According to Simulations, the Milky Way is One in a Million

A lonely Milky Way analogue galaxy, too massive for its wall. The background image shows the distribution of dark matter (green and blue) and galaxies (here seen as tiny yellow dots) in a thin slice of the cubic volume in which we expect to find one of such rare massive galaxies. Credit Images: Miguel A. Aragon-Calvo. Simulation data: Illustris TNG project Licence type Attribution (CC BY 4.0)

Humanity is in a back-and-forth relationship with nature. First, we thought we were at the center of everything, with the Sun and the entire cosmos rotating around our little planet. We eventually realized that wasn’t true. Over the centuries, we’ve found that though Earth and life might be rare, our Sun is pretty normal, our Solar System is relatively non-descript, and even our galaxy is one of the billions of spiral galaxies, a type that makes up 60% of the galaxies in the Universe.

But the Illustris TNG simulation shows that the Milky Way is special.

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The Voids Closest to Us May Not be Entirely Empty

Map of the nearest voids to the Milky Way galaxy (image credit: Courtois et al.)

The large scale structure of the universe is dominated by vast empty regions known as cosmic voids. These voids appear as holes hundreds of millions of light years across in the distribution of galaxies. However, new research shows that many of them may surprisingly still be filled with dark matter.

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“Early Dark Energy” Could Explain the Crisis in Cosmology

A diagram of the evolution of the observable universe. The Dark Ages are the object of study in this new research, and were preceded by the CMB, or Afterglow Light Pattern. By NASA/WMAP Science Team - Original version: NASA; modified by Cherkash, Public Domain,
A diagram of the evolution of the observable universe. Credit: NASA/WMAP/Wikimedia

In 1916, Einstein finished his Theory of General Relativity, which describes how gravitational forces alter the curvature of spacetime. Among other things, this theory predicted that the Universe is expanding, which was confirmed by the observations of Edwin Hubble in 1929. Since then, astronomers have looked farther into space (and hence, back in time) to measure how fast the Universe is expanding – aka. the Hubble Constant. These measurements have become increasingly accurate thanks to the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers have traditionally done this in two ways: directly measuring it locally (using variable stars and supernovae) and indirectly based on redshift measurements of the CMB and cosmological models. Unfortunately, these two methods have produced different values over the past decade. As a result, astronomers have been looking for a possible solution to this problem, known as the “Hubble Tension.” According to a new paper by a team of astrophysicists, the existence of “Early Dark Energy” may be the solution cosmologists have been looking for.

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Sometimes Astronomy isn’t About What you see, but What you don’t see

Constraints are critical in any scientific enterprise. If a hypothesis predicts that there should be an observable phenomenon, and there isn’t any trace of it, that’s a pretty clear indication that the hypothesis is wrong. And even false hypotheses still move science forward. So it is with astronomy and, in particular, explorations of the early universe. A paper authored by researchers at Cambridge and colleagues now puts a particularly useful constraint on the development of early galaxies, which has been a hot topic in astronomy as of late.

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Scientists Send Quantum Data Through a Simulated Wormhole

Simulated data wormhole
The wormhole created by researchers exists purely as data. (Illustration credit: Inqnet / A. Mueller / Caltech)

For the first time, scientists have created a quantum computing experiment for studying the dynamics of wormholes — that is, shortcuts through spacetime that could get around relativity’s cosmic speed limits.

Wormholes are traditionally the stuff of science fiction, ranging from Jodie Foster’s wild ride in “Contact” to the time-bending plot twists in “Interstellar.” But the researchers behind the experiment, reported in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Nature, hope that their work will help physicists study the phenomenon for real.

“We found a quantum system that exhibits key properties of a gravitational wormhole, yet is sufficiently small to implement on today’s quantum hardware,” Caltech physicist Maria Spiropulu said in a news release. Spiropulu, the Nature paper’s senior author, is the principal investigator for a federally funded research program known as Quantum Communication Channels for Fundamental Physics.

Don’t pack your bags for Alpha Centauri just yet: This wormhole simulation is nothing more than a simulation, analogous to a computer-generated black hole or supernova. And physicists still don’t see any conditions under which a traversable wormhole could actually be created. Someone would have to create negative energy first.

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Einstein's Predictions for Gravity Have Been Tested at the Largest Possible Scale

The first image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, featuring . Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

According to the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the Universe is governed by four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, and gravity. Whereas the first three are described by Quantum Mechanics, gravity is described by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Surprisingly, gravity is the one that presents the biggest challenges to physicists. While the theory accurately describes how gravity works for planets, stars, galaxies, and clusters, it does not apply perfectly at all scales.

While General Relativity has been validated repeatedly over the past century (starting with the Eddington Eclipse Experiment in 1919), gaps still appear when scientists try to apply it at the quantum scale and to the Universe as a whole. According to a new study led by Simon Fraser University, an international team of researchers tested General Relativity on the largest of scales and concluded that it might need a tweak or two. This method could help scientists to resolve some of the biggest mysteries facing astrophysicists and cosmologists today.

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Scroll Through the Universe with This Cool Interactive Map

Expansion of the Universe (Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) continues to pad its space community résumé with their interactive map, “The map of the observable Universe”, that takes viewers on a 13.7-billion-year-old tour of the cosmos from the present to the moments after the Big Bang. While JHU is responsible for creating the site, additional contributions were made by NASA, the European Space Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.

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Chipping Away at the Great Attractor Mystery. Another Galaxy Cluster Found Behind the Milky Way’s Disk

At the very centre of the simulation (and our own Universe) is the Milky Way galaxy, and our nearest massive neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy (known as M31). Credit Dr Stuart McAlpine

Something huge lurks in the shadows of the Universe. Known as the Great Attractor, it is causing the Milky Way and all the surrounding galaxies to rush towards it. We would normally have a better understanding of this situation, except for the fact that the Great Attractor happens to lie in the direction behind the galactic bulge, which makes it difficult for us to observe. A team of astronomers have performed a new infrared survey of the region behind the bulge, and they have found yet another large galaxy cluster. Their work is helping to paint a more complete portrait of the environment of the Great Attractor.

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Astronomers Chart the Influence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy on the Universe by Measuring Over 1,500 Supernovae

Artist view of a supernova explosion. Credit: NASA

In 2011, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Perlmutter, Schmidt, and Reiss for their discovery that the universe is not just expanding, it is accelerating. The work supported the idea of a universe filled with dark energy and dark matter, and it was based on observations of distant supernovae. Particularly, Type Ia supernovae, which have consistent light curves we can use as standard candles to measure cosmic distances. Now a new study of more than 1,500 supernovae confirms dark energy and dark matter, but also raises questions about our cosmological models.

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