We’ve all seen that vast black hole. Its six billion solar masses are so dense no light can escape. It is so far away light from hot gas falling in takes 55 million years to reach us. Well actually, we’ve seen an image. Now that we’ve seen it, what do we know now we didn’t […]
Tag Archives: astronomy
Black hole mystery finds an original solution
“BLACK HOLE MYSTERY” says the cover of a recent Scientific American. “The first supermassive black holes formed earlier than seems possible.” The author is Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan. “What are scientists missing?” the cover asks. Maybe the answer is: A grasp of quantum space and the topology of twist. It’s a massive problem in more […]
With a new way to measure space we may learn why it is expanding.
These are exciting times. Every few months astronomy surprises us with insights into ancient secrets. New telescopes are scanning galaxies throughout the visible universe. Most galaxies are mind-bogglingly far away. Exactly how far has long been a fundamental issue. But we just got a whole new way to measure it. Today the universe is much […]
There’s gold in them thar hills; and there’s much more where it came from.
In 1849, gold gave a kick start to the new State of California. Its non-native population grew 100-fold in a single year. Its miners soon took 300 tons of gold ($12 billion at today’s prices) from the ground. How did the gold get there? A few months ago, an extraordinary event—maybe the most widely studied […]
Until recently our cosmic neighborhood was growing faster than the speed of light. Now it’s run into a roadblock.
“From a physical point of view everything that is outside our neighborhood is pure extrapolation.” – Willem de Sitter (1932) Physics is coming up against two fundamental limits: It can never observe the biggest and the smallest things that it needs to study. Some seem satisfied this is the end of our search for ultimate […]
Things that go bump in the night: What happens when BIG black holes collide
Fifty years ago black holes were science fiction. Today they are observational physics and what we see is stranger than fiction. They send us messages about space and time. Black holes form when the matter of a star more massive than our Sun collapses under its own gravity. Other black holes may have formed in […]
Genius, Einstein and much ado about nothing: Let’s fix the fallacy of empty space
We think of space as empty. It’s not. Quite aside from stray hydrogen atoms and fleeting quantum particles in the vacuum, space is substantial. It has mass. Indeed Planck-satellite measurements now show space is three times denser than the average of the universe’s matter. Yet like the rest of us most physicists still treat space […]
Are we alone? Winston Churchill penned a scientific answer almost 80 years ago. New discoveries show he was right.
Is there life out there? has long been an issue. Recently the issue has been shifting to: How many planets harbour life? Winston Churchill (with whom I’m proud to share a publisher) was among the first to ask this question. In 1939—shortly before he became Prime Minister of Britain—he penned an unpublished work of careful […]
This physicist discovered four-fifths of all the matter in the universe but managed to miss out on a Nobel Prize
Vera Rubin was a very rare bird forty years ago: a female astronomer. Galaxies were her life’s work. In her day the notion that there are many galaxies outside our own was only a few decades old. Inspired by her ‘just plain old curiosity’, her PhD thesis suggested galaxies are not scattered randomly: they come […]