Telescopes https://mag.uchicago.edu/tags/telescopes en Uncharted https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/uncharted <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/Map_balloon_final_FLAT_9_30_17_hirez.jpeg" width="1950" height="1300" alt="Balloon path through uncharted waters." title="EUSO balloon path" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/mrsearcy" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">mrsearcy</span></span> <span>Mon, 10/16/2017 - 19:51</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>(Illustration by Anthony Freda)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/maureen-searcy"> <a href="/author/maureen-searcy"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Maureen Searcy</div> </a> </div> </div> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/sean-carr-ab90"> <a href="/author/sean-carr-ab90"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Sean Carr, AB’90</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/inquiry" hreflang="en">Inquiry</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">10.25.2017</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>From dark matter to gravitational waves to a balloon-borne telescope, scientists discuss how they handle setbacks.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Scientific progress follows a winding path, filled with detours and wrong turns—a natural result of exploring the unknown. Science makes headway by challenging itself, identifying mistakes, self-correcting, and persevering. That’s how alchemy becomes chemistry, astrology becomes astronomy, and belief in the four humors leads to medicine.</p> <p>UChicago scientists have seen their share of scientific wandering. One describes searching for something that no one is sure even exists, and how not finding it is in fact a discovery. Another explains how skepticism—of historical discoveries as well as his own team’s data—leads to more reliable methods, sensitive instruments, and credible results. And one story is a study in resilience in the face of repeated misfortune, and in how catastrophe can give rise to creativity and improvisation.</p> <p>Science is not a “lockstep march toward progress,” says Edward “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Physical Sciences Division. He compares the process to Brownian motion, with ideas bouncing around erratically but with a general direction toward deeper understanding and more correct results. “How do we know what the right direction is? We bump into a wall and say, ‘Oops, that’s the wrong way.’”</p> <hr /><h2><b>High hopes</b></h2> <p>Angela Olinto improvises when her experiment crashes.</p> <p>On April 25, astrophysicist Angela Olinto let go of her balloon.</p> <p>Launched from Wanaka, New Zealand, it rose more than 20 miles into the sky—a stadium-sized super pressure helium balloon, carrying a one-ton UV telescope and Olinto’s hopes to discover the secrets of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. “I find the most energetic particles exciting,” says Olinto, the Albert A. Michelson Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, “because they challenge our theories on how they became so energized.”</p> <p>The extremely rare charged particles strike Earth at a rate of one particle per square kilometer per century. When they collide with the atmosphere, they produce a cascade of secondary particles, including neutrinos. If astrophysicists can observe those particle showers, they can look backward and search for their origin.</p> <p>The balloon’s payload, an instrument called the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), was designed to measure the UV light produced when nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere are energized by the cascade and then return to ground state. The balloon was scheduled to carry the fluorescence detector for 100 days, testing the equipment but “mostly collecting data,” says Olinto.</p> <p>Three days into the flight, the balloon sprang a leak. By day 12, it was at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. NASA planned for this possibility and sank the balloon, using a remote termination command to prevent a dangerous descent. NASA’s 30-year-old balloon program had conducted an environmental analysis of an open-ocean landing and designed the payload to act as an anchor, pulling the entire balloon quickly to the ocean floor to protect marine life.</p> <p>Olinto had no say over if or when the balloon should come down. “We are responsible for the payload,” she says. “The balloon and the flight—that’s all under NASA’s control.” Despite her disappointment, Olinto stays positive. “This was not my worst nightmare. That would have been completing the 100-day flight and finding our equipment doesn’t work well.”</p> <p>The 13-country EUSO collaboration was able to collect some data, in part because after the leak the researchers changed their strategy to optimize what time they had left. “We had to improvise,” says Olinto.</p> <p>Normally they would collect data on moonless nights, when the particle shower lights are best observed, and download data when the moon is bright. When the leak was confirmed, they downloaded no matter the moon’s state. Luckily their launch window opened during the new moon, and they collected about 60 gigabytes of data.