Daily Roundup: The Mars Curse and the Biggest Explosion in the Universe!

The largest ever gamma ray burst observed. Image credit: NASA

This week has been an exciting week for astronomers. The largest explosion ever seen in the Universe was observed on Wednesday. This gamma ray burst, produced when a star collapses in on itself to create a black hole, is a record breaker. Not only is it the biggest explosion mankind has seen since records began, it is also the furthest and oldest “thing” we have ever observed…
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Primordial Quark Nuggets Disguised as Near Earth Asteroids?

The HST map of dark matter. Image credit: NASA/HST. Source: BBC

We know that dark matter is difficult to observe… in fact, we can only indirectly observe the stuff. Gravitational lensing and WMAP “Haze” are two possible ways to observe large-scale dark matter, but what about the small-scale stuff? New research suggests that some types of dark matter may be in the form of cold, primordial clumps of elementary particles and there’s a possibility we’ve been accidentally been observing them for years…
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Artificial Cosmogenesis – Building a Virtual Universe

Could black holes be used to contain our virtual universe? Credit: unknown. Source: http://netjmc.typepad.com/globally_local/kmworld_intranets_2006/index.html

The Universe as we know it could be in big trouble. I have reported before on situations where our universe may be changing beyond the realms of “normal” physics, but the “heat death problem” could be a physical situation where the Universe will eventually expand so far that all energy will dissipate and be lost. Thermodynamics will eventually catch up with all the stars in the cosmos, ensuring they extinguish, all energy ebbing away into frozen space. Even the last of the supermassive black holes will evaporate after 10150 years. What’s left then? Well… nothing. So the question is: if a sufficiently advanced incarnation of the human race can beat the increasing entropy of the cosmos, can the future “us” continue to live beyond the heat death? Some rather philosophical ideas have come to light, including the creation of a virtual universe
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Supermassive Black Holes Can’t Swallow Dark Matter

A modelled accretion disk around a black hole. Image credit: Michael Owen, John Blondin (North Carolina State Univ.). Source: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap050312.html

Apparently, black holes and dark matter don’t play well together. Broadly speaking, black holes can be considered to be a significant portion of the “missing mass” in the universe, but dark matter is distinguished as “non-baryonic matter”. It seems that this mysterious non-baryonic matter is being used to explain a huge number of unexplained cosmic mysteries, but in the case of supermassive black holes, dark matter plays a very small role insofar as being used as black hole food…
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Dark Matter Ain’t So Dark After All: Observing The Mysterious Cosmic Glow with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

Observations by the WMAP observatory of the cosmic background radiation. Is there Dark Matter out there? Image credit: WMAP Science Team, NASA

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has observed something rather strange in our galaxy. There appears to be excess microwave radiation being emitted from the space around us, with apparently no explanation. In new research, this microwave excess may be caused by “nuggets” of dark matter, perhaps a few tonnes in mass, radiating some low energy EM waves. Could this be the first evidence of dark matter? If so, this could be a revolutionary method of observing the stuff…
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When Stars Collide: LIGO and Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Binary black holes generating gravitational waves. Image credit: Image Credit: K. Thorne (Caltech), T. Carnahan (NASA GSFC). Source: http://lisa.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/binary-wave.html

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is an ambitious project. The experiment is designed to detect and characterize gravitational waves generated by energetic and massive events in the cosmos. What’s more, as LIGO has two stations situated 3000 kilometres (1870 miles) apart, through triangulation, the location of a star collision or black hole event can be deduced in the sky. Completed two years ago, LIGO has been taking data ever since and the time has now come to begin analysing the results, seeing if the theoretical gravitational wave can actually be observed, bringing us into a new era of astronomy, gravitational wave astronomy
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Large Hadron Collider Could Detect “Unparticles”

Unparticles may have fractal properties. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Complex_fractle_image.png

Understanding the mysterious dark matter in our universe is paramount to cosmologists. Dark matter and dark energy makes up the vast majority of mass in the observable universe. It influences galaxy rotation, galactic clusters and even holds the answer to our universe’s fate. So, it is unsurprising to hear about some outlandish physics behind the possible structure of this concealed mass. A Harvard scientist has now stepped up the plate, publishing his understanding about dark matter, believing the answer may lie in a type of material that has a mass, but doesn’t behave like a particle. “Unparticles” may also be detected by the high energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Detector (LHD) at CERN going online in a few weeks time. High energy physics is about to get stranger than it already is… [more]

A Possible Answer to Flyby Anomalies

The Galileo mission above Earth - subsequent flybys caused an unexpected boost in velocity. Image credit: NASA

Strange things are happening to our robotic space explorers. Also known as the “Pioneer effect” (the unexpected and sudden alterations to Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 trajectories measured as they continue their journey into the outer solar system), similar anomalies are being seen in flybys by modern space probes. Earth flybys by Galileo, Rosetta, NEAR and Cassini have all experienced a sudden boost in speed. After cancelling out all possible explanations, including leakage of fuel and velocity measurement error, a new study suggests the answer may lie in a bizarre characteristic of universal physics… [more]