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Canadian wins 2019 Nobel prize in physics for uncovering modern understandings of universe – Calgary Herald

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Manitoba-born James Peebles, along with two others, won the award for ‘theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology’

In 1971, James Peebles stood atop a lab table in a lecture hall at Princeton University. The professor was tall and thin, and beside him was a massive vat of water with a drain at the bottom. He pulled the plug and asked his students: Will the water drain clockwise or counter-clockwise?

“You could’ve just given a lecture on centripetal force and gravity without bothering to fill up this 200 litre vat of water,” says Robert Bunning, one of Peeble’s former students. “The most impressive thing was he was making an effort to bring physics to life. He thought it was a beautiful subject.”

On Tuesday, Peebles, 84, won the Nobel Prize in physics, sharing the $1.2 million award with Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for revealing the wonder of the evolution of the universe and discovering planets orbiting distant suns.

By studying the earliest moments after the birth of the universe, Peebles developed a theoretical framework for the evolution of the cosmos that led to the understanding of dark energy and dark matter — substances that can’t be observed by any scientific instruments but nonetheless make up 95 per cent of the universe.


Canadian-born scientist James Peebles speaks to well-wishers after winning the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics along with two others, at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, Oct. 8, 2019.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Mayor and Queloz of the University of Geneva revolutionized astronomy, the Nobel Committee said, when in 1995 they announced the discovery of a large, gaseous world circling a star 50 light-years from our own sun — the first extrasolar planet found around a sun-like star. In the decades since, scientists have detected thousands more of these exoplanets, and astronomers now think our universe contains more planets than stars.

Peebles told news conferences Tuesday that while awards are “very much appreciated,” that’s not why young people should study science.“You should enter it for the love of the science,” he said. “You should enter science because you are fascinated by it. That’s what I did.”

Born in St. Boniface before it became part of Winnipeg, Peebles completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba and said part of his childhood was spent building or taking apart thing such as the clocks in his family’s home.

“One of my earliest memories is throwing a tantrum because I wasn’t allowed to put together the coffee percolator,” he said. “I simply liked looking at the world around us.”

I owe a lot to the University of Manitoba

Colleagues describe him as both an intensive thinker and a warm person, who goes into his office on Saturdays, accompanies his wife on bird watching trips and often mentions growing up on the plains of Manitoba.

“Here in Winnipeg and Manitoba, we certainly do claim him,” says Andrew Frey, an associate professor of physics at the University of Winnipeg.

Peebles is best known for his research on the “cosmic microwave background,” which is a remnant from the time the universe began. Frey describes it as “a direct imprint of the baby universe.”

He has honorary doctorates from a string of Canadian universities and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Order of Manitoba. He is also the author or co-author of five books, including “Physical Cosmology” and “Finding the Big Bang.” He said he has a sixth book coming out next year, which maps the history of cosmology from Albert Einstein to today.

“I think I’ve met or known all the great living theoretical cosmologists, and he stands out,” says Lyman Page, a physics professor with an office next to Peebles’ at Princeton. “In his writing, he has such a global comprehension of physics and certainly of cosmology that he can make sweeping, broad, deep and correct statements.”


Canadian-born scientist James Peebles exits after being presented the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics. “I suppose the aura of the Nobel is such that my life will change, but I don’t think I’m going to let it change much.”

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Peebles’ office is full of theses, books and plants, says Page, and he goes to group lunches with students in his department on Fridays.

Among students and faculty at the University of Manitoba, more than a hundred people gathered in a student lounge on Tuesday to watch a live-streamed celebration from Princeton.

“He’s known to be a big thinker,” says Christopher O’Dea, a physics professor at the University of Manitoba, “leading people to where the big questions are.”

Peebles has been retired for 20 years, but he says he has continued to research and teach at a “relaxed rate” because he enjoys it.

“Life will go on,” he said in a phone interview between media events. “I suppose the aura of the Nobel is such that my life will change, but I don’t think I’m going to let it change much.

