You are on page 1of 116

FROM THE MAKERS OF MAGAZINE

YOUR DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE


WONDERS OF THE COSMOS

THE
COLLECTION
NEW FROM
Brain not yet full? Thirsty for even more
knowledge about the world around us?
Then you need our brand-new special
edition The Big Book Of Why?

Aimed at curious readers aged anywhere


between 9 and 90, The Big Book Of Why?
solves a wide range of scientic questions
and conundrums about how life works.
With answers provided by the crack team
of experts behind BBC Focus, every page
offers enlightenment and revelation.
Why do we have wisdom teeth? Why do
tigers have stripes? And why is it safer
to sit backwards on a plane?

Plus, a special How It Works section


reveals the cutting-edge thinking
and engineering behind the latest
technology from Formula E racing cars
to robot exoskeletons.

Plus subscribers to BBC Focus O N LY


receive FREE UK POSTAGE 9.9 *
on this special edition!* 9

Discover the natural wonders of the world Let the experts behind BBC Focus The How It Works section examines the
through extraordinary photography fill those gaps in your understanding science powering the latest technology

Order online Or call our order Please


quote

www.buysubscriptions.com/why hotline 0844 844 0257+ BBWHA16

Calls will cost 7p per minute, plus your telephone companys access charge. Lines are open 8am-8pm weekdays & 9am-1pm Saturday.
* Subscribers to BBC Focus receive FREE UK postage on this special edition. Prices including postage are: 11.49 for all other UK residents,
12.99 for Europe and 13.49 for Rest of World. All orders subject to availability. Please allow up to 21 days for delivery.
W ELC OME

WELCOME...
Space is full of surprises, and it seems like not a month goes by without scientists
revealing another thrilling discovery.
Who could forget the awe-inspiring images of Pluto, sent back by the New Horizons
mission, or the fascinating news that Mars may have water? We are only just starting
to scratch the surface of understanding our own Solar System, so who
knows what could be waiting in the far-reaching arms of the Milky Way and beyond?
In The Universe: The Story So Far, brought to you by BBC Focus, we have gone
back through 13.8 billion years of history to reveal everything we know about the
cosmos to date. We take a look at past and current missions of ESA and NASA, investigate mysterious
worlds outside our Solar System, uncover the moons that could contain life, decipher the mind-bending
theory of dark matter, and much more. Weve even compiled some handy fact files about our Solar System,
so you can super-charge your knowledge about our planets
closest neighbours.
We all enjoy staring up at a clear night sky and, with a copy
of The Universe: The Story So Far in your hands, you can
enjoy a greater understanding of whats really out there.
But are there any little green men? Well, youll have to turn
to page 96 to find out

Enjoy!

Alice Lipscombe-Southwell, Managing Editor

EDITORIAL Reprographics Tony Hunt,


Editor Daniel Bennett Chris Sutch CIRCULATION / ADVERTISING
Managing Editor Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Circulation Manager Rob Brock
Production Editor Nige Tassell PUBLISHING
Commissioning Editor Jason Goodyer Publisher Jemima Ransome
Immediate Media Co Bristol Ltd 2016. All rights reserved.
Editorial Assistant James Lloyd Publishing Director Andy Healy No part of The Universe: The Story So Far may be reproduced in
Managing Director Andy Marshall any form or by any means either wholly or in part, without prior
written permission of the publisher. Not to be resold, lent, hired
ART & PICTURES Chairman Stephen Alexander out or otherwise disposed of by way of trade at more than the
Art Editor Joe Eden Deputy Chairman Peter Phippen recommended retail price or in mutilated condition. Printed in the
UK by William Gibbons Ltd. The publisher, editor and authors accept
Designers Dean Purnell, Steve Boswell CEO Tom Bureau no responsibility in respect of any products, goods or services
Picture Editor James Cutmore which may be advertised or referred to in this issue or for any
errors, omissions, mis-statements or mistakes in any such
BBC WORLDWIDE, UK PUBLISHING advertisements or references.
PRESS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS Director of Editorial Governance Nicholas Brett
Press Oficer Carolyn Wray Director of Consumer Products and Publishing
carolyn.wray@immediate.co.uk Andre Moultrie
Like what youve read? Then take out a
Head of UK Publishing Chris Kerwin
subscription to BBC Focus magazine, the UKs
PRODUCTION Publisher Mandy Thwaites
best-selling science and tech monthly.
Production Director Sarah Powell Publishing Coordinator Eva Abramik
See the special offer on page 112 for more...
Production Co-ordinator Contact UK.Publishing@bbc.com
Emily Mounter bbcworldwide.com/uk--anz/ukpublishing.aspx

While every attempt has been made to ensure that the content of The Universe: The Story So Far was as accurate as possible at time of press,
we acknowledge that some information contained herein may have since become out of date. Also, the content of certain sections is occasionally
subject to interpretation; in these cases, we have favoured the most respected source.
PHOTO: NASA

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 3


CONTENTS

68
What parts of the Solar System
will be the most exciting for
future adventurous astronauts?

The New Horizons


spacecrat explores
the Kuiper Belt
65
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, ESO, GETTY, NASA X2, ISTOCK

12 The Universe started


with the Big Bang. But
what happened next?

4 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


C ON T E N T S

85 The history of the


study of black holes

17 Why Einsteins findings


still remain inluential

30 A beginners guide to the


mystery of dark mater

6 THE FUNDAMENTALS
The Big Bang.......................................8
The Universe: A Story In
Six Chapters............ ..........................13
The Fabric Of The Universe..............16
The Nature Of Gravity.......................20

26 Relativity On Trial.............................24
Understanding Dark Matter...............30
Our Place In The Universe................ 34

74 The shape of the Milky Way


has been under scrutiny
since the days of Galileo
The South Pole
Telescope spies
on black holes

38 THE SOLAR SYSTEM


The History Of The Solar System......40
From The Sun To The Moon............ . 42
Curiosity: The Story So Far............... 44
From Mars To Saturn........................ 48
Rosetta: The Journey Continues........ 50
Is There Life On Moons?....................54
Comet 67P To The Oort Cloud...........60
The Final Frontier.............................64
Destination Solar System..................68

72 BEYOND THE
SOLAR SYSTEM
The Shape Of The Milky Way...........74
The Life Cycle Of A Star.................. .78
The Existence Of Black Holes...........84
Which planets are
the likeliest ones
to be inhabited? 90 Habitable Planets............................. 90
Mystery Messages From Space......... 96
Welcome To The Multiverse............100
Hubbles Top 10 Discoveries...........106

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 5


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

THE
FUNDAMENTALS
The Big Bang................................................8
The Universe: A Story In Six Chapters...... 12
The Fabric Of The Universe.......................16
The Nature Of Gravity................................20
Relativity On Trial......................................24
Understand Dark Matter In 10 Minutes..... 30
Our Place In The Universe......................... 34
PHOTO: GETTY

6 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 7


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

E UNIVERSE
TH
STARTED
WITH A
BIG BANG
Finding proof that our Universe expanded from a single point
was a long and drawn-out process. Ultimately, though, says
JOHN GRIBBIN, it became one of humanitys greatest discoveries
PHOTO: NASA/HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

8 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


UND E R S TA NDING T HE BIG B A N G

he idea that the Universe was To his surprise, Slipher found the light That someone was Georges Lematre,

T
born in a hot, dense state from these spiral nebulae is redshifted, by a Belgian mathematician/astronomer who
the Big Bang, as the British a large amount. The naive explanation for had met both Slipher and Hubble, but who
astronomer Fred Hoyle this was that the objects are moving rapidly was completely unaware of Friedmanns
dubbed it is one of the most away from us, and the redshifts are caused work. So when he independently
important scientific concepts. by the Doppler effect. This suggested that discovered the same solutions to Einsteins
But the idea itself is less than they were indeed beyond the Milky Way. equations that Friedmann had found, his
100 years old, and it wasnt until 1965 that But there is another possibility. In the interpretation of the equations was based
proof emerged there really was a Big Bang. expanding Universe models discovered by on observations of the real Universe.
Solid evidence was found in the form of the Friedmann (but which Slipher knew nothing Putting everything together, he discovered
so-called Cosmic Microwave Background of), a similar redshift effect is produced by that the redshift of a galaxy depends on its
Radiation. By then, though, there was the stretching of space as time passes. distance from us its velocity is
already plenty of circumstantial evidence. proportional to its distance. But he was
With hindsight, we can see the genesis aware that this is not a Doppler effect. As
of the Big Bang idea in a paper published he put it in a 1927 paper, the redshifts are
by the Russian mathematician Alexander MEASURING DISTANCE a cosmical effect of the expansion of the
Friedmann in 1922. Friedmann realised The debate about the nature of the spiral Universe. But that paper was published in
that the equations of Albert Einsteins nebulae was resolved in 1924. Edwin an obscure Belgian journal and nobody
General Theory of Relativity, which Hubble, working at the then-new 100-inch noticed it even though he sent a copy to
describe the behaviour of space, time and telescope at Mount Wilson in California, the leading British astronomer of the day,
matter, allowed for the possible existence measured the distance to the Andromeda Arthur Eddington.
of different kinds of universe. Some started Nebula (or galaxy) by studying variable stars Meanwhile, Hubble had been busy.
out small and expanded as time passed. known as Cepheids within the nebula. This He recruited a more junior astronomer
Some started large and shrank as time established that the spirals were indeed (but the best observer in the world), Milton
passed. Some grew from a tiny point out to a galaxies far out into the Universe. The time Humason, to measure redshifts of galaxies,
certain size then collapsed back into a point. was ripe for someone to put redshifts and while Hubble measured distances by a
At the time, there was no firm evidence that distances together, adding in the equations variety of techniques. In 1929, Hubble and
any of these mathematical models matched of the General Theory of Relativity to Humason published a paper based on
the Universe in which we live. provide a description of our Universe. a study of 24 galaxies, 20 of which
This didnt stop Friedmann speculating.
In 1923, he wrote: It is useless, due to the
lack of reliable astronomical data, to cite A map of the Cosmic
any numbers that describe the life of our Microwave Background
Universe. Yet if we compute, for the sake of the afterglow radiation
curiosity, the time when the Universe was of the Big Bang
created from a point to its present state, ie,
time that has passed from the creation of
the world, then we get a number equal to
tens of billions of usual years. This is pretty
close to the accepted modern value of 13.8
billion years, but nobody took any notice at
the time.
Friedmann didnt know was there was
already astronomical data that supported
his idea. At the Lowell Observatory in
Arizona, Vesto Melvin Slipher had been
studying the light from objects then known
as nebulae spiral clouds of material.
There was a debate about whether these
were clouds of gas within the Milky Way,
perhaps sites of star formation, or much
larger objects far beyond the Milky Way
galaxies in their own right.

IN A NUTSHELL
How the Universe began was one of the
biggest questions facing science. Over the
course of the 20th Century, a series of
astronomical observations and fortuitous
physics experiments finally verified the
Big Bang theory.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 9


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

had redshifts measured by Slipher,


It could be the biggest question of all:
TIMELINE how did the Universe begin? It took
and four with new redshifts
obtained by Humason.
decades of discovery to answer... This was enough for Hubble to publish
the now-famous discovery of the redshift-
distance relationship. It showed that the
Edwin Hubble discovers
distance of a galaxy from us is directly
that the distance of
a galaxy from us is proportional to the velocity implied by its
directly proportional redshift. This exactly what Lematre had
to the velocity implied published two years earlier became
by its redshit. Georges
Lematre had published
1929 known as Hubbles Law. The value of the
Hubble constant in the Hubble and
this in 1927, but nobody
Humason paper was 500km/s per Mpc,
had noticed.
suspiciously close to Lematres value.
There was no mention in that paper,
Lematre writes in
Nature: We could though, of either Slipher or Lematre.
conceive the beginning Hubble, a notoriously vain and unpleasant

1931 of the Universe in the


form of a unique atom,
the atomic weight of
self-publicist, did everything he could to
take all the credit and glory and, to a large
extent, he succeeded.
which is the total mass
This time, the news spread like wildfire.
of the Universe.
Lematre, understandably miffed, wrote to
Eddington reminding him of the 1927 paper,
and Eddington did everything he could
Ralph Alpher (let) to spread the news of Lematres priority,
and Robert Herman
including getting a translation of the paper
calculate that the
letover radiation
from the primeval
1948 published in English. Lematre eventually
got the credit he deserved, but it was
fireball should still fill Hubble who got the law named after him.
the Universe today, Lematre, though, wasnt finished.
with a temperature Hubble was only interested in using
of about 5,000C. This
was also published
redshifts to measure distances and never
1964 in Nature. tried to fit them to any cosmological
model. Most relativists simply regarded
the equations as something to play with, of
no relevance to the real world. Lematre,
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discover a weak though, took them at face value and used
hiss of radio noise coming from all directions in
space. The following year this is explained as
them to attempt a description of how the
the letover radiation from the Big Bang. Universe began. In 1931, he speculated that
the Universe might have begun violently
(in fireworks) in a very dense state, which
expanded dramatically to become the world
as we see it today. He developed these
ideas in a book published in 1946, referring
to the origin of the Universe either as the
1989 primeval atom or the cosmic egg. This
inspired the Russian-born American George
Launch of the Cosmic Background Explorer Gamow to take up the idea and develop it
satellite (COBE), which detected tiny irregularities further, with the aid of his colleagues Ralph
PHOTO: CORBIS, GETTY, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X2, NASA X2

(ripples) in the background radiation, confirming Alpher and Robert Herman.


the accuracy of the Big Bang model. Ralph Alpher realised that the heat from
Lematres fireworks should have filled the
Universe with electromagnetic radiation,
Launch of the Wilkinson which would still exist today in the form of
Microwave Anisotropy cold radio waves. In 1948, he published a
Probe (WMAP), which paper inthe journal Nature concluding that
makes precision the temperature in the Universe at the
2001 measurements of the
background radiation,
pinning the age of the
present time is found to be about 5 Kelvin
[268C]. Gamow promoted the idea for a
Universe down as time (and now often incorrectly gets the
13.8 billion years. credit for it), but in those days nobody
thought that such cosmic background
radiation could be detected, and the idea
was soon forgotten.

10 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


The Universe was born from a single
point in time and space, a discovery UND E R S TA NDING T HE BIG B A N G
made possible by identifying the
radiation from the Big Bang itself

A possible explanation for the observed


excess noise temperature is the one given
by Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson in a
companion letter in this issue. It was the
proof that there really was a Big Bang.
In the following decades, three key
satellites probed details of the Big Bang.
The first was COBE, launched in 1989,
which successfully detected ripples in the
background radiation produced by the
seeds on which galaxies grew. The Big Bang
theory had triumphed.

JARGON BUSTER
The cosmic terms youll need
to understand the Big Bang

COSMOLOGICAL
REDSHIFT
A stretching of light, or other
electromagnetic radiation, caused by
the stretching of space between the
galaxies as a result of the expansion
of the Universe. This is not a Doppler
But there was a problem with the Big used for astronomy, it had to be calibrated.
Bang idea, as it was being called by the Penzias and Wilson found that it was efect, because it does not involve
1950s. The speed with which galaxies are plagued by what seemed to be interference; motion through space, but is measured
moving apart today tells us how long it has a weak hiss of radio noise showed up in in units of velocity. The cosmic
been since they were all squeezed together the instruments no matter which part of background radiation is light from the
in Lematres cosmic egg. This age of the the sky they pointed the telescope to. They Big Bang with a redshit of 1,000.
Universe is related to Hubbles constant were utterly baffled. Then, in December
the bigger the constant, the faster the 1964, Penzias happened to mention the
galaxies are separating and the younger the problem to another radio astronomer,
Universe. For a value of 500km/s per Mpc, Bernard Burke, who said that he knew of HUBBLES LAW
the Universe would only be about a billion a team at Princeton University who might Actually first discovered by Georges
years old far younger than the known ages be able to shed some light on the problem. Lematre, the law says that the redshit
of the Sun and stars. This encouraged the That team was headed by Jim Peebles velocity of a galaxy is proportional to
rival Steady State model of the Universe, and Robert Dicke, with two junior its distance. So a galaxy twice as far
which says that the Universe has always colleagues, Peter Roll and David Wilkinson.
existed and always expands, but that new away is receding twice as fast, and so
Dicke had independently come up with the
atoms pop into existence as space stretches same idea as Ralph Alpher, but had gone on. This does not mean we are at the
to make new galaxies which fill the gaps. one step further by initiating a project to centre of the Universe, however. The
build a telescope to look for the predicted law works the same way whichever
radiation. The telescope was nearly galaxy you observe from.
complete when Penzias and Wilson got
BELATED ACCEPTANCE in touch.
The Big Bang idea gradually became The two teams put their heads together,
more respectable as better telescopes and quickly establishing that what Penzias and MICROWAVES
improved observations showed that the Wilson had found could indeed be the Microwaves are radio waves that,
Hubble constant is much smaller than echo of the Big Bang. They produced a in astronomy, are used to study
Lematre and Hubble had estimated less pair of papers for the Astrophysical Journal. the background radiation let over
than 100km/s per Mpc. Then came the Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson came from the Big Bang. On Earth, theyre
decisive moment. first, setting out the theory of leftover
In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson used in microwave ovens, radar and
radiation from a hot early Universe. That
were adapting a radio telescope built to paper was then followed by Penzias and telecommunications. The Universe is
test satellite communications for radio Wilson with A Measurement of Excess essentially a microwave oven with a
astronomy. The telescope, at Crawford Antenna Temperature at 4,080 Mc/s, temperature of -270.3C.
Hill in New Jersey, belonged to the Bell making no mention of the significance
telephone company. Before it could be of the discovery except for the sentence:

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 11


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

UNIVERSE
THE
A STORY
IN SIX
CHAPTERS The evolution of the Universe has been a process marked
by several clear stages. STUART CLARK is your guide
PHOTO: CERN ILLUSTRATOR: ANDY POTTS

12 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


THE S TORY OF THE UNIVERSE

he year 2009 could go

T
down in the astronomical
textbooks as the one CHAPTER ONE:
when a revolution in our
understanding of the THE BIG BANG
Universe began. The
iconoclast at the centre of The very moment of the Big Bang forces of nature, except gravity. To
this upheaval is not a person but a machine: remains shrouded in as much mystery as investigate such a theory, scientists
a space probe called Planck. Named after ever. Its the point at which the Universe must turn to the Large Hadron Collider
the great German physicist Max Planck, began space and time were formed (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, which
the spacecraft was launched by the and all the matter and energy that we recreates the conditions thought to have
European Space Agency (ESA) that year, see around us somehow came into been present in the Universe a fraction
tasked with detecting the blueprint of the existence. Data from the Planck of a second after the Big Bang. The
Universe a snapshot of the seeds of the telescope now indicates this happened LHC gives us a mini-Universe in the
stars and galaxies that surround us today. 13.82 billion years ago. Initially, there laboratory, says Dr Anupam Mazumdar,
For a century, cosmologists have been were no stars or galaxies, just a hot, a cosmologist at Lancaster University.
busily constructing mathematical theories dense sea of particles and radiation. While the experiment can show what
that describe the story of the Universe Straight after the Big Bang, space began particles were prevalent in the primordial
from the earliest moments to the present to expand, spreading out the matter and Universe, theoreticians then have to form
day. But now, analysis of Plancks energy. The trouble is the theory that we a theory to understand them.
blueprint is revealing a number of plot use to understand the expansion, String theory is a possible quantum
holes, or anomalies as the scientists call Einsteins Theory of General Relativity, theory of gravity, but it is unclear
them, that dont seem to fit the story. will not work at the extreme densities whether it bears any resemblance to
For one thing, data from Planck of the Big Bang and so physicists are reality, because the mathematics are
indicates that the Universe is older than searching for a way to extend it. currently unable to predict anything that
expected by about 50 million years. It also The best template is quantum theory, can be tested in a laboratory or observed
which deals with the physics of the in the Universe. For now, the moment
very small and provides a basis for all the of the Big Bang remains terra incognito.

At one minute old,


the entire Universe
resembled the
interior of a star
but on a vast scale

contains more of the mysterious dark


matter and fewer atoms than previously
thought. And while these may sound
serious, in reality they are the least of a
cosmologists worries.
Much more troubling is the so-called
cold spot in the radiation from the early
Universe that Planck has recorded a
region that looks significantly colder
than current theories allow. Indeed, the
temperature pattern across the whole
Universe looks strangely lopsided.
New discoveries such as these are
shedding new light on the history of our The Large Hadron Collider fires particles
around a 27km (16-mile) ring before
Universe: the story of how we arrived at smashing them together to recreate
the cosmos we see around us today. conditions just after the Big Bang

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 13


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

spacecraft split the sky into a billion pixels in Finland who works independently
and observed each one a thousand times of the Planck consortium.
during its three-year mission. This Another solution to the anomalies,
produced a map of the sea of microwaves according to Matthew Kleban of New
that bathe all of space the cosmic York University, is that during the
microwave background (CMB) unlike sudden expansion that happened during
anything that had been seen before. inflation, our Universe slammed into a
It is these subtle fluctuations in this neighbouring one. This sent shockwaves
radiation left over from the Big Bang rippling through our cosmos that
that provide astronomers with their imprinted the anomalies we see today.
blueprint of the early Universe the If so, we should think of them as a cosmic
distribution of matter and energy a bruise. Testing such a controversial idea,
fraction of a second after the Big Bang. however, is very tricky.
When the data from Planck was released,
it immediately became clear that there
are problems that the cosmological CHAPTER THREE:
community are still trying to come to
terms with. PARTICLE CREATION
There is a suspiciously large cold spot 1 minute post-Big Bang
signalling that a vast clump of matter was
present in the early Universe and it is At one minute old, the entire Universe
much denser than inflation can explain. resembled the interior of a star but
More troubling is that there is one side of on a vast scale. Particles that would
The CMS detector at the Large the Universe where the fluctuations become the nuclei of all the atoms in
Hadron Collider (top, below) is the Universe were built in this cauldron.
looking for particles that could
make up dark matter
Mostly these were single protons that
A galaxy forms in the aftermath of would become hydrogen, but around
the Big Bang when the Universe
was only 100,000 years old
a quarter of the particles transformed
into helium nuclei, containing two
CHAPTER TWO: protons and two neutrons. There were
also trace amounts of lithium and
INFLATION beryllium produced.
10-35 seconds post-Big Bang The evidence for all of this furious
activity is all around us today in the
chemical make-up of the Universe.
Until Planck, almost every observation We know from measurements of the
of the Universes largest scales had radiation given off by our Sun and other
suggested that it is remarkably uniform. stars that 98 per cent of the Universe
Sure, there are clusters of galaxies and remains in the form of this primordial
huge voids, but even these are hydrogen and helium. Only 2 per cent of
comparatively small when the Universe the original atoms have been processed
as a whole is considered. into heavier chemical elements while
As a result, cosmologists had developed inside stars.
a mathematical framework called
inflation to explain the uniformity. First
proposed in 1980 by Alan Guth, a particle The Planck telescope has revealed
physicist from the Massachusetts the Cosmic Microwave Background in
unprecedented detail
Institute of Technology, it postulated
that, right after the Big Bang, a period of appear stronger than the other, indicating
extraordinary expansion took place. In an uneven distribution of matter across
the blink of an eye, the Universe grew the whole Universe. This is very
bigger by a factor of at least 1,060. This strange, says Dr George Efstathiou,
would smooth out any large-scale Professor of Astrophysics at the
PHOTO: CERN, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, NASA

deviation across the Universe, making it University of Cambridge and a member


appear uniform. Only the smallest of the Planck science team. And I think
fluctuations in the density of matter and that if there really is anything to this,
energy would remain, the cosmologists you have to question how that fits in with
theorised. Remarkably, these fluctuations inflation. Its really puzzling.
were found in 1989 by NASAs COBE But it may not spell the end for the
satellite and amount to no more than one theory of inflation just yet. Instead,
part in 100,000. They are the seeds from my gut instinct is that these anomalies
which the galaxies have grown. will point to a more specific model of
Planck has measured these fluctuations inflation, says Dr Rose Lerner, a
in much greater detail. The 500 million cosmologist at the University of Helsinki

14 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


THE S TORY OF THE UNIVERSE

CHAPTER FOUR:
THE DECOUPLING OF MATTER AND ENERGY
380,000 years post-Big Bang
This is the moment when the radiation Now, the continual expansion of space day, Planck has enabled us to now
detected by Planck was released into had weakened the radiation so much that see this radiation that has spent
space. Until then, the Universe had been it could no longer break apart the atoms. in the region of 14 billion years
a searing mass of atomic nuclei, lighter This was a watershed moment because, travelling across space, preserving
particles and energy. It had been with most of the previously free particles a record of the density of the various
impossible for whole atoms to form; now confined into atoms, it was as clumps of matter that became galaxies.
whenever a nucleus and an electron though the fog cleared. Its this record that now provides
particle bonded together, the torrent of In the same way that we are able to troubling insights into the inflation that
radiation smashed them apart again. see to the horizon on Earth on a clear went before.

