Scientists Find Planets Like Planet 121061 (or WOW, What’s That Song We Hear?)

The world’s brightest star rises over the summer landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert, and, for about half a day, it shines brightly through the twilight on a busy road in the center of town….

Scientists Find Planets Like Planet 121061 (or WOW, What's That Song We Hear?)

The world’s brightest star rises over the summer landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert, and, for about half a day, it shines brightly through the twilight on a busy road in the center of town.

Then, some 700 miles to the northeast, at 7 p.m. every night, a bright, purple glow appears as two pillars of light form within the haze — courtesy of Halley’s Comet. Sometimes called the “Spotting Star,” the constellation of Halley in Orion shines once every 76 years. To see the sun, you need to get up before dawn.

The star we now call Halley is truly a visible object on Earth — bright enough to catch the attention of about one-tenth of the population. But the star opposite it — the corpse of the comet that we now call Halley, and a thousand times brighter — cannot be seen on our planet except in a dark place like the Atacama. Now that the comet, and all its “dirty snowballs” vaporized, it’s back where it came from. But the lights aren’t simply coming from a single source — they’re reflections off objects like meteorites or the stars of another galaxy.

There is now a new frontier in astronomy, and this is where scientists, in their quest to understand dark energy, are hunting for evidence that objects with mass beyond the universe are dancing through space like in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

First, some background about our universe’s record of growing as fast as it has, according to cosmologist Max Tegmark. He explained that there are three fundamental forces that govern the behavior of the universe. The gravitation of the universe is fundamental to galaxy formation, the chemical “glue” that keeps the universe together is fundamental to galactic stability, and the expansion of the universe is the primary cause of dark energy. But until recently, it was thought that the expansion had only slowed down slightly, so it’s been difficult to understand what’s causing the dark energy.

Until now, no one had picked up on an “unexplained acceleration” of the universe. So the next stage in science is to find a “spooky interference” — a signal from a distant source — to explain dark energy.

As we know, supernovae can shine when they explode, and any signal from them was thought to be too faint for any detectible. But the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Switzerland, recently managed to detect and separate out supernova signals from high-energy cosmic rays. Supernovae are a good place to look for dark energy signals.

Next, scientists looked at exoplanets in the light of dying stars from the universe. During the last four decades, scientists have only detected two confirmed planets from the stars they observed — one a stunning case where astronomers discovered a planet in the darkest, darkest part of the cosmos, and a second planet in the dusty tail of a yellow dwarf star. The planets have known one another for decades now, but no one is certain where they are or how they got there.

Now scientists say they’ve found a planet that is similar to one of those rare planets detected during the hunt for dark energy — a discovery that could help explain that previously unexplained acceleration of the universe, and could be a signal from a hidden source far from the Earth.

Dr. Max Tegmark is an American physicist who has written a number of books, including “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” “Why Physics is Dumb: The Science of Math, Math, Math,” and “Need to Know.” He is Professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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