Are we alone? Nobel Prize goes to 3 who tackled cosmic query - CKPGToday.ca - Canadanewsmedia
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Are we alone? Nobel Prize goes to 3 who tackled cosmic query – CKPGToday.ca

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A day of deep astrophysics and talk of extraterrestrial life also included pop humour, with the Nobel Prize committee quoting from the theme song of the American TV sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” whose protagonists, Sheldon and Amy, won a physics Nobel in the series finale, and a giggling Peebles referring to singer Bob Dylan.

“This year’s Nobel laureates in physics have painted a picture of the universe far stranger and more wonderful than we ever could have imagined,” said Ulf Danielsson of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in announcing the laureates. “Our view of our place in the universe will never be the same again.”

Peebles’ work is a deeply theoretical look back in time and space at how the universe came to its current form, mostly filled with dark matter and dark energy we can’t even see. It’s probably the first Nobel for purely theoretical cosmology, instead of something observed, noted CalTech physicist Sean Carroll.

Peebles, hailed as one of the most influential cosmologists of his time, who realized the importance of the cosmic radiation background born of the Big Bang, will collect one half of the 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award.

“Much of it will go to charity,” Peebles told colleagues at a Princeton news conference. Then after a pause, he changed that to “Some of it will go to charity. Some of it will go to our children.”

Mayor, who is an astrophysicist, and Queloz, an astronomer who is also at the University of Cambridge in Britain, will share the other half. Their finding of the first planet outside our solar system circling a star like our own made astronomers look harder for life elsewhere in the universe.

“Maybe we can discover some form of life. We don’t know what kind of form,” Mayor said Tuesday as he arrived in Madrid for a scientific speaking engagement. He said scientists “are absolutely certain that a lot of these planets have good conditions for life.”

Mayor and Queloz started a revolution in astronomy when they discovered 51 Pegasi B, a gaseous ball comparable with Jupiter, in 1995 — a time when, as Mayor recalled, “no one knew whether exoplanets existed or not.”

That was “the first step in our search for, ‘Are we alone?’” said astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way, and scientists think one out of every four or five stars have planets. “We have 200 billion stars out there in our galaxy alone, so I like our chances,” Kaltenegger said.

Queloz was meeting Tuesday with other academics interested in finding new planets when the press office at Cambridge University interrupted to tell him the big news: He had won the Nobel. He thought it was joke at first.

“I could barely breathe,” Queloz told The Associated Press. “It’s enormous. It’s beyond usual emotions. My hand was shaking for a long time. I’m trying to digest it.”

Geoff Marcy, who headed one of the teams that rivaled Mayor and Queloz, praised their work. In the 1990s “we were all trying to carry a search for planets without ever thinking we would succeed,” Marcy said. “None of us imagined even finding one, never mind the thousands we found.”

Marcy, who left the University of California Berkeley after accusations of sexual harassment, said he didn’t know if he would have shared in the prize if it weren’t for the scandal.

Swedish academy member Mats Larsson said this year’s was “one of the easiest physics prizes for a long time to explain.”

That can’t quite be said for Peebles’ theoretical work.

“Jim Peebles absolutely was one of the leaders in trying to understand how did we get here, the nature of cosmology, the nature of the universe at large,” said astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, director of Harvard University’s Origins of Life Initiative.

Peebles’ work, which began in the mid-1960s, set the stage for a “transformation” of cosmology over the last half-century, using theoretical tools and calculations that helped interpret traces from the infancy of the universe, the Nobel committee said.

A clearly delighted Peebles giggled repeatedly during a phone interview with AP, recalling how he answered a 5:30 a.m. phone call from Stockholm thinking that “it’s either something very wonderful or it’s something horrible.”

The astrophysicist, who said his life had suddenly turned topsy-turvy, will make sure he picks up his prize.

“I’ve always loved Bob Dylan,” he said, referring to the singer-songwriter who won the literature prize in 2016 but refused to participate in the Nobel ceremony. “I can’t forgive him for not showing up to the scene of (his) Nobel prize.”

And in a case of life imitating art, Tuesday’s Nobel Prize announcement included the opening lyrics of “The Big Bang Theory” theme song: “Our whole universe was in a hot, dense state, then nearly 14 billion years ago, expansion started.”

The sitcom was a “fantastic achievement” that brought the “world of science to laptops and living rooms around the world,” said Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. So referencing its theme song seemed fitting, he said.

The cash prize comes with a gold medal and a diploma that are received at an elegant ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel in 1896, together with the winners of five other Nobel prizes. The sixth one, the peace prize, is handed out in Oslo, Norway, on the same day.

On Monday, Americans William G. Kaelin Jr. and Gregg L. Semenza and Britain’s Peter J. Ratcliffe won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for discovering details of how the body’s cells sense and react to low oxygen levels, providing a foothold for developing new treatments for anemia, cancer and other diseases.

Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite, decided the physics, chemistry, medicine and literature prizes should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo.

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry will be announced Wednesday, two Literature Prizes will be awarded on Thursday, and the Peace Prize comes Friday. This year will see two Literature Prizes handed out because the one last year was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy.

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Keyton reported from Stockholm. Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Danica Kirka in London, and Christopher Chester and Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.

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Read more stories on the 2019 Nobel Prizes by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes

Seth Borenstein And David Keyton, The Associated Press

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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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