Being able to report science news of the magnitude that we did earlier this week is incredible. Science geeks all over the world speculated rabidly and awaited Monday’s announcement like it was Christmas, which it was, and then some. The only problem with such news — and I’m not complaining, mind you — is that the science news that comes after it may seem a bit less momentous. Not every discovery can be the Holy Grail, though, and of course every discovery about our planet and our universe matters. In the grand scheme of things, we still know far, far less than what we don’t know, and there are even more things we don’t know we don’t know. Such is the awesomeness of space, which has given us a few other amazing stories this week, including the news that there’s a star cluster currently barreling through the cosmos in our direction.
As Carl Sagan always said, “We’re made of star-stuff.” That’s because dying stars explode, expelling stardust — which scientists now know contains water in addition to carbon and other organic, life-promoting compounds — throughout the galaxy. In fact, some scientists believe that the universe may have been created when a massive, four-dimensional star went supernova, shedding its outer layers while its inner layers collapsed into a black hole. But supernovae remain somewhat elusive, especially when it comes to the details of the explosion. Until, that is, they are seen with a special telescope. A study published today in Nature by an international team of scientists provides new information about what happens inside a dying star.
Computer simulations have shown that stars won’t explode if they retain their perfectly round shape, so astronomers knew that something else had to be happening. They had some ideas about what that might be, but until now they haven’t been able to determine which, if any, were accurate. NASA’s NuSTAR (nuclear spectroscopic telescope array) telescope, housed at Caltec, enabled scientists to map radioactive material in the remnants of supernova Cassiopeia A. The telescope provided the first ever glimpse at the high-energy X-rays generated by a dying star.
Scientists like to debate theories about aliens — are they out there? Where? Which planets are most likely to harbor life? If aliens are out there, why haven’t they contacted us? The truth is, no one really knows, and no one will until we come into contact with alien life (and unless, but I think this is a “when,” not an “if,” proposition). Especially intelligent alien life, which the chief astronomer from SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) predicts will happen around 2040.
I first became aware of SETI the same way as many people — by downloading the SETI@home screensaver that helps analyze radio signals. That program has now been augmented by setiQuest, which taps into the global community via a bunch of cool apps, such as the SETIsyncProb that allows users to sync radio wave detection ranges with the lifespan of those ranges to generate a “snapshot” of radio wave activity. SETI was one of the first programs ever designed to use and demonstrate the effectiveness of volunteer brainpower — it’s kind of like crowdsourcing, except easier (at least the screensavers are). But thus far, all those computers and all those radio waves analyzed by SETI and its volunteers have turned up nothing. Lack of evidence isn’t proof of nonexistence, though — far from it. And the better astronomers get at identifying and scanning star systems, the more likely it is that they’ll find something.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a gift that keeps on giving. The number of cosmic discoveries scientists have made with the help of the Hubble keeps growing, and each addition more awesome than the last. Recently, astronomers at the Keck observatory in Hawaii confirmed the Hubble’s discovery of the oldest and most distant galaxy known to man. So far, anyway.
The z8_GND_5296 galaxy—which I’ll refer to as the Gandalf galaxy, since it clearly needs a catchier name—has a mass of about one billion suns, less than two percent of that of the Milky Way, but it seems to be popping out stars like it’s received the best fertility treatments ever. Gandalf produces about 330 solar masses each year, which is approximately 100 times more than the Milky Way. Scientists believe this production may be related to the Gandalf’s high gas content, or that it might be hoovering the excess gas that exists in the interstitial spaces between galaxies.
It was only a matter of time before people decided they’d rather wear a smartphone than put one in their pocket. Sure, there’s Google Glass, but people (and dogs) look pretty silly wearing those. Eventually, smart technology will be implanted into us so we never have to go without, but in the interim, putting those features into a wristwatch makes a lot of sense.
I’ll admit it, I love the commercial — the skipping back and forth between “real” people and their fictional counterparts adds a whimsy that prevents Samsung from seeming too full of themselves. I mean, David Hasselhoff’s got a smartwatch — that in itself is a huge selling point. In Germany.