I see you, now you must die

The title is a summary of how a New Scientist article seems to interpret the fate of the universe. Basically, the article states that because we view the universe, we may be causing the collapse of wave functions that would otherwise be happily balanced between not alive and not dead (the Schrondinger’s litter of supernovae, dark energy, and many other phenomenas). Think of it this way, has a supernovae really gone off if no one was there to observe it, or alternatively if no one observed its light echo, the planets formed out of its waste products, or the nebula created when its shock wave interacts with the interstellar media. If no one ever observed any of these things, would the supernova exist? Thought questions like this have pretty much always been...

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The Improbable Universe

The Improbable Universe

Slide Show + Audio (.mp4) Transcript: This is a talk I originally prepared to present as part of the 2206-2007 convocation series at Illinois College. Since then I have given it before several other audiences, and with every presentation I’ve had more people ask, will this be online. Finally, I can saw yes. Here’s the link. Please enjoy. In today’s crazy world, it is easy to get lost in the details of our overly busy lives. There are projects, deadlines, business meetings and family meetings all demanding our attention. I suspect at least some of your employers have led you to believe their project should be the most important thing in your life right now. And I suspect that at least one person in your family has led you to believe that being at...

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Type 1a Supernoave: A Non-Standard Candle

Type 1a Supernoave: A Non-Standard Candle

One of the most exciting discoveries of astronomy in recent years was the measurement of an acceleration term in the universe’s rate of expansion. Announced by both the Supernova Cosmology Project at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the High-z Supernova Search Team, these results at once confirmed one another an revolutionized how astronomers view the universe. This discovery meant, quite simply, that our universe will expand forever, tearing itself apart and ever increasing rates. Someday, the expansion of space will carry everything we are not gravitationally attached to so far away so fast that the light will get red-shifted beyond all easy (and perhaps even all possible) reach. (image credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, JPL-Caltech, J. Hester and A....

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Mostly Empty Space

Mostly Empty Space

When we look at the cosmic microwave background we see both overly warm and overly cold spots. The warm spots grew into places with a lot of stuff; namely our modern galaxies. The cold spots grew into places without a lot of stuff; these are cosmic voids. While we have known for a long time that some clusters are denser than other clusters, we hadn’t fully realized just how empty and large those voids could be. New research combining existing data from the Very Large Array in New Mexico (the array of telescopes in the movie “Contact”) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe has shown their may be a void a billion years across in the direction of the constellation Eridanus. The way they found this possible void is really neat science. First...

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And it came from the CMB . . .

And it came from the CMB . . .

wmap_skymap.jpgFraser (my co-host over at Astronomy Cast) and I like to joke about how everything we know in astronomy we know because of the Cosmic Microwave Background. How do we know the universe formed during the Big Bang? The CMB. How do we know the cosmic geometry is flat? The CMB. How do we know the mass distribution of the Oort Cloud? The CMB. How do we know where babies come from? The CMB.

Okay, so that last one is an exaggeration. As far as I know, human babies and the CMB have nothing in common. The remark about the Oort Cloud, however, may not always be as far fetched as it sounds. A group of scientists working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and lead by David Babich, have theorized a new technique for determining the mass distribution in the Oort cloud using distortions in the Cosmic Microwave Background.

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