Did the universe really begin with a Big Bang? And if so, is there evidence? Are there planets around other stars? Can they support life?
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to three scientists who have provided deep insights into all of these questions.
James Peebles, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, won half the prize for a body of work he completed since the 1960s, when he and a team of physicists at Princeton attempted to detect the remnant radiation of the dense, hot ball of gas at the beginning of the universe: the Bang Bang.
The other half went to Michel Mayor, an emeritus professor of physics from the University of Geneva, together with Didier Queloz, also a Swiss astrophysicist at the University of Geneva and the University of Cambridge. Both made breakthroughs with the discovery of the first planets orbiting other stars, also known as exoplanets, beyond our solar system.
I am an astrophysicist and was delighted to hear of this year’s Nobel recipients, who had a profound impact on scientists’ understanding of the universe. A lot of my own work on exploding stars is guided by theories describing the structure of the universe that James Peebles himself laid down.
In fact, one might say that Peebles, of all this year’s Nobel winners, is the biggest star of the real “Big Bang Theory.”
The real Big Bang Theory
As Peebles and his Princeton team rushed to complete their discovery in 1964, they were scooped by two young scientists at nearby Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. The remaining radiation from the Big Bang was predicted to be microwave energy, in much the same form used by countertop ovens.
It was a serendipitous finding because Penzias and Wilson had constructed an antenna to detect this microwave radiation which was used in satellite communications. But they were mystified by a persistent source of noise in their measurements, like the fuzz of a radio tuned between stations.
Penzias and Wilson talked to Peebles and his colleagues and learned that this static they were hearing was the radiation left over from the Big Bang itself. Penzias and Wilson won the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their discovery, though Peebles and his team provided the crucial interpretation.
Peebles has also made decades of pivotal contributions to the study of the matter which pervades the cosmos but is invisible to telescopes, known as dark matter, and the equally mysterious energy of empty space, known as dark energy. He has done foundational work on the formation of galaxies, as well as to how the Big Bang gave rise to the first elements – hydrogen, helium, lithium – on the periodic table.
Finding planets beyond our solar system
For their Nobel Prize-winning work, Mayor and Queloz carried out a survey of nearby stars using a custom-built instrument. Using this instrument, they could detect the wobble of a star – a sign that it is being tugged by the gravity of an orbiting exoplanet.
In 1995, in a landmark discovery published in the journal Nature, they found a star in the constellation Pegasus rapidly wobbling across the sky, in response to an unseen planet with half the mass of Jupiter. This exoplanet, dubbed 51 Pegasi b, orbits close to its central star, well within the orbit of Mercury in our own solar system, and completes one full orbit in just four days.
This surprising discovery of a “hot Jupiter,” quite unlike any planet in our own solar system, excited the astrophysical community and inspired many other research groups, including the Kepler space telescope team, to search for exoplanets.
These groups are using both the same wobble detection method as well as new methods, such as looking for light dips caused by exoplanets passing over nearby stars. Thanks to these research efforts, more than 4,000 exoplanets have now been discovered.
Video catches woman in Central Park falsely reporting ‘an African-American man threatening my life’
A video circulated on social media on Monday showed a woman in Central Park falsely claiming that an "African-American man" threatened her life.
The incident was said to occur between a man and a white woman over the Memorial Day weekend. Cell phone video shared on Twitter revealed a verbal confrontation as the woman was exercising her dog without a leash.
After the man asked the woman to put her dog on a leash, he took out his phone to film her.
"Please stop," the woman says. "Sir, I'm asking you to stop recording me."
"Please don't come close to me," the man replies.
Trump is ‘losing it’ and ‘devolving down into rabbit holes of conspiracy theories’: Conservative TV host
On Monday, conservative CNN talk show host S. E. Cupp slammed President Donald Trump for his behavior amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think no matter who the president is, there's always going to be someone criticizing the response to a disaster," said anchor Brianna Keilar. "But something that has been true since the beginning of this is that the president really had a real opportunity, handed one, to unify people, to lead, to set a tone, and he's really squandering it, isn't he?"
"I think we should say, Brianna, this has long gone past offensive, and distasteful. I think what we're seeing is the president losing it," said Cupp. "I don't think that the president's behavior is that of a healthy, stable, balanced person. That he can't focus all of his energy and efforts and attention on this global pandemic, on securing the physical and economic safety and health of this country, is very alarming. Instead, devolving down these rabbit holes of conspiracy theories, baseless conspiracy theories as you pointed out, attacking women for their looks and their weight, you know, threatening governors, one in Michigan for mail-in voting, another in North Carolina for not guaranteeing a full house at the RNC."
Trump’s televised ‘petulance’ is driving a key voting bloc away from the GOP amid the coronavirus pandemic: columnist
Writing in the Washington Post this Monday, columnist Karen Tumulty writes that when it comes to the reliable voting bloc of Americans who are 65 and older, President Trump is on shaky ground, thanks to his bungled response to the coronavirus.
Recent polling has shown a notable shift in support for Trump from America's senior citizens. According to Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, "Trump is blowing what had become an important Republican advantage."
Tumulty writes that this slip in support is also the fault of Republicans in general, who've been sending subtle messages to older Americans that their lives are not worth as much as a strong economy. Nevertheless, older Americans have been paying close attention to Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis.