The most recently observed stellar explosion in our neighborhood
was Kepler’s supernova, spotted 400 years ago.
Scientists using a telescope atop a Hawaiian volcano have detected a pair of extra-bright supernovae, or star explosions, one of which is the oldest, most-distant supernova ever detected.
That explosion occurred 12 billion years ago, making it a billion years older than the oldest supernova ever seen before. Because they are so bright—about 10 to 100 times brighter than most supernovae—these superluminous supernovae extend the limit on how far scientists can look back in time when they study the stars, whose light takes so long to reach us that what they are showing us is a picture of the universe in the past. With these results, published in Nature, scientists are peering closer than ever before to the time of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Read More
Its’ time for another mind-blowing, record-breaking discovery by the Hubble Space Telescope. This time, it’s creeping closer than ever toward the beginning of the universe.
Astronomers have just announced they have discovered what may be the most distant galaxy ever seen, smashing the previous record holder. This galaxy is at a mind-crushing distance of 13.2 billion light years from Earth, making it not just the most distant galaxy but also the most distant extant object ever detected!
Named UDFj-39546284, the galaxy is seen as it was just 480 million years after the Universe itself formed! The previous record holder — which was announced just last October — was 13.1 billion light years away. This new galaxy beats that by 120 million light years, a substantial amount. Mind you, these galaxies formed not long after the Big Bang, which happened 13.73 billion years ago. We think the very first galaxies started forming 200 – 300 million years after the Bang; if that’s correct then we won’t see any galaxies more than about 13.5 billion light years away. Going from 13.1 to 13.2 billion light years represents a big jump closer to that ultimate limit!
For plenty more about this, check out the rest of Phil’s post at Bad Astronomy.
Bad Astronomy: How Deep Is the Universe?
Bad Astronomy: Galaxy Cluster at the Edge of the Universe
80beats: Planck Telescope Searchers the Super-Cold Universe, Finds Neat Stuff
Image: NASA, ESA
Earlier this month CERN’s smashing machine switched from sending protons zinging around its ring to sending heavy lead ions at relativistic speeds. Those energetic collisions, the physicists now say, have allowed them to use the LHC’s ALICE experiment to glimpse quark-gluon plasma, the “primordial soup” present just after the Big Bang.
During this time, the Universe would have been so hot and energetic that the particles making up the elements we know today were unable to form, leaving the constituents to float “free” as a primordial soup. Quarks and gluons were only able to condense into larger particles when universal energy conditions were low enough. Hadrons (i.e. particles made from quarks; including baryons like neutrons and protons) were only allowed to form 10-6 seconds after the Big Bang. [Discovery News]
The Big Bang was not the beginning, Roger Penrose believes.
The eminent Oxford physicist has long advocated the wild idea of “conformal cyclic cosmology,” a cyclical universe without beginning or end in which the Big Bang 13.75 billion years ago was simply one of many. This month, Penrose pushed his idea further: His team says it has detected a pattern in the cosmic microwave background—radiation left over from just after the Big Bang—that represents the echo of events that occurred before the Big Bang itself.
Penrose examined the data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), the mission that just completed nine years of surveying the cosmic microwave background across the sky. His study points to concentric circular patterns in the WMAP data where he says he found something surprising:
The circular features are regions where tiny temperature variations in the otherwise uniform microwave background are smaller than average. Those features, Penrose said, cannot be explained by the highly successful inflation theory, which posits that the infant cosmos underwent an enormous growth spurt, ballooning from something on the scale of an atom to the size of a grapefruit during the universe’s first tiny fraction of a second. Inflation would either erase such patterns or could not easily generate them. [Science News]
It’s a trap! (For antimatter.)
Researchers report this week in Nature that they’ve managed to corral atoms of antimatter in the lab and keep them around for about one-sixth of one second—an eternity in particle physics. The ability to trap these atoms means scientists could soon have the ability to study them directly, and perhaps answer one of the fundamental questions of the universe: Why the matter and antimatter present after the Big Bang didn’t annihilate each other completely and leave a matter-less universe behind.
Jeffery Hangst led the research team at CERN’s ALPHA collaboration.
It’s not easy, because of that mutual-annihilation issue. Hangst said the first trick was to combine the particles in a super-cold vacuum setting — less than 0.5 Kelvin, or -458.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That way, the particles don’t instantly jump away and fizzle out. The second trick is to build a magnetic trap to help contain the particles so that they don’t instantly decay. And there’s a third trick: designing a system capable of verifying that the atoms actually exist. “You must have a trap, and you must be cold, and you must be able to detect that you’ve done this,” Hangst said. [MSNBC]
From Phil Plait:
The record for the most distant object in the Universe ever seen has been smashed: a galaxy has been found at the staggering distance of 13.1 billion light years!
