search slide
search slide
pages bottom

This week in space: dark matter, exoplanets, galactic superclusters, and a Dragon

Monday morning saw the Falcon 9 lift off on its ninth commercial resupply flight to the ISS, carrying crew supplies, a major science payload, and an international docking port for the Station. Now the capsule has successfully docked at the ISS. “We’ve captured us a Dragon,” reported astronaut Jeffrey Williams. “We look forward to the work that it brings.”

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing. Do you know any moon landing denialists? You probably shouldn’t punch them, but Buzz Aldrin might be forgiven for having done so. Watch it happen in this intensely gratifying video.

Aldrin isn’t the only one with a uniquely informed take on why the moon landing wasn’t a hoax. S G Collins is a cinematographer who explains how even though we had the technology to actually get to the moon, we just flat didn’t have the technology to fake it.

This week also marked the 40th anniversary of the Viking probes landing on Mars. Dispatched to the Red Planet to look for biomarkers of life, the little lander taught us “more [about Mars] in the first five minutes of the Viking mission than in the 500 years before.” This is the first image Viking 1 sent us:

Speaking of other planets, NASA reports that Kepler’s ongoing search for exoplanets turned up more than a hundred distant worlds in its most recent batch of results. Two could be habitable, even Earth-like. How we would ever get there, of course, remains a thought experiment.

Hubble also produced one of the deepest views into space ever seen. Gravitational lensing made it possible for Hubble to peer deep into the heart of this cluster of very old galaxies, some four billion light years away, which formed maybe a billion years after the Big Bang.

The ESO’s Very Large Telescope gave us a gorgeous deep zoom into the Orion Nebula, which they have available for download in 4K. You can actually see this nebula with the naked eye, even if you live in a city — when you look at the Orion constellation, the Orion Nebula is the middle “star” in Orion’s sword. The Nebula is actually a huge star nursery about 1,350 light-years away.

More than a million galaxies containing such star nurseries were mapped and juxtaposed in the largest 3D map ever made, announced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey collaboration. The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) revealed fine details about the superstructure of our universe. Galaxies are strewn throughout the cosmos in strands and superclusters, showing us a colossal splash whose shape was frozen in time when the universe cooled down enough to finally become opaque, about 400,000 years after the Big Bang.

Looking further and further outward, we are reminded that even though experiments like the BOSS survey continue to make qualitative statements about dark matter and dark energy, the physical search for dark matter remains frustrating and poorly constrained. The LUX detector is one of a kind, an exquisitely sensitive detector designed to pick up signs of weakly interacting massive particles during one of the rare interactions between dark matter and normal matter. But alas, this week the LUX team reported that they had failed to detect any of the particles they were looking for. In their statement, they remarked that while they had eliminated “large swathes” of possible mass ranges and interactions associated with WIMPs, the WIMP model itself “remains alive and viable.” Now it’s a matter of time: the next data on dark matter might come from CERN, or it might come from LUX’s successor, LUX-ZEPELIN, which will be 70 times as sensitive, taking LUX’s place underground.

Leave a Reply

Captcha image