</p> <p>The balloon’s leak is one of many setbacks the EUSO project has faced. A version of EUSO was originally designed for the International Space Station (ISS) in the early 2000s, but after the 2003 Space Shuttle <i>Columbia</i> disaster, NASA halted space shuttle missions for more than two years pending the investigation. The shuttle program was then phased out in 2011.</p> <p>In 2012, when the detector was reconfigured for the Japanese Experiment Module of the ISS and became JEM-EUSO, Olinto was invited to lead the US branch of the 13-country collaboration. But several factors, compounded by the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, made the future of that project uncertain. So JEM-EUSO was broken into several projects, one of which was EUSO-SPB, aboard the super pressure balloon, whose launch was then delayed a month by weather concerns.</p> <p>“I have been in many situations where it looked like the whole effort was about to dissolve into dust,” says Olinto. Yet she finds those situations filled with creative energy, which she funnels into formulating new approaches. “The goals in research are flexible,” she says, “so the alternate path and the final destination are redefined when challenges are overwhelming.”</p> <p>Olinto’s new plan is to build another telescope and add a neutrino detector. The project’s second generation, EUSO-SPB2, <a href="https://news.uchicago.edu/article/2017/10/24/uchicago-astrophysicists-catch-particles-deep-space-nasa-balloon-mission">received a NASA award</a> in September. “No one has seen ultra-high-energy neutrinos before,” she says. The second flight will allow EUSO to collect more data and test the neutrino instrument’s capabilities. “It will be easier to predict and prepare for what can go wrong, learning from the first flight, where lots of things went wrong.”</p> <hr /><h2><b>Second time’s the charm. And the fourth. And the fifth.</b></h2> <p>Daniel Holz, SM’94, PhD’98, explains fake gravitational waves.</p> <p>On Monday, September 14, 2015, at 4:51 a.m. CDT, the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors—in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana—picked up the signal of gravitational waves. Produced by the collision and merging of two massive black holes, it was the first observation of the ripples in space-time that Albert Einstein had predicted a century earlier.</p> <p>Five months after the detection—once scientists, including UChicago associate professor of physics Daniel Holz, SM’94, PhD’98, had checked, rechecked, and triple-checked the data—they announced their results to the world.</p> <p>As it turns out, however, this wasn’t the first time LIGO had been through this drill; it was just the first time that it turned out <i>not to be a drill</i>.</p> <p>Five years earlier, before Holz joined the collaboration, a less sensitive previous incarnation of LIGO had picked up what appeared to be gravitational waves. The collaboration had gone through all the usual steps with the detected event: “It was studied, taken apart, everything, hundreds and hundreds of people involved” over several months, says Holz. A paper was drafted; the decision was made to submit it for publication. “We're talking about people arguing about the title of the paper,” Holz says—it was that close to done.</p> <p>There was just one problem: there had been no event.</p> <p>The initial signal had been a “blind injection,” a test designed by a sworn-to-secrecy team within LIGO to see if the equipment—and most important, the scientists interpreting the data—could distinguish between a false positive and an actual event.</p> <p>“The answer,” Holz says, “was, ‘No, this isn’t real.’ The answer was, ‘We’re not publishing this. We haven’t just detected gravitational waves, and no one’s getting a Nobel Prize.’”</p> <p>It might seem like “a complete waste of time,” Holz says of the negated months of work, but it’s “actually useful. It makes you go through the whole process” and ask, what went wrong, what <i>did</i> they get right, and how could everything be improved? It keeps the scientists on their toes.</p> <p>Such tests are standard in the field of gravitational waves research, and an understandable precaution when you’re working to confirm a key part of the general theory of relativity. The abundance of caution is part of the legacy of the first scientist to claim to have detected gravitational waves, Joe Weber of the University of Maryland—the “father of the field,” Holz says, and “an absolutely brilliant experimenter.” In 1969 Weber published a paper in <i>Physical Review Letters</i> that described what he had detected.</p> <p>But the signal he had found was “at least five orders of magnitude too loud,” Holz explains. Others “could not think of any way from the theory side that there really could be waves that were that loud.” No one else was able to reproduce Weber’s results. Nonetheless, he remained convinced and continued to make more “detections” throughout his life.