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We’ve got it all wrong about the shape of the Universe We’ve got it all wrong about the shape of the Universe


We may have got it all wrong about the shape of the Universe

Scientists reveal that competing studies suggest our existing models for the shape of the Universe may need totally revising.



We all know the Universe, right? Big thing, full of stars and planets, constantly expanding on a sort of flat plane. Well, it turns out we may not know it half as well as we thought.

The traditional model of the Universe sees it as ‘flat’. This is an image based on, and borne out by, repeated observation and measurements from numerous different sources, but new evidence suggests that the picture astrophysicists have extrapolated from this data is misleading.

In fact, according to readings from the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope, the Universe may not be a ‘flat’ shape, where lines extend out in ever-expanding ways into infinity. Instead, it may be a ‘closed’ shape; a sphere-like our own planet, where lines curve back round on themselves.

This change of thinking could be a disruption in our understanding of the cosmos that is so shattering, it will require a total redraw and the contemplation of some funky new physics to explain what we’re seeing. Or it may be an anomaly, a fluctuation in an otherwise consistent picture.


Our image of a flat plane Universe has been built up from many different observations across many different observatories but the datasets gained over time from these myriad institutions have been collated and compiled, based on a particular sense of how they should fit together when, in reality, these data are not actually measured in the same consistent way, or even from the same cosmological model. Therefore, the conceptual framework we try to fit them into or measure them against really matters.

The differences they have presented from one another have traditionally been flattened out (see what I did there…?) into the flat Universe model, with attempts made to excuse, explain away or ignore some of the more troubling inconsistencies. However, the new Planck data suggests such inconsistencies may, in fact, make perfect sense, providing you allow for a closed shape to the cosmos.

The key discovery of the Planck telescope was an “enhanced lensing amplitude in cosmic microwave background power spectra”. This, in layman’s terms, means that the CMB (or Cosmic Microwave Background), the background radiation left over from the Big Bang (a very faint and cold trace energy that can be found absolutely everywhere in the Universe) can be seen to bend more than it should, or at least more than can be accounted for by the objects that lie between us and it.

Einstein predicted and proved the concept of gravitational lensing, the idea that space itself is curved by the gravity, or mass, of the objects in it. This is a phenomenon which can be observed by the displacement of distant stellar objects, whose light has been curved in its path by intervening massive objects.

However, the idea that the Universe itself is a curved sphere, closing in on itself at the edges, is new, exciting, and as hotly contested as it is totally unproven. The anomalous bending could be a mere fluctuation, or it could be something unseen, but the team from the ESA is confident that the bending is consistent with a closed model of the Universe and this may be the best explanation for what they have found.

The ESA has already used previous Planck experiments to examine the CMB (discovering, in the process, that the Universe was slightly older than had been thought), but the cosmological crisis they may have unveiled is next-level stuff.

That said, there are a lot of things going against the closed Universe model. For one thing, all the previous analysis of Planck data has been consistent with the flat Universe model. For another, that famously tricksy Hubble Constant only gets harder to predict if you place it in a closed Universe model and both cosmic shear data and the baryon acoustic oscillation surveys of dark energy are inconsistent with a closed Universe model.

So do we need to rethink space as we know it? Only time and a lot more data will tell.

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NASA released new image of the second interstellar object in our solar system

Interstellar object number two has entered our solar system and been snapped by NASA observers.



NASA released new image of the second interstellar object in our solar system

Interstellar objects entering the solar system are a bit like buses, you wait centuries for one to turn up and then two come (in astronomical terms) more or less at once. This second object (following on the heels of ‘Oumuamua seen back in 2017) first turned up on NASA’s radar back in August but has now come within camera range for a decent snapshot. And boy, is it a beauty.

The interstellar comet, 2I/Borisov, as it’s rather unromantically known (the I stands for ‘interstellar’) has now been snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope, at the comparatively close proximity of 300 million kilometers, and the images are far sharper than the earlier fuzzy, blurry shots taken in November. Now we can more clearly make out details of size and shape and learn how much earlier observations got wrong.

For instance, initial observations overestimated the size of the comet’s nucleus, its central, solid core. This now looks to be just a half a kilometer across, about one-fifteenth the estimates made on first viewing. In fact, early estimates suggested that the area around the nucleus, the coma and tail, were 14 times the size of the Earth.