The Cosmic Dark Ages ended with the


CHAPTER FIVE: first celestial objects. The first stars were CHAPTER SIX:
THE COSMIC DARK purely hydrogen and helium, and some
could have been thousands of times the
PRESENT DAY
AGES mass of the Sun. They lived for just 13.8 billion years post-Big Bang
hundreds of thousands of years before
1 million years post-Big Bang destroying themselves and seeding the Occasionally, galaxies still collide and
Universe with the heavier elements merge, but these incidents are a pale
Initially, the decoupled radiation would needed to form planets and life. fraction of the number of cosmic smash-
have been visible to the human eye In March 2013, the Hubble Space ups that used to take place. Star formation
not that, of course, there were any Telescope pinpointed one of the Universes is also significantly reduced in the modern
humans around to see it. But the
continued expansion of space stretched
the radiation into the infrared and then
into the microwave.
The Universe became dark. Even after
Galaxies might not collide as often as before,
a million years, there were no celestial
objects, so no sources of light. These were
but the Universe remains far from boring
the Cosmic Dark Ages. Slowly, the sea of
atoms across the Universe began to
fragment into clumps, pulling themselves oldest stars right on our celestial doorstep. Universe. But dont go thinking that the
together to become the first celestial Known as the Methuselah star, it has an Universe became boring.
objects. This was driven by the gravity of estimated age of 14.5 billion years give or The biggest mystery for cosmologists to
dark matter clouds composed of particles take 0.8 billion years. Its only this margin solve manifested itself about five billion
that formed shortly after inflation. of error that means its potentially years ago. A strange energy began to
consistent with the supposed age of the accelerate the expansion of the Universe.
Universe. This might sound like the star Astronomers call it dark energy, but just
is older than the predicted age of the dont ask them to explain it, yet.
Universe, but its more of a quirk of how Were nowhere near to understanding
accurate we are able to measure the age what it is, admits Dr Tony Padilla, a
of a star. It is speeding through space, just cosmologist at the University of
190 light-years away. Nottingham. Taking quantum physics as a
The first black holes were those now starting point predicts a strength for dark
found at the centres of galaxies. Although energy that is monstrously large compared
a black hole emits no light, matter falling to what is observed. It really makes no
into its gravitational clutches does heat sense, and its a problem thats been swept
up and emits radiation. They would have under the carpet for too long, says Padilla.
ended the Cosmic Dark Ages as surely as But maybe not for much longer: ESA is
the first stars. busy developing the Euclid mission, slated
The first galaxies, known as quasars, for launch in 2020. It will investigate, with
were voracious monsters. Their feeding extreme precision, the way in which the
black holes gave out as much light as their Universe is expanding in order to
collections of stars. Gradually, the black determine the exact effect of dark energy,
holes consumed all the matter in their thus providing an important clue as to
vicinity, leaving only the stars to shine what it is. Clearly, the story of the Universe
within the galaxy. has not yet reached its conclusion.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 15


ELLING THE
UNRAV
FABRIC
OF THE
UNIVERSE ROBERT MATTHEWS investigates how the structure
of space could shed light on black holes, the Big
Bang and the
Bang and the nature
nature of
of reality
reality itself
itself

heres no doubt it would be Planck scale beggars belief. Todays best emerge from experiments that are

T
the most mind-boggling microscopes can achieve magnifications underway right now.
journey imaginable, the of around 100 million times, which is just The results may explain some of the
ultimate deep dive a about enough to reveal individual atoms. deepest mysteries in science including the
journey not to the bottom of To do the same for events on the Planck birth of the Universe from an incredibly
some oceanic abyss, but into scale, youd need a microscope 10 million compact state, nearly 14 billion years ago.
the very fabric of the cosmos billion billion times more powerful still. The structure of space-time is the new and
itself. Scientists are embarking on a grand Put another way, youd need magnifications perhaps last frontier on our way to a
project to explore the apertures of space in so great that individual atoms would appear complete understanding of nature, says
search of a realm whose properties could bigger than entire galaxies. theorist Professor Martin Bojowald of Penn
ILLUSTRATOR: MAGICTORCH

transform our view of the nature of reality. Yet, despite the challenges involved, State University. The Planck scale is crucial
Its known as the Planck scale and it scientists believe theyre closing in on the for our understanding of the Big Bang and
exists at levels far smaller than the tiniest Planck scale. Theyve already come up with whats at the centre of black holes.
atom or even subatomic particle. Named some insights by exploiting cosmic events According to Prof Bojowald, scientists
after Max Planck, the German physicist as awe-inspiring as the challenge itself. may now be standing at the edge of a whole
who pioneered quantum theory more than And some suspect the first glimpses of the new view of reality as profound as that
a century ago, nearly everything about the stitches in the fabric of the Universe may which followed the proof of the existence

16 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE FA BR I C O F T HE UNI V E R S E

of atoms just a century ago. We now Einsteins theory of gravity was not up to
know what the atomic nature of matter the job: its equations simply went haywire
implies, but for space-time were still when trying to describe the instant of the
working at a level comparable with Big Bang. But theorists suspected that
19th-Century physics, he says. If Planck when combined with quantum theory,
scale effects can be detected, we can test General Relativity might start to give
and improve our theories about it. sensible answers again. Rough calculations
suggested that the resulting theory of
quantum gravity no longer implied that
CHANGING IDEAS the Universe started out with literally no
While attempts to reach the Planck scale size at all. Instead, it suggested that the
are at the cutting edge of 21st-century cosmos emerged from a state of incredibly
science, suspicions about the true nature small but finite size roughly equal to the
of space and time date back millennia. In Planck scale.
the 5th Century BC, the Greek philosopher But the implications of quantum gravity
Zeno of Elea argued that the common dont stop at the Big Bang. They affect
sense notion of space and time being the nature of space and time right here
infinitely divisible leads to paradoxes. and now through the combined effect
He pointed out that if space is infinitely of Einsteins theory of gravity, plus the BEYOND EINSTEIN
divisible, the very idea of moving from famous quantum uncertainty principle. The quest for a Theory
one point to another becomes problematic. According to this, certain properties of
Yet in everyday experience, there doesnt apparently empty space are intimately of Everything
seem to be a problem which suggests connected. In particular, the more One of the biggest questions surrounding the
there may be something wrong with the precisely a region of space is defined, Planck scale is what happens to space and
idea that space is infinitely divisible. the more uncertain its energy content time down there. One idea is that it will take
Glimmerings of quite what the problem becomes. Einsteins theory of gravity the form of space-time foam, like the surface
is didnt emerge until the mid-1950s, when predicts that this will lead to space-time of a wind-swept sea. But most believe the
theorists began attempting to unify the becoming ever more distorted. As the level truth will only emerge if physics Holy Grail
two great theories of modern physics: of distortion increases, the smaller the is found: the Theory of Everything (ToE).
quantum theory, which governs the volume of space becomes, reaching its The quest began exactly a century ago,
subatomic world, and Einsteins theory of most extreme at the Planck scale. when Einstein tried to develop a single set
gravity, known as General Relativity. If something is localised to a region of equations to describe the forces of both
Theorists had recognised that only such smaller than this scale, the gravitational gravity and electromagnetism. He never
a unified theory could explain the mystery warping is likely to be so great that the found his unified field theory which, in
of the Big Bang, when the whole of the entire region is engulfed in a mini any case, failed to incorporate forces of
Universe had burst forth from some black hole, says quantum gravity nature discovered later.
unimaginably compressed state. By itself, expertProfessor Ted Jacobson of the Now, theorists think they know how to
create a ToE: combine Einsteins theory of
gravity, known as General Relativity (GR),
with quantum theory, the rules of the
subatomic world. The challenge lies in
marrying their diferent approaches to
describing fundamental forces.
Atempts to combine these approaches
soon ran into mathematical problems. But
in the mid-1980s theorists made a break-
through. Many of the problems disappeared
if everything, even space and time, is made
up of superstrings.
These multidimensional objects are
thought to have two key properties. Theyre
incredibly small: roughly the same size as
the Planck scale. And they have at least 10
dimensions, of which six are curled up into
incredibly complex shapes known as
Calabi-Yau manifolds.
Superstrings seem to solve the
problems of unifying quantum theory
with GR. Together, these properties
point to a new vision of the fabric of
PHOTO: NASA/JPL X2, CORBIS

the cosmos. At the Planck scale, space


NASAs Fermi Gamma- wouldnt be smooth and regular, but nor
Ray Space Telescope has would it be chaotic. Instead itd be like a vast
been studying gamma plain doted with the Calabi-Yau manifolds.
rays since 2008

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 17


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

STUDYING THE FABRIC


How the Hubble Space Telescope acts like a giant microscope

In 2011, a team of scientists led by of the cosmos. And because the effect
Fabrizio Tamburini at the University of is cumulative, by the time the light
Padua, Italy atempted to detect Planck reaches the Earth, the images should Quasar
scale effects using the power of the be increasingly blurry. A very bright
galaxy powered
orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Ater analysing the images of over by a supermassive
To do it, the team analysed images of 150 quasars taken with the HST, the black hole
quasars, the incredibly bright central team came up empty there was no
regions of galaxies on the edge of the sign of any Planck scale effects. The
visible Universe. As they lie billions of implications are still being argued over:
light-years away, these quasars should some theorists claim the study isnt as
appear as sharp, if faint, point-like stringent as it appears. In any case, its
objects. But in travelling across the failure to find anything doesnt mean
vastness of the Universe, their light Planck scale effects dont exist, merely
should be affected by the existence of that current theories about them
any Planck scale effects in the fabric need more work.

Hubble Space Telescope


The space-based instrument
receives light from the quasar

Image A
The quasar appears
clear at this distance

Image B
Some distortion of the
quasar image is apparent

If the Universe is indeed distorted at


Image C the Planck scale, light from a distant
The quasar image quasar would be increasingly blurred
is obviously fuzzy on its journey across space.
PHOTO: CORBIS X2, NASA ILLUSTRATION: ACUTE GRAPHICS

460BC 1899 1915 1955

KEY EVENTS Zeno of Elea shows how the idea German physicist Max Planck puts Albert Einstein publishes his
that distances can be infinitely forward a fundamental and incredibly theory of gravity, known as the
A brief history of divided leads to paradoxes, hinting small unit of length the Planck General Theory of Relativity, which
that common sense views of scale, now recognised as the scale reveals a fundamental connection
our understanding space may be misleading. at which space loses its common between space, time and the force
of space-time sense properties. of gravity.

18 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE FA BR I C O F T HE UNI V E R S E

University of Maryland. So at the


The Fermi telescope looked for a
Planck length scale, space-time is photon (purple) carrying a million
warped in the extreme. times more energy than another
(yellow) but didnt find it

A QUESTION OF SCALE
The details of what happens to the fabric
of the cosmos down at this scale arent
clear, and various scenarios have been
put forward. But most suggest that right
now, all around us, space and time are
undergoing unimaginable contortions
on the Planck scale. At least, they are if
quantum theory and relativity still hold
at that level. But that isnt guaranteed
by any means, Prof Jacobson cautions.
If they dont hold, something else
very exotic transcending our current
understanding would be going on, he

speed, to one part in 100 million billion,


he says. Einstein still rules.
For space-time, were still working at a
level comparable to 19th-Century physics THE SEARCH CONTINUES
Since then, scientists have conducted
several more searches for Planck scale
effects. Dr Philippe Laurent of the Saclay
research centre in France and his
says. Either way, things are likely to be blast of gamma rays coming from a galaxy colleagues published a study of gamma
interesting at the Planck scale. over seven billion light-years away. Among radiation detected in 2004 by the
Theres only one way to discover just the radiation making up this blast, European Space Agencys Integral satellite.
how interesting it is: devise some methods astronomers detected two rays whose According to some, Planck scale distortions
for probing the nature of space and time wavelength and thus energy differed of space and time should put a detectable
down there. And, astonishingly, scientists by a factor of a million. This made them twist, or polarisation, into the gamma rays
have already come up with ways of doing perfect for testing one theory about the as they travel through empty space. Yet
just that with tantalising results. Planck scale: that the contortions may be Dr Laurents team were unable to find any
Ironically, so far most progress has been so violent that they violate Einsteins evidence of polarisation in the gamma rays
made via studies of events that take place famous rule that all radiation travels ruling out another swathe of theories.
on truly titanic scales. The reasoning is through empty space at the speed of light. A team led by Fabrizio Tamburini at the
simple enough: even the tiniest effects can Some theorists have claimed that the University of Padua, Italy published a study
be made detectable if theyre given the result would be significant differences looking for Planck scale fuzziness in
chance to accumulate. And, in the case of in speed, according to the energy of the images of distant galaxies taken by the
Planck scale phenomena, that means radiation. Yet despite the huge contrasts Hubble Space Telescope. The implications
looking for their telltale signs in events in their energy, the two gamma rays struck of the results remain hotly debated, but it
at huge distances from the Earth. Fermis detector within 0.9 seconds of seems that they too have succeeded only in
Its a strategy first tried out by each other after a journey lasting over ruling out some theories of the Planck scale.
astronomers using NASAs Fermi space seven billion years. According to Fermi So, could the search for the stitches of
telescope. Launched in 2008, Fermi is scientist Peter Michelson of Stanford space-time prove to be a wild goose chase?
able to detect gamma rays the most University, California, thats bad news for Nobody knows yet. Einsteins century-old
penetrating form of radiation unleashed theories about the Planck scale that try to concepts may prevail or they may
by the most violent events in the Universe. undermine Einsteins venerable theory. collapse to reveal an astonishing new
In May 2009, Fermi detected a two-second These two photons travelled at the same vision of the nature of space and time.

1985 2008 2011

American theorist John Wheeler Theorists trying to combine Astronomers using the Fermi orbiting Atempts to detect Planck scale
posits the concept of space-time Einsteins theory of gravity with observatory detect gamma rays from effects by studying radiation from
foam: the roiling turbulence of quantum theory produce new an explosion halfway across the exploding stars and distant galaxies
space and time expected at views of the nature of space and Universe. Their behaviour shows no draw a blank, raising questions
the Planck scale, according to time at the Planck scale, such as evidence of Planck scale effects. about some theories of Planck
some theories. the Calabi-Yau manifold. scale phenomena.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 19


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

TURE OF
THE NA

GRAVITY What goes up must come down... But why


thats the case is a mystery that took some
QHJWOCPKV[oUITGCVGUVOKPFUEGPVWTKGUVQIWTGQWV
And, as BRIAN CLEGG explains, some aspects
of gravity continue to remain a puzzle
PHOTO: CORBIS

20 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE N AT UR E O F G R AV I T Y

here are four fundamental reasoning rather than observation and proportional to its quantity. The apple

T
forces that operate in the experiment, Aristotles ideas required the draws the Earth, and the Earth draws
Universe: the strong nuclear Earth to be the centre of the Universe. If the apple. But more than this, Newton
force, the weak nuclear it were the Sun instead, all heavy matter made the leap of proposing universal
force, the electromagnetic should fly off into space. gravitation. He broke Aristotles lunar
force and gravity. Gravity Whats more, Aristotles model of barrier and applied the same force
is the most obvious of these gravity made heavy objects fall faster than throughout the Universe, realising that
yet it has proved a very difficult puzzle light ones. With more material in them, gravity was responsible for keeping the
to crack. the heavy objects should feel a stronger planets in their orbits, where otherwise
To the ancient Greeks, gravity reflected urge and therefore move faster. Aristotle they would fly off in a straight line.
the nature of the elements. Aristotle stated this as fact, yet Galileo demolished All this and more Newton included in
described how earth and water had gravity, the idea. He asked what would happen if his masterpiece, Philosophiae Naturalis
and there was a tendency of motion you tied together two objects of different Principia Mathematica, usually known as
towards the centre of the Universe (Earth). weight. The heavier weight, according the Principia. The book itself, originally
Air and fire, he said, had levity, which to Aristotle, would want to fall faster and written in Latin, is not easy to read and
encouraged them to move away from the would speed up the lighter one but the relies far more on geometry than we
centre. But these tendencies were only light weight should slow down the heavier would expect today, but here we get the
present in the imperfect, sub-lunar realm. one, leaving them falling at an intermediate key understanding that the force of
In the Greek world view, everything from speed. Yet the combined object was gravity is dependent on the masses of
the Moon upwards depended on the fifth heavier than either, so the whole should the objects involved divided by the square
element quintessence which allowed fall faster. It didnt make sense. of the distance between them. This and
the heavenly bodies to rotate undisturbed. Although Galileo almost certainly didnt, his laws of motion were enough for
To understand Aristotles viewpoint, as legend has it, drop weights off the Newton to describe the way that planets
we need to forget all we learned about Leaning Tower of Pisa to discover that and moons move and the way that things
physics at school. Gravity was not a force they arrived at the ground at the same fall when they drop. It was, without doubt,
it simply described the nature of earth time, he did experiment with pendulums a triumph.
and water. It was their natural tendency
to seek out the centre of the Universe, just
as it is a dogs natural tendency to fight
cats. Although gravity would be refined
over the years, there were few serious Newton realised gravity was responsible
challenges to Aristotles domination of the
physical sciences for 2,000 years. for keeping the planets in their orbits,
UVQRRKPIVJGO[KPIQHHKPCUVTCKIJVNKPGq
DOWN TO EARTH
The great 7th-Century Indian
mathematician Brahmagupta briefly flirted that had bobs made of cork and lead, one However, Newton did leave one aspect
with the idea that gravity might work more than 100 times heavier than the hanging how this strange force acting
in a similar way to a magnet, as did the other, and showed that they swung (and at a distance could work. In Principia, he
Islamic scholar al-Biruni 300 years later. hence fell under gravity) at the same rate. writes hypothesis non fingo, translated
But this wasnt enough to shake Aristotles He also repeatedly rolled balls down as I frame no hypothesis. This was a sly
theoretical dominance. The first cracks sloping channels to measure the effects of comment: in using the word frame, as in
appeared with the transformation of the gravity. And Galileo explicitly described framing someone, Newton was suggesting
Solar System by Copernicus and Galileo. a force of gravitation that pulled weights that his competitors were making things
If they were correct that Earth travelled towards the Earth. up. Still, this gap in explanation left
around the Sun, making that the new But it was Isaac Newton who brought Newton open to attack, particularly for
centre of the Universe then Aristotles gravity fully under the auspices of science his use of the word attraction. Today we
model of gravity fell apart. Based on and mathematics. Its not clear whether are familiar with attraction being applied
he was truly inspired by seeing an apple to gravity, but at the time it was only used
fall (it certainly didnt fall on his head), in the romantic sense. He seemed, to
even though he did make this claim. In a 17th-Century ears, to be saying that the
IN A NUTSHELL long chat with the antiquarian William Earth orbited the Sun due to some kind of
Stukeley in April 1726, the elderly Newton planetary crush.
The ancient Greeks thought that earth and
water were drawn towards the centre of the
described how the fall of an apple made Newton had not worked in isolation.
Universe, then believed to be Earth. But him think, Why should the apple always His great rival Robert Hooke, for instance,
thanks to Galileo, Newton and Einstein, our descend perpendicularly to the ground? had suggested that gravity was an inverse
knowledge of this fundamental force has In Stukeleys account, Newton says that square law that reduced with the square
come a long way since the 4th Century BC. the apple is pulled by a drawing power of the distance, but Hooke had been
to the Earth, and that this force must be unable to manage the maths to

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 21


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

support his idea. It took Newton to


assemble the magnificent whole.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Five great thinkers Aristotle
GRAVITY EXPLAINED
whose work was (384-322 BC) Despite his protestations, Newton did
The definitive ancient have some thoughts on how gravity
crucial in shaping Greek philosopher, might work. He suspected, as many did,
our understanding Aristotle set the agenda that there was an invisible material in
of gravity for science for more than space that could transmit the force. Such
1,800 years. This is a pity, mechanical models for gravity became
as his theories based more sophisticated with time. The most
on reasoning rather popular was that of Nicolas Fatio de
Galileo Galilei than observation Duillier and George-Louis Le Sage, two
(1564-1642) were almost universally Swiss scientists who independently
This natural misleading. Gravity as developed the idea that space was full
philosopher believed Aristotle saw it was of tiny invisible particles that constantly
in the importance of a tendency for heavy bombarded bodies from all directions.
experiment and, as things to prefer the When something got in the way, like
a result, dismissed centre of the Universe. Earth, it sheltered other objects from
Aristotles ideas particles coming from its direction. This
on gravity. Though meant that the remaining particles pushed
famous for being tried objects towards Earth.
for promoting the This sounded very unlikely. But it
Copernican model would take the remarkable mind of
of the Solar System, Isaac Newton Albert Einstein to come up with a better
Galileos greatest (1643-1727) suggestion. His breakthrough thought on
contribution was his The greatest English gravity came shortly after the remarkable
methodical exploration physicist. Most of his year of 1905, when Einstein wrote three
of mechanics and work on light, motion, papers that transformed physics. These
motion, including the gravity and calculus established the existence of atoms, formed
influence of gravity. was done in Cambridge, the foundations of quantum theory (for
though much was which he won his Nobel Prize) and
achieved when he was introduced Special Relativity, which
confined to his home showed how apparently fixed quantities
in Lincolnshire due to like mass, length and the flow of time
the plague. He was later varied depending on your viewpoint.
an MP, Master of the Two years later, Einstein was sitting in
Mint and President of the patent office in Bern and had what he
Albert Einstein the Royal Society but described as his happiest thought. All of
(1879-1955) physics remains his a sudden a thought occurred to me: if a
Einstein was born most significant legacy. person falls freely, he will not feel his own
in Ulm in Germany, weight. I was startled. The simple thought
though he was a Swiss made a deep impression on me. It impelled
citizen from his teens. me towards a theory of gravitation.
He produced three Arthur Eddington
papers in 1905, while (1882-1944)
working in the patent Born in the Lake District,
GRAVITY AND LIGHT
PHOTO: ISTOCK X3, ALAMY, CORBIS, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

ofice, that would Eddington worked


show atoms were real, as an astronomer What Einstein had realised was that
lay the foundation and astrophysicist in gravity and acceleration were equivalent
of quantum theory Cambridge. When asked and indistinguishable. If, for instance, you
and establish Special if it were true that were in a spaceship with no windows and
Relativity. His theory of only three people in found that you were experiencing a pull
General Relativity from the world understood of 1g, there are two possible explanations.
1915 is still the standard the theory of General You could be sitting still on the surface
theory of gravitation. Relativity, Eddington of the Earth, or you could be in space and
is said to have replied, the craft could be accelerating at 9.81
Who is the third?. metres per second per second the same
acceleration as due to Earths gravity.
Your instruments could not detect a
difference. But if this is true, it tells us
something odd about gravity.

22 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE N AT UR E O F G R AV I T Y

String theory, also


known as M-theory,
is an attempt to JARGON BUSTER
reconcile gravity and
quantum mechanics Key terms used when
discussing the nature of gravity

FUNDAMENTAL FORCES
The four forces of nature: gravity,
electromagnetism and the strong and
weak nuclear forces. Between them,
theyre responsible for all interactions
between particles (and between
mater and light).

INVERSE SQUARE LAW


This describes a quantity that gets
smaller as the square of a value gets
bigger. For instance, if you double the
distance between two bodies the
gravitational pull is reduced by a
If we imagine a beam of light crossing of nature are quantised. They arent
the accelerating spaceship, the beam will factor of four.
continuous, but are granular with tiny
appear to bend to someone inside the divisions called quanta. The expectation
ship as a result of its motion. But since is that there should also be a quantum
acceleration and gravity are equivalent, theory of gravity, but as yet one has not MASS
the same light beam should also bend in a been established. For a while, it seemed as A concept introduced by Isaac Newton
gravitational field. Einstein had realised if string theory would provide the answer, to describe the amount of mater
that gravity warps space, twisting it near a but there is increasing concern that this present. The mass of a body is what
massive body so that anything travelling in mathematically-driven concept will never
a straight line curves around it. This is as causes its gravitational atraction and
make useful predictions, leaving growing
true of an orbiting planet as it is of a beam interest in alternative theories like loop doesnt vary, whereas its weight is
of light. quantum gravity. the force of gravity on the mass at a
In fact, his discovery proved stranger particular location.
still. While the warping of space explains
the orbits of the planets, it doesnt tell us
why the apple falls. There is no reason GRAVITY AND US
for something to start moving. But it Our modern understanding of gravity
RELATIVITY
is space-time the mash-up of space reveals that its far more important than Galileo observed that motion is relative.
and time that emerged from Special the ancients thought. Gravity not only If we move at the same velocity as
Relativity that is warped by massive keeps things in place on Earth, it was also something else, it doesnt move with
objects, and it is the warp that initiates responsible for the formation of the Solar respect to us. Einstein developed this
motion. The mathematics to support all System as it coalesced out of a spinning idea in his theories of Special Relativity
this is fiendishly complex even Einstein cloud of dust and gas. Its gravity that (reflecting the efect of the fixed speed
had to get help to understand it but the produces the temperature and pressure in
of light) and General Relativity, which
principle is simple enough. the Sun that, along with quantum effects,
make it undergo nuclear fusion to generate brings in gravity and acceleration.
Einstein had given Newtons theory
a framework, a reason for working. the heat and light that gives us life.
More than that, General Relativity, as Experiments in space have even shown
Einsteins theory became known, made that gravity is essential for living things.
some predictions that were different from Plants struggle to grow with no gravity We dont know, for instance, why
those Newton would have expected to direct their roots. In an experiment it is so much weaker than the other
and experiments have verified that it is on the International Space Station, it has forces. If you doubt this, compare it
General Relativity that matches reality. been shown that birds eggs need gravity with electromagnetism: in picking
It seemed in many ways that the theory to develop. And human beings deteriorate up a paperclip, a small fridge magnet
of gravitation was complete. Einsteins in low gravity, losing bone density overcomes all the gravity the entire Earth
development would be used to predict and muscle tone, while lungs suffer can muster. Nor do we know how to bring
everything from the existence of black compression as organs drift upwards with gravity into the quantum fold. But thanks
holes to the way the Universe changes no gravity to keep them in place. to the work of those pioneers Newton
with time. But there is still one big gap in Gravity continues to keep hold of some and Einstein, this fundamental force is no
our understanding. All the other forces secrets. It retains much of its mystique. longer a total mystery.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 23


R E L AT I V I T Y ON T R I A L

the same rate under gravity, hitting the


WHAT IS GENERAL ground at the same time if dropped from
the same height. How could this be?
RELATIVITY? Einstein imagined a spacecraft far away
from the Earth, which is accelerated at 1g.
The General Theory of Relativity describes If an astronaut inside lets go of a feather
how mass and energy cause the fabric of
and hammer from an identical height, the
space-time to warp, giving rise to what we
floor accelerates up towards them at 1g
perceive as gravity. This theory expanded
and both objects hit the floor at the same
on Albert Einsteins earlier Special Theory of
Relativity. Both theories are based on the
time. If the windows are blacked out and
idea that the laws of physics act in the same the astronaut doesnt know they are in
way everywhere and that the speed of light space, they might conclude they are
is constant. From this starting point, Einstein experiencing gravity on Earth.
deduced that as everything is moving Einstein deduced that we feel gravity
relative to everything else, different viewers because we are accelerating. We do not
see the same event differently. This is where realise it and this is the incredible
the theory gets its name. part because matter warps the four-
dimensional space-time it sits in. There is
a valley we cannot see in the space-time
n November 1915, at the height of around Earth. Our natural motion is to

I
World War I, German physicist take the shortest path, or the path of least
Albert Einstein published a resistance, through space-time that is,
revolutionary theory of gravity. to fall to the bottom of the valley. Earths
Not only did General Relativity surface obstructs us, pushing back. This
show that Isaac Newton, arguably is how we experience gravity.
the greatest scientist to have ever In a nutshell, this is General Relativity.
lived, was wrong, it predicted both the As theoretical physicist John Archibald
existence of black holes and that the Wheeler said: Matter tells space how to
Universe had been born in a Big Bang. It curve. And curved space tells matter how
even showed, at least in principle, how to to move. The theory has passed every test
build a time machine. in the past century, predicting and
The key thing Einstein recognised is explaining phenomena beyond the scope
that, in any small region of space, gravity of Newtons theory. But it is known to
and acceleration are the same thing. He break down in the singularity at the heart
came to this conclusion after considering of a black hole and in the Big Bang. So
Galileos 17th-Century observation that all physicists are searching for a flaw
bodies, irrespective of their mass, fall at that points the way to a deeper, more

Space-time is warped into


a valley around Earth

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 25


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, ISTOCK X3, NASA, DAN MARRONE/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

The South Pole Telescope


is part of a global array
called the Event Horizon
Telescope that aims to
study the black hole at
the Milky Ways centre

26 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


R E L AT I V I T Y ON T R I A L

fundamental concept that will fill in


the gaps of Einsteins theory. One
key prediction that has yet to be confirmed
is the existence of gravitational waves... 5 WAYS...
...you can see Einsteins theory in real life
CATCHING WAVES
Gravitational waves are ripples in the MASS
fabric of space-time, which spread The Higgs eld accounts for only about
outwards from an accelerated mass like 1 per cent of your mass. 99 per cent is
ripples on a pond. The problem is that due to a relativistic effect. Specically,
space-time is about a billion billion billion the quarks that compose you are moving
times stiffer than steel. This means it takes so fast they gain mass. Without Einstein,
a lot to vibrate it and create gravitational
you would weigh only about 1kg!
waves. Only the most violent astrophysical
events such as the birth or merger of black
holes or the collision of super-dense stars
are capable of causing vibration.
In December 2015, the European Space SUNLIGHT
Agency (ESA) launched LISA Pathfinder, According to Einstein, mass is a form of energy
a mission to test the concept of a space- and so can be converted into other forms of
based gravitational wave detector. The energy. This is what is happening in the Suns
ultimate idea of LISA, which stands for core, where nuclear reactions convert about
Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, is to
0.7 per cent of the mass of hydrogen nuclei
put a giant equilateral triangle in space,
probably in 2034. The triangle will consist into heat and, ultimately, sunlight.
of three satellites, somewhere between
one million and five million kilometres
apart, bouncing laser light back and forth
using mirrors. Think of the sides of the
GOLD
triangle as giant rulers. A passing An atom absorbs and re-emits light when an
gravitational wave is expected to electron moves between orbits. The lights
alternately stretch space in one direction energy (colour) depends on the energy
and squeeze it in a perpendicular difference between the orbits. Gold ought to
direction, so the trick will be to look for appear silver, but its innermost electrons move
subtle changes in the length of the rulers. so fast that they gain mass. This changes the
We expect to be able to detect change as
light its atoms reect, making it appear gold.
small as the width of an atom over millions
of kilometres, says LISA Pathfinder
Project Scientist Paul McNamara.
Gravitational wave experiments have
been built on Earth, but background THE UNIVERSE
vibrations of the ground mimic real The distant Universe seen through telescopes
sources, making them blind to the lowest is not actually there: its an illusion. The reason
frequency of gravitational waves. Such
is that matter creates valleys in space-time
waves should be detectable by LISA. In
addition, there should be a background of which light from distant objects must negotiate
tens of millions of events caused by white on its way to Earth. The Universe is therefore
dwarf-white dwarf binaries in the Milky distorted as if seen through frosted glass.
Way. Binaries are systems consisting of
two stars, orbiting a common centre of
mass. There is also a chance that a space-
borne detector will be able to directly
measure primordial gravitational waves SLUGGISH SATELLITES
produced in the first split-second of If you have a smartphone or sat-nav, it
the Big Bang, says McNamara. calculates your location relative to a constellation
Electromagnetic waves allow us to of global-positioning satellites. When these are
see the Universe, whereas gravitational close to Earth, they experience stronger gravity
waves will allow us to hear it, explains and their on-board clocks slow. This effect must
McNamara. Imagine going to an
be compensated for to calculate your location.
orchestra recital and only being able to
watch the musicians without
hearing any sound. Now turn on the

