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  1. #1301
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    'They Are Already Here' starts with a total solar eclipse and a UFO. (Book Excerpt)
    Sarah Scoles, SPACE | 9 March 2020


    "They Are Already Here," by Sarah Scoles.
    (Image: © Pegasus Books)
    I've only seen a UFO once. And only for a second: It quickly turned into an IFO—an identified flying object. But the fleeting feeling that accompanied that fleeting unidentification stuck around for much longer.

    It happened on August 21, 2017, about 20 miles outside of Jackson, Wyoming. I'd been camping for two nights already with friends. As such, we were dirty and tired and often too cold or too hot. A creek rushed behind our tents, and we used it to filter water and cool the beer we'd snagged from the nearby ski town's ostentatiously wood-beamed liquor store.

    A hundred or so feet up the clearing, there was a guy in an RV who liked to shoot his gun at the mountainside. He didn't care that there was a total solar eclipse happening that day. In fact, he had driven up this rutted, rocky Forest Service road to get away from the phenomenon and from the swarm of wealthy tourists who'd invaded his town to see the moon cross in front of the sun in a pretty place.

    We did care, though. Which was why we left before dawn that morning, heading up Cow Creek Trail toward a high point called Cream Puff Peak, 6 miles away and at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation. We wanted to be alone and closer to the edge of Earth's atmosphere so that we could feel — even though it was 7.5 billion times untrue — that we were the only people on the whole planet, the only ones who could see this celestial event. It would be ours.

    We never found Cream Puff Peak, though, the trail seeming to twine differently from its path on the map. Instead, we settled onto an unnamed promontory a few minutes before Earth's only natural satellite started to slide in front of its only star. We ate cheese sticks and beef jerky and picked the chocolate out of trail mix, sticking our opaque eclipse glasses in front of our faces every so often to watch the sun's transmogrification into something other, as it dimmed and dimmed and dimmed, the moon biting Pac-Man chunks from it.

    The disappearance took a while. And, to be honest, it was boring at first. But then the air changed. It seemed — although air does not have a color — to be yellower, like it was its own transition lens. It got colder. The colors of the pines, the subalpine grasses, and the sky itself seemed matte, although I hadn't thought of them as glossy before. The scene became perspectiveless, depthless, like a flat medieval painting where everything is right in front of you.

    We each took out our jackets and shrugged them on. A few minutes later, we zipped them up. Our chatter — about how awesome jerky is, how Cream Puff was maybe that peak way across the valley (or maybe not), how far we'd come, how alone we were out here — had quieted. We sat down on the edge of the outcropping and looked up and around, silent except for an occasional "weird" or "wow," lost in our own internal experiences of the external universe.

    Finally, the moment of totality — when the moon completely blocks the sun — was upon us. I wrapped the arms of my eclipse glasses around my ears and looked exactly where, normally, you're not supposed to. The last crescent of sunlight was disappearing, and just before the moon notched and locked itself inside the sun's circle, a lens flare of light burst from the boundary. It's an event known as "the diamond ring."

    "Whaaaaaaaaat?" I said out loud. I yelled at my companions to put their glasses on. "It's happening," I said.

    The sky grew dark. A cold wind kicked up. The star that had risen and fallen every day of my life prior to that point wasn't there anymore. It had been replaced by something alien—which had, in turn, transformed the landscape into that of an exoplanet. Earth became a place I'd never lived but suddenly found myself, as if I'd been sucked up in a tractor beam and plunked down light-years away on someone else's home.

    The sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, which had existed right there the whole time but had remained invisible till now, wisped from the star's edges and licked at the center of the sky. Everything familiar felt deeply, deeply strange. During the few minutes of totality, its strangeness never became familiar.

    I felt like I did on my first scuba dive, or that time in college when I did mushrooms and stood crying in front of a purple flowering bush because purple was such a beautiful and unlikely color: The world had always been this amazing and weird, right underneath regular reality. And I had only just realized it.

