How Did The Entire Universe Come From Nothing?

The more curious we get about the great cosmic unknowns, the more unanswered questions our investigations of the Universe will reveal. Inquiring about the nature of anything — where it is, where it came from, and how it came to be — will inevitably lead you to the same great mysteries: about the ultimate nature and origin of the Universe and everything in it. Yet, no matter how far back we go, those same lingering questions always seem to remain: at some point, the entities that are our “starting point” didn’t necessarily exist, so how did they come to be? Eventually, you wind up at the ultimate question: how did something arise from nothing? As many recent questioners, including Luke Martin, Buzz Morse, Russell Blalack, John Heiss and many others have written:

“Okay, you surely receive this question endlessly, but I shall ask nonetheless: How did something (the universe/big bang) come from nothing?”

This is maybe one of the biggest questions of all, because it’s basically asking not only where did everything come from, but how did all of it arise in the first place. Here’s as far as science has gotten us, at least, so far.

Today, when we look out at the Universe, the full suite of observations we’ve collected, even with the known uncertainties taken into account, all point towards a remarkably consistent picture. Our Universe is made of matter (rather than antimatter), obeys the same laws of physics everywhere and at all times, and began — at least, as we know it — with a hot Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. It’s governed by General Relativity, it’s expanding and cooling and gravitating, and it’s dominated by dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%), with normal matter, neutrinos, and radiation making up the rest.

Today, of course, it’s full of galaxies, stars, planets, heavy elements, and in at least one location, intelligent and technologically advanced life. These structures weren’t always there, but rather arose as a result of cosmic evolution. In a remarkable scientific leap, 20th century scientists were able to reconstruct the timeline for how our Universe went from a mostly uniform Universe, devoid of

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For the first time, scientists detect the ghostly signal that reveals the engine of the universe

In research published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists reported that they’ve made the first detection of almost-ethereal particles called neutrinosthat can be traced to carbon-nitrogen-oxygen fusion, known as the CNO cycle, inside the sun.

It’s a landmark finding that confirms theoretical predictions from the 1930s, and it’s being hailed as one of the greatest discoveries in physics of the new millennium.

“It’s really a breakthrough for solar and stellar physics,” said Gioacchino Ranucci of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), one of the researchers on the project since it began in 1990.

The scientists used the ultra-sensitive Borexino detector at the INFN’s Gran Sasso particle physics laboratory in central Italy – the largest underground research center in the world, deep beneath the Apennine Mountains about 65 miles northeast of Rome.

The detection caps off decades of study of the sun’s neutrinos by the Borexino project, and reveals for the first time the main nuclear reaction that most stars use to fuse hydrogen into helium.

Almost all stars, including our sun, give off huge amounts of energy by fusing hydrogen into helium – effectively a way of “burning” hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element and the main fuel source in the universe.

In the case of the sun, 99 percent of its energy comes from proton-proton fusion, which can create beryllium, lithium and boron before breaking them down into helium.

But most stars in the universe are much larger than our sun: the red-giant Betelgeuse, for instance, is about 20 times more massive and about 700 times as wide.

Large stars are also much hotter, which means they are overwhelmingly powered by CNO fusion, which fuses hydrogen into helium by means of atomic nuclei transformed in an endless loop between carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.

The CNO cycle is the dominant source of energy in the universe. But it’s hard to spot inside our relatively cool sun, where it accounts for only one percent of its energy.

The giant Borexino detector looks for neutrinos given off during nuclear fusion at the sun’s core.

Neutrinos barely interact with anything, and so they are ideal for studying distant nuclear reactions — but they are also extremely hard to detect.

Trillions of neutrinos from the sun pass through the Borexino detector every second, but it detects only dozens of them each day by looking for faint flashes of light as they decay in its dark 300-ton water tank.

Ranucci said the Borexino detector has spent decades measuring neutrinos from the sun’s main proton-proton chain reaction, but detecting its CNO neutrinos has been very difficult – only about seven neutrinos with the tell-tale energy of the CNO cycle are spotted in a day.

The discovery required making the detector ever-more sensitive over the last five years, he said, by shielding it from outside sources of radioactivity so that the inner chamber of the detector is the most radiation-free place on Earth.

The result is the only direct sign of CNO fusion ever

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Making sense of a universe of corn genetics

Making sense of a universe of corn genetics
Seed banks across the globe store and preserve the genetic diversity of millions of varieties of crops, including corn. Iowa State University researchers are developing ways to predict the traits of corn varieties based on their genomes. Credit: Jianming Yu

Seed banks across the globe store and preserve the genetic diversity of millions of varieties of crops. This massive collection of genetic material ensures crop breeders access to a wealth of genetics with which to breed crops that yield better or resist stress and disease.

But, with a world of corn genetics at their disposal, how do plant breeders know which varieties are worth studying and which ones aren’t? For most of history, that required growing the varieties and studying their performance in the real world. But innovative data analytics and genomics could help plant breeders predict the performance of new varieties without having to go to the effort of growing them.

Jianming Yu, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University and the Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, has devoted much of his research to “turbo charging” the seemingly endless amount of genetic stocks contained in the world’s seed banks. Yu and his colleagues have published an article in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, a scientific publication, that details their latest efforts to predict traits in corn based on genomics and data analytics.

