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'Dark Stars' of the Cosmos

"Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes"
- The Grateful Dead, 1967

Scientists have concluded in a new study that the first stars in the
newborn universe did not shine, but instead were invisible "dark stars"
400 to 200,000 times wider than the sun and powered by the annihilation
of mysterious dark matter.

The study calculated how the birth of the first stars almost 13 billion
years ago might have been influenced by the presence of dark matter -
the unseen, yet-unidentified stuff that scientists believe makes up most
matter in the universe.

The findings "drastically alter the current theoretical framework for the formation of the
first stars," says study author and astrophysicist Paolo Gondolo of the University of Utah.

It is conceivable that gigantic dark stars may exist today, and although they do not emit
visible light, they could be detected because they should spew gamma rays, neutrinos and
antimatter and be associated with clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen gas that normally
wouldn't harbor such energetic particles, he adds.

"Without detailed simulations, we cannot pinpoint the further evolution of dark stars,"
Gondolo says. "They could last months. They could last 600 million years. Or they could last
billions of years and still be around. We have to search for them."

He conducted the study with astrophysicist Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, and graduate student Douglas Spolyar of the University of California, Santa
Cruz.

Gondolo says he wanted to call the new, theoretical kind of invisible star a "brown giant" -
similar to the dim but smaller, Jupiter-sized stars known as "brown dwarfs." But he says his
co-authors insisted on calling them "dark stars," after the song "Dark Star" first played in
1967 by The Grateful Dead.

Gondolo says some studies have considered the role of dark matter in the evolution of the
early universe, but until now, not in the formation of the first stars.
Scientists know dark matter exists because galaxies rotate faster than can be explained by
the visible matter within them. Also, observations by satellites, balloons and telescopes
have led to the estimate that all the visible matter represents only 4 percent of the
universe, which also is made of 23 percent dark matter and 73 percent "dark energy" - a
yet-unknown force helping the universe expand, Gondolo says.

WIMPS - or weakly interacting massive particles - are among the main candidates for dark
matter. Gondolo says "neutralinos" are a type of WIMP that must exist under particle
physics theories that seek to explain the origin of mass in the universe. Scientists generally
believe that the universe came into being 13 billion years ago in a sudden expansion or
"inflation" of time and space known as the "big bang."

The afterglow of that explosion - cosmic microwave background radiation - developed
small fluctuations in temperature that caused some of the earliest matter to begin
clumping together, a process accelerated by gravity and that produced the first stars and
galaxies. The matter was mostly dark matter but also included normal matter in the form
of hydrogen and helium gas.

The conventional theory of how the first stars were born holds that as hydrogen and helium
atoms clumped and swirled together in proto-stellar clouds, they began to cool, making
the cloud shrink and become denser. The cooling and shrinking of the embryonic star
continues until the fusion of hydrogen into helium begins, igniting the fusion engine that
burns in our sun and other stars.

For the new study, the astrophysicists calculated how dark matter would have affected the
temperature and density of gas that clumped together to form the first stars.

The findings suggest that dark matter neutralinos interacted so they "annihilated" each
other, producing subatomic particles called quarks and their antimatter counterparts,
antiquarks. That generated heat. As a proto-stellar cloud of hydrogen and helium tried to
cool and shrink, the dark matter would keep it hot and large, preventing fusion from
igniting the star.

"The heating can counteract the cooling, and so the star stops contracting for a while,
forming a dark star," some 80 million to 100 million years after the big bang, says Gondolo.
"This is our main result."

"They are much bigger than the sun," Gondolo says, with diameters ranging from about 4
astronomical units (372 million miles, or four times the average distance between the sun
and Earth) to 2,000 astronomical units - big enough to swallow 15,000 solar systems like
our own.

The quarks and antiquarks produced within the dark star would, in turn, generate
descendant particles including gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter such as positrons and
antiprotons, Gondolo says.

"With your bare eyes, you can't see a dark star. But the radiation would fry you."

Gondolo says dark stars may explain why black holes - collapsed stars so dense that not
even light escapes - formed much faster than expected. Gondolo says black holes existed
only a few hundred million years after the big bang, yet current theories say they took
longer to form. "These dark stars may help. They could collapse into black holes very early
because they are very short-lived and formed when the universe was young, at least in one
scenario."

Posted by Casey Kazan. Adapted from a University of Utah release.

