We can get so caught up in the minutia of the daily grind that we lose our sense of wonder at life and the universe. Science can provide us with a perspective that never ceases to awe me. Here’s a couple of tidbits to divert your attention away from the mundane.
Looking into a star-filled night can disorient us to scale and move us from being self-centered to insignificant, but when we take the time to look at what is out there, it becomes absolutely amazing. For example, this past week there was news of the discovery of 2 “exoplanets,” which are planets orbiting other stars. These two planets are 470 light years away, orbiting a star at a distance, and have a spectral profile nearly identical to Earth’s. As of this time, we have identified nearly a thousand planets orbiting other stars, many of them with potential for life similar to our planet to exist. One wonders what those planets are like and what kind of life has already evolved. However, none are stranger than one object orbiting a star that was discovered several years ago that utterly baffles science. It’s called “KIC 8462852.”
The “object” is not a planet, at least not a planet like anywhere else in the Universe discovered so far. It is not round, but has sharp angles and appears to be changing shape and growing. Amazingly, it is growing with time and now blocks nearly 20 percent of the background light of its star. To give you a perspective, Jupiter would block less than .01 percent of our sun to a telescope looking at it from a similar distance. No natural process can explain its characteristics. It appears to be 3000 times as large as Earth, and growing. Even the most skeptical scientists are entertaining the idea that it may be an artificial structure!
On another scale, we are on the verge of discovering one of the most challenging theoretical qualities of the physical universe. Einstein’s calculations on the nature of sub-atomic particles (Quantum Physics) concluded that an object can be in two places in the Universe at the same time. Subsequent work has been unable to disprove the equations, but until now we have lacked the ability to prove the existence of a single particle existing in two places at the same time. However, scientists at the University of California have successfully developed the ability to isolate a single quantum for the first time, and (for the first time ever) we will be able to test the mind boggling idea of simultaneous existence in different parts of the universe. Subatomic particles can lack mass – they are measurable only by the energy they generate and effects they have other particles. Their qualities are as mysterious as the mathematics that indicate the existence of 10 dimensions (not the three we experience).
These are not entirely philosophical issues as they have very practical implications to our lives. And they do make you wonder, don’t they?