Huge Cosmic Structures Already Existed When the Universe Was a Baby



Huge Cosmic Structures Already Existed When the Universe Was a Baby

This image shows the region where the ancient galactic structure was found. The blue shading shows the area it covers. The red objects in the zoomed-in bits are the 12 galaxies.

This image shows the region where the ancient galactic structure was found. The blue shading shows the area it covers. The red objects in the zoomed-in bits are the 12 galaxies.
(Image: © NAOJ/Harikane et al.)

Astronomers have discovered the oldest cluster of galaxies ever seen, which dates to the early universe.

The discovery, which could help explain the shape of the modern cosmos, reveals 12 galaxies that existed in a clump 13 billion years ago — just about 700 million years after the Big Bang. We can see them now because they’re so far away in the expanding universe (13 billion light-years) that their starlight is only now reaching Earth. One of the galaxies, a mammoth named Himiko after a mythological Japanese queen, was discovered a decade ago by the same team.

Surprisingly, the other 11 galaxies aren’t clustered around the giant Himiko, the researchers wrote in a paper that will be published on Sept. 30 in The Astrophysical Journal and is available as a draft on the website arXiv. Instead, Himiko sits at the edge of the system, which the researchers call a “protocluster” because it’s so small and ancient compared to most of the clusters we can see in the universe..

Related: 11 Fascinating Facts About Our Milky Way Galaxy

“It is reasonable to find a protocluster near a massive object, such as Himiko. However, we’re surprised to see that Himiko was located not in the center of the protocluster but on the edge, 500 million light-years away from the center,” Masami Ouchi, a co-author of the paper and an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo, said in a statement.

Understanding how galaxy clusters came to be turns out to be important for understanding the galaxies they contain. Most galaxies, including the Milky Way, show up in clumps with other galaxies, so the galaxies aren’t evenly distributed throughout the universe. And that clumping seems to affect their behavior, astronomers have said. Galaxies in high-density, clumped environments full of galaxies form stars in different ways than do galaxies in low-density environments empty of galaxies. And the impact of clumping seems to have changed over time, the researchers said.

In more recent times, the researchers wrote in the paper, “there is a clear trend that the star-formation activity of galaxies tends to be lower in high-density environment than low-density environment.”

So, clumped-up galaxies these days form stars less often than their more independent cousins do. It’s as if they’re aging faster in their clusters, the researchers wrote, becoming geriatric and giving up on making new stars.

But in the ancient universe, the trend seems to have been reversed. Galaxies in highly packed clusters formed stars faster, not slower, remaining young and spry compared with their cousins not in dense clusters.

Still, “protoclusters” like this one from the early eons of the universe are rarely found and are poorly understood, the researchers wrote. These clumps tend to be much smaller than modern examples, which can contain hundreds of galaxies.

The further back telescopes peer into time, the fewer proto-clusters turn up. It’s possible many of them are simply obscured by intergalactic dust. The astronomers hope, they wrote, that the new discovery will help flesh out the picture and explain how the state of things 13 billion years ago changed over time to produce that clustered universe we see today.

Originally published on Live Science.

‘Black hole’ photographed on Jupiter



‘Black hole’ photographed on Jupiter

  • 22/09/2019
  • Dan Satherley

Watch: Scientists discover planet with closest resemblance to Earth so far. Credits: Video – Newshub; Image – NASA

Stunning new images shot by NASA’s Juno spacecraft appear to show a massive black hole on the surface of Jupiter.

The photographs were taken earlier this month as Juno’s elliptical orbit took it close to the gas giant – only 8000 km from the top of its clouds.

Jupiter and its new 'black hole'.
Jupiter and its new ‘black hole’. Photo credit: NASA

But rather than an abyss from which there is no escape, Jupiter’s latest feature is just a shadow cast by one of its moons, Io, as it blocked the sun during an eclipse.

Io is about the same size as Earth’s moon. Because it’s so far away, in the Jovian sky Io appears about four times the size as the sun – so its shadow is large and relatively sharp, compared to eclipses here on Earth, Universe Today reports.

Another view of the 'hole'.
Another view of the ‘hole’. Photo credit: NASA

Last week it was reported a volcano is set to erupt on Io.

Jupiter’s other distinctive feature – its giant red spot – is a storm that is expected to dissipate one day.

News hub.


Russia Says It Will Keep Source of Hole (and Air Leak) on Soyuz Secret— But NASA Wants to Know



Russia Says It Will Keep Source of Hole (and Air Leak) on Soyuz Secret— But NASA Wants to Know: Report

Russia's Soyuz MS-09 crew spacecraft is is shown docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The MS-09 carried NASA astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, the European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev to the ISS in June 2018.