The Dark Secret of the Cosmos

One of the fascinating ironies of nature is that the
most abundant form of energy in the universe is
mysterious stuff that we cannot see. New evidence
has confirmed that the expansion of the universe is
accelerating under the influence of a gravitationally
repulsive form of energy that makes up two-thirds of
the cosmos.

Like detectives in a good thriller, astronomers
throughout the world have built up a description of
the culprit responsible for the acceleration
stretching space–time apart -dark energy, the
cosmological constant : gravitationally repulsive, it
does not appear to cluster in galaxies.

As we reported last week in the Daily Galaxy, an international team of scientists, including
two researchers from Texas A&M are working on a project called ESSENCE that studies
supernovae (exploding stars) to figure out if dark energy is consistent with Einstein’s
cosmological constant.

In 1917, Einstein was working on his Theory of General Relativity and was trying to come
up with an equation that describes a static universe – one that stands still and does not
collapse under the force of gravity in a big crunch. In order to keep the universe static in
his theory, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant – a force that opposes the force of
gravity.

Then, 12 years later, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not static – it is actually
expanding. So Einstein scrapped his idea of a cosmological constant and dismissed it as his
biggest blunder.

In 1998, however, two teams of scientists, one of which Texas A&M researcher Nicholas
Suntzeff co-founded, discovered that the universe is not only expanding, but its expansion
is actually accelerating – going faster and faster.

“So there had to be some other force that had overcome the force of gravity and is driving
the universe into an exponential acceleration,” Suntzeff explained. This opposing force is
what scientists now call dark energy, and it is believed to constitute roughly 74 percent of
the universe. The other constituents of the universe are dark matter, which composes
about 22 percent of the universe, and ordinary matter, which is about 4 percent.

“Eighty years later, it turns out that Einstein may have been right [about a cosmological
constant],” fellow Texas A&M researcher Kevin Krisciunas added. “So he was smarter than
he gave himself credit for.”

The researchers will look at what is called the redshift of the supernova, which tells them
how fast the universe is expanding. When scientists compare the distance of the supernova
to its redshift, they can measure the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. This
acceleration is caused by the force scientists call dark energy.

The ESSENCE team can then use the value of the acceleration to figure out the density of
dark energy, which they then use to calculate what is called the w-parameter. For
Einstein’s cosmological constant to be correct, the w-parameter must equal -1, and so far,
the results of the ESSENCE project seem to confirm that Einstein was right.

“The magic value is -1 exactly,” Krisciunas said. “If the number turns out to be precisely -1
, then this dark energy is a relatively simple thing – it is Einstein’s cosmological constant.”
The team won’t have the final results until later next year, but right now, the
measurement is coming in at -1 plus or minus 10 percent error, Suntzeff said, so the initial
points to Einstein having been correct all along.

Suntzeff is excited to see what else their research will yield. “Dark energy is completely
unexplained by conventional physics. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the 5th dimension
from string theory. Or maybe it is a new vacuum energy density that is changing slowly in
time. We have no idea, and that is what excites both physicists and astronomers.”

Galaxies and the cosmic background hold significant clues. Equipment that can make a
more robust comparison between galaxy patterns across the sky and investigate
temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, helping trace the pattern
of galaxy formation, is being made available. Methods for further observation of
supernovae are expanding and improving too.

Eric Linder and Saul Perlmutter write in the December issue of Physics World, “The field of
dark energy is very young and we may have a long and exciting period of exploration ahead
before it matures.”

"The existence of gravitationally repulsive dark energy," they write, "would have
dramatic consequences for fundamental physics. The most conservative
suggestions are that the universe is filled with a uniform sea of quantum zero-
point energy, or a condensate of new particles that have a mass that is 10-39
times smaller than that of the electron. Some researchers have also suggested
changes to Einstein's general theory of relativity, such as a new long-range force
that moderates the strength of gravity.

"Inflation proposes that the very early universe underwent a period of
accelerated expansion, which was driven by a particle called the inflaton.
However, inflation would have stretched away any large-scale spatial curvature,
leaving the geometry of the universe Euclidean or flat. The evidence therefore
suggests a form of energy that does not cluster in galaxies, that is gravitationally
repulsive, and that might possibly be due to some new particle not unlike the
inflaton."

The only direct evidence for cosmic acceleration - that is for gravitationally repulsive dark
energy - came from the supernova data.

