The universe will end in a vacuum, a false vacuum

Tuesday, 25 October, 2016

Well, this is cheery. A false vacuum may bring about the destruction of the universe. And there’d be no warning that the end was nigh. The only upside is that the process can’t move any faster than the speed of light. So it may be billions of years, if ever, before the entire cosmos succumbs to a false vacuum.

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There’s a mere two trillion galaxies in the night sky. Possibly

Wednesday, 19 October, 2016

A paper recently published in the Astrophysical Journal suggests there may be ten times more galaxies in the universe than was thought. That would make for two trillion of them, including our family of stars, the Milky Way. Incredible.

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Is there life on Proxima b? Is there extraterrestrial life anywhere?

Friday, 26 August, 2016

It’s official. Apparently. It wasn’t on Tuesday, though. The existence of an exoplanet, known as Proxima b, that is located within the habitable zone of the Proxima Centauri solar system, that is situated about four light years from Earth.

So, might there be life of some sort there? For that matter, might there be life anywhere, beyond our solar system? Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at SETI Research, discusses the possibility.

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Are aliens trying to extinguish a star so we can’t see them?

Thursday, 11 August, 2016

Tabby’s Star, or KIC 8462852, to use its Kepler Input Catalog title, has been making headlines in recent months, on account of mysterious fluctuations in its brightness. Explanations have varied. Some astronomers think a swarm of comets orbit the star, dimming its light.

Others have suggested a Dyson Sphere, a large, artificial, structure that harnesses a star’s energy, may be present. Something that would point to the presence of extraterrestrial life. Further recent research into the star’s unusual behaviour, concludes that yes, the star is acting strangely, but still no reason is forthcoming.

Michael Byrne, writing for Motherboard, may have stumbled upon the answer, though. An alien intelligence is, you see, trying to extinguish the star:

Knowing that aliens are succeeding in quenching KIC 8462852 at a rate of approximately .34 percent per year, we have to ask why they are shutting down a primary energy source. The obvious answer is that they’ve realized that we Earthlings are on to them and are reentering this dimension via a sort of astroengineered “death star” portal-vessel to deal with the perceived threat (us!), but given that KIC 12557548’s distance from Earth is over 2,000 light-years, we have to ask how they would even know? How aliens determined that they were being observed by humans before humans even had telescopes or cars will without a doubt be the astrophysical mystery of the coming decades.

Remember, you heard it here first.

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Life on Earth is premature, that’s why we’re alone in the cosmos

Thursday, 4 August, 2016

Since the Fermi Paradox intrigues me. Life on Earth is premature. A fluke perhaps. The universe is still relatively young, that’s why we haven’t detected signs of intelligent life elsewhere.

If we compare the present age of the universe, against its projected lifespan, possibly twenty trillion years, then it has an age comparable to an eighteen day old child, who would be expected to live for seventy years. Eighteen days. That’s pretty young. The cosmos isn’t yet mature enough to be teeming with life.

The dominant factor proved to be the lifetimes of stars. The higher a star’s mass, the shorter its lifetime. Stars larger than about three times the sun’s mass will expire before life has a chance to evolve. Conversely, the smallest stars weigh less than 10 percent as much as the Sun. They will glow for 10 trillion years, giving life ample time to emerge on any planets they host. As a result, the probability of life grows over time. In fact, chances of life are 1000 times higher in the distant future than now.

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There’s more science to a cup of coffee than meets the eye

Tuesday, 19 July, 2016

The Melbourne based Australian Coffee Science Lab, headed up by Dr Monika Fekete, is dedicated to improving the coffee roasting and brewing process. Yet better coffee is on the way.

“Science is very good at finding cause and effect,” Dr Fekete says. “You make a perfect cup or a perfect roast, but it’s a bit of luck, a matter of trial and error. By doing coffee science, we’re taking some of the guesswork and mystery out of making good coffee.”

I wonder if they have any vacancies for field testers?

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Take one swimming pool. Add dry ice. What do you get?

Wednesday, 25 May, 2016

I’m not sure what drew me to this experiment. That it was being conducted by someone, Taras Kul, calling himself the CrazyRussianHacker, or that it involved throwing dry ice into a swimming pool. It’s something I must try one day.

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When it comes to ageing, it’s about physics not biology

Monday, 16 May, 2016

Now I wish I had paid more attention in my physics classes… is ageing a function of biology, or rather physics? It seems it might be the latter, as opposed to the former.

This tendency is codified in the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that everything ages and decays: Buildings and roads crumble; ships and rails rust; mountains wash into the sea. Lifeless structures are helpless against the ravages of thermal motion. But life is different: Protein machines constantly heal and renew their cells. In this sense, life pits biology against physics in mortal combat. So why do living things die? Is aging the ultimate triumph of physics over biology? Or is aging part of biology itself?

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2016 has been a bumper year for exoplanets and it’s only May

Thursday, 12 May, 2016

1284 exoplanets, found by by the Kepler Space Telescope, have been validated as being the real deal so far this year. I’m not sure if they were all discovered in 2016 though, but you have wonder what the tally might be by the end of the year. There sure are a lot of planets out there.

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Carbon dioxide count soon to reach new, unsettling, milestone

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016

The atmosphere of our planet could be confirmed as containing 400 parts of carbon dioxide per million within a matter of weeks, a level from which they may be no return, and something that is likely to see temperatures continue to rise.

While the 400 figure is in itself of no particular note, compared with 399 or 401, it was a marker likely to carry important symbolism. “People react to these things when they see thresholds crossed,” Dr Etheridge said. While the fraction may seem small, it is 0.04 per cent of the atmosphere. By comparison, a similar level of alcohol would be close to the legal driving limit in Australia. “These things act at low concentrations,” he said, noting that ozone-destroying chemicals at levels of parts per trillion were enough to damage that important component of the atmosphere.

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