“You understand, I’m used to a quiet life.”

He will receive half the prize while Mayor and Queloz will share the rest. Peebles said he plans to give some of the money to charity and his family. “I owe a lot to the University of Manitoba and a chunk will go to it.”

As for the whirlpool question from Peebles’ lecture in 1971: since Princeton is in the northern hemisphere, if the professor had a large enough vat, the water would drain clockwise.

— With files from The Canadian Press, The Washington Post

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Interstellar visitor is reddish, new study finds – CBC.ca

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In a new study published in Nature Astronomy on Monday, astronomers are pulling back the curtain on some of the mysteries behind our solar system’s first confirmed interstellar comet.

The comet, 2I/Borisov, was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on Aug. 30, though its orbit was unknown.

But by the end of September, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed that the comet came from beyond our solar system

Because Borisov is so distant — 420 million kilometres from Earth — it’s difficult to determine a lot of its characteristics. However, this new study, the astronomers were able to determine a few of its interesting qualities.

Using two telescopes, the Gemini North Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma, Spain, they were able to determine that the nucleus, or core, is roughly one kilometre in diameter. 

They also identified a short tail and an extended coma, or cloud of debris that gives comets their fuzzy appearance. And they determined its colour.

“We found this colour of the comet is almost the same as other colour of the typical comets in our solar system,” said co-author of the paper Piotr Guzik, an astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. “It’s not red like Mars … it’s just a bit more red light in its spectrum than the blue light.”

In another study, researchers also found that Borisov contained cyanogen, which is made up of a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom that are bonded. It is a poisonous gas to us, but commonly found in comets.

Second interstellar visitor

Borisov is the second known object to come from another star system.

The first was 1I/’Oumuamua. It’s believed that it was an asteroid, however, it’s also been hypothesized that it did have some activity — called outgassing — that is similar to a comet’s.

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar object, 1I/’Oumuamua. It was discovered two years ago by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

While ‘Oumuamua was detected on its way out of the solar system, Borisov was detected on its way in, which means astronomers will be able to study this one for some time.

“The next year is going to be extremely exciting, as we will be able to follow 2I’s evolution as it zooms through our solar system,” said Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, in a statement. “In comparison, we had only a few weeks to study ‘Oumuamua before it became too faint.”

So far, the Borisov findings suggest it isn’t very different from our own local comets, something that Guzik believes could shed light on exoplanets, which orbit other stars.

“Such objects are just part of other planetary systems. It was not until, I guess, around 1990 that we found the first planet systems around other stars, and now part of such a system is here,” Guzik said. “So we can investigate some material that left some planetary system and compare it to what we see here and probably learn something about the formation of other planetary systems.”

Though the recent study found cyanogen, Guzik said that he’s hopeful that, as the comet gets nearer the sun, astronomers will discover more about its composition.

“It will be very interesting to find out more, especially what’s driving its activity,” he said.

Borisov will reach perihelion — its closest approach to the sun — on Dec. 7, when it will be roughly 300 million kilometres away. 

Guzik also hopes that, eventually, astronomers will be able to determine its home star system.

“It would be really nice to know where it originated,” Guzik said. “If we could point to the star and say, ‘This is the star.'”

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Asteroid news: Did alien space rock dust cloud spark new life on Earth? – Express.co.uk

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Scientists have now posited an asteroid disintegration once blanketed Earth with dust millions of years ago. It is thought the cosmic event dramatically cooled Earth, triggering an ice age followed by significant increases of new animals. The work, led by Professor Birger Schmitz of Sweden’s Lund University, provides new insight into the impact of extraterrestrial events on Earth’s evolution.

The asteroid expert told the Observer: “We know about the 6 mile (10km) asteroid that crashed on Earth 67 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs, but this event was very different.

“It occurred about 470 million years ago when an asteroid 3,000 times bigger than the dinosaur-killer was destroyed during a collision with another asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars.

“It filled the solar system with dust and caused a major dimming of sunlight falling on Earth.”