</p> <p>Weber’s example “set a particular tone” to the search for gravitational waves, Holz says, and so the goal for LIGO was “to have our detection, especially our first detection, to be so clear, so impressive, that no one could possibly doubt what we’ve done.”</p> <p>After the false alarm of the blind injection, which came during the era of “initial” LIGO, improvements in the detectors made them far more sensitive. By September 2015 “advanced” LIGO was ready—or almost. In fact, at that point the new equipment was not officially online. “We were still fiddling with the machine,” Holz says. “We were going to turn it on very soon.”</p> <p>So when the detection came through, everyone assumed it had to be an injection. That’s when they received word from the top: the blind injection system was not yet up and running. And if such a “perfect event” wasn’t an injection, it could be only one thing.</p> <p>“We still ripped it apart,” says Holz. Without the blind injection system up and running, it was even more important to make sure they weren’t fooling themselves. “It was five months of a thousand people doing their very best to figure out how this might not be real.” But it was real. “We couldn’t make the event go away.”</p> <p>More gravitational waves have followed—confirmed detections in December 2015 and January 2017. Conservatism, however, still rules: an October 2015 detection is classified only as a “candidate” gravitational wave because it wasn’t loud enough for the collaboration to be confident.</p> <p>To this day, however, LIGO has yet to switch on its blind injection system. “Because we've seen real events, we know it’s working,” Holz says. So the last thing they need is fake signals to analyze. “At this point it’s becoming difficult to keep up with the real events that <a href="https://news.uchicago.edu/article/2017/10/16/ligo-announces-detection-gravitational-waves-colliding-neutron-stars">keep showing up</a>.”</p> <hr /><h2><b>Process of elimination</b></h2> <p>Rocky Kolb searches for the mysterious particle.</p> <p>Astrophysicists theorize that about 85 percent of the universe’s mass is dark matter, which can be detected only through its gravitational effects. Galaxies and galaxy clusters spin so quickly that they should have torn themselves apart based on their observable matter. Something is holding them together, but no one knows what.</p> <p>Scientists know much about what dark matter is not: It is not the visible stuff of stars and planets. It is not dark clouds of baryonic (ordinary atomic) matter, which can be observed absorbing radiation passing through them. And it’s not antimatter, which would produce gamma rays when it annihilates with matter. So what is it?</p> <p>One hypothetical candidate is WIMPs—weakly interacting massive particles that don’t interact much with ordinary matter, proposed more than 30 years ago. As a graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, in the 1970s, Kolb, now the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UChicago, helped lay the foundations for WIMPs by exploring the limits to weak interaction.</p> <p>WIMPs may bepart of the concept of supersymmetry, which fills gaps in astrophysicists’ understanding of known particles and forces. The idea says that each fundamental particle has an as-yet-undiscovered superpartner. When scientists use the properties of the lightest supersymmetric particles—WIMPs—and calculate how many would still exist after the big bang, that number matches the amount of dark matter seen (or inferred) today.</p> <div class="story-inline-img"> <figure role="group"><img alt="LUX dark matter detector" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="8eeb6411-3ec7-4837-82b3-05b15d9fc0bc" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/LUX_Photo%20by%20C.H.%20Faham_0.jpg" /><figcaption>At Sanford Underground Research Facility, a mile beneath the Black Hills of South Dakota in a former gold mine, the Large Underground Xenon dark matter detector continues to search for WIMPs.</figcaption></figure></div> <p>But so far <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/in-the-dark-about-dark-matter/">no detectors or colliders have been able to shed light on WIMPs</a>. So does Kolb still think they’re the answer? “I think we’ll be surprised, that the answer will come out of left field,” he says.</p> <p>What’s advantageous about the WIMP hypothesis says Kolb, is that it’s falsifiable. British philosopher Karl Popper’s concept of falsifiability states that theories are scientific only if it is possible, in principle, to prove them false, and that empirical science is never confirmed, only incrementally corroborated through absence of disconfirming evidence.</p> <p>Another dark matter candidate—ordinary matter in the form of black holes, neutron stars, or brown dwarfs called MAssive Compact Halo Objects, or MACHOs—was falsified in 2004 through the discovery of a galaxy cluster that doesn’t behave in accordance with the hypothesis.</p> <p>“Maybe we’re on the verge of falsifying WIMPs,” says Kolb, which would be a form of discovery.