Will Science Burst the Multiverse’s Bubble?
by Ian O’Neill
Physicists aren’t afraid of thinking big, but what happens when you think too big?

This philosophical question overlaps with real physics when hypothesizing what lies beyond the boundary of our observable universe. The problem with trying to apply science to something that may or may not exist beyond our physical realm is that it gets a little foggy as to how we could scientifically test it.

A leading hypothesis to come from cosmic inflation theory and advanced theoretical studies — centering around the superstring hypothesis — is that of the multiverse, an idea that scientists have had a hard time in testing.

In its most basic sense, the multiverse is a collection of universes popping in and out of existence, bustling around in a foamy mess, embedded in a vacuum of non-zero energy. Through quantum fluctuations, universes are born while others die — each universe taking on different forms and different kinds of physics.

But, if the multiverse hypothesis has any shred of reality behind it, how can scientists prove (or at least gather some observational evidence) that we exist inside one of an infinite ocean of universes? …
(read more: Discovery News)

Will Science Burst the Multiverse’s Bubble?

by Ian O’Neill

Physicists aren’t afraid of thinking big, but what happens when you think too big?

This philosophical question overlaps with real physics when hypothesizing what lies beyond the boundary of our observable universe. The problem with trying to apply science to something that may or may not exist beyond our physical realm is that it gets a little foggy as to how we could scientifically test it.

A leading hypothesis to come from cosmic inflation theory and advanced theoretical studies — centering around the superstring hypothesis — is that of the multiverse, an idea that scientists have had a hard time in testing.

In its most basic sense, the multiverse is a collection of universes popping in and out of existence, bustling around in a foamy mess, embedded in a vacuum of non-zero energy. Through quantum fluctuations, universes are born while others die — each universe taking on different forms and different kinds of physics.

But, if the multiverse hypothesis has any shred of reality behind it, how can scientists prove (or at least gather some observational evidence) that we exist inside one of an infinite ocean of universes? …

(read more: Discovery News)

Meg Crofoot is taking wildlife investigations out of this world.

Meg crofoot (above), a biologist at the university of California-Davis, is no stranger to animal tracking. She’s studied the social lives of monkeys for 10 years, employing techniques ranging from old-fashioned foot pursuit to radio and GPS collars.

Soon Crofoot will take more tracking studies out of this world. In 2015 the ICARUS Initiative, an ambitious international project she’s co-leading, will launch a remote sensing device into space, where astronauts will attach it to the International Space Station. The receiver will give researchers a greater ability than ever before to follow animals bearing tiny GPS tags around the world for months at a time, producing unprecedented pictures of migrations and movements from orbit…

The Cosmic Web:
Observations and simulations of the intergalactic medium reveal the largest structures in the universe
by Robert Simcoe

There is no such thing as empty space. The idea of absolute emptiness realizes its closest approximation in the barren expanses between the stars and the galaxies, but even the most remote corners of the universe are suffused with very low density gas—which becomes increasingly rarefied as one ventures farther away from the places where galaxies consort.
Consider this fact: In the air we breathe, each cubic centimeter contains roughly 5 X 1019 atoms. In contrast, the intergalactic medium has a density of only 10–6 particles per cubic centimeter—each atom inhabits a private box a meter on each side.
This would seem to suggest that there is not much matter in the intergalactic medium. But, given the enormous volume between the galaxies, it quickly adds up: The combined atomic mass of intergalactic gas exceeds the combined atomic mass of all the stars and galaxies in the universe—possibly by as much as 50 percent! There is indeed something in empty space.
As cosmologists construct new narratives of the universe’s evolution from its beginning—the Big Bang—to the present day, it is becoming clear that we must understand the physics of intergalactic matter if we are to write the history of how the galaxies, stars and planets formed. In the past decade, rapid advances in both the design of telescopes and computing power have allowed us to study the remote corners of intergalactic space in unprecedented detail. These new results deepen our understanding of how the grandest structures in the universe formed and evolved…
(read more: American Scientist)
Images courtesy of Renyue Cen, Princeton University

The Cosmic Web:

Observations and simulations of the intergalactic medium reveal the largest structures in the universe

by Robert Simcoe

There is no such thing as empty space. The idea of absolute emptiness realizes its closest approximation in the barren expanses between the stars and the galaxies, but even the most remote corners of the universe are suffused with very low density gas—which becomes increasingly rarefied as one ventures farther away from the places where galaxies consort.