Supernova studies will accelerate dramatically if the Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM), the
satellite telescope which will deliver the final word on cosmic acceleration from
supernovae being proposed by the US Department of Energy and NASA goes ahead as
proposed ten years hence.

Stay tuned as we learn what two-thirds of universe -stuff we can't see- is made of...

( Image above: Edge of darkness - data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey support the
existence of dark energy. Credit: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab).

Preons - Because Subatomic Physics Wasn't Complicated
Enough

There was a time when discovering a new particle
would win you the Nobel prize - these days you get a
$50 gift voucher and told to stop causing trouble. The
Greeks figured that the smallest possible unit was the
atom - named for their word for 'uncuttable'. This got
cut up into a nucleus and orbiting electrons, then we
smashed the nucleus up into nucleons (protons and
neutrons), the electron into leptons, and just because
there weren't quite enough different colours on the
"Sub-atomic particles chart" yet we figured out how to break the nucleons and other
hadrons into quarks.

So it's a combination of excitement and a muttered sigh of "again?" that greets the
predictions of researchers of Luleå University of Sweden. Fredrik Sandin and Johan
Hansson support the idea that quarks themselves (previous holders of "that's it, these
are the smallest pieces for real this time" award) are in fact made up of smaller preon
particles. Preon models have been popular as early as the 1980s, after which they lost
ground against the scientifically-sexier superstring suppositions. Twenty years later and
with no pesky 'validation' in sight, it seems that people are once again interested in
proving the preon.

And what proofs they've postulated. Normally a scientist designing an experiment to
detect a tiny sub-sub-atomic structure finds themselves saying thing like "I think there's
this utterly insanely tiny thing that's never been directly observed in any form, so to
prove it I'd like you to hollow out a mountain for me and fill it with carefully prepared
chemicals". Luckily for scientists swimming against the string-tide, the proof of their
theory wouldn't be quite so costly. They postulate that isolated clumps of preon matter
created during the Big Bang may have remained stable, rather than following the preon-
quark-hadron-atom-molecule-solid-iphone(or whatever) condensation that most of the
material did.

These hyper-dense chunks of primordial preons would still be shooting about the cosmos
creating effects we could easily observe. These effects include bending light, creating
gravity waves and drilling lines of seismic shocks through the Earth's crust - so if you can
detect those, you've either foundpreons or are being attacked by the X-Men. More
importantly such seismic signatures could conceivably be detected in the wealth of
seismic data already being recorded worldwide - and the gravity waves would be of a
frequency detectable by table-top devices rather than the "Bond Villain Lair" scale such
equipment normally demands.

Observation is the only route available to the enthusiastic particle master ("gotta detect
'em all!") While other sub-hadron units can be briefly observed with a few miles of
accelerator and enough power to light up a city - don't try this at home - the only way
to producepreons would be to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. Nine out of ten
Mad Scientists agree that while that would be the most awesome experiment ever, the
only people who'd get useful data out of it would be whoever evolved to sentience in
the newly created universe.

Fredrik and Johan have already worked out a system whereby a trio of preons could
combine to construct all the quarks already observed. The math is ready, the idea is
interesting, and all they're missing is some experimental verification. Just like all the
other theories we have in that field - but with verifiable tests ready to go, even being
proved wrong would be a useful result for everyone.

Posted by Luke McKinney

Links:

Splitting the quark
http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071130/full/news.2007.292.html

How preons make quarks (WARNING: Heavy science ahead)
http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/9909569
Strange Neutron Star is Racing Through Milky Way at 3
Million MPH

One of the the fastest-moving
stars ever discovered in the Milky
Way is challenging theories about
why it's moving so fast.

The object is a piece of the Puppis
A supernova remnant created
when a massive star ended its life
in a supernova explosion about 3,700 years ago, forming an incredibly dense object
called a neutron star.

Astronomers used five years of NASA's Chandra X-ray
Observatory images to show that the rogue star, poetically
dubbed RX J0822-4300 (shown in image moving from point A
in 1999 to point B in 2005), is careening away from what's
left of a star that exploded about 3,700 years ago. The
neutron star is exiting the Milky Way at about 3 million mph (4.8 million kph). Other
hypervelocity stars known to be exiting the Milky Way move at speeds about one-third
as great - believed to be hurled toward interstellar space by an aggressive, supermassive
black hole at our galaxy's center.

"Just after it was born, this neutron star got a one-way ticket out of the galaxy," said
co-author Robert Petre, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md. "Astronomers have seen other stars being flung out of the Milky Way, but
few as fast as this."