</p> <p>He cites the famous failed experiment of Albert Michelson, founder of UChicago’s physics department, and Edward Morley to establish the existence of “ether,” the medium they believed filled space and was required to transmit light. In the process of failing, they established the speed of light as a fundamental constant, and their work eventually led to the theory of relativity.</p> <p>So discovering that WIMPs aren’t the explanation for dark matter would point astrophysicists in other directions. But scientists “should completely exhaust the possibilities,” Kolb says, before making that call.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/telescopes" hreflang="en">Telescopes</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/physical-sciences-division" hreflang="en">Physical Sciences Division</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/uncharted" data-a2a-title="Uncharted"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Fscience-medicine%2Funcharted&amp;title=Uncharted"></a></span> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 00:51:01 +0000 mrsearcy 6667 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Lonely planets https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/lonely-planets <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1605_Searcy_Aliens.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/mrsearcy" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">mrsearcy</span></span> <span>Wed, 05/04/2016 - 16:04</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>(Collage by Joy Olivia Miller)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/maureen-searcy"> <a href="/author/maureen-searcy"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Maureen Searcy</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/inquiry" hreflang="en">Inquiry</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Fall/16</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Astronomers and planetary scientists debate if and when we’ll find extraterrestrial life.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The event: an Oxford-style debate. The occasion: a <a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/AstroChicago123/" target="_blank">celebration</a> of the <a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/index.php" target="_blank">Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics</a>’s 123rd year, in conjunction with the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary last fall. The place: the <a href="http://www.uchicago.edu/features/eckhardt_research_center_opens_new_phase_of_discovery/" target="_blank">William Eckhardt Research Center</a>, the department’s new home. The proposition: by the end of 2042—significant for being 150 years after the department’s founding—remote sensing will reveal evidence of extant life on an exoplanet. The fine print: we don’t have to physically visit the site; evidence does not mean certain proof; organisms must be currently living; and life forms need not be intelligent. The winner: to be determined by audience vote.</p> <blockquote> <table border="0" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="5" width="450"><tbody><tr><td colspan="2" valign="top"><strong>Pro: We are not alone</strong></td> <td colspan="2" valign="top"><strong>Con: We are alone—or might as well be</strong></td> </tr><tr><td align="left" valign="middle" width="2"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle" width="172">• <a href="#way">Life finds a way</a></td> <td align="left" valign="middle" width="5"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle" width="206">• <a href="#proof">Pasteur’s proof</a></td> </tr><tr><td align="left" valign="middle"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle">• <a href="#men">Little not-so-green men</a></td> <td align="left" valign="middle"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle">• <a href="#space">Spacefarers</a></td> </tr><tr><td align="left" valign="middle"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle">• <a href="#glass">Big glass</a></td> <td align="left" valign="middle"> </td> <td align="left" valign="middle">• <a href="#paper">Green paper</a></td> </tr><tr><td colspan="4" valign="top"> </td> </tr><tr><td colspan="4" valign="top"><a href="#rebuttal"><strong>A brief rebuttal</strong></a></td> </tr><tr><td colspan="4" valign="top"><a href="#verdict"><strong>The verdict</strong></a></td> </tr></tbody></table><a name="way" id="way"></a></blockquote> <p>The finer print: the debate deals with life as we know it; alien life could be so alien <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/will-we-know-extraterrestrial-life-when-we-see-it" target="_blank">we might not even recognize it</a>.</p> <hr /><h2>Pro: We are not alone</h2> <p><strong>Life finds a way</strong><br /><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/dorian-abbot/" target="_blank">Dorian Abbot</a>, Associate Professor of Geophysical Sciences Abbot launched the arguments for why we would find life with five points supporting the claim that life is common, particularly microbial life.</p> <h5><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/1605_Searcy_Aliens_spotA.jpg" /><br /> Kepler-11 is a small, cool star around which six planets orbit. (Artist rendition courtesy NASA/Tim Pyle)</h5> <ol><li>Earth-like terrestrial planets are plentiful in the universe, as revealed by the <a href="http://kepler.nasa.gov/" target="_blank">Kepler mission</a>, offering ample opportunity for habitable environments.  </li> <li>“The raw materials for life are everywhere,” said Abbot. Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon—they can be found on asteroids, moons, other planets, and in interstellar space.  </li> <li>As far as scientists can tell, life arose on Earth about as soon as it could have. Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and the earliest geochemical evidence of life appeared 4.1 billion years ago. “If you get those conditions elsewhere, you’re probably going to get simple life.”  <a name="men" id="men"></a></li> <li>Life thrives on Earth in extreme conditions, like in hot springs and deep-sea vents and Antarctica.  </li> <li>Life is resilient. “Once it arises, it’s hard to get rid of,” said Abbot. Asteroid impacts, hothouse climates, and <a href="http://www.snowballearth.org/" target="_blank">“snowball Earth</a>” events that froze the entire planet—despite mass extinctions, microbial life has persisted.</li> </ol><p><strong>Little not-so-green men</strong><br /><a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/people/leslie-rogers.php" target="_blank">Leslie Rogers</a>, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Rogers discussed <em>how</em> we would detect life through observation and measurement of biosignature gases. “Even simple life will modify its environment,” said Rogers. “No matter how ‘green’ these aliens are, they will inevitably pollute.” The question is whether that pollution will be detectable and distinguishable as a biosignature rather than from an abiotic process, like volcanic activity.<a name="glass" id="glass"></a> The key will be finding an ideal biosignature gas to look for. Water, methane, and carbon dioxide all arise from geophysical processes. Astronomers must find a molecule that doesn’t exist naturally in a planet’s atmosphere, is not created by planetary processes, is not produced or destroyed quickly by interaction with light, and has a strong enough spectral signature to be detected from a great distance. If an alien species were looking for an ideal biosignature from Earth, O<sub>2</sub> or ammonia would fit the bill.</p> <p><strong>Big glass</strong><br /><a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/people/laura-kreidberg.php" target="_blank">Laura Kreidberg</a>, SM’13, PhD’16, NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Astronomy and Astrophysics (now at Harvard) Kreidberg addressed technology: “The million dollar question is, will we actually be able to detect these biosignatures by 2042? Actually perhaps more likely the 10 billion dollar question.” She explained the main technique used to analyze atmospheres, called transmission spectroscopy. When a planet passes in front of its star from our perspective, molecules in its atmosphere absorb light, producing an observable spectrum, from which astronomers can infer the planet’s atmospheric composition and temperature.</p> <h5><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/1605_Searcy_Aliens_spotC.jpg" /><br /> The full-scale James Webb Space Telescope model at South by Southwest in Austin. (Photo courtesy NASA/Chris Gunn)</h5> <p>To detect biosignatures reliably, they’ll need more precise measurements, which the <a href="http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/" target="_blank">James Webb Space Telescope</a> will collect when it launches in 2018. To achieve direct imaging, astronomers need an even more powerful telescope, such as the 12-meter ultraviolet-optical-infrared observatory proposed by the <a href="http://www.aura-astronomy.org/news/hdst.asp" target="_blank">Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy</a> for development in the 2030s. “Then,” said Kreidberg, “we’d be in business.”<a name="proof" id="proof"></a></p> <hr /><h2>Con: We are alone—or might as well be</h2> <p><strong>Pasteur’s proof</strong><br /><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/people/edwin-kite/" target="_blank">Edwin Kite</a>, Assistant Professor of Geophysical Sciences To kick off the arguments that we won’t find evidence of life, Kite considered the likelihood of life arising from chemical reactions. “We all hope that life is widespread in the universe; anything else would seem like a waste of space,” said Kite. “But we should vote based on facts, not hopes, and the facts are that the origin of life appears to be very difficult.” Scientists have known since Pasteur’s 1859 experiment that spontaneous generation doesn’t exist, and all efforts to coax life from its necessary components in a laboratory have failed. Nearby planets and moons have had all the prerequisites for life in just the right conditions for millions of years, and still no life has arisen.</p> <h5><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/1605_Searcy_Aliens_spotB.jpg" target="_blank" /><br /> Edelfelt, Albert. Louis Pasteur. 1885. Oil on canvas. Musée D'Orsay, Paris.