    ***

    That's not my UFO story, although it probably primed me. The UFO showed up later that evening. When we descended from not-Cream-Puff, we drank our creek beers and sat around the dark fire pit that we weren't allowed to light up because Smokey said so. We relived the day ("Remember how you just said, 'Whaaaaaaat?'") before moving on to a discussion of what we'd do in the event of not-quite-apocalyptic nuclear war, which at the time didn't seem over-the-top unlikely.

    Finally, we stepped out from beneath our coniferous canopy to look up at the stars — all those other suns, orbited by all those other planets, whereon some other schmucks might be shivering and discussing the ineloquence of one of their companions during the eclipse of their own star.

    It was dark out there: dark-dark. And it was clear, the high, dry air of western Wyoming putting few molecular walls between us and the view. Here, too, we stayed pretty quiet, letting the stars' light flow into our eyes while we each thought our own thoughts.

    "There's a satellite," said my friend Tripp, a medical physicist who had recently declared that in the event of not-quite-apocalyptic nuclear war, he would go to the affected area and treat people. He pointed to a fast-moving dot tracing an arc between the stars.

    Before any of us could respond, the dot grew brighter. Light started coming from its edge. Right as my brain registered that change, the brightness swept down. Then it became a beam, searching. In a second, it was pointed straight at us.

    "Whaaaaaaaat?" we all said, involuntarily, in unison.

    It knows we're here, was my first involuntary thought. Terrestrial explanations then came quick: It was a Forest Service helicopter. It was the Jackson Hole police's rotorcraft. It was the military, checking on the throngs. It was some rich asshole on some rich asshole tour.

    But I knew — from the light's prior movement among the stars — that it was not a helicopter. And for the second or so when I was in its spotlight, there was a part of me (a part of me I didn't really want to acknowledge) that believed it was possible that maybe this was it. Those extraterrestrial UFOs I'd long — with my skeptic-minded science brain — said didn't exist? They were here now, and they knew I was here, and they wanted me to know that they knew that I was here.

    What if this, I thought, is the moment right before everything changes?

    It's a way I always feel when something in the world seems off, not unlike the way it did during the eclipse. When no one is out early on a Sunday morning, a part of me entertains the possibility that, five minutes from then, I'll find out 90 percent of everyone died overnight of a fast-working flu or a rapture. When my car won't start right away on a frigid winter morning, I wonder if I'm about to realize that this is due to is a widespread EMP attack. When the urgh-urgh-urgh of an emergency broadcast comes on the radio, my lizard brain decides this is the time the announcer will say, "Yeah, it's aliens."

    After all, most speculative or magical movies begin with a few before moments. Their characters live in the same grounded, rule-following world the audience does — until, all of a sudden, they don't. If you squint at things a certain way, it feels like that could happen to you too.

    Anyway, I felt for a second, almost against my will, like maybe this was my magical before. The world has seemed more full of this feeling than usual recently, as we wonder if we stand on the precipice of some dystopian moment — the point at which divisions become irreparable, democracy ends, privacy totally evaporates, and world wars almost begin.

    But just as quickly as we'd found ourselves standing in the seemingly sentient light, it was gone, the dot continuing on its path through the sky that now seemed stranger than ever, in this place that felt less alone than it had before.

    What was that, what was that, what was that, we all said to each other. We ran through our terrestrial ideas and laughed at the extra-terrestrial one. We were both unnerved and enervated by the Not Knowing.

    A minute later, I remembered what I knew: That Iridium communications satellites flare when they pass over, as the sun flashes against their shiny surfaces. If you're lucky enough to be under their path at the right angle, it always looks like they're staring right at you. The sight was a coincidence of timing and geography, just like the eclipse.