Consider this fact: In the air we breathe, each cubic centimeter contains roughly 5 X 1019 atoms. In contrast, the intergalactic medium has a density of only 10–6 particles per cubic centimeter—each atom inhabits a private box a meter on each side.

This would seem to suggest that there is not much matter in the intergalactic medium. But, given the enormous volume between the galaxies, it quickly adds up: The combined atomic mass of intergalactic gas exceeds the combined atomic mass of all the stars and galaxies in the universe—possibly by as much as 50 percent! There is indeed something in empty space.

As cosmologists construct new narratives of the universe’s evolution from its beginning—the Big Bang—to the present day, it is becoming clear that we must understand the physics of intergalactic matter if we are to write the history of how the galaxies, stars and planets formed. In the past decade, rapid advances in both the design of telescopes and computing power have allowed us to study the remote corners of intergalactic space in unprecedented detail. These new results deepen our understanding of how the grandest structures in the universe formed and evolved…

(read more: American Scientist)

Images courtesy of Renyue Cen, Princeton University

A giant, 100-foot-diameter (30 meters) telescope has been green-lighted for construction on the island of Hawaii.

When it begins operations, TMT will enable astronomers to explore objects inside the solar system, stars throughout the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies, and forming galaxies at the farthest edge of the observable universe…

Cassiopeia A - A Star Explodes and Turns Inside Out
A new X-ray study of the remains of an exploded star indicates that the supernova that disrupted the massive star may have turned it inside out in the process. Using very long observations of Cassiopeia A (or Cas A), a team of scientists has mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant in unprecedented detail. This information shows where the different layers of the pre-supernova star are located three hundred years after the explosion, and provides insight into the nature of the supernova…
(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)
image: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/U.Hwang & J.Laming

Cassiopeia A - A Star Explodes and Turns Inside Out

A new X-ray study of the remains of an exploded star indicates that the supernova that disrupted the massive star may have turned it inside out in the process. Using very long observations of Cassiopeia A (or Cas A), a team of scientists has mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant in unprecedented detail. This information shows where the different layers of the pre-supernova star are located three hundred years after the explosion, and provides insight into the nature of the supernova…

(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

image: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/U.Hwang & J.Laming

NASA explores the science of the northern lights 
Tens of kilometers above the icy waterfalls surrounding Iceland’s Kirkjufell Mountain, Earth’s magnetic field drags electrons from the sun to their visually stunning demise. The zooming particles collide with nitrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, an interaction that produces a brilliant blue-green light show called an aurora.
Photographer Nicholas Roemmelt captured this scene on a moonlit night in March. The shot won him third prize in the “Beauty of the Night Sky” category of the recent International Earth & Sky Photo Contest…
(read more: Science News)Credit: Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt

NASA explores the science of the northern lights

Tens of kilometers above the icy waterfalls surrounding Iceland’s Kirkjufell Mountain, Earth’s magnetic field drags electrons from the sun to their visually stunning demise. The zooming particles collide with nitrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, an interaction that produces a brilliant blue-green light show called an aurora.

Photographer Nicholas Roemmelt captured this scene on a moonlit night in March. The shot won him third prize in the “Beauty of the Night Sky” category of the recent International Earth & Sky Photo Contest

(read more: Science News)

Credit: Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt

Planetary Nebulas - Fast Winds From Dying Stars
This panel of composite images shows part of the unfolding drama of the last stages of the evolution of sun-like stars.
Dynamic elongated clouds envelop bubbles of multimillion degree gas produced by high-velocity winds from dying stars. In these images, Chandra’s X-ray data are shown in blue, while green and red are optical and infrared data from Hubble.
Planetary nebulas - so called because some of them resemble a planet when viewed through a small telescope - are produced in the late stages of a sun-like star’s life. After several billion years of stable existence (the sun is 4.5 billion years old and will not enter this phase for about 5 billion more years) a normal star will expand enormously to become a bloated red giant. Over a period of a few hundred thousand years, much of the star’s mass is expelled at a relatively slow speed of about 50,000 miles per hour…
(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

Planetary Nebulas - Fast Winds From Dying Stars

This panel of composite images shows part of the unfolding drama of the last stages of the evolution of sun-like stars.

Dynamic elongated clouds envelop bubbles of multimillion degree gas produced by high-velocity winds from dying stars. In these images, Chandra’s X-ray data are shown in blue, while green and red are optical and infrared data from Hubble.