In the case of RX J0822-4300, a tremendous lopsided supernova explosion launched the
neutron star to its blinding speed. It has traveled 20 light-years thus far, and will take
millions of years to escape the clutches of the Milky Way. Despite using advanced
computer models to simulate how such a stellar rocket could form, astronomers have no
concrete explanation.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

Related Galaxy posts:
Link:

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-11/29/content_7167962.htm

Jurassic Park Roundup –The Top 10 Discoveries of '07

This year was a great one, at least in terms of dinosaur
discoveries. Here’s a sampling of some of the most
odd, interesting, fantastic and unusual findings of the
year.

1. A Huge Shark-Eating Predator

The remains of an enormous, previously unknown
carnivorous dinosaur was found. The monster once
thrived around a giant lake 200 million years ago. The
fearsome predator specialized in eating and catching
giant sharks and huge bony fish that, when consumed,
would have been "like biting through chain mail," Utah
State paleontologist James Kirkland said. These dinos also make it to the top of the “10
Dinosaurs You’d Never Want to Pet” list. Link

2. Dinosaur Mass Grave Unearthed in Switzerland

There is hope for those of us who like to dig around in our backyard for prehistoric
remains. Some random dude in Switzerland discovered what appears to be Europe's
largest dinosaur graveyard. "A hobby paleontologist looked at a construction site for a
house and happened to discover the bones," said Monica Ruembeli from the Frick
dinosaur museum. The area contains the bones of more than 100 Plateosaurus. Not a
bad find for an amateur! Link

3. Tyrannosaurus Rex Tasted Like Chicken
Protein resembling chicken has been extracted from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus
rex bone, reinforcing the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. The collagen
tissue was removed from a fossilized thighbone belonging to the giant predator. Analysis
showed it was structurally very similar to chicken protein. The bones were unearthed
still surrounded by soft tissues, including blood vessels, making it a very rare find. Link

4. Research Likely Solves the World’s Biggest Murder Mystery

Apparently, even killing off the dinosaurs was a job outsourced to India. The latest
research reveals that a series of monumental volcanic eruptions in India is likely
responsible for killing off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Previously it was believed
that the likely suspect was a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the
volcanic eruptions in India created the gigantic Deccan Traps lava beds that spewed ten
times more climate altering gases into the atmosphere than the nearly concurrent
Chicxulub meteor impact. This makes the volcanoes the prime suspect in the most
famous and persistent paleontological murder mystery. Scientists have recently
conducted several new investigations and were able to hone in on the eruptions timing,
which matched nearly perfectly with the dinos extinction. Very suspicious, indeed. "It's
the first time we can directly link the main phase of the Deccan Traps to the mass
extinction," said Princeton University paleontologist Gerta Keller. Link

5. Teenage Pregnancy Was Widespread Among Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs probably did not enjoy many carefree teenage years, since most were parents
before they reached adulthood, according to research announced this year. The find
puts dinosaurs on the list of other animals with teenage pregnancy, including crocodiles,
lizards and humans. Link

6. 4-Story Tall Prehistoric Species Discovered
Paleontologists have discovered a nearly complete fossil of a new species of giant
dinosaur that once roamed what is now northern Patagonia. It is one of the biggest
dinosaurs yet found on the planet. Named Futalognkosaurus dukei, the massive
herbivore lived about 80 million years ago. It measured an estimated 105 feet to 112
feet and was as tall as a four-storey building. "It's a new species, it's a new group,"
confirmed Argentine paleontologist Juan Porfiri. "Its neck was very big in diameter,
strong and huge." The huge herbivore was so big that it now ranks in the worlds top 3
largest dinos ever discovered.
Link

7. Jurassic Park Turns Out to Be Scientific Prophecy

Remember the Velociraptor nightmare in Jurassic park? Most of the fictional attributes
they made up for these nightmarish predators turned out to not be fiction after all. One
aspect of the book/movie was the way that the Velociraptor’s hunted in packs. There is
now solid proof that such behavior was the norm for raptors. Even more incredible, the
third claw prediction of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs proved to be accurate as well. In the
movie, the Velociraptor had evolved to hold its third claw up off the ground so it
wouldn’t wear. There has so far been no archaeological evidence to support such an
idea, until now. Raptor tracks were found with two long toes but only a stub of the toes
that would have bore the long third claw. This indicates that the animal did indeed hold
its third claw off the ground when it moved, keeping it razor sharp. Link

