The Boy Who Cried 'Aliens!'
Good news! Our first interstellar visitor 'Oumuamua was just a small pancake-shaped piece of an icy world, not a possible alien spacecraft like a notorious Harvard professor had claimed. The alien theory was never taken seriously but it was widely covered. It was borne by this space rock having an anomalous acceleration. And now we know that it was not anomalous, the small comet experienced outgassing that did not appear visible to our telescopes. This is an important reminder. Not knowing something, especially if defies immediate explanations, should be the bread and butter of science. We should not immediately jump to the extraordinary claim of aliens, especially without extraordinary evidence.
As a nerdy kid in the 90s, I grew up on a staple diet of X-files & Contact. When it comes to aliens: I WANT TO BELIEVE. As an astrophysicist too, I want to believe but it is a different kind of belief, a negation of belief. There is too much universe, too many planets, for life to have only evolved on Earth. Scientifically and philosophically speaking, we should not believe that our world and ourselves are special or unique. Hence there should be plenty of life out there.
Since I was little, I have been fascinated by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI. I had the SETI@Home screensaver helping to analyze the data from space, being a budding citizen scientist. and I respect that SETI looked at this object trying to see if any signals were coming from it. That's how you do it.
SCIENCE IN BRIEF
There were so many cool stories these last few weeks that I couldn't come up with a top 2 so you are getting a top 3!
First up, there's this story of a reclassification. A galaxy looked very different when looked at in gamma rays than in radio waves. In radio waves, it looked like the jets produced by its supermassive black hole were side-on, extending out into intergalactic space, but in gamma rays they are pointing straight at us! There is no danger to Earth but it implies that something knocked that supermassive black hole making it shift its direction by 90 degrees!
For something completely different, let's talk about the double-slit experiment. This first proved that light is made of waves in 1801, and when light was shown to also be made of particles, it was used to show that matter can also be interpreted as a wave, a major development in quantum mechanics. But the work here shows that the double-slit doesn't have to be created in space for light waves to interfere with each other. Creating time slits also leads to a similar effect!
Let's do the time slit again!
And last but not least, a peculiar space explosion is even weirder than previously thought. The first of the 4 known Fast Blue Optical Transient is called AT2018cow also known as "the cow" and it turns out to be the flattest known explosion ever seen in the universe. This is something truly peculiar, and it challenges the old joke that physicists would model a cow as a perfect sphere in a vacuum!
If you are in the mood to turn back the clock 66 million years then pick up a copy of The Last Days of the Dinosaurs. Probably one of the finest books I have ever read about paleontology. Riley Black is a phenomenal science writer and a fantastic storyteller!
I have read the wonderful Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow. It is a love letter to videogames and how they changed during the 90s, and will easily resonate with Gen-X and millennials. I loved that all the main characters are so layered, with no clear-cut villains or heroes, adding to the realism of the story. It feels like these people are really out there.
Recipe of the Fortnight
I felt like doing something fresh to properly welcome spring so, I made this egg white frozen berries mousse!
I added a bit more sugar and whipped the mousse to stiff peaks after it had been in the food processor as I wanted it to keep for a few more hours and not serve it immediately. And it was delicious!
From The Astroholic Explains
Season 5 of The Astroholic Explains starts next week! And it's a truly special start as we are going both to Jupiter and Germany! But for now, to stick to the alien theme:
Finally, for your exclusive viewing; spring has sprung and Llywelyn is a little sunny puppy!