Direct Evidence for Inflation Found in Polarisation of CMBR

An international collaboration BICEP2 has discovered traces of gravitational waves which existed during the inflationary phase of the creation of the universe, before any of the particles we know today existed.

b_over_b_rect_BICEP2Gravitational waves from inflation generate a faint but distinctive twisting pattern in the polarization of the Comsic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), known as a “curl” or B-mode pattern. For the density fluctuations that generate most of the polarization of the CMBR, this part of the primordial pattern is exactly zero. Shown here is the actual B-mode pattern observed with the BICEP2 telescope, with the line segments showing the polarization from different spots on the sky. The red and blue shading shows the degree of clockwise and anti-clockwise twisting of this B-mode pattern.

One of the leaders of the collaboration, Prof John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said: “This is opening a window on what we believe to be a new regime of physics – the physics of what happened in the first unbelievably tiny fraction of a second in the Universe.”



719 New Exoplanets Found by Kepler Telescope

This the biggest haul ever of exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System) have been identified by analysing data from the Kepler Telescope.

All 719 of the new planets are members of multi-planet systems—stars with more than one orbiting satellite. Researchers used a new method for weeding out false signals from among the candidate planets found by Kepler. “We studied just over 1,200 systems, and from there we were able to validate 719 planets,” says Jason Rowe of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the research.

For more see: Hundreds of New Exoplanets Validated by Kepler Telescope Team – Scientific American.

4.4 Billion-year-old Zircon Implies Early Earth Was Colder Than Thought

Professor of geoscience, John Valley of the University of Wisconsin, and others, have used atom-probe tomography for the first time to determine the age of a zircon crystal from the Jack Hills region of Western Australia, dating it to 4.4 billion years ago and so making it the oldest object ever identified on Earth. This indicates that the crystal formed within 160 million years of the formation of the Earth.

oldest zircon

The crystal measures 200 by 400 microns, about twice the diameter of a human hair.

“One of the things that we’re really interested in is: when did the Earth first become habitable for life? When did it cool off enough that life might have emerged?” Professor Valley said.

The discovery that the zircon crystal, and thereby the formation of the crust, dates from 4.4 billion years ago suggests that the planet was perhaps capable of sustaining microbial life 4.3 billion years ago, Valley said.

“We have no evidence that life existed then. We have no evidence that it didn’t. But there is no reason why life could not have existed on Earth 4.3 billion years ago,” he added.

The oldest fossil records of life are stromatolites produced by an archaic form of bacteria from about 3.4 billion years ago.

In the following video, Professor Valley talks about the work:

For the original report:

For more information:

Global energy demand continues to grow, but growth is slowing

According to the BP Energy Outlook 2035, global energy consumption is expected to rise by 41 per cent from 2012 to 2035 – compared to 55 per cent over the last 23 years (52 per cent over the last twenty) and 30% over the last ten. Ninety five per cent of that growth in demand is expected to come from the emerging economies, while energy use in the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia as a group is expected to grow only very slowly – and begin to decline in the later years of the forecast period.

via BP Energy Outlook 2035 Shows Global Energy Demand Growth Slowing, Despite Increases Driven by Emerging Economies | Press | BP Global.

GOCE gravity satellite reveals circulation of Earth’s mantle

Analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite, which flew during 2013, reveal deep plumes of mantle material rising from more than 2,000 km down. The images, generated by Dr Isabelle Panet from the Paris Institute of Earth Physics and published by the journal Nature Geoscience, vividly show mid-ocean ridges and tectonic plates plunging back into the mantle.

Goce detects deep plumes of mantle material rising from more than 2,000km down
Goce detects deep plumes of mantle material rising from more than 2,000km down

More Information:

BBC News – Europe’s Goce gravity satellite probes Earth’s mantle.

Relevant links (but without any direct reference to this report)

Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris
GOCE site

Earth’s Oceans Will Evaporate in 1 Billion Years

“The sun, like all main sequence stars, is getting brighter with time and that affects the Earth’s climate,” says Dr. James F. Kasting, professor of meteorology and geosciences at Penn State University. “Eventually temperatures will become high enough so that the oceans evaporate.”

“Astronomers always knew that the oceans would evaporate, but they typically thought it would occur only when the sun left the main sequence,” Kasting said. “That will be in 5 billion years.”

“However, the oceans may evaporate much earlier. My calculations are somewhat pessimistic and present a worst case scenario that does not include the effects of clouds, but they say a billion years.”

via Earth’s Oceans Destined to Leave in Billion Years | SpaceRef – Your Space Reference.

via Earth’s Oceans Destined to Leave in Billion Years | SpaceRef – Your Space Reference.

How a changing landscape and climate shaped early humans

This article in the on-line magazine The Conversation explains how, beginning with the collision of India with Asia 20 mya, followed by the opening of the Great Rift Valley, the climate and landscape of East Africa changed from flat wet forest to desert, mountainous forest and lakes which appeared and disappeared following a 20,000 Milankovitch-like periodic cycle in climate. According to the authors, the disappearance of these lakes forced the newly emerged Homo Erectus to move out of Africa to find habitable land 1.8 mya.

Read the article here.

Did Life and Plate Tectonics Co-evolve?

Earth is unique in several important ways:

  • It is the only planet where life is known
  • Granite has been discovered nowhere except on Earth
  • Granite now forms the continents of Earth
  • The first minute fragments of rocks (zircons) were formed inside granite 4.4 bya
  • Life appears in the earliest known continental fragments

Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science believes this is no co-incidence. He thinks that the origin of life was a geochemical processes that resulted from interactions of oceans, atmosphere, and rocks and minerals.

This theory, and other aspects of the link between early life and plate tectonics, are explored in a BBC podcast broadcast on 3 Jul 2013 (available here). The programme discusses the question of whether life on Earth could help to create granite and hence be the cause of Plate Tectonics.


Origin of Life research at Hazen’s laboratory

Minik Rosing’s Home Page

For more links see the programme’s page

The simplest inflationary models have passed an exacting test with data from the Planck Satellite

181 scientists have worked on the paper issued on 20 March which, following extensive analysis of the data obtained from the Planck Satellite, have concluded that:

The simplest inflationary models have passed an exacting test with the Planck data

The full text of their paper is available from:

[1303.5082] Planck 2013 results. XXII. Constraints on inflation.

NASA calculates Universe is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previous estimates

The Planck space mission has released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, contents and origins.

Planck is a European Space Agency mission. NASA contributed mission-enabling technology for both of Planck’s science instruments, and U.S., European and Canadian scientists work together to analyze the Planck data.

The map results suggest the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previous estimates. The data also show there is less dark energy and more matter, both normal and dark matter, in the universe than previously known. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

via Planck Mission Brings Universe Into Sharp Focus – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.