    Good, I thought, satisfied. An answer. I wouldn't have to tell anyone I'd seen something I couldn't explain. I wouldn't have to live with uncertainty. I wouldn't have to believe anything about anything. And this is the way I like it: Belief, and the idea that something might lie beyond investigation, feel anathema to me. Still, I had to admit that a current ran through my circulatory system when I thought that maybe — just maybe — I was wrong. After all, wasn't it beautiful, briefly, to think that underneath the world I knew well was another that I didn't get at all?
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  2. #1302
    Moderator at Work ilan's Avatar
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    Have the first proteins been found in meteorites?
    Paul Scott Anderson in SPACE | March 17, 2020

    Researchers say they’ve discovered the first complete proteins inside 2 meteorites. It’s tantalizing, since proteins play a key role in the cells of living creatures. But will the results hold up to scrutiny?


    The Allende meteorite, one of the two meteorites that scientists claim to have found proteins in. Image via Wikimedia Commons/ Popular Mechanics.
    Meteorites, or rocks from outer space, can contain valuable clues about how life began on Earth. Various organic molecules and even amino acids have often been found inside meteorites. Now, Harvard University researchers claim they’ve discovered the first-ever complete proteins in two meteorites. While this isn’t yet proof of life itself, proteins do play a key role inside the cells of living creatures. These recently found proteins are the most complex organic molecules found so far, if the results hold up to further scrutiny (already being debated).

    The intriguing discovery was first announced by Dan Robitski in an article for Futurism on February 27, 2020.

    The research paper was submitted to the preprint server arXiv on February 22, 2020, and it has yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a journal. The team included researchers from Harvard University and biotech companies PLEX Corporation and Bruker Scientific.

    The research team, led by Malcolm McGeoch of PLEX, found the protein – which they named hemolithin – inside two meteorites, Acfer 086 and Allende. Acfer 086 was found in Algeria in 1990 and Allende was discovered in Mexico in 1969. The researchers state that they are confident the proteins did not originate on Earth, saying:

    This is the first report of a protein from any extraterrestrial source.

    They also say that the building blocks of the proteins – amino acids – are chemically different from those on Earth, with isotopes indicating an extraterrestrial origin.

    Confirmation of a complete protein in a meteorite would be exciting. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, have been found in meteorites before, but this would be the first time that enough of them were found in a long enough chain to be considered a complete protein. Shorter chains of amino acids, typically less than 50, are called peptides.

    New types of amino acids had also been previously found in the Murchison meteorite, as reported in 2017, but they still didn’t form complete proteins.

    Vice also ran an article about the protein discovery on February 28, 2020, quoting study co-author Julie McGeoch, a molecular biologist at Harvard University:

    At this point, we need other scientists to employ our careful methods to repeat our results.

    Confirmation from other scientists, or not, will be important in follow-up studies. Only then will it be accepted as hard evidence of proteins being able to exist in meteorites or even other rocky extraterrestrial bodies as well.

    The reported discovery is not just happenstance, according to the researchers, but the result of more than ten years of study.

    McGeoch and his team wanted to see if they could isolate complete proteins from the meteorite samples, not just amino acids as had been found previously. If the findings are accurate, then it would seem they succeeded. The Bruker company provided “the very best mass spectrometry,” according to McGeoch.

    One concern that would come up, of course, would be whether the proteins could be the result of contamination from Earth. So how did the researchers determine whether that was the case or not?

    They calculated its deuterium/hydrogen ratio (D/H), the ratio between deuterium (heavy hydrogen, 2H) and hydrogen (1H) in natural waters and other fluids. According to the researchers, the analysis revealed “very high extraterrestrial D/H ratios.” That would suggest that the protein is much older than Earth, perhaps formed in the disk of dust and gas that surrounded the early sun as the solar system was first forming. It may even have originated earlier, in interstellar molecular clouds.

    Some meteorites have also been found to contain stardust grains – or presolar grains – tiny particles originating from interstellar gas before the sun first formed.

    The hemolithin is also interesting because it may able to split water into its separate oxygen and hydrogen molecules. That kind of splitting process is known to have helped life first develop on Earth. That capability of hemolithin is still speculation at this point, however, according to McGeoch:

    If true, this could be a chemical energy source, which is the most important ingredient for a biochemical process leading on to life.

