The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, commonly known as SETI, is back on. SETI operates by turning an array of audio telescopes to the skies to listen for noise that would indicate intelligent life, for example, a pattern of radio waves that is distinct from the background noise of the Universe. SETI went offline in April of this year after failing to secure enough funding to continue operation. It now has a new agreement with Air Force, who will lease the telescope array when needed.
Found: Most Massive Black Holes Ever
331 million light years away, a black hole 9.7 billion times the mass of the sun is causing havoc at the center of a galaxy. The black hole has a diameter that could accompany our solar system… ten times from end to end. The previously largest known black hole was a paltry 6.3 billion solar masses. In addition to the new black hole, researchers are trying to determine the mass of another black hole 336 million light years away. That black hole could be more than twice as large at 21 billion solar masses.
Ultra-Red Galaxies Found
In a distant corner of the universe, a mere 13 billion light years away, scientists have found four “ultra-red” galaxies. These galaxies are some of the earliest to form after the big bang. Their ultra-redness may be accounted for by their extreme distance, a large amount of dust surrounding the galaxies, and that the galaxies may be made up mostly of red stars… or a combination of all three.
Quantum entanglement is a mysterious phenomenon where two objects, once entangled, they behave the same way and what happens to one object will immediately happen to another object, even if the two objects are separated by millions of light years. Until recently, scientists had only been able to entangle tiny particles, like photons. This week research was published that showed that scientists were able to entangle two millimeter-sized diamonds. The two objects were only entangled for 7 picoseconds, but they were entangled nonetheless. Oh yeah, they managed to entangle the diamonds at room temperature, which is also a first. Normally, entangling objects requires extremely cold temperatures. This is what will hopefully be just the first step in being able to entangle large objects for long periods of time, which will lead to better supercomputers, as well as unraveling the mysteries of the universe.
If you’ve been on any science-related website in the last 24 hours, you’ve inevitably heard about Kepler-22b, the most earth-like planet we’ve found so far. The planet is 2.4 times the size of earth, so it is considerably bigger, and it also sits closer to its star than we sit to the sun. However, Kepler-22b’s star is much smaller, dimmer, and cooler than the sun, so the temperature on the surface of Kepler-22b is estimated at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. From here, researchers will inevitably try to determine the makeup of the planet, and possibly try to determine the make-up of the atmosphere, which is no small feat since Kepler-22b is 600 light years, or more than 3.5 quadrillion miles, away.
Breaking Physics… Again
The lab that produced the neutrinos that traveled faster than light reproduced its findings the other day. This time they controlled for a possible error, so that’s one less reason that their findings are wrong. However, an Italian lab is disputing this whole faster-than-light problem by saying that the first lab failed to account for the neutrinos’ energy properly. So, for now we’re still stuck debating the question as to whether or not the speed of light can be broken.
Engineering the Heaviest Element
Two teams of scientists are both trying to create the heaviest elements ever by firing titanium beams at a wafer of berkelium. The premise is that the 22 protons in titanium will mesh with berkelium’s 97 protons to create the new element 119. However, detecting that element could be difficult, since element 118 lasted only 1.8 milliseconds and element 119 isn’t expected to last that long before decaying.
Probing Mars for Life
The curiosity rover launched Saturday and will probe Mars for signatures of life. The rover won’t reach Mars until August 2012. Once it’s there it will use the most sophisticated tools ever used on the Martian surface to help scientists better understand Mars’ geography and see if life was once feasible on the red planet.
Everyday scientists are finding new planets, called exoplanets, which may have the ability to harbor life. While most of these exoplanets are gas giants, like Jupiter, earth-like rock planets and moons of gas giants are being discovered more frequently. So, with all of these discoveries, how can we narrow down which planets are most likely to have signatures of life? Leave that to astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch. In a recent interview, he outlined a two dimensional plan to map the likelihood of finding life on possible planets.
