Tag Archives: Space

Do we matter in the cosmos?

By Nick Hughes – By recent estimates, the Milky Way is just one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, and the region of space that they occupy spans at least 90 billion light-years.

If you imagine Earth shrunk down to the size of a single grain of sand, and you imagine the size of that grain of sand relative to the entirety of the Sahara Desert, you are still nowhere near to comprehending how infinitesimally small a position we occupy in space.

And that’s just the spatial dimension. The observable Universe has existed for around 13.8 billion years. If we shrink that span of time down to a single year, with the Big Bang occurring at midnight on 1 January, the first Homo sapiens made an appearance at 22:24 on 31 December. It’s now 23:59:59, as it has been for the past 438 years, and at the rate we’re going it’s entirely possible that we’ll be gone before midnight strikes again.

In the grand scheme of things we are very, very small. more> https://goo.gl/Dp2NaC

America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People

BOOK REVIEW

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Author: Peter Temin.

By Lynn Parramore – America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future.

They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt.

They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. more> https://goo.gl/LKhYy6

A Brief History of the Grand Unified Theory of Physics

By Lawrence M. Krauss – Each time we peel back one layer of reality, other layers beckon. So each important new development in science generally leaves us with more questions than answers. But it also usually leaves us with at least the outline of a road map to help us begin to seek answers to those questions.

The successful discovery of the Higgs particle, and with it the validation of the existence of an invisible background Higgs field throughout space (in the quantum world, every particle like the Higgs is associated with a field), was a profound validation of the bold scientific developments of the 20th century.

As elegant as this idea might be, it is essentially an ad hoc addition to the Standard Model of physics—which explains three of the four known forces of nature, and how these forces interact with matter. It is added to the theory to do what is required to accurately model the world of our experience. But it is not required by the theory. The universe could have happily existed with massless particles and a long-range weak force (which, along with the strong force, gravity, and electromagnetism, make up the four known forces). We would just not be here to ask about them. Moreover, the detailed physics of the Higgs is undetermined within the Standard Model alone. The Higgs could have been 20 times heavier, or 100 times lighter.

Why, then, does the Higgs exist at all? And why does it have the mass it does? (Recognizing that whenever scientists ask “Why?” we really mean “How?”) If the Higgs did not exist, the world we see would not exist, but surely that is not an explanation. Or is it? Ultimately to understand the underlying physics behind the Higgs is to understand how we came to exist. When we ask, “Why are we here?,” at a fundamental level we may as well be asking, “Why is the Higgs here?” more> https://goo.gl/UCn3w8

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Updates from Aalto University

Launch times draw near for Aalto satellites
By Jaan Praks – The Aalto-2 satellite, designed and built by students, is ready and waiting to be launched inside the Cygnus space shuttle at the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex in the US.

On 22 March, the shuttle will be launched with an Atlas V booster rocket up to the orbiting international space station, where the astronauts will release it later to orbit independently.

Aalto-2 will take part in the international QB50 Mission, the aim of which is to produce the first ever comprehensive model of the features of the thermosphere, the layer between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Dozens of satellites constructed in different countries will also be part of the mission.

Construction of the Aalto-2 satellite began in 2012 as a doctoral project when the first students graduated as Masters of Science in Technology after working on the Aalto-1 project.

Since the start of the Aalto-1 project in 2010 and the Aalto-2 project two years later, around a hundred new professionals have been trained in the space sector. The impact is already visible in the growth of space sector start-up companies. more> https://goo.gl/yKLrez

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We Might Live in a Virtual Universe — But It Doesn’t Really Matter


By Maxim Roubintchik – The first thing to realize is this: Our perception of reality is already separate from reality itself.

To paraphrase Morpheus from the movie The Matrix, reality is simply an electrical impulse being interpreted by your brain. We experience the world indirectly and imperfectly. If we could see the world as it is, there would be no optical illusions, no color blindness and no mind tricks.

Further, we only experience a simplified version of all this mediated sensory information. The reason? Seeing the world as it is requires too much processing power — so our brain breaks it into heuristics (or simplified but still useful representations). Our mind is constantly looking for patterns in our world and will match them with our perception.

From this we can conclude the following:

Our perception of reality is already different from reality itself. What we call reality is our brains’ attempt to process the incoming flood of sensory data.