    There is already some pushback on the claims, including from Regius Professor Lee Cronin, who stated on Twitter that the proteins are probably actually proteinoids, “protein-like, often cross-linked molecules formed abiotically from amino acids” that can form without any involvement of biology.

    If it is confirmed, however, that these meteorites contain actual proteins, that would have significant implications for the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, as well as for how life first originated on Earth. Meteorites rained down on the early Earth billions of years ago, bringing amino acids and other organic molecules with them. Just how this ties in with the development of life, or to what extent, still isn’t well understood. But if meteorites also provided proteins, that would certainly make things even more interesting.
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  3. #1303
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    What’s cool about Curiosity’s discovery of organic molecules on Mars
    Paul Scott Anderson in SPACE | March 19, 2020

    The Curiosity rover has found organic molecules called thiophenes, which, on Earth, are associated with biological systems. Are they evidence for once-living microbes on Mars?


    This is Mars, the planet next door, as seen through the robot eyes of the Curiosity rover. This is where the Curiosity rover found ancient organic molecules in Martian mudstones. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.
    The search for evidence of life on Mars, past or present, just took an interesting new twist. Researchers studying the data sent back by NASA’s Curiosity rover have found evidence for organic molecules called thiophenes, which, on Earth at least, are primarily a result of biological processes. The researchers are not claiming proof of life, but the discovery is certainly intriguing. The finding is being called “consistent with the presence of early life on Mars.”

    The findings were announced by researchers from Washington State University, and the peer-reviewed paper was published in the journal Astrobiology on February 24, 2020.

    On Earth, thiophenes are often found in coal, crude oil, kerogen and even a species of mushrooms called white truffles. They can also be found in stromatolites and microfossils. On Mars, they were found by Curiosity, along with other organics, in an ancient mudstone formation called the Murray Formation.

    The new paper explores some of the ways that thiophenes could be created on Mars, either biologically or abiotically (without life). As astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, one of the two authors, explained in a statement:

    We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof. If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher.
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    UFO fans recognize abduction claims on Extraterrestrial Abduction Day: Winnipeg UFOlogist
    Sam Thompson, Global News | March 20, 2020 4:11 pm


    - Chris Rutkowski, Canada's foremost UFO expert. John Woods / The Canadian Press / File
    Although the world is in a serious health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, March 20, for some people, commemorates another type of crisis entirely — although it’s one more frequently seen in science fiction.

    Extraterrestrial Abduction Day is an annual focus on those who claim to have had personal encounters with visitors from outer space. And while it’s easy to pass it off as comic book fantasy, a local UFO expert says these incidents have profound impacts on the claimants — whether they’re true or not.
    “We do get those reports from time to time that people have said they’ve been contacted directly by aliens,” science writer and ‘weirdologist’ Chris Rutkowski told 680 CJOB.

    “Some feel that they have been selected by creatures beyond this Earth to give us a message, or the aliens want to help humankind… and I have to say, if they really want to do that, this would be a time to give us a hand.”

    Rutkowski, who has written a number of books on the topic, said many of the people who claim to have been abducted are so adamant that it happened that it’s something that warrants research.

    “It’s an interesting phenomenon. Maybe it’s something as simple as misidentification of something else in their lives, but it’s a very profound experience, and the numbers of people having such experiences are very significant,” he said.

    “It’s the type of thing where it’s good to have fun with it, but remember at the back of it, there’s some seriousness in the sense that people really do experience these things and it’s rife for being studied by science.”
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    The 13 Most Fascinating Astronomy Facts
    From Florida Tech's Astronomy Website


    Black Hole Depiction


    1. Our Sun is one of over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and the Milky Way is one of over 100 million galaxies in the universe.


    2. The planet Saturn would float on water—it’s the only planet in our solar system that would.




    3. The black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is millions of times the mass of the Sun.


    4. The planet with the hottest surface temperature is not Mercury, but Venus, because of the Greenhouse Effect of its atmosphere.