Russia’s Soyuz MS-09 crew spacecraft is is shown docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The MS-09 carried NASA astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, the European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev to the ISS in June 2018.
(Image: © NASA)

Amid reports that the Russians will keep the cause of an air leak discovered at the International Space Station in 2018 secret, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has promised to speak personally with the head of the Russian space agency.

“They have not told me anything,” Bridenstine said during a Houston energy conference question session Thursday (Sept. 19), according to the Houston Chronicle. But he emphasized that he wants to keep good relations with the Russians, one of the two chief partners on the orbiting complex.

“I don’t want to let one item set [the relationship] back, but it is clearly not acceptable that there are holes in the International Space Station,” he said, referring to the 2-millimeter (0.08 inches) hole that the Expedition 56 crew found in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, a crew vehicle that was docked to the station.

Bridenstine’s comments came in the wake of a report by Russia’s state-run international news agency RIA Novosti, in which Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), suggested his agency found what created the hole last year, but would not disclose the results outside of Roscosmos.

Related: Hole That Caused Leak in Russian Spacecraft Possibly Traced to Assembly or Testing

Space Station’s Cabin Pressure Loss Explained by NASA
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“What happened is clear to us, but we won’t tell you anything,” Rogozin said at a meeting with participants at a science conference, according to a computer-translated page from RIA Novosti’s Russian-language report on Wednesday (Sept. 18).

After NASA reported a slow drop in cabin pressure at the station on Aug. 29, 2018, the crew of Expedition 56 located the cause of the air leak in the orbital compartment of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, nearly three months after the vessel arrived at the International Space Station with three new crewmembers on board.

The astronauts plugged the hole using epoxy, gauze and heavy-duty tape, and the Russians launched an investigation. In the first few weeks, Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin first speculated that a micrometeoroid might have punched the hole, then suggested the hole could have been drilled by a human either accidentally or deliberately.

Space station astronauts patched a small hole in the upper orbital module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft (left) on Aug. 30, 2018.

(Image credit: NASA/

NASA and Roscosmos, however, issued a joint statement in mid-September 2018 after the two agency chiefs spoke by phone. The agencies “agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed,” Roscosmos and NASA said in their statement.

Roscosmos is currently the only agency capable of launching crew members to space since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011. NASA is readying American commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX and expects to start running crewed test flights as early as this year. But for now, the Soyuz is the only way astronauts can fly to and from the International Space Station.

The two agencies are the chief partners on the space station, and have been working together to build and maintain the 21-year-old orbiting complex since the early 1990s. Bridenstine and other NASA officials have thus repeatedly emphasized the level of trust between their agency and Roscosmos, which includes several missions before ISS. NASA and the Soviet Union ran a joint mission in 1975 called Apollo-Soyuz, and the new Russian nation partnered with NASA for shuttle flights to the space station Mir between 1994 and 1998.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]

Astronomers Have Seen Signs of “Life” at the Center of Messier 110



Astronomers Have Seen Signs of “Life” at the Center of Messier 110

Messier 110

Located in the constellation Andromeda, M110 was discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier. It is a satellite galaxy of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) and a member of the Local Group, which is made up of the galaxies located closest to the Milky Way (our Milky Way is considered a member of the Local Group as well). M110 is approximately 2,690,000 light-years away from Earth and has a magnitude of 8. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ferrarese et al.

Many of the best-loved galaxies in the cosmos are remarkably large, close, massive, bright, or beautiful, often with an unusual or intriguing structure or history. However, it takes all kinds to make a universe — as demonstrated by this Hubble image of Messier 110.

Messier 110 may not look like much, but it is a fascinating near neighbor of our home galaxy, and an unusual example of its type. It is a member of the Local Group, a gathering of galaxies comprising the Milky Way and a number of the galaxies closest to it. Specifically, Messier 110 is one of the many satellite galaxies encircling the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own, and is classified as a dwarf elliptical galaxy, meaning that it has a smooth and almost featureless structure. Elliptical galaxies lack arms and notable pockets of star formation — both characteristic features of spiral galaxies. Dwarf elliptical are quite common in groups and clusters of galaxies, and are often satellites of larger galaxies.

Because they lack stellar nurseries and contain mostly old stars, elliptical galaxies are often considered “dead” when compared to their spiral relatives. However, astronomers have spotted signs of a population of young, blue stars at the center of Messier 110 — hinting that it may not be so “dead” after all.