<a name="space" id="space"></a></h5> <p>The rise of life isn’t impossible, Kite noted, because it obviously has happened at least once in the universe. So he laid out two scenarios: life is easy and common (which seems unlikely considering our failed experiments at creating life and nearby observation) or life is rare, spread out across swaths of lifeless space too vast to overcome any time soon. He insisted that the audience shouldn’t feel any cognitive dissonance in voting no. They can still support exoplanet research while acknowledging that it’s unlikely to find alien life by 2042.</p> <p><strong>Spacefarers</strong><br /><a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/people/daniel-fabrycky.php" target="_blank">Daniel Fabrycky</a>, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Fabrycky’s discussion on whether we’ll find simple life centered on whether we might find—or be found by—intelligent life. He conjured Fermi’s paradox, often mentioned when discussing alien life. Put simply (and <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-fermi-paradox-is-not-fermi-s-and-it-is-not-a-paradox/" target="_blank">perhaps incorrectly</a>): If aliens are out there, where is everybody? Why are we not in contact now, and if they’ve visited, why are there no artifacts? “In this audience, I don't think I have to defend that proposition—that there are no such artifacts,” said Fabrycky. “Not even a measly obelisk on the moon.” Fabrycky pointed out that our solar system has traveled around the galaxy 50 times since it formed, with only the help of gravity. “If you have rockets and intelligence propelling you, you can get around the galaxy much quicker.” If aliens were coming, they should be here by now. For contact to be made, a series of states must be achieved, according to the <a href="http://www.seti.org/drakeequation" target="_blank">Drake equation</a>.</p> <ol><li>There must be terrestrial planets older than Earth.<br />  </li> <li>Nonliving molecules must form into living, replicating organisms.<br />  </li> <li>Life must evolve from simple organisms to complex, intelligent life.<br />  </li> <li>Intelligent life must develop technology advanced enough to populate the galaxy.</li> </ol><p>Robin Hanson, AM’84, SM’84, a physics-trained economist, proposed the “<a href="http://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/greatfilter.html" target="_blank">great filter</a>” argument, Fabrycky noted, that somewhere in that series of states exists an insurmountable obstacle, which is why our galaxy isn’t swarming with alien life. But at which stage is the filter? Kepler has found numerous suitable exoplanets as well as star systems far older than our own, so no problem there. Once step two is passed, where raw materials become life, there would be biosignatures, and the debate’s proposition could be true. Fabrycky thinks this is the filter. Humans are in step three, having evolved into intelligent beings via a process well understood and documented (and thus not likely the filter).<a name="paper" id="paper"></a> So, in Fabrycky’s argument, the filter is either the origin of life or our capacity for interstellar travel. If you believe that we will find evidence of simple life, then you believe that the filter is ahead of us, that neither we nor any other intelligent species will ever leave our solar system. “By voting YES on your post-debate slip, you are dooming humanity. To vote YES to the future of humanity, you must vote NO to biosignatures.”</p> <p><strong>Green paper</strong><br /><a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/people/jacob-l-bean.php" target="_blank">Jacob Bean</a>, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics<a name="rebuttal" id="rebuttal"></a> Closing out the con side, Bean reiterated that any search for life would face technological, scientific, and procedural challenges. But the greatest challenges will be ideological and economic—getting exoplanet researchers to agree on the right strategy and then convincing the broader astronomical community, the public, and the government to buy in. “Science aside, technology aside, my pessimism about human nature suggests that we are not going to pull that off by 2042, that it’s going to be the money that limits us, not the ability to do the observations or to interpret the measurements.”</p> <hr /><h2>A brief rebuttal</h2> <p>Abbot rebutted Kite’s rare life claim, suggesting that life could have arisen multiple times on Earth but been out-competed by a more dominant form. He also suggested that Fabrycky overestimated the ease of evolution, noting it took three billion years to get to our current state. “Intelligent life doesn’t seem Darwinianly favorable. Cows are doing just fine not building radio telescopes.” Kreidberg pushed back on Bean—who happens to be her adviser and who convinced her to pursue exoplanet research—saying that he discounts tremendous public fascination with the search for alien life and human ingenuity to develop cheaper methods for exploration. Kite rebutted the use of certain gases as biomarkers: “Oxygen sucks.” When light breaks down water, hydrogen escapes into space easily, leaving oxygen to build up, increasing the chance of a false positive.<a name="verdict" id="verdict"></a> Bean admitted that he “actually should be sitting on the other side.” His argument was more of a challenge to get people on board and “make this happen.”