By Alex Stuckey
By Alex Stuckey
By Mike Wehner, BGR
We live in a three-dimensional reality. Because of that, it’s pretty hard to imagine what a four-dimensional reality might be like, but that isn’t stopping physicists from trying to figure it out. A pair of new research papers were just published in the journal Nature that explore the possibilities of a fourth dimension and, as difficult as any of this may be to comprehend, it seems the scientists are on to something.
The papers, which focused on two very differentexperimental approaches to detecting a fourth dimension, arrived as similar conclusions. But before we dive in to what the experiments attempted to prove, you have to have at least a vague understanding of what the research team was looking for. Buckle up, this is going to get weird.
Imagine a transparent cube, like the kind you used to scribble in your math notebook when you were bored in high school. Any one line of that cube exists in a single dimension. You can go back and forth and that’s it. Once it reaches a corner and connects to a second line, that’s the second dimension. Now you can go back and forth and up and down, which is exponentially more freedom than you had previously. When that line reaches another corner that exists perpendicular to it — giving the object what we think of as depth — now you’re playing with three spatial dimensions.
Our world exists in three spatial dimensions (as well as the dimension of time, but that’s not something you can see). What these newest studies are looking for is the effects of a fourth spatial dimension that can be detected within our three-dimensional world. We’d have no idea what it looks like or what kind of a reality a fourth dimension would offer, but if it does exist in the hidden background of our three-dimensional existence, science might be able to prove it’s there.
In one of the experiments, scientists studied the behavior of light particles moving through specially made glass that bounces light back and forth between its edges. By simulating the effects of an electrical charge via physical input, the team observed how the light behaved, watching for irregularities that could only be made possible if a fourth dimension was working behind the scenes.
The other experiment used supercooled atoms held in place on a grid made of lasers. Scientists call this setup a “charge pump” and they use it test the flow of an electrical charge while monitoring how the atoms respond.
Both of the experiments yielded results that suggest that a fourth dimension really is all around us, even if we can’t see it. Science isn’t any closer to tapping into this hidden dimension, but know that it’s there is an important towards painting a more complete picture of physics and you can bet these won’t be the last experiments that toy with the idea.
Scientists have discovered that a subsurface ocean on Enceladus could have existed for billions of years, providing plenty of time for microbial alien life to emerge and evolve.
One of Saturn’s icy moons, Enceladus is considered one of the best bets for finding extraterrestrial life within our solar system. Geophysical evidence has long suggested it boasts a salty, liquid ocean between its frozen shell and rocky core. Scientists believe the ocean exists as the result of heat generated by hydrothermal activity the moon’s interior.
NASA has been considering a mission to Enceladus to search for evidence of alien life for several years, although no confirmed plans are in place.
In a study published in Nature Astronomy, an international team of scientists looked data from NASA’s recently completed Cassini mission to better understand what is going on within Enceladus’ that allows it to have a sustained, global ocean. If it was just being heated by tidal forces within the ice, the ocean would freeze over in less than 30 million years. But they now know this is not the case—so something else must be heating the ocean.
Researchers looked at different ways Enceladus could be generating the heat to maintain the liquid ocean, producing models to find one that fits with Cassini observations. Their findings indicate that the additional heat is the result of Enceladus’ core being highly porous.
Water moving through the porous rock is heated then transported up through narrow upwellings, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Celsius. The team also found these hotspots are particularly prevalent at the moon’s south pole, which explains why the ice seems thinner at this point. Further analysis showed that this heating mechanism could be sustained for tens of millions, if not billions of years.
One of the most prevalent theories as to how life evolved on Earth is through chemical reactions at deep sea hydrothermal vents. The presence of hydrothermal activity in Enceladus that could last for such a long time has major implications for the potential for life to evolve. If Enceladus has had a liquid ocean for billions of years, life would have had the chance to emerge and evolve into a more complex form.
In an email interview with Newsweek, lead author Gaël Choblet, from the French National Center for Scientific Research, said that while he cannot speculate on the presence of alien life on Enceladus, their timescale for hydrothermal activity does bolster the case that microbial life could emerge.
“If a new theory published last year is correct, then powerful hydrothermal activity could have been occurring since the formation of the moon, possibly as much as the age of the solar system,” he says, adding that which timescale they are working on—tens of millions or billions—could be determined with future research
He said the team now plans to simulate the chemical interactions within Enceladus and to work out how heat and chemicals are transported around the ocean.
Ravi Desai, from Imperial College London, U.K.,has previously looked at the chemistry of Enceladus’s ocean. Commenting on the latest study, which he was not involved in, he says the findings represent “excellent news” for the possibility of detecting microbial life deep in the ocean.
“These findings from Enceladus are highly relevant to exploring the icy moons of Jupiter … [The] results are particularly exciting when considering what could be discovered at Europa and Ganymede.”
David A Rothery, professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, U.K., also says the findings are exciting as “it all fits together”—Cassini observations have now been reconciled with a suitable model of heat transfer within Enceladus. In terms of the potential for life, he said the only possible drawback is that due to its size, it only take about 250 million years for the entire ocean to be recycled through the rock—and once this is done, the number of chemical reactions that take place becomes very limited.
