View Post

Dust Bunnies

In Exoplanets by Brian Koberlein2 Comments

On a broad level we understand how planets form quite well. A disk of gas and dust forms around a young star, and clumps within this disk gravitationally collapse into planets. But there are details of this model that still pose challenges. In particular, we don’t entirely understand how small pockets of dust can get large enough to become proto-planets. But new simulations of planet formation are beginning to solve this mystery. Read More

View Post

How To Find A Star System

In Exoplanets by Brian Koberlein1 Comment

There are seven planets orbiting a small dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. In 2016, three planets were discovered around the star, and today four more were announced. All of these worlds are roughly the size of Earth, and three are potentially habitable. On its own, TRAPPIST-1 would be easy to overlook. It’s a dim, 18th magnitude star, 40 light years away in the constellation of Aquarius.  So what led astronomers to look for planets around this unassuming star, and how did they find them? Read More

View Post

All In The Family

In Stars by Brian Koberlein3 Comments

When you think of a family tree, you probably think of human ancestry, and how we can trace our ancestors back to different geographical regions. All living things have a common family tree, which can be seen in our genetic code. While stars aren’t living things, they have a similar family tree, and we’re starting to gather enough data to piece it together. Read More

View Post

Doing It Wrong

In Pseudoscience by Brian Koberlein6 Comments

Science isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. The process of open publication, peer review and clear data are a part of science because they help us understand how the Universe works. It can be inconvenient and contentious, but it works. Through this process, new ideas are faced with an uphill battle. This is particularly true of ideas that would contradict the foundational theories of physics. So it’s tempting to react to such opposition by playing a different game. Rather than addressing criticism, you start building a story where your idea is obviously right, and others are simply too closed-minded to see it. Down that path lies pseudoscience, and sometimes you can watch it happening. Take for example, Mike McCulloch‘s theory of Modified inertia by a Hubble-scale Casimir effect (MiHsC), also known as quantized inertia.Read More

View Post

Life In A Black Hole

In Black Holes by Brian Koberlein6 Comments

Your spacecraft is failing, and ahead looms the dark majesty of a black hole. As its gravity pulls you ever closer, you cross its event horizon and your fate is sealed. You are trapped forever. What happens next is the subject of numerous movies. Do you travel through a wormhole and enter another universe? Do you confront the intersection of reason and faith? Do you travel back in time to communicate with your daughter? The scientific answer is much more mundane. You die, crushed by the the tidal forces of the black hole interior as you are pulled inevitably to its singularity. But perhaps there is an alternative where you are trapped but could continue to live a full life. Read More

View Post

Starry Fate

In Physics by Brian Koberlein4 Comments

Our fate is written in the stars, so the old stories go. It makes for thrilling drama, but it isn’t the way the Universe works. But there’s an interesting effect of quantum mechanics that might leave an opening for a starry fate, so a team of researchers decided to test the idea. Read More

View Post

The Little Star That Could

In Pulsars by Brian Koberlein5 Comments

A pulsar is a star that emits a regular pulse of energy, usually on the order of a few seconds up to hundreds of times a second. They were first discovered by Jocelyn Bell in 1967, and since then we’ve found more than 1,500 of them. While their source was once a mystery, we now know that they are caused by rotating neutron stars. All the pulsars we’ve found have been neutron stars, but does a pulsar have to be a neutron star? Nope, it turns out white dwarfs can be pulsars too. Read More

View Post

Light Braking

In Science Fiction by Brian Koberlein3 Comments

Your spacecraft is speeding toward Alpha Centauri at nearly 5% the speed of light. At that speed, your 95 year-long journey from Earth would end in a flyby lasting only a day or so. You’d like to stay a while, but to do that you have to slow down. How do you get the job done? Read More