This is the May

2 May 2021

It’s the merry month of May, and that means another newsletter. Whether you celebrate Cinco de Mayo or the Revenge of the Fifth, there is plenty of science news to go around.

The Great Beyond

Cosmology has been a big topic this month. The extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS) released its first results. The study looks at the distribution of galaxies to measure cosmic expansion, and confirmed the existence of dark energy to a stunning 11𝜎. Another study used the light of distant quasars to measure cosmic expansion. The work is still in its early stages but could teach us how cosmic expansion has changed over time. Good news for dark energy, but bad news for dark matter. A study of fast-rotating black holes has shown that if dark matter exists, it can’t be made of light boson particles. It seems that we’re running out of options as to what dark matter could be.

Under the Lens

Black holes are another popular topic. A team released a wonderful simulation of how light is gravitationally warped by a binary black hole system. It turns out to be quite complex. Another team used gravitationally lensed light from a quasar to confirm the mass of an intermediate-mass black hole. These rare objects are larger than a stellar-mass black hole, but not nearly as large as the supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. A third team might have discovered the smallest black hole ever, with a mass of only 3 Suns. If confirmed, it will also be the closest known black hole, only 1,500 light-years from Earth.

This Alien World

Over the years we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets. We’re now at the point where we’re learning about how they form and behave. Recently several worlds were found that spin incredibly fast. A day on these Jupiter-size planets is just an hour long. If they rotated any faster, they would likely tear themselves apart. A new study of asteroids looked at how planets start to form. Based on this work, it seems early protoplanets grow in size rather quickly. Of course, when we talk about exoplanets, folks wonder whether there might be life on some alien worlds. Astronomers are looking for evidence, particularly in the atmospheres of these planets. For example, if we find a world with an oxygen atmosphere like Earth’s, would that mean there’s life? As a new study shows, not necessarily. So the search for life will be a bit more difficult than we once thought.

Warp Engines Engage

Several years ago a team of engineers built an engine they believed could take us to the stars. Known as the EM Drive, it was claimed to create a thrust without a corresponding counter-thrust. It would be cool if it worked, but it would also violate Newton’s third law of motion. Well, a new study has shown the EM Drive doesn’t work. That’s pretty much what we expected, but it’s disappointing that we won’t have warp drive yet. Maybe by the 23rd century we’ll get it figured out.

Once again, thanks for subscribing and reading. I’ll be back next month with lots more to share. Until then, May the Fourth be with you.