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 27


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

sound. This is what it will be like


when we start to observe the
GENERAL RELATIVITYS SUCCESSES Universe with gravitational waves.
Prepare yourself for the cosmic symphony.
This isnt the first time that Einsteins
famous theory has been put to the test
GOING DEEPER
The fact that General Relativity breaks
down in the singularity of the Big Bang
MERCURY MYSTERY and a black hole, where the density of
According to Einstein, the gravity near matter skyrockets to infinity, is not very
the Sun is stronger than Newton would helpful in trying to find a deeper, more
have predicted, causing the elliptical fundamental theory. The hope is that
orbit of Mercury to gradually change its General Relativity might reveal a chink in
orientation. It precesses the planet its armour in less extreme circumstances.
This is the idea behind an Earth-orbiting
traces out a rosette-like pattern around
experiment called Satellite Test of the
the Sun. Before Einstein, this was such Equivalence Principle, or STEP, which is
a puzzle that it led to the suggestion of seeking NASA funding. If it gets the go
a planet Vulcan tugging on Mercury. ahead, it could fly in six years, says Paul
Worden, one of the originators of STEP
in 1971.
The Equivalence Principle is the fancy
name for gravity being indistinguishable
TIRED LIGHT from acceleration so that all masses fall
at the same rate. Since the principle is the
As light climbs out of the valley in
foundation of General Relativity, it is a
space-time around a massive object like key place to look for an anomaly. Galileo
a star, it loses energy. This is equivalent is supposed to have dropped different
to a reduction in its frequency and is masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa,
known as a gravitational red shift. It and Apollo 15s Commander David Scott
has been observed in the light of dense, repeated the experiment with a hammer
white dwarf stars. and a feather on the Moon in 1971. STEP
will suspend four pairs of test masses
made of at least three different materials,
such as beryllium, niobium and platinum-
iridium, and see whether they move
RIPPLING GRAVITY relative to each other.
In 1974, Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor The masses will be inside a tank of
liquid helium to insulate them from
discovered two super-dense neutron stars
external temperature fluctuations and
orbiting each other. They determined they surrounded by a superconducting shell
were spiralling together and losing orbital to shield them from electromagnetic
energy. This lost energy is exactly the interference. Microthrusters will
amount Einstein predicts they should be counteract the atmospheric drag on the
radiating into space as gravitational waves. satellite, so the freefall of the test masses
will be nearly perfect.
The key to the experiment is that a
satellite in Earth orbit is always falling
away from its desired straight-line path,
but never gets any closer to Earth because
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, GETTY, NASA, ESA

Earths surface perpetually curves away


BENT LIGHT from it. In other words, it is falling
Einstein calculated the Suns gravity would forever. This will enable small differences
bend the trajectory of light from distant in the rate at which different masses fall
stars by twice the amount Newton would to be magnified.
have predicted. The only way to observe The Equivalence Principle is known to
stars close to the Sun is during a total hold to one part in a trillion, but STEP
will better that by another factor of a
eclipse. During the eclipse of 1919, Arthur
million. All attempts to unify General
Eddington confirmed the positions of stars Relativity with quantum theory involve
were shifted as Einstein had predicted. new forces, which may affect different
materials in different ways. A violation is

28 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


R E L AT I V I T Y ON T R I A L

The LISA Pathfinder


mission will test the
concept of a space-
General Relativity might based gravitational
wave detector

be put to its toughest test


within only a year or two

basically the discovery of a new force the more it can zoom in on details in make the case for the existence of black
of nature, or something really weird, the sky. holes as solid as it is ever likely to be, says
says Worden.If theres no violation The trouble with black holes is they Doeleman. An image would symbolise a
at least to experimental accuracy we are very difficult to see. Stellar-mass turning point in our understanding of
can rule out a lot of theories of gravity, ones are too small and the supermassive black holes and gravity.
but not Einsteins. black holes in the cores of other galaxies Doeleman is being modest. It is possible
with up to 30 billion times the mass of that the first image of a black hole event
the Sun are too far away. Only one horizon will be an iconic image to rival
black hole is within reach the one the Apollo 8 image of Earth rising above
THE HOLE STORY 26,000 light-years away at the centre of the Moon.
But General Relativity might be put to the Milky Way. Sagittarius A*, as it is In the world of science, 100 years is an
its toughest test within only a year or called, will be magnified in size by its awfully long time. Countless theories have
two. So far, the theory has been checked own intense gravity. It will appear as been proposed since Einstein published
only in situations where gravity is big as a grapefruit on the Moon viewed his famous paper, with many of them
relatively weak. Nobody has tested it from Earth, says EHT scientist Shep turning out to be nonstarters or dead
where gravity is strong close to a black Doeleman of the Massachusetts Institute ends. After a century of extraordinary
hole. That could all change when the of Technology who is also the leader of success, it still remains to be seen how far
Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) images the EHT team. the General Theory of Relativity can be
the black hole at the centre of our Milky The key thing is to observe the black stretched before reaching its breaking
Way, probably in 2017. holes event horizon the point of no- point. Could its time be finally up? After
The EHT is an array of cooperating return for in-falling matter and light and all, even Einstein viewed the theory as
radio telescopes that are scattered around see whether it behaves as predicted by being incomplete.
the globe. The radio signals recorded Einstein or even whether it exists. Stephen If STEP, LISA or the EHT are able to
at each site are flown together and Hawking suggested it might not. This will uncover even the tiniest hole in its
combined on a computer at Haystack in test Einsteins theory in the realm of venerable armour, scientists could be on
Massachusetts to simulate a giant dish strong gravity, where it has never been the brink of formulating a new theory of
thats the size of Earth. The bigger the tested before. An image would allow us to gravity, or maybe even making the first
dish and the shorter the observing test General Relativity at the black hole tentative steps towards the elusive theory
wavelength the EHT is using 1.3mm boundary but, just as importantly, it would of everything.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 29


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

TAND
DER S
UN
DARK
MATTER
IN 10 MINUTES
PHOTO: GETTY, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

For decades, top astronomers have been on an enormous


treasure hunt for the Universes most mysterious
substance. But if we cant see it, how on Earth do
we know it even exists? COLIN STUART explains...

30 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


Vera Rubin studied a
large number of galaxies
and found that the
DA RK M AT T ER
effects of dark matter
are widespread

Sun, the longer it takes to orbit it. But


WHY DO SCIENTISTS thats not what Oort found. The outer
THINK THAT DARK stars were zipping about faster than they
should be. In order to explain why they
MATTER EXISTS? stayed bound to the Milky Way despite
The first clues that everything in the their lofty speeds, he supposed there was
Universe was not as it seemed came in the some invisible material with gravitational
1930s. Swiss-American astronomer Fritz power spread throughout the Galaxy. By
Zwicky was looking at a group of galaxies 1980, American astronomer Vera Rubin
and working out how fast the individual had spotted the same effect in around 100
galaxies were moving. To his surprise, he other galaxies. Whatever this invisible
found them careering around at speeds stuff was, it was widespread.
far greater than he expected. In fact, they Today, an effect known as gravitational
were moving so fast that they should have lensing provides even more evidence to
quickly dispersed, breaking away from the suggest there is something strange going
gravity of everything else in the cluster. on. If we see a large amount of mass, say
Except they werent. Zwicky was forced a cluster of galaxies, move in front of a
to surmise that there must be more stuff At the same time, Dutch astronomer distant light source, then the foreground
in the cluster that was boosting its overall Jan Oort was forced to invoke something object is able to bend the light from the
gravitational pull and keeping the galaxies similar. He was looking at the stars background object around it. This light
tied together. The discrepancy wasnt small orbiting near the edge of the Milky Way. creates a series of arcs that can join
either. He estimated there was 400 times He expected to find that the further together to form whats known as an
more matter present than he could see. he looked from the galactic centre, the Einstein ring. The more mass there is, the
At a loss to explain what this mysterious slower the stars would be rotating around greater the amount of bending. Yet there
material was, he simply called it dunkle it. This idea isnt dissimilar to our Solar is often not enough visible mass in
materie the German for dark matter. System: the further a planet is from the the cluster to account for the amount

If they exist,

86
DARK MATTER billions of dark
matter particles
IN NUMBERS are passing
through your body
every second.
strings carrying detectors Only around
were lowered 2,500 metres
below the surface of the
Antarctic ice as part of the
100,000
a year interact with
IceCube experiment. This
the atoms inside
is hunting for evidence of
your body.
dark matter annihilations.

264,979
litres of water are needed to shield the
THE
The Universe is thought
to be made of 68 per
cent dark energy,
subterranean Large Underground Xenon dark
UNIVERSE 27 per cent dark matter
matter detector from being contaminated and just 5 per cent
by radiation from the Earths surface. normal matter.

13 terraelectronvolts
is the record-breaking energy with which the new souped-up Large Hadron Collider is
smashing particles together in an attempt to unlock the secrets of dark matter.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 31


T HE F UNDA MEN TA L S

JARGON BUSTER WHAT IS THIS?


When astronomers look at the Universe on the largest
ANNIHILATION scales, they see huge clusters of galaxies strung out on
The process by which two dark mater long filaments, which border enormous cosmic voids.
They explain this distribution by suggesting dark mater
particles come together, creating
provides a scafold by drawing ordinary mater together
a cascade of new particles. Were with its gravitational influence.
atempting to detect this with various
experiments around the world and
in space.

GALAXY
A large collection of stars in space, like
a city for stars. Ours is called the Milky
Way and has around 200 billion stars.

GRAVITATIONAL
LENSING of bending we observe. Again, there Halo Objects, the idea is that there are
A prediction of Einsteins General must be extra mass thats hidden big objects such as black holes ghosting
from view. unseen through the Milky Way. When
Theory of Relativity, which says
we add up all the mass we can see, we
that mass bends light. However, arent including them, hence why we
astronomers oten see more bending WHAT DO SCIENTISTS underestimate the mass of the Galaxy.
than the amount of visible material THINK DARK MATTER IS?
present would suggest. Physicists have a cookbook for the
Universe known as the Standard Model WHAT ARE SCIENTISTS
of particle physics. By using its recipes,
they can account for the behaviour of
DOING TO FIND DARK
NEUTRINO forces and the way particles interact MATTER?
A small, almost massless particle with one another. This model has been How do you find something that is,
created by nuclear reactions inside validated many times over, including by by definition, hidden from view? You
the Sun. Additional neutrinos may experiments at CERNs Large Hadron certainly cant see it. To make things
be created by dark mater Collider. The books final missing page was worse, WIMPs are so ghostly that they
annihilations and detecting them the recently discovered Higgs boson. almost always pass straight through
would be a big breakthrough. And yet there is nothing within those normal matter including any detector
recipes that allows physicists to cook up you build to snare one.
anything with the observed behaviour of To put it into perspective, dark matter
dark matter. It has to be able to interact is so abundant that billions of dark matter
STANDARD MODEL with normal matter via gravity and yet in particles are streaming unhindered
The recipe book that particle physicists order to remain hidden, it cannot interact through you every single second. And yet,
use to explain a lot of the subatomic with light. In an attempt to explain this on average, in any five-minute period,
behaviour, physicists have come up with only one of these dark matter particles
world. It contains rules regarding how
a new type of particle: Weakly Interacting interacts with an atom of normal matter
particles interact with forces and light. Massive Particles (WIMPs). They are in your body.
weakly interacting because they dont This idea that dark matter particles
interact with light, and massive because do occasionally deign to interact with
SUPERSYMMETRY they interact via gravity. normal matter is the basis for the Large
When astronomers run computer Underground Xenon experiment deep
An idea that goes beyond the Standard
simulations of a Universe that evolves under the surface of South Dakota.
Model and says every normal particle with dark matter in the form of WIMPs, Scientists have commandeered an
has a supersymmetric partner particle. they get a structure that is a pretty solid abandoned gold mine and set up a dark
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The lightest of these supersymmetric match for the distribution of galaxies that matter detector 1.6km down. Consisting of
particles could be responsible for we see today. A theory for physics beyond 370kg of liquid xenon shielded by 264,979
dark mater. the Standard Model called supersymmetry litres of water, it is designed to pick up
also seems to fit with this picture. the occasional WIMP interacting with the
Other explanations have been xenon. Should a WIMP recoil off a xenon
considered in the past, including atom, the atom is accelerated through
MACHOs. Standing for MAssive Compact the liquid, causing a flash that can be

32 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


DA RK M AT T ER

picked up by the surrounding banks The idea was first put forward by Israeli the galaxies were close together and
of super-sensitive cameras. physicist Mordehai Milgrom in 1983. He dark matter dominated the Universe
Scientists might also be able to detect suggested that the strength of gravity could expanded slowly. Yet as it expanded,
dark matter when it interacts with itself become stronger where acceleration levels the galaxies moved further apart and
in a process known as annihilation. When are small (just like at the edge of a spiral the collective strength of dark matter on
this happens, it is thought a cascade galaxy). These ideas can help to explain the biggest scales began to wane. Now
of normal particles is produced and some details about how galaxies work in dark energy is winning the battle and is
we should be able to pick that up. One ways that the dark matter theory cannot. speeding up the Universes expansion.
such experiment is the Alpha Magnetic However, there is currently no reason to
Spectrometer (AMS-02) currently suspect that gravity behaves differently on
strapped to the International Space different scales and MOND struggles to
HOW MUCH DARK MATTER
Station. It is trying to pick up evidence explain why galaxies cluster together in the IS THERE?
of atomic shrapnel coming from WIMP way they are observed to do. Dark matter completely dominates the
annihilations near the galactic centre. ordinary matter of which people, planets
The Sun could help too. As the biggest and stars are made. Our Milky Way is
thing in the Solar System it should be HAS DARK MATTER GOT thought to be about 90 per cent dark
acting as a giant cosmic vacuum cleaner, ANYTHING TO DO WITH matter and only 10 per cent normal
sweeping up dark matter particles as it matter (also called baryonic matter). Of
treks through the Galaxy. Some of the dark
DARK ENERGY? all of the matter in the Universe, 85 per
No. Dark energy is the name given to cent is dark matter and only 15 per cent
matter particles should annihilate inside
the mysterious entity thought to be is baryonic.
the Sun, producing a stream of normal
accelerating the overall expansion of the There is one thing to be careful of,
particles. Unfortunately, the Sun is so
Universe a sort of anti-gravity. however, and thats the distinction
dense that almost all of these daughter
In contrast, dark matter can be thought between how much of the Universe is
particles remain trapped inside. However,
of as gravitational glue that helps bind made of dark matter and how much of
one type of particle neutrinos would
galaxies and clusters of galaxies together. the Universes matter is dark. According
make it out and travel across space to us.
The fact they both share the same to Einsteins famous equation E=mc2,
Experiments such as IceCube, stationed
adjective indicates our collective ignorance mass and energy are two sides of the
on Antarctica, are set up to gather these
about the true nature of both were same coin. This leads cosmologists to
tell-tale signals.
literally in the dark as to what they are. often talk about the mass-energy of the
Then there is the Large Hadron
You can think of the Universes history Universe all the mass and all the energy
Collider (LHC). On 5 May 2015, the
as a tug of war between these two dark put together. In these terms, the Universe
experiment began smashing protons
entities. When the Universe was young, is 68 per cent dark energy, 27 per cent
together after a two-year shutdown
designed to boost the machines power. dark matter and just 5 per cent atoms. If
It is hoped that, by colliding particles we discount the energy part, the numbers
together with greater energy than ever NOW EXPLAIN IT revert to above 85 per cent dark matter,
before, nature might begin to reveal more TO A FRIEND 15 per cent baryonic matter.
secrets of its inner workings.

1
When astronomers look out into the
Universe, they see many phenomena HOW WILL THE HUNT FOR
that suggest theres more material in the
COULD DARK MATTER BE Universe than can be seen with telescopes.
DARK MATTER AFFECT ME?
SOMETHING ELSE? Oten the gravity in a particular location
As with all science research, practical
So far weve been assuming that dark seems stronger, suggesting some invisible applications can be hard to predict from
matter is tangible, something that truly stuf contributing the extra gravity. the outset. However, many technologies
exists. But what if it doesnt? What if its often filter down to use in everyday
a phantom a symptom of the fact that life. Take CERN, for example. The first

2
we dont understand gravity properly? Since we cant see it, we call this stuf webpage was info.cern.ch. This technology
Thats exactly what proponents of a theory dark mater and it is thought to make was devised to communicate between the
called Modified Newtonian Dynamics up around 85 per cent of all the mater facilitys computers.
(MOND) advocate. in the Universe. Our best idea of what it is One likely spin-off from the dark
made of is an as-yet-undiscovered particle, matter hunt is improved digital cameras.
Remember, one of the original reasons
called a WIMP (Weakly Interacting Massive The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is
dark matter was introduced was to
Particle) ater the properties it would currently under construction and, by 2021,
account for the fact that stars in the Milky
need to have. it should begin to scour the skies from
Way dont slow down the further they
are from the galactic centre, unlike the its mountaintop location in the Chilean
desert. Equipped with an astonishing

3
planets of our Solar System. But what if Experiments around the world and
there is one rule for gravity on small scales 3,200-megapixel camera the worlds
in space are looking for evidence of largest it will be able to map out the
(like a solar system) and another for large WIMPs interacting with one another.
scales (like a galaxy)? While Newtons structure of the Universe in order to test
The search has come up empty, prompting
laws of gravity allow us to send people out theories about dark matter. By building
some scientists to turn to an alternative
to the Moon or spacecraft to the planets, such an enormous camera, those new
theory called Modified Newton Dynamics
stretching those rules to regions to which technologies will eventually end up in the
(MOND) that suggests gravity varies on
they dont apply might explain why were diferent scales.
commercial photography and medical
puzzled by the strange motions of stars. imaging markets.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 33


T HE F UNDA ME N TA L S

R PL ACE IN
OU
THE
UNIVERSE
Sciences greatest minds and centuries of
research have tried to position Earth in the
ever-expanding Universe. As GILES SPARROW
explains, we can now be certain of where we are...

here do we fit in? a secondary fire (or perhaps a mirror)

W
For more than following its own orbit around the centre.
2,000 years, its Philolauss model was the first theory
a question that to suggest that the apparent motion of
astronomers have heavenly bodies derives, at least in part,
devoted a great from the movement of observers on Earth.
deal of time trying By the 4th Century BC, these ideas were
to answer. Each new discovery has brought undermined by an important realisation.
with it a further diminution of Earth and If the Earth is in motion, then surely our
humanitys place in the cosmos. But those view of the heavens should be subject
discoveries have also hugely widened our to the same parallax that affects other
understanding of the Universe as a whole, objects. In other words, just as a nearby tree
and helped us establish the precarious shifts more rapidly against a distant forest
position of life on Earth. when we change our observing position,
Most early cosmologies owed more to shouldnt Earths orbit through space cause
mythology than science. But, by the 6th celestial bodies to shift their apparent
Century BC, ancient Greek philosophers positions back and forth over time?
were developing non-mythological For this reason, the great philosopher
theories for the first time. The earliest of Aristotle argued that Earth must be the
these to survive are from Anaximander of
Miletus, who argued that Earth was not
the centre of the Universe, but instead
formed the top surface of a flattened
IN A NUTSHELL
cylinder, floating free in space. A supernova and a comet in the 16th
A century later, Philolaus imagined Century helped astronomers to establish
Earth as one of several planets in motion that Earth rotated around the Sun, rather
than the other way round. This paved the
on circular orbits. However, it did not
PHOTO: ISTOCK

way for scentists to calculate the true scale


circle the Sun, but instead an unseen
of the Universe.
and mystical Central Fire. The Sun was

34 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


unmoving centre of the Universe. The version of his work On The Revolutions The supernova challenged long-held
Central Fire was discarded, and the Sun, Of The Heavenly Spheres on his deathbed beliefs about the unchangeability of the
Moon, planets and stars set on concentric in 1543, but it was swiftly adopted across stars, while the comet was to prove the
crystalline spheres that carried them Protestant northern Europe. key to finally resolving the question of
on circular paths around Earth, now Two cosmic events soon helped the planetary orbits.
understood to be spherical. Aristotles growth of heliocentric astronomy: first, a Using Tychos observations, his assistant
ideas would hold sway for almost two supernova (exploding star) erupted into and collaborator Johannes Kepler worked
millennia, despite observations that view in the constellation of Cassiopeia out that the comet must have followed an
challenged them. in 1572. And then, in 1577, a spectacular elliptical orbit and would therefore have
In the 16th Century, events conspired comet swept through Earths skies. Danish passed through the supposed crystalline
to break the geocentric stranglehold once astronomer Tycho Brahe observed both, spheres supporting the other planets.
and for all. In the early 1500s, Polish priest showing by their lack of visible parallax Kepler went on to model the orbits
Nicolaus Copernicus began to develop that these objects lay far beyond the Moon. of the planets themselves as elliptical
an alternative heliocentric system that
seemed to do a better job.
He was not the first churchman to
question the Earth-centred dogma, but his
ideas emerged in the midst of a religious
Reformation that saw many long-held
assumptions questioned for the first
time. Copernicus only published the final

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 35


T HE F UNDA ME N TA L S

paths around the Sun, and finally


Copernicus introduced the Solar System produced (from 1609) three laws
TIMELINE with the Sun at its centre in the 1540s, of planetary motion that provided almost
turning astronomy on its head perfect predictions.
Finally, Earth had taken its true place as
one of several planets in the Solar System.
Nicolaus Copernicus
publishes his On The
But it was not until 1671 that Italian
Revolutions Of The astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini
Heavenly Spheres, measured the orbit of Mars and hence
puting forward a
detailed model of
a Sun-centred Solar
1543 determined the true scale of interplanetary
space, with tens of millions of kilometres,
if not more, separating the planets.
System as opposed to
one with Earth
Despite their breakthroughs, Copernicus
at the centre. and Kepler believed that all the fixed stars
lay at the same distance from Earth on the
interior of a hollow cosmic sphere. One
of the first people to doubt this was the
British astronomer Thomas Digges, who
German astronomer in 1576 published an almanac popularising
Johannes Kepler Copernican theory in English. He also
publishes his first
two laws of planetary
argued for the existence of an infinite sea
1609 motion in a work called
Astronomia Nova. By
of stars scattered at random across space.
By chance, Keplers discoveries had
using elliptical rather coincided with the invention of the
than circular orbits, telescope, and astronomers soon harnessed
Keplers laws accurately
this new instrument to make measurements
describe the motion
of the planets in a with unprecedented precision. Yet all signs
heliocentric system. of the stellar parallax predicted by the
Copernican theory remained frustratingly
elusive. As a result, some astronomers
remained cautious about this new model
Friedrich Bessel uses of the Universe.
parallax to measure It was Isaac Newton who, in his 1687
the distance to 61 Cygni, Principia, settled matters once and for
an orange-dwarf binary
star some 10.3
light-years from Earth.
1838 all. Not only did his laws of motion and
gravitation provide an explanation for
This provides the first Keplers laws, but he also made the first
direct confirmation of plausible estimate of a stellar distance.
the enormous scale of Based on the assumption that the
interstellar distances. brilliant star Sirius had the same intrinsic
brightness as the Sun, he calculated
its distance to be 800,000 times the
Earth-Sun distance (12.6 light-years in
modern terminology). Newtons figure
overestimated Siriuss true distance by
45 per cent but, more vitally, it showed
PHOTO: SCIENCE & SOCIETY X2, NASA X2, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, GETTY

that the parallax of stars must be tiny

1917 and that measuring it would be a huge


technological and observational challenge.
In fact, it was to be more than 150 years
Harlow Shapley maps the distribution of before the challenge was finally met, by the
globular star clusters around the Milky Way, German astronomer Friedrich Bessel. In
showing that our Solar System lies many 1838, Bessel announced he had measured
thousands of light-years from the galactic centre. the parallax of a faint star called 61 Cygni
(an angle less than 1/5,500th the diameter
Edwin Hubble of the full Moon). By this time, the Earth-
publishes the first Sun distance had been independently
evidence for Cepheid
calculated, and so simple geometry
variables in the
allowed Bessel to find 61 Cygnis distance
Andromeda Galaxy.
This proves they are
not part of the Milky
1924 10.3 light-years in modern terminology.
Following Bessels breakthrough,
Way our Galaxy is astronomers began to build a catalogue of
just one in a possibly stellar parallaxes, but progress was slow.
infinite Universe.
By the end of the 19th Century, just a few

36 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


OUR PL ACE IN THE UNIVERSE

dozen were known with accuracy it was


The European Space Agencys
only with the introduction of photographic Gaia is compiling a 3D map
surveys that parallax could be measured of one billion astronomical
on a large scale. objects in the Milky Way
Parallax was (and remains) the only
way of directly measuring interstellar
distances, but it is limited to relatively
nearby stars with relatively large shifts.
Fortunately, the information provided by
direct measurements allowed astronomers
to start working out physical properties of
stars, such as their intrinsic brightness or
luminosity. Contrary to Newtons premise,
it soon became clear that stars varied
hugely; these variations would offer the
next rung on the ladder of cosmic distance.
Comparing the luminosity of stars to
the wavelength distribution of their light
(crudely speaking, their colours) reveals
clear patterns in their distribution that are
shown in the famous Hertzprung-Russell
diagram of stars properties. Astronomers
can use it to estimate the rough distance
to a star based on its spectral type and its
apparent brightness in our skies.
It soon became clear that certain stars

NEED TO KNOW display other properties that are very Based on the measured size of the
closely linked to their luminosity. Such stars Milky Way, it was now assumed that our
These key terms will help
are known as standard candles, because Galaxy effectively encompassed the entire
you understand the Universe they can provide a light source of known Universe, while others argued that the
luminosity that can be used to find cosmic faint spiral nebulae seen in many parts of
distances far beyond the reach of parallax. the sky were galaxies in their own right,
1 LIGHT-YEAR
This is a common measure of astro-
nomical distance. It is equivalent to the
The first standard candles were used to
map the scale of the Milky Way. It had long
viewed across a vast gulf of intergalactic
space. This debate was settled in the mid-
distance travelled by light, the fastest thing in been recognised that the distribution of 1920s by Edwin Hubble, who pinpointed
the Universe, in the course of one Earth year. stars around the sky was uneven. As early Cepheid variables within several spiral
One light-year is equivalent to 9.5 trillion as 1781, William Herschel had attempted to nebulae. Based on their periods of
kilometres (5.9 trillion miles). map the Galaxys shape, and pinpoint our variability, Hubble showed that they were
place within it, by counting the number intrinsically bright, appearing faint only
of stars in different directions. But, like because we see them over a distance of
2 PARALLAX
This is a perceived shit in the position
of a nearby object against a more distant
Newton, he assumed all stars were of
roughly the same brightness and ended up
millions of light-years.
Whats more, Hubble identified
with a flawed model in which the Sun lay an important relationship between
background, caused by a change in the near the centre of the Galaxy. the distance of these galaxies and the
observers point of view. Accurately measured It wasnt until 1908 that the American properties of their light the further away
parallax shits along a known baseline (the
astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt a galaxy is, the more its light is stretched
diameter of Earths orbit) allow astronomers
recognised that a class of stars Cepheid or red shifted. This relationship, known
to work out the distance to nearby stars.
variables had fluctuating brightness with today as Hubbles Law, is a consequence
a period linked to their intrinsic brightness. of the general expansion of space in the
Using these stars, fellow American Harlow aftermath of the Big Bang. Since the vast
3 STANDARD CANDLE
A standard candle is any class of
astronomical object or event whose intrinsic
Shapley mapped the position of the Milky
Ways globular clusters. These dense balls
majority of galaxies are far too distant
to identify individual Cepheid variables
luminosity is fixed, or that can be calculated of stars lie above and below the Galaxys within them, the law is often reversed
without prior knowledge of its distance from central plane. He found that they appeared to provide a rough estimate of a galaxys
Earth. By comparing the luminosity of a to be concentrated in orbit around a region distance based on its red shift.
standard candle with its apparent brightness tens of thousands of light-years from These two essential techniques parallax
as seen from Earth, astronomers can Earth in the direction of the constellation and standard candles remain the bedrock
calculate its distance, and the distance of Sagittarius. He reasoned that this was of much astronomical research. Our place
any larger system of which it forms a part. probably the centre of our Galaxy, with in the cosmos might seem increasingly
the Sun just one unremarkable star in the insignificant, but at least we can be far
surrounding stellar disc. more certain of where we stand.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 37


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

THE
SOLAR SYSTEM
The History Of The Solar System.............. 40
From The Sun To The Moon...................... 42
Curiosity: The Story So Far........................44
From Mars To Saturn.................................48
Rosetta: The Journey Continues.................50
Is There Life On Moons?.............................54
From Comet 67P To The Oort Cloud..........60
The Final Frontier......................................64
Destination Solar System...........................68
PHOTO: NASA

38 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 39


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

RY OF THE
THE HISTO

SOLAR
SYSTEM Our little corner of the Universe is the
product of billions of years of planetary
evolution. ELIZABETH PEARSON explains...

ive billion years ago, something was stirring

F
out in space: a huge cloud of hydrogen and
helium was collapsing. The gas rushed
towards the centre of the mass, fusing
together until it burst into life as the star
that we now know as the Sun.
As the Sun was forming, so were the
planets. Before our star was born, another larger one
had died in a supernova, filling the cloud with gas and
dust. This debris gradually formed a protoplanetary disc
a huge, flat ring comprising hundreds of lumps of rock and
ice known as planetesimals.
These planetesimals were the building blocks of the Solar
System. After a few million years of crashing and melding
together, these bodies began to resemble the planets as we
know them today.
Close to the Sun, temperatures were too high for volatile
chemicals, such as water, to remain solid in any quantities.
The initial protoplanetary disc contained only a small
amount of rocky solid material, so the four planets that
formed closest to the Sun were comparatively small.
But, 730 kilometres from Earth, at what is now the outer
edge of the asteroid belt, temperatures were cool enough for
PHOTO: ISTOCK

gases to form thick atmospheres around rocky cores, creating


the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

40 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


HIS TORY

When the infant Earth collided with another young


planet, a huge plume of debris was trailed behind

It wasnt just planets forming, though; ago, the remaining debris was pelted the surface of the early planets, water
several moons did, too. Though many against the planets. didnt boil off immediately but instead
moons are former planetesimals that were This period, now known as the Late formed oceans.
captured by a planet, a few including our Heavy Bombardment, left scars that can After hundreds of millions of years,
own had a much more violent beginning. still be seen on the faces of the Moon, the planets had settled into their orbits
When the infant Earth collided with Mars and other rocky planets. On Earth, and began to grow and evolve. Volcanism
another young planet, a huge plume of such craters have been hidden by the shaped their surfaces while, deep inside,
debris was trailed behind. After a few actions of volcanism or worn away by molten cores began to cool. The cores
hundred million years, it melded together the atmosphere. of the smaller terrestrial planets
to create our planets largest companion. The most significant relic left on our solidified; without the flow of metallic
By four billion years ago, the planets planet from that bombardment is the cores, their protective magnetic fields
and moons had formed, but the Solar array of elements left behind. During faded, leaving their atmospheres
System still looked very different from its Earths formation, metals such as gold unshielded from solar winds. As time
current state. There were probably many and copper sank to the core, so the progressed, such differences between
more planets than the eight we know deposits we find in the crust today must each world became exaggerated, leading
today and they would have been much have arrived on asteroids and comets at to the variation in planets that we see in
closer together. a later date. the Solar System today.
Over time, the outer planets began to Perhaps the most important delivery And the process is far from over.
move slowly away from the Sun, throwing to our planet was water. The early Solar Comets and asteroids still pelt the
the gravitational forces of the Solar System was far too hot for water to settle planets and the Sun is slowly expanding
System off balance. The result was that but, by the time of the Late Heavy and becoming brighter. In another few
several early planets were thrown out into Bombardment, temperatures had dropped billion years, the Solar System will have
deep space and, around four billion years significantly. When comets crashed into transformed itself once again.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 41


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

FROM THE SUN


TO THE MOON The essential facts and figures from
the near part of our Solar System...

