The Big Bang’s Playing on TV

Noise, in analog video and television, is a random dot pattern of static displayed when no transmission signal is obtained by the antenna receiver of television set and other display devices. The random pattern superimposed on the picture, visible as a random flicker of “dots” or “snow”, is the result of electronic noise and radiated electromagnetic noise accidentally picked up by the antenna. This effect is most commonly seen with analog TV sets or blank VHS tapes.

There are many sources of electromagnetic noise which cause the characteristic display patterns of static. Atmospheric sources of noise are the most ubiquitous, and include electromagnetic signals prompted by cosmic microwave background radiation, or more localized radio wave noise from nearby electronic devices. 

Microwaves are a low-energy form of radiation but higher in energy than radio waves. The cosmic microwave background blankets the universe and is responsible for a sizeable amount of static on your television set—well, before the days of cable. Turn your television to an “in between” channel, and part of the static you’ll see is the afterglow of the big bang.

"Other Universes are Pulling on Our Universe" — New Planck Data Triggers Controversy

Is our universe merely one of billions? Evidence of the existence of ‘multiverse’ revealed for the first time by a cosmic map of background radiation data gathered by Planck telescope. The first ‘hard evidence’ that other universes exist has been claimed to have been found by cosmologists studying new Planck data released this past June. They have concluded that it shows anomalies that can only have been caused by the gravitational pull of other universes.

"Such ideas may sound wacky now, just like the Big Bang theory did three generations ago,” says George Efstathiou, professor of astrophysics at Cambridge University.”But then we got evidence and now it has changed the whole way we think about the universe.”

Scientists had predicted that it should be evenly distributed, but the map shows a stronger concentration in the south half of the sky and a ‘cold spot’ that cannot be explained by current understanding of physics. Laura Mersini-Houghton, theoretical physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Richard Holman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, predicted that anomalies in radiation existed and were caused by the pull from other universes in 2005. Mersini-Houghton will be in Britain soon promoting this theory and, we expect, the hard evidence at the Hay Festival on May 31 and at Oxford on June 11.

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ISON is still alive
Or at least a piece of it survived anyway… Earlier as it approached the Sun, the head of the comet seemed to be smeared out (instead having a bright tip), suggesting it had evaporated. Now we see these images from SOHO showing that a piece of ISON has come out the other side. Most likely a much smaller piece of the nucleus but it does still have a dust and ion tail. Hopefully it will get bright enough to observe from Earth, but we will find out tomorrow if in fact the nucleus is still there and active.

This Week in Science - March 18 - 24, 2013:

  • Trend in water presence here.
  • People can taste rainbow here.
  • Cellular level video here.
  • Kiddo wasp here.
  • Youngest stars ever seen here.
  • Sperm works best in winter here.
  • Gene sniffing mice here.
  • Planck’s recent findings here
  • Comet killed dinosaurs here.
  • Pre-dinosaur mass extinction here.
  • Possible fifth force of nature here.
  • Endangered frog bred in captivity here.

The Quantum of Time

If I ask you for the smallest unit of time you can possibly think of, you might suggest a second, or a millisecond, or a nanosecond if you’re clever. But while these units are small enough to measure everyday events, physicists have to deal with cosmological forces and events on incredibly tiny scales, so they need to use appropriately tiny units to measure them. In 1899, German physicist Max Planck (who was also, incidentally, the founder of quantum theory) proposed a system of natural units of measurement called Planck units, stated in terms of five universal physical constants: the Gravitational constant, the Reduced Planck constant, the speed of light in a vacuum, the Coulomb constant, and Boltzmann’s constant. The system is based on the idea that space and time aren’t continuous—they’re quantised, which means that there’s a shortest possible measurable length (called Planck length) and a shortest possible measurable time (called, surprise, Planck time). Planck length is roughly 1.616 × 10-35 metres, and Planck time is the amount of time it takes for a photon to travel a single Planck length, i.e. 5.391 × 10−44 seconds. This is an unimaginably small quantity, but it helps to define the unimaginable small scale at which current physical theories break down—and helps physicists to study the beginning of the Universe, where the sequence of events in its early evolution was crammed into minute fractions of time.

Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Scientists have found the oldest DNA evidence yet of humans’ biological history. But instead of neatly clarifying human evolution, the finding is adding new mysteries.

In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.

The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

A third kind of human, called Denisovans, seems to have coexisted in Asia with Neanderthals and early modern humans. The latter two are known from abundant fossils and artifacts. Denisovans are defined so far only by the DNA from one bone chip and two teeth—but it reveals a new twist to the human story. [image source]

The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.

“Right now, we’ve basically generated a big question mark,” said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of the new study.

Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil.

[image source]

“This would not have been possible even a year ago,” said Juan Luis Arsuaga, a paleoanthropologist at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a co-author of the paper.

Finding such ancient human DNA was a major advance, said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research. “That’s an amazing, game-changing thing,” he said.

Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.

Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.

When Dr. Meyer and his colleagues drilled into the femur, they found ancient human DNA inside, just as they had hoped.

