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.
“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” observed Pascal Oesch at the University of Geneva and head of the Galaxy Build-Up at Cosmic Dawn team about the discovery of a 13.4 billion-years -old galaxy. It’s mind-boggling by comparison to think that Earth is only 4.5 billion years old.
“Reheating was an insane time, when everything went haywire,” says David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at MIT. As the Big Bang theory goes, reports MIT, somewhere around 13.8 billion years ago the universe exploded into being, as an infinitely small, compact fireball of matter that cooled as it expanded, triggering reactions that cooked up the first stars and galaxies, and all the forms of matter that we see (and are) today.
Mapping the entirety of our home galaxy is “the most Important thing in astrophysics –Optically, it’s like trying to look through a velvet cloth—black as black can be. In terms of tracing and understanding the spiral structure, essentially half of the Milky Way is terra incognita,” says Thomas Dame, Director of the Radio Telescope Data Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Senior Radio Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
The 2017 discovery of a binary neutron star merger opened a new era in astronomy. It marked the first time that scientists have been able to observe a cosmic event with both light waves — the basis of traditional astronomy — and gravitational waves, the ripples in space-time predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Mergers of neutron stars, among the densest objects in the universe, are thought to be responsible for showering the Universe with heavy elements such as gold, platinum, and silver.