The first words of the book of Genesis make a declarative statement. God created Heaven and Earth, and thus begins the cosmic story. While not all creation myths have an act of beginning, most do. Humans are storytellers, and we like stories with a beginning. This origin need is deep within us and is even part of our scientific worldview. As is so often said in science, effects have causes. This cause and effect process is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us, but it’s not without its problems, particularly with the origin of the universe.
In a recent study submitted to MNRAS, a collaborative research team has utilized the first set of data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) discovering a galaxy candidate, CEERS-93316, that formed approximately 250 million years after the Bing Bang, which also set a new redshift record of z = 16.7. This finding is extremely intriguing as it demonstrates the power of JWST, which only started sending back its first set of data a few weeks ago. CEERS stands for Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey, and was specifically created for imaging with JWST.
Studying the universe is hard. Really hard. Like insanely, ridiculously hard. Think of the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life, because studying the universe is quite literally exponentially way harder than whatever you came up with. Studying the universe is hard for two reasons: space and time. When we look at an object in the night sky, we’re looking back in time, as it has taken a finite amount of time for the light from that object to reach your eyes. The star Sirius is one of the brightest objects in the night sky and is located approximately 8.6 light-years from Earth. This means that when you look at it, you’re seeing what it looked like 8.6 years ago, as the speed of light is finite at 186,000 miles per second and a light year is the time it takes for light to travel in one year. Now think of something way farther away than Sirius, like the Big Bang, which supposedly took place 13.8 billion years ago. This means when scientists study the Big Bang, they’re attempting to look back in time 13.8 billion years. Even with all our advanced scientific instruments, it’s extremely hard to look back that far in time. It’s so hard that the Hubble Space Telescope has been in space since 1990 and just recently spotted the most distant single star ever detected in outer space at 12.9 billion light-years away. That’s 30 years of scanning the heavens, which is a testament to the vastness of the universe, and hence why studying the universe is hard. Because studying the universe is so hard, scientists often turn to computer simulations, or models, to help speed up the science aspect and ultimately give us a better understanding of how the universe works without waiting 30 years for the next big discovery.
Something ancient and primordial lurks in Earth’s core. Helium 3 (3He) was created in the first minutes after the Big Bang, and some of it found its way through time and space to take up residence in Earth’s deepest regions. How do we know this?
It is a pivotal time for astrophysicists, cosmologists, and philosophers alike. In the coming years, next-generation space and ground-based telescopes will come online that will use cutting-edge technology and machine learning to probe the deepest depths of the cosmos. What they find there, with any luck, will allow scientists to address some of the most enduring questions about the origins of life and the Universe itself.
Alas, one question that we may never be able to answer is the most pressing of all: if the Universe was conceived in a Big Bang, what was here before that? According to a new op-ed by Prof. Abraham Loeb (which recently appeared in Scientific American), the answer may be stranger than even the most “exotic” explanations. As he argued, the cosmos as we know it may be a “baby Universe” that was created by an advanced technological civilization in a lab!
For decades, various physicists have theorized that even the slightest changes in the fundamental laws of nature would make it impossible for life to exist. This idea, also known as the “Fine-Tuned Universe” argument, suggests that the occurrence of life in the Universe is very sensitive to the values of certain fundamental physics. Alter any of these values (as the logic goes), and life would not exist, meaning we must be very fortunate to be here!
But can this really be the case, or is it possible that life can emerge under different physical constants, and we just don’t know it? This question was recently tackled by Luke A. Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher at the Sidney Institute for Astronomy (SIA) in Australia. In his recent book, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos, he and Sydney astrophysics professor Geraint F. Lewis argued that a fine-tuned Universe makes sense from a physics standpoint.
A new study shows a way to use quasars to gauge distance in the early Universe.
The simple question of ‘how far?’ gets at the heart of the history of modern astronomy. Looking out across our galactic backyard into the primordial Universe, different yardsticks—often referred to as ‘standard candles’ —are used to gauge various distances, from near to far.
Thanks to the most advanced telescopes, astronomers today can see what objects looked like 13 billion years ago, roughly 800 million years after the Big Bang. Unfortunately, they are still unable to pierce the veil of the cosmic Dark Ages, a period that lasted from 370,000 to 1 billion years after the Big Bang, where the Universe was shrowded with light-obscuring neutral hydrogen. Because of this, our telescopes cannot see when the first stars and galaxies formed – ca., 100 to 500 million years after the Big Bang.
This period is known as the Cosmic Dawn and represents the “final frontier” of cosmological surveys to astronomers. This November, NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will finally launch to space. Thanks to its sensitivity and advanced infrared optics, Webb will be the first observatory capable of witnessing the birth of galaxies. According to a new study from the Université de Genève, Switzerland, the ability to see the Cosmic Dawn will provide answers to today’s greatest cosmological mysteries.
Since it was first theorized in the 1970s, astrophysicists and cosmologists have done their best to resolve the mystery that is Dark Matter. This invisible mass is believed to make up 85% of the matter in the Universe and accounts for 27% of its mass-energy density. But more than that, it also provides the large-scale skeletal structure of the Universe (the cosmic web), which dictates the motions of galaxies and material because of its gravitational influence.
Unfortunately, the mysterious nature of Dark Matter means that astronomers cannot study it directly, thus prevented them from measuring its distribution. However, it is possible to infer its distribution based on the observable influence its gravity has on local galaxies and other celestial objects. Using cutting-edge machine-learning techniques, a team of Korean-American astrophysicists was able to produce the most detailed map yet of the local Universe that shows what the “cosmic web” looks like.
It’s often said that in its earliest moments the universe was in a hot, dense state. While that’s a reasonably accurate description, it’s also quite vague. What exactly was it that was hot and dense, and what state was it in? Answering that question takes both complex theoretical modeling and high-energy experiments in particle physics. But as a recent study shows, we are learning quite a bit.