Skip to comments.Top 10 Space Mysteries for 2003
Posted on 12/28/2002 4:46:38 AM PST by The Raven
Dec. 26 The funny thing about discoveries is that they often produce new mysteries, too. This year was no exception, as many remarkable space science findings generated puzzling problems for astronomers to look into.
IN SOME CASES the puzzles are brand new. Other times a discovery merely confirms how little we knew. Either way, theres plenty for astronomers to do.
Here then are the Top 10 Space Mysteries that astronomers will be pondering in the New Year and beyond:
1. Dark energy:
Nobody knows what the heck it is, but it is officially repulsive. And man, is it powerful! More powerful than gravity, even.
While gravity holds things together at the local level (and by local I mean within galaxies and even between them, forming galactic clusters), some unknown force is working behind the scenes and across the universe to pull everything apart. Scientists have only come to realize this dark force in recent years, by discovering that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing pace.
Having no clue what it is, theyve labeled it dark energy.
The past year was a good one for proving that dark energy is at work. Calculations have been refined: The repulsive force dominates the universe, comprising 65 percent of its makeup.
(Similarly unseen and exotic dark matter makes up 30 percent of the universe, leaving us with a universe that contains just 5 percent normal matter and energy.)
Two curious ideas related to the accelerating expansion, both of which emerged in 2002: All galaxies are destined to become frozen in time or, perhaps, time never ends.
2. Water on Mars?
Mars simply will not give up its most coveted secrets. Ultimately, the big quest for NASA and all the Mars scientists is about whether there is life, but before thats answered, there is the question of liquid water, a requirement for life as we know it.
Despite two major discoveries of water ice in 2002, nobody can figure out yet whether any of it might exist in the melted state.
Meanwhile, clues mount. In one compelling study released in December, dark streaks on the surface were attributed to salty, running water. But many experts remain unconvinced. NASAs Odyssey spacecraft is circling Mars as you read this, hunting for more evidence.
3. The Milky Ways middle:
Something is eating at the black hole at the center of our galaxy. And whatever is bugging the gravity monster manifests as an utter lack of appetite.
In October, astronomers announced theyd watched a star zip around the black hole that anchors the Milky Way, all but proving the impossible-to-see object is actually there. Meanwhile, the region around the black hole is an active place, as the Chandra X-ray Observatory showed early this year.
However, the black hole is not devouring enough matter to generate the tremendous X-ray output seen with other supermassive black holes. Scientists are so far unable to fully explain the stark contrasts theyve seen, this tremendous diversity in black hole behavior.
Hints emerged this year, however. A study in January suggested mergers between two black holes might serve as an on-off switch for the activity. Then observations announced in November showed two black holes involved in a pending merger. Astronomers now need to tie all this to a firm explanation of the differences between the mediocre output of our black hole and the brilliant illumination surrounding others in many distant galaxies.
4. The origin of life:
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you try to run from a monster and youre legs go round and round but you dont get anywhere? The quest to understand the origin of life isnt much different.
In fairness, it must be pointed out that there is little data to work with. Earth does not retain a record of what went on billions of years ago, when life got going.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of wild ideas. Scientists now generally agree that life could survive a trip to Earth from Mars, in the belly of a rock kicked up by an asteroid impact. A study in November revealed why a Mars rock lands on Earth once a month, on average. A wilder idea, that bugs simply rain down from space inside comet dust, gained support from a second scientist in December, who claimed to have found some of these space bugs in Earths atmosphere.
Most mainstream scientists, however, figure theres a good chance that life on Earth was cooked up in a soup of pre-biotic chemicals right here on the planet. The ingredients water and organic chemicals may well have come from space, but Earth likely acted as the incubator.
The answer (and a lot of well-funded researchers are asking the question and debating the possibilities) bears on how likely it is that life might have begun elsewhere, on Mars or around another star.
More at the link
(Excerpt) Read more at space.com ...
Which begs the question, who was the cook? The space bugs theory has more credibility than random emergence of human life from primordial soup.
I suppose some day, this may all be figured out. If anyone is interested in some mindblowing extremely speculative fiction about what happens when we actually DO find out how everything works, I would suggest the book Distress, by Greg Egan.
The space bugs theory simply defers the questions -- who is the cook and did life come from primordial soup?
BTW, I don't see any evidence that would point to how life could survive a fall to earth.
So, if life were found on Mars, it very well could have just come from Earth.
Former Space Mystery #11: 'What does the turtle stand on?"
Ans. "It's turtles all the way down!"
I'm firmly convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with our current view of the mechanics of the universe. I'm not sure exactly what it is though. It is more of a feeling sprung from casual study over the years.
I don't believe that modern physicists are completely off base. It is more like they seem to be missing some small set of fundamental facts, or maybe have made some assumptions that seem to fit observational data, but is nonetheless wrong. The best analogy would be that Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry seemed to explain the workings of the universe really well for quite a while. Both have been shown to have fundamental flaws that cause them to fail in both the macro and microsopic scales.
Once we are able to more fully quantify and understand conciousness we may have more of a clue. I don't really know, but enjoy the quest.
I've read that red-shift might be explainable by a reduction in the speed of light over the life of the universe. I have not read that earth-based measurements support this possibility.
Can you recommend a summary of this evidence? Thanks.
[This ping list for the evolution -- not creationism -- side of evolution threads, and sometimes for other science topics. To be included, or dropped, let me know via freepmail.]
The redshift is not a feature of the speed of light, but of the recession of the source of the light. So yes, you're correct up to this point.
Now, look at the historical record of the velocity of light measurements over the few hundred years it's been done. It's slowing down.
Do you have a reliable source for this?