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Expand your universe and your mind with some amazing new discoveries
One of the great things about writing a science column is that there’s always so much stuff to choose from! See, science is driven by humanity’s most powerful trait: curiosity.
As a result, scientific progress never stops. Some months, however, there’s just too much good stuff to choose from.
So, this time, I thought I’d give you a quick overview of some of the great stuff that scientific research has produced recently.
Gravity is Making Waves
Let’s start with the oldest, and probably biggest news. Back in March, a group of researchers announced that they had detected “gravity waves” that had originated from the Big Bang.
Gravity waves, which were predicted by Einstein as part of his theory of relativity, are basically ripples in the fabric of space that emanate from things like white dwarfs, black holes and, it turns out, the creation of a universe. These waves are very subtle and very hard to detect.
But, after years of data collection and analysis, a team working with a telescope called BICEP2, which is at the South Pole, claims to have found these aftershocks, predicted as part of the “Inflationary” theory of the Big Bang.
Inflation theory states that in the first few billionths of a second after the Big Bang, the universe inflated at a speed beyond imagining.
Yes, even faster than light, and no, this doesn’t violate any physical laws, because it was space that was expanding at this speed...the light inside that space still has to stick to the speed of light, but the space itself is under no such restriction.
As you might imagine, this rapid swelling of space was pretty intense and Inflation theory predicts that this would cause gravity waves as a result.
While there was already a lot of indirect evidence in support of inflation, the detection of these predicted gravity waves is the first direct evidencwe that’s ever been observed for Inflation.
(For more info, Google: “big bang gravity waves”)
While we still don’t have an all-encompassing theory for what causes autism, a study published in early April adds another piece to the puzzle. Researchers found that abnormal levels of a certain protein (“Prostaglandin E2”) present in the brain of a fetus can lead to autism.
Alarmingly, environmental causes (including some over-the-counter meds and cosmetics) can affect these protein levels.
While this is just one study, and the results are yet to be duplicated, it’s a promising step forward in combatting the problem of autism. (For more, Google: “prenatal autism april 2014”.)
And, if you were wondering, vaccines still do not cause autism. The one study that linked vaccines to autism was discredited and retracted long ago (and the author was stripped of his medical license for fraud).
By now, everyone has seen that video of the meteorite that tore across the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia last year. When it exploded in the air, hundreds of buildings were damaged by the shockwave and more than 1,000 people were injured by flying glass and debris.
Now, this wasn’t a small rock, it was about 20 meters wide and weighed more than the Eiffel Tower! Still, nobody noticed it until it showed up in the sky and exploded. Scary, right?
Well, new research shows that rather than being a rare thing, impacts of this size are happening way more often than we realized. In fact, researchers at the B612 Foundation (which was set up to provide early warnings of asteroids heading towards us) claim that since 2001, there have been 26 multi-kiloton asteroid explosions here on Earth!
Why haven’t we heard about them? Why hasn’t a city been destroyed? According to B612 CEO Ed Lu, it’s simply “Blind luck.” (For more on this, go to www.b612foundation.org)
Finally, astronomers using the Kepler space telescope announced just days ago that they have discovered the most Earth-like exoplanet yet. Kepler-186f is just 1.1 times the radius of the Earth and it’s in orbit around a stable, slow-burning star.
Plus, it’s right inside the star’s “habitable zone,” where temperatures are likely to result in liquid water, as opposed to boiling away or being frozen solid.
This is a major accomplishment for astronomers. Better yet, everywhere we look we see more and more planets. As we find more small, rocky worlds like our own, the chances of finding other life increases accordingly. (For more info, Google: “most earth like planet”)
So, there you go. Just a few of the major scientific results reported in the last two months. Who knows what amazing things the rest of the year will bring?