Neutron Stars Could be the Best way to Measure Dark Energy

An artistic rendering of two neutron stars merging. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State/A. Simonnet

Dark energy is central to our modern theory of cosmology. We know the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, and the clearest explanation is that some kind of energy is driving it. Since this energy doesn’t emit light, we call it dark energy. But simply giving dark energy a name doesn’t mean we fully understand it. We can see what dark energy does, but its fundamental nature is perhaps the biggest scientific mystery we have.

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Atomic Clocks Separated by Just a few Centimetres Measure Different Rates of Time. Just as Einstein Predicted

The connection between relativity and quantum mechanics has been a black box for the world of physics for decades.  That partially stems from the difficulty in collecting data on systems that interface between the two of them.  Relativity is the realm of the supermassive, while quantum mechanics can best be described as the realm of the minuscule.  But, there is, in fact, one particular realm where they overlap.  One of the results of relativity is that gravity can affect the flow of time.  Commonly known as “time dilation,” this effect has now been studied by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US using an extraordinarily accurate atomic clock.

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What is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Einstein Lecturing
Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Credit: National Library of Austria/F Schmutzer/Public Domain

In the history of science and physics, several scholars, theories, and equations have become household names. In terms of scientists, notable examples include Pythagoras, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Planck, and Hawking. In terms of theories, there’s Archimede’s “Eureka,” Newton’s Apple (Universal Gravitation), and Schrodinger’s Cat (quantum mechanics). But the most famous and renowned is arguably Albert Einstein, Relativity, and the famous equation, E=mc2. In fact, Relativity may be the best-known scientific concept that few people truly understand.

For example, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity comes in two parts: the Special Theory of Relativity (SR and the General Theory of Relativity (GR). And the term “Relativity” itself goes back to Galileo Galilee and his explanation for why motion and velocity are relative to the observer. As you can probably tell, explaining how Einstein’s groundbreaking theory works require a deep dive into the history of physics, some advanced concepts, and how it all came together for one of the greatest minds of all time!

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Astronomers Might Have Detected the Background Gravitational Waves of the Universe

Artistic impression of the Double Pulsar system, where two active pulsars orbit each other in just 147 min. The orbital motion of these extremely dense neutrons star causes a number of relativistic effects, including the creation of ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves. The gravitational waves carry away energy from the systems which shrinks by about 7mm per days as a result. The corresponding measurement agrees with the prediction of general relativity within 0.013%. The picture at high resolution and two alternative versions (1b, 1c) are accessible in the left column. [less] © Michael Kramer/MPIfR

In February 2016, Gravitational Waves (GWs) were detected for the first time in history. This discovery confirmed a prediction made by Albert Einstein over a century ago and triggered a revolution in astronomy. Since then, dozens of GW events have been detected from various sources, ranging from black hole mergers, neutron star mergers, or a combination thereof. As the instruments used for GW astronomy become more sophisticated, the ability to detect more events (and learn more from them) will only increase.

For instance, an international team of astronomers recently detected a series of low-frequency gravitational waves using the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA). These waves, they determined, could be the early signs of a background gravitational wave signal (BGWS) caused by pairs of supermassive black holes. The existence of this background is something that astrophysicists have theorized since GWs were first detected, making this a potentially ground-breaking discovery!

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Best Image Ever Taken of Stars Buzzing Around the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole

This visible light wide-field view shows the rich star clouds in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer) in the direction of the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. The entire image is filled with vast numbers of stars — but far more remain hidden behind clouds of dust and are only revealed in infrared images. This view was created from photographs in red and blue light and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The field of view is approximately 3.5 degrees x 3.6 degrees.

It all began with the discovery of Sagittarius A*, a persistent radio source located at the Galactic Center of the Milky Way that turned out to be a supermassive black hole (SMBH). This discovery was accompanied by the realization that SMBHs exist at the heart of most galaxies, which account for their energetic nature and the hypervelocity jets extending from their center. Since then, scientists have been trying to get a better look at Sag A* and its surroundings to learn more about the role SMBHs play in the formation and evolution of our galaxy.

This has been the goal of the GRAVITY collaboration, an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists that have been studying the core of the Milky Way for the past thirty years. Using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), this team obtained the deepest and sharpest images to date of the region around Sag A*. These observations led to the most precise measurement yet of the black hole’s mass and revealed a never-before-seen star that orbits close to it.

