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Analysis and Comment (38)

Matthew McConaughey embodies the heroic scientist in Interstellar. Paramount

Scientists as Hollywood heroes

Interstellar’s protagonists spend a significant portion of the movie’s 169-minute running time giving mini-lectures – sometimes with props and a little whiteboard – on theoretical physics. The characters…
This artist’s impression of the Milky Way galaxy. The blue halo of material surrounding the galaxy indicates the expected distribution of the mysterious dark matter. ESO/L. Calçada

Dark matter and the Milky Way: more little than large

While invisible, dark matter completely dominates our Milky Way. But recent measurements of just how much dark matter there is have revealed a bit of a mystery. In a paper published today in the Astrophysical…
A dwarf galaxy: a challenge for modern cosmology? This dwarf galaxy ESO 540-31 is more than 11 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). , Luca LimatolaESA/Hubble & NASA

A cosmic two-step: the universal dance of the dwarf galaxies

Over the last few years we’ve been studying the orbits of dwarf galaxies and we expecting to find them buzzing at random around large galaxies. But looking out into the universe, we see some dwarfs undertaking…
If there’s a multiverse out there can we see it? Flickr/Maciek Bielec

Have cosmologists lost their minds in the multiverse?

The recent BICEP2 observations – of swirls in the polarisation of the cosmic microwave background – have been proclaimed as many things, from evidence of the Big Bang and gravitational waves to something…
Graduate student Justus Brevik testing the BICEP2 used to find evidence of cosmic inflation nearly 14 billion years ago. EPA/Steffen Richter/Harvard University

First hints of gravitational waves in the Big Bang’s afterglow

Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US have announced overnight what they believe is the indirect detection of gravitational waves in the afterglow of the Big Bang. The…
BICEP2 has spotted something pretty special from its South Pole base. Steffen Richter (Harvard University)

Explainer: what a flexed BICEP tells us about the big bang

The cosmological community is bubbling with the news that the BICEP2 experiment may have detected gravitational waves through measuring the radiation left over from the big bang. If the findings are correct…
The oldest star is out there somewhere. But which one is it? www.shutterstock.com

The oldest star in the universe? Maybe, maybe not!

There is a myth that goldfish have a three-second memory, and I sometimes wonder if the same is true about the part of the human mind that deals with science in the news. This week, the international media…
The nearest stars to Earth – apart from the sun – are more than 4x1013 kilometres away. Stinger_Y_Y

Explainer: light-years and units for the stars

Space is Big. Really Big. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pretty much nailed space with those five words. And space is so really big that our earthly measures of distance struggle. The distance to…
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has produced results consistent with the presence of dark matter. NASA

New light on dark matter: space station magnet attracts praise

Nobel prizewinner Samuel Ting, early this morning (AEDT), announced the first results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) search for dark matter. The findings, published in Physical Review Letters…
How is the spin of black holes measured, and what can it tell us about our universe? NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Cutting through the spin on supermassive black holes

Astronomers have measured the spin of a black hole buried in the heart of a galaxy located 56 million light years away, and discovered it was spinning quickly – about as quickly as it could go. That was…
The chances of the weekends two asteroid events being related are next to zero. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Forensic astronomy: the Russian meteor and 2012 DA14

One of the most exciting things about science is the detective work, and never was this more the case than Friday. Within an hour or so of the event, almost everyone had seen the dramatic footage of the…
When it comes to asteroids, alert but not alarmed may be the best approach. NASA

Look out: close encounters of the asteroidal kind

An asteroid named 2012 DA14 will come within 27,700 kilometres of Earth early on Saturday morning Australian time (around 6:30am AEDT). At this distance the asteroid will pass within the orbits of several…
Two lobes of charged particles (light blue) have been discovered coming from the galactic centre. Ettore Carretti, S-PASS, Axel Mellinger, Eli Bressert.