The coma surrounding 2/I Borisov is made up frozen dust and gases, thawed out by proximity to the heat of the sun, with estimates suggesting that this process began back in June as the comet came within four to five astronomical units (the standard measure of space distance based on Earth’s distance from the sun) from our own particular star. From the size of the coma, Borisov may be losing 2kg of dust and 60kg of water to it every second. And that’s quite a lot of dust and water, especially for what turns out to be so small an object.

Knowing the exact size of this interstellar comet will help astrophysicists to estimate just how many such objects might be populating our solar system and the wider Milky Way. However, the solar system that Borisov claims as its own original home remains a mystery.

2/I Borisov initially entered our solar system from the direction of the constellation of Cassiopeia and is on a huge, elliptical orbit that is barely dented by the gravity of the sun that has every other object in the vicinity firmly in its grasp. This is partly due to Borisov’s sheer speed, which also testifies to its extra-solar origins, currently, at a blistering 32 kilometers per second, nearly twice the speed at which the man-made extra-solar traveler Voyager 1 is cruising at, in a bid to get out into the wider universe.

Most comets come from the freezing outer edges of the solar system, still beholden to the sun’s gravity even at that distance, so interstellar visitors are big news. But there is a chance that this may be 2/I Borisov’s final visit. The comet’s trajectory will take it to within 2au of the sun, a range at which many other comets perish, an outcome partly depending on the size of their nucleus, with some scientists estimating a 10% chance that this may be Borisov’s fate.

It is also one of an extraordinary eight comets to have been discovered by Crimean ‘amateur’ astronomer Gennadiy Borisov, this one spotted first back in August.

But are interstellar objects really more like buses than we think? Have two turned up in just the last two years out of dumb luck or is the trick to seeing comets, like catching buses, all about waiting in the right place for when they come by? Hopefully observing 2/I Borisov will help us determine if this is a sheer fluke, or if there are far more such objects regularly visited the solar system than we had previously realized.

But for now, the best plan is to keep watching the journey of plucky little 2/I Borisov, keep snapping photos and learning what we can of it, and keep our fingers crossed that getting within 2au of our own sun, an alien to this interstellar traveler, will not be the end of it.

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Dark matter may pre-date the Big Bang, scientists say

A new study released by Tommi Tenkanen suggests that dark matter existed prior to the Big Bang, explaining the matter’s odd behavior.



Dark matter may pre-date the Big Bang, scientists say

Astronomer and physicist, Tommi Tenkanen, of Baltimore’s John Hopkins University recently released a study in the journal, Physical Review Letters, debating the origin of dark matter. In this study, Tenkanen elaborates on a mathematical formula that may argue that dark matter pre-dates the Big Bang.

What does that mean, though?

According to Tenkanen, a connection exists between particle physics and astronomy, which may explain the existence of dark matter.

Given the way that dark matter particles interact with the universe around them, they are definitively a non-standard particle and a potential lead that may help scientists better understand the makeup of the universe.

Until recently, astronomers and their peers addressed dark matter in similar terms to normal matter, even given the difference in the matter’s behavior.

Tenkanen now states that, if astronomers and others considered dark matter particles entirely separate entities from standard matter particles – by suggesting they came into existence prior to the Big Bang – these industry leaders could better explain the matter’s behaviors and purpose.

The Big Bang represents the known – or proposed – beginning of the universe. It dates back to 13.8 billion years ago.

If dark matter had been produced by this explosion, just as most known matter was, then Tenkanen poses that it would have appeared alongside the particles physicists have experimented on and linked to the Big Bang already.


To account for this disconnect, Tankanen crafted a mathematical formula to date dark matter. Through this formula, he poses that dark matter existed before Cosmic Microwave Background radiation spread throughout the rest of the known universe.

Why? Because the makeup of the matter created via CMB radiation suggests formation by heat bath. Comparatively, space expansion produces scalar particles – or particles distinctly different in makeup from normal matter.

Tenkanen states that “The key finding of my study is that not only so many scalars may have formed during such a state that they constitute dark matter, but that they leave a unique imprint on the large scale structure of the universe—which formed much later, after the Big Bang,”

But what do Tenkanen and his peers know, precisely, about the mysterious substance referred to as “dark matter”?

Dark matter is a material that astronomers, physicists, and other leading bodies operating in the astronomical field have yet to understand. While it takes up space in the universe around everyone, no human can see it with the naked eye. Why?