The first dimension is called the Earth Similarity Index… which, just as it sounds, compares newly found planets to earth in terms of size, whether or not there is water, proximity to a star, and atmosphere. The second dimension is called the Planetary Habitability Index. This index takes into account the idea that life may not need earth-like conditions to exist. For example, Jupiter’s larges moon Titan has oceans of methane. Titan has a high score on the PHI because life may be able to utilize methane the way life on our planet utilizes water.
As technology becomes more advanced and we start exploring these exoplanets, I think it’s only a matter of time until we find signatures of life on other planets.
Justin Hall is trying to solve our big, big energy problems by going very, very… small. Hall gathered some of the best and brightest scientists from around the globe to find cheap, flexible solutions to the energy problems plaguing the globe. At a TED conference, Hall presented his work. You should definitely check the video out. It’s remarkable.
Now, whether or not Hall’s solutions will be adopted on a grand scale is another matter entirely. For whatever reason, cutting edge energy solutions have been hard to find adopters. Maybe Hall’s solutions will be different… but only time will tell.
Entropy is, in short, a measure of how ordered things are in the universe. The universe is continually moving toward a less ordered universe. Entropy may also be the reason that we experience time, as the change in entropy is the only change that distinguishes the past from the present and the future. The video below gives a much better explanation:
Also, one of my favorite short stories, The Last Question, deals with the problem of entropy. I highly suggest you read it.
So now you know what the deal with entropy is, and why you experience time.
Strides are continuing to be made in the world of quantum computing. The most advanced quantum computer contains about 12 quibits… meaning it can hold 4096 pieces of data simultaneously. So how does quantum computing work? With normal computers, a bit may be represented by a group of electrons. In a quantum computer, information is stored by a single particle, maybe just a single electron. Because the rules of quantum mechanics dictate that a single particle can be in two places at once, that single particle can store two pieces of information. Information is exchanged by hitting these particles with microwaves. Because they can hold twice as much information, quantum computers can perform calculations much faster. As a result, quantum computing will wind up pushing the current limits of computing power.
Well, that didn’t take long. The Dept of Defense is already planning a new initiative to cut down on new space debris. I guess they took that report seriously. The new initiative would work by launching new satellites without heavier parts readily available from defunct satellites (like antennas). This would allow satellites to be launched with less weight, reducing transportation costs, materials costs, and the amount of stuff going into space. While this doesn’t solve the problem of all the stuff that’s up there now, at least we’re reducing the number of new things we’re sending up.
Scientists also managed to figure out an 2,000 year old mystery this week. The mystery centered around a supernova (the explosion resulting from a giant star) witnessed 2,000 years ago by the Chinese. When modern scientists went to look for this supernova they found the remnant was much bigger than it should have been. Supernovas usually only occur from the deaths of larger stars after they collapse in on themselves. Smaller stars become extremely dense and turn into white dwarfs which burn small and hot for a long, long time. In this particular instance, the star had become a white dwarf. However, after it stole material from a nearby star, it destabalized and exploded violently, causing the huge remnant.
You may or may not have heard. A satellite is about to crash land on earth. No, not the UARS satellite; there’s another one. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two falling satellites in a one month span. You may be wondering why, all of a sudden, space junk is endangering our lives. The simple answer is, because there’s a lot of it. There are 22,000 pieces of useless space junk that are big enough to be tracked from earth. In addition to those, there are more than 100,000 pieces of stuff bigger than 1 cm. That might not seem big, but when it’s moving at hundreds or thousands of miles per hour, it can certainly do some damage. The picture to the left, by the European Space Operations Centre, shows how big this problem really is.
According to a report released in September, the problem is now at the tipping point. If we don’t do something soon, the space clutter could pose extreme threats to working satellites (which control GPS, Cell Phones, and anyone who has a satellite dish for cable), future space missions, and us here on the ground. Imagine if something the size of a school bus, traveling at over 15,000 mph, slammed into a sky scraper. The odds aren’t good, but it could certainly happen. The European Space Operations Centre also released an image of what space will look like if we curb the problem vs. if we continue on our current path:
In the mean time, keep an eye on the sky for a giant satellite.
Image Credits: http://www.universetoday.com/13587/space-debris-illustrated-the-problem-in-pictures/