Plant breeders searching for varieties to test might feel lost in a sea of genomic material. Yu said applying advanced data analytics to all those genomes can help breeders narrow down the number of varieties they’re interested in much faster and more efficiently.

“We’re always searching for the best genetic combinations, and we search the various combinations to see what varieties we want to test,” said Xiaoqing Yu (no relation), a former postdoctoral research associate in Yu’s lab and the first author of the study. “Having these predictions can guide our searching process.”

The study focused on predicting eight corn traits based on the shoot apical meristem (SAM), a microscopic stem cell niche that generates all the above-ground organs of the plant. The researchers used their analytical approach to predict traits in 2,687 diverse maize inbred varieties based on a model they developed from studying 369 inbred varieties that had been grown and had their shoot apical meristems pictured and measured under the microscope.

The researchers then validated their predictions with data obtained from 488 inbreds to determine their prediction accuracy ranged from 37% to 57% across the eight traits they studied.

“We wanted to connect the research in foundational biological mechanisms of cell growth and differentiation with agronomic improvement of corn,” said Mike Scanlon, a professor of developmental biology at Cornell University and the lead investigator of the multi-institutional team behind the study. “SAM morphometric measurements in corn seedlings allow a quick completion of the study cycle. It not only enables that connection, but also extends the practice of genomic prediction into the microphenotypic space.”

Jianming Yu said plant breeders can bump up the

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The Most Violent Events In The Universe May Have Left Their Mark On Trees, Say Scientists

Supernova! It’s the largest explosion that takes place in space, but how do the deaths of giant stars in our own galaxy affect Earth and other planets?

What would happen if a supernova went off on in our corner of the Milky Way?

Does it matter? Absolutely. The massive amount of radiation emitted by a supernova explosion could lead to climate change on planets enveloped by it.

So whether a supernova has gone-off close by might be a critical question in piecing together the history not only for our planet, but also for potentially habitable planets in other star systems.

It’s also something of a live issue for our Solar System given the confusion over whether red supergiant star Betelgeuse—which we know will go supernova in the next 100,000 years—could explode rather sooner.

After all, Betelgeuse just got closer.

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The effects of a supernova going off are unknown, but there could be clues in the trees. New research published in the International Journal of Astrobiology suggests that supernova explosions occurring in the Milky Way—though still many thousands of light-years from Earth—may have left traces in our planet’s biology and geology.

In a few short months a supernova explosion can release as much energy as the Sun will during its entire lifetime.

When and where supernovae occurred is important. When a star explodes in a supernova explosion it emits radiation, and it’s thought that planets recently exposed to radiation from supernovae are less likely to be habitable.

So Robert Brakenridge, a geoscientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, compared known supernovae with tree ring records.

Supernovae can be seen by astronomers because they leave visible remnants, called nebulae.

Sure enough, the timing of supernovae that occurred relatively close to the Solar System in the last 40,000 years appear to coincide with spikes in radiocarbon levels seen in tree rings.

The atom in question in carbon-14, a carbon isotope that is formed when cosmic rays from space bombard Earth. A spike in levels could indicate that energy from a distant supernova has traveled hundreds of thousands of light-years to our planet.

After all, scientists have recorded supernovas in other galaxies that have produced a massive amount of gamma radiation.

“There’s generally a steady amount year after year,” said Brakenridge about levels of carbon-14. “Trees pick up carbon dioxide and some of that carbon will be radiocarbon,” he added.

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Brakenridge found eight close supernovae that generally tally with spikes in the radiocarbon record on Earth, but four that are a really good match:

  • Vela supernova: 12, 740 years ago, 815 light-years = 3% increase in radiocarbon on
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What 50 Gravitational-wave Events Reveal about the Universe

Astronomers observed 39 cosmic events that released gravitational waves over a 6-month period in 2019—a rate of more than one per week. The bounty, described in a series of papers published on 28 October, demonstrates how observatories that detect these ripples—usually created by the merging of two black holes—have dramatically increased their sensitivity since the first identification was made in 2015. The growing data set is helping astronomers to map how frequently such events have happened in the Universe’s history.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time that are released by accelerating masses, in particular when two massive objects spiral into each other and merge. Their detailed properties provide numerous tests of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, including some of the strongest evidence to date for the existence of black holes. And through gravitational waves, astronomers have gained a new way of observing the cosmos, next to electromagnetic waves and cosmic rays.

The latest data release describes events observed during half of the third observation run of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)—a pair of twin detectors based in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana—and its European counterpart Virgo, near Pisa, Italy. It is the collaboration’s second catalogue of events, following one published in December 2018 describing their first 11 detections. In all, the observation network has now observed 50 gravitational-wave events.

Most of the events are mergers of two black holes. The detectors have also caught sight of a handful of collisions between two neutron stars and at least one merger of one neutron star and one black hole. Mergers that involve neutron stars are especially interesting to astrophysicists because they are expected to release ordinary light as well as gravitational waves, which was confirmed in a merger of neutron stars seen in August 2017. A few of the most spectacular events in the catalogue had already been described in papers. Those include the largest black-hole merger yet and the most ‘lopsided’ one—in which two black holes of vastly different masses collided.