The theory is a reduction in radiation made the planet’s temperatures drop significantly.

READ MORE: Dashcam fireball footage shows space rock hurtle above Alberta

This triggered a succession of ice ages, meaning water froze, ice caps spread and sea levels dropped.

This created isolated shallow seas which were an ideal breeding ground for generating new species.

Cold water also holds more dissolved oxygen, which would also have boosted speciation.

Scientists are already aware ice ages appeared around this time and life underwent a spike in biodiversity, particularly in the oceans.

READ MORE: This is what would happen if an asteroid hits Earth

The first coral reefs began to grow then and peculiar tentacled predators called nautiloids first appeared.

This is called as the great Ordovician bio-diversification event (GOBE).

Scientists have argued over GOBE’s cause but now Professor Schmitz, who studying space dust particles in seabed sediments, believes it was triggered by asteroid dust clouds.

He said: “The sediments laid down at this time are rich in the isotope helium-3 – which they could only have picked up travelling through space. It is a crucial clue.”

READ MORE: NASA chief reveals nuclear ‘game changer’

Professor Rebecca Freeman, of the University of Kentucky, told Science how she agreed with the idea.

She said: “Other scientists have backed his idea. “It isn’t necessarily the answer to every question we have about GOBE, but it certainly ties together a lot of observations.”

Professor Schmitz’s research has also caused interest for another reason.

As the world warms dangerously, some scientists have proposed spreading a veil of dust hovering in space over the Earth, reflecting sunlight away from our overheating planet.

But the idea is controversial with critics because it could have unexpected side-effects.

Now evidence shows such an experiment occurred naturally 470 million years ago.

The result was a major change in our meteorology and the evolution of life here.

Professor Schmitz added: “It is certainly worth bearing in my mind in coming years.”

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Alien life possibly found on Mars in 1970s, ex-NASA scientist says – Fox News

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In a stunning op-ed, a former NASA scientist says he is convinced that the space agency “found evidence of life” on Mars in the 1970s.

In the article, Gilbert Levin, who worked on the Viking missions to the Red Planet during that decade, makes it clear that he believes data from the Labeled Release (LR) in 1976 was supportive of finding life.

“On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars,” Levin wrote in the op-ed, entitled “I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s.”

“Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart.”

This artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about 4 billion years ago when almost half the planet’s northern hemisphere could have been covered by an ocean up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep in some places.
(ESO/M. Kornmesser)

NASA: ANCIENT MARS OASIS COULD HAVE SUPPORT LIFE

He continued: “The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.”

The LR, which was led by Levin, took samples of Martian soil that contained organic compounds and looked for carbon dioxide. Astonishingly, the results seemed to indicate that the carbon dioxide was “being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as on Earth.”

Fox News has reached out to NASA for comment for this story.

However, Levin seemed to criticize the space agency for not following up on the LR findings, even if NASA concluded that it “found a substance mimicking life, but not life.”

“Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results,” he continued. “Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination.”

NASA has made subsequent visits to Mars, including the InSight lander, which landed in November 2018. The Curiosity rover, which has been on Mars since August 2012, detected a surprising spike in the level of methane that it has not yet been able to explain.

Last November, NASA announced that it had picked a landing spot for its upcoming Mars 2020 mission, a rover that will not include “a life-detection test,” Levin wrote.

“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in a June statement. On Earth, methane is produced both biologically and geologically.

Levin pleaded for the space agency to put “life detection experiments on the next Mars mission possible” to be more precise in their hunt for life, but in also keeping “with well-established scientific protocol.” He also wants an independent group of scientists to review the Viking LR data.

“Such an objective jury might conclude, as I did, that the Viking LR did find life,” Levin concluded. “In any event, the study would likely produce important guidance for NASA’s pursuit of its holy grail.”

The newly published op-ed is not the first time Levin has suggested that life was found on Mars. In 1997, he published “his conclusion that the LR had, indeed, discovered living microorganisms on the Red Planet,” according to his website.

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