    5. Earth is the only known planet with plate tectonics.


    6. The Sun’s core releases energy equivalent to 100 billion nuclear bombs per second, and that energy travels thousands of years through its layers before it is emitted as heat and light to power the solar system.




    7. Only one two-billionth of the Sun’s energy hits the Earth.


    8. A car ride to the nearest star at 70 miles per hour would last over 356 billion years.


    9. Ninety-five percent of the matter in the universe is either dark matter or dark energy that can’t be detected.


    10. Venus spins backward on its axis compared to all the other planets in our solar system.


    11. The other galaxies in the universe are moving away from us, and some are millions of light-years away.




    12. Neutron stars, which are leftover from the deaths of massive stars in supernova explosions, are so dense that just a bowlful of neutron star material has more mass than the Moon.


    13. Neutron stars also spin up to 500 times per second and are some of the fastest-spinning objects known to astronomers.

    __________________________________________

    I added the images to spice things up a bit. - ilan
    Last edited by ilan; 03-23-2020 at 12:49 PM.
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    Moderator at Work ilan's Avatar
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    Mizar and Alcor, famous double star
    Bruce McClure in ASTRONOMY ESSENTIALS | BRIGHTEST STARS | March 25, 2020

    Mizar and its fainter companion star Alcor are easy to spot in the Big Dipper’s handle.


    Mizar and Alcor. Image via F. Espenak/astropixels.

    Mizar and its fainter companion star Alcor are one of the most famous double stars in the sky. You’ll spot Mizar first, as the middle star of the Big Dipper’s handle. Look closely, and you’ll see Alcor right next to Mizar.

    Mizar and Alcor appear so closely linked in our sky’s dome that they’re often said to be a test of eyesight. But in fact even people with less than perfect eyesight can see the two stars, especially if they’re looking in a dark clear sky. This pair of stars in the Big Dipper’s handle is famously called “the horse and rider.” If you can’t see fainter Alcor with the unaided eye, use binoculars to see Mizar’s nearby companion.

    Mizar is perhaps the Big Dipper’s most famous star, glorified in the annals of astronomy many times over. Apart from Alcor, Mizar in itself became known a double star in 1650. In fact, it was the first double star to be seen through a telescope.

    Few, if any, astronomers back then even dreamed that double stars were anything other than chance alignments of physically unrelated stars. Yet, in 1889, an instrument called a spectroscope revealed that Mizar’s brighter telescopic component consisted of two stars – making Mizar the first binary star ever discovered by spectroscopic means.

    At a later date, Mizar’s dimmer telescopic component also showed itself to be a spectroscopic binary, meaning that Mizar consists of two sets of binaries – making it a quadruple star.

    As for Alcor, it was long believed that Mizar and Alcor were not gravitationally bound and did not form a true binary star system. In 2009, though, two groups of astronomers independently reported that Alcor actually is itself a binary, consisting of Alcor A and Alcor B. Astronomers now believe that the Alcor binary system is gravitationally bound to the Mizar quadruple system – making six stars in all, where we see only two with the eye.

    Thus Mizar and Alcor not only test eyesight, but the limits of our technological vision as well.

    Bottom line: Famous double stars Mizar and Alcor are easy to find in the handle of the Big Dipper. Mizar is really four stars, and Alcor is really two stars. So what we see as two stars are really six in one!
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    Quasar tsunamis rip across galaxies
    EarthSky Voices in SPACE | March 27, 2020

    Astronomers using the Hubble Telescope found that the region around a quasar’s black hole pushes out material at a few percent the speed of light. These quasar tsunamis wreak havoc on the galaxies in which the quasars live.


    Artist’s concept of a distant quasar. They’re thought to have supermassive black holes at their cores; they generate energy via infalling matter. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered that radiation pressure from a supermassive black hole pushes material away from its galaxy’s center at a fraction of the speed of light. The quasar winds are propelling hundreds of times our sun’s mass outward every year, affecting the whole galaxy as the material snowplows into surrounding gas and dust. Image via NASA/ ESA/ J. Olmsted/ HubbleSite.
    A series of six papers published in March 2020 in the peer-reviewed Astrophysical Journal Supplements outlines this new research. Ann Jenkins and Ray Villard, both of HubbleSite, explain.