“But this is still happening at the moment because we’re seeing the products,” he says. “Chemical reactions are going on even today. If it’s going on today it could have been going on a billion years into the past, and that’s long enough for life to get started—and to have evolved beyond the very most basic stages. It could be quite a complex microbial community down there and we’d love to study it.”
Scientists browsing a market in Southeast Asia have uncovered a highly unusual 99-million-year-old feathered dinosaur tail encased in amber.
It is rare to find a feather attached to a dinosaur’s body in an amber sample, and it supports the position among researchers that many dinosaurs had feathers rather than scales, like the birds that have descended from them.
The study’s lead author, Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, found the unusual specimen at an amber market in Myanmar in 2015, and urged the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology to buy the piece after recognizing its potential scientific importance.
The team used a CT scan to peer into the fossil, finding that the long and flexible nature of the tail meant it had to belong to a dinosaur, not a bird.
The tail belonged to a dinosaur called Coelurosaur — a dinosaur about the size of a small bird, from the same theropod group of dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus rex. Despite the feathers, the dinosaur was not able to fly, providing more evidence for the contention that plumage originally began popping up on animals for reasons other than flight — such as for camouflage or attracting mates.
Amber is fossilized tree sap, and it acts as a kind of resin that can preserve organic matter that would otherwise be lost.
“Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings,” one of the study’s authors, Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, said in a news release. “This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity and protecting as a fossil resource.”
Just in time for summer movie season comes news that something huge is lurking out there at the edge of the solar system. It’s really big. It’s never before been detected. It’s warping gravity fields.
No, it’s not the latest Michael Bay disaster-fest or the mothership from “Independence Day.” It’s not the hypothesized Planet 9 that everyone was talking about a little over a year ago. Probably it’s another planet. Or maybe that mothership.
Back in 2016, the Internet was all atwitter with the news that astronomers believed they had located another planet at the edge of the solar system. Planet 9, as they called it, was discovered through a study of disturbances in the orbits of Sedna and other less-than-planet-size objects out there in the vicinity of Pluto (which was a planet when most of us were kids and now isn’t).
This area is known as the Kuiper Belt. Astronomers, who don’t like to waste mental energy deciding what to call things they study, have a name for objects in the Kuiper Belt: Kuiper Belt Objects. It is through modeling the movement of these KBOs (see what I mean?) that the search for Planet 9 has proceeded. Nobody has seen Planet 9 yet, even with the most powerful telescopes, although with the help of millions of citizen astronomers, researchers have narrowed the field of possible suspects.
Anyway, it turns out that Planet 9 is not the only massive object out there warping the orbits of the KBOs. According to soon-to-be-published research by Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona, there’s another one. It’s called . . . well, it doesn’t have a name yet, but we can make a good guess.
Malhotra has such a nice way with an explanation that she could play the scientist in the movie version:
“Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge . . . If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.”
“We expect each of the KBOs’ orbital tilt angle to be at a different orientation, but on average, they will be pointing perpendicular to the plane determined by the sun and the big planets.”
Only the angles are wrong. They’re warped in a slightly different direction, as they would be if the gravity of another planet were affecting them. But Planet 9, wherever it is, would be too far away to have the effects they have found. So there is almost certainly another mass out there. (The researchers estimate only a 1 percent to 2 percent possibility that the measurements represent a statistical fluke.)
You don’t have to be a science nerd to be fascinated. You can be a garden-variety sci-fi fan. Or you could just happen to like disaster movies.
The researchers tell us that these unseen planets are rogues. At some point they wandered into the solar system, and were captured by the gravity of Sol, our puny little sun. Now they’re stuck in orbit, messing with our calculations.
Maybe. But maybe not. Let’s sit back and don our 3-D glasses and grab a handful of popcorn (or perhaps don our foil hats) as we take a moment to consider a more sobering possibility. Here’s the thing to remember about rogue planets: They’re not just wanderers; they can be destroyers, too. Simulations tell us that some 60 percent of rogue planets that enter the solar system would bounce out again. But in 10 percent of cases, the rogue will take another planet along as it departs.
Just like that, Neptune is gone. Or Mars. Or, you know, us.
Tell me that’s not a weapon of interstellar war. (OK, fine, the capture of another planet would take hundreds of centuries. So it’s a weapon of war for a very patient species. Or one that perceives time differently. But how do we know it’s not already happening? Anyway, never mess with the narrative!)
And there’s something else for the sci-fi paranoiac to chew on along with the popcorn. The sequence. In early 2016, astronomers find a disturbance in the Kuiper Belt Objects and think “planet.” Fine, natural phenomenon. Then this year, they find another disturbance and think “another planet.” Fine, natural phenomenon. Then how is it that we never noticed before? Maybe the disturbances are . . . recent. So if by chance we’re soon told of a third disturbance, then by the James Bond theory of conspiracy it’s enemy action.
Cue heavy overdone music. Cue our most powerful weapons having no effect. Cue a broken family trying to reunite. Cue Roland Emmerich. I mean, somebody’s got to make this movie, right? I’ll be there on opening day.