Welcome back to our Fermi Paradox series, where we take a look at possible resolutions to Enrico Fermi’s famous question, “Where Is Everybody?” Today, we examine the possibility that the reason for the Great Silence is that all the aliens have evolved beyond the need to explore!
In 1950, Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi sat down to lunch with some of his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he had worked five years prior as part of the Manhattan Project. According to various accounts, the conversation turned to aliens and the recent spate of UFOs. Into this, Fermi issued a statement that would go down in the annals of history: “Where is everybody?“
This became the basis of the Fermi Paradox, which refers to the disparity between high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the apparent lack of evidence. Since Fermi’s time, several possible resolutions have been proposed, including the theory that advanced species eventually “transcend” the physical Universe, also known as the Transcension Hypothesis.
Black holes have been the subject of intense interest ever since scientists began speculating about their existence. Originally proposed in the early 20th century as a consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, black holes became a mainstream subject a few decades later. By 1971, the first physical evidence of black holes was found and by 2016, the existence of gravitational waves was confirmed for the first time.
This discovery touched off a new era in astrophysics, letting people know collision between massive objects (black holes and/or neutron stars) creates ripples in spacetime that can be detected light-years away. To give people a sense of how profound these events are, Álvaro Díez created the Black Hole Collision Calculator (BHCC) – a tool that lets you see what the outcome of a collision between a black hole and any astronomical object would be!
In March 2018 astronomers watched a massive black hole surge in brightness. Then over the following year, its ring of light dimmed to near-invisibility before regaining its former strength. The potential culprit? The black hole swallowing an entire star.
In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble studied hundreds of galaxies. He found that they tended to fall into a few broad types. Some contained elegant spirals of bright stars, while others were spherical or elliptical with little or no internal structure. In 1926 he developed a classification scheme for galaxies, now known as Hubble’s Tuning Fork.
When you look at Hubble’s scheme, it suggests an evolution of galaxies, beginning as an elliptical galaxy, then flattening and shifting into a spiral galaxy. While many saw this as a reasonable model, Hubble cautioned against jumping to conclusions. We now know ellipticals do not evolve into spirals, and the evolution of galaxies is complex. But Hubble’s scheme marks the beginning of the attempt to understand how galaxies grow, live, and die.
Large stars have violent deaths. As they run out of hydrogen to fuse, the star’s weight squeezes its core to make it increasingly hot and dense. The star fuses heavier elements in a last-ditch effort to keep from collapsing. Carbon to Silicon to Iron, each step generating heat and pressure. But soon it’s not enough. The fusion even heavier elements don’t give the star more energy, and the core quickly collapses. The protons and neutrons of nuclei collide so violently that the resulting shock wave rips the star about. The outer layers of the star are thrown outward, becoming a brilliant supernova. For a brief time, the star shines brighter than its entire galaxy, and its core collapses into a neutron star or black hole. It was thought that all large stars end with a supernova, but new research finds that might not be the case.
We know black holes as powerful singularities, regions in space time where gravity is so overwhelming that nothing—not even light itself—can escape.
About 50 years ago, British physicist Roger Penrose proposed that black holes could be a source of energy. Now, researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland have demonstrated that it may be possible.
One of the most pressing questions in astronomy concerns black holes. We know that massive stars that explode as supernovae can leave stellar mass black holes as remnants. And astrophysicists understand that process. But what about the supermassive black holes (SMBHs) like Sagittarius A-star (Sgr A*,) at the heart of the Milky Way?
SMBHs can have a billion solar masses. How do they get so big?
The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has spotted a distant black hole shooting out jets of material, at close to the speed of light. No worries, this beast is about 10,000 light years away from us. It’s more of a spectacle than a danger.
But it’s a spectacle laden with scientific insights.
For the child inside all of us space-enthusiasts, there might be nothing better than discovering a new type of explosion. (Except maybe bigger rockets.) And it looks like that’s what’s happened. Three objects discovered separately—one in 2016 and two in 2018—add up to a new type of supernova that astronomers are calling Fast Blue Optical Transients (FBOT).
Neutrinos are mysterious and elusive particles. They have a tiny mass, no electric charge, and they interact with other matter only rarely. They are also extremely common. At any moment, about 100 billion neutrinos are streaming through every square centimeter of your body. Neutrinos were produced by the big bang, and are still being produced by everything from stars to supernovae.