won’t go away and that our fundamental picture of the Universe is about to undergo a radical revision, perhaps to include invisible, ‘dark’ components as complex as atoms, stars and galaxies.”
How Old Is Our Universe? The Exact Answer May Need A New Discovery In Cosmology, Say Scientists, reports Jamie Carter for Forbes. –That’s the conclusion from a team of astronomers working 17,030 ft./5,190 meters above Chile’s Atacama Desert using a telescope to detect the oldest light in the Universe.
Triple-star system’s strange antics entrance scientists digging through 125 years of data, reports Space.com –“It was as if somebody had just created a telescope that was a time machine.” Scientists have combined modern spacecraft data with vintage observations to piece together a 125-year-long story of the antics of a nearby triple-star system dubbed HS Hydra — and predict its future.
Physicists May Have Found Dark Matter: X-rays Surrounding “Magnificent 7” May Be Traces of Theorized Particle, reports SciTech Daily. –“Researchers say they may have found proof of theorized axions, and possibly dark matter, around a group of neutron stars. A new study, led by a theoretical physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), suggests that never-before-observed particles called axions may be the source of unexplained, high-energy X-ray emissions surrounding a group of neutron stars.”
Lifeforms on Earth Could Have Spawned from Something That Definitely Wasn’t Alive, reports SvFy Wire—”New research has shown that a compound which was already on prebiotic Earth might have actually put together the first strands of DNA and RNA, which carries out the directions encoded in DNA. Then things multiplied and spread and evolved and … here we are.”
Top scientists warn of ‘ghastly future of mass extinction’ and climate disruption, reports The Guardian.–Sobering new report says world is failing to grasp the extent of threats posed by biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. “17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood. “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.”
It’s really there! Kepler space telescope’s 2nd-ever exoplanet candidate finally confirmed, reports Mike Wall for Space.com –The Neptune-size KOI-5Ab does indeed exist.
Scientists May Have Detected a Signal That Could Change Astronomy Forever, reports Becky Ferreira for Motherboard Science–Scientists think they may have spied the universe’s “gravitational wave background” after more than a decade of searching.\
The World’s Oldest Story? Astronomers Say Global Myths About ‘Seven Sisters’ Stars May Reach Back 100,000 Years, reports Ray Norris for Singularity Hub.
Cosmic Mysteries, Zombie Battles and Science for the Future, reports Scientific American –”Scientists are figuring out the loss of smell in COVID—but not the energy of the not so empty cosmos —One of the biggest puzzles right now has to do with three interrelated concepts: vacuum energy (which describes the stuff in otherwise empty space), dark energy (which is pushing the expansion of the universe) and the cosmological constant (Einstein’s fix for making the math of relativity work out). The so-called cosmological constant problem is “generally regarded as one of the most awkward, embarrassing, difficult problems in theoretical physics today.”
Did We Receive a Message from a Planet Orbiting the Nearest Star? –A radio blip, seemingly from Proxima Centauri, where an Earth-size planet world orbits in the habitable zone, is tantalizing—but it’s probably not a signal from aliens, reports Scientific American.
The Planet Has Seen Sudden Warming Before. It Wiped Out Almost Everything, reports The New York Times –In some ways, the planet’s worst mass extinction — 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period — may parallel climate change today.
A Question Hidden in the Platypus Genome: Are We the Weird Ones? asks The New York Times. “Researchers have produced the most comprehensive platypus genome yet, as well as that of another monotreme, an echidna. On Wednesday in Nature, researchers presented the most complete platypus genome yet assembled, along with the genome of a close relation, the short-beaked echidna. By diving into their DNA, researchers can uncover the genes and proteins that underpin some of these creatures’ distinctive traits, and better understand how mammals like us evolved to be so unlike them.”
The Milky Way may have less dark matter than astronomers thought reports New Scientist–”Most estimates of the galaxy’s dark matter abundance are based on the assumption that the Milky Way is in equilibrium, meaning its overall structure isn’t significantly changing. However, that isn’t necessarily a safe assumption: several recent studies have shown that past interactions with other galaxies are still affecting the Milky Way’s structure, stretching and warping it.”
A Newfound Source of Cellular Order in the Chemistry of Life, Reports Quanta –Inside cells, droplets of biomolecules called condensates merge, divide and dissolve. Their dance may regulate vital processes.
Are primordial black holes really giant gravitinos?, asks Paul Sutter for Live Science. –“It’s a long shot of an idea, but when it comes to the early universe, it’s the best we’ve got.”
Researchers may have discovered where dreams come from –reports Science Norway. Brain cells that receive sensory stimuli while we’re awake may be activated by memories when we sleep.
The Doctor Carl Sagan Warned Us About, reports McGill University. Dr. Christiane Northrup, a medical doctor, uses her intuition to tell her fans that medicine is wrong and magic is real. “One prediction made by Carl Sagan is so unfortunately on the money that it continues to outlive him. He spelled it out in the second chapter of his last book, The Demon-Haunted World.”
A Breakthrough in Measuring the Building Blocks of Nature, reports Nautil.us–“n a recent experiment done at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, in Germany, physicist Alexey Grinin and his colleagues came a step closer to resolving one of the more significant puzzles to have arisen in particle physics over the past few years.