Dark matter does not interact with light in the same way that normal particles of matter do. Instead, dark matter refuses to adsorb, reflect, or emit light.

This explains why it is so difficult to detect in space – but it opens up more new questions about the matter’s substances and makeup.

To complicate matters further, no astronomer or scientist has been able actually to detect dark matter. Academic and scientific leaders have been trying for years, but given the lack of evidence, these individuals have had to conduct experiments while hypothesizing about dark matter’s existence.

Why bother with the additional research if no one can prove that its subject matter exists?

According to Tenkanen, there is no other explanation for the vast, interactive mass that actively blocks out the light of stars.

Let’s break down the universe for a moment. At this point in time, astronomers and their peers are unable to identify the substances making up 95 percent of the known universe.

What they do know is that dark matter massively outnumbers visible matter, making up 27 percent of the universe’s mass. Another 68 percent is merely referred to as “dark energy” – an ominous named used to describe a physical force that remains obscure.

The standard matter that humans can interact with and observe is said to make up less than 5 percent of the known universe.

Dark matter, at least, has offered industry leaders leads regarding its structure. Because scientists can detect its lightless nature, they can make an effort to study it. Thus all the more reason experts like Tenkanen would want to understand better what they are facing.

With so few answers available regarding the subject, Tenkanen’s research offers the field an academic boon – and new leads to go on.

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Millions of undiscovered black holes in the Milky Way galaxy are consuming matter from interstellar space

The Milky Way Galaxy is home to over 100 million black holes.



Millions of undiscovered black holes in the Milky Way galaxy are consuming matter from interstellar space

Black holes are terrifying spacial entities. They take in light and matter indiscriminately and deposit or otherwise consume them in ways astronomers and their peers have yet to understand.

These entities are mysterious horrors at a distance. Now imagine that there are millions of them, undetected by astronomers, consuming matter and light throughout the Milky Way galaxy.

There’s no need to imagine the scenario at all, actually. Those dust-and-gas hungry black holes do exist in the Milky Way, and two Japanese scientists are committing to finding them all.

Black holes: monsters in the cosmos

NASA estimates that there are between ten million and a billion operational black holes in the Milky Way. Given the nature of a black hole, astronomers and their peers have yet to determine where all of these black holes are.


The one most significant to astronomers studying localized star space, however, can be found at the center of the Milky Way. Originally detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope and its infrared cameras, this black hole is predicted to weigh 4 million times as much as the sun the Earth rotates around.

While black holes do not impact galactic rotation, they do have a marked impact on the existence of matter and time. Time itself changes the closer an object gets to a black hole, though to what degree, astronomers have yet to determine.

Until that impact can be appropriately measured, astronomers will have to rely on new methods to determine where these invisible entities exist throughout the galaxy.

The newest explorers of the invisible

Daichi Tsuna and Norita Kawanaka, of the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, respectively, intend to utilize X-ray emissions to identify the otherwise-quiet, or isolated, black holes, known as IBHs.

How will X-ray emissions help? Larger black holes generate an accretion disk of interstellar matter, due to their gravitation pull. The more expansive these accretion disks become, the more likely it is that they’ll release X-ray emissions.

Even black holes with weak accretion flow would produce a shock when that outflow interacted with other interstellar materials. By looking for X-ray emissions and radio waves produced by output shock, the two believe that they can identify the Milky Way’s IBHs.

That said, both Tsuna and Kawanaka admit that their proposal is an optimistic one. At this point in time, their proposal – released on the preprint server, – has not been reviewed by their peers in the scientific community.

One peer of theirs, astrophysicist Simon Portegies Zwart of Leiden University in the Netherlands, is hopeful. Even so, the sensitivity of the waves the Japanese scientists are looking for could threaten the success of their work.

A history of mystery

Black holes have always posed a problem for professionals like Tsuna and Kawanaka. Albert Einstein predicted these bodies’ existence as early as 1916, but his general theory of relativity did not bear fruit in the area until 1967. At that point, John Wheeler coined the term “black hole,” even though the celestial body was still considered theoretical.

It wouldn’t be until four years later that the first black hole was detected. Louise Webster and Paul Murdin, while working at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, were able to identify what they described as a gigantic but otherwise invisible substance surrounding a blue star some 6,000 light-years away from Earth. At the same time, Thomas Bolton of the University of Toronto announced that he, too, had detected the body’s presence.

