Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Astronomy

How dark is the cosmic web?

Paul M. Sutter writes: The universe is permeated by a vast, invisible web, its tendrils weaving through space. But despite organizing the matter we see in space, this dark web is invisible. That’s because it is made up of dark matter, which exerts a gravitational pull but emits no light. That is, the web was invisible until now. For the first time, researchers have illuminated some of the darkest corners

Do we live in a multiple universe?

David J. Eicher writes: Decades of astrophysical research beginning in the late 19th century established the universe as we see it, culminating with the Big Bang theory. We now know the universe is about 13.8 billion years old and at least 150 billion trillion miles across. But in recent years, astronomers have begun to address a staggering possibility — the universe we can observe, and in which we live, may

How far is it to the edge of the Universe?

Ethan Siegel writes: If you were to go as far out into space as you can imagine, what would you encounter? Would there be a limit to how far you could go, or could you travel a limitless distance? Would you eventually return to your starting point, or would you continue to traverse space that you had never encountered before? In other words, does the Universe have an edge, and

Could invisible aliens really exist among us? An astrobiologist explains

They probably won’t look anything like this. Martina Badini/Shutterstock By Samantha Rolfe, University of Hertfordshire Life is pretty easy to recognise. It moves, it grows, it eats, it excretes, it reproduces. Simple. In biology, researchers often use the acronym “MRSGREN” to describe it. It stands for movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. But Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut and a chemist at Imperial College London, recently said that

What makes us unexceptional

Corey S. Powell writes: One of the greatest debates in the long history of astronomy has been that of exceptionalism versus mediocrity—and one of the great satisfactions of modern times has been watching the arguments for mediocrity emerge triumphant. Far more than just a high-minded clash of abstract ideas, this debate has shaped the way we humans evaluate our place in the universe. It has defined, in important ways, how

Supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy may have a friend

An artist’s conception of two black holes entwined in a gravitational tango. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go By Smadar Naoz, University of California, Los Angeles Do supermassive black holes have friends? The nature of galaxy formation suggests that the answer is yes, and in fact, pairs of supermassive black holes should be common in the universe. I am an astrophysicist and am interested in a wide range of theoretical problems in astrophysics, from

NASA’s Voyager 2 sends back its first signal from interstellar space

The Guardian reports: Twelve billion miles from Earth, there is an elusive boundary that marks the edge of the sun’s realm and the start of interstellar space. Voyager 2, the longest-running space mission, has finally beamed back a faint signal from the other side of that frontier, 42 years after its launch. The Nasa craft is the second ever to travel beyond the heliosphere, the bubble of supersonic charged particles

The chemistry at the heart of the Universe

Caleb A. Scharf writes: It’s a relatively little-known fact outside of astrophysics that the key to the first stars in the universe, and the earliest structures condensing out of the primordial murk, was chemistry. Specifically, the key was the formation of molecular hydrogen or H2. A pair of atoms bonded together and capable of rotating and vibrating. A few years ago I wrote about some of the details in this

The center of the Milky Way exploded just three million years ago — the recent past in galactic history

Cosmos reports: A titanic, expanding beam of energy sprang from close to the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way just 3.5 million years ago, sending a cone-shaped burst of radiation through both poles of the Galaxy and out into deep space. That’s the finding arising from research conducted by a team of scientists led by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All

Living in space

  By Paul Woodward To see things clearly, we often need to break the patterns of habit. The Earth, physically and metaphorically — the ground of human experience — is the stationary foundation that forms the background of movement: our movement across its surface; the terra firma against which the oceans wash and above which birds fly; the horizon that the Sun rises above and then falls beneath. Intellectually, as

Giant, active galaxies from the early universe may have finally been found

Science News reports: Astronomers may finally have laid eyes on a population of enormous but elusive galaxies in the early universe. These hefty, star-forming galaxies are shrouded in dust, which hid them from previous searches that used starlight. Now observations of radiation emitted by that interstellar dust have revealed dozens of massive, active galaxies from when the universe was younger than 2 billion years, researchers report online August 7 in

Most detailed ever 3D map of Milky Way shows ‘warped’ shape

The Guardian reports: The most detailed three-dimensional map yet of the Milky Way has been revealed, showing that our galaxy is not a flat disc but has a “warped” shape like a fascinator hat or a vinyl record that has been left in the sun. “The stars 60,000 light years away from the Milky Way’s centre are as far as 4,500 [light years] above or below the galactic plane –

Scientists stunned by ‘city-killer’ asteroid that just missed Earth

The Washington Post reports: Alan Duffy was confused. On Thursday, the astronomer’s phone was suddenly flooded with calls from reporters wanting to know about a large asteroid that had just whizzed past Earth, and he couldn’t figure out “why everyone was so alarmed.” “I thought everyone was getting worried about something we knew was coming,” Duffy, who is lead scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, told The Washington Post.

Moon landing: What Armstrong and Aldrin saw

Arizona State University: As the Apollo 11 Lunar Module approached the moon’s surface for the first manned landing, commander Neil Armstrong switched off the auto-targeting feature of the LM’s computer and flew the spacecraft manually to a landing. A new video, created at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, shows what Armstrong saw out his window as the lander descended — and you’ll see for yourself why

The search for extraterrestrial technology finds none

The Guardian reports: The close encounter will have to wait. Astronomers have come up empty-handed after scanning the heavens for signs of intelligent life in the most extensive search ever performed. Researchers used ground-based telescopes to eavesdrop on 1,327 stars within 160 light years of Earth. During three years of observations they found no evidence of signals that could plausibly come from an alien civilisation. The only signals picked up

Trump: ‘we are going back to the Moon’ but ‘NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon.’ Huh?

May 13, 2019: Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars. I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019 June 7, 2019: For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going