</p> <h2>The verdict</h2> <p>Before the debate, the audience voted 38 for yes, we will find life; and 33 for no, we’re on our own. Afterwards, 38 for yes, 40 for no. Astronomy and Astrophysics chair <a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/people/angela-v-olinto.php" target="_blank">Angela Olinto</a> joked, “I think we are following the Chicago tradition of voting often,” before declaring a tie.</p> <p><em>Before appearing in the Fall/16 issue of </em>Inquiry<em>, this story was originally published online May 9, 2016.</em></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/aliens" hreflang="en">Aliens</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/astronomy" hreflang="en">Astronomy</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/telescopes" hreflang="en">Telescopes</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/exoplanets" hreflang="en">Exoplanets</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/geophysical-sciences" hreflang="en">Geophysical Sciences</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/physical-sciences-division" hreflang="en">Physical Sciences Division</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/lonely-planets" data-a2a-title="Lonely planets"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Fscience-medicine%2Flonely-planets&amp;title=Lonely%20planets"></a></span> Wed, 04 May 2016 21:04:53 +0000 mrsearcy 5630 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Astronomers at the wheel https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/astronomers-wheel <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1510_Searcy_Astronomers-wheel.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="The Solar Corona" title="The Solar Corona" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 10/21/2015 - 16:21</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">The solar corona. (Photographed by the Yerkes Observatory Eclipse Expedition, May 28, 1900. Barnard and Ritchey)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/maureen-searcy"> <a href="/author/maureen-searcy"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Maureen Searcy</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>10.21.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Big glass of the past.</div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item">When George Ellery Hale founded Yerkes Observatory in 1897, its 40-inch refracting telescope was the largest in the world. Refracting optical telescopes use glass lenses, as compared to reflecting telescopes, which use mirrors, such as the <a style="line-height: 1.538em;" href="http://www.gmto.org/" target="_blank">Giant Magellan Telescope</a>. <p align="center"><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/hr.png" /></p> <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2912","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"589","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] (University of Chicago Photographic Archive, <a href="http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu/db.xqy?one=apf6-01389.xml" target="_blank">apf6-01389</a>, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)</h5> Double-slide plate holder on the Yerkes Observatory 40-inch refracting telescope. <p align="center"><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/hr.png" /></p> <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2913","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"648","style":"font-size: 13px; font-weight: normal;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] (University of Chicago Photographic Archive, <a href="http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu/db.xqy?one=apf6-01289.xml" target="_blank">apf6-01289</a>, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)</h5> <a href="http://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4419-9917-7_221" target="_blank">Sherburne W. Burnham</a> observing at the top of the pier of the telescope. <p align="center"><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/hr.png" /></p> <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2914","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"387","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] (University of Chicago Photographic Archive, <a href="http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu/db.xqy?one=apf6-01294.xml" target="_blank">apf6-01294</a>, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)</h5> <a href="http://www.britannica.com/topic/Clark-family#ref91449" target="_blank">Alvan Graham Clark</a> and <a href="http://astro.uchicago.edu/yerkes/history/1893.html" target="_blank">Carl Lundin</a> with the telescope’s objective lens, which gathers and bends light to focus an image. (The eyepiece lens magnifies it.)