New Video On Quantum Supremacy!

In October 2019, a team of researchers used a 53-qubit quantum computer to solve a complicated problem in just three minutes (and change) that they alleged would take a normal, “classical” computer some 10,000 years to solve. With speed-ups like that, it’s no stretch to say that a concept known as Quantum Supremacy has been achieved.

But is that truly what happened? The problem that they solved efficiently with a quantum computer isn’t useful in any way; it was specifically chosen precisely because it’s a problem that is extremely difficult and computationally intensive to solve for a classical computer, while being computationally “easy” for a quantum computer. Moreover, IBM disputed the 10,000 year figure, claiming that their Summit supercomputer, a powerful classical computer with some 250 Petabytes (!!) of storage, could solve that problem in under 3 days.

Has Quantum Supremacy actually been achieved? Find out in this new, bonus video that Dr. Laura Manenti (a recent podcast guest) and I created together!

This Is How Distant Galaxies Recede Away From Us At Faster-Than-Light Speeds

“All the galaxies in the Universe beyond a certain distance appear to recede from us at speeds faster than light. Even if we emitted a photon today, at the speed of light, it will never reach any galaxies beyond that specific distance. It means any events that occur today in those galaxies will not ever be observable by us. However, it’s not because the galaxies themselves move faster than light, but rather because the fabric of space itself is expanding.

In the 7 minutes it took you to read this article, the Universe has expanded sufficiently so that another 15,000,000 stars have crossed that critical distance threshold, becoming forever unreachable. They only appear to move faster than light if we insist on a purely special relativistic explanation of redshift, a foolish path to take in an era where general relativity is well-confirmed. But it leads to an even more uncomfortable conclusion: of the 2 trillion galaxies contained within our observable Universe, only 3% of them are presently reachable, even at the speed of light.

If we care to explore the maximum amount of Universe possible, we cannot afford to delay. With each passing moment, another chance for encountering intelligent life forever slips beyond our grasp.”

If you look at a galaxy, chances are you’ll see that it appears to be receding away from us, as its light is redshifted. The more distant you look, the greater the redshift, and hence, the faster the implied recession speed. But this interpretation runs into problems very quickly: by the time you’re looking at galaxies more than 13-to-15 billion light-years away, they start to appear as though they’re receding faster than the speed of light!

Impossible, you say? Sure, if you only consider special relativity. If you insist on general relativity, it all falls into place. Here’s how.

What Really Put The ‘Bang’ In The Big Bang?

So what is it that put the “bang” in the hot Big Bang? It’s the end of inflation. There is a state prior to the start of the hot Big Bang that set it up and provided it with the initial conditions of being spatially flat, the same energy density everywhere, always below a certain threshold temperature, and uniform with quantum fluctuations superimposed atop it on all scales.

When this inflationary state ended, the process of cosmic reheating transformed that energy — which had previously been inherent to the fabric of space itself — into particles, antiparticles and radiation. That transition is what put the “bang” in the hot Big Bang, and led to the birth of the observable Universe as we know it. The details of this were first worked out in the 1980s, back when inflation was just a theoretical idea, and have been confirmed by observations taken in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. For decades, scientists have known what put the “bang” in the Big Bang. At last, now the general public can share in that knowledge, too.

Last week, a story came out that claimed to discover what put the “bang” in the Big Bang. Only, the actual study talked about what occurs in a conflagration or an explosion, which is completely unrelated to anything that occurs in the earliest moments of the hot, dense state that kicked off our Universe as we know it. Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder about what put the “bang” in the Big Bang; this is something scientists have known for decades.

The answer? It’s the cosmic reheating that occurs at the end of inflation that gives rise to the first moments of the hot Big Bang. Come get the real, hype-free story today.

This Is Why Dark Energy Is The Biggest Unsolved Problem In The Universe

“The true fact of the matter is that, observationally, dark energy is behaving as though it’s a form of energy inherent to the fabric of space itself. WFIRST, NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission of the 2020s (after James Webb), should allow us to reduce the measured constraints on w down to the 1-or-2% level. If it still looks indistinguishable from a cosmological constant (with w = -1) then, we’ll have no choice but to reckon with the quantum vacuum itself.

Why does empty space have the properties that it does? Why is the zero-point energy of the fabric of the Universe a positive, non-zero value? And why does dark energy have the behavior we observe it to have, rather than any other?

There are an infinite number of models we can cook up to describe what we see, but the simplest model — of a non-zero cosmological constant — requires no additions or modifications to match the data. Until we make progress on understanding the quantum vacuum itself, dark energy will remain the biggest unsolved puzzle in all of modern theoretical physics.”

Since 1998, astronomers have known that the Universe isn’t just expanding, but that the more distant a galaxy gets from us, the faster it appears to recede away from us. The reason for this isn’t because of motion, but rather because there’s more than just matter and radiation in the Universe; there’s also a form of energy that appears to be inherent to space itself: dark energy.

While it may be theoretically fashionable to concoct new fields, modifications to gravity, or other forms of new physics, it’s unnecessary. What we really need to do is understand the quantum vacuum, and we don’t. Here’s the story so far.

This One Distant, Red, Gas-Free Galaxy Defies Astronomers’ Expectations

“When two similarly-sized galaxies merge, it triggers a starburst: a massive formation of new stars. Under the right circumstances, some gas will form stars while the remainder is expelled, lost forever to the intergalactic medium. Once the gas for forming new stars is used up, the galaxy simply ages as the bluest, most massive stars die off. Over billions of years, only the redder, dimmer, lower mass stars remain.”