One surprising discovery is in the masses of the black holes involved in the mergers. Astrophysicists expected a sharp cut-off, with no black holes weighing more than 45 times as much as the Sun. “Now we’re seeing that it’s not so sharp,” says Maya Fishbach, a LIGO researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The catalogue includes three events with outlier masses, including one announced in September with a black hole of 85 solar masses.

The wealth of data has now enabled LIGO–Virgo researchers to roughly estimate the rate at which black-hole mergers happen in an average galaxy. That rate appears to have peaked around eight billion years ago, following a period in which stars were forming—and some were later turning into black holes—at a particularly high rate, says Fishbach.

The catalogue also provides information on how the black holes spin, which holds the key to understanding how the objects came to orbit each other before they merged. It shows that, in some binary systems,

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Heat Is Building Up In Galaxies Across The Universe [Infographic]

New research from Johns Hopkins University shows that the galaxies of the universe are getting hotter. The universe was created somewhere around 13 billion years ago and since that time planets, solar systems, and galaxies were formed out of the super-heated material that exploded forth from the big bang. It would be an easy assumption to think that since that time everything has just been cooling off and calming down, however, this new research shows that is just not the case. The universe may have been cooling off for the first 3 billion years but over the last 10 billion the galaxies of the universe have been heating up.

How do we know?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked back at two decades worth of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the ESA’s Planck Mission to measure the temperature of galaxies in the universe. They discovered that the average temp of galaxy clusters today is about 4 million degrees Fahrenheit. Which is about 4 times hotter than the Sun’s corona. Furthermore, over the last 10 billion years the average temperature has increase by about 10 times. The gain in heat is the result of gases being pulled into the galaxies by gravity. Which sounds simple enough, but this drag is so powerful that the effect is similar to meteoroids hitting Earth’s atmosphere. As gravity pulls them downward they burn up and often disintegrate.

“We have measured temperatures throughout the history of the universe,” said Brice Menard, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy. “As time has gone on, all those clusters of galaxies are getting hotter and hotter because their gravity pulls more and more gas toward them.”

In order to make this discover Yi-Kaun Chiang, a post-doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins and Brice Menard, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy had to develop a new technique. Using this technique, they were able to estimate the redshift of gas concentrations in microwave images. The “redshift” is the lengthening of light waves as they get older. To put it another way, the longer the wavelength the older the light wave. Using this information, they were about to collect data from these gas concentrations from up to 10 billion years ago. From that information they could see that over time the gases were becoming more concentrated and adding heat to the galaxies.

You can learn more about this discovery and their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Surprisingly mature galaxies in the early universe

Surprisingly mature galaxies in the early Universe
Mosaic showing some of the galaxies observed by ALMA. The bright yellow regions are those where the most stars are forming (the ionised carbon (C+) line makes it possible to see the formation of stars obscured by dust). The second image from the left in the top row shows a triple merger. Credit: Michele Ginolfi/ALPINE

When the universe was only a tenth of its current age its galaxies experienced a growth spurt. It was this period that the scientists in the ALPINE project focused on when they used ESO’s ALMA telescope to carry out the first ever large survey of distant galaxies. To their surprise, these galaxies observed in the early stages of their life were far more mature than expected. Their work is the subject of a series of articles published on 27 October 2020 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, signed among others by members of the CNRS and Aix-Marseille Université.

Galaxies began to form very early in the history of the universe. To study their infancy, it is therefore necessary to go back to the dawn of time, by observing very distant galaxies. The ALPINE project focused on a period between 1 and 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, when the first galaxies experienced a phase of rapid growth. Although such distant galaxies have already been observed, this is the first time that so many of them have been studied systematically. Images of 118 massive galaxies, obtained with the Hubble (visible light) and Spitzer (near infrared) space telescopes, as well as spectra acquired using the ground-based VLT and Keck telescopes, were supplemented by 70 hours of observation with ALMA at submillimetre wavelengths (between the infrared and radio waves).

ALMA can quantify dust, a sign of maturity in galaxies, and cold gas, which provides information about their rate of growth and the number of stars they can form, as well as the motion of this gas, thus revealing the dynamics of galaxies. And this turned up some surprising data. For a start, the observed galaxies proved to be very rich not only in cold gas, which fuels star formation, but also in dust, which is thought to be a by-product of stars at the end of their lives. So despite their young age, these galaxies had apparently seen the formation and death of a first generation of stars. The galaxies surveyed also exhibit an astonishing diversity of shapes: some are disordered, others already have a rotating disc that may end up as a spiral structure like the Milky Way, while yet others have been spotted in the process of merging. Another surprising observation is that certain galaxies appear to be ejecting gas, forming mysterious haloes around them. The survey thus raises a number of new questions about the early evolution of galaxies.

Surprisingly mature galaxies in the early Universe
Artist’s illustration of a dusty, rotating distant galaxy, in the early universe. In this image, the red color represents gas, and blue/brown represents dust as seen in radio waves with ALMA. Many other galaxies
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