    Using the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers has discovered the most energetic outflows ever witnessed in the universe. They emanate from quasars and tear across interstellar space like tsunamis, wreaking havoc on the galaxies in which the quasars live.

    Quasars are extremely remote celestial objects, emitting exceptionally large amounts of energy. Quasars contain supermassive black holes fueled by infalling matter that can shine 1,000 times brighter than their host galaxies of hundreds of billions of stars.

    As the black hole devours matter, hot gas encircles it and emits intense radiation, creating the quasar. Winds, driven by blistering radiation pressure from the vicinity of the black hole, push material away from the galaxy’s center. These outflows accelerate to breathtaking velocities that are a few percent of the speed of light. Principal investigator Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, said:

    No other phenomenon carries more mechanical energy. Over the lifetime of 10 million years, these outflows produce a million times more energy than a gamma-ray burst. The winds are pushing hundreds of solar masses of material each year. The amount of mechanical energy that these outflows carry is up to several hundreds of times higher than the luminosity of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

    The quasar winds snowplow across the galaxy’s disk. Material that otherwise would have formed new stars is violently swept from the galaxy, causing star birth to cease. Radiation pushes the gas and dust to far greater distances than scientists previously thought, creating a galaxy-wide event.

    As this cosmic tsunami slams into interstellar material, the temperature at the shock front spikes to billions of degrees, where material glows largely in X-rays, but also widely across the light spectrum. Anyone witnessing this event would see a brilliant celestial display. Arav said:

    You’ll get lots of radiation first in X-rays and gamma rays, and afterwards it will percolate to visible and infrared light. You’d get a huge light show – like Christmas trees all over the galaxy.

    Numerical simulations of galaxy evolution suggest that such outflows can explain some important cosmological puzzles, such as why astronomers observe so few large galaxies in the universe, and why there is a relationship between the mass of the galaxy and the mass of its central black hole. This study shows that such powerful quasar outflows should be prevalent in the early universe. Cosmologist Jeremiah P. Ostriker, of Columbia University in New York and Princeton University in New Jersey, commented:

    Both theoreticians and observers have known for decades that there is some physical process that shuts off star formation in massive galaxies, but the nature of that process has been a mystery. Putting the observed outflows into our simulations solves these outstanding problems in galactic evolution.

    Astronomers studied 13 quasar outflows, and they were able to clock the breakneck speed of gas being accelerated by the quasar wind by looking at spectral “fingerprints” of light from the glowing gas. The Hubble ultraviolet data show that these light absorption features created from material along the path of the light were shifted in the spectrum because of the fast motion of the gas across space. This is due to the Doppler effect, where the motion of an object compresses or stretches wavelengths of light depending on whether it is approaching or receding from us.

    Aside from measuring the most energetic quasars ever observed, the team also discovered another outflow accelerating faster than any other. It increased from nearly 43 million miles per hour (70 million kilometers per hour) to roughly 46 million mph (74 million kph) in a three-year period. The scientists believe its acceleration will continue to increase over time. Team member Gerard Kriss of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, said:

    Hubble’s ultraviolet observations allow us to follow the whole range of energy output from quasars, from cooler gas to the extremely hot, highly ionized gas in the more massive winds. These were previously only visible with much more difficult X-ray observations. Such powerful outflows may yield new insights into the link between the growth of a central supermassive black hole and the development of its entire host galaxy.

    Bottom line: Astronomers using the Hubble Telescope found that the region around a quasar’s black hole pushes out material at a few percent the speed of light. These quasar tsunamis wreak havoc on the galaxies in which the quasars live.
    _________________________________

    So black holes are the source of another immensely powerful cosmic phenomenon. - ilan
    Last edited by ilan; 03-27-2020 at 12:32 PM.
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    What is dark energy?
    Andy Briggs in SPACE | March 31, 2020

    Dark energy is one of the great unsolved mysteries of cosmology. It’s now thought to make up 68% of everything in the universe.