Continue reading about this truly human-history-shattering discovery via The NY Times

What do you know about the multiverse theory? Well for those of you who don’t know it is essentially a theory that says there are finite or infinite number of universes out there. There have been numerous scientists and researchers trying to prove that other universes exist outside our own. Well earlier in the year Planck telescope released some data that showed there are numerous anomalies that our current standard model of physics can’t predict. Some multiverse researchers believe that they are caused by other universes pulling on our own! It’s an interesting suggestion and maybe these anomalies could support their claim but we do need more data on this. 

Planck researchers, for the most part, think these outlandish claims hold no water and think it might be something else. There is another piece of the puzzle to add and it’s called Dark Flow. Scientists have been able to track Dark Flow and it’s moving away from Earth. It’s another piece that researchers believe is caused from other universes pulling on our own. Astronomers still don’t understand these anomalies completely but our technology is getting better to track them and get a clearer picture. 

Take action today and make sure NASA can keep doing more of what they are doing

Scientists May Get Best View Yet of a Black Hole in Action

It’s the cosmic event of the year. Right now, telescopes all over the world are turning to our galaxy’s center, where for the first time ever they may have a front-row look at a supermassive black hole consuming a gas cloud.

By observing this galactic snack fest, astronomers should be able to figure out what’s going on in the black hole’s immediate vicinity and potentially even witness some gas disappear into the massive object’s maw. What they see may help scientists solve a decades-old puzzle about why our galaxy’s central black hole is so quiet.

Astronomers are gearing up to watch this show using many different telescopes with different wavelengths of light to capture all the information they can. But they are still unsure what exactly they will see.

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Our galaxy’s magnetic field from Planck

What does the magnetic field of our Galaxy look like? It has long been known that a modest magnetic field pervades our Milky Way Galaxy because it is seen to align small dust grains that scatter background light. Only recently, however, has the Sun-orbiting Planck satellite made a high-resolution map of this field. Color coded, the 30-degree wide map confirms, among other things, that the Galaxy’s interstellar magnetism is strongest in the central disk. The rotation of charged gas around the Galactic center creates this magnetism, and it is hypothesized that viewed from the top, the Milky Way’s magnetic field would appear as a spiral swirling out from the center. What caused many of the details in this and similar Planck maps — and how magnetism in general affected our Galaxy’s evolution — will likely remain topics of research for years to come.

Image credit & copyright: ESA/Planck; Acknowledgement: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – IAS, U. Paris-XI

Science enhances the moral value of life, because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.
—  Max Planck
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
—  Max Planck

Paradox Solved? How Information Can Escape from a Black Hole

Every black hole conceals a secret — the quantum remains of the star from which it formed, say a group of scientists, who also predict that these stars can later emerge once the black hole evaporates.

The researchers call these objects “Planck stars” and believe that they could solve a very important question in modern physics: the information paradox, or the question of what happens to information contained in matter that falls into a black hole.

The idea could also finally reconcile quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity that describes gravity, thus showing how a theory of quantum gravity might solve longstanding puzzles in the world of physics.

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We said a couple times while talking about flames that all matter gives off electromagnetic radiation (EMR or light) according to its temperature. Flames contain hot particles and so they glow. The law that describes how EMR is given off as a function of temperature is called Planck’s Law, and any matter that follows Planck’s Law perfectly is called a black body.

The Planck’s Law equation above gives you qλ, which is the energy flux at a given wavelength. (Remember EMR has a wavelength.) On the right side you plug in the temperature T and the wavelength λ. All the rest of the symbols are famous constants.

Max Planck devised his law in 1900, and this was the first observation that led to quantum mechanics.

The Clash of Titans: Solvay Conference 1927

For the week of the conference all that delegates could think and talk about was Bohr’s quantum mechanics.  It was a truly formidable theory. Over the week the final show down played out between Niels Bohr and his arch-rival, Albert Einstein

Einstein hated quantum mechanics and every morning he’d come to Bohr with an argument he felt picked a hole in the new theory. Bohr would go away very disturbed and think very hard about it and by the end of the day he’d come back with a counter argument that dismissed Einstein’s criticism. And this happened day after day until by the end of the conference Bohr had brushed aside all of Einstein’s criticisms and Bohr was regarded as having been victorious. And with that, his vision of the atom, which became known as the Copenhagen Interpretation, was suddenly at the very heart of atomic physics.

At the end of the conference they all gather for the team photo. Never before or since have so many great names of physics been together in one place. At the front the elder statesman of physics Hendrik Lorentz, flanked on either side by Madame Curie and Albert Einstein. Einstein’s looking rather glum because he’s lost the argument. Louis de Broglie has also failed to convince the delegates of his views. Victory goes to Neils Bohr. He’s feeling very pleased with himself. Next to him one of the unsung heroes of quantum mechanics the German Max Born who developed so much of the mathematics. And behind him the two young disciples of Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli is looking rather smugly across at Schrödinger, like the cat who’s got the milk.

This was the moment in physics when it all changed. The old guard was replaced by the new. Chance, a probability became interwoven into the fabric of nature itself and we could no longer describe atoms in terms of simple pictures but only using pure abstract mathematics. The Copenhagen view had been victorious.