Recent work

Even before LIGO's first detection, researchers were already thinking about the next big thing: zeroing in on a burst of light from a cosmic smashup that produced the gravitational waves. Finding a light counterpart for a gravitational wave source would instantly fix the newborn science of gravitational wave astronomy to a firm observational foundation and give astrophysicists a multi-dimensional new look at the sky. Now, they've done it.

 

New magnetic field readings from the Cassini spacecraft are forcing some planetary scientists to reconsider what’s beneath the obscuring clouds of the great ringed planet.

Spend a night remote-observing at the Liu Astronomical Observing Center, which gives astronomers local access to telescopes worldwide

Before computers existed as we know them, data was processed by women, often black women. But they were much more than mere calculators. Indeed, the achievements of Katherine Johnson and many others were integral to NASA’s success. Here are a few of their stories.

 

Breast cancer is not color-blind. Although it strikes women (and less commonly, men) of every age and race, black women are more likely than white women to die of breast cancer. Why?

 

The arXiv preprint service is trying to answer an age-old question.

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, has been twenty-five years and more than half a billion dollars in the making. It involves 900 scientists and engineers, including many whose entire careers have been spent designing, building, and preparing to analyze data streaming in to LIGO. Their goal: To confirm, once and for all, Einstein’s century-old idea that gravity travels across space-time in the form of gravitational waves. 

Not so long ago, black holes were like unicorns: fantastical creatures that flourished on paper, not in life. Today, there is wide scientific consensus that black holes are real. Even though they can’t be observed directly—by definition, they give off no light—astronomers can infer their hidden presence by watching how stars, gas, and dust swirl and glow around them. But what if they’re wrong? Could something else—massive, dense, all-but-invisible—be concealed in the darkness?

 

It begins like a classic romance: Two black holes meet. The attraction is practically instant. They dance around each other, swirling closer and closer, until ... Until what? As with any love affair, this is where things get messy.

Paradoxically, the most luminous things in the cosmos are actually invisible to the naked eye. They are “blazars,” mysterious objects that glow not just with visible light—the kind our eyes can see—but with every kind of radiation, from radio waves to gamma rays. At the Boston University Blazar Lab, astronomers Alan Marscher and Svetlana Jorstad and their students are trying to understand how blazars work and where they get their tremendous energy. They think that blazars are powered by supermassive black holes containing the mass of hundreds of millions of suns. But how do black holes—where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape—power the brightest objects in the cosmos?

 

NOVA Next

Fast radio bursts present a particularly sweet mystery: Their extreme properties hint that they might be able to reveal phenomena that push the boundaries of known physics, perhaps probing the properties of dark matter or quantum gravity theories beyond the Standard Model. So while observational astronomers keep searching for more FRBs, theorists are speculating about what they might be.

The Nature of Reality

Picture this: You’re the emperor of an advanced alien civilization. For millions of years, your planet’s engineers have been building bigger and better gadgets: supercomputers, spaceships, flying cars, that sort of thing. All this ultra-tech makes life pretty fantastic, but it takes a lot of energy. Where is all that energy going to come from? Astronomers are searching the skies for "Dyson spheres" that advanced civilizations could use to gather energy.

 

The Nature of Reality

In the beginning was the bubble: Inflating, in a fraction of a second, from a grain smaller than an atom to a mini-verse the size of a softball. The seeds of all the elaborate particulars of today’s universe, from the vast cosmic web that links galaxy clusters all the way down to the motes of cosmic dust drifting past Earth, were wound up in tiny quantum fluctuations in that original bubble, just waiting for time, and gravity, to uncoil them. Now, a team of theorists has shown that a collision between universes would create gravitational waves that could imprint a unique polarization signal on the sky, potentially providing observational evidence for the existence of other universes.

 

The Nature of Reality

Quantum physics defies our physical intuition about how the world is supposed to work. In the quantum world, objects resist such classical banalities as “position” and “speed,” particles are waves and waves are particles, and the act of observing seems to change the system being observed. But what if we could develop a “quantum intuition” that would make this all seem as natural as an apple falling from a tree?

The Nature of Reality

What if the fundamental “stuff” of the universe isn’t matter or energy, but information? That’s the idea some theorists are pursuing as they search for ever-more elegant and concise descriptions of the laws that govern our universe. Could our universe, in all its richness and diversity, really be just a bunch of bits?

The Nature of Reality

Imagine that you want to make something disappear—that unfortunate photograph of you in the sombrero, or the ill-advised iPhone video from your bachelor party, or that part of your seventh-grade diary describing your dream honeymoon with Kirk Cameron. Whatever it is, you want it gone. So you decide to turn to the ultimate destruction: You launch that mortifying evidence right into a black hole and breathe a sigh of relief that now, finally, it is gone for good. But is it really?

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Images: Merging neutron stars: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet. Saturn's pole: NASA. Night shift: CfA/Mark A. Garlick. Mary Jackson: NASA Langley Research Center. Breast cancer illustration: Hanna Barczyk. Robot judge: Nautilus. Gravitational wave simulation: NASA. Messier 106: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA. Black hole art: David Plunkert. Parkes telescope: CSIRO (CC BY). Dyson sphere: Flickr user longan drink, adapted under a Creative Commons license.  Woodcut: A wood engraving from Camille Flammarion's L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888). Artist unknown. Public domain, via Wikimedia. Baby: Eliza Sankar Gorton. Baby and book by Evil Sivan/Flickr, Calabi-Yau manifold by Lunch/Wikipedia, adapted under a Creative Commons license. Information booth: Les Taylor/Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

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© 2015 by Kate Becker