Messier 110 is featured in Hubble’s Messier catalog, which includes some of the most fascinating celestial objects that can be observed from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. See the NASA-processed image and other Messier objects in Hubble’s Messier Catalog.

M110 is an elliptical galaxy, which means that it has a smooth and nearly featureless structure. Elliptical galaxies do not have arms or regions of star formation. They are oftentimes considered “dead” compared to spiral galaxies, and the stars in elliptical galaxies are often older than those in other galaxies. However, there is evidence that a population of young blue stars exists at the center of M110. This small elliptical galaxy has approximately 10 billion stars, as well as at least eight globular clusters (the brightest of which can be seen with large telescopes).

This Hubble observation was taken in visible and near-infrared light with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. The core of M110 is seen toward the lower right of the image, with the galaxy’s globular clusters and numerous stars shown as points of light throughout the frame. Also featured in this Hubble image are large clouds of gas and dust, seen as dark splotches (one large region is located near the middle of the image and another, smaller one appears above the galaxy’s core). Hubble took these observations of M110 to study the development of globular clusters located in the galaxy.

M110 Star Chart

This star chart for M110 represents the view from mid-northern latitudes for the given month and time.
Credit: Image courtesy of Stellarium

With a telescope, M110 is fairly easy to spot near the core of the much larger and brighter Andromeda galaxy. Smaller telescopes will only reveal a faint, diffuse patch of light, while larger telescopes will unveil an oval shape with a brighter core. The best time to view M110 is during November.

Hubble telescope spies water raining on distant world



Hubble telescope spies water raining on distant world

The exoplanet is just twice the diameter of Earth, and could potentially host life.
The Hubble Space Telescope following grapple of the giant observatory by the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The Hubble Space Telescope can see exoplanets when they pass in front of their stars. Credit: NASA

Astronomers have spotted hints of water raining in the atmosphere of a planet beyond the Solar System.

The discovery is a rare glimpse of water molecules around a distant world that is not much bigger than Earth. Named K2-18 b, the planet is 34 parsecs (110 light-years) from Earth in the constellation Leo. Notably, it lies in the ‘habitable zone’ around its star — the distance at which liquid water could exist, making extraterrestrial life possible in its hydrogen-rich atmosphere.

“That’s the exciting thing about this planet,” says Björn Benneke, a planetary astronomer at the University of Montreal in Canada. He is the lead author of a paper describing the discovery that was posted on the arXiv preprint server on 10 September1.

A competing team of scientists reports their own analysis of the same planet on 11 September in Nature Astronomy2. That paper′s lead author, planetary astronomer Angelos Tsairas of the University College London (UCL), says that the finding is exciting because the planet is just twice the diameter of Earth, and because little is known about the atmospheres of such small worlds.

Astronomers have previously found water in the atmospheres of gas-giant exoplanets, but studying a distant planet’s atmosphere gets harder as the planet gets smaller. Scientists have been pushing the limits to try to scrutinize planets that are smaller than Neptune but larger than Earth — a category that turns out to be surprisingly common among the thousands of exoplanets found so far.

Flickering light

Benneke and his colleagues decided to look at K2-18 b because it falls in that range. They used the Hubble Space Telescope to watch as the planet passed in front of its star, temporarily dimming its light, on eight different occasions.

The scientists analysed how the color of the star’s light changed as it filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. They combined this with data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which examines more wavelengths of light. The researchers concluded that they were seeing water vapor in the planet′s atmosphere as well as signs that that vapor was condensing into liquid water.

It is the first time astronomers have seen such a water cycle — changing from gas to liquid and back again — on a small, distant world.

The UCL team that authored the second paper analysed the Hubble data from Benneke’s group. The observations had been uploaded to a publicly accessible archive immediately after being collected.

The UCL researchers came up with three possible explanations for what they were seeing, any one of which is equally likely. In the first scenario, the planet has no clouds and 20–50% of its atmosphere is water. In the second and third scenarios, which involve different amounts of clouds and other molecules in the atmosphere, the planet’s atmosphere contains between 0.01% and 12.5% water.

Further questions

But the presence of water alone doesn’t mean that a planet is a good place to look for life, a point illustrated by one of Earth’s closest neighbors, Venus. It’s an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star that once had water vapor in its atmosphere — but the Sun’s rays have stripped away much of that water, leaving its surface barren.

K2-18 b might be equally unpromising. “It is highly unlikely that this world is habitable in any way that we understand based on life as we know it,” says Hannah Wakeford, a planetary astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Still, finding water in the planet’s atmosphere is “extremely exciting”, says Neale Gibson, an astrophysicist at Trinity College Dublin, “and the fact that two teams find the same result is very encouraging”. Future observations, such as those that the James Webb Space Telescope will collect after its planned 2021 launch, should help pin down exactly what this distant world is like.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02721-2


  1. 1.

