Illustris TNG is a theoretical astrophysics project that created the most detailed simulation of the universe to date, and it turns out that black holes influence the distribution of dark matter. Read the rest
What I learned from this awe-inspiring animated explainer video from Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. Ninety-seven percent of all stars will eventually become white dwarfs. White dwarfs have a long lifespan! Up to 100 billion billion years. That's 10 billion times longer than the universe has existed. Intelligent life has a few billion years to learn how to move close to white dwarfs in order to survive. (In other words, it's a good idea to start planning now!) When a white dwarf dies, it will become a black dwarf. The universe will begin the slow process of heat death, and all life will die.* If protons decay the universe will eventually dissolve into nothingness. If protons don't decay, then they will become iron spheres, suspended in a black cold universe. This will be the forever end state of the universe.
*Not in the video, but Freeman Dyson has put forth the idea (in his wonderful book, Infinite in All Directions) that as long as there is a temperature differential (and there always will be), energy can be used to support life. Imagine a system that harvests energy for 10 billion years, which is enough to power a computer with a universe simulation in it for one second before shutting down. The next time, it has to harvest energy for 20 billion years to run the simulation for a second. This could go on literally forever, and the conscious entities in the simulation would not be aware of the long hibernation periods. Read the rest
New research from University College London suggests that the universe is indeed "isotropic," the same in all directions. Cosmologists Daniela Saadeh and Andrew Pontzen analyzed cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation left over from the Big Bang for any patterns that would indicate "a special direction in space." Read the rest
"Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell" have been making the best explainer videos on the planet. Their latest one is about gamma-ray bursts, which occur when stars collapse or collide. Gamma-ray bursts have been detected in far away galaxies, but not in the Milky Way. A gamma ray burst in our galaxy could wipe out all life on Earth, Read the rest
Your tax dollars build bridges. They pay the salaries of teachers and firefighters. Tax dollars help put people through college, provide a safety net for the elderly and the disabled, and pay for fighter jets and nuclear bombs.
You may not agree all those ways your tax dollars are spent, but they are all, at least, fairly tangible. When it's time for re-election, your senator can point to a roads project, a school, a saintly grandmother, or a missile silo. Through these projects, Americans are being educated, cared for, and protected.
But it's hard to make that clear cost/benefit analysis for basic scientific research. At least, not on a timetable that matches up with election cycles.
Basic research is often weird, and it's often boring. It's the years spent mapping the neurons of zebra fish, so that future scientists can have a more detailed biological model to work with. It's the chemical analysis that has to happen, so that two decades from now somebody else can discover a new cancer-fighting drug. Basic research is about curiosity, and knowledge for knowledge's sake. By it's very nature, basic research relies on public funding. But by it's very nature, it's hard to explain how the public benefits from the basic research we fund.
Attila Kovacs is one of the scientists who put your tax dollars to work. An astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota, he specializes in the study of space dust. That is, yes, dust. In space. It's the sort of thing that would be very easy to mock. Read the rest