    Illustration showing snapshots from a simulation by astrophysicist Volker Springel of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. It represents the growth of cosmic structure (galaxies and voids) when the universe was 0.9 billion, 3.2 billion and 13.7 billion years old (now). Image via Volker Springel/ MPE/Kavli Foundation.
    Dark energy is the name given to the mysterious force that’s causing the rate of expansion of our universe to accelerate over time, rather than to slow down. That’s contrary to what one might expect from a universe that began in a Big Bang. Astronomers in the 20th century learned the universe is expanding. They thought the expansion might continue forever, or eventually – if the universe had enough mass and therefore enough self-gravity – reverse and cause a Big Crunch. Now, in early 21st century cosmology, that idea has evolved. The universe is seen as expanding faster today than billions of years ago. What could be causing the rate of expansion to increase? Astronomers now sometimes speak of a repulsive force as a possible way to understand it.

    Up until the late 1990s, most cosmologists believed the universe did not have enough mass to cause a Big Crunch. In particular, data acquired by the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey seemed to confirm the universe would expand forever, albeit at an ever-slowing rate as the universe’s own mass and own gravity tried to pull it back.

    The first indication of something revolutionary about to be discovered came in 1998 during a survey of Type 1A supernovae. These massive explosions of dying giant stars are extremely useful to astronomers because they always output the same amount of light, and can therefore be used as so-called “standard candles” to calculate distances in the cosmos. This is a very simple idea. Think of fireflies at night: they all shine with the same instrinsic brightness. By measuring how bright they are from where you are, you can calculate their distance.

    The 1998 survey was being carried out by two international group of astronomers including Americans Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter, and Brian Schmidt in Australia. Using eight telescopes worldwide, their aim was to use the distance of Type 1A supernovae to calculate the expansion rate of the universe, known as the Hubble Constant (although in reality, as the rate of expansion of the universe varies with time, it is technically not a constant).

    The results of the survey were astonishing. Distant supernovae which exploded when the universe was only 2/3 of its current age were much fainter than they should have been, and were thus much further away. The implication of this was that the universe had expanded much faster than it should have done, if current ideas were correct.

    Met with much skepticism in the astronomical community when these results were revealed, the observations were soon replicated by other teams and other methods. By the turn of the millennium, it was becoming clear that the expansion of the universe is not, as was commonly believed, slowing down. It is actually accelerating.

    Even more strangely, the expansion had been deaccelerating, as one would expect, until seven or eight billion years after the Big Bang. But then, for reasons completely unknown, a mysterious “anti-gravity force” started to dominate, overcoming the brake that gravity was placing on the expansion, which then reversed its slowdown and started to accelerate.

    You can imagine how shocking this revelation was to astronomers and cosmologists.

    The force responsible for this acceleration was dubbed dark energy by scientists. In this case, dark means unknown rather than literally dark, as is the case with dark matter. It should be noted that dark energy and dark matter are completely unrelated phenomena.

    To add to the mystery, the properties of this strange dark energy seem to match Einstein’s cosmological constant, sometimes called his fudge factor and later described by Einstein himself as the greatest professional blunder of his life. Einstein detested the idea of an expanding universe, preferring the static one postulated by steady-state cosmology, which was popular in the early 20th century. He invented an anti-gravity force, of undefined origin, to counteract the observed expansion of the universe, which would result in a non-expanding universe. However, Einstein later retracted this idea, which was not supported by observations.

    Dark energy is one of the great unsolved mysteries of cosmology. It is now thought to make up 68% of everything in the universe, with normal, so-called “baryonic” matter – every bit of matter we can actually see – comprising a mere 5%, with the rest consisting of dark matter, another huge cosmic mystery.