    Benneke, B. et al. Preprint at

Russia’s Humanoid Skybot Robot in Space Commits Twitter Photo Faux-Pas Ahead of Landing



Russia’s Humanoid Skybot Robot in Space Commits Twitter Photo Faux-Pas Ahead of Landing

After launching to the International Space Station last month, Skybot F-850, everyone’s favorite, terrifying, humanoid Russian robot, tweeted out a picture of Earth that’s causing quite a commotion.

On Aug. 31, the bot, which is one of the latest versions of Russia’s FEDOR robots, tweeted out a picture of the Earth from the space station alongside the caption (roughly translated from Russian) “At the end of the working day, I admire our Earth from the porthole of the “Union MS-14.” She is beautiful. Studying and exploring space makes people smarter and makes them act together. And we, machines created by people, are ready to help our creators move on.” Union MS-14 is the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft that delivered Skybot F-850 to the station.

Video: Watch Russia’s Humanoid Skybot Use a Drill in Space
Real-Life ‘Replicants’: 6 Humanoid Robots Used for Space Exploration


В конце рабочего дня любуюсь нашей Землёй из иллюминатора “Союза МС-14”. Она прекрасна.
Изучение и освоение космоса делает людей более умными и заставляет действовать сообща.
А мы, созданные людьми машины, готовы помогать нашим создателям идти дальше

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But, while this seemed like a fairly innocuous post (and probably one of FEDOR’s least thrilling photos), it came to light that this wasn’t actually a photo from the space-bot. The image of Earth which shows the Strait of Gibraltar on Earth that FEDOR tweeted out was actually taken and originally shared by NASA Astronaut Doug Wheelock in September, 2010, just about 9 years ago.

Doug Wheelock


A view of the Iberian Peninsula, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean, and northern Africa . A special ‘shou

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Russia’s Skybot F-850 humanoid robot holds a Russian flag with cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin for a photo in the Zvezda service module of the International Space Station in this photo released Sept.

(Image credit: Roscosmos via Twitter)

People quickly noticed the mix-up, labeling the robot as a plagiarist. And yes, passing off someone else’s photo as your own fits that bill. But at least Skybot is safe from copyright infringement. The photo, while taken and shared by Wheelock, is not owned by the astronaut and would technically be credited to NASA, and NASA’s media library is public domain.

So at least there’s that, Skybot.

Blastoff! Russian Humanoid Robot Launches to Space Station
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Skybot F-850 has spent the last few weeks completing experiments aboard the space station. The robot will start making its way home to Earth today (Sept. 6) as the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft undocks from the space station.

The uncrewed Soyuz spacecraft carrying Skybot F-850 and other gear will undock from the International Space Station at 2:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT). It is scheduled to land on the steppes of south-central Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 GMT). It will be 3:35 p.m. local time at the landing site.

Here’s a look back at some of the memorable moments aboard the space station that Skybot F-850 tweeted about, from its first look around the Soyuz craft to when it wore mittens and the time it wielded a drill that happened to be pointed at a cosmonaut.


Всем привет! Я Skybot F-859. Для своих – просто Фёдор. Сейчас я знакомлюсь с системой управления корабля “Союз МС-14”, на котором планирую полететь к 22 августа 2019 года.

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2 часа до пуска. Ракета заправлена. Телеметрические датчики и системы включены.

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Прошу прощения за задержку. Застрял в пробке. Готов к продолжению работы.

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В соответствии с ранее утверждённым планом меня разместили в МИМ2. Это не самое комфортное место особенно с учётом того, что именно аппаратура МИМ2 дала сбой на ближнем участке стыковки август, 24, 2019. Провожу диагностику оборудования. Надеюсь, что именно мне доверят его ремонт

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Алексей Николаевич и Александр Александрович. Космонавты @roscosmos , герои России. Для них я просто Фёдор, для экипажа – я Skybot F-850.
Чувствую лёгкость в приводах. К работе готов. При подключении экзоскелета были проблемы с управлением кистью левой руки. Сейчас номинал

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Сегодня космонавт Алексей Николаевич Овчинин при запуске моей операционной системы предложил использовать молоток и гаечный ключ. Пришлось произвести автозапуск во избежание возникновения дальнейший проблем в диалоге с Алексеем Николаевичем.

