A comet discovered by two Russian astronomers will be visible from Earth next year. Get ready for a once-in-a lifetime light show, says David Whitehouse
At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn’t seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name.
Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon.
Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?
“I think at some point you need to provoke people. Science is meant to make people uncomfortable.”
It is hard to know how our future descendants will regard the little sliver of history that we live in. It is hard to know what events will seem important to them, what the narrative of now will look like to the twenty-fifth century mind. We tend to think of our time as one uniquely shaped by the advance of technology, but more and more I suspect that this will be remembered as an age of cosmology—-as the moment when the human mind first internalized the cosmos that gave rise to it. Over the past century, since the discovery that our universe is expanding, science has quietly begun to sketch the structure of the entire cosmos, extending its explanatory powers across a hundred billion galaxies, to the dawn of space and time itself. It is breathtaking to consider how quickly we have come to understand the basics of everything from star formation to galaxy formation to universe formation. And now, equipped with the predictive power of quantum physics, theoretical physicists are beginning to push even further, into new universes and new physics, into controversies once thought to be squarely within the domain of theology or philosophy.
In January, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that, as its title suggests, purports to explain how something—-and not just any something, but the entire universe—-could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory. But before attempting to do so, the book first tells the story of modern cosmology, whipping its way through the big bang to microwave background radiation and the discovery of dark energy. It’s a story that Krauss is well positioned to tell; in recent years he has emerged as an unusually gifted explainer of astrophysics. One of his lectures has been viewed over a million times on YouTube and his cultural reach extends to some unlikely places—-last year Miley Cyrus came under fire when she tweeted a quote from Krauss that some Christians found offensive. Krauss’ book quickly became a bestseller, drawing raves from popular atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, the latter of which even compared it to The Origin of Species for the way its final chapters were supposed to finally upend the “last trump card of the theologian.”
The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012
- NASA’s Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars
- Artificial DNA Brings Us Closer Than Ever to Synthesizing Entirely New Forms of Life
- Computers Learn to Recognize the Content of Images for the First Time
- Ancient DNA from Denisovans Sheds Light on What Made Homo sapiens Successful
- Physicists Detect the Long-Sought Higgs Boson
- Researchers publish ENCODE, the “Encyclopedia” of DNA
- Researchers Create a Mammal Entirely from Stem Cells
- An Electronic Implant that can Dissolve Inside Your Body
- The First Study to Examine What Happens to Women Denied Abortions
- Spaceflight Goes Private
- The Environment is Falling to Shit, and People are Taking Notice
- Autism Symptoms Were Reversed in Mice
- A Working Tractor Beam
- The World’s Most High-Tech Condom
- The Most Comprehensive Face Transplant in History
- There Is More Water Than We Thought in the Solar System
- A Virus That Creates Electricity
“I do in fact know that this sounds crazy,” Elon Musk tweeted this week. “But if humanity wishes to become a multi-planet species, then we must figure out how to move millions of people to Mars.”
Like any big, bold idea, Musk’s plan for colonizing Mars strikes you at first glance as indeed crazy, and it also probably makes your head spin a bit. How on earth, you are probably wondering, could we possibly do that? But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and assume Musk is able to build a reusable rocket that can efficiently shuttle colonists to the Red Planet. The question is: what then?
Musk, who told Bloomberg “I want to die on Mars,” is concerned with the question of how to make a Mars colony self-sustaining. That would require 80,000 volunteers, Musk said in a recent speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society. Then Musk qualified that number on Twitter. We will need 80,000 volunteer colonists per year, he argued, in order to eventually reach a population in the millions.
Quantum physics is a branch of science that deals with discrete, indivisible units of energy called quanta as described by the Quantum Theory. There are five main ideas represented in Quantum Theory:
- Energy is not continuous, but comes in small but discrete units.
- The elementary particles behave both like particles and like waves.
- The movement of these particles is inherently random.
- It is physically impossible to know both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely one is known, the less precise the measurement of the other is
- The atomic world is nothing like the world we live in.
While at a glance this may seem like just another strange theory, it contains many clues as to the fundamental nature of the universe and is more important then even relativity in the grand scheme of things (if any one thing at that level could be said to be more important then anything else). Furthermore, it describes the nature of the universe as being much different then the world we see. As Niels Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”