Science is filled with answers, but these three phenomena are still mysteries…
The Pioneer Anomaly
The Pioneer spacecrafts were sent to explore Jupiter and Saturn in the 70s, and they are now some of the most distant man-made objects in the universe. But before we lost radio contact with it, they started to act funny…
The Pioneer spacecrafts were not where they should be in space. As the spacecrafts left the solar system, the Sun’s gravity slowed them down. The effect of gravity on an object is a well-known, mathematical standard, but the Pioneer spacecrafts over ten years, saw a decrease in outbound velocity by one kilometer an hour. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the laws of gravity are settled science. A mistake in the law of gravity is the kind of problem that will transform a physicist into a bald alcoholic.
The current theory is that heat venting in one particular direction on both crafts slowed them down slightly, but the Pioneer crafts are not the only vessels experiencing this slowdown.
The New York Times reports that other long-haul spacecraft has experienced a similar anomaly.
Besides the two Pioneer spacecraft[s], two later probes — Galileo, launched toward Jupiter in 1989, and Ulysses, launched into polar orbit around the Sun in 1990 — have furnished radio data for the investigation. The trajectories of all four spacecraft have revealed evidence of a weak force that slightly perturbs their directions and velocities.
Gravity is a natural force which we are supposed to have an excellent understanding of. If the Pioneer spacecrafts slowed down more than we thought they should, it suggests in some way that we have gravity wrong, putting cracks in one of the pillars of our understanding of the universe.
New Stable Elements!
Ninety elements occur in nature. Scientists have been creating new elements in laboratories around the world, but usually, these elements exist for mere microseconds before decaying into other elements. However, around element 120, physicists theorize that there will be an island of stability where new elements will decay not in seconds, but in hundreds of years.
Scientific American says,
No one knows for sure where this island lies, or even if it exists at all. Theory suggests that the next magic numbers beyond those known are around 108, 110 or 114 protons, and 184 neutrons. These configurations, according to calculations, could lead to special properties that allow atoms to survive much longer than similar species. “All existing data for elements 116, 117 and 118 do confirm that lifetimes increase as one goes closer to the neutron number 184, says theorist Witold Nazarewicz of Oak Ridge… “This is encouraging.”
The possibilities here are endless. Elements are obviously the raw materials for engineering and technology. If the island of stability exists, who knows what uses these new elements could be used for? Nothing inside the laws of nature is off the table.
How Did Life Begin?
Evolution provides an excellent model for how complicated lifeforms emerged and shows how the tree of life, with monkeys and manatees and millipedes, came to be.
But how did the first life come about?
No one has been able to take a soup of organic molecules and amino acids in a lab and pull out of it even a one-celled organism.
Harvard Magazine writes
How did life start here on Earth? That question, says Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy and director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard, “is one of the big unsolved questions humanity has always asked.” And yet for various reasons it has been difficult to answer. Biology has been very good at describing how living organisms work; it has been far less successful at answering what life is and how it could emerge from a non-living world.
So the origin of life is still an open question for biologists and the imagination. It could be that whatever happened to start life is literally, a once in the history of the universe event. The evidence certainly supports the idea that all life, from ants to amoebas to your mother-in-law, is unique on the scale of the cosmos.
What are your theories for explaining these mysteries? Let us know below.
All images courtesy NASA.