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Начали тренировки. При выполнении космонавтом технологических операций я помогал ему в выборе необходимого инструмента. Потом в режиме копирования успешно собрал электросоединители, имитируя ремонт кабелей на внешнем борту станции. Сейчас мирно беседую с Алексеем Николаевичем

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Здесь я работаю с различными инструментами.

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Так я пытался состыковать электросоединители. Эта операция входит в перечень операций в рамках внекорабельной деятельности. Зачёт

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Добрый вечер, друзья! Я Skybot F-850 приветствую вас с орбиты МКС!
Мы продолжаем эксперименты, открывающиеся возможности использования в космосе антропоморфных роботов. Работы много. А в свободное время любуюсь нашей планетой.
7 сентября запланировано моё возвращение на Землю.

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Добрый день! Сегодня провели серию работ с бортовыми инструментами, которые могут понадобиться для внекорабельной деятельности. Работа с электродрелью проходила под постоянным контролем Алексея Николаевича Овчинина

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Я снова в кресле командира “Союза”!
При спуске на Землю будет проведено ещё одно испытание: на корабле вместо аналоговой системы управления спуском на базе свободного гироскопа теперь стоит СУ на базе цифрового прибора БИУС с использованием оптоволоконных гироскопов.
Скоро домой!

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Судя по радиообмену с ЦУПом, все, кто на Земле, уехали на космодром Восточный.
Тем временем наш экипаж продолжает укладку снаряжения в мой “Союз МС-14”, проводит диагностику аппаратуры.
До возвращения на Землю осталось совсем немного времени

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly note that Russia’s Skybot did, indeed, appear to plagiarize NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock’s photo of Earth from space.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]

‘Einstein’s Biggest Blunder’ May Have Finally Been Fixed



‘Einstein’s Biggest Blunder’ May Have Finally Been Fixed

an illustration of two galaxies on their sides, in a web of lines meant to illustrate dark energy

An illustration of galaxies bending the fabric of space-time (green), and the smooth effect of dark energy (purple), which dominates the effects of gravity.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There is a fundamental problem in physics.

A single number, called the cosmological constant, bridges the microscopic world of quantum mechanics and the macroscopic world of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. But neither theory can agree on its value.

In fact, there’s such a huge discrepancy between the observed value of  this constant and what theory predicts that it is widely considered the worst prediction in the history of physics. Resolving the discrepancy may be the most important goal of theoretical physics this century.

Lucas Lombriser, an assistant professor of theoretical physics at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, has introduced a new way of evaluating Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity to find a value for the cosmological constant that closely matches its observed value. He published his method online in the Oct. 10 issue of the journal Physics Letters B.

How Einstein’s biggest blunder became dark energy

The story of the cosmological constant began more than a century ago when Einstein presented a set of equations, now known as the Einstein field equations, that became the framework of his theory of general relativity. The equations explain how matter and energy warp the fabric of space and time to create the force of gravity. At the time, both Einstein and astronomers agreed that the universe was fixed in size and that the overall space between galaxies did not change. However, when Einstein applied general relativity to the universe as a whole, his theory predicted an unstable universe that would either expand or contract. To force the universe to be static, Einstein tacked on the cosmological constant.

Nearly a decade later, another physicist, Edwin Hubble, discovered that our universe is not static, but expanding. The light from distant galaxies showed they were all moving away from each other. This revelation persuaded Einstein to abandon the cosmological constant from his field equations as it was no longer necessary to explain an expanding universe. Physics lore has it that Einstein later confessed that his introduction of the cosmological constant was perhaps his greatest blunder.

In 1998, observations of distant supernovas showed the universe wasn’t just expanding, but the expansion was speeding up. Galaxies were accelerating away from each other as if some unknown force was overcoming gravity and shoving those galaxies apart. Physicists have named this enigmatic phenomenon dark energy, as its true nature remains a mystery.

In a twist of irony, physicists once again reintroduced the cosmological constant into Einstein’s field equations to account for dark energy. In the current standard model of cosmology, known as ΛCDM (Lambda CDM), the cosmological constant is interchangeable with dark energy. Astronomers have even estimated its value based on observations of distant supernovas and fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background. Although the value is absurdly small (on the order of 10^-52 per square meter), over the scale of the universe, it is significant enough to explain the accelerated expansion of space.

“The cosmological constant [or dark energy] currently constitutes about 70% of the energy content in our universe, which is what we can infer from the observed accelerated expansion that our universe is presently undergoing. Yet this constant is not understood,” Lombriser said. “Attempts to explain it have failed, and there seems to be something fundamental that we are missing in how we understand the cosmos. Unraveling this puzzle is one of the major research areas in modern physics. It is generally anticipated that resolving the issue may lead us to a more fundamental understanding of physics.”