MERCURY
Distance from the Sun: 46,000,000km (at its closest)
Atmosphere: 42 per cent oxygen, 29 per cent sodium, 22 per cent
THE SUN hydrogen, 6 per cent helium and 0.5 per cent potassium
Distance from Earth: 150,000,000km (average)
Diameter: 4,880km
Atmosphere: 70 per cent hydrogen, 28 per cent
Visits: NASAs Mariner 10 visited three times between 1974
helium, 2 per cent metals
and 1975. Messenger has been in Mercurys orbit since 2011
Diameter: 1,390,000km
Fact: Mercurys temperature varies dramatically. Its proximity
PHOTO: ISTOCK, NASA X4

Fact: The Sun contains more than 99.8 per cent


to the Sun means it can reach 427C during the day. At night,
of the Solar Systems total mass
though, temperatures can drop as low as -183C

42 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


FAC T F IL E S

VENUS MOON
Distance from the Sun: Distance from Earth: 384,400km (average)
108,200,000km (average) Atmosphere: virtually none
Atmosphere: 95 per cent carbon Diameter: 3,474km
dioxide, plus nitrogen, sulphuric acid Visits: First visited by Soviet mission
and traces of other elements Luna 2 in 1959. Apollo 11 was the first
Diameter: 12,103km manned Moon landing, which took place
Visits: The first spacecrat that 10 years later
successfully visited was Mariner 2 Fact: The Moon is actually moving away
in 1962. More than 20 missions have from Earth, pulling away from us at a rate
visited since, including Venera 7, the of almost four centimetres each year
first probe to land on another planet
Fact: Venus rotates so slowly that
one day equates to 243 Earth days

EARTH
Distance from the Sun: 149,600,000km (average)
Atmosphere: 78 per cent nitrogen, 21 per cent
oxygen and 1 per cent other gases
Diameter: 12,756km
Fact: Experts estimate that more than 99 per cent
of species that have lived on Earth are now extinct

Please note: the sizes of and distances


between planets are not in proportion

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 43



THE SOL A R SYS T EM

CURIOSIT Y
THE
JOURNEY
SO FAR In August 2015, the Curiosity rover celebrated
its third year on Mars. CATHERINE OFFORD
reveals its mission highlights to date
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY: NASA

899
kilograms is Curiositys
weight. It carries fuel,
mechanical arms, cameras
and multiple units of
highly specialised
equipment
C UR IO SI T Y ROV E R

1 2 3 4 5 6

Aug Sept Dec Mar Apr Nov


2012 2012 2012 2013 2013 2013

LANDING! DISCOVERY! DISCOVERY! DISCOVERY! HOLIDAY! DISASTER!


Ater the most Curiosity takes snaps From soil analysis, Just weeks ater Curiosity setles Curiosity has been
complicated rover of a streambed, later Curiosity finds clear Curiosity tested its in for a few travelling across the
landing in history named Hotah evidence for water drill on the surface weeks by itself, Gale Crater. It takes
(one that relied ater the Canadian on Mars. It also finds of the planet, NASA as communications some images of its
on a supersonic lake. Its discovery sulphur and chlorine, announces that an are made difficult wheels, which show
parachute and 76 prompts speculation along with small ancient Mars could by Mars moving visible damage
pyrotechnic devices), that there were once quantities of organic have supported behind the Sun. probably caused
Curiosity arrives at waterways over this molecules that are microbes. The first But although by rocks.
Gale Crater, Mars. part of Mars. Analysis not found naturally samples contain Curiosity isnt
It snaps its first of the streambed on Earth. Concerns many building allowed to drive
view and sends indicates that the are raised about blocks of life, or drill, it can still
it back to Earth. water was probably contamination of the including carbon, analyse the samples
between ankle- testing equipment. hydrogen, oxygen its already collected.
and hip-deep. and nitrogen.

3 4 5
500m

Bay

1 Darwin Outcrop

1 6

90
metres can 6
be travelled by
2
Curiosity per hour

Unlike the
Mars rover
Opportunity, which
ran on solar power,
Curiosity is powered by the
radioactive decay of
plutonium fuel that it
carries on board
THE SOL A R SY S T EM

7 8 9 10 11

Dec Jun Sep Dec Feb


2013 2014 2014 2014 2015

DISCOVERY! ONE YEAR PHOTO OP! DISCOVERY! DISASTER!


NASA reports that OLD! Curiosity arrives at Curiosity detects While transferring
radiation levels on Curiosity snaps a Mount Sharps base, local spikes in a sample, one of
Mars are similar selfie at Windjana. which it will explore methane, a gas Curiositys arms
to those on the The photo celebrates over the next few associated with short-circuits. The
International Space the rovers first months, gathering microbial activity rovers operations
Station, so Mars birthday (in Martian data about the on Earth. Although are paused while
visitors might not years). By now, it planets geological non-biological NASA investigates.
suffer severe has travelled more history. It snaps processes, like A couple of weeks
health effects. than 10km in total. some pictures of a reactions between later, Curiosity is
hole it has drilled. water and rock, sieving rocks with
could have produced its arm again.
the gas, it sparks
excitement about
the possibility of
life on Mars.
8
7 The Kimberley
Outcrops
Dingo Gap

11

Curiosity has
already exceeded
its two-year
life expectancy. Its
predecessor, Opportunity,
is still going strong
since landing in
January 2004

46 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


C UR IO SI T Y ROV E R

12 13

Apr May
2015 2015

PHOTO OP! 1,000 SOLS!


Curiosity snaps Curiosity celebrates
colour photos 1,000 Mars days, or
12 of a Mars sunset sols, since it landed.
(pictured let).
t The The main image
Sun appears to glow on this page was
blue because of stitched together
light scatering by from several photos
clouds of dust in and shows the
the air. The images rovers tracks leading
will help scientists back towards the
$2.5bn learn more about
Marss atmosphere.
distant landing site.
is the amount that
the Curiosity project
cost. The mission
is part of the
Mars Science
Hidden Valley Laboratory

9
10 11
WHAT NEXT?
Windjana 12 In September 2016, Curiosity should
Pahrump be joined on Mars by InSight,
8 Hills 13 a lander studying the planets
early evolution. In four years
time, Curiositys successor
Mars 2020 will arrive

The rover
communicates
with Earth via
orbiters small
satellites that orbit
Mars and relay
signals back
to Earth

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 47


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

FROM MARS Our factual lowdown on the Solar

TO SATURN System continues, taking in both


the Red Planet and Saturns rings...

ASTEROID BELT
Distance from the Sun: The belt covers
a distance from 329 million km to
MARS 478 million km from the Sun
Distance from the Sun: 227,940,000km (average)
Composition: Most of the belts billions
Atmosphere: 95 per cent carbon dioxide, 3 per cent
of asteroids are made of rock, but some
nitrogen, 1.6 per cent argon, with some water vapour.
contain iron and nickel metals
Trace levels of methane were discovered in 2004
Discovered: Astronomer Guiseppe
Diameter: 6,805km
Piazzi first noted Ceres in 1801. Pallas
Discovered: Its visible with the naked eye, and Nicolaus
was later discovered, followed by many
Copernicus theorised that it was a planet in the
other asteroids. Ceres has since been
mid-16th Century
classified as a dwarf planet the only
Visits: Mars is the planet thats been subject to most
one in the entire asteroid belt
missions. Probes were first sent by the Soviets in
Visits: In March 2015, the NASA
1960. The existence of water ice was confirmed by
spacecrat Dawn entered the orbit
the Phoenix spacecrat in 2008
of Ceres
Fact: The tallest mountain in the Solar System is
PHOTO: ISTOCK, NASA X3, GETTY

Fact: The average distance between


found on Mars. Its a volcano called Olympic Mons
objects in the asteroid belt is an
that stands 21km high
astonishing 965,606km, about 24
times the Earths circumference

48 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


FAC T F IL E S

JUPITER
Distance from the Sun: 778,500,000km
Atmosphere: 90 per cent hydrogen, almost
10 per cent helium, traces of ammonia,
sulphur, methane and water vapour
Diameter: 143,000km
Discovered: While visible in the night sky
to the naked eye, it took Galileos telescope,
in the early 17th Century, to spot four of
Jupiters largest moons
Visits: Pioneer 10 was the first crat to
conduct a flyby of Jupiter in 1973, followed
by Pioneer 11 a year later. Subsequent
missions have included Voyager, Ulysses,
Cassini and New Horizons
Fact: Jupiters Great Red Spot is actually
an ongoing storm that measures as much
as 40,000km across. Estimates suggest
SATURN
Distance from the Sun: 1.4 billion kilometres.
its been raging for as long as 350 years
Atmosphere: 75 per cent hydrogen, 25 per cent
helium, traces of methane and water ice
Diameter: 116,474km
Discovered: Like Jupiter, Saturn is visible without
telescopes or binoculars, but it wasnt until
1610 that Galileo identified its now-instantly
recognisable rings
Visits: Pioneer 11 conducted the first flyby of
Saturn in 1979. Voyager 1 and 2 carried out
further studies in the 1980s. Cassini-Huygens
entered Saturns orbit in 2004 and is still circling
the planet
Fact: Saturn boasts 62 moons. These moons
gravity marshals the planets rings (made from
pure water ice) into coherent, defined objects

Please note: the sizes of and distances


between planets are not in proportion

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 49


THE SOL A R SY S T EM
PHOTO: NASA X2

50 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


RO SE T TA

ROSE T TA
THE JOURNEY
CONTINUES...
WILL GATER looks back at the discoveries
of ESAs mission to Comet 67P/
Churyumov-Gerasimenko

S
urprise and serendipity at the comet showed rough outcrops
have always been one and towering cliffs covering its craggy
of the great joys of body, while high-resolution pictures from
exploration precious Rosettas OSIRIS instrument revealed
moments of insight or enormous boulders strewn across the
understanding that reveal surface. Where the two lobes met,
the beauty, and perhaps the probes cameras even revealed an
even the eternal mystery, of the Universe unusual, smooth region flanked by steep
we inhabit. For the scientists working on escarpments. I heard a number of comet
ESAs Rosetta mission, 2015 brought more experts noting the similarities to other
than its fair share of unexpected excitement. cometary bodies that we have observed,
One need only look at the images the explains Taylor. We have aspects of all
spacecraft returned the previous summer other comets rolled into one.
to see this extraordinary drama writ large. This a view echoed by Carsten Guettler,
Rosetta was launched in March 2004. part of the OSIRIS team. Comet Wild-2
Its aim was to rendezvous with and showed the pits that we are also seeing now;
eventually orbit the nucleus of a comet, a Tempel-1 showed cliffs, which manifest
periodic visitor to the inner Solar System as terraces on 67P. There are smooth,
known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. dust-covered regions that were
Astronomers had expected the 4km-wide expected from dust fall.
lump of ice and dust to look a little bit like a
potato, with a few large bumps sticking out
here and there. Rosetta was launched from
But as the probe neared its target in July French Guiana in 2004, 10 years
before its rendezvous with 67P
2014, the comet produced a major surprise:
images from Rosettas cameras showed
that rather than being a single and broadly-
round body, 67P was comprised of two
huge interconnected lobes. Its just nuts,
says the missions project scientist Matt
Taylor, reflecting on the discovery of the
unusual shape.

SPECTACULAR VIEWS
By August, the views from the spacecraft
were even more spectacular. Dramatic
monochrome images taken by the
spacecrafts navigation camera on arrival

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 51


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

On the other hand, we expected to


see at least some impact craters, but
now we dont. Did the comet not experience
as many collisions as we expected or were
they all washed out from the activity? We
have many ideas on how the activity shapes
the surface, how it is connected to cliffs, Jan
fractures, pits and flat lands. The one theory 2014
to combine all these ideas while being
Feb
consistent with all that we see and know 2014
will take a lot of time.
Mar
2014
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL May 2014
Thankfully time is something that the
Jun 2014
Rosetta team has had a great deal of. Rather
Jul 2016
than being a fleeting flyby mission, the
spacecraft has stayed close to 67P since its Jul 2014
arrival. Thats allowed the scientists to not
only scrutinise the surface in detail but also Aug 2014 Mars
watch how the comet changes and evolves Rendezvous
as it nears the Sun.
Sep 2014

ty
What we are doing hasnt been done Dec 2015

s
Toa
before, explains Taylor. We predicted
Earth
how things would be but, as usual, things Oct 2014

ing
dont always go to plan. We had expected

Bak
Oct
it to be dusty, but the dust environment is 2015
much more complex than we expected. As Nov 2014
Philae launched
such, we are unable to navigate very close

ot
Red h
to the comet as the star trackers, necessary Dec 2014
for accurate pointing, get confused when Aug 2015
there is a lot of dust around.
Fr

Perihelion
oz

Despite these difficulties, Rosetta has


en

Jan 2015
been hard at work analysing the comet and Fr
ig

Baking
id
the material its been giving off. These Jun 2015
measurements indicate the comet is very Co Apr 2015
ld
old and has spent a long time in the outer

sty
The passage of Coo
parts of the Solar System, says Taylor.

a
l

To
comet 67P over Tepi
This puts all other measurements into the last two years d Warm
context they are all of a very primordial as it travels through
body, made at the time of Solar System the Solar System
formation and not perturbed much since.

TIMELINE
March 2004 Mid-2014
LIFT-OFF! BURN, BABY, BURN
Roseta eventually For the past few
blasts of from months, Roseta has
Kourou, French been making a number
Guiana, on of thruster burns that
2 March. are necessary to ensure
Now it is heading it makes a successful
for an entirely rendezvous with 67P.
diferent comet, Some burns have lasted
January 2003 67P/Churyumov-
20 January 2014 up to seven hours.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY Gerasimenko, THE SPACECRAFT AWAKENS
PHOTO: NASA X4, ESO

which had been


Roseta had been due to visit the Ater several years of travelling through space in a state of
discovered in 1969.
comet 46P/Wirtanen, but concerns electronic hibernation, Roseta is woken up. It is soon taking
about the rocket means that the its first long-distance images of 67P.
mission misses the launch opportunity.

52 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


RO SE T TA

While Rosetta provides valuable With Rosetta flying around 67P, OSIRISs
observations as it buzzes around the cameras have been regularly keeping
THE ALLURE OF ICE
comet, the mission design also incorporated watch for changes on the comet. Our Its not just the jet activity thats fascinated
a plan to get a close-up view of 67P. In modelling predicted that activity would the Rosetta team. The spacecrafts cameras
November 2014, the orbiter deployed a arise mainly from high northern latitudes have also spotted the distinctive glisten of
small lander, named Philae, resulting in one on the nucleus around the time Rosetta ice on the nucleus of the comet. We always
of the most thrilling spacecraft descents ever reached the comet, says Vincent. While knew it must be there, explains Guettler,
seen in planetary exploration. And although our predictions were correct, we quickly and when the comet slowly heated up
the initial landing didnt quite go to plan, realised that the large scale jets are really while it was approaching the Sun, the ice
the probe did return unprecedented images made of many much smaller structures. evaporated and lifted the dust blanket.
and data from the surface of the comet. Perhaps most excitingly, several of those With all this activity, Rosetta is getting
Back in orbit, Rosetta tried to pin down smaller structures appeared to be associated an unprecedented view of the evolution of
Philaes location but, as the weeks went by, with huge pits in the surface of the comet. a comet and the processes at work on its
it was also witnessing something incredible We noticed the pits immediately upon surface. But understanding the context of
on the comet. 67P was becoming more and arrival, but it took us a few weeks to realise this activity is vital too. Its for this reason
more active as it approached perihelion, the that they were active, explains Vincent. By that hundreds of astronomers around
closest point in its orbit to the Sun. carefully processing high-resolution images the world, using ground and space-based
Jean-Baptiste Vincent, from the Max of these cavernous depressions, Vincent telescopes, have also been studying
Planck Institute for Solar System Research, and his colleagues have seen faint jets Rosettas target.
had been studying the activity of 67P long flowing from some of them at a few metres Understanding the large scale at the
before Rosetta arrived at the comet. At that per second. Our images have a very high same time as we get in-situ measurements
time, I was working more on large-scale range. They contain more shades of grey from Rosetta is key, says Colin Snodgrass,
coma structures observable from Earth, he than our screens can display, he says. This who is coordinating the observing
says the coma being the haze of dust and means that shadowed areas or dark spots campaign. Ground-based data also allows
gas enveloping the comets central nucleus. in our images still contain a lot of signal. By direct comparison with other comets, as
As Rosetta closed in on the comet, Vincent enhancing the brightness and contrast, we we have similar observations of them. In
and his colleagues working with the can peek through the shadows and retrieve this way, it helps us use Rosetta results to
spacecrafts OSIRIS instrument began to this additional information. interpret what we see in observations of
see activity increasing at their destination. As 67P neared the Sun, its activity comets more generally.
increased dramatically: more and more gas While 67P is now fading as seen from
and dust was driven off the surface each day Earth, Rosetta will keep its watch around
by the warmth of our star. Around the time the comet until September 2016. Itll gather
MYSTERY OUTBURSTS of perihelion in August 2015, the cameras more data and produce ever more detailed
The first sign was that the comet was not caught several spectacular cometary jets images of the surface as it orbits closer to
a single point light source any more, like in flaring from the icy nucleus. We saw a very its cometary companion over the coming
our early images from March 2014, recalls strong outburst in one image, says Guettler. months. For project scientist Matt Taylor,
Vincent, but that it had developed a coma. Fifteen minutes before, there was nothing. its clear theres still plenty more excitement
This was expected, but still nice to see. Guettler says the aim is now to explore to come.
Much more surprising was the big outburst how these remarkable jets form. We have Basically, weve done the first half.
we observed at the end of April 2014, with dedicated OSIRIS observations monitoring Weve had our cup of tea and a couple of
the sudden release of about 10 tonnes of presumed active regions regions where we orange wedges, and now we are ready for
cometary material. We still do not know have seen outbursts before. We want to see the second half, he says. Its going to be
what triggered this event. a jet being born and dying, a blinder.

6 August 2014 13 August 2015 September 2016


ARRIVAL AT 67P 67P AT PERIHELION MISSION ENDS?
Roseta finally The comet reaches
arrives 67P. The perihelion that is,
spacecrat enters the point in its orbit
orbit around the when it is closest to
comet and mimic its the Sun, a distance of
trajectory as it moves 186 million km (116
further into the inner million miles) away.
Solar System.
13 November 2014
With the Roseta mission extended until
PHILAE LANDS ON THE COMET
the autumn (from its original end-date
Philae successfully touches down on 67P, sending of December 2015), the grand-finale is
a huge amount of data back for 60 hours before hoped to be a controlled impact of the
running out of power and going into hibernation. Its spacecrat with the comet.
subsequent communications have been sporadic.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 53


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

IS THERE
LIFE ON MOONS?
We tend to look at other planets for signs of life. But,
as STUART CLARK suggests, focusing on particular moons
might uncover worlds that are both habitable and habitated
PHOTO: ISTOCK

54 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


LIF E ON MOONS ?

here has been an awful lot organism, they would survive. So However, a discovery on the floor of the

T
of talk recently about weve got habitats. We just dont know Pacific Ocean in 1977 changed all that.
looking for extraterrestrial whether they are inhabited by Researchers from Californias Scripps
life. We are bombarded organisms. So says David Rothery, Institute of Oceanography were exploring
with stories about life on a planetary scientist from the Open around the volcanic ridge known as the
Mars, or about habitable University who surveyed the moons of East Pacific Rise and found natural
worlds being found circling the Solar System for his book Moons: chimneys belching black smoke into the
other stars. But could this be blinding us A Very Short Introduction. ocean. They nicknamed them black
to the real places to look for life? Looking for life beyond Earth is no smokers. Known more formally as
The icy moons of the outer Solar System mere exercise in curiosity it will tell us hydrothermal vents, the black smokers
are attracting more and more attention something about how life began on are where hot water percolates through
from planetary scientists. Decades of Earth. At present, no-one knows what the ocean bedrocks, dissolving minerals as
studies have now shown that there is a lot conditions are right to flick the switch it goes, before shooting back up into the
of liquid water locked away inside the from mere chemistry to biology. Did this frigid ocean water. The sudden change in
outer moons. And if weve learnt anything process occur readily or was it the result temperature causes the minerals to
from Earth, we know that anywhere you of a chain of unlikely events? Finding life precipitate, creating the smoke.
find water, you find life. Could this also be elsewhere would help us answer this. Astonishingly, there were thriving
true on the outer moons? If we can find places in the Solar biological communities fuelled by the
In terms of potential habitats, I think System where life began independently dissolved minerals around the vents.
most astronomers are fairly sure that from life on Earth then wow! that is These were sustained not by energy from
there are places inside many of these pretty compelling evidence that if life the Sun, but by the geothermal energy
moons where, if you put the right kind of can start, it will start, says Rothery. Life that had heated the water.
needs a power source. We once thought The discovery of oceans in some of the
that the only suitable source in the Solar outer moons of the Solar System, such
System was the Sun. This meant that life Jupiters Europa and Saturns Enceladus,
had to exist on a planets surface. Hence instantly raised the possibility of black
the interest in Mars, which seems to be smokers on those far-off moons. Perhaps
the most Earth-like of the other planets. most intriguingly, some of the microbes
found around the black smokers were
shown to be genetically the most
primitive organisms on the planet. This
raised the prospect that they could be the
places were life began. If true, why not on
the ocean floors in the outer Solar
System as well?

Over the page, we name three moons


where life may well be lurking...

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 55


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

EUROPA
Parent planet: Jupiter
Orbital period: 3.551 days
Radius: 0.245 Earth radii
Mass: 0.008 Earth mass
Planetary Habitability Index: 0.49

This was the moon that opened up our eyes underground ice and maybe even drive black An astronaut standing on Europa would
to the possibility of oceans in the outer Solar smokers. But geting down to see them will receive a fatal dose within 24 hours. Luckily
System. Suspicion began in the late 1970s be tough. The ice sheet that makes up the for any life on the ocean floor, the radiation
when NASAs Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrat surface of Europa is estimated to be between will not penetrate the ice sheets.
passed the moon. The images showed a one and 10 kilometres thick. NASA is currently developing a mission
mostly smooth icy surface, almost devoid of It would be very dificult to go to Europa, to study the moon from orbit. Called the
craters. Since these impact scars accumulate drill through the ice and send a submersible Europa Multiple-Flyby Mission, right now
as time goes by, for Europa to show hardly to the black smoker on the ocean floor, says they're designing the instruments that will
any meant that the surface was being David Rothery. But you could land at one allow it to assess the moon for habitability.
renewed. But how? of the cracks and sample the slush thats Intended for launch in 2022, the spacecrat
Cracks on the surface gave the answer. In squeezed up through it. could carry a lander built by the European
the 1990s, NASAs Galileo spacecrat explored This would allow specially designed Space Agency (ESA).
the moon and revealed that dark material equipment to look for biologically important ESA itself has a mission to Jupiter called
around the cracks were salty, as if they had molecules. The equipment would have to JUICE (JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer). Although
come from an ocean. Magnetic readings also be specially designed to work in very high not designed to concentrate on Europa, it
hinted at a shiting water body inside the radiation levels. Every day, the surface of will be making some flybys. During these
moon. The final piece of the puzzle came in Europa is bathed in thousands of times more it will use its ice-penetrating radar to
images of the surface, which clearly showed harmful radiation than the surface of Earth. measure the thickness of the ice crust.
ice floes.
The heat to keep this ocean liquid was
calculated to be coming from the gravity of
Jupiter. A so-called tidal force that squeezed
the moon, producing friction to melt the
PHOTO: GETTY, NASA X2

56 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


LIF E ON MOONS ?

Although Europa was the trailblazing moon


for sub-surface oceans, much remains
unknown because the water is mostly
locked under the ice. At Enceladus, however,
nature has gited us a way of analysing the
ocean just by flying past the world. This
is because there are geysers jeting water
from the ocean into space.
NASAs Cassini spacecrat has been
targeting these plumes and flying through
them so that its onboard instruments can Jonathan Lunine from Cornell University in Finding the molecule has implications for
analyse them. Various types of dust grains New York. life. Hydrogen can feed an organic pathway,
and chemical have been discovered in Spurred by the discovery of Enceladus says David Rothery. A microbe could bond
this way, including the tel-tale signature water plumes, the spacecrat operators hydrogen onto carbon and get an energy
of salts. This is prety good evidence that designed a sequence of flyby that would take kick out of it. This is how a form of microbe
we are sampling the ocean itself, says Cassini deeper and deeper into the plumes. called methanogens survive on Earth. Of
We now have an inventory of organic course, finding the chemical ingredients for
molecules, explains Lunine. It is not a such life does not guarantee that it is there.
ENCELADUS complete list, but it is enough to be able to say,
Yes, we have carbon-bearing molecules inside
Nevertheless, this wealth of new information
is edging Enceladus ahead of Europa in terms
Parent planet: Saturn
Orbital period: 0.395 days Enceladus. This could be crucial because, on of the locations where planetary scientists
Radius: 0.0395 Earth radii Earth, life-giving DNA is built using carbon- think that life might be found.
Mass: 0.000018 Earth mass bearing molecules. Im inclined to boost Enceladus higher
Planetary Habitability Index: 0.35 On 28 October 2015, Cassini plunged to than Europa now, declares Rothery, It is
its closest flyby yet, just 48 km above the almost certainly habitable. We just dont
icy surface and hopefully steering through know whether it is inhabited.
the densest part of the geysers. Planetary For now, there are no further plans to
scientists are now eagerly analysing the send anything back to the Saturn-Enceladus
results. They are on the look-out for molecules system. Once the Cassini mission ends,
of hydrogen because if this gas is present in however, and planetary scientists start
the water jets, the theory suggests that it must to really digest the new information, the
becoming from where hot water is reacting chances are that a follow-on astrobiology-
with rocks on the ocean floor. oriented mission will begin to gather support.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 57



THE SOL A R SY S T EM
PHOTO: NASA X4

58 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


LIF E ON MOONS ?