8. The Toothy “Arnold Schwarzenegger” Giant Duckbill

The ultimate prehistoric lawnmower was discovered this year. The lumbering duck-
billed giant had more than enough teeth to eat almost any vegetation it stumbled
across. The 75 million year old monster found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National
Monument and was approximately 30 ft long, weighed several tons and had a most
impressive set of gnashers. The business-end of its lower jaws measured two feet and
carried 40 rows of teeth. At any given time, the dinosaur had over 300 teeth available
for chomping and numerous replacement teeth waiting as back up, so in all this duckbill
could have carried more than 800 teeth around. That's a lot of teeth, and for an
herbivore it was an unusually muscular fellow to boot. It was "the Arnold
Schwarzenegger of duck-billed dinosaurs," says Scott Sampson of the Utah Museum of
Natural History. Link

9. Ancient Sea Scorpion Bigger than Humans Unearthed
This next isn’t technically a dinosaur, and its origins are long before dinos roamed the
Earth. But it is prehistoric and gigantic, so we’ll let it slide. Researchers have found the
fossilized claw of a 2.5-meter (8-foot) sea scorpion, a creature straight seemingly
straight from a B-grade horror movie, living long before the age of dinosaurs. The 390-
million-year-old specimen unearthed in a German quarry is leading scientists to believe
that prehistoric spiders, insects and crabs were likely all much larger than previously
believed, note scientists at Britain's Bristol University. "This is an amazing discovery,"
said researcher Simon Braddy. "We have known for some time that the fossil record
yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo
dragonflies but we never realized, until now, just how big some of these ancient creepy-
crawlies were." Link

10. Some Dinos Liked to Burrow and Were Loving Parents

Dinosaurs are always getting a bad rap for being neglectful parents. The popular idea is
that they laid their eggs and ran, but now the 95-million-year-old skeletal remains of
some diminutive dinosaurs—along with the bones of two juveniles suggest otherwise.
They were found tucked into a fossilized chamber at the end of a sediment-filled
burrow in southwestern Montana. "The discovery represents the first scientific evidence
that some dinosaurs not only dug burrows but also cared extensively for their young
inside their dens," says Anthony Martin, senior lecturer in Emory's Department of
Environmental Studies. This newly named species of dinosaur is called Oryctodromeus
cubicularis, meaning "digging runner of the lair." So there, everyone can just stop
making generalized judgments about dinosaur parenting skills.
Link

Einstein’s “Biggest Blunder” May Turn Out to Be His
Greatest Success

A new project is revealing that Einstein was probably wrong about being wrong. In other
words, Einstein was right even though he didn’t know it. His self-proclaimed “biggest
blunder” was a postulation of a cosmological constant (a force that opposes gravity and
keeps the universe from collapsing) may actually be completely correct, according to
the research of an international team of scientists. WOW. That means Einstein was so
damn smart that even his biggest failure will likely turn out to be true.
This international team of scientists,
including two researchers from Texas A&M
are now working on a project called
ESSENCE that studies supernovae
(exploding stars) to figure out if dark
energy – the accelerating force of the
universe – is consistent with Einstein’s
cosmological constant.

So here’s how the whole “blunder”
situation developed. In 1917, Einstein was
working on his Theory of General
Relativity and was trying to come up with an equation that describes a static universe –
one that stands still and does not collapse under the force of gravity in a big crunch. In
order to keep the universe static in his theory, Einstein introduced a cosmological
constant – a force that opposes the force of gravity.

Then, 12 years later, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not static – it is
actually expanding. So Einstein scrapped his idea of a cosmological constant and
dismissed it as his biggest blunder.

In 1998, however, two teams of scientists, one of which Texas A&M researcher Nicholas
Suntzeff co-founded, discovered that the universe is not only expanding, but its
expansion is actually accelerating – going faster and faster.

“So there had to be some other force that had overcome the force of gravity and is
driving the universe into an exponential acceleration,” Suntzeff explained. This
opposing force is what scientists now call dark energy, and it is believed to constitute
roughly 74 percent of the universe. The other constituents of the universe are dark
matter, which composes about 22 percent of the universe, and ordinary matter, which is
about 4 percent.

