Your free twice-weekly fix of stories 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 Anthropocene epoch.
Dark energy has been described as everything from a fifth force to a new form of matter, but so far, no direct evidence has been found of its existence. “I have absolutely no clue what dark energy is,” says Noble Prize winning physicist Adam Riess . “Dark energy appears strong enough to push the entire universe – yet its source is unknown, its location is unknown and its physics are highly speculative.”
“We actually saw this decay happen. It’s the longest, slowest process that has ever been directly observed, and our dark matter detector was sensitive enough to measure it,” said Ethan Brown, an assistant professor of physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute about a process that takes more than one trillion times longer than the age of the universe. “It’s amazing to have witnessed this process, and it says that our detector can measure the rarest thing ever recorded.”
“Humans are strange…We are the aliens,” observes Columbia University astrophysicist, Caleb Scharf, noting that humans are a striking anomaly in the natural world. “We also have a truly outsize impact on the planetary environment without much in the way of natural attrition to trim our influence (at least not yet).
Without mind, there might as well be nothing. Colin McGinn at the University of Miami, believes that no matter how much scientists study the brain, the mind is fundamentally incapable of comprehending itself. “We’re rather like Neanderthals trying to understand astronomy or Shakespeare,” McGinn observed in Consciousness and Space. Human brains suffer from a “cognitive gap” in understanding their own consciousness.”
“Is our universe extremely unnatural, a weird permutation among countless other possibilities, observed for no other reason than that its special conditions allowed life to arise, or, are the properties of the universe are inevitable, predictable, that is, ‘natural,’ locking together into a sensible pattern?” This is the question, the great unknown, that preoccupies theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J.