TITAN
Parent planet: Saturn
Orbital period: 15.945 days
Radius: 0.404 Earth radii
Mass: 0.0225 Earth mass
Planetary Habitability Index: 0.64

This moon of Saturn is an altogether more But maybe we dont need to go deep
alien place. It sits under obscuring clouds to discover life on this particular moon.
that are rich in organic molecules and was While there is liquid on the moons surface,
revealed by ESAs Huygens lander that it is not water. Its actually methane and
parachuted to the surface in 2005. ethane, and it pools in lakes and seas at the
During the descent, the spacecrat moons polar regions. The largest is about the
made intriguing electrical measurements. size of Earths Caspian Sea. Its discovery begs
Combined with measurements of the way an obvious question: could life be based on
the moons gravitational field difers from methane rather than water?
place to place, it strongly suggests an ocean Lunine thinks it is possible. Together with
beneath the surface. some chemical engineering colleagues, he
With all the organic molecules that are in found a theoretical biochemistry that could
the atmosphere and on the surface at Titan, work for methane. But testing it is going to
there is a firm chance that the ocean would be extremely hard.
be full of them too, perhaps increasing the Its very dificult to cook up biochemistry
chances of life. But could we sample this [experiments in the lab], he notes. Its
ocean to test that hypothesis? Thats the probably just easier to go to these places
thought question, says Jonathan Lunine. and look. It would be very interesting to land
Theres nothing spewing out of that ocean on one of Titans seas and see just what is
onto the surface of Titan. going on there.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 59


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

FROM COMET 67P Our fact-filled journey across

TO THE OORT CLOUD the Solar System approaches


its farthest reaches...

COMET 67P
CHURYUMOV-GERASIMENKO
Distance from Sun: 186,000,000km (at its closest), URANUS
849,700,000km (at its most distant) Distance from Sun: 2.88 billion kilometres
Diameter: 4km Atmosphere: 82.5 per cent hydrogen, 15.2 per cent
Composition: Analysis has revealed 16 compounds, including helium, 2.3 per cent methane
four never seen before on a comet. The comet also contains Diameter: 50,724km
heavy water and a lot of molecular oxygen surrounds it Discovered: In 1781, William Herschel discovered
Discovered: Klim Ivanovych Churyumov discovered the comet Uranus, making it the first planet to be found
in 1969 using a telescope
Visits: The ESA Roseta mission launched in 2004 to take Visits: Voyager 2 carried out a flyby of Uranus
observations and analysis of the comet. It arrived at 67P in 1986, identifying 10 new moons. We now
10 years later know there are 27 in total
Fact: The comet takes nearly six-and-a-half years to travel Fact: Uranus appears to be rotating on its side.
PHOTO: ISTOCK, NASA X4

round the Sun. Its elliptical orbit means that its distance from Its thought that a collision with an Earth-sized
the Sun varies enormously object knocked it of its orbit

60 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


FAC T F IL E S

NEPTUNE
Distance from Sun: 4.5 billion kilometres
Atmosphere: 80 per cent hydrogen,
19 per cent helium, small amounts of methane
Diameter: 49,244km
Discovered: Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch
Adams are given joint credit for finding
Neptune in 1846
Visits: In 1989, Voyager 2 passed above
Neptune, where it discovered the planets
Great Dark Spot
Fact: Neptune has 14 moons. Its largest,
Triton, was found just 17 days ater the
planet was discovered

PLUTO
Distance from Sun: 4.4 billion kilometres (at
its closest), 7.38 billion km (at its most distant)
Atmosphere: 90 per cent nitrogen, 10 per cent
other molecules, including methane
Diameter: 2,372km
Discovered: Pluto was discovered in 1930 by
Clyde Tombaugh. Its since been reclassified as
a dwarf planet
Visits: New Horizons made its closest approach
to Pluto on 14 July 2015. The crat is now travelling
out into the Kuiper Belt, the region of the Solar
System outside Neptunes orbit
Fact: The largest of Plutos five moons is Charon.
It orbits a common centre of gravity with Pluto
and may one day be regarded a dwarf planet

Please note: the sizes of and distances


between planets are not in proportion

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 61


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

HAUMEA
Distance from Sun: 6.5 billion kilometres
Atmosphere: Methane, ethane and potentially nitrogen ices
Diameter: 1,960km
MAKEMAKE
Distance from Sun: 6.8 billion kilometres
Discovered: In December 2004, the dwarf planet was
Atmosphere: This dwarf planet does not have an
spoted by a team led by Caltechs Mike Brown. But this
atmosphere, but its surface appears to contain methane
may not be the first discovery; a Spanish team claim to have
Diameter: 1,434km
seen Haumea on photographs taken in 2003
PHOTO: ISTOCK, NASA X3, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Discovered: A team led by Mike Brown at Caltech first


Visits: There are no specific plans to visit Haumea and its
discovered Makemake in March 2005. It was originally
moons, Hiaka and Namaka, but the spacecrat New Horizons
known as Easterbunny
may pass by one of the Kuiper Belts dwarf planets
Visits: There are no planned missions to study Makemake,
Fact: The dwarf planet is shaped like a rugby ball. It takes
but if a crat were to be launched, it would take 16 years
just under four hours to complete a rotation, making it
to reach the dwarf planet
one of the fastest spinning objects in the Solar System
Fact: Makemake is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. But
because it has no moons, it is particularly dificult to study

62 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


FAC T F IL E S

ERIS
Distance from Sun: 5.7 billion kilometres (at
closest), 14 billion kilometres (most distant)
Atmosphere: Due to its distance from the
Sun, Eriss atmosphere is thought to be
frozen. In about 250 years, the dwarf planet
will be close enough to the Sun for its ices
to become gases
Diameter: 2,326km
Discovered: A Caltech team led by Mike
Brown spoted the dwarf planet in 2005
Visits: There are no plans to visit Eris, or
its moon Dysmonia
Fact: The discovery of Eris, which is more
massive than Pluto, contributed towards
the International Astronomical Union
classifying Eris and Pluto as dwarf planets
.

OORT CLOUD
Distance from Sun: 1.6 light-years
Structure: The Oort Cloud contains trillions of
objects, mostly made up of ices consisting of
methane, ethane water, carbon monoxide and
hydrogen cyanide
Discovered: The theoretical cloud was proposed
by the astronomers Jan Oort and Ernst pik in
the mid-20th Century. The Hale-Bopp comet,
which originated in the Oort Cloud, captured the
worlds atention in 1997 when it made its closest
approach to Earth
Visits: It will take 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach
the Oort Cloud, but it runs out of power in 2025.
As yet, there are no specific plans to visit
Fact: The Oort Cloud marks the outer edges of
the Solar System, and its exterior reaches are
only weakly afected by the Sun

Please note: the sizes of and distances


between planets are not in proportion

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 63


THE SOL A R SYS T EM

THE FINAL
FRONTIER
NASAs New Horizons
spacecraft is currently
exploring the Kuiper Belt,
home to dwarf planets
like Pluto. DAVE JEWITT, the
astronomer who discovered
the belt, guides us through
this distant region
PHOTO: NASA X2

64 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE K UIPE R BELT

A
ll of the planets out to A number of scientists, including Gerard
Saturn were known to Kuiper in 1951, subsequently speculated
the ancients, but its that Pluto might not be alone. Kuiper went a
only in the past few step too far, though, and actually predicted
centuries that we have that the region where we discovered the
been able to look farther Kuiper Belt formed full but is now empty
into our own back because of destabilising perturbations by
garden. William Herschel only discovered Pluto. These assertions, much like those of
Uranus by chance in 1781, while Neptunes Nostradamus, had little impact when they
existence was later predicted on the basis of were made because they are too vague to
gravitational perturbations measured in the be observationally tested. It was not until
orbit of Uranus. Percival Lowell used still 1980 that Uruguayan astronomer Julio
smaller perturbations to predict yet another Fernndez argued more convincingly that
planet beyond Neptune, subsequently short-period comets might come from a
discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh at disc-shaped region beyond Pluto, instead
Lowell Observatory. This was Pluto. of from the more distant Oort Cloud as
The new planet immediately caught previously proposed. Even this made little
the attention of the world. Judging by the stir, perhaps because of the dubious history
reaction to the current New Horizons of empty predictions made by Percival
mission, it still does. But, from a scientific Lowell and others after him, such as
perspective, things began to unravel for Lowells supposed observations of canals
Pluto soon after its discovery. Unlike the on the surface of Mars.
ice giants Uranus and Neptune, each about The simple truth is that, even for
16 times Earths mass, Pluto turned out to astronomers, out of sight is out of mind.
be an unimpressive 0.002 Earth masses Why think much about something that
one-sixth of the mass of the Moon. probably isnt even there? In the end, the
Tiny Pluto is far too small to perturb an Kuiper Belt was discovered not in response
ice giant. Even stranger, the perturbations to any meaningful prediction but because,
used by Lowell to predict Pluto turned out like Tombaugh, we were looking. Graduate
to be just errors in the measured position student Jane Luu and I began our search
of Uranus, rendering his prediction in 1986, but rather than searching for a
baseless. All evidence for an unseen massive Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, we were
body in the outer Solar System promptly looking for any object beyond Saturn.
evaporated, leaving only tiny Pluto, whose We did not succeed until August 1992,
label as the smallest, most eccentric planet when we found 1992 QB1, the second
gave it more importance than it deserved. Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) ever found.

The New Horizons craft was


assembled in a clean room prior to
its launch aboard an Atlas V rocket

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 65


THE SOL A R SYS T EM

Six months later, we found another Clyde Tombaugh


found resonant KBOs were trapped because
object; over the next few years, discovered Pluto Neptunes orbit slowly expanded, from near
the floodgates opened. We now know of back in 1930 15 or 20 AU in the beginning to 30 AU now.
around 1,600 KBOs, occupying a region As the planet scooted outwards, it trapped
vastly larger than the previously known some of the planetesimals beyond it into
planetary system. resonant orbits. But the planets pull on
each other by gravity so, if Neptunes orbit
changed, they all changed.
This radial migration of the planets
AFTER THE FLOOD has revolutionised our thinking about the
So what have we learned since? Firstly, Solar System. In place of the old and rather
it is now clear that Pluto is a big KBO. Its boring clockwork Solar System in which
peculiarly inclined, elliptical orbit suddenly the planets held their orbits and moved
makes sense it is just like the orbits of predictably for billions of years, we now
innumerable other KBOs. Secondly, the recognise a much more chaotic, harder-to-
Kuiper Belt is an enormous, deep-freeze follow history. For example, simulations
repository holding the most primitive show that if radial migration caused two of
material in the Solar System. With the major planets to fall into a resonance
temperatures only a few tens of degrees of their own, this would have caused the
above absolute zero, even very volatile ices entire architecture of the Solar System to be
like carbon monoxide that cannot survive catastrophically upset. If this happened in
near the Sun are frozen solid in the Kuiper the past, then the initially massive Kuiper
Belt. Icy objects leaving the belt are batted And we found, much to everybodys Belt would have been disrupted, showering
around the Solar System by the giant surprise, that the orbits of KBOs are divided the Solar System with debris and causing
planets, leading to some being ejected to the into several distinct groups. a swarm of giant impacts. All that would
interstellar medium never to be seen again, In one of these called the resonant KBOs, be left would be the puffed-up Kuiper Belt
while others are captured by Jupiter. Ices the orbital periods are simple variations of remnant that we see today.
in KBOs deflected near the Sun vaporise to the 164.8 year orbital period of Neptune. As a result of all this, the significance of
create comets, with their familiar tails. For example, Plutos period (247.9 years) the New Horizons encounter with Pluto
Thirdly, we found that while the KBOs corresponds to two orbits for every three of in July 2015 has changed since the mission
are very numerous, their combined mass Neptunes. Neptune and Pluto are said to be was first imagined in the late 1980s. Instead
is only a modest 0.1 Earth masses. This is in the 3:2 resonance, along with thousands of visiting the last, most peculiar planet,
so small that it would be difficult for the of other objects. Many other resonances we find that we have visited a large but
observed objects to have accreted, even over (2:1, 4:3, 1:1 etc) are also occupied. But what otherwise unremarkable Kuiper Belt object.
the age of the Solar System. The solution made the Kuiper Belt so puffy, and why are Before all this, we knew plenty about
seems to be that the Kuiper Belt started out there so many resonant KBOs? Pluto, including its mass, diameter and
being much more massive than it is now, density, the composition of its surface
perhaps containing 20 or 30 Earth masses ices, the nature of its atmosphere, and the
instead of 0.1, but then lost almost all of it. properties of its satellite system. But the
Where did it go? ALL LINKED TOGETHER New Horizons encounter transformed Pluto
The answer may lie in two other University of Arizona dynamicist Renu from an astronomical object to a geological
observational discoveries from the 1990s. Malhotra gave us the answers. Resonant one, rich with surface detail undetectable
We found that the Kuiper Belt is a thick orbits prevent close, destabilising from Earth. Hopefully, New Horizons will
disc, more like a doughnut than a sheet encounters with Neptune, allowing do it again in a few years time, when the
of paper, showing that the belt has been resonant KBOs to persist because they spacecraft is set to pass a much smaller KBO
unexpectedly puffed up since it formed. never tangle with the big guy. Malhotra called 2014 MU69.
PHOTO: GETTY X2, NASA X3, IAU, ALAMY

PLUTO: 18 February 1930 24 March 1930 22 June 1978 May 1989

PAST AND US astronomer Clyde


Tombaugh discovers
Pluto on plates taken
Pluto is named ater
the Roman god,
following a suggestion
James Christy of the
US Naval Observatory
discovers Plutos large
The first ideas for a space
mission to Pluto are put
forward by a group of 12

PRESENT at Lowell Observatory


in Flagstaf, Arizona.
by 11-year-old Venetia
Burney from Oxford.
moon, Charon. It orbits the
dwarf planet every 6.4 days.
planetary scientists, known
as the Pluto Underground.

66 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE K UIPE R BELT

THE NEW HORIZONS SPACECRAFT REX


This is a Radio Science Experiment that
creates an uplink with Earth as it passes
Pluto and Charon. By monitoring the
disturbance to this radio connection by
PEPSSI the two objects, REX can tell us the masses
The Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer
of Pluto and Charon and other Kuiper Belt
Science Investigation took a close look
objects. The device should also be able to
at the particles as they let Pluto.
measure the temperatures of these bodies.

SWAP
The solar wind thats
blowing around Pluto
was tracked by the
SWAP device. It monitors
how the wind reacts
with particles escaping
from the dwarf planets
atmosphere (around 75kg
leave every second).

LORRI
The Long Range Reconnaissance
Imager device is effectively a digital
camera with a large telephoto RALPH
telescope atached. This allows us New Horizons eyes are
to get up close with Pluto. LORRI situated here. These consist
provides the best-ever images of of an array of sensors
Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, while also designed to map Plutos
looking for craters and geysers. landscape at a resolution
of 250 metres per pixel. It
also hunts for features such
as frozen nitrogen, water
and carbon monoxide.
SDC
The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter
is the first science instrument on a NASA
planetary mission thats been designed, built
and lown by students. As New Horizons glides ALICE
through the Solar System, it measures the This UV imaging spectrometer provides the
concentration of dust particles throughout. first complete picture of Plutos atmosphere,
able to tell us what gases cling to the planet
and how abundant they are.

5 January 2005 19 January 2006 24 August 2006 2011-012


Caltechs Mike Brown Using an Atlas V rocket, In Prague, the Two more small satellites
discovers Eris. As large NASA launches the New International of Pluto Styx and 14 July 2015
as Pluto, it sparks debate Horizons crat from Astronomical Union Kerberos are discovered Around 11:50 UTC, New Horizons flies
about the definition of Cape Canaveral Air Force votes to reclassify Pluto on photos made with the by Pluto at a distance of some 13,700km
the word planet. Station in Florida. as a dwarf planet. Hubble Space Telescope. and a relative velocity of 13.8km/s.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 67


NATION
DESTI
SOLAR
SYSTEM

What lies under the surface of


Mars? The Seven Sisters caverns
could provide shelter for future
astronauts, shielding them from
the radiation-blasted surface
PHOTO: NASA X2

68 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


DE S T IN AT ION SOL A R SYS T EM

SEVEN SISTERS
WHAT: SUBTERRANEAN CAVERNS
LOCATION: ARSIA MONS, MARS

Half a century
CHVGT/CTKPGTTUV 7PFGTITQWPFECXGTPUQPVJGUKFGQHC/CTVKCPXQNECPQ
EQWNFEQPVCKPCNKGPNKHGQTJQWUGHWVWTGCUVTQPCWVU
GPEQWPVGTGF8GPWU
GOVERT SCHILLING Youre way up on the slope of Arsia Mons, one of the giant shield
volcanoes on Mars. Your face helmet is sandblasted by fine dust,
VCMGU[QWQPCVQWTVQXG blown across the stark landscape by strong winds. Wisps of cirrus
FGUVKPCVKQPUUEKGPVKUVU cloud drit in the dark indigo sky. Before you is a circular hole in
YQWNFNQXGVQGZRNQTG the ground, some 200m across. No-one knows whats inside. Would
you dare to enter?
Well, scientists would love to, but might prefer to send robotic
rovers in first. Ater all, they have no clue about the depth of the
n 27 August 1962, the

O
mysterious caves on Mars. They might be relatively shallow and
exploration of the Solar partially collapsed lava tubes. But, then again, the dark openings
System commenced when could also be skylights that provide access to extensive networks
NASA launched Mariner 2
of subterranean caverns.
the very first space probe
to travel to another planet. The first Martian caves were found in 2007 by Glen Cushing of
During its interplanetary the US Geological Survey. Dubbed the Seven Sisters, they were given
journey, the tiny craft discovered the the nicknames Abby, Annie, Chloe, Dena, Jeanne, Nikki and Wendy.
solar wind (the continuous flow of During the day, theyre colder than their surroundings; at night, theyre
charged particles emanating from the warmer just the behaviour youd expect for underground caves.
Sun) and, when it flew by Venus in mid- Over the years, more caves have been found, including one by a
December 1962, it revealed the planets
group of Californian middle school students. According to Natalie
incredible surface temperature of 460C.
For the first time in history, mankind had Cabrol of NASAs Ames Research Center, the Martian caves would be
physically reached out to an alien world. great places to explore. Why? Because their interiors are shielded
Today, space exploration is no longer from the harsh conditions at the Martian surface, which is batered
a novelty. Each of the eight planets in the by ultraviolet sunlight and cosmic rays.
Solar System has been studied at close The Seven Sisters might harbour extraterrestrial microbes or
quarters by spacecraft. Landers have at least provide a natural shelter for future human explorers.
touched down on Venus, Mars and
Saturns biggest moon, Titan. Weve
sampled comets, asteroids and the
atmosphere of Jupiter, and its almost This image from NASAs Mars
impossible to keep up with the avalanche Reconnaissance Orbiter shows
sunlight catching the eastern
of images and data from space probes wall of a Martian cavern
like Messenger (orbiting Mercury) and a pit on the slopes of the
Cassini, which has been touring Saturn shield volcano Arsia Mons
and its moons since 2004.
But where havent we been? And why
should we go there? On the following
pages we take a trip to five unexplored
places in the Solar System, from the
mysterious face of Mercury, the nearest
planet to the Sun, to an icy body in the
outer limits. Sending missions to some
of the exotic locations on the following
pages will further our understanding not
just of them, but also of our own planets
atmosphere and geology. Our journey
of exploration has only just begun.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 69


THE SOL A R SY S T EM

A hotbed of science: the dark


lava crust of Loki Patera HAUMEA
WHAT: DWARF PLANET
LOCATION: THE KUIPER BELT

#PGNQPICVGFGEEGPVTKEFYCTHRNCPGV
VJCVQTDKVUDG[QPF0GRVWPG

At 220C, Haumea is one of the coldest celestial bodies in the Solar


System. Twice as long as it is wide, a day on this oval rock would
last less than four Earth hours. Measuring 1,960km along its longest
axis almost twice as wide as Pluto Haumea is one of the largest
inhabitants of the Kuiper Belt, a region of space beyond Neptune.
The Kuiper Belt consists of asteroid-like objects, the majority of which
are made up of ices of methane, ammonia and water. Haumea is
diferent in that its composed mainly of dense rock, with a thin shell
of ice and a large, reddish, mineral-rich area on its surface.
Scientists believe Haumea was much larger in the distant past,
but lost most of its ice mantle layer following a giant collision in the
outer Solar System. In fact, a team led by Mike Brown of the California
Institute of Technology in California discovered a whole family of
smaller Kuiper Belt objects that share physical and orbital properties
LOKI PATERA with Haumea most likely debris from the collision.
WHAT: LAVA LAKE Haumea even has two moons: fragments of debris named Hiiaka
LOCATION: IO, A MOON OF JUPITER and Namaka revolve around the dwarf planet. A trip to Haumea
would undoubtedly ofer some fascinating insights into the violent
#XCUVNCXCNCMGQPCFKUVCPVOQQPEQWNF early youth of the Solar System.
TGXGCNVJGUGETGVUQH'CTVJoUGCTN[IGQNQI[

Located on Io, the innermost unless you could time the


of Jupiters four Galilean landing between resurfacing
moons, Loki Patera is the Solar events, warns Dr John Spencer
Systems largest lava lake. of the Southwest Research
Almost as big as Northern Institute in Colorado, an expert
Ireland, its usually covered on Io.
with a lava crust. But every Scientists know that Ios
two years or so, the crust is incredible volcanic activity
replaced by fresh lava reaching is powered by giant Jupiters
up to 700C. tidal energy, which squeezes
Imagine standing on the rim the rocky interior, but Loki
of Loki Patera, looking out at Patera still holds many secrets.
an expanse of incandescent, Wed love to measure the
bubbling molten rock that composition of the lava, stick
stretches beyond the horizon. around long enough to see
The heat is unbearable and the crust being replaced, and
everything smells of sulphur. measure the seismic activity
Meanwhile, the gas giant to learn about the interior,
Jupiter looms above, the size of says Spencer. In particular,
40 full Moons in the sky. What he adds, studying Loki might
a view! But if youre planning tell scientists how volcanoes
a visit, be very wary of lava worked on the early Earth,
PHOTO: NASA/JPL X3

reaching the surface. Landing when the heat flow was much
would be extremely hazardous larger more like that of Io.

70 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


DE S T IN AT ION SOL A R SYS T EM

Iapetuss peculiar mountain


ridge, Toledo Montes TOLEDO MONTES
WHAT: MOUNTAIN RIDGE
LOCATION: IAPETUS, A MOON OF SATURN

*QYVJKUOCUUKXGOQWPVCKPTCPIGHQTOGF
QP5CVWTPoUOQQP+CRGVWUTGOCKPUCO[UVGT[

Higher than Mount Everest, and porosity of Toledo Montes;


Toledo Montes is a 1,300km- there might be a measurable
long mountain ridge on Saturns diference in composition
moon Iapetus. It stretches between the ridge and the rest
across one-third of the equator of the moon. The origin of the
and gives Iapetus an eerie, mountain ridge is not a solved
walnut-like appearance. Some problem by any means, says
scientists think the ridge is Dr Andrew Dombard of the
a tectonic feature, caused by University of Illinois in Chicago.
Iapetuss fast rotation in the Given that Iapetuss surface
distant past, although Dombard gravity is 40 times less than
believes the ridge formed when Earths, a hike to the tallest peaks
a sub-satellite of Iapetus was of the mountain ridge would
shatered and spilled icy debris be an easy stroll, made all the
on to the surface. more enjoyable because of the
Going to Iapetus would spectacular view of Saturn and
reveal the composition, age its rings.

CHAO MENG-FU This radar image from the


Messenger probe shows
WHAT: CRATER the massive Chao Meng-Fu
crater as the dark central area
LOCATION: MERCURY, SOUTH POLAR REGION

#EQNQUUCNETCVGTPGCT/GTEWT[oUUQWVJRQNGJCU
CRGTOCPGPVN[FCTMQQTVJCVoURTQDCDN[EQXGTGFYKVJKEG

Youd be forgiven for thinking that ice These narrow, blindingly bright patches
on Mercury was impossible. Mercury is, of rock would appear perched between
ater all, the innermost planet in the Solar a star-studded blackness above and an
System, with a surface cooked by the equally black but starless void below.
Sun to hundreds of degrees. Close to its The crater floor is an appealing
poles, however, its a diferent story. The target for exploration, says Dr Nancy
Sun is always near the horizon, and some Chabot of the Applied Physics
craters there are deep enough to have Laboratory at Johns Hopkins
cold, permanently shadowed floors. Radar University in Maryland. Our thermal
observations suggest the existence of ice in models predict Chao Meng-Fu is cold
these planetary cold traps. enough to contain vast exposed ice
Descending into the 167km-wide crater fields. It might even be possible to go
Chao Meng-Fu named ater a 13th-Century ice skating there.
Chinese painter and calligrapher would The leading hypothesis is that this
be a dangerous adventure. Mercury has no ice has been delivered over the aeons by
atmosphere to scater sunlight down into impacting comets. Ice from comets would
the crater floor, so the only light comes from instantly evaporate on most of Mercurys
the parts of the craters rim that bask in the hot surface but it would remain deep-frozen
fiery rays of the invisible, low-altitude Sun. on the dark polar crater floors.
BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

BEYOND THE
SOLAR SYSTEM
The Shape Of The Milky Way......................................74
Understand The Life Cycle Of A Star In 10 Minutes...78
The Existence Of Black Holes......................................84
Where Are All The Habitable Planets?........................90
Mystery Messages From Space.................................... 96
Welcome To The Multiverse.........................................100
Hubbles Top 10 Discoveries........................................106
PHOTO: GETTY

72 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 73


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

APE
E SH
TH
OF THE
MILKY WAY
'XGTUKPEG)CNKNGQTUVURQVVGFKPFKXKFWCNUVCTUKPVJGOKUVQHNKIJVVJCV
UVTGVEJGUCNQPIVJGPKIJVUM[CUVTQPQOGTUJCXGDGGPGPFGCXQWTKPIVQ
FGUETKDGCPFFGPGQWT)CNCZ[567#46%.#4-VGNNUVJGUVQT[

n a dark, cloudless night, it is hard not to notice the Milky and Democritus had both speculated that the Milky Way might be

I
Way. At most times of the year, it stretches across the sky a collection of distant stars. Islamic astronomers proposed a
PHOTO: ISTOCK X2, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X3, SCIENCE & SOCIETY, CORBIS

in a limpid band of light that invites speculation about its similar theory, but it was Galileos observations that offered up
nature. To the Hindus, it was the great sky river, the the first proof. His records mark the beginning of the scientific
celestial equivalent of the Ganges. To the Maori, it was the study of both the Milky Way and the wider Universe.
canoe of a lost traveller who scattered bright stones in the At the time, the observations raised a profound theological
stream (the stars) so that others would not suffer his fate. question about why God had made the human senses incapable of
To the Greeks and the Romans it was the spilt milk of a goddess, seeing all of Creation. Answering this became a driver behind the
either Hera or Opis. early investigation of nature. Through the invention of telescopes
Beyond such flights of fancy, the story really starts in 1610, and microscopes that could extend the range of human senses,
when Galileo Galilei raised his telescope to look at the luminous mankind could better understand Gods handiwork.
band of light. With no streetlights to hide it from view, it would As science progressed, it became less about the glorification
have been a natural target for observation back in those days. of God and simply about collecting knowledge. One thing was
Galileos telescope had only a tiny field of view, but it was enough abundantly clear about the Milky Way from the very beginning:
to see that the light of the Milky Way resolved into a plethora of the stars were not distributed randomly around the sky. The band
individual stars. of light suggested that most were concentrated into a disc.
Of course, this should not have come as a complete shock. Way This thinking guided philosopher Immanuel Kant, in 1755,
back in the time of Ancient Greece, the philosophers Anaxagoras to make an extraordinary deduction. Based upon Newtons law

74 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE S H A P E O F T HE MIL K Y WAY

gravity, which described the action of the


force, and the observation that the planets +VoUVCMGPEGPVWTKGUQHUVCTIC\KPIVQCTTKXG
of the Solar System described a band
TIMELINE CVQWTEWTTGPVWPFGTUVCPFKPIQHVJG
around the Sun, he suggested that the UVTWEVWTGQHVJG/KNM[9C[
Milky Way was a vast rotating collection
of stars all held together by gravity. The
natural, obvious question was then to ask Galileo Galilei raises his
about the location of the Sun and planets telescope to the sky
within this rotating system. and discovers that the
This was where the Herschels came in.
William Herschel lived with his sister,
band of light known as
the Milky Way is actually
1610
a vast collection of
Caroline, and together their hobby was individual stars.
astronomy. His life changed completely
on 13 March 1781 when he discovered
the seventh planet Uranus. Four years
later, he began a series of star counts.
Immanuel Kant suggests that
He assumed that stars were more or less the Milky Way is a rotating
evenly distributed throughout the disc of
the Milky Way, and that by counting them
in all directions he could work out where
1755 system of stars all held
together by gravity. This is
only proved beyond doubt
we are in relation to the centre. in 1927 by Jan Oort.
It was not terribly successful because
no-one then knew that the Milky Way
is full of dust, which absorbs the light William Herschel and his sister
from more distant stars, rendering them Caroline begin to count the
invisible. This made it seem as if there
were more or less the same number of
number of stars in particular
directions across the night
sky, hoping this will betray the
1785
stars in every direction. Herschel then
shape of the Milky Way.
concluded that the Milky Way must be like
a grindstone; a flat disc of stars more or
less centred on the Sun.
Although wrong, this was effectively
1920
Harlow Shapley
the line of thinking even into the 20th studies the distribution
Century, when Dutch astronomer Jacobus of globular star clusters