Related: 8 Ways You Can See Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in Real Life

The worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics

The cosmological constant is thought to represent what physicists call “vacuum energy.” Quantum-field theory states that even in a completely empty vacuum of space, virtual particles pop in and out of existence and create energy — a seemingly absurd idea, but one that has been observed experimentally. The problem arises when physicists attempt to calculate its contribution to the cosmological constant. Their result differs from observations by a mind-boggling factor of 10^121 (that’s 10 followed by 120 zeroes), the largest discrepancy between theory and experiment in all of physics.

Such a disparity has caused some physicists to doubt Einstein’s original equations of gravity; some have even suggested alternative models of gravity. However, further evidence of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have only strengthened general relativity and dismissed many of these alternative theories. Which is why instead of rethinking gravity, Lombriser took a different approach to solve this cosmic puzzle.

“The mechanism I propose does not modify Einstein’s field equations,” Lombriser said. Instead, “it adds an additional equation on top of Einstein’s field equations.”

The gravitational constant, which was first used in Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity and now an essential part of Einstein’s field equations, describes the magnitude of  the gravitational force between objects. It is considered one of the fundamental constants of physics, eternally unchanged since the beginning of the universe. Lombriser has made the dramatic assumption that this constant can change.

In Lombriser’s modification of general relativity, the gravitational constant remains the same within our observable universe but may vary beyond it. He suggests a multiverse scenario where there may be patches of the universe invisible to us that have different values for the fundamental constants.

This variation of gravity gave Lombriser an additional equation that relates the cosmological constant to the average sum of matter across space-time. After he accounted for the estimated mass of all the galaxies, stars and dark matter of the universe, he could solve that new equation to obtain a new value for the cosmological constant — one that closely agrees with observations.

Using a new parameter, ΩΛ (omega lambda), that expresses the fraction of the universe made of dark matter, he found the universe is made up of about 74% dark energy. This number closely matches the value of 68.5% estimated from observations — a tremendous improvement over the huge disparity found by quantum field theory.

Although Lombriser’s framework might solve the cosmological constant problem, there’s currently no way to test it. But in the future, if experiments from other theories validate his equations,  it could mean a major leap in our understanding of dark energy and provide a tool to solve other cosmic mysteries.

Originally published on Live Science.

Something Strange Is Happening in the Fermi Bubbles



Something Strange Is Happening in the Fermi Bubbles

The Fermi Bubbles are two enormous orbs of gas and cosmic rays that tower over the Milky Way, covering a region roughly as large as the galaxy itself. These giant space bubbles may be fueled by a strong outflow of matter from the center of the Milky Way.

The Fermi Bubbles are two enormous orbs of gas and cosmic rays that tower over the Milky Way, covering a region roughly as large as the galaxy itself. These giant space bubbles may be fueled by a strong outflow of matter from the center of the Milky Way.
(Image: © NASA Goddard)

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of “Your Place in the Universe.” Sutter contributed this article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

In 2010, astronomers working with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope announced the discovery of two giant blobs. These blobs were centered on the core of the Milky Way galaxy, but they extended above and below the plane of our galactic home for over 25,000 light-years. Their origins are still a mystery, but however they got there, they are emitting copious amounts of high-energy radiation.

More recently, the Ice Cube array in Antarctica has reported 10 super-duper-high-energy neutrinos sourced from the bubbles, leading some astrophysicists to speculate that some crazy subatomic interactions are afoot. The end result: the Fermi Bubbles are even more mysterious than we thought.

Related: Huge Milky Way Gas Bubbles Clocked at 2 Million Mph

Two giant blobs of hot gas

It’s not easy to make big balls of hot gas. For starters, you need energy, and a lot of it. The kind of energy that can spread hot gas to a distance of over 25,000 light-years doesn’t come easily to a typical galaxy. However, the peculiar orientation of the Fermi Bubbles — extending evenly above and below our galactic center — is a strong clue that they might be tied our central super massive black hole, known as Sagittarius A*.

Perhaps millions of years ago, Sag A* (the more common name for our giant black hole, because who wants to keep typing or saying “Sagittarius” all the time?) ate a giant meal and got a bad case of indigestion, with the in-falling material heating up, twisting around in a complicated dance of electric and magnetic forces, and managing to escape the clutches of the event horizon before falling in. That material, energized beyond belief, raced away from the center of the galaxy, riding on jets of particles accelerated to nearly the speed of light. As they fled to safety, these particles spread and thinned out, but maintained their energetic state to the present day.