“Eighty years later, it turns out that Einstein may have been right [about a cosmological
constant],” fellowTexas A&M researcher Kevin Krisciunas added. “So he was smarter
than he gave himself credit for.”
The researchers will look at what is called the redshift of the supernova, which tells
them how fast the universe is expanding. When scientists compare the distance of the
supernova to its redshift, they can measure the acceleration of the expansion of the
universe. This acceleration is caused by the force scientists call dark energy.

The ESSENCE team can then use the value of the acceleration to figure out the density
of dark energy, which they then use to calculate what is called the w-parameter. For
Einstein’s cosmological constant to be correct, the w-parameter must equal -1, and so
far, the results of the ESSENCE project seem to confirm that Einstein was right.

“The magic value is -1 exactly,” Krisciunas said. “If the number turns out to be precisely
-1, then this dark energy is a relatively simple thing – it is Einstein’s cosmological
constant.” The team won’t have the final results until later next year, but right now,
the measurement is coming in at -1 plus or minus 10 percent error, Suntzeff said, so the
initial points to Einstein having been correct all along.

Suntzeff is excited to see what else their research will yield. “Dark energy is completely
unexplained by conventional physics. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the 5th
dimension from string theory. Or maybe it is a new vacuum energy density that is
changing slowly in time. We have no idea, and that is what excites both physicists and
astronomers.”

Posted by Rebecca Sato

*this post was adapted from a Texas A&M news release

Deconstructing Pangea -Map of Ancient Earth Not
Matching Up

Everyone loves a good mystery.
There’s nothing quite as good as
sitting down, and trying to work out
whether it actually was the butler,
or if poor Jeeves was simply framed.
But mysteries come in all shapes
and sizes, as can be attested to by
researchers from the University of
Michigan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
For the last 25 years or so, geoscientists and paleomagnetic records have combined
to show that what is now the Colorado Plateau, shifted more than 1,300 miles north
as part of the supercontinent Pangea, during a 100-million-year span. This is believed
to have happened during the early Jurassic Period, when Pangea began to break up;
ending about 200 million years ago.

However new evidence has presented a ‘conundrum’ to scientists.

"It's a puzzle, a 'conundrum' is the word we like to use," said Robert Oglesby of UNL.
"And in the Science paper, we're not solving the conundrum, we're raising the
conundrum."

The ‘conundrum’ centers around research conducted by UNL researcher David Loope,
focused in the Colorado Plateau. Loope, who is an expert on dune formation, found
that from central Wyoming into central Utah, the region’s sandstone formations had
preserved ancient dunes from 300 million to 200 million years ago.

The problem though, was that all these dunes were facing southwest, meaning that
the winds over that large area were almost constantly from the northeast.

His study continued, and as the data continued to come in, he discovered that the
direction of the dunes shifted to the southeast, in what is in modern days, now Utah.
This meant that the winds had shifted to the northwest, and that these prevailing
winds were consistent over a period of 100 million years.

Subsequently, all the information presented adds up to only one conclusion: that that
area was at the equator.

"I thought that was very curious," Loope said. "It didn't seem to fit with what we think
we know about where the continents were."

Along with his UNL co-authors Oglesby and Clinton Rowe, Loope tried to find a
computer model that would account for the new information.

"We ran the model in any different number of configurations just to see if we could
make it do something different," Rowe said. "It didn't matter what we did to it, as
long as you had some land, and it was distributed north and south of the equator, you
would end up with this monsoonal flow that matched these records from the dunes.

“The equator is the only place you could get this large-scale arc of winds that turn
from the northeast to the northwest as they moved south. Nowhere else would you
get that as part of the general circulation unless the physics of the world 200 million
years ago was very different from what it is today. And we just don't think that's the
case."

Enter U-M geophysicist Rob Van der Voo. A paleomagnetic expert, his field of study
allows for scientists to determine the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field at a
certain time in history. The records provided, showed that the area in question – the
Colorado Plateau – moved from the equator to about 20 degrees north latitude from
300 million years ago to 200 million years ago.

"We brought Rob in to try to see if he could help us sort it out, and he's like, 'Gosh,
guys, I don't know. This is a conundrum,'" Oglesby said. "It's important to note that we
have not just a paleomag person as a co-author, but arguably the best-known
paleomag person in the world—and he's as confused as we are."