1927
across the night sky
Kapteyn tried the same method with
and finds them
contemporary telescopes. He devoted clustering in the south.
time to this project on and off for This shows that the Sun
his whole life, finally publishing his is located far from the
masterwork in 1922 under the name: First galactic centre.
Attempt At A Theory Of The Arrangement
And Motion Of The Sidereal System. He
concluded that the Milky Way was about
40,000 light-years across, but the dust
problem led him to place us very close Jan Oort continues the
to the centre of the Galaxy. work of his supervisor,
Jacobus Kapteyn, in
In fact, by this time, the correct location
of our Solar System had been computed
by Harlow Shapley, an astronomer
1951 studying the motion of
stars. He shows that they
follow a systematic patern,
from Nashville, Missouri who went proving that the Milky Way
on to become the Director of Harvard is rotating.
Observatory, Massachusetts. The
year was 1920 and, instead of stars,

William Morgan
presents a study of
the brightest stars
IN A NUTSHELL in the Milky Way,
showing that their
How do you study the shape and size of distribution across
something when youre inside it? It was the night sky is
a conundrum faced by astronomers over strong evidence for
hundreds of years as they sought to our Galaxy having
spiral arms.
understand our place in the Galaxy and
the wider Universe.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 75


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

he counted globular clusters. These SPIRALS IN SPACE


are spherical collections of stars
that can be seen all over the sky. Shapley The next piece of evidence to slot into
JARGON BUSTER
reasoned that they would be in orbit place about the shape of the Milky Way Understand the Milky Way
around the centre of the Galaxy and that, if was its spiral structure. By the time with these key terms
the Solar System were in the centre of the Shapley was at work, evidence was
Milky Way, the globular clusters would be mounting that the disc may be shot
dotted evenly around us too.
Instead, he found that most were
through with a spiral pattern of stars.
Back in the middle of the 19th Century, 1 GALAXY
A galaxy is a collection of many millions
or billions of stars. The nature of galaxies
located in the southern sky, around the William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, had
constellation of Sagittarius, where the built the Leviathan telescope. This gigantic was recognised by Edwin Hubble in the
Milky Way made a distinctive bulge in telescope was 1.8m across and higher than 1920s. He classified them according to
their shape, showing that many of them
the sky. Shapley concluded that this was a house. It was constructed at Birr Castle
are spirals.
the direction of the Galactic centre and in County Offaly in Ireland. Using it, Rosse
set about calculating the distances of the could see spiral structures in some of the
globular clusters using the brightness of nebulae scattered across the sky. Could the
pulsating variable stars as his yardstick.
He concluded that the Sun is located
same be true for the Milky Way?
By Shapleys time, there was a debate
2 THE MILKY WAY
Traditionally this is the name for the
misty band of light that stretches across
about three-fifths of the way from the among astronomers about whether the the night sky. This is now known to be the
centre of the Galaxy to its edge. This is spiral nebulae were distant galaxies or plane of our Galaxy, and the name is used to
indeed the location of the Sun, but nearby gas clouds. This was resolved in describe our Galaxy and its 200 billion stars.
Shapley significantly overestimated the 1925 when the American astronomer
absolute distances because, like those Edwin Hubble identified variable stars
who came before him, he did not
understand that there was obscuring
dust in the Milky Way. He mistook the
in some of the spiral nebulae and
calculated their distances. This showed
that they were much further than the
3 NEBULAE
From the Latin word for cloud, nebulae is
the term used for clouds of dust and gas
dimming effects of the dust as being down confines of the Milky Way that Shapley in space. Originally used for galaxies too,
to distance, and so arrived at a figure for had worked out. The spiral nebulae had this usage became increasingly anachronistic
the Suns distance from the centre of the to be distant galaxies, full of their own ater Hubble showed galaxies to be distant
Galaxy as 90,000 light-years. We now collections of stars. collections of stars.
know that the correct distance is about Thus, astronomers began to strongly
27,000 light-years. suspect that the Milky Way too must

be a spiral. But how could this be


proven? It was completely impossible
for astronomers to magically launch
themselves out of the plane of the Galaxy
to look down on it from above the
distances were simply too great.
Dutch astronomers, inspired by their
great doyen Kapteyn, tried again to count
stars. They reasoned that if there was a
spiral structure to the Galaxy, then the
density of the stars in the vicinity of a
spiral arm would increase. They counted
and they counted and they got nowhere.
Indeed, one of this methods practitioners
became so disillusioned that he claimed
in the 1930s that the problem of the Milky
Ways structure would likely remain
unsolved during his lifetime.
Astronomers needed a different way
to attack the problem. In the United
States, William Morgan focused on
just the brightest stars. These are the
blue supergiant stars and are much less
numerous than the run-of-the-mill yellow
and red stars. Morgan traced them out
across the sky, showing that the pattern
This 40-inch telescope at the suggested three spiral arms. He called
Yerkes Observatory, Wisconsin,
helped William Morgan discern
these the Perseus, Orion and Sagittarius
our Galaxys spiral arms arms. Before he could capitalise upon
his discovery, however, ill health led to

76 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE S H A P E O F T HE MIL K Y WAY

him being hospitalised and astronomer


ESAs Gaia spacecraft is launched from
Jan Oort from the University of Leiden French Guiana late last year to map
in the Netherlands stole a march using the position and motion of a billion
radio telescopes. stars in the Milky Way to make a
three-dimensional map of our Galaxy

GALACTIC RADIO
Unlike visible light, radio waves arent
troubled by the interstellar dust and so
can be seen across large tracts of the
Galaxy. Radio telescopes can be tuned to
isolate single frequencies and so pinpoint
the radio waves coming from specific
molecules or atoms. In particular, Oort
and colleagues targeted the 21cm waves
that are spontaneously emitted by
hydrogen atoms.
They mapped out giant clouds of gas
across the Galaxy that also appeared to
show a spiral shape. Whereas Morgan
could only see the nearby structure,
Oort and colleagues could see across
most of the Galaxy. They interpreted
their data to mean that four arms of stars
wrapped themselves around the Milky
Way. These arms were termed Norma,
Scutum-Centaurus, Perseus and Sagittarius.
In this view of things, Morganss Orion arm
is just a spur that runs from the Perseus to
the Sagittarius arm, rather than a complete
arm in its own right.
In recent years, however, the four-
arm model has been subject to strong

does seem clear. The centre of the


Galaxy is a bulge of older stars, located
1PGVJKPIKUPQYENGCT6JG)CNCZ[oUEGPVTG in the direction of the constellation of
Sagittarius. The central bulge is elongated
KUCDWNIGQHQNFGTUVCTUNQECVGFKPVJG into a bar of stars some 3,000-16,000
light-years in length, from which the spiral
FKTGEVKQPQHVJGEQPUVGNNCVKQPQH5CIKVVCTKWU arms (however many of them there really
are) begin.
The centre of the Galaxy is home to
a supermassive black hole containing
approximately four million times the
challenges. Some astronomers believe Radio telescopes on Earth are also mass of the Sun. This has grown during
that there are just two major arms, and being used in another way to tackle this the 10-billion-year history of our Galaxy
that the rest is composed of spurs and problem. They are targeting specific gas and continues to grow today.
arcs of stars. Spiral galaxies composed clouds across the Galaxy that happen to The latest twist took place in 2010,
of many bits of arms are known as emit microwaves in the same way that a when two gigantic bubbles of particles
flocculent spirals, whereas those with laser works. These naturally occurring were discovered by NASAs Fermi Space
a few, well-defined arms are termed microwave lasers are known as MASERS Telescope because of the gamma-rays
grand design. and their distances can be measured with they were emitting. One is above the
The European Space Agencys star- great accuracy. centre of the Galaxy, the other is below.
mapping Gaia spacecraft will add data to Following their motion over a period They may be driven by star formation
this debate. Launched in December 2013, of time reveals the movement of our taking place around the Galaxy but no-one
it is currently busy conducting a survey of Solar System and so allows the distances knows for certain.
one billion stars in the Milky Way. It will to the spiral arms to be calculated more The Milky Way continues to be a
record precise positions, distances and accurately. This refinement will allow fascinating, mysterious place. While we
movements of these stars, which will give the structure to be seen more easily. certainly know a lot more about its shape
more details about how the Milky Way While questions remain about the than we once did, the details continue to
is structured. number of spiral arms, one thing now elude us.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 77


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

DERSTAND
UN
THE LIFE CYCLE
OF A STAR
IN 10 MINUTES
What are they? What are they made from? And
how long do they live? BRIAN CLEGG offers the
beginners guide to the not-so-humble star
PHOTO: GETTY, NASA, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

78 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE L IF E CYC L E O F A S TA R

HOW ARE
STARS BORN?
Looking into the night sky, it might seem
that most of space is empty, but the gaps
between the stars contain molecules of
gas, the majority of which are the lightest
element hydrogen. These molecules
can drit around indefinitely, but some
areas have a greater amount of gas than
others. Where these molecular clouds are
particularly dense, there can be enough
gravitational atraction to pull the gas
molecules together in a clump. This can
WHAT EXACTLY happen as a result of random motion, but
is sometimes triggered by nearby events
IS A STAR? for example, the shock wave from the
A massive ball of plasma, the fourth state explosion that sometimes occurs as the
of mater on top of the familiar solid, final gasp of a star, which can push
liquid and gas. A plasma like that in a star molecules together so that the death of
is the result of heating a gas so much one star seeds the birth of another.
that its atoms lose electrons, producing a As the gas molecules are crammed
mix of positively charged ions and free together tighter and tighter by gravity, they
electrons. The sheer amount of mater heat up, just as a bicycle pump gets warm
in a star is phenomenal. The Sun, for when you compress the air in it. But in the
instance our neighbourhood star star, the scale of this compression is so
contains more than 99 per cent of the great that it can transform a dense ball of
mass of the Solar System. Its more than plasma into a nuclear reactor emiting vast
300,000 times the mass of Earth. quantities of energy.

its very easy for the photons to be absorbed


WHERE DOES A STARS by another part of the plasma, then reemited
later so in practice it can take millions of
POWER COME FROM? years for light emited near the heart of a star
to emerge. Because of the stellar scale, the
As the gas that formed the star gradually ions get very close together, a force that pulls energy output is vast. The Sun, for instance,
comes together, it gets hot enough to form them towards each other, called the strong puts out around 400 billion, billion megawats,
a plasma, which starts to glow albeit force, overwhelms the electrical repulsion of which around 89 billion megawats hits
very faintly compared with the vast energy between their positive charges. However, even the Earth. Though its only a minute fraction
output of a star. As the material continues to in the heat and pressure of the core of a star, of the solar output, its thousands of times the
condense a process that will take hundreds the ions arent squashed close enough for the energy that humans currently use.
of thousands of years the temperature and very short range strong force to take hold.
pressure get higher and higher. In the heart of The star also relies on a weird quantum efect
a star like the Sun, the temperature can easily called tunnelling, which means that quantum
reach as high as 10,000,000C. Under these particles like ions can pass through a repulsive
conditions, a process called nuclear fusion can barrier as if it were not there, geting the ions
take place. close enough to fuse. This process produces
In fusion, light elements are combined to a flow of energy in a nuclear fusion reaction
form heavier ones. The typical star reaction the same source of energy used to devastating
builds a more complex nucleus from hydrogen efect in a hydrogen bomb.
nuclei (the ions let when an electron is Some of this energy is given of as heat, and
stripped of a hydrogen atom), forming the some as light, so photons of light start to find
next heaviest element helium. When the their way out of the vast ball of the star. But

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 79


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

WHAT WE STILL IS THE SUN A TYPICAL STAR?


The Sun looks very diferent to the tiny confusing terminology of astronomers, the
DONT KNOW points of light that stars appear to be, but Sun is a yellow dwarf star its not yellow,
ABOUT STARS thats just a mater of distance. The nearest nor is it particularly small. The Sun is actually
star ater the Sun, Proxima Centauri, is around white it just appears yellow because the
These key terms will help
250,000 times further away. Although all bluer parts of its light are scatered by the
you understand the Universe
stars visible with the naked eye look prety atmosphere, producing our blue sky. And
much the same, there are variations in colour the term dwarf is used to contrast stars like
WHAT CONDITIONS MADE and brightness and the actual range of the Sun with huge stars, known as giants. In
STAR FORMATION POSSIBLE? stars is much greater because the stars we reality, the Sun is in the top 10 per cent
Initially, the Universe was too energetic see are widely varying distances away. In the of stars in our Galaxy for brightness.
for stars to form. But as the Universe
expanded and cooled, it became possible
for gravity to form clumps of gas. Theres
a suggestion from the European Planck
satellite that conditions made it possible
for stars to form within 500,000 years
of the Big Bang, but there is uncertainty
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE
about these early years. Both space SUN RUNS OUT OF HYDROGEN?
telescopes and cosmic microwave
background detectors will help us discover As a star like the Sun converts its
more about the early Universe.
hydrogen into helium, it becomes hoter.
This is because the helium takes up less
THE MECHANICS OF room, allowing the core of the Sun to
contract and generate more heat. This
SUPERNOVAS
moves the star up the main sequence.
Although there are theories on how
supernovas work, theres not enough
The Sun has been in existence for
evidence to be sure that these theories around 4.5 billion years, during which
are correct. As an example, neutron stars its brightness has already increased
oten leave a supernova explosion at high by about 30 per cent, and it will spend
speed, but no-one knows why the 10 billion years on the main sequence
explosion should favour one direction
only. Some of the most useful supernova
altogether. We probably have another
observations come from X-ray and gamma two to three billion years before the
ray space telescopes like Chandra and Sun gets so hot that the Earth becomes
NuSTAR, which constantly add data that uninhabitable. When the vast majority
may help us understand these massive of the hydrogen in the core has been
stellar explosions.
used up, a star can no longer stay on the
main sequence. Like similar stars, the
ARE THERE POPULATION III Sun is expected to become a red giant
STARS? (typically an orange colour), ending up
perhaps 200 times bigger than it is now.
Stars are classified either as Population I
(metal-rich) or Population II (metal-poor). This happens because the core, lacking
The older Population II stars contain fewer hydrogen reactions to fluf it up, collapses,
heavy elements, because the young generating a lot of energy which pushes
Population I stars gain heavy elements away the outer parts of the star. The
from supernovas. However, cosmological
star is still powered by hydrogen fusion,
models suggest that there should also be
huge, ancient Population III stars, made but now it is spread over a wider shell,
almost entirely from hydrogen and helium, meaning that the surface temperature
and created soon ater the Big Bang. These of the star drops, producing the redder
are yet to be detected, but the James Webb colour. The Sun is expected to remain
Space Telescope launching in 2018
a red giant for around a billion years.
could change all that.
PHOTO: NASA X2

80 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


AND THEN WHAT? T HE L IF E CYC L E O F A S TA R
When most of the hydrogen is exhausted, the Sun
will reach a point where helium fusion can take
place. In a rapid process known as the helium flash,
around a tenth of its helium will be converted into
carbon. (Although its called a flash because there
will be a huge energy release, it wont be visible, as
the light will not get out of the Sun.) For the next
100 million years or so, the Sun will burn through
the rest of its helium, followed by a series of pulses
as the core collapses again, leading to a point
where it has entirely blown of most of its outer
layers. Those layers form a glowing cloud of gas
called a planetary nebula around the remainder of
the star. It should be no surprise by now that this
name is misleading when first observed around
other stars, such clouds were thought to be caused
by planets. The core of the Sun that remains will
be much hoter than its earlier surface, forming a
miniature white star perhaps similar in size to
the Earth at the centre of the nebula, called a
white dwarf. By this stage, there is no more fusion
occurring, so the star very gradually fades over
billions of years. Its expected eventually to become
a black dwarf, giving of hardly any light, but none
of these exist yet because the Universe has not
been here long enough for them to form.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 81


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

WHAT HAPPENS TO STARS THAT


JARGON BUSTER
ARE BIGGER THAN THE SUN?
CORE
The very bright O main sequence stars, and expand to form red supergiant stars. In these,
The heart of a star. With extremely
the most massive B stars, take a very diferent helium begins to fuse once the core hydrogen
high temperature and pressure, this is
path to the Sun as they evolve. These stars, has gone, followed by further fusion reactions.
where most nuclear fusion occurs.
ten or more times the mass of the Sun, have These produce not only carbon but also the
very short lives, ranging from hundreds heavier elements all the way up to iron the
of thousands to tens of millions of years. end of the road for fusion produced by gravity.
ION Because of their extra gravitational pull, they When the iron core collapses, the outcome is
An atom that has lost (or gained) burn through their core hydrogen quicker and a massive explosion called a supernova.
electrons so that it is electrically
charged. Stars are made up of ions.

NEBULA CAN WE
A fuzzy object in the sky, from the Latin
for cloud. Originally used for anything DETECT
SUPERNOVAS
spread out, including galaxies, but now
only a cloud of gas or dust.

QUANTUM TUNNELLING ON EARTH?


The particles that make up mater
and light behave very diferently from
familiar objects. Such particles do
not have a specific location, making
it possible for them to appear on the
other side of a barrier without passing
through it. This is quantum tunnelling.

STANDARD CANDLE
Stars or supernovas with a known
brightness are oten used to measure
distances in space, as the further away
they are, the dimmer they will seem.
Supernovas produce immense be so bright that they are briefly
bursts of light. This means that visible in the daytime. As the
a star that is usually much too supernova subsides, the result
STRONG FORCE far away to be seen suddenly is a vast glowing skein of stellar
One of the four fundamental forces
becomes visible. What seems debris called a nebula. Probably
of nature, the strong force is
to be a new star appears in the the best known is the Crab
responsible for the atraction between
sky these were originally Nebula, which is the remainder
nuclear particles. The strong force
named nova as a contraction of a supernova seen on Earth in
is extremely short range particles
of stella nova, the Latin for 1054. With modern telescopes,
have to get very close to each other
new star. (The naming system we can detect supernovas in
before it has a noticeable efect.
later changed, making a nova galaxies outside the Milky Way
a special kind of star explosion and, because particular types
where a white dwarf sucks in of supernova have similar
material from a nearby star, so brightness, they are used as
the original nova was renamed standard candles to measure
a supernova.) Supernovas can the distance to faraway galaxies.
PHOTO: GETTY X3

82 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE L IF E CYC L E O F A S TA R

WHAT HAPPENS
AFTER A SUPERNOVA?
During a supernova, the outer parts of an immensely dense star composed
CAN WE SEE ALL the star are blasted of by a pressure
wave so intense that heavier atoms than
solely of neutron particles or a
black hole, where the collapse has
THE DIFFERENT iron, such as copper and gold, can be become unstoppable and the star ends
formed. The inner remnant of the star up as a dimensionless point with a
STAGES OF STAR continues to collapse and, depending on gravitational pull so strong that not
IN THE NIGHT SKY? its size, will form either a neutron star even light cannot escape.

Most star types can be observed, with


the exception of black dwarfs. Dwarfs of
all varieties are by far the most common
stars in the Galaxy, but there are also
red giants, like Aldebaran, located in the
constellation of Taurus, and supergiants,
like Rigel, the botom-right star in the
constellation of Orion.
Neutron stars and black holes cant be
seen directly, but we can observe their
efects. Neutron stars, for instance, usually
rotate rapidly and give of lighthouse-like
beams, which we see as flashing sources
known as pulsars. And the existence of black
holes can be deduced from their impact
on mater around them, which gives of
radiation as it plunges towards the collapsed
star. Most dificult to spot are brown dwarfs,
which fall between a gas giant planet like
Jupiter and a star. They arent massive
enough for hydrogen fusion to be triggered,
so they glow faintly as a result of the heating
caused by contraction. Essentially, theyre
failed stars.

NOW EXPLAIN IT TO A FRIEND


A STAR IS BORN as they move through their life cycle,
Stars are formed when clouds of gas are until they run out of fuel in their core,
pulled together by gravity. As the gas at which point many of them fluf up to
particles are squeezed closer and closer produce a huge giant star.
together, they warm up. Eventually they
are pressed together so closely that they IN A NUTSHELL
begin to join up, giving of energy in nuclear
EVERYTHING MUST END
The giant phase does not last forever.
fusion: the cloud has become a star.
A midsized star that became a giant is
Stars dont stay the same:
likely to blow of its outer layer as a they evolve, geting hoter
STARS ARE RESTLESS cloud of gas, leaving a small, white dwarf before luffing up and either
OBJECTS behind. Larger supergiants undergo shedding an outer layer or
Not all stars are the same: they difer in size, cataclysmic explosions called supernovas, exploding as a supernova.
brightness and colour. Whats more, they generating heavy elements and leaving a
evolve over time. Most stars will get brighter neutron star or black hole.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 83


Computer rendering of a
BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M supermassive black hole. Jets
of matter are emitted at right
angles to the accretion disc

TENCE OF
THE EXIS

BLACK
HOLES
The idea of dark stars that gobble up
any planets in their path dates back to
the 18th Century. But, as BRIAN CLEGG
explains, it wasnt until 1964 that
hard evidence of their existence emerged

lack holes have escaped and gravity. As it gets higher, both of

B
from astrophysics into the these forces weaken. The air gets thinner
everyday imagination. Yet and, as Newton had made clear, gravitys
the gaps in our knowledge attraction drops off with the square of
of their nature and even, the distance between the centres of the
possibly, their existence bodies involved in this case, the
are considerable. bullet and the Earth.
Black holes were born from theory,
not observation. We have known about
conventional stars for as long as weve
been able to look up at a clear night sky.
But no-one ever saw a black hole. Instead,
they were predicted to exist at a time when
there was no way of checking whether
there was really any such thing out there.
And that prediction happened not once,
but twice.
The first inspired thinking on the matter
was back in the 18th Century. The man
who dreamed up what he called dark
stars was John Michell, a Cambridge
scientist who later became a clergyman. It
was from his rectory that he came up with
the concept, combining two key ideas of
the latest science at the time.
PHOTO: GETTY, ALAMY

One was escape velocity. Michell knew Ole Rmer calculated a speed for light,
that when a bullet is shot straight up into settling the dispute over whether it
the air, it has just two forces acting on travelled instantly, or just very quickly
it once it leaves the gun air resistance

84 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


BL ACK HOLE S

IN A NUTSHELL
Studying black holes is particularly dificult
as they cannot be seen directly. The work of
eminent scientists like Albert Einstein, Kip
Thorne and Stephen Hawking has helped
increase our understanding, but many gaps
in our knowledge still remain to this day.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 85


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

A typical bullet from the black caused by the varying time that light took In the following 100 years, this figure was
powder guns of Michells day could to reach us from the planet. measured more accurately so that Michell
travel as fast as 300 metres per second. was working with something closer to our
But despite this impressive velocity, the current 300,000km/s. But the specific value
forces acting to slow it brought the bullet didnt matter the point was that light had
back down to Earth. Michell, though, LIGHT CONVERSATION a speed.
knew that a bullet travelling about 37 Ever since ancient times, there had been Combining the two concepts of escape
times faster would be able to overcome the arguments over whether light travelled velocity and light having a finite speed,
Earths attraction and fly off into space. It instantly, or just extremely quickly. Rmer Michell wondered what would happen
would have achieved escape velocity. He found evidence for a measurable speed, as if a massive star had an escape velocity
combined this idea with a discovery from the changing relative positions of Jupiter that was above the speed of light. The
the 1670s, when Danish astronomer Ole and Earth in their orbits varied the time more mass in a body, the higher its escape
Rmer realised that an apparent variation that light took to reach us. He calculated the velocity. Therefore, in principle, there
in the timing of Jupiters moons was speed of light to be around 220,000km/s. could be a star so vast that even light

THE KEY Black holes are tricky to study as even the closest one lies many light-years
away, but scientists can identify candidates by observing their X-ray emissions
EXPERIMENT
Performing experiments on black holes is a
non-starter, as the nearest candidate so far
detected is around 3,000 light-years away.
Oficial confirmation of Cygnus X-1, the
first significant candidate found, took a
number of years as no single observation
was capable of establishing such a
remarkable find.
In 1964, a rocket launched from the
White Sands Range in New Mexico
discovered a strong X-ray source in the
constellation of Cygnus. Also in 1964, two
sub-orbital rockets mapped out X-ray
sources, pinning down the location of
Cygnus X-1.
In 1971, observations by the Uhuru X-ray
satellite telescope showed that the Cygnus
X-1 source underwent rapid oscillations,
suggesting it was a compact object that
was smaller than the Sun. That same year,
radio telescope observations linked the
X-ray source to the star HDE226868. This
blue supergiant would not itself produce
X-ray emissions, implying that it had a
companion. Also in 1971, astronomers at
the Royal Greenwich Observatory and
Torontos David Dunlap Observatory made
further observations of HDE226868. They
confirmed that it was in a binary with
PHOTO: GETTY X3, ALAMY X2, NASA

a massive but compact object. And, in


1972, Charles Bolton at Toronto was the
first to state definitively that this object Cygnus X-1 (location outlined in red). In
this image, the blue supergiant companion
was a black hole. This view was generally star can be clearly seen to its right
accepted by 1973.

86 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


BL ACK HOLE S

would not escape from it. Such a dark star


would have to be immense. Even though
the escape velocity from the surface of the
Sun, for instance, is over 600km/s, it is still
CAST OF CHARACTERS
far lower than the speed of light.
Michells theory was based on an Five incredible John Michell
incorrect assumption that light was (1724-1793)
physicists who Michell was born in
made up of normal particles that could be
slowed down like any other projectile by
have helped Notinghamshire and
the force of gravity. But the idea of these us with our spent his academic
mysterious dark stars faded into history. life in Cambridge
understanding working on geology,
Fast-forward to the 20th Century and
Karl Schwarzschild revived the theories
of black holes gravity, magnetism and
in the heat and horror of World War One. astronomy. Ater his
It was 1915 and the 41-year-old German marriage in 1764, he
physicist had volunteered to join up with spent the rest of his life
the German army. Somehow, perhaps Karl Schwarzschild as a clergyman, most
as a distraction from the devastation (1873-1916) notably at Thornhill
around him, he found time to think about Schwarzschild was a in Yorkshire. Here he
Einsteins elegant equations and his brand- German physicist and continued with his
new theory of General Relativity. Einsteins astronomer who was scientific work from 1767
equations are too complex to provide a born in Frankfurt. He until his death in 1793.
universal solution, but Schwarzschild worked as a professor
solved them for the special case of a for several years in
spherical body that was not spinning. Gtingen, before
It emerged from the mathematics that, moving on in 1909 to
if all the mass of that body was crammed become director of the
into a sphere of a size now called the towns observatory
Schwarzschild radius, the distortion in before heading up the Albert Einstein
space-time would be so great that light from Potsdam Astrophysical (1879-1955)
the object would never escape. Anything Observatory. He German-born Einstein
closer than a sphere around the body of that volunteered for the is best known for his
radius would travel through a surface of no German army in 1914 theories of Special
return the black holes event horizon. and died of a skin Relativity and General
disease in 1916. Relativity, laying the
foundations of quantum
theory. Via Belgium and
DOWN THE HOLE the UK, he moved to the
The most obvious source of such a body USA in 1933 to escape
would be a collapsing star. In normal Nazi Germany and took
operation, a stars nuclear reactions fluff up a position at the
it up against the pull of gravity. But once Institute of Advanced
Kip Thorne Study in Princeton.
those reactions start to fade, matter in the
(1940-)
star can collapse. The expectation is that
Thorne is an American
this collapse would be halted by a quantum
astrophysicist whose
effect called the Pauli exclusion principle,
studies of General
forming an intensely dense neutron star.
Relativity have resulted
If the star were massive enough, though,
in a wide range of
exceeding about three times the mass of Stephen Hawking
predictions on black (1942-)
the Sun, the exclusion principle should
holes, wormholes and
be overcome and the collapse would be Cambridge-based Hawking
time travel. Thorne
unstoppable. In principle, the material in is probably the most
was consultant to
the black hole would continue to collapse famous living physicist and
the best cinematic
all the way to a dimensionless point a has become iconic both
representation of a
singularity with infinite density and a for his bestselling book
black hole to date, the
force of gravity that headed off to infinity A Brief History Of Time and
2014 movie Interstellar.
as it was approached. In reality, we for defying the onset of
dont know what would actually happen, motor neurone disease
because the singularity is an admission to continue working
that our physics has broken down. For a into his 70s. His work
good time after Schwarzschild, black holes has largely involved
were purely theoretical. the General Theory of
Or at least collapsed stars were, as Relativity and cosmology.
they were yet to receive their more

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 87


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

intriguing moniker. Black hole


Theories surrounding mysterious
TIMELINE black holes have only been
is often ascribed to the American
physicist John Wheeler, but its
around since the 18th Century origins are shrouded in mystery. The
term was first reported at an American
Association for the Advancement of
John Michells dark stars Science meeting in January 1964. Its
paper is read at the Royal not certain who used it, but Wheeler
Society. He hoped to deduce soon popularised it. It might seem that
the mass of stars from their
efect on light, and thought a
massive enough star would
1783 searching for black holes would be a waste
of time. How do you see something that
doesnt give off light? But, as the physics of
be able to stop light entirely.
black holes developed, scientists realised
that indirect routes were available.
Albert Einstein publishes As astronomers cant see the hole itself,
his field equations. This they need to look for its side effects.
set of 10 equations at
When matter is dragged into a spinning
1915 the heart of General
Relativity describe
gravity as a curvature
hole, and pretty well everything in the
Universe does spin, it should produce
of space and time. an accretion disc, glowing brightly as a
result of friction and would also generate
distinctive jets from the poles. Then there
are the gravitational effects. We might see
nearby bodies influenced by the black hole.
This is a venerable technique and was
Soon ater Einstein publishes the theory
used in the past to infer the existence of
of General Relativity, Karl Schwarzschild
publishes his paper with the first non-trivial
solution. This is applied to a non-rotating
1916 Neptune. Astronomers studied the way the
orbits of the other planets were influenced
sphere, derived the previous year. by Neptunes gravitational pull.
Finally, there is Hawking radiation.
Stephen Hawking surprised himself
when in 1974 he realised that black holes

1971 First candidate black


hole is found. Cygnus
couldnt truly be black. The idea came
from his understanding of quantum
physics the science governing very
X-1 is an X-ray source
that was first detected small things and in particular the
in 1964 and is thought uncertainty principle. This said that
to be a binary star, localised energy can fluctuate significantly
where material from
over small periods of time, allowing pairs
one star is accelerated
into a black hole. of quantum particles to emerge and then
disappear again before they are observed.
If this happens near a black holes event
Star S2 (Source horizon, one of these virtual particles
2) is observed by could be pulled in while the other flies off.
the Max Planck
Institute and UCLA.
These stray particles make up Hawking
It orbits an apparent radiation. This is unlikely to be detectable
supermassive black at any great distance.
hole, Sagitarius A*,
1995 After Schwarzschilds solution, black
PHOTO: GETTY, NASA/CHANDRA X2, ESO, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

at the heart of our holes seemed the natural end for the right
Milky Way. kind of stars with masses at least three
times that of the Sun. But this particular
scale is not a limitation of the black hole
itself, merely the formation mechanism.
The best evidence
In principle, black holes could exist on
to date of a star being
ripped apart by a any scale from the microscopic all the way
supermassive black through to millions of times the mass of
hole is detected by the Sun. There are broadly four categories,
the Pan-STARRS two of which have probably been detected.
telescope on Hawaii At the tiny, totally hypothetical end
2012 and analysed by
a Johns Hopkins
University team.
of the scale are micro black holes and
quantum black holes. A micro black hole
would form, for instance, if the Earth
collapsed, forming an event horizon about
9mm across, though thankfully there is

88 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


BL ACK HOLE S

NEED TO KNOW
A handy list of the
terminology connected to
the study of black holes

1 ACCRETION DISC
Rotating mater is pulled into a disc
shape by a star (part of the formation
process of a solar system). In the case of
black holes, nearby mater is accelerated
intensely by gravity, giving of a bright glow.

