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Mysteries of the UniverseMysteries of the Universe

Mysteries of the Universe

Special-11

Smithsonian magazine presents over 100 pages of mysteries including Planet Hunters: looking for Earth-like planets, Einstein's Miracle, Next in Space: Future Probes and Landers and Much More! With over 100 pages, this special issue compiles both new and prior articles shedding new light on old mysteries.

Country:
United States
Language:
English
Publisher:
Smithsonian Institute
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IN THIS ISSUE

access_time2 min.
what a decade!

“THERE ARE MORE THINGS IN HEAVEN and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet was speaking of ghosts and murder, but he might well have been summarizing the past decade of scientific discovery, described by one prominent astronomer in these pages as “spectacular in terms of achievements.”In that time Pluto was demoted from its status as a planet but, weighed against the loss, researchers peering into the universe with powerful new telescopes and space probes have discovered 500 planets beyond our solar system; gathered extraordinary images from the recently tuned-up Hubble Space Telescope; scanned radio signals in search of extraterrestrial life; drilled into the rock of Mars; discovered new rings of Saturn; tracked the trajectory of potentially catastrophic asteroids hurtling toward Earth; and looked toward the dense…

access_time16 min.
homing in on black holes

FROM THE SUMMIT OF MAUNA KEA, nearly 14,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, the Milky Way tilts luminously across the night sky, an edge-on view of our galaxy. Parts of the great disk are obscured by dust, and beyond one of those dusty blots, near the teapot of the constellation Sagittarius, lies the center of the Milky Way. Hidden there is a deeply mysterious structure around which more than 200 billion stars revolve.Behind me atop the craggy rocks of this dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii are the twin domes of the W. M. Keck Observatory. Each dome houses a telescope with a giant mirror almost 33 feet wide and, like a fly’s eye, made of interlocking segments. The mirrors are among the world’s largest for gathering starlight, and…

access_time1 min.
anatomy of a black hole

SINGULARITYThe center of a black hole, called a singularity, is infinitely dense. Nothing, not even light, can escape its gravity—making it impossible to observe directly. What happens to all the space dust, planets and even stars that are pulled into the black hole’s singularity? “The ultimate fate is not known,” says astrophysicist Avi Loeb.EVENT HORIZONThe edge of a black hole, or its event horizon, is where the gravity becomes strong enough to hold light.ACCRETION DISKThe gas and dust and other matter that are drawn toward a black hole form an accretion disk. The matter heats up as it spirals toward the event horizon, radiating X-rays that reveal the black hole’s location and mass. ■…

access_time11 min.
galileo’s vision

INSIDE A GLASS CASE WAS A PLAIN-LOOKING TUBE, worn and scuffed. Lying in the street, it would have looked like a length of old pipe. But as I approached it, Derrick Pitts—only half in jest—commanded: “Bow down!”The unremarkable-looking object is in fact one of the most important artifacts in the history of science: it’s one of only two surviving telescopes known to have been made by Galileo Galilei, the man who helped revolutionize our conception of the universe. The telescope was the centerpiece of “Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy,” an exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 2009.Pitts, who runs the institute’s planetarium and other astronomy programs, says that receiving the telescope from Florence’s Galileo Museum—the first time the instrument ever left Florence—was “something of a…

access_time7 min.
looking for ghosts

WE’RE AWASH IN NEUTRINOS. They’re among the lightest of the two dozen or so known subatomic particles and they come from many sources: from the Big Bang that began the universe, from exploding stars and, most of all, from the Sun. They come straight through Earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second.The problem for physicists is that neutrinos are impossible to see and difficult to detect. Any instrument designed to do so may feel solid to the touch, but to neutrinos, even stainless steel is mostly empty space, as wide open as a solar system is to a comet. What’s more, neutrinos, unlike most subatomic particles, have no electric charge—they’re neutral,…

access_time1 min.
the origins of a once-imaginary particle

MOST OF THE NEUTRINOS that bombard us come from the Sun (left: an ultraviolet image). In a series of reactions at the Sun’s core (right), hydrogen atoms create helium through fusion. The process releases energy and subatomic particles, including neutrinos. When a photon, or particle of light, leaves the Sun’s dense core, it gets trapped in the heat and fury and may not reach us for millions of years. But a solar neutrino is undeterred and reaches Earth in eight minutes. ■…

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