"The nicest thing would have been if we had a solution, but we don't," said Van der
Voo, the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Geological Sciences at U-M. "All we can say
is that we have this enigma, so perhaps our model of Pangea for the period in
question is wrong or the wind direction didn't follow the common patterns that we
recognize in the modern world. Neither seems likely, but we're bringing this
inconsistency to the attention of the scientific community in hopes of stimulating
further research."

The team will continue to keep coming up with ideas, and presenting them to the
computer model. But, for now, they are stumped. It is, in all senses of the term, a
mystery.

Posted by Josh Hill.

Related Galaxy posts:

http://www.physorg.com/news115312740.html

Cosmic Pentimento: Beyond the Great Void May be a
Great Something

Pentimento: the reappearance in a painting of an underlying image that had been
painted over (usually when the later painting becomes transparent with age)
Earlier this year astronomers from the
University of Minnesota discovered a
massive void of space that measured nearly
a billion light years across. It was an
intriguing discovery, in a universe that is
filled with seemingly infinite objects.

Cosmic gaps aren’t uncommon though, but the fact that this one was nearly 1,000
times larger than the average expected gap, suggested something different.

The team was working with sensor data retrieved by the NASA’s WMAP (Wilkinson
Microwave Anisotropy Probe) satellite. The hole measured roughly 10,000 times as
large as our galaxy or 400 times the distance to Andromeda.

What was even more fascinating was the fact that a hole this size was essentially
impossible to explain under the constraints of current scientific theory.

Enter University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill physics Professor Laura Mersini-
Houghton.

Mersini-Houghton has put forward a theory that has stunned the wider community.
“Standard cosmology cannot explain such a giant cosmic hole.” The real kick of it
though, comes next, in what is being termed a groundbreaking hypothesis; she
describes the hole as “… the unmistakable imprint of another universe beyond the
edge of our own“.

Mersini-Houghton’s theory posits that there are in fact two giant holes, one in each
hemisphere of our universe. The one that has been recently discovered is in the
northern hemisphere, and there should be another one in the southern, according to
her theory.

What’s more, with more data and information coming in, her theory can be refuted
or confirmed.

Whether she is on the right track, we are yet to see. But this is a track that,
apparently, will have at least an end – where we find that she is incorrect – or will
see us be tripped on to a new track, of new thinking and understanding.

Posted by Josh Hill.
Related Galaxy posts:

Plenty of Room to Stretch -The Universe's "Great Void"

Links:

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/10/plenty-of-room-.html
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/08/university-of-m.html
http://www.paternitytestinglabs.com/evidence-for-a-parallel-un

Radical New Views of the Big Bang -A Holy Grail of
Science

There simply isn't a
bigger question:
wrapping up "Why
are we here?", "Why
is everything the
way it is?" and "What
if I don't believe a
gigantic invisible
skybeard did it?" -it's
a Holy Grail of science. The theoreticians want to explain it, the experimenters want
to detect it and - unlike 99% of all research - the public will actually care about the
answer for a few minutes. We report on five ways scientists have have studied the
beginning of everything and, in mockery of all you might think possible, made the
question even cooler.

1. There's a hole in the sky

A piece of the universe is broken - or at least defective. That's the current thinking
of scientists from the Institute of Physics of Cantabria (IFCA) and the University of
Cambridge after observing data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe
( WMAP). The idea is that as the universe condensed into the state we recognize
from the quite insanely high temperatures and densities of the big bang, defects can
be created in the same way flaws and opaque spots form as water freezes into ice.
While that analogy might give any astrophysicist an aneurysm, and is honestly enough
to give you a nosebleed if you try to picture both situations at the same time, it's as
good as any you can get without a graduate course in cosmology.

This discovery could revolutionize our understanding of the universe, as well as
making people feel better about crashing our computers (after all, if empty vacuum
itself can break what chance do we have with the complicated things?) And after
fourteen billion years (or so) we might have the answer within our lifetime.
Professor Turok took a break from examining the Big Bang (and possibly hunting
dinosaurs) to announce that these results are extremely testable, they are even now
extremely testing them, and we should know within ten years.

2. Watch it on TV

All that hard science makes you want to settle down and switch your brain off for a
while. There's no better way to do that than TV, and while you're there, you can
watch the creation of the cosmos, LIVE, 24/7. But no matter how advanced your
cable or HDTV this is an exclusive offer for old-school rabbit-eared television sets,
which many younger readers with their YouTubes and their hip-hops might not even
have heard of. The idea (demonstrated in a video linked at the end of this article) is
that 1% of the white noise seen on an untuned television is actually microwave
radiation released when, not to sound to grandiose about it, Things Started.