2 JET
Streams of mater accelerated to nearly
the speed of light are emited at right angles
to the accretion disc. The cause of these
jets is uncertain, though they may be the
result of a complex magnetic field.

3 PAULI EXCLUSION
PRINCIPLE
This principle of quantum mechanics The Very Large Array telescope took this false-colour
establishes that two fermions (a type of image of Sagittarius A, which lies at the centre of the Milky
subatomic particle) cannot be in an identical Way. A bright radio source, Sagittarius A*, is located in this
region and is believed to be a supermassive black hole
quantum state. This results in exchange
interaction, which is like a short-range force
keeping fermions apart except in extreme
conditions like black hole formation. The first X-ray binary widely recognised role in galaxy formation, giving the galaxy
as containing a black hole was Cygnus X-1. a hub to coalesce around. Candidates have
A powerful X-ray source was detected in been detected at many galactic centres,
4 SINGULARITY
In the case of astrophysics, a singularity
is a mathematically predicted condition
1964 and was identified as a black hole
candidate in 1971. A blue supergiant star in
thanks to unusually high electromagnetic
emissions from these regions, and the odd
the binary was being stripped of material motion of nearby stars.
where space-time becomes so locally by the X-ray source, which appeared to A star called S2 orbits the centre of the
distorted by gravitation that the force of have a mass in the region of 9 to 15 times Milky Way at about four times the radius
gravity tends to infinity and current theories that of the Sun. In 1975, Kip Thorne and of the orbit of Neptune. From S2s path, it
of physics break down. Stephen Hawking made a bet as to whether seems likely its orbiting something with a
this was, indeed, a black hole. Hawking, mass of about 4.3 million times that of the
on the no side, paid up in 1990 when Sun. The object matches the position of an
better observational data was obtained. intense radio source called Sagittarius A*,
no known mechanism for this to occur. and there is currently no other explanation
Quantum black holes are even smaller, for this except a supermassive black hole.
from a scale of around 5,000 protons up. Elsewhere, stellar destruction gives a clue.
In principle, they could be produced in BACK TO BLACK Unusually bright light signatures in distant
a particle accelerator and would almost Since 1990, the identification of Cygnus galaxies are thought to be stars being
immediately decay. Current accelerators X-1 has become less certain. This is ripped apart by supermassive black holes.
dont have the energy to produce one because the companion star is very large, All is not certain, though. A 2014 study
unaided, but if the Universe has extra making it difficult to be sure of the mass suggested black holes wont form at
dimensions, this could reduce the energy of its compact object companion. Many all. The authors believed that as a star
threshold to something accessible. other candidates have been detected since, collapses, Hawking radiation would
The best evidence we have for although evidence remains indirect and reduce the mass of the star sufficiently that
conventional black holes, formed from the is based on theoretical assumptions about the black hole never reaches completion.
collapse of a dying star, is X-ray binaries. the maximum size of a neutron star that There would be an ultra-dense body
In these objects, material is accelerated may not be borne out in practice. acting like a black hole, but without the
from one normal star into an invisible star, Supermassive black holes are thought singularity or the event horizon. The paper
giving off X-rays. This can happen with to exist at the heart of most galaxies, isnt universally accepted, but illustrates
a neutron star, but if the eating star has possibly forming from the collapse of a how our understanding of black holes is
more than about three times the mass of dense gas cloud in the galaxys early life. primarily driven by theory. Whatever the
the Sun, it should in theory be a black hole. Such black holes may play a significant reality, we can expect more surprises.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 89


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

A L L T H E
WH ERE ARE

HABITABLE
PLANETS?
The number of known planets
is increasing all the time, but how
UQQPECPYGGZRGEVVQPFNKHG!
STUART CLARK takes a closer look
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

90 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


H A BI TA BL E PL A NE T S

n March 2015, a team at call these Earth-like planets Earth Prof Geoffrey Marcy, from the

I
the Niels Bohr Institute in analogues. At the time of writing, there University of California at Berkeley, was
Copenhagen used a 250- are 1,211 known planetary systems, with one of the first people to find planets
year-old equation called the 482 of those sporting more than one around other stars. Back in 1995, he began
Titius-Bode Law to predict the planet. The current total of known planets reporting a string of planetary discoveries
number of habitable planets. The sits at 1,918. These numbers increase all that continues to this day. In 2013, he and
researchers stated that billions of the time as new discoveries are made by two colleagues began to wonder how close
stars will have one to three planets in various space programmes. the nearest Earth-twin might be.
their Goldilocks Zone, also known as a Some of the planets so far observed are To find out, they trawled through data
habitable zone (see page 93). While the Earth-sized, some are in similar orbits to collected by the Kepler telescope.
law gives a simple means of predicting the Earth, and some are around Sun-like stars. Launched in 2009, it continually
orbits of planets around But not a single one ticks all three of these monitored 145,000 stars until 2013, when
a star, it isnt particularly accurate even criteria. Astonishingly, of these hundreds a malfunction in its guidance system
when applied to the Solar System. of planets, not one is Earths twin. Does ended the mission. Marcy and colleagues
Still, a lot of researchers believe that this mean that Earth analogues are rare? analysed data from 42,000 stars in the
there are a significant number of Earth- With several missions planned for the survey. The signature they were looking
like planets out there somewhere, many coming years by NASA and others, will for was a dimming in the stars light.
even within the Milky Way. Astronomers we soon find our planets sibling? When a planet passes in front of its

An artists impression of
an alien planetary system
in the Andromeda galaxy

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 91


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

The nearest Sun-like star with an Earth-size planet


in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light-years
CYC[CPFECPDGUGGPYKVJVJGPCMGFG[Gq
Erik Petigura, University of California at Berkeley
PHOTO: NASA, JOHN D & CATHERINE T/MACARTHUR FOUNDATION

Kepler-186f confirmed
that there are Earth-size,
habitable planets outside
the Solar System

92 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


H A BI TA BL E PL A NE T S

parent star, its silhouette dims the candidates before they are confirmed.
star slightly and the telescope can In this case, KOI-1686.01 is 1.33 times
measure this. the radius of Earth. Although it orbits a
Using this technique, they discovered dim red dwarf star, it is so close that it
603 planets. Ten were more or less receives enough heat to allow surface
Earth-sized and received something water to be liquid. When everything was
comparable to the light that Earth evaluated, its ESI came out to be 0.89. In
receives. None of the planets were Earths our own Solar System, Mars has an ESI
twin, but in analysing the results of just 0.69. Unfortunately, follow-up
statistically, they reached the conclusion observations have failed to spot the
that one in five Sun-like stars could lanet for a second time.
harbour an Earth analogue.
When you look up at the thousands of
stars in the night sky, the nearest Sun-like WATER WORLD
star with an Earth-size planet in its To be counted as real, a planet must be
habitable zone is probably only 12 light- seen first as a dimming of the star, before
years away and can be seen with the being confirmed using a ground-based
naked eye. That is amazing, said UC telescope to look for the wobble on the Prof Sara Seager
is confident that if
Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, star that the planets gravity causes. there are Earth-like
who led the analysis of the Kepler data. So, no second Earths yet. But that planets out there, her
To help quantify the Earth-like doesnt mean that some of the planets team will find them
properties of a planet, astronomers have so far detected cannot be habitable.
concocted the Earth Similarity Index Theyd just be more like Earths cousins
(ESI). It looks at a planets radius, density, than Earths twins. For me, two planets Habitability rests, first and foremost,
escape velocity and surface temperature stand out head and shoulders above all on the planet being warm enough for
and compares it to Earth. Planets are the others, says Marcy. The first is liquid water to exist so that biochemical
given a grade on a scale between 0 and 1, Kepler-186f. This is almost exactly interactions can take place. A planet
with a score of 1 indicating a planet Earth-sized but only receives about one- receiving much less energy than Earth
exactly like Earth. third of the warmth from its star that receives from the Sun may seem as if it
Using this scale, the planet most similar Earth receives from the Sun. The second is too cold, but a planets atmosphere
to Earth is KOI-1686.01. KOI stands for is Kepler-62f. This is 1.4 times bigger than can play a big role.
Kepler Object of Interest and is a Earth and receives around 40 per cent We hear a lot about the
temporary designation given to planet of Earths energy. greenhouse effect, which is an

EXPLAINED: 6JKUKUVJGTGIKQPCTQWPFCUVCTYJGTGVJGCVOQURJGTKEEQPFKVKQPU
HQTQTDKVKPIRNCPGVUCTGnLWUVTKIJVoVQUWRRQTVNKSWKFYCVGT6JG
THE GOLDILOCKS ZONE GZCEVNQECVKQPQHVJG\QPGXCTKGUFGRGPFKPIQPJQYJQVVJGUVCTKUe

Brightness of star compared to the Sun (%)


Mercury Venus Earth Mars

100

Too Habitable Too


Sun hot zone cold

Kepler-62e Kepler-62f

20

Kepler-62

10,000 1,000 100 10

Starlight on planet relative to sunlight on Earth (%)

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 93


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

Artists impressions of some of the exciting


exoplanets orbiting stars other than our own

KEPLER-438B
EARTH 2.0? This planet was confirmed
on 6 January 2015.
KEPLER-442B
This planet is 1,120
light-years from Earth and
-GRNGTYCUURGEKHKECNN[FGUKIPGFVQ Kepler-438b is thought to 1.34 times our planets
be a rocky planet and is just radius. Although its parent
scan our region of the Milky Way
1.12 times the radius of Earth. star is a litle cooler than
for planets in the habitable zones
It is situated 470 light-years the Sun, the planets orbit
QHVJGKTEGPVTCNUVCTU*GTGCTGCHGY away, where it orbits a red means that it receives 0.66
ECPFKFCVGUVJCVEQWNFUWRRQTVNKHGe dwarf star once every 35.2 of Earths input energy.
days. Even though its star is Kepler-442b orbits its parent
cooler than the Sun, its close star once every 112 days.
proximity does mean that it Its discovery was announced
receives 1.38 times the solar at the same time
energy that Earth does. as Kepler-438b.

atmospheres ability to trap heat.


Because of its association with
industrial waste gases, we tend to think of
it in a negative way, yet we rely on the
greenhouse effects warming action to
keep the Earth habitable.
Earth would be freezing without a
greenhouse effect, confirms Marcy. So
his two choices would have to rely on a
greenhouse effect to compensate for the
lack of energy they receive directly. In the
case of Kepler-62f, its larger size will
generate more gravity, thus ensuring a
thicker atmosphere than Earth, which
boosts its greenhouse effect.
A new generation of searches for
habitable planets is on the horizon, with
two new space missions that will follow
on from the techniques of Kepler. They
are being developed on either side of the
Atlantic, and both rely on the transit
method of detection. More sensitive
telescope detectors will allow smaller
planets to be seen.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is Astronomers cannot directly observe
building CHEOPS (CHaracterising
PHOTO: NASA X6

exoplanets, so they look for the dimming caused


ExOPlanet Satellite) for launch in 2017. It when a planet passes in front of a star
will study nearby star systems that are

94 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


H A BI TA BL E PL A NE T S

KEPLER-186F KEPLER-62F KEPLER-62E


Kepler-186f was announced This is the outermost of a This planet is a sister world
in April 2014 and is perhaps five-planet system orbiting to Kepler-62f and is another
the closest match to Earth the star Kepler-62. At 1.4 times super-Earth. It is located at
so far. Although some began the radius of our planet, the inner edge of the stars
dubbing it Earth 2.0, its not it is termed a super-Earth. habitable zone, so it receives
identical. While it is 1.1 times It receives just 0.41 times the more energy than the Earth.
the radius of Earth, its star amount of solar energy of the The discovery of the two
is dimmer than the Sun and Earth, but its extra bulk will potentially habitable worlds
Kepler 186f receives just a provide more gravity to atract around Kepler-62 prompted
third of Earths input energy. a thicker atmosphere that a congressional hearing in
It was the first Earth-size could give rise to a lifesaving the US dubbed Exoplanet
planet to be found orbiting greenhouse efect. Discoveries: Have We Found
in the habitable zone of a star. Other Earths?.

already known to have planets, with a


The TESS telescope will monitor
goal of measuring those planets radii and half a million stars for planets
to look for other worlds that have so far in their habitable zones
escaped detection.

A CLOSER LOOK
Simultaneously, NASA is planning the
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
(TESS). This too will launch in 2017.
It will use four onboard wide-angle
telescopes to survey half a million
stars across the sky. The mission team
estimates that TESS could find between
1,000-10,000 planets.
The driving scientist behind TESS is The various terms in the expression equation cannot give a definitive
Prof Sara Seager of the Massachusetts included the number of stars to be answer however, she still believes
Institute of Technology. She is in no doubt observed, the fraction of those stars that that it was still a worthwhile exercise.
about the goals and abilities that TESS we expect to have planets in their I wanted the world to know that we
will have. If there is a rocky planet habitable zone, and the fraction that are doing the real search for alien
transiting a small star in the habitable have sufficient life to produce an life, she defends.
zone of that star, we will find it, she says. observable signature. Seager estimated The first step towards that goal is
Seager hit the headlines in 2013 when that some terms, like the number of finding as many habitable planets as
she described an equation that could be stars observed, can be assigned real possible. Astronomers already have
used to estimate how many planets with values. But other terms, such as the some in the bag, but CHEOPS and
detectable signs of life may be discovered fraction that have detectable life signs, TESS should advance the search
over the coming years. remain speculative. As a result, Seagers significantly. E.T. were coming!

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 95


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

MYS T E R Y

MESSAGES
FROM SPACE Strange signals from outside our Galaxy have
DCHGFUEKGPVKUVU$WVCTGVJG[QHCNKGPQTKIKP!
HAZEL MUIR leads our investigation
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, SCIENCE & SOCIETY

96 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


ME S S AGE S F ROM SPACE

cientists revisiting archived thousandths of a second. They have all

S
observations made by the come from different directions on the sky. SIGNAL FROM
Parkes Observatory in New All the Parkes observations suggest
South Wales in 2007 noticed that the FRBs come from sources that ALIENS?
something odd. They saw a are very far away, according to Prof In 1967, a possible alien signal appeared in
brief, yet extremely bright Benjamin Stappers from the University the constellation Vulpecula. Jocelyn Bell of
burst of radio waves that of Manchester, whose team has analysed Cambridge University (now Dame Jocelyn
lasted just five milliseconds. Nothing like the bursts. Radio waves are dispersed by Bell Burnell) picked up regular radio beeps
it had ever been seen before. But in April electrons in interstellar and intergalactic that occurred every 1.3 seconds. They looked
this year, a similar signal was reported on space, like light shining through a prism artificial, so her team named the source
the other side of the world at Puerto Ricos to give you the different colours, he says. LGM-1 (for litle green men). However, LGM-1
Arecibo radio telescope. This causes low-frequency radio waves turned out to be a rotating neutron star the
Researchers now think theres good to arrive at the telescope later than first one ever discovered.
evidence that these fast radio bursts high-frequency waves.
(FRBs) are not only real, but very common The amount of dispersion the team
and they come from vast distances far measured in the FRBs suggests that
beyond our own Galaxy. Nobody knows the radio bursts came from sources
what causes them, but could they possibly millions or even billions of light-years
be evidence of intelligent aliens trying to away. They must be outside our Galaxy,
get our attention? says Stappers.
The Parkes Observatory has a vast Until now, the findings have been
64m-diameter radio dish, which is one controversial, because no other radio
of the worlds oldest large movable dishes. telescope had seen the peculiar short
It recorded an FRB in 2001, although bursts. There was always the possibility
it wasnt until several years later that that the Parkes dish had just picked up
astronomers noticed the strange signal. some local interference maybe from
Since 2007, they have shown that the a satellite or radar station or that Jocelyn Bell, discoverer
of pulsars, in 1968
Parkes radio dish has spotted at least half there was some kind of glitch with
a dozen FRBs, all of them lasting just a few its electronics.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto


Rico has detected an FRB similar
to those picked up by Parkes

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 97



BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

Earlier this year, however, the


plot thickened. Analysis of
observations by the giant 305m-diameter THE ALIEN HUNTER
Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico
have shown that it has also spotted a fast &QWINCU8CMQEJKU&KTGEVQTQH
radio burst. It occurred on 2 November Interstellar Message Composition
2012 and had the same hallmarks as the
Parkes FRBs, suggesting it came from far
at the SETI Institute in California
beyond the Milky Way.
Our result is important because it What would convince you that a signal to know basic maths and science, like 1 + 2
eliminates any doubt that these radio was potentially alien? = 3, so thats how a message might start.
bursts are truly of cosmic origin, Wed get excited if the signal looked But if they only told us about things
explains Professor Victoria Kaspi from different from anything that nature can we already know, then whats the point?
McGill University in Montreal, Canada, make and if it came from a specific point I hope theyd also tell us something about
who headed the Arecibo survey that in outer space, like a nearby star. Also, the their culture, like their art or music.
detected this FRB. The radio waves signal would need to repeat.
show every sign of having come from What would convince you that youd
far outside our Galaxy, which is a really How would you decode it? cracked an alien code?
exciting prospect. First wed look for patterns in the signal, Id be convinced that we understood the
Dr Laura Spitler from the Max Planck like simple counting. And then wed message if it showed us something new
Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, look for ways to connect those patterns something we could later confirm with our
Germany, who led the analysis of the to the real world. We can use counting, own science. Then wed know we werent
Arecibo signal, adds that the observations for example, to organise the chemical just projecting our own hopes and desires
now look extremely compelling. The elements into the periodic table, and wed onto this alien message.
brightness and duration of this event, hope scientists on other planets would
and the inferred rate at which these recognise this pattern in nature, too. After decoding, what would you do about
bursts occur, are all consistent with it and who would you tell?
What would the message say? Decoding a message could take decades.
A message from extraterrestrials wont be Long before then, wed have told the whole
in English or Chinese or Swahili. But if we world about it. But then wed face the most
FACE ON MARS get a message from aliens, we know they critical questions: should we reply and, if
can build radio transmitters. Theyd need we do, what should we say?
In 1976, NASAs Viking 1 spacecrat spoted
a shadowy feature on Mars that looked
uncannily like a human face. Many people
jumped to the conclusion that it was an alien
the properties of the bursts previously
monument, possibly designed to send a
detected by the Parkes telescope in
message that a civilisation once existed on
the planet. Australia, she explains. The radio waves
But the excitement was brief. Later
images showed it was simply a Martian show every sign of
mesa (a high plateau with steep sides) that POSSIBLE CAUSES
was casting peculiar shadows, making it look
So what causes these extremely bright
JCXKPIEQOGHTQO
like a human visage.
radio bursts? So far theyre a complete
enigma, says Stappers. Possibilities include
outside our Galaxy,
This face on Mars
turned out to be a natural
a range of exotic astrophysical objects,
such as evaporating black holes or mergers
YJKEJKUCTGCNN[
rock formation (below) between neutron stars. Neutron stars
are the collapsed remains of the cores GZEKVKPIRTQURGEVq
of massive stars that imploded during
supernova explosions.
Another possibility is that they are
bursts much brighter than the giant pulses seem to come from random directions on
seen from some pulsars, adds Professor the sky. Scientists have only detected a
PHOTO: NASA X2, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

James Cordes from Cornell University. handful of them so far, but they think that
Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars if huge radio telescopes were monitoring
that emit radio beams from their poles, and all of the sky all the time, theyd see
these can appear as radio pulses as they roughly 10,000 of the bursts each day.
sweep across Earth like lighthouse beams. It seems odd that aliens on thousands of
But is there any chance that the planets in different parts of the cosmos
fast radio bursts are messages from would all contact us in the same manner.
extraterrestrials trying to contact us? It The natural-looking patterns of the
seems unlikely. One reason is that the FRBs are further evidence that they are
bursts are probably very common and not of alien origin. Light emissions from

98 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


ME S S AGE S F ROM SPACE

natural astronomical sources are usually


broadband, and smeared out over a
wide band of wavelengths. Narrowband
FALSE
signals with a waveband spanning only
a few Hertz wide or less are typical from
ALARMS
a purpose-built transmitter. And that At the Arecibo Observatory in
doesnt fit with the FRBs, which have Puerto Rico, false alarms of
multiple wavelengths. alien communications happen
According to researchers involved in regularly. Often, the dish picks
the search for extraterrestrial intelligence up a narrowband signal that
(SETI), another problem is repetition. doesnt look like anything natural.
No one has seen any FRBs repeat in But it usually takes only a
the same patch of sky. However, its matter of minutes to rule out
impossible to rule out the idea that alien communications because
they never repeat. Maybe the repetition the signal persists even when the
just takes a very long time, and repeats telescope monitors a different
could be detected in future. For now, patch of sky. This suggests that the
interpreting the bursts is just too difficult. message is coming from a satellite
Telescopes under construction in Australia or one of Puerto Ricos many radar
and South Africa have the potential to and telecoms installations a
detect more FRBs, and this could clarify bugbear for SETI researchers.
the nature of these odd events.

Another observatory that should pick


them up is CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen
Intensity Mapping Experiment) in
British Columbia, Canada. CHIME is
an innovative new radio telescope that
will have five cylindrical reflectors
with the approximate dimensions of
snowboarding half-pipes, with radio
receivers along each ones focus. The
reflectors wont actually move, but theyll
detect radio signals from half the sky each
day as the Earth rotates.

ONGOING MYSTERY
Stappers says he has no personal hunch
about what the sources of FRBs are, but
he hopes that detecting more will resolve
the issue. We are working very hard to
find more of them, and also to pinpoint
them in the sky more accurately to try
and find their host location, he says. Are
they in galaxies? And if so, where in the
galaxy in the centre?
Until then, FRBs will have to be filed
among unsolved mysteries, alongside the
Wow! signal. This strong, narrowband
radio burst lasted more than a minute
and was detected by Ohios Big Ear radio
telescope in 1977. Jerry Ehman, the
astronomer who spotted it, wrote Wow!
on a printout of the signal. The Wow!
name has stuck, but the signal has never
been seen again.
The chances are that the fast radio
bursts are something natural, rather
Could FRBs come from a previously unknown than signals from little green men. But
type of pulsar? Its one of several possibilities what causes them will no doubt baffle
astronomers for some time.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 99


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, CORBIS

100 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE MULT I V E R S E

WELCOME
TO THE
MULTIVERSE
The recent detection of gravitational waves
from the dawn of time has big implications.
JOHN GRIBBINTGXGCNUJQYKVEQWNFEQPTO
that our Universe is just one of many

heres really only one place detected gravitational waves, confirming

T
to go if you want to watch Einsteins theory of inflation.
the birth of the Universe: the Inflation explains how our Universe
South Pole. The temperature, was kick-started, but it also says that
which rarely climbs above other universes can be kick-started in
30C, means that the air is the same way. So evidence for inflation is
always clear, which makes it (at least circumstantial) evidence for the
an ideal spot to observe Multiverse. And evidence for inflation
the infinitesimally minute traces of energy is what the BICEP2 scientists claim to
left over from our Universes explosive have found.
birth. As a result, not one but three
telescopes sit at the bottom of the Earth
mapping out these tiny wavelengths of
radiation scattered across space whats SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
known as the Cosmic Microwave The Big Bang theory is one of the most
Background (CMB). In 2014, it was one of well-established ideas in science. It
these telescopes, the Background Imaging explains how the Universe expanded from
of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 a hot, dense state (roughly the density of
(BICEP2), and its researchers that an atomic nucleus) into the pattern of stars
and galaxies we see today. This hot, dense
state was the Big Bang, and the idea was
firmly established by the beginning of the
1980s. But how the Universe got into that
hot, dense state remained a great mystery.
What happened before the Big Bang?
It was the American cosmologist Alan
Guth who realised that a process called
symmetry breaking, akin to the way steam
gives out latent heat when it condenses
to form water, could have poured out
energy in the first split-second of time.
This could have pushed the Universe
through a phase of rapid expansion called
Alan Guth has investigated what inflation and ended up with the Big Bang.
could have triggered inflation (People often make the mistake of
using the term Big Bang to include

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 101


BICEP2 at twilight in the
BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M clear air of Antarctica

WHICH TYPE IS RIGHT?


Cosmologists have defined four kinds of multiverse

TYPE I
If the cosmos is infinite, there must be multiple
copies of our Universe (defined as everything we can
see out to the point where cosmological expansion
is occurring at light speed) separated from us by
vast distances. This is because there is only a finite
number of ways to arrange all the particles in the
Universe, just as there is only a finite number of
ways to arrange the pieces on a chess board. Also,
there must be multiple variations on the theme, with
greater or lesser differences from our own Universe.
Red Dwarf fans will be familiar with the possibilities.

inflation, but the crucial point is that


inflation came before the Big Bang.)
During inflation, the size of the Universe
increases exponentially, doubling in size
TYPE II
The version that gains support from the BICEP2 once every hundredth of a trillionth of a
results. Our Universe may be a bubble embedded trillionth of a trillionth of a second. The
in an expanding sea of space. There is no reason idea was developed further by the Russian-
to think that it is the only bubble, so if this idea is born American Andrei Linde, and others,
correct there may be many other bubble Universes. to explain how a Universe like ours can
But a single bubble in this Multiverse could itself
appear out of nothing at all.
be a Type I Multiverse.
It all depends on the idea of a quantum
fluctuation, and the strange fact that the
energy of a gravitational field is negative.
Quantum theory says that particles can
appear out of nothing at all, provided that
TYPE III they disappear again in a very short time.
The version familiar to anyone who has puzzled For example, an electron-positron pair
over the mystery of Schrdingers cat. The puzzle might pop into existence, borrowing
of whether the cat in the box, threatened by a energy from the vacuum, and promptly
diabolical quantum device, is alive or dead can be
resolved by saying that there are two Universes,
(within a tiny fraction of a second)
one with a dead cat and one with a live cat. Apply disappear, giving the borrowed energy
the same reasoning to every possible outcome back. These are known as virtual particles
of every possible quantum event and you have and, although you cannot see them
the Type III Multiverse, also known as Many directly, the influence of virtual particles
Worlds. Here, Universes are separated not by vast can be discerned in the way real particles
amounts of space, but are in some sense parallel
to one another in separate dimensions. This
interact with one another. Crucially, the
version has surfaced in Doctor Who. more mass that is involved in such
a fluctuation, the less time it can exist.
So a proton-antiproton pair cannot exist
for as long as an electron-positron pair,
TYPE IV and so on.
This type of Multiverse contains universes that are
PHOTO: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X4, ANTHONY TURNER/JPL

part of what is known as the cosmic landscape.


