Category: space

10 Surprising Places In Space With The Right Raw Ingredients For Life

“Shortly after Earth first formed first formed, life quickly took hold, thriving ever since. Perhaps terrestrial life didn’t originate here, but arrived from elsewhere through natural processes. Surprisingly, the raw ingredients necessary for life exist almost everywhere astronomers look. Here are 10 locations where they’re ubiquitous.”

It’s not surprising to find that the ingredients for life are found in locations all over planet Earth. But what might be surprising is the sheer number and variety of places in the Universe, far beyond our planet, where the necessary raw ingredients are also found. I don’t just mean atoms, but complex organic molecules like ethyl formate, cyanopolyynes, fullerenes, amino acids, and even proteins. You can find them in meteorites, on Pluto, Mars, around newly forming stars, in reflection nebulae, in dark gas clouds in the galaxy, and even in the galactic center, among many other locations.

Here are 10 surprising places in space that all have the right raw ingredients for life. Perhaps, if the ingredients are all over, life in the Milky Way is, too.

Space Wasn’t Always A Big Place

“It’s true that we don’t know how large the unobservable part of the Universe truly is; it may be infinite. It’s also true that we don’t know how long inflation endured for or what, if anything, came before it. But we do know that when the hot Big Bang began, all the matter and energy that we see in our visible Universe today  all the stuff that extends for 46.1 billion light-years in all directions  must have been concentrated into a volume of around the size of a soccer ball.

For at least a short period of time, the vast expanse of space that we look out and observe today was anything but big. All the matter making up entire massive galaxies would have fit into a region of space smaller than a pencil eraser. And yet, through 13.8 billion years of expansion, cooling, and gravitation, we arrive at the vast Universe we occupy a tiny corner of today. Space may be the biggest thing we know of, but the size of our observable Universe is a recent achievement. Space wasn’t always so big, and the evidence is written on the Universe for all of us to see.”

If you take stock of our Universe as we see it today, you’ll find that it’s 46.1 billion light-years to the limits of what’s observable. Contained in that vast volume are some 2 trillion galaxies, typically containing hundreds of billions of stars apiece. And yet, if you think about our picture of the Big Bang, its tells us that all of this must have been smaller, hotter, and denser in the distant past.

It’s enough to make you wonder: by how much? How big a place was space in the early days? Luckily, physics, astronomy, and cosmology have the answers, and now so can you.

New Podcast: On The Origin Of Stars

One of the great challenges for astronomy is to determine, in gory detail, how stars are formed from a mere cloud of molecular gas and dust. Although the general picture is simple, where gravitational collapse leads to protostars that ignite nuclear fusion in their cores, the actual environments where these stars are born have many competing factors at play. Gravitational collapse is only one of them, joined by thermal heating and radiative cooling, magnetic fields and hydrodynamics, as well as stellar winds, ultraviolet radiation, and feedback from a variety of sources.

Here to help us disentangle what’s important, where, and when is Ph.D. candidate Mike Chen, an astrophysicist specialized in the formation of stars at the University of Victoria. If you’ve ever wondered how we actually form stars in our Universe, this edition of the Starts With A Bang podcast is for you!

No Galaxy Will Ever Truly Disappear, Even In A Universe With Dark Energy

“Today, at present, there are approximately 2 trillion galaxies contained within our observable Universe. Only about 6% of them are reachable by us, meaning that the other 94% will always appear as they were in the past; we’ll never see them as they exist 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, as that light will never reach us. But as time goes on, even more galaxies will be revealed, even though we’ll only ever see them in their cosmic infancy, bringing the total number of observable galaxies to around 4.7 trillion: more than double the number today.

All of these galaxies were once extremely close to us, and their light will eventually arrive at our eyes even as the Universe expands forever and ever. There is a limit to what we’ll someday be able to see, but we haven’t reached it yet. Moreover, nothing will truly disappear; the photons will just arrive more infrequently and with less energy. If we know what we’re looking for, those, the far-future Universe will not only remain observable, but we’ll be able to see more of it than ever before.”

As more time goes on, fewer and fewer galaxies become reachable. Even if we were to leave today at the speed of light, the overwhelming majority of galaxies in the Universe are inaccessible: we’d never reach them due to the expansion of space. Because of that, we’ll never see them as they are today; only as they were in the past. But they’ll never disappear from our view entirely. Not only will they always be observable, but we’ll be able to see progressively more and more of them as time goes on; the future volume of our cosmically observable Universe is 235% the size of its present volume.

Instead of 2 trillion galaxies in our observable Universe, the far future will see us have access to a total of 4.7 trillion, none of which will ever truly disappear. Even in a Universe with dark energy, the cosmos is still forever ours to explore.