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/telescopes" hreflang="en">Telescopes</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/mirrors" hreflang="en">Mirrors</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/history" hreflang="en">History</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/physical-sciences-division" hreflang="en">Physical Sciences Division</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/yerkes-observatory" hreflang="en">Yerkes Observatory</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/photography" hreflang="en">Photography</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">“<a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/star-witness" target="_blank">Star Witness</a>” (Inquiry, Spring/15) “<a href="http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2011/10/13/uchicago-launches-search-distant-worlds" target="_blank">UChicago Launches Search for Distant Worlds</a>” (University of Chicago News Office, October 13, 2011) “<a href="http://www.uchicago.edu/features/20110118_gmt/" target="_blank">Giant Telescope Could Solve Deep Mysteries</a>” (University of Chicago News Office, January 18, 2011) "<a href="http://magazine.uchicago.edu/1102/features/first_light.shtml" target="_blank">First Light</a>" (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Jan–Feb/11)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedlinks field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Follow @<a href="https://twitter.com/UChicagoPSD" target="_blank">UChicagoPSD</a>, @<a href="https://twitter.com/yerkesobservato" target="_blank">YerkesObservato</a>, and @<a href="https://twitter.com/GMTelescope" target="_blank">GMTelescope</a>. <a href="http://campaign.uchicago.edu/priorities/psd/astronomy-and-astrophysicsbig-glass/%5d/" target="_blank">Join the campaign</a> and enable UChicago astronomers to make significant new discoveries through access to the world’s most advanced telescopes.</div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/astronomers-wheel" data-a2a-title="Astronomers at the wheel"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Fscience-medicine%2Fastronomers-wheel&amp;title=Astronomers%20at%20the%20wheel"></a></span> Wed, 21 Oct 2015 21:21:03 +0000 jmiller 5091 at https://mag.uchicago.edu About-face https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/about-face <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1406_Searcy_About-face.jpg" width="700" height="325" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 05/13/2014 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">Olinto holds up a prototype of the lens developed for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory. </span>(Courtesy Angela Olinto)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/maureen-searcy"> <a href="/author/maureen-searcy"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Maureen Searcy</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">May–June/14</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Turned back toward Earth, a new telescope in space will search for the origin of high-energy cosmic rays.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Once considered radiation but now known to be charged particles, cosmic rays constantly bombard Earth, but ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays—mostly protons accelerated to near light speed by some mysterious mechanism—are extremely rare. Arriving on Earth at a rate of one particle per square kilometer per century, they collide with the atmosphere, producing a cascade of billions of secondary particles. “By observing the tracks particles make in the atmosphere,” explains UChicago astrophysicist Angela Olinto, “we can look back onto the universe to search for their origins.”</p> <p>Hoping to discover the source of the cosmic rays, 100 million times more energetic than anything humans can produce, Olinto leads the US branch of a 13-country collaboration to build a 2.5-meter ultraviolet telescope called the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U65yHVZI044" target="_blank">Extreme Universe Space Observatory</a>, which will be deployed aboard the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station in 2017. Instead of looking out into space, the telescope will face Earth to observe cosmic ray collisions—detecting not the rays but the UV light produced when nitrogen molecules, excited by the particle shower, return to ground state. For this mission, Earth’s atmosphere is the particle detector.</p> <p>Olinto expects the telescope, from an altitude of 400 kilometers, to observe ten times the number of showers ground-based observatories are capable of detecting, helping to map “hot spots” where cosmic rays seem to originate. Astrophysicists can then look in those directions to find possible sources—maybe supermassive black holes, rapidly spinning neutron stars, or something else entirely—and better understand the universe’s dynamics.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/astrophysics" hreflang="en">Astrophysics</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/telescopes" hreflang="en">Telescopes</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/next-generation" hreflang="en">Next Generation</a></div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/about-face" data-a2a-title="About-face"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Fscience-medicine%2Fabout-face&amp;title=About-face"></a></span> Tue, 13 May 2014 15:00:34 +0000 jmiller 3320 at https://mag.uchicago.edu