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Twin Stars Prove Einstein at Least 99.99% Right

Artistic impression of the Double Pulsar system, where two active pulsars orbit each other in just 147 min. The orbital motion of these extremely dense neutrons star causes a number of relativistic effects, including the creation of ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves. The gravitational waves carry away energy from the systems which shrinks by about 7mm per days as a result. The corresponding measurement agrees with the prediction of general relativity within 0.013%. The picture at high resolution and two alternative versions (1b, 1c) are accessible in the left column. [less] © Michael Kramer/MPIfR

More than a hundred years have passed since Einstein formalized his theory of General Relativity (GR), the geometric theory of gravitation that revolutionized our understanding of the Universe. And yet, astronomers are still subjecting it to rigorous tests, hoping to find deviations from this established theory. The reason is simple: any indication of physics beyond GR would open new windows onto the Universe and help resolve some of the deepest mysteries about the cosmos.

One of the most rigorous tests ever was recently conducted by an international team of astronomers led by Michael Kramer of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany. Using seven radio telescopes from across the world, Kramer and his colleagues observed a unique pair of pulsars for 16 years. In the process, they observed effects predicted by GR for the first time, and with an accuracy of at least 99.99%!

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Galaxies Have Been Found With no Dark Matter at all

This image shows the sky around the ultra diffuse galaxy NGC 1052-DF2. It was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. NGC 1052-DF2 is basically invisible in this image. It is located to the southwest of the bright elliptical galaxy NGC 1052, which is dominating the field of view, and east of the bright red star HD 16873. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide de Martin

One of the greatest cosmological mysteries facing astrophysicists today is Dark Matter. Since the 1960s, scientists have postulated that this invisible mass accounts for most of the matter in the Universe. While there are still many unresolved questions about it – i.e., What is it composed of? How do we detect it? What evidence is there beyond indirect detection? – we have managed to learn a few things about it over time.

For example, astrophysicists have observed that Dark Matter played a vital role in the formation of galaxies and is responsible for keeping them gravitationally bound. However, when an international team of astronomers observed the ultra-diffuse galaxy AGC 114905, they found no evidence of Dark Matter at all. If these observations are accurate, this discovery could force scientists to reevaluate their cosmological models and the way we look at the Universe.

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A Black Hole Emitted a Flare Away From us, but its Intense Gravity Redirected the Blast Back in our Direction

Artist's impression of a black hole, as indicated by its bright accretion disk. Credit: NASA

In 1916, Albert Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity, a journey that began in 1905 with his attempts to reconcile Newton’s own theories of gravitation with the laws of electromagnetism. Once complete, Einstein’s theory provided a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of the cosmos, where massive objects alter the curvature of spacetime, affecting everything around them.

What’s more, Einstein’s field equations predicted the existence of black holes, objects so massive that even light cannot escape their surfaces. GR also predicts that black holes will bend light in their vicinity, an effect that can be used by astronomers to observe more distant objects. Relying on this technique, an international team of scientists made an unprecedented feat by observing light caused by an X-ray flare that took place behind a black hole.

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Gaia Finds 12 Examples of Einstein Crosses; Galaxies Being Gravitationally Lensed so we see Them Repeated 4 Times

Credit and : R. Hurt (IPAC/Caltech)/The GraL Collaboration

In 1915, Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity (GR), a revolutionary new hypothesis that described gravity as a geometric property of space and time. This theory remains the accepted description of gravitation in modern physics and predicts that massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) bend the very fabric of spacetime.

As result, massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) can act as a lens that will deflect and magnify light coming from more distant objects. This effect is known as “gravitational lensing,” and can result in all kinds of visual phenomena – not the least of which is known as an “Einstein Cross.” Using data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, a team of researchers announced the discovery of 12 new Einstein Crosses.

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Alcubierre Gives us an Update on his Ideas About Warp Drives

The Enterprise using warp drive, as seen in Star Trek Beyond. Credit: Paramount Pictures

If you want a galaxy-spanning science fiction epic, you’re going to need faster than light travel. The alternative is taking decades or centuries to reach an alien star system, which isn’t nearly as much fun. So, you start with some wild scientific idea, add a bit of technobabble, and poof! Quam Celerrime ad Astra. Everything from wormholes to hyperspace has been used in sci-fi, but perhaps the best known FTL trope is warp drive.

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