If our perception of reality is dependent on a simplified flow of information, it doesn’t matter what the source of this information is — whether it’s the physical world or a computer simulation feeding us the same information. more> http://goo.gl/fIwQEb

If the universe cares about us, it has a funny way of showing it

BOOK REVIEW

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Author: Thomas Nagel.
Origin of Species, Author: Charles Darwin.
Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Author: Norbert Wiener.
After Virtue, Author: Alasdair MacIntyre.
The End of History and the Last Man, Author: Francis Fukuyama.
The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen, Authors: Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.
Darwin, Author: Tim Lewens.
The Goldilocks Enigma, Author: Paul Davies.

By Steven Poole – Nagel says that the appearance of conscious beings such as us can be described as the universe waking up. In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel’s suggested teleology does not involve a creator; it is merely a law-like tendency in the universe that somehow loads the dice in favor of the appearance of consciousness.

As Nagel puts it, it might be that the universe exhibits ‘a bias toward the marvelous’. If so, it would not be surprising that consciousness had appeared, because we live in a universe whose very purpose, aim, or telos, is the production of consciousness.

Nagel has a cosmic horror of the fluke, because it is so unconsoling.

But what if the appearance of life and consciousness just were sheer flukes?

What if they probably wouldn’t happen again if you ran the universe from the same initial conditions?

What if there are a great many different universes, and life just happened to arise in ours but not in most of the others? more> https://goo.gl/Dp6dAG

Black-hole computing

By Sabine Hossenfelder – After you die, your body’s atoms will disperse and find new venues, making their way into oceans, trees and other bodies.

But according to the laws of quantum mechanics, all of the information about your body’s build and function will prevail. The relations between the atoms, the uncountable particulars that made you you, will remain forever preserved, albeit in unrecognizably scrambled form – lost in practice, but immortal in principle.

There is only one apparent exception to this reassuring concept: according to our current physical understanding, information cannot survive an encounter with a black hole.

Stephen Hawking‘s [2, 3] discovery of black-hole evaporation has presented theoretical physicists with a huge conundrum: general relativity says that black holes must destroy information; quantum mechanics says it cannot happen because information must live on eternally.

Both general relativity and quantum mechanics are extremely well-tested theories, and yet they refuse to combine. more> https://goo.gl/UVPfVy

Let’s Rethink Space

By George Musser – If a rhinoceros is also able to hurt me, it must be close, too. And if both a lion and a rhino are able to hurt me, then the lion and rhino should also be able to hurt each other. (Indeed, my survival depends on it.)

From this patterning of influences, we extract space. If the threat posed by predators couldn’t be expressed in terms of spatial distance, space would cease to be meaningful.

A less morbid example is triangulation. The signal bars on your mobile phone indicate the strength of the phone’s connection to a cell tower and therefore your distance from that tower. In an emergency, the phone company can locate your phone by measuring your signal at several towers and using triangulation or the related technique of trilateration.

The fact that the measurements converge on a single location is what it means for you to have a location.

The nice thing about defining space in terms of structure is that it sidesteps some of the long-running disputes over the nature of space. more> http://goo.gl/3IYOPD

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Scientists struggle to stay grounded after possible gravitational wave signal

By Ian Sample – Lawrence Krauss [2], a cosmologist at Arizona State university, tweeted that he had received independent confirmation of a rumour that has been in circulation for months, adding: “Gravitational waves may have been discovered!!”

According to the rumours, scientists on the team are in the process of writing up a paper that describes a gravitational wave signal. If such a signal exists and is verified, it would confirm one of the most dramatic predictions of Albert Einstein’s century-old theory of general relativity [2, 3, 4]. more> http://goo.gl/q0L2Q8

New approach needed to detect dark matter

By Birgitte Svennevig – The majority of the mass in the universe remains unknown. Despite knowing very little about this dark matter, its overall abundance is precisely measured.

In other words: Physicists know it is out there, but they have not yet detected it.

“There is no way of predicting what we can do with dark matter, if we detect it. But it might revolutionize our world. When scientists discovered quantum mechanics, it was considered a curiosity. Today quantum mechanics plays an important role in computers,” Ian Shoemaker says. more> http://tinyurl.com/p8cufda