Or perhaps a star wandered too close to Sag A* and was ripped to shreds, releasing all that potent gravitational energy in a single violent episode, leading to the formation of the bubbles. Or maybe it had nothing to do with Sag A* itself, but the multitude of stars in the core — perhaps dozens or hundreds of those densely packed stars went supernova at around the same time, ejecting these plumes of gas beyond the confines of the galactic more.

Or maybe none of the above.

No matter what, the bubbles are here, they’re big, and we don’t understand them.

Related: 8 Baffling Astronomy Mysteries

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope – 10 Years of Discoveries
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Gamma and the neutrino

You can’t see the Fermi Bubbles with your naked eye. Despite their high temperatures, the gas inside them is incredibly thin, rendering them all but invisible. But something within them is capable of making the highest-energy kind of light there is: gamma rays, which is how the Fermi team spotted them.

We think that the gamma rays are produced within the bubbles by cosmic rays, which themselves are high-energy particles (do you get the overall “high energy” theme here?). Those particles, mostly electrons but probably some heavier fellas too, knock about, emitting the distinctive gamma rays.

But gamma rays aren’t the only things that high-energy particles can produce. Sometimes the cosmic rays interact with each other, perform some complicated subatomic dance of matter and energy, and release a neutrino, an almost-mass-less particle that only interacts with other particles via the weak nuclear force (which means it hardly ever interacts with normal matter at all).

The Ice Cube Observatory, situated at the geographic south pole, uses a cubic kilometer of pure Antarctic water ice as a neutrino detector: every once in a rare while, a high-energy neutrino passing through the ice interacts with a water molecule, setting up a domino-like chain reaction that leads to a shower of more familiar particles and a telltale flash of light.

Due to the nature of its detectors, Ice Cube isn’t the greatest when it comes to pinpointing the exact origin location for a neutrino. But to date, it has found 10 of these little ghosts coming from roughly the direction of the two Fermi Bubbles.

Is this coincidence, or conspiracy?

When Galaxies Blow Space Bubbles
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A subatomic puzzle

So something could be producing these extremely exotic neutrinos inside the Fermi Bubbles. Or not — it could just be a coincidence, and the neutrinos are really coming from some distant part of the universe behind the Bubbles.

What’s more, somehow the cosmic rays are producing all the gamma rays, though we’re not exactly sure how. Perhaps we might get lucky: maybe there’s a single set of interactions inside the Bubbles that produces both gamma rays and the right kind of neutrinos that can be detected by IceCube. That would be a big step up in explaining the physics of the Bubbles themselves, and give us a huge clue as to their origins.

Recently, a team of researchers pored through the available data, even adding results from the newly operational High Altitude Water Cherenkov detector (a super-awesome ground-based gamma ray telescope), and combined that information with various theoretical models for the Bubbles, searching for just the right combo.

In one possible scenario, protons inside the Bubbles occasionally slam into each other and produce pions, which are exotic particles that quickly decay into gamma rays. In another one, the flood of high-energy electrons in the Bubbles interacts with the ever-present radiation of the cosmic microwave background, boosting some lucky photons into the gamma regime. In a third, shock waves at the outer edges of the Bubbles use magnetic fields to drive local but lethargic particles to high velocities, which then begin emitting cosmic rays.

But try as they might, the authors of this study couldn’t find any of the scenarios (or any combination of these scenarios) to fit all the data. In short, we still don’t know what drives the gamma ray emission from the Bubbles, whether the Bubbles also produce neutrinos, or what made the Bubbles in the first place. But this is exactly how science is done: collecting data, ruling out hypotheses, and forging onward.

Read more: “Correlation of high energy neutrinos and gamma rays on the direction of Fermi Bubbles

You can listen to the Ask A Spaceman podcast on iTunes, and on the Web at Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman, or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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This Weird, Rocky Planet Has No Atmosphere



This Weird, Rocky Planet Has No Atmosphere

An illustration of exoplanet LHS 3844b, which may have a rocky surface similar to that of Earth's moon.

An illustration of exoplanet LHS 3844b, which may have a rocky surface similar to that of Earth’s moon.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

A nearby, rocky exoplanet may be just a plain rock with no atmosphere — supporting a theory that planets orbiting small stars are more susceptible to lacking an atmosphere.

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope observed the planet, named LHS 3844b, while looking for signs of an atmosphere. Instead, they found indications that the planet is a bare rock. The findings support the theory that planets orbiting smaller stars (around 60% smaller in radius than the sun) lack substantial atmospheres — possibly due to the radiation from their dwarf star, according to the study.

LHS 3844b has a radius that is 1.3 times larger than Earth, and it completes one orbit around its host star in a mere 11 hours.