Nowadays, that first black hole is known as Cygnus X-1. Both parties mentioned above were only able to identify it due to its consumptive nature. That is to say, if the black hole had not already been in the process of consuming a dying star, thus taking in light and matter, it would have remained unseen.

That is the curious thing about black holes. Like dark matter, they do not produce light. Unlike dark matter, they do actively absorb light. This absorption process, however, doesn’t work in the same way that standard light absorption does.

Instead, black holes, thanks to their significant gravitational field, actively draw light and matter into their centers. As mentioned, they also impact time as it passes, though to what degree astronomers have yet to determine.

What happens beyond that event horizon remains a mystery. Science fiction films and novels have speculated on the power of the black hole, but until it is confirmed, these interstellar bodies will remain terrifying and fascinating figures in the evening sky.

The future is looking bright for the study of black holes, though. Tsuna and Kawanaka are pushing their research forward, following up advancements in a field that’s only recently received a picture of its subject.

So long as their research moves forward, the astronomical field may learn more about the Milky Way’s personal set of black holes in the near future.

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Extraterrestrials may have explored the Milky Way galaxy and visited Earth already

Are we alone?



Extraterrestrials may have explored the Milky Way galaxy and visited Earth already

Carl Sagan wasn’t the first to point Earth’s lonely status in interstellar space out. The pale blue dot on which we sit feels like a small paradise in a universe full of mystery. What are the chances, really, that this one small planet in one small solar system, spinning on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, is the only planet that has life on it?

While biology and astronomy suggest the chances are relatively slim, astronomical philosophers disagree on the topic. The latest study published by The Astronomical Journal breaks from tradition and suggests that we have even been visited by extraterrestrial life – but that our interstellar neighbors haven’t dropped by for the past 10 million years.

The study suggests that the only reason we, in this generation, haven’t encountered extraterrestrial life is because that life is taking its time exploring the galaxy.

The question of extraterrestrial life

The question of extraterrestrial life isn’t a new one. It extends back beyond the rumors of gray men and the proposed raids of Area 51. That original question is attributed to physics Enrico Fermi.

Fermi is recorded asking of his colleagues, “where is everyone?” addressing the question of Earth’s place in the universe and human life alongside it. Fermi’s question poses a curious paradox: if there is life in the Milky Way galaxy or beyond it, why have humans not been visited? This exact question has come to be known as the Fermi Paradox.

Michael Hart, an astrophysicist, was among one of the first modern authorities to take this question seriously. He released a paper in 1975 that laid the groundwork for the study recently published by The Astronomical Journal.


In this paper, Hart suggests that over the 13.6 billion years since the Milky Way galaxy formed, interstellar life should have appeared on other planets, if only by happenstance. He would go on to argue, however, the lack of visitations meant that said life was not present.

This is an exceptionally human-centric view to take on the possibility of interstellar life and travel. Humanity is quick to position itself as the most important thing on Earth. Hart, in a study that is nowadays somewhat outdated, did the same on an intergalactic scale.

The newest study

The study published by The Astronomical Journal is titled, “The Fermi Paradox and the Aurora Effect: Exo-civilization Settlement, Expansion, and Steady States.” In the abstract, authors Jonathon Carroll-Nellenback, Adam Frank, Jason Write, and Caleb Scharf address the issues that have arisen in the proposals of their predecessors.

The authors state that they are using the study to overcome previous assumptions about the agency of any potential visitors to Earth. These assumptions include the colonialist idea that extraterrestrial life would only be coming to Earth with the intention of settling it.

They also deliberately separate their work from that of Michael Hart, stating that their results “break the link between Hart’s famous “Fact A” (no interstellar visitors on Earth now) and the conclusion that humans must, therefore, be the only technological civilization in the galaxy.”

This move-away from anthropocentrism means that the report is able to address potential extraterrestrial visitors as their own bodies and with their own priorities instead of as accessories to the human existence.

The argument against Hart’s initial propose invokes the motion of the stars and planets. The study’s authors pose new ideas about interstellar travel, noting the oft-forgotten five dimensions of space: the axises the general public recognizes and that of time, not to mention gravity.