(The science in the video is fine, but they do make one mistake when they refer to
their rabbit-eared set as "an ordinary television" instead of "a stone-age relic of an
earlier time before we had satellite, the internet, and probably hadn't quite gotten
rid of The Plague").

3. Stringing up a theory

A team from the University of Illinois claims that string theory can explain the birth
of the universe. They say it wasn't so much a Big Bang as a Big Brane, an object
which decomposed into a vast number of strings which went on to make up our
current reality. If you want to know how much traction this theory is getting do a
Google search for the phrase "Brane" - you'll find every result includes the words
"theoretical construct", "mathematical object", and while the words 'zero proof' aren't
actually mentioned they exist between the lines.

Part of the problem is the reasons the theory is appealing - proponents argue that the
brane methodology avoids the mass and energy singularities (stupidly large values
which cause our theories to break down) which occur in the classic Big Bang/Big
Crunch theory (summary: everything explodes out, expands, contracts, crunches to a
point, repeat until bored/end of time). Detractors respond that "it makes the math
prettier" doesn't actually constitute proof of a theory - which pretty much sums up
most of the opposition to string theory, in fact, and forms an argument that has yet
to be adequately refuted. And some might say that a theory that can't even prove its
own validity is getting a little ahead of itself when it claims to know the secrets of
the universe and everything in it.

4. Answering the big questions while you're there

Which is what makes results from the University of Wisconsin-Madison so interesting.
A fundamental aspect of string theory is the existence of at least six dimensions
beyond those we can verify, but those dimensions are so small that they can't be
directly observed under any conditions that exist. That might sound like claiming
your homework was eaten by the biggest yet most invisible dog in the world, but
Professor Shiu and graduate student Bret Underwood had an idea: how about looking
at a time when the necessary conditions did exist?

By examining a map of the cosmic wave background recorded by the WMAP, a record
of the conditions of the early universe, they hoped to discern the influence of the
otherwise undetectable dimensions from a time when they could have shaped the the
tiny but incredibly energetic universe - conditions ideal for their influence to be felt.
Their results prove their method is valid, but are not yet accurate enough to provide
proof of string theory. It's incredibly interesting work, and as string theorists out to
prove things one way or the other rather than repeating "But it would be so awesome
if it was true!", they are to be applauded.

5. What about before that?

It sounds like a philosophy question, but the great thing about science is that no
matter how 'ultimate' or 'absolute' the question, there are minds that will go further.
They're frequently wrong, but it's still cool, and when somebody can work for years
on the question of "What happened before the beginning of everything?' - not as
navel-gazing pot-inspired conversation but as a serious scientific proposition - you
don't want to make fun because they're either a) geniuses or b) dangerously insane.

Amazingly, theoretical physicist Martin Bojowald at Pennsylvania State University
believes it may be possible to see present-day evidence of existence before the Big
Bang. After running simulations on quantum loop gravity, a phrase that sounds like it
comes from Commander Data, he claims that if his theories are correct it should be
possible to extrapolate information about an earlier age. The key point is the idea
that the Big Bang wasn't so much a beginning as a cosmic reset, where incredibly high
but finite levels of energy rewrote the universe but didn't erase every trace of what
went before.

It's epic stuff, and even if it doesn't end up proving anything about the universe it
demonstrates a key point of science: for G.I. Joe knowing may be half the battle,
but for a scientist knowing gives you twenty more interesting questions to ask.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

Related Galaxy posts:

"The Elegant Universe" -A Galaxy Insight
The Big Bang or an Infinite Cycle?
"Star Trek" Warp Speeds a Reality? Scientists Claim Quantum Tunneling Exceeds Speed
of Light
Quantum Physics & the Quest for the Perfect Internet
Before the Beginning: The Big Bang Theory Challenged
Weird Science: Can Time Move Backwards?
"Beyond Einstein": Search for Dark Energy of the Universe
"42" -Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Foreshadows Actual Weight of Univers
1st 3-D Map of the Universe's Dark Matter
Cosmic Collision Sheds Light on Mystery of Dark Matter
GAIA -Mapping the Family Tree of the Milky Way
New, Revised Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Related Links:

Vacuum flaws sound impossible but aren't
The birth of the universe, live on free-per-view!
String-brane model
String theory evidence (no, that's not an oxymoron)
Looking before the Big Bang