Related: The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)

Alien World Covered in Dark Volcanic Rock Observed by Spitzer Space Telescope
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The study tested for the planet’s atmosphere, which is an indication of whether or not it can sustain life, by observing light from its surface over a period of 100 hours. Through the observations, the scientists discovered that one side of the planet is permanently facing its star in what’s known as a “tidally locked” orbit. (Earth’s moon is also tidally locked, which is why we never see the far side.)

One side of the planet, the “dayside,” is a scorching 1,410 degrees Fahrenheit (770 degrees Celsius). If there was a substantial atmosphere present on the planet, then the hot air from one side would generate winds that transfer heat across the planet’s surface. But with a lack of atmosphere, there would be no air to transfer the heat around. (The temperature of the planet’s “nightside” could not be measured by the Spitzer telescope, as it is an infrared telescope).

“The temperature contrast on this planet is about as big as it can possibly be,” Laura Kreidberg, a researcher at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “That matches beautifully with our model of a bare rock with no atmosphere.”

The planet’s surface could be covered in the same dark lava rocks called mare that are found on the moon’s darker areas, according to the statement.

The rocky exoplanet was first discovered in 2018 by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey, which found LHS 3844b orbiting around an M dwarf star — the most common type of star  in the Milky Way.

The discovery of the exoplanet marks the first time scientists were able to observe an exoplanet orbiting an M dwarf without an atmosphere.

“We’ve got lots of theories about how planetary atmospheres fare around M dwarfs, but we haven’t been able to study them empirically,” Kreidberg said. “Now, with LHS 3844b, we have a terrestrial planet outside our solar system where for the first time we can determine observation-ally that an atmosphere is not present.”

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Is Finally 100% Assembled



NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Is Finally 100% Assembled

The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and “unitized pallet structures” (which fold up around the telescope for launch) are seen partially deployed to an open configuration to enable telescope installation.

The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sun shield and “unitized pallet structures” (which fold up around the telescope for launch) are seen partially deployed to an open configuration to enable telescope installation.
(Image: © NASA/Chris Gunn)

NASA’s next big space observatory has finally come together.

Engineers have joined both halves of the $9.7 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in March 2021, NASA officials announced today (Aug. 28).

“The assembly of the telescope and its scientific instruments, sun shield and the spacecraft into one observatory represents an incredible achievement by the entire Webb team,” Webb project manager Bill Ochs, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

“This milestone symbolizes the efforts of thousands of dedicated individuals for over more than 20 years across NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Northrop Grumman and the rest of our industrial and academic partners,” Ochs added.

Related: Building the James Webb Space Telescope (Gallery)

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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the agency's next giant space telescope, is seen completely assembled for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California in this image released Aug. 28, 2019.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the agency’s next giant space telescope, is seen completely assembled for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California in this image released Aug. 28, 2019.
(Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, post-integration, inside Northrop Grumman’s cleanroom facilities in Redondo Beach, California.

A side view of the James Webb Space Telescope after its spacecraft and telescope sections were assembled.
(Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

Integration teams carefully guide Webb’s suspended telescope section into place above its Spacecraft Element just prior to integration.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s optical section (top) is carefully lowered into place on its Spacecraft Element in this view taken just before integration.
(Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

The recent work took place at the Redondo Beach, California, facilities of Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for Webb, which NASA bills as the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.

Using a crane, engineers gently lowered the telescope element, which consists of the optical and scientific gear, onto the spacecraft body. Webb’s complex, fold-able sun shield, which will keep the telescope’s instruments cool during operation, was already connected to the spacecraft segment.

The team then connected the two halves mechanically. Technicians still need to make, and then test, the electrical connections between the pieces, NASA officials said.

The assembly milestone was a long time coming; the Webb Space Telescope mission has endured a series of delays and cost overruns. Since 2009, for example, the project’s price tag has almost doubled, and its target launch date has been pushed back by nearly seven years.

But the telescope’s great scientific potential makes all that hard work and struggle worthwhile, NASA officials have said. The powerful Webb, which is optimized to view the universe in infrared light, will allow astronomers to address some of the biggest cosmic questions once it’s up and running at the sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2, a gravitationally stable point in space about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

Researchers will use the observatory to hunt for signs of life in the atmospheres of nearby alien planets, for example, and to study the formation of the universe’s first stars and galaxies about 13.5 billion years ago.

“This is an exciting time to now see all Webb’s parts finally joined together into a single observatory for the very first time,” Gregory Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in the same statement. “The engineering team has accomplished a huge step forward, and soon we will be able to see incredible new views of our amazing universe.”

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]