    Dark energy does behave like Einstein’s anti-gravity force, but its nature and origin remain unknown. One of its greatest mysteries is why dark energy started to dominate the rate of expansion of the universe at a particular point in time billions of years after the Big Bang. If it exists now, why wasn’t it there all along?

    The physics of dark energy are highly speculative. One idea which has gained ground in recent years is that dark energy resembles a force known as “quintessence,” which is a relative of the Higgs Field. But as yet there is no observational evidence to support or discount this.

    Cosmologists also have no idea if dark energy will continue to accelerate the universe’s expansion forever, leading to a scenario, far in the future, where the acceleration will overcome the forces that hold the universe together and literally tear all matter in the cosmos apart, in a nightmare scenario known as the Big Rip.

    There are several current and future space missions and ground-based surveys which will investigate the nature of dark energy, including NASA’s orbiting WFIRST telescope and the international Dark Energy Survey, based in Chile.

    It is hoped that soon we will arrive at a greater understanding of this mysterious force, which is having such an influence over the future of the cosmos, but to gain that understanding we need to sketch out a far more complete history of the universe. However, the archaeology of 13.7 billion years is extremely difficult and time-consuming, with so many ancient strata in that history missing or indistinct, so we cannot expect any sudden revelations.

    Bottom line: The universe is expanding faster than older theories predicted. Dark energy, one of the great unsolved mysteries of cosmology, may cause its accelerating expansion. Dark energy is now thought to make up 68% of everything in the universe.
    _____________________________________________

    Dark matter is matter that does not emit light or energy. Thus, the term dark in dark matter means not luminous or not observable by simple means. The "dark" in dark energy is different. It means unknown (i.e., we're in the dark about it) and does not refer to its observability or lack of luminosity. - ilan
    Last edited by ilan; 04-01-2020 at 01:11 AM.
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    Jupiter gives us Pluto in 2020
    Bruce McClure in ASTRONOMY ESSENTIALS | SPACE | April 1, 2020

    Jupiter and Pluto stay close together on the sky’s dome throughout 2020. This year may well present the best Jupiter-Pluto alignment for centuries to come, with the first of the year’s 3 Jupiter-Pluto conjunctions to fall on April 5, 2020.


    Mosaic image of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, captured around the time the New Horizons spacecraft swept closest to them on July 14, 2015. Image via NASA/ JHUAPL/ SwRI.
    The king planet Jupiter is as hard to miss with the eye alone as the dwarf planet Pluto is difficult to find with the telescope. Jupiter is bright! It ranks as the fourth-brightest celestial object to light up the heavens, after the sun, moon and planet Venus. Pluto, on the other hand, is faint. It’s about 1,600 times dimmer than the faintest star visible to the unaided eye. It’s true that the best time of year to see Pluto through a small telescope is around the planet’s yearly opposition, when Earth is going between Pluto and the sun. That’ll happen this year on July 15-16, 2020.

    However, this year – 2020 – is exceptional for Jupiter and Pluto. These two worlds are having a triple conjunction. They’ll come together, move apart, and come together again three times in 2020. The first conjunction will take place on April 5. The second one will come on June 30, and the final one on November 12. Because all of these Jupiter-Pluto conjunctions will happen when these two planets are actually visible in our night sky (as opposed to being lost in the sun’s glare), this year’s Jupiter-Pluto alignment may be the best for centuries to come.

    This year, very bright Jupiter and very faint Pluto will remain near each other throughout the year, closely aligned in front of the constellation Sagittarius. Pluto requires a telescope to be seen. No telescope? Try NASA’s Night Sky Network to find star parties and/or astronomy clubs near you. And you don’t need a telescope to use your imagination. Throughout 2020, dazzling Jupiter will enable us to envision Pluto with the mind’s eye on the sky’s dome. First find Jupiter and – presto – you’ve nearly stumbled upon Pluto. Just remember, Jupiter outshines Pluto by several million times.
    __________________________________________________ ______

    NASA's Night Sky Network is available here:
    Code:
    https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/event-list.cfm
    Last edited by ilan; 04-02-2020 at 12:25 PM.
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