It’s so dim that the faintest star you can see with your unaided eye is 4 billion times brighter. Its distance is simply numbing; the Universe itself is only 13.7 billion years old, so the light from this object began its journey on its way to Earth just 600 million years after the Universe itself formed.
Head to the full post at Bad Astronomy for all the details about how astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to find this faraway galaxy, and what the discovery tells us about the infant universe.
Bad Astronomy: The Universe Is 13.73 +/-.12 Billion Years Old
Bad Astronomy: New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record
80beats: Hubble Spies Baby Galaxies That Formed Just After the Big Bang
DISCOVER: Happy Birthday Hubble: The Telescope’s Most Underrated Images
When the universe was young, massive galaxies formed quickly but surprisingly peacefully. Researchers say they’ve found evidence that these galaxies didn’t grow by sucking up the remnant materials from supernovae or by violent collisions with other galaxies–instead they were fed by streams of cold gas that were funneled into their central star-forming region.
Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have observed three primeval galaxies with patches of star formation near their centers, away from the heavy elements that signal the remains of previous stars. The team found that these galaxies were sucking in cool hydrogen and helium from the space between galaxies as fuel. “It solves the problem of providing to the galaxies fuel to form their stars in a continuous way, without having to invoke violent mergers and galaxy interactions,” said study researcher Giovanni Cresci. [SPACE.com]
The study, published in Nature, describes three galaxies that formed just 2 billion years after the Big Bang–which created lots of hydrogen and helium to feed hungry, growing galaxies, but created few heavier elements. Those formed later in stars and supernovae.
80beats: Hubble Spies Baby Galaxies That Formed Just After the Big Bang
Bad Astronomy: Hubble Sees Ancient Galaxies Rejuvenating Themselves
Bad Astronomy: Hubble Digs Deep to See Baby Galaxies
DISCOVER: Scientists Are Ready to Build Some Galaxies
DISCOVER: Are Black Holes the Architects of the Universe?
Image: L. Calcada (ESO)
Its multicolored ovals have become some of the most distinguishable pictures in science. Its estimate of the age of the universe is the most accurate ever produced. Its science team ought to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, Nobel predictors at Thomson Reuters say. But now, after nine years in space, the accomplished Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) is headed for its retirement home.
The spinning WMAP satellite scanned the sky to measure tiny variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Scientists consider the CMB the first light from the young universe after matter and light could exist independently as the universe cooled. Only sensitive microwave space telescopes can detect the temperature fluctuations, which amount to just a millionth of a degree against an average backdrop of less than -450 degrees Fahrenheit. [Spaceflight Now]
Physicist Sean Carroll, one of the people behind Cosmic Variance here at DISCOVER blogs, tweeted yesterday: “I think Stephen Hawking could say ‘ice cream is delicious’ and get massive media coverage.” He’s probably right.
Last month the renowned physicists made the news by warning of the great threat of human extinction over the next couple centuries, but kindly softened the blow by saying that we’ll be fine if we can get through our growing pains and get off this planet. Back in April, the wave of attention came from his warning that it might not be such a great idea to attempt to contact aliens, should they be more advanced than us and try to wipe us out.
Now, he’s taking on the almighty. Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, snagged media attention this week because of an excerpt that appeared in the U.K.’s The Times (which we can’t link to, because it’s behind an online pay wall).
“Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he wrote. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going.” [CNN]
Or, to put it another way, here’s a bit from the book’s final chapter about the nature of the universe:
If the Higgs boson is the “God Particle,” then some particle physicists just turned polytheistic. To explain a recent experiment, they wonder if five Higgs bosons give our universe mass instead of one.
Last month, we discussed a curious experiment at the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab near Chicago. Colliding protons and antiprotons, the Tevratron’s DZero group found more matter than antimatter.
This agrees well with common sense–if the Big Bang had really churned out equal amounts of matter and antimatter, the particles would have annihilated each other, and we wouldn’t be here. Unfortunately, the physics for this matter favoritism doesn’t make sense.
For one, it requires some fudging to fit the Standard Model, the organizing theory for particle physics. This might seem sad since we were so close to finishing the Standard Model up, with the Higgs filling the last cage in physicists’ particle zoo:
For those who believe the Standard Model is nearly complete, the discovery of the Higgs boson–a theoretical particle that imparts mass to all the other particles–would close out the final chapter. But for others who think that undiscovered physics properties exist–so-called new physics–a sequel to the Standard Model is needed. [Symmetry]