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The Rosette Nebula NGC 2244 – 3 hours of exposure time

This Is Why Betelgeuse (Probably) Isn’t About To Explode

“Even though it’s unlikely that Betelgeuse is about to explode, we must keep in mind that this is both a possibility and an inevitability. When that finally does occur, it will become the most widely-viewed astronomical event in human history, visible to everyone on Earth over the course of a year or more at a time where more humans exist on Earth than ever before. It’s going to happen eventually, but probably not for somewhere around 100,000 years.

While you should absolutely go out and enjoy this unprecedentedly dim sight, as Betelgeuse is only ~36% as bright as it was a year ago, you must keep in mind that its current brightness variations are due to processes in its outermost layers alone, and have nothing to do with its core. Betelgeuse might go supernova at any time, but if it does, its correlation with this recent dimming event will be due to pure coincidence. What happens in the core doesn’t make it to the surface fast enough to give us any real, meaningful clues.”

Betelgeuse has gotten fainter and fainter over the past few months, moving from its position as one of the 10 brightest stars in the sky all the way down to the mid-20s, barely a third of its original brightness. At the same time, images of its shape have shown it changing unevenly over the course of merely a year. Betelgeuse has never appeared this faint to anyone alive today, and speculation is running rampant that it might go supernova at any point. But that’s not what we’d responsibly conclude based on astronomy at all. 

It’s extremely unlikely to go supernova, and this dimming event isn’t related to anything happening (or not happening) in Betelgeuse’s core at all. Here’s what’s really going on.

Will Humanity Achieve Interstellar Travel And Find Alien Life?

“All of this, together, points to a picture where a spacecraft or even a crewed journey to the stars is technologically within our reach, and where the discovery of our first world beyond the solar system with possible life on it could occur in a decade or two. What was once solely in the realm of science-fiction is quickly becoming possible due to both technical and scientific advances and the thousands of scientists and engineers who work to apply these new technologies in practical ways.

On February 5 at 7 PM ET (4 PM PT), Dr. Bryan Gaensler, director of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, will be delivering a public lecture at Perimeter Institute on exactly this topic. Titled Warp Drive and Aliens: The Scientific Perspective, it’s available to watch from anywhere on Earth, and I’ll be following along with a live-blog in real time…”

For as long as we’ve been looking up at the stars, we’ve wondered whether it will ever be possible to travel to one of them, and to perhaps discover another planet where life has taken hold. What’s been a mere sci-fi dream for humanity for most of our history at last, with 21st century technology, has the possibility of becoming a reality. 

Later today, Dr. Bryan Gaensler will be delivering a public lecture at Perimeter Institute that will be webcast in real-time all over the world, and you can follow along with my live-blog of his talk in real-time, too!

A rising Orion on a cold December night

These Are The Top 10 Hubble Images Of 2019

1.) Galaxy pair AM 2026-424. With two massive galaxies colliding head-on, an intermediate ring of blue stars appears before the inevitable final merger.”

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, providing humanity with unprecedented views of the Universe. Each and every year, with 2019 marking the 30th consecutive year, a series of images get produced that shed light on some aspect of our Universe in unprecedented fashion. Despite Hubble’s big gyroscope failure (and scare) at the end of last year, 2019 has turned out to be no exception, with 10 spectacular new images and 7 almost-as-spectacular honorable mentions.

There’s a great chance you missed most of these during the year, but now’s your opportunity to get the year’s Hubble highlights all in one place!

Your 2019 Holiday Gift Guide For Space, Astronomy, And Science Lovers

At The Edge Of Time, by Dan Hooper. This new book, out just a few weeks ago, is my favorite new science book of 2019. As a theoretical cosmologist, Dan is all the things I appreciate in a scientist who writes about his own research: he’s knowledgeable, comprehensive, and careful to get the details right. He has clear opinions and preferences, but is willing and able to push them aside in service of teaching the reader about the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of perspectives on a myriad of issues at the frontiers of physics.

If you’re mystified and curious about the mysteries of the Universe, including dark matter, dark energy, and cosmic inflation, and want a unique take on all of these puzzles with a peek behind how science-in-action works, you won’t want to miss this book. (I liked it so much that Dan is going to be my next upcoming guest on the Starts With A Bang podcast!)”

Do you love space, science, astronomy, physics, the Moon, and learning about the frontiers of what we know? Well, the holidays are coming up (today is Black Friday), and if that describes you or someone close to you in your life, here is a complete gift guide for the science enthusiast in your life.

With a total of 11 recommended books, a wall calendar, hats, accessories, and even a unique puzzle, you won’t want to miss this holiday gift guide!