Thursday Throughput: Invisible Universe Edition
[ThTh1] Astronomy is unique among the sciences in that we don’t get to touch the things we study. We can’t put galaxies on a scale or run a tape measure out to Saturn. The only information we have about the universe is information the universe sends to us, in the form of messengers. Light is the most common messengers, but there a couple of others we’ve learned to detect. I’ve talked in this space before about neutrinos. These are tiny subatomic particles produced in massive abundance in the cosmos. In just the time it’s taken to read this far into the post, quadrillions have passed through your body. But it’s OK — they rarely interact with matter. That’s nice for, you know, not dying of neutrino radiation. But it’s not so nice if you want to read the message they’re bringing us from the stars.
However, in Antartica, we’ve constructed a massive experiment called IceCube, a collection of several thousand photodetectors embedded deep in the ice. Occasionally, one of those zillions of neutrinos smashes into a molecule of ice. When it does, it creates a flash of radiation that IceCube measures. To date, it has made numerous breakthroughs in neutrino science. But it just got even cooler:
For the first time, an international team of scientists have found evidence of high-energy neutrino emission from NGC 1068, also known as Messier 77, an active galaxy in the constellation Cetus and one of the most familiar and well-studied galaxies to date. First spotted in 1780, this galaxy, located 47 million light-years away from us, can be observed with large binoculars. The results, to be published tomorrow (Nov. 4, 2022) in Science, were shared today in an online scientific webinar that gathered experts, journalists, and scientists from around the globe.
In fact, they’ve detected 80 neutrinos from the galaxy over ten years and used them to construct the first ever picture of what a galaxy looks like to a neutrino detector.
Behold: An image of neutrinos streaming from the black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 1068 (right). Neutrinos!
This is the first resolved image of a galaxy in neutrino "light," a milestone in probing the unseen universe. https://t.co/Uzfy1RF0Ml pic.twitter.com/5eirCGYCh9
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) November 3, 2022
If you could see neutrinos, this is what that galaxy would look like. It’s remarkable work and yet another reminder that we are still just getting a glimpse of what is out there.
[ThTh2] Speaking of getting a glimpse of what’s out there: black holes are usually detected by the hot material swirling into them. But what happens if no material is falling into a black hole? Then we can’t see it because it’s … black. However, the GAIA mission produces incredibly precise positions for stars and has been monitoring them over its eight years in space. And now, for the first time, they’ve detected an invisible black hole by the wobble its gravity induces in a stellar companion.
[ThTh3] Plate techtonics will brigng the world together. Literally.
How the Earth could look in ~250 million years due to plate tectonics. Via Tech Insider.pic.twitter.com/9U8AiKR1vH
— Fascinating (@fasc1nate) November 3, 2022
[ThTh4] I’ve been talking about this for 20 years, but apparently Greenpeace just noticed that the vast majority of plastic is not recycled. It’s not because people are putting plastic in bins; it’s because of it can’t be recycled. That being said, Greenpeace’s solution — banning plastic bottles — crosses me as another straw ban: something that will likely make things worse as people switch to products that are more energy-intensive and create an even bigger environmental mess.
[ThTh5] Planet Earth is the most amazing nature documentary series ever. I previously mentioned their Prehistoric Planet episode.The wonderful narrator David Attenborough can still bring it at 96. But who can replace him once he’s gonne?
SNOOP DOGG narrating ‘Planet Earth’ is just the best.
— Michael Warburton (@MichaelWarbur17) October 26, 2022
Ok. Maybe not.
[ThTh6] One of the things anti-vaxxers have been harping on is the increase in cardiac problems in young people. But this problem predates the vaccine and has been hitting the unvaccinated harder than the vaccinted. The reason? COVID itself can damage the heart and cause long-term health problems. COVID victims are now known to have increased risks of autoimmune disease, nerve damage and stroke. The good news? Vaccines help. The vaccinates are, for example, 200 times less likely to have a stroke after COVID.
One drum I’ve been beating for almost three years now is that the “COVID only kills 1%” line of the skeptics conceals a lot of long-term health problems. As time goes on, we’re finding out just how much damage this “harmless infection” does.
[ThTh7] Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and cutting its emission can actually create economic benefits instead of costs. NASA is now using satellites to track methane emission. No word on if they’ve flagged my house after I have too much bean dip.
[ThTh8] Do video games destroy children’s minds? It might be quite the opposite (in moderation, of course).