Astronomers have detected an ancient stellar remnant that’s 10 times fainter than the dimmest white dwarf ever discovered. Fortuitously orbited by a pulsar, this cold and collapsed star consists of crystallized carbon — essentially making it an Earth-sized diamond in space. Indeed, this white dwarf would have never been discovered if it hadn’t been for the pulsar that spins around it.
Be prepared for a whole hell of a lot of scrolling. This map is pretty awesome in the sense that it really puts perspective on just how much distance there is between us and basically everything in just our small corner of the Milky Way.
Scientists think they’ve found evidence of Theia, the planet that collided with Earth to create our moon
Among the most likely theories about the formation of the Earth’s moon is that a small-ish Mars sized planet, one of many in the early solar system, crashed into Earth at an angle, and the resulting catastrophic destruction created a disk of dust, rock and other debris around the Earth, which then quickly coalesced into the gray ball we now see in the night sky. This theory had been supported by lunar rock chemistry, but now scientists have gone even further, using lunar samples taken from the Apollo missions and examined them under electron microscopes, and the theory still holds up.
Titled Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication and edited by SETI Director of Interstellar Message Composition Douglas Vakoch, the document draws on “issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology” to prepare us “for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.”
You’ve no doubt heard the mathematics of the Drake Equation about how there are an estimated 10^24 stars in the universe, or 10,000 stars for every grain of sand on Earth, and an estimated 10 quintillion possible Sun-like stars, hosting 100 billion billion Earth-like planets, which means somewhere out there, even with a conservative estimate, there should be nearly 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy alone. And yet, we haven’t heard from, contacted or even seen any evidence whatsoever of a single one. Anywhere. So what’s up? Shouldn’t there be at least one out there somewhere among those quadrillion possible planets? Maybe not.
Take life on Earth— in four billion years, there have been perhaps trillions and trillions of different species, going all the way back to the earliest prokaryote life forms in the primordial ooze, and of those zillion species, only a tiny branch of apes, producing only a few intelligent, abstract thinking, tool building, environment altering species of which we are the last. So even the odds on a planet with the biological diversity existing for long enough without getting totally wiped out to produce the kinds of creatures to even ask this question, are so insanely low, that it doesn’t offer a lot of hope that even among those 10^24 stars that the exact conditions would have existed long enough to produce another intelligent species on another planet for us to communicate with.
For a little over 150 years, people have been coming to terms with Darwin’s Origin of the Species, with the fact that the the amazing and beautiful diversity on our planet is due to a constant, millions year long struggle for life to conquer other life, to evolve as conditions demand and that genetic makeup of every type of life form changes over time due to mixing and matching and environmental pressures. But what about the universe? Is there any “purpose” to our universe? Lee Smolin, a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo has proposed an idea called the Theory of Cosmological Natural Selection in which he postulates that the universe’s ultimate goal is to make stars, which then become black holes, which then makes more singularities that can potentially turn into other universes.
While the number of exoplanets discovered by scientists via the Kepler telescope numbers in the thousands, most of the planets found have been gas giants, because gas giants are much easier to spot. But if you’re looking for an Earth 2, the closest thing so far is Kepler 186f, a small rocky planet only slightly larger than Earth that orbits in the comfortable “Goldilocks zone” around its star where it’s not too hot, not too cold. We may never know if there’s life on Kepler 186f, but its discovery is certainly a damn good start in the search for other Earth-like planets out there.
This is a selective list of some short stories and novels that use more or less accurate science and can be used for teaching or reinforcing astronomy or physics concepts. Included are both traditional “science-fiction” and (occasionally) more serious fiction that derives meaning or plot from astronomy or physics ideas.