In astronomy, young galaxies actively form stars, and glow bright blue through the process. Only after many billions of years and at least one cataclysmic event do galaxies settle down into a gas-free, red state, once all the bluer stars have died out. “Red and dead” galaxies appear in the late Universe, normally as giant elliptical galaxies that lost their gas aeons ago.

Which is why this one galaxy is so puzzling: it’s red, dead, massive and compact, but it’s also sending us its light from 10.8 billion years ago!

How did this galaxy get so old-looking when it’s actually so young? The mystery continues, but here’s what we know so far.

The Science Of Why 5G Is (Almost) Certainly Safe For Humans

“Finally, the benefits that 5G will bring to society in the coming decade are truly revolutionary. In addition to the accelerated speeds that regular consumers will see, laying the infrastructure for 5G will enable civilization-changing smart technologies and a virtually unlimited number of device connections. 5G will enable blossoming technologies that rely on connectivity to the internet to go widespread, from connected self-driving cars to smart plugs, lights, cameras, toothbrushes, thermostats, healthcare monitoring devices and more. The Internet of Things is coming, and 5G is the technology that will take it mainstream.

There are lots of real hazards out there in the world, but 5G — much like vaccines, fluoridated drinking water, and the vapor trails left by airplanes — aren’t among them. In the search for truth, society should rely on the full suite of scientific evidence, rather than fear or ideology, to guide us. When we do, all of us can reap the benefits of a safe, connected world.”

Remember how big of a leap it was when we transitioned from 3G to 4G technologies? The jump from text and SMS messaging to streaming online video represented a factor of ~500 improvement in bandwidth, and the jump to 5G should not only give us an additional factor of 100, but should enable billions of additional connected devices. The Internet of Things is coming, and 5G is the technology that will bring it to fruition.

But is it safe for humans? Although there’s a lot of fearmongering and conspiracy theorizing surrounding it, there’s an awful lot of science, too. Here’s why it indicates that 5G is almost certainly safe for humans.

Happy Halloween from Starts With A Bang!

And Ethan’s 2019 costume is… DEKU! Izuku Midoriya!

Happy Halloween from your future #1 hero and symbol of peace, aged up from his teenage beginnings to full adulthood.

Details include freckles, green beard/mustache/eyebrows, bodysuit with the left sleeve missing (blown off from a fight), right arm in a sling (because he’s still reckless), saddlebags (to give out Halloween candy) on a belt (check out the buckle; it says “Deku” in Japanese), and ultra-light shoes.

It was the perfect costume to create as I recover from my shoulder surgery 11 weeks ago.

You, too, can be a hero.

Goodbye ‘Oumuamua, Hello Borisov; This Is What Two Interstellar Interlopers Can Teach Us

“The most interesting aspect of what we know so far about interstellar objects is how different the first two, ‘Oumuamua and Borisov, truly are from one another. There are a number of ways to form interstellar bodies: from failed star systems in star-forming regions, from ejected asteroids, from comets, and from collisional debris. We do not know how common or rare objects of all these different types are, nor how to definitively classify the ones we’ve seen so far, but hope is on the way. Beginning in the 2020s, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will come online, expected to uncover dozens of such objects by 2030.

What are the size and frequency distributions of the interstellar population? How old and/or weathered are they? Are they comet-like or asteroid like; volatile-rich or volatile-free, and do different classes of object originate from different regions in the sky? Are most small objects inactive while most large ones are active? With the tip of the interstellar iceberg uncovered, the answers to these questions and more are at last within our reach.”

In our solar system, asteroids, centaurs, comets, Kuiper belt and Oort cloud objects all have their own unique story, but possess many qualities common to each separate class. Occasionally, one of these objects will get ejected, where it will wander the Milky Way indefinitely, until it encounters another object.

Back in our Solar System, we’ve begun discovering and identifying objects in our neighborhood that originated from interstellar space. In 2017, ‘Oumuamua became the first, and it was extremely odd: small, elongated, and already on its way out. Our picture is now changing dramatically, as a second interstellar object, 2I/Borisov, was just discovered.

With its closest approach coming in early December, astronomers worldwide are getting ready. Here’s what we know so far.

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.

Niels Bohr

LIGO’s Lasers Can See Gravitational Waves, Even Though The Waves Stretch The Light Itself

“But this is where the puzzle comes in: if space itself is what’s expanding or compressing, then shouldn’t the light moving through the detectors be expanding or compressing too? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t the light travel the same number of wavelengths through the detector as it would have if the gravitational wave had never existed?

This seems like a real problem. Light is a wave, and what defines any individual photon is its frequency, which in turn defines both its wavelength (in a vacuum) and its energy. Light redshifts or blueshifts as the space it’s occupying stretches (for red) or contracts (for blue), but once the wave has finished passing through, the light returns to the same wavelength it was back when space was restored to its original state.

It seems as though light should produce the same interference pattern, regardless of gravitational waves.”

Have you ever thought about how gravitational wave detectors work? By passing light down two mutually perpendicular arms, reflecting them back and reconstructing an interference pattern, we can detect a passing wave by how it changes the arm-lengths of the light. But the light itself also gets compressed and expanded, and shouldn’t those effects cancel out?

Clearly, LIGO, Virgo and KAGRA all work, as many detected events bear out. But have you ever thought about how? Come get the answer today!