It seems that just about every week or so scientists are discovering something weird out there in space. Some of these discoveries are more exciting than others, i.e., finally discovering water ice on Mars or discovering a star that’s potentially the size of the orbit of Saturn. But then sometimes new discoveries come and go and few people pay attention to them. I would like to talk about one such discovery: the discovery of possible ocean waves on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Could these possible waves be caused by Titan’s winds or something else that lies beneath?
Astronomers announced Monday that they had discovered what may be one of the greatest triumphs in modern day observational astronomy – ripples in the fabric of space-time that are echoes of the massive expansion of the universe that took place just after the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago. Predicted by Albert Einstein nearly a century ago, the discovery of ripples, called gravitational waves, would provide evidence how the universe began and evolved into the countless galaxies and stars, dust, and vast stretches of empty space that make up the known universe.
Monday’s announcement was also to confirm the more recent theory of cosmic inflation – that when the universe was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, the infant cosmos expanded exponentially, inflating in size by 100 trillion times. This made the cosmos remarkably uniform across vast expanses of space and also energized tiny fluctuations in gravity, producing gravitational waves, undiscovered until now. The discovery was made by telescopes at the South Pole under the direction of John M. Kovac and a team of astronomers of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.
Cosmic Inflation now has the ‘smoking gun’.
“The minuscule ripples in space-time are the last prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1916 general theory of relativity to be verified. Until now, there has only been circumstantial evidence of their existence. The discovery also provides a deep connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics, another central pillar of physics.”(Stuart Clark)
Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., on March 17, 2014.
The measurements were taken using the BICEP2 instrument at the South Pole Telescope facility. Now we wait as the scientific community deliberates these findings and maybe, just maybe, we have confirmed more of Einstein’s brilliance.
Everyone has imagined how excited people would be if alien life were finally discovered. You’ve all seen those movies where one day a huge spaceship breaks through the clouds and imposes its presence on the world. I, for one, sometimes think what it would be like if I’m driving down the interstate and suddenly this enormous mothership slowly looms over the horizon. I’d hunch over my steering wheel and look up at the sky in shock, but then I’d immediately get mad at the other drivers because they would all pull over, or stop right there on the road, just so they can get out and look at it. “Come on, people. I’ve got places to be. Yeah, there’s a spaceship; let’s move on. I have to be at work in, like, five minutes.” Well, that’s if the aliens came knocking on our door. In reality, there are a few ways that scientists search for extraterrestrial life, e.g., searching for radio signals, laser signals, or evidence of neutrinos. And now we can add one more new way to search for alien life: analyzing for something called “dimers.”
“NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter’s watery moon”
(Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)
On March 4, 2014 Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, released a statement which includes, “In the coming year, we’ll build on our nation’s record of breathtaking and compelling scientific discoveries and achievements in space, with science missions that will reach far into our solar system, reveal unknown aspects of our universe and provide critical knowledge about our home planet. It includes funding for missions to Mars and the formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”
It looks as though we may finally go to a ‘local’ body that will hold many surprises and in astronomical distances Europa is so very close.
Europa is just begging us to visit and the Europa Clipper is one mission.
This artist’s impression of Europa makes the place look more exotic than Mars.
(Credit: Chris Weeks)