By Scott Sullivan
Astronomers, reports The Daily Beast, can’t agree whether the “GN-z11 flash” was a gamma-ray burst from the universe’s infancy or reflected light off junk orbiting the earth.
Last year a Chinese team working in Hawaii glimpsed something in the night sky: a flash of light that went on four minutes. Some think it came from a powerful explosion 13.4 billion years ago — a virtual snapshot of the universe as it existed just 400 million years after its formation. Others say “garbage” — literally.
Both agree we need to spend billions more dollars on tech toys like NASA’s new Webb Space Telescope, plus ultra-powerful computers that can help spot and plot faraway explosions. Assuming we don’t blow ourselves up first.
The worldwide web has nothing on the new Webb Telescope, launched Christmas Day as successor to the Hubble Space Telescope towards a spot 1 million miles away called Lagrange Point 2. ZZ Top sang about a shack outside it.
The Webb’s 21-foot-wide primary mirror (the Hubble’s is only 8 feet) stands to capture faint ancient light from the oldest stars in the universe — older than Betty White even. Its launch was 14 years overdue and cost 10 times as much as estimated, but the science, experts at spending money say, will be worth the wait.
Astronomers think by detecting light from GN-z11 — thought to be the world’s oldest galaxy till they find a new one even older — they can gather more data shedding light on how matter has formed since the Big Bang 13.6 billion years ago. Before then all was dark, they figure.
Coming soon, either:
a) A still bigger-mirrored telescope, with price tag to match, that can see dark too; or
b) Claims there never was a Big Bang. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a University of New Hampshire physicist, writes in a recent issue of the New Scientist:
“The universe may not have had a beginning moment, and we may live in what is called an eternally-inflating universe. One that was expanding exponentially even before what we call the big bang. Mathematically, this seems the most likely scenario — assuming inflation is correct.”
I don’t need a $10-billion telescope to read price tags in stores. But if the government wants to buy me one it will make for even greater stimulus.
No Big Bang would blow up everything, quantum physics wise. With no finite moment when nothingness became something, there is no origin point for time — there are no beginnings. How long was there darkness before the universe? And where was it?
My hypothesis is we base research on premises more research will debunk. If we searched right the first time, we wouldn’t need it. If I didn’t think that most research is BS, why write about it?
Space junk — not to be mistaken for Michael Jordan’s film “Space Jam,” garbage in its own right — ranges from discarded rocket stages to microscopic paint chips orbiting the earth. Soon there will be so much it eclipses everything. There’s a lot of crap out there — in here too; you should see my office.
Let’s assume there was a Big Bang, time started and since then the universe has expanded (into what, don’t ask). If the GN-z11 flash was indeed gamma rays from those early days and the Webb can detect more data points, we can connect them like sort of a breadcrumb path that leads to more knowledge of how time and space developed.
Hansel and Gretel followed their crumby path home with a witch’s booty to boot; scientists can harvest theirs to win more grants and tech toys.
That’s what astronomer Linhua Jiang’s team is selling. If gamma rays were exploding that long ago, it means the universe evolved fast into what we now see around us — assuming we can see through all that space junk.
Bunk, says a team led by Polish astronomer Michal Michalowski. The Chinese likely saw light reflecting from 6-year-old castoff debris from a Russian rocket.
“We will never know the true nature of this flash,” admits Jiang, who sounds like he’s bagged it. Colleague Bing Zhang is more optimistic. He urges patience while larger telescopes are built and trained on more faint and distant galaxies.
Who to believe: Michal Michal? Jiang and Bing? ZZ Top? We need our lives to be easier. So I started with my office.
First, what was the kitten doing laying on the keyboard of my second computer? (Two screens make my computer confusion stereo.) He’d opened all kinds of windows with random letters, numbers and symbols flashing until I realized he was hacking me. Ha! If he thinks coughing up a hairball is bad, good luck mining that crap.
Unpaid bills were everywhere. Books I’m still in the middle of, some for decades. Obsolete camera gear. Weighing each piece of debris as a separate data point, I concluded a big bang was the way to go.
“Dynamite?” asked my wife when I came home with sticks.
“Time to start new,” I said.
By Scott Sullivan