Meet the largest structure ever discovered in our galaxy

It’s not every day that you discover a huge structure that stretches more than half way across the sky. But this exact thing happened to the international team of astronomers I was leading, as we pored…
The Andromeda galaxy and its companions is challenging the very foundations of cosmology. Adam Evans/Wikimedia Commons

Cosmic dance challenges our understanding of the universe

Deep images of the sky reveal that the universe contains billions of galaxies. Some, such as our own Milky Way, are immense, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most galaxies, however, are dwarfs…
When you’re celebrating the New Year, be sure to spare a thought for Vesto Slipher and the birth of cosmology. Nuwandalice

Expand into 2013 by toasting 100 years of modern cosmology

As 2012 comes to a close and you toast the New Year, be sure to also raise a glass to one Vesto Melvin Slipher. My intent is to describe what Slipher did 100 years ago in Flagstaff, Arizona and why this…
Why do so many people believe in the Mayan apocalypse myth? Apocalypse image from www.shutterstock.com

Apocalypse myths show our fear of the world as we know it

If you believe the hype, the end of the world has finally come. The Mayan calendar’s “long count” began on 13 August 3114 BCE and will end today on 21 December 2012. Why do people believe the world will…
Everything we see around us could be little more than bits in a giant supercomputer. petertandlund

Alert: you may be living in a simulated universe

As a cosmologist, I often carry around a universe or two in my pocket. Not entire, infinitely large universes, but maybe a few billion light years or so across. Enough to be interesting. Of course, these…
Programmers will find ways to harness the massively distributed global internet. Night Owl City

Can the mother of all supercomputers save us from Big Brother?

Today I’m annoyed at Facebook. Among the amazingly witty and touching postings from my friends and Amnesty International are “pages you might like” and advertisements for things I don’t need, especially…
Despite ongoing research, we still know little about the universe’s earliest moments. tychay

‘Melbourne researchers rewrite Big Bang theory’ … or not

Earlier this week, headlines in several major newspapers screamed: “Melbourne researchers rewrite Big Bang theory”. You might think this is a reference to a new script for a popular TV show, but as a cosmologist…
The Big Bang theory and the existence of God are ideas often grappled with when thinking about how the universe was created. DamienHR

The origin of the universe: is there a role for God?

Last week’s Global Atheist Convention and debates between prominent atheists and theologians in the Australian media has seen arguments about the existence of God getting a thorough airing. In my view…
Collectively, these dishes would have the power to detect signals from the earliest years of the universe. AAP/West Australian Government

Supercomputer readies scientists for world’s most powerful telescope

A new University of Western Australia supercomputer that is 10,000 times faster than the average office PC could help scientists to develop the data processing capacity for the world’s largest telescope…
Two “new” black holes, in relatively nearby galaxies, are the largest ever found. tsand

Scary monsters (and supermassive black holes)

Black holes have long been the staple of science fiction, being monstrous beasts with a gravitational pull that prevents even light from escaping. As well as being useful plot devices, offering mechanisms…
“Infinite” is where we get to when we reach the limits of our understanding. truly0utrageous

Black holes might exist, but let’s stay sceptical

Peruse the astrophysical literature and you could be forgiven for thinking black holes exist. But do they really? What makes a black hole special is its event horizon: a no-return gateway to an unknowable…
Most galaxies – including ours – host a hungry monster. allthecolours

Black hole noms: planetary treats for the galactic monster

What do black holes eat? And do supermassive black holes have fiercer appetites? Let’s remind ourselves of the facts. Lurking at the centre of the Milky Way is a monster, a giant black hole with a mass…
If the signs are right, fundamental equations of cosmology may need altering. waljoris

Is life on Earth due to a quirk in the laws of physics?

A radical discovery by my colleagues and I – reported this week in Physical Review Letters – could help explain why it was possible for life (at least as we know it) to develop on Earth, but not in other…
Finding quasars will help us understand how galaxies were formed. NASA

Back to where we started: tracing the origins of galaxies

Today, the University of Melbourne’s Professor Stuart Wyithe was awarded the 2011 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work on the origin of galaxies. The multi-award winning…
A universe composed differently could still support complex life. Susan NYC

Peer Review: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning

Welcome to Peer Review, a series in which we ask leading academics to review books written by people working in the same field. Here Geraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney…
Warning: you may struggle to believe what you’re about to read. Bluedharma

They might be giants: a mind-blowing sense of stellar scale

Just how big are the stars? Earth feels quite big, what with it taking an entire day to fly between Sydney and London, and clearly the sun and moon are quite large in the sky. But with virtually everything…
The universe teems with energy and matter we don’t understand. stuant63/Flickr

Adventures in the dark side of cosmology

In questioning the fundamental nature of the universe, cosmology regularly grabs the public’s attention. But in an era in which we are observing deeper and more widely than ever before, our knowledge of…

Research and News (1)

Research Briefs (6)

Catching ancient light

Cosmologists have detected a long sought component in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which will help us to further…

Black hole jets revealed

The innermost parts of a black hole’s active jets have been revealed for the first time. The observation, by NASA scientists…