Planetary nebulas - so called because some of them resemble a planet when viewed through a small telescope - are produced in the late stages of a sun-like star’s life. After several billion years of stable existence (the sun is 4.5 billion years old and will not enter this phase for about 5 billion more years) a normal star will expand enormously to become a bloated red giant. Over a period of a few hundred thousand years, much of the star’s mass is expelled at a relatively slow speed of about 50,000 miles per hour…

(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

A Watery, Extraterrestrial Ocean Is Submerged Beneath Enceladus’s Blankets of Ice
by Allison Eck
Move over, Mars. In the search for extraterrestrial life, moons are now in the limelight.
Enceladus, one of the Ringed Planet’s icy and austere orbiters has been on astronomers’ shortlist of potential hosts of alien life, especially since they discovered geysers of ice crystals shooting out of its south pole in 2005. They hypothesized that a deep ocean the size of Lake Superior sits underneath its highly tectonic and veiny surface, potentially feeding those gushers.
Normally, liquid water couldn’t exist that far out in the solar system, but the gravitational pull of Enceladus’s neighbor, Dione, bends the icy moon’s outer layer, creating heat through friction. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has repeatedly flown by the surface of Enceladus to better understand the temperature dynamics that create these explosive geysers…
(read more: Nova Next - PBS)

A Watery, Extraterrestrial Ocean Is Submerged Beneath Enceladus’s Blankets of Ice

by Allison Eck

Move over, Mars. In the search for extraterrestrial life, moons are now in the limelight.

Enceladus, one of the Ringed Planet’s icy and austere orbiters has been on astronomers’ shortlist of potential hosts of alien life, especially since they discovered geysers of ice crystals shooting out of its south pole in 2005. They hypothesized that a deep ocean the size of Lake Superior sits underneath its highly tectonic and veiny surface, potentially feeding those gushers.

Normally, liquid water couldn’t exist that far out in the solar system, but the gravitational pull of Enceladus’s neighbor, Dione, bends the icy moon’s outer layer, creating heat through friction. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has repeatedly flown by the surface of Enceladus to better understand the temperature dynamics that create these explosive geysers…

(read more: Nova Next - PBS)

Stalking the Shadow Universe
by Dennis Overbye
For centuries people have found meaning — or thought they did — in what they could see in the sky, the shapes of the constellations echoing old myths, the sudden feathery intrusion of comets, the regular dances of the planets, the chains of galaxies, spanning unfathomable distances of time and space.
Since the 1980s, however, astronomers have been forced to confront the possibility that most of the universe is invisible, and that all the glittering chains of galaxies are no more substantial, no more reliable guides to physical reality, than greasepaint on the face of a clown.
The brute mathematical truth is that atoms, the stuff of stars, you and me, make up only 5 percent of the universe by weight. A quarter of it is made of mysterious particles known as dark matter, and the remaining 70 percent a mysterious form of energy called dark energy. Physicists theorize that dark matter could be exotic particles left over from the Big Bang. They don’t know what it is, but they can deduce that dark matter is there by its gravitational effect on the things they can see. If Newton’s laws of gravity held over cosmic distances, huge amounts of more matter than we can see were needed to provide the gravitational glue to keep clusters of galaxies from flying apart, and to keep the stars swirling around in galaxies at high speed…
(read more: NY Times)

Stalking the Shadow Universe

by Dennis Overbye

For centuries people have found meaning — or thought they did — in what they could see in the sky, the shapes of the constellations echoing old myths, the sudden feathery intrusion of comets, the regular dances of the planets, the chains of galaxies, spanning unfathomable distances of time and space.

Since the 1980s, however, astronomers have been forced to confront the possibility that most of the universe is invisible, and that all the glittering chains of galaxies are no more substantial, no more reliable guides to physical reality, than greasepaint on the face of a clown.

The brute mathematical truth is that atoms, the stuff of stars, you and me, make up only 5 percent of the universe by weight. A quarter of it is made of mysterious particles known as dark matter, and the remaining 70 percent a mysterious form of energy called dark energy. Physicists theorize that dark matter could be exotic particles left over from the Big Bang. They don’t know what it is, but they can deduce that dark matter is there by its gravitational effect on the things they can see. If Newton’s laws of gravity held over cosmic distances, huge amounts of more matter than we can see were needed to provide the gravitational glue to keep clusters of galaxies from flying apart, and to keep the stars swirling around in galaxies at high speed…

(read more: NY Times)