This is based on the idea that the laws of physics
themselves may be different in different Universes.
The landscape is like a rolling plain, with different NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
points on the plain representing different sets This is where the negativity of gravity
of laws, valleys being more stable configurations comes in handy. If you imagine all the
than hills. In our Universe, for example, there is
one kind of electron, and three kinds of quark at
atoms that make up the Sun spread out
the same particle level as the electron. In another to infinite distance, they would have
Universe, there might be three kinds of electron zero gravitational energy, because the
and one kind of quark. Other possibilities are even gravitational force between two particles
more exotic. Mathematicians seem to love the idea, is proportional to 1 divided by the square
but most physicists ling up their hands in horror. of the distance between them. But if the
Schrdingers cat is simple by comparison.
particles fell together to make a star,
they would jostle one another and
get hot as gravitational energy is

102 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE MULT I V E R S E

released and converted into kinetic


energy (something like this is indeed
the way a star like the Sun forms). The
HOW BICEP2 CONFIRMED
gravitational field started out with zero
energy, so now it has less than zero energy.
THE THEORY OF INFLATION
A simple calculation shows that if all How BICEP2 confirmed the theory of inflation
the material collapsed to a point, the total
amount of gravitational energy released
Quantum luctuation In the instant before the Big Bang, the Universe expanded at such
would be exactly equal to the mass-energy an intense speed that it was believed to have caused ripples in
leading to inlation
of the star, given by Einsteins famous the very fabric of space gravitational waves. These anomalies
equation. This means that at that point, still exist today, stretched out by the expansion of the
the mass-energy of the matter would Universe that followed. Distortions of this nature naturally
be exactly cancelled out by the negative afect light passing through them, leaving a tell-tale
gravitational energy of the matter. You fingerprint known as the B-mode polarisation in
the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation we see
would have a blob of stuff with the mass today. Its this pattern that the BICEP2 detector
of a star, but zero energy overall. It means found, confirming the theory of inlation.
that in a sense you could make a star out of BIG BANG
nothing at all, as a concentration of matter
that expanded away from a point.
If this seems mind-boggling, youre
in good company. When the physicist

GR
George Gamow mentioned the idea to

AV
Albert Einstein one day, Einstein stopped

I
TA
abruptly in his tracks, and, since we were

TI
crossing a street, several cars had to stop to

ON
avoid running us down.

AL
What applies to a star also applies to

W
a Universe. Quantum physics says that a

AV
fluctuation containing all the mass-energy

ES
of the Universe could arise from nothing at
all, as a tiny, superdense seed. If this meant
making energy, as with an electron-
positron pair, the quantum fluctuation
would have to disappear quickly, giving the
borrowed energy back to the vacuum. But TIME SINCE
because the mass-energy would be exactly BIG BANG
balanced by the negative gravitational
energy, there is no quantum limit on the
lifetime of such a fluctuation. You might
think that the powerful gravity field would
itself crush such an embryonic Universe
out of existence. But that is where
inflation comes in. The symmetry

The basic
pattern of
polarisation
in the CMB

Swirls in the pattern of


CMB polarisation, seen
here in the BICEP2 data,
show the clear signs of
gravitational waves that
The Cosmic Microwave
must have originated
Background radiation
during the Universes
(CMB), 380,000 years
period of inlation
ater the Big Bang

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 103


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

The Dark Sector Lab, about 1km from the South


Pole, houses the Universe-probing BICEP2

by Lee Smolin, who works at the Perimeter


Institute in Canada. But dont worry. Such
a new universe would not explode out
into our Universe, destroying everything
in its path. It would expand into its own
set of dimensions, connected to us by a
tiny wormhole. If this idea is correct, it
might even be possible to make such a
baby universe by making a tiny black hole
in particle collisions using accelerators
not much more powerful than the Large
Hadron Collider.
These ideas are admittedly speculative.
PHOTO: STEFFEN RICHTER/HAVARD UNIVERSITY, CORBIS, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X2

But there is a much less speculative, and


simpler, version of inflation developed
by Linde. A small tweak to the
equations of the General Theory of
Multiple universes spawn from
one another a picture thats
looking increasingly likely The cosmic microwave
background holds
the telltale signs
of inflation

breaking that Guth proposed can 10-30 seconds. Only then did the Big Bang
take this universal seed and whoosh take over. The Universe, says Guth, is
it up into the hot Big Bang state, leaving a the ultimate free lunch.
more leisurely expansion that can continue
for billions of years as the Universe cools
and forms stars and galaxies. Roughly BUBBLE UNIVERSES
speaking, everything in the observable But why stop at one Universe? If a
Universe today was inflated from a region quantum fluctuation can lead to the birth
much smaller than a proton (actually less of our Universe, then quantum fluctuations
than a billionth the size of a proton) to within our Universe could lead to the birth
about the size of a basketball within about of other baby universes an idea explored

104 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


T HE MULT I V E R S E

Relativity produces a mathematical have come up with several more or less gravitational ripples is seen today in the
description of space that is always exotic variations on the inflation idea. form of the cosmic microwave background
expanding exponentially fast what Linde But the simplest version makes a clear radiation. Inflation theory says that the
calls eternal inflation. This would be the prediction. The repeated doubling in size distortions produced by the expanded
background cosmos, everything there is. of the Universe during the split-second gravitational waves should show up in
Within this inflating meta-world, there are that inflation lasted was violent enough the way that the background radiation is
occasionally places where inflation stops to cause ripples in the structure of space; polarised. In particular, it should affect
and these regions form bubbles within these ripples, known as gravitational the so-called B-mode polarisation, which
the inflating sea. Our Universe is such a waves, would have been stretched by the is a measure of circular polarisation. The
bubble, and the implication is that there subsequent expansion of the Universe effect is to produce a swirly pattern when
are other universes, other bubbles far away until they became almost a billion light- the polarisation is plotted on a map of
across the inflating sea, like the bubbles years long. Such huge structures in the the sky. This is exactly what the BICEP2
that form in the liquid when a fizzy drink Universe could not have been made in any experiment has revealed. And the pattern
is opened. other way. Distortions in space naturally is simple.
Like all good scientific ideas, this leads affect light passing through them, and the
to a prediction. Since 1980, theorists primordial light passing through these
JUST RIGHT FOR LIFE
The experimental results match the
The BICEP2 results predictions of the basic version of inflation
which, happily for the cosmologists, is the
simplest version to work with. They also
open a whole rule out models of the very early Universe
which do not include inflation. Alan Guth
new method for is delighted by the news. The results from
BICEP2 are stunning. They found a
studying the physics gravitational wave signal that is stronger
than we expected. Assuming that the result
QHKPCVKQPq can be confirmed and it most likely will
it opens a whole new method for studying
American cosmologist and the physics of inflation, he says.
theoretical physicist Alan Guth If other bubble universes exist in the
Multiverse, its possible that long ago one
or more of them may have collided with
our Universe, like two soap bubbles
touching and moving apart. One effect
of such a collision would be to leave a
distinctive, but faint, disc-shaped pattern
in the polarisation of the background
radiation. Such rings would be too big
to be seen by BICEP2, but cosmologists
have worked out what kind of patterns
should be seen as a result of collisions.
Daniel Mortlock, of Imperial College
London, says that the team took great
care to assess how likely it was that the
possible bubble collision signatures could
have arisen by chance.
Perhaps the greatest significance of the
new discovery, though, is the implication
that our Universe is not unique. If eternal
inflation is correct, and all the evidence
says that it is, then our Universe is just one
among many. Among other things, this
explains why it seems so conveniently set
up for the existence of life forms like us.
If our Universe is unique this is a puzzle;
if there are infinitely many universes, some
suitable for life and some not, there will be
nobody in sterile universes to notice their
Cosmologist George Gamow existence. There will only be observers
was a proponent and developer in fertile universes. The fact that we are
of the Big Bang theory here to notice the Universe means that we
live in a Universe suitable for life.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 105


HUBBLES

TOP 10
DISCOVERIES
The Hubble Space Telescope has been observing the
Universe for a quarter of a century. AMY TYNDALL
takes a look at some of its most incredible discoveries

T
wenty-five years ago, one of the most famous and awe-inspiring
pieces of technology the Hubble Space Telescope was
launched. Hitching a ride with the Space Shuttle Discovery in
1990, Hubble was placed in low-Earth orbit, where it has been
continuously observing the night sky ever since. Observations
have been carried out across all wavelengths of light, from
ultraviolet to infrared, which have given astronomers an
unprecedented window on the Universe.
But what have they learned from its breathtaking pictures? To find out, we
PHOTO: NASA X5

polled 100 professional astronomers around the world and the results are in

106 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


HUBBL E SPACE T EL E S C OPE

An infrared glow was spoted on 13 June


2013 but had faded by 3 July (right)

CAUSE OF GAMMA-RAY BURSTS


8 This Hubble image shows
four stars surrounded by
protoplanetary discs (proplyds)

10
The fuzzy-looking galaxy above was home
to one of the most energetic events in the PROTOPLANETARY DISCS
Universe: a gamma-ray burst (GRB). These
lashes of gamma-ray radiation are an enigma These lat discs of cold dust telescopes had previously
because theyre so rare - a typical galaxy and gas are let over from detected the objects, which
produces only a few every million years. Yet they release as much the formation of a new star were initially believed to be
energy in a few seconds as our Sun does in 10 billion years. On 3 June in the Orion nebula. Part of stars. The idea that they were
2013, a GRB lasting one-tenth of a second occurred and was spoted this material will be lost over discs of material surrounding
by NASAs Swit satellite. When Hubble looked 10 days later, it found time, but some will eventually the star goes back to the
an infrared glow where the burst had been. But, by 3 July, it had faded. clump together in pebble- 1700s, but confirmation
This disappearing glow was the dying embers of another kind of sized grains before potentially didnt come until the late
cosmic explosion - a kilonova believed to be the result of extremely building up to form a baby 1980s, when astronomers
dense stars called neutron stars merging. Since the kilonova was planet. As such, they are managed to detect the disc
found in the same location as the GRB, it was the smoking gun known as protoplanetary through observations of its
revealing that short GRBs could well be caused in the same way. The discs, or proplyds. This what molecules. Hubble provided
kilonova was investigated by Prof Nial Tanvir of Leicester University, our Solar System looked the breakthrough directly
who says Hubble played a vital role. Although Swit discovered this like in its infancy, says Prof imaging numerous proplyds
particular short gamma-ray burst, and observations from ground- C Robert ODell, who made for the first time within the
based telescopes gave us its precise position and distance, Hubble this image. Ground-based Orion nebula.
was the only option for seeing the faint kilonova emission.

9 HOW PLANETARY COLLISIONS WORK


On 16 July 1994, telescopic eyes
were turned on Jupiter as the first
of 21 fragments of the broken-up
comet, Shoemaker-Levy 9, crashed
into the planet. Blotches scarred
the atmosphere for a month before
fading away.
Hubbles observations provided
Dr Amy Simon, senior scientist for
planetary atmospheres research at
NASA Goddard in Maryland.
While ground-based observatories
were also involved, Hubble was
the only one that could look across
an entire range of wavelengths,
irrespective of the time of day or
a wealth of information about weather conditions. Ultraviolet was
Jupiters atmosphere. Obvious particularly important for imaging
waves emanated from the largest dust and aerosols whipped up by the
impacts, like ripples in a pond. From impacts. Hubble observed letover
this, we could make deductions debris and molecules high in the
about the deep atmosphere and atmosphere for months, and even
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9s water below the clouds, explains years, aterwards, says Dr Simon.
impact (dark spots) could
be seen on Jupiter

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 107


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

7
Hubble reveals individual stars in the
galaxy M81, including Cepheid variables
that were used to determine that the
Universe is 13.8 billion years old

THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE


This spiral galaxy, M81, was the first of many galaxies observed the relationship between a Cepheids brightness and its
by Hubble to find the expansion rate, and therefore the age, pulsation rate, it is possible to estimate its distance. Cepheids
of the Universe. Before the launch of Hubble, there was a are the most accurate way of measuring the distances to
heated debate over whether the Universe was 10 or 20 billion galaxies, and for seting the expansion rate of the Universe.
years old, says Prof Wendy Freedman, an astronomer at the The high resolution of Hubbles instruments meant that the
University of Chicago. Freedman set out to measure Cepheid team was able to discover over 800 Cepheids in 24 nearby
variable stars pulsating stars whose brightness increases and galaxies. The Hubble measurements helped to determine that
decreases over a timescale of days to months. By determining the age of the Universe is 13.8 billion years.

SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLES The NGC 2808 globular cluster


contains over one million stars
Black holes are difficult of three different generations

6 to find. Their intense

5
gravitational force is
so strong that not even
light can escape their
pull, making them invisible. But by
measuring the speed of material that
surrounds a black hole, its possible
to calculate its mass using the laws of gravity. If there is more
mass than is accounted for by the stars we see, the rest could
be due to a black hole. By the early 1990s, it was suspected GENERATIONS OF STARS
that a supermassive black hole (SMBH) was at the centre of a
Globular clusters are compact NGC 2808 globular cluster. While
handful of galaxies. Soon ater its launch, Hubble confirmed
crowds of hundreds of only a single generation of stars
earlier SMBH detections by taking images five times sharper
thousands of stars bound was expected, three generations
than those obtained from the ground, explains Dr Marc Sarzi
together by gravity. For many were actually found. Hubbles
from the University of Hertfordshire. Hubble became known
years, the common consensus power to observe in both
as a black hole hunter, due to its ability to measure the speed
was that all the stars within visible and ultraviolet light also
of surrounding gas and stars. The results from its observations
must be very similar, having made it easier to spot multiple
suggest they evolved together, as Dr Sarzi explains. It has
formed close together from the populations of stars and track
turned SMBHs from being exotic curiosities to an integral part
same dusty cloud. But, in 2005, their evolutionary paths. It has
PHOTO: NASA X5

of our understanding of galaxy formation.


Hubble measured the brightness now observed more than 60
and colours of stars inside the globular clusters.

108 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


HUBBL E SPACE T EL E S C OPE

EXOPLANET ATMOSPHERES
As of February 2015, 1,890 is analysed by a spectrograph,
planets had been detected which is an instrument that
orbiting stars other than our Sun. splits the light into constituent
An impressive photo of one of wavelengths, explains Prof David
these exoplanets has yet to be Charbonneau, leader of the team
taken, but Hubble was first to behind the discovery. The idea
detect the atmosphere of one of was to gather spectra when
these alien worlds. the planet was in front of the
HD 209458-b, also known as star and when it moved away.
Osiris, is a planet 150 light-years By comparing them, we would
from Earth. Temperatures reach search for the appearance of
a scorching 1,100C as it orbits new features when the planet
just 6.4 million kilometres from was in transit. This required an
its parent star. As the orbiting extremely stable platform that
planet moves in front of the star, was free from the absorption
some of the light passes through effects of our atmosphere. Only
the planets atmosphere. This Hubble could do it!

Artists impression of the


planet Osiris, which lies

4
150 light-years from Earth

Hubble allowed scientists to


create this 3D map of dark
matter the distance from Earth
increases from left to right

DARK MATTER
This picture reveals the us, leaving a telltale imprint
presence of something we of its journey. You cant see
cant see: dark mater. The such faraway, faint galaxies
galaxies, stars and planets from Earth because the
that we can see make up just atmosphere blurs the detail.
15 per cent of the Universes This is why we needed
mater. The remaining 85 per Hubble, explains Massey.
cent is dark mater and it The dark mater bends
neither emits nor absorbs the light in a gravitational
any known wavelength of lensing effect, making the
light. With this map, we galaxies appear distorted. By
saw for the first time where observing this, its possible
dark mater is, says Durham to deduce where dark mater
University physicist Dr lies. It acts as scaffolding,
Richard Massey. To construct along which galaxies are

3
it, half a million galaxies were assembled. When the
observed by Hubble and first explorers reached the
ground-based telescopes. American West, they sat on a
When light travels across ridge and tried to understand
the Universe, it passes the lie of the land. We were
through all the intervening doing the same thing on a
dark mater on its way to new frontier.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 109


BE YOND T HE S O L A R SY S T E M

ACCELERATING THE EXPANSION OF THE UNIVERSE


These galaxies, hosting energetic supernovae how the brightness of supernovae changed Hubble played a supporting role in this
(exploding stars), contributed to one of the over time. It showed light coming from the initial discovery by providing data for
most talked-about discoveries in recent most distant exploding stars was fainter three of the supernovae the research
years. Not only is the and more stretched (red-shited) than team wanted to observe. Also, by finding

2
expansion of the Universe predicted. It meant they were further away and precisely measuring another 16
accelerating, it is being than astronomers calculated a result that supernovae at distances up to 10 billion
fuelled by a phenomenon didnt fit with the existing idea that the tug light-years away, Hubble was able to confirm
dubbed dark energy. of gravity was causing the expansion of the not just the acceleration, but that the
In 1998, astronomers Universe to slow down. The expansion rate Universe had indeed been decelerating in
released new data on is not slowing at all. Its speeding up. earlier times, just as predicted.

HOW GALAXIES EVOLVE


This image, dappled with beautiful more than 100 hours, showcased
shapes and a whole array of colours, the power of Hubble. It revealed
changed the way we think about an incredible amount of detail and
the distant Universe forever. One structure to galaxies that had never
of Hubbles most famous images, been seen before.
the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) is a A lot of astronomers were sceptical
snapshot of a tiny patch of sky in the that we would learn a lot from
constellation Ursa Major. It covers an simply pointing the telescope at a
area of just one 24-millionth of the fairly arbitrary spot in the sky and
whole sky. And yet this minute window taking long exposures, says Dr Henry
reveals around 3,000 galaxies crowded Ferguson, a member of the original
together, giving astronomers a vital HDF team. However, the plethora of

1
window into the past. information that appeared convinced
There had been predictions that the most that this was a good technique.
light emited from such distant objects Today, astronomers are finding
would be stretched out so much galaxies from a time when the
that they would appear as nothing Universe was only 500 million years
more than faint smudges against the old. As Dr Ferguson rightly and
PHOTO: NASA X8, ESA X4

blackness. They could not have been excitedly exclaims, it is one of the
more wrong. This image, made up of most important observations ever
342 separate exposures taken over made with any telescope!

110 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


HUBBL E SPACE T EL E S C OPE

BEYOND HUBBLE
Ten other space telescopes with the unknown in their sights

CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY SWIFT


Operated by: NASA Operated by: NASA
In service: 1999- In service: 2004-
Originally scheduled to serve a five-year Swit is devoted to observing gamma-ray
mission, Chandra was launched aboard bursts (GRBs), huge explosions that oten
Space Shutle Columbia in July 1999. But it signal the collapse of massive stars and the
continues to orbit Earth today at an altitude of creation of a black hole. In November 2015,
139,000km detecting X-ray emission from particular Swit discovered its 1,000th GRB; such a milestone led
regions of the Universe, such as exploded stars. NASA to report that the spacecrat remains in great shape
ater 11 years service.
HERSCHEL SPACE OBSERVATORY
Operated by: European Space Agency INTEGRAL
In service: 2009-2013 Operated by: European Space Agency
Named ater William Herschel (the In service: 2002
astronomer who discovered Uranus) and Like Swit, INTEGRAL (aka INTErnational
his collaborator/sister Caroline, Herschel was Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) was
the largest infrared telescope ever launched. It charged with observing gamma rays. Originally
collected a substantial amount of data during its lifespan, a two-year mission, the spacecrats fuel supply is such
which ended when, as expected, its coolant supplies ran dry. that it should still be in service beyond 2020.

KEPLER XMM-NEWTON
Operated by: NASA Operated by: European Space Agency
In service: 2009- In service: 1999-
Kepler was constructed to discover The biggest-ever European-built
extrasolar planets orbiting their own stars. scientific satellite observed much more
In the years since its launch, this planet- than any existing X-ray satellite when
hunter has found in excess of 500 possible it was launched at the tail end of the
new planets, including Kepler-452b, thought to share more last millennium. Initially planned as a two-year mission to
characteristics with Earth than any other planet yet discovered. undertake various observations, the XMM-Newton (XMM stands
for X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission) continues its work more than
SPITZER SPACE TELESCOPE 16 years ater its launch.
Operated by: NASA
In service: 2003- STEREO
Spitzer is the fourth and final part of NASAs Operated by: NASA
Great Observatories programme, along In service: 2006-
with the Hubble, Compton Gamma Ray As the name suggests, STEREO is a mission
Observatory and Chandra missions. Its infrared involving two near-identical spacecrat.
instruments allow it to observe whats otherwise invisible The orbit of one is ahead of Earth, while
in our universe, relaying images of stars previously obscured the orbit of the other is behind. Their main
by cosmic dust. purpose is to record stereoscopic images
of the Sun, photographing parts invisible from Earth.
PLANCK OBSERVATORY
Operated by: European Space Agency JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE
In service: 2009-2013 Operated by: NASA
During its lifespan, Planck was described In service: 2018-tbc
by the ESA as a cosmic time machine due The planned successor to Hubble, this
to its success in enlightening us about the $8.8bn spacecrat will orbit Earth at
history of the Universe. It scanned deep space a distance of 930,000 miles while its
for cosmic radiation background, the oldest light in infra-red instruments observe light from
the Universe that was created just 380,000 years ater the early universe. Named ater inluential Apollo administrator
the Big Bang. James E Webb, its launch is scheduled for October 2018.

THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR 111


5
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
AND RECEIVE
SUBSCRIPTION ORDER FORM SPECIAL SUBSCRIPTION OFFER
Order by phone, online or complete the order form below and send it to:
FREEPOST IMMEDIATE MEDIA (This must be written in block capitals)
Trial your first 5 issues for just 5*
After your trial period, continue to save a fantastic
Address Details FOBZ16 35% on the shop price, paying just 16.57 every
6 issues by Direct Debit
Title Forename
Surname Receive every issue delivered direct to your door with
Address FREE UK delivery
Postcode
Home Tel Number Mobile Number
Email address

Your personal information will be used as set out in our Privacy Policy, which can be viewed online at immediate.co.uk/privacy-policy
Immediate Media Company Limited would love to send you newsletters, together with special offers, and other promotions. Please tick
here if youd prefer not to receive these by email text message regular post telephone

Branded BBC titles are licensed from or published jointly with BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). Please tick here if
youd like to receive regular newsletters, special offers and promotions from BBC Worldwide by email. Your information will be handled
in accordance with the BBC Worldwide privacy policy which can be viewed online at bbcworldwide.com/privacy.aspx

Payment Details
By Direct Debit Receive 5 issues for 5 then pay 16.57 every
6 issues (saving 35%).

INSTRUCTION TO YOUR This is not part of the instruction to


BANK OR BUILDING SOCIETY your bank or building society. For
Immediate Media official use only.
TO PAY DIRECT DEBIT
Originators reference: 710644 Ref. no

Name of your bank or building society Sort Code Account No.

Address Instructions to your bank or building society:


Pay Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited direct debits
from the account detailed on this instruction, subject to
Postcode the safeguards assured by the Direct Debit guarantee. I
Name of account holder(s) understand that this instruction may remain with Immediate
Media Company Bristol Limited and, if so, details will be
passed electronically to my bank or building society.

Signature: Date:
Banks and building societies may not accept Direct Debit instructions for some types of account.

Or by Cheque/Credit Card
UK 41.43 for 13 issues (saving 25%)
Europe 54.96 for 13 issues
Rest of the world 59.99 for 13 issues
Cheque Visa Mastercard Switch/Maestro
(If credit card address is different please use the order hotline 0844 848 9747)

Card Number
Valid from Expiry date Issue no
CONNECTING YOU
WITH THE WORLD
(Switch/Maestro only)

Name and address must be that of registered card holder

Signature: Date:
*This offer is only available to UK residents paying by Direct Debit. Your subscription will start with the next available issue. After your
first five issues, your subscription will continue at 16.57 every 6 issues, saving you 35% on the shop price. If you cancel within two
weeks of receiving your second issue, you will pay no more than 5. Offer ends 31 December 2016.
AROUND YOU
5
*
ISSUES SUBSCRIBE
TODAY &

SAVE
FOR JUST
With a wealth of interesting and stimulating facts and discoveries across
a diverse array of subjects, every issue of BBC Focus Magazine will
surprise and enlighten you. Dont miss out, subscribe today!

SUBSCRIBE TO BBC FOCUS MAGAZINE TODAY


ORDER ONLINE AT OR CALL PLEASE
QUOTE
WWW.BUYSUBSCRIPTIONS.COM/FOCUS 0844 844 0257 FOBZ16
Calls will cost 7p per minute plus your telephone companys access charge. Lines are open weekdays 8am to 8pm and Saturdays 9am -1pm. If calling from overseas, please call +44 1795 414699.
C ON T R IBU T OR S

MEET THE EXPERTS BEHIND


THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR

Catherine Offord Elizabeth Pearson


Catherine is a Elizabeth is the
science writer news editor of
Marcus Chown who is currently BBC Sky at Night
Marcus splits studying for a Magazine and
his time PhD at Princeton has a PhD in
between writing, University astrophysics from
broadcasting and the University
performing stand- Brian Clegg Giles Sparrow of Cardiff Colin Stuart
up comedy. Hes Brian is the author Giles is a science Colin writes and
the author of a of many science author whose broadcasts about
number of books, books, including books include science and
among them Science For Life: A Hubble: Window is the author of
Quantum Theory Manual For Better On The Universe The Big Questions
Cannot Hurt You Living and Gravity: and The In Science and
and We Need To Why What Goes Up Cosmic Gallery Physics In
Talk About Kelvin Must Come Down 100 Numbers

Govert Schilling
John Gribbin Govert is the
John is Visiting author of Atlas
Fellow in Of Astronomical
Astronomy at Discoveries and
the University of has an asteroid
Sussex and the named after him
author of In Search 10986 Govert
Of The Multiverse
Will Gater
Will is an
Robert Matthews astronomy Amy Tyndall
Robert combines journalist and Amy holds a
a career as a broadcaster. PhD from the
science journalist His books include University of
and author with The Cosmic Manchesters
being Visiting Keyhole and Jodrell Bank Centre
Reader in Science The Practical for Astrophysics
Stuart Clark at Aston University. Astronomer and is currently
Stuart is a Visiting His research has Dave Jewitt Hazel Muir reaching for the
Fellow of the also won him an Dave is a professor Hazel studied stars in Chile
University of Ig Noble Prize at the University astrophysics
Hertfordshire. of California before becoming a
His latest book Los Angeles, as science journalist.
is The Day well as being She is the author
Without Yesterday the man who of Eureka! Sciences
co-discovered the Greatest Thinkers
Kuiper Belt in 1992 And Their Key
Breakthroughs

114 THE UNIVERSE: THE STORY SO FAR


NEW FROM
Brain not yet full? Thirsty for even more
knowledge about the world around us?
Then you need our brand-new special
edition The Big Book Of Why?

Aimed at curious readers aged anywhere


between 9 and 90, The Big Book Of Why?
solves a wide range of scientic questions
and conundrums about how life works.
With answers provided by the crack team
of experts behind BBC Focus, every page
offers enlightenment and revelation.
Why do we have wisdom teeth? Why do
tigers have stripes? And why is it safer
to sit backwards on a plane?

Plus, a special How It Works section


reveals the cutting-edge thinking
and engineering behind the latest
technology from Formula E racing cars
to robot exoskeletons.

Plus subscribers to BBC Focus O N LY


receive FREE UK POSTAGE 9.9 *
on this special edition!* 9

Discover the natural wonders of the world Let the experts behind BBC Focus The How It Works section examines the
through extraordinary photography fill those gaps in your understanding science powering the latest technology

Order online Or call our order Please


quote

www.buysubscriptions.com/why hotline 0844 844 0257+ BBWHA16

Calls will cost 7p per minute, plus your telephone companys access charge. Lines are open 8am-8pm weekdays & 9am-1pm Saturday.
* Subscribers to BBC Focus receive FREE UK postage on this special edition. Prices including postage are: 11.49 for all other UK residents,
12.99 for Europe and 13.49 for Rest of World. All orders subject to availability. Please allow up to 21 days for delivery.