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Tangled String: Cosmology on the Brink

The February cover of Astronomy Magazine poses an intriguing question: “What if string theory is wrong?”  Maybe you are unfamiliar with string theory.  Writer Sten Odenwald is not talking about violins or balls of string, but about the current leading theory of fundamental physics.  “Superstring theory,” Odenwald explains, “is based on three ideas that remain […]

No Evolutionary Tree for Galaxies

Edwin Hubble was famous for many important discoveries, including the confirmation of external galaxies and the expansion of the universe (no, he did not build the Hubble Space Telescope; he died in 1953).  One of his theories, though, a kind of evolutionary story of galaxies, has not fared so well.  Sidney van den Bergh discussed […]

Why Are We Here? Because We’’re Not All There

The anthropic principle survived another criticism.  Charles Q. Choi on Space.com reported on a critique by two physicists who think the cosmological constant is not so finely tuned.  In the end, the argument was shot down.  The story, asking “Why Are We Here?” was picked up by Fox News. Watch the new film The Case […]

ID Support from Unlikely Quarters

While Nature 11/24 described intelligent design (ID) as a threat to science, support for it came from two new scientific books reviewed in the same issue.  Both of them, while not using the phrase intelligent design, deal with concepts that imply science must reach beyond material causes. Just right universal soup:  Jim Al-Khalili (U of […]

Strange Exploding Star Continues to Puzzle Astronomers

The Hubble took another image of the expanding shell of star V838 Monocerotis (see ESA and Hubblesite).  Four years after the first dramatic sequence (see 05/29/2003), astronomers are still puzzled by this star, with the most dramatic light echo ever photographed.  Leading hypothesis now is that two stars collided before the outburst.  The image made […]

Will Cosmology Emerge from the Dark Ages?

To cosmologists, the “dark ages” were not after the fall of Rome, but the time between the release of the microwave background radiation, and the light from the first stars.  In a feature article for the November Scientific American, Abraham Loeb discussed how astronomers hope to shed light on this epoch with new telescopes measuring […]

Deep Field Survey Shows Oldest Galaxies Yet

Astronomers continue to find mature galaxies at higher and higher redshifts.  The latest record, reported in Nature,1 is z=6.96, interpreted to mean the galaxy was present 700 million years after the big bang (usually dated at 13.7 billion years ago).  A survey of distant galaxies from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), also reported in […]

Whistling in the Dark Matter Debate

Who’s right?  Douglas Clowe’s team at U of Arizona claimed two weeks ago that they found dark matter in the Bullet Cluster – they even had a picture of it.  The Chandra X-Ray Center called it “direct proof” of dark matter.  Two days later, EurekAlert posted a story about a new proposal to bring back […]

Big Bang Fails Prediction: Is the Theory in Trouble?

Astronomers looking at WMAP data (03/20/2006, 05/02/2003) of the cosmic background radiation failed to find shadows predicted by the big bang, reported Science Daily.  So what?  Here’s what Dr. Richard Lieu (U of Alabama) said this means: “Either it (the microwave background) isn’t coming from behind the clusters, which means the Big Bang is blown […]

Early Large Spiral Galaxy Resembles Milky Way

Astronomers using adaptive optics at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile took spectra of a galaxy at red-shift 2.38 described as an “early young galaxy” that must have, according to current theory, formed very rapidly, because it looks like the Milky Way.  The observations by Genzel et al., published in Nature,1 were described […]

Cosmologists Dragged Kicking and Screaming to the Anthropic Principle

Those who view science as a dispassionate, logical pursuit of the truth should savor the emotions in two articles by Tom Siegfried about cosmology in Science this week.1,2  He reported on the passionate rivalry between theoretical physicists who embrace superstring theory as the eventual “theory of everything” and those who oppose it because of its […]

Theory Battles Observations in Near-Field Cosmology

Which is more important in science: a consistent model, or a good fit with observations?  Clearly both would be the ideal.  A report in Science1 this week revealed that astronomers are having trouble holding the two together.  The problem is especially acute for near-field cosmology that deals with nearby galaxies.     It may seem […]

Paper View:  Why SETI Hears Only a “Great Silence”

Enrico Fermi posed a curious question in 1950: “Where is everybody?”  If life emerges on planets as a consequence of evolution, there should be other intelligent civilizations out there, and some of them must have colonized other worlds.  He thought there must have been plenty of time for galactic colonizers to achieve technologies far beyond […]

The Universe Is Made Out of… Fudge!

[Guest article]  According to the July issue of Astronomy magazine, the Universe is comprised mostly of fudge – or at least fudge factors, anyway.  The article by James Trefil from George Mason University describes the current thinking among astrophysicists as to the eventual fate of the universe.  Since the Big Bang, there has been an […]

Paper View:  Cosmic Questions, Personal Implications

A good question provokes good thinking.  It stimulates the imagination and inspires reasoning about profound issues.  It focuses attention on problems, calls for clarification of assumptions, and leads to good follow-up questions, too.  Such a good question was asked in four simple words by Sean M. Carroll1 (U of Chicago, Enrico Fermi Institute) this month […]
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