In good company

This new study cements itself as a viable, interstellar explanation for the proposed lack of alien encounters over the past billions of years. It also finds itself in good company. Previous proposals for our interstellar loneliness include the “zoo hypothesis” and the incompatibility of alien life with our atmosphere.

All of these studies serve as humanity’s attempt to grasp a universe far beyond our understanding. That said, this most recent study expands the field in new and exciting ways.

As we shrug off preconceived notions about extraterrestrial agency, we can come to better speculate whether or not we’re truly alone in the vastness of space. If we can so readily forget that space moves around us, who’s to say what vital information we’re missing in this field?

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Scientists have found out how to extract oxygen from Moon’s surface

A team from Scotland has converted moon dust into oxygen and metal alloys through the use of electric currents.



Scientists have found out how to extract oxygen from Moon's surface

The moon has long proven to be a source of fascination for humanity. Whether in the sciences or the humanities, Earth’s celestial companion is a constant reminder that this pale blue dot is floating in the vastness of space, and that – in terms of celestial bodies, at least – we’re not alone.

The moon has come to represent more, however, than the eventual end of the Cold War space race. Even as it seems to have taken a backseat to the far-more ambitious Mars, it offers new mysteries and opportunities to those who know how to use them.

For example: did you know that the moon is full of oxygen?

Naturally, no one can walk on the moon without wearing a spacesuit, or else they’ll risk suffocating almost immediately. The moon, after all, lacks an atmosphere. However, look a little more closely at moon dust, and you’ll find oxygen in spades. That’s why chemists at the University of Glasgow in Scotland have discovered, at least.

Oxygen on the Moon

Bethany Lomax, a chemist, and her team have been exploring the make-up of moon dust for quite some time. In assessing this lunar regolith (effectively lunar topsoil), they’ve found that oxygen has bonded with minerals or glass, limiting its practical use but storing it in a way no one could have anticipated.


Lomax and her team have experimented with different ways of separating this oxygen from moon dust. However, they’ve been using lunar regolith simulant, as actual moon dust is too valuable to experiment on. Previous attempts to extract oxygen from this simulant have included chemical reductions of iron oxides paired with electrolysis.

Unfortunately, these previous attempts have either generated too much waste, delivered too little oxygen, or required extremely conditions that would be difficult to replicate on the lunar landscape.

The working method

The result that’s had the most success involves pure electrolysis. This process, according to Lomax and her team, produces no waste products, as future lunar civilizations would be able to use the metal byproducts that the separation process would leave behind.

The process looks like this:

  • Lunar regolith simulant is isolated and placed in a mesh-lined basket.
  • Teams add calcium chloride (an electrolyte) to the basket.
  • The basket is heated to 950 degrees Celsius.
  • Electrical currents are run through the heated basket.
  • In the basket, the simulant breaks down into two parts: oxygen and anode, which originally existed as salt.

At this point, Lomax’s team required 50 hours to extract 96 percent of the oxygen available to them in their lunar regolith simulant sample. However, 75 percent of that oxygen was released from the simulant within the first fifteen hours of exposure.

This is also the first time that this process has created waste that humans would be able to use under other circumstances. Thus far, Lomax and her team have been able to extract iron-aluminum, iron-silicon, and calcium-silicon-aluminum in addition to their oxygen.

The experimental downsides

That said, not all has gone smoothly for Lomax and her team. At this point, the team reports that they lose about a third of the oxygen that their metalysis-FFC process is able to generate. This setback is natural, as the team has been experimenting with oxygen extraction for many years.

That loss of oxygen also pales in comparison to the amount that the team has been able to take away.

Regardless of setbacks, then, Lomax and her team have developed a new way of interacting with lunar regolith, and it’s expected that they’ll continue to refine their process in the years to come.

The benefits of experimentation

Lomax and her team recently published an article addressing their discovery in Planetary and Space Science. This article is titled “Proving the viability of an electrochemical process for the simultaneous extraction of oxygen and production of metal alloys from lunar regolith.” They join a litany of other authors determined to make sense of the vast galaxy in which we live.

But why focus on the possibility of extracting oxygen from lunar regolith?

Humanity has long dreamed of living beyond the means of planet Earth. Even as space travel fluctuates in the public eye, the stars and planets above will always provide the right audiences with a sense of fascination. As dreams of settling the moon and Mars become potential realities, experiments like those conducted by Lomax and her team will prove invaluable.

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