The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works.: Quanta Magazine

Collage illustration showing the Webb telescope as a blossoming flower surrounded by stars, galaxies, planets and constellations.

Image from Quanta Magazine

Until I read this article, I did not recognize how much the study of Cosmology and the history of the Universe is still in its infancy. There can be theories about the nature of the Universe, and about how things came to be, but, at the same time, it gets more and more difficult to establish the facts about time closer to the Big Bang through observations. With newer tools, newer discoveries are being made with fair regularity. Many of these discoveries have happened during my lifetime, but I have failed to recognize their significance, for example, the discovery of the existence of exoplanets on other galaxies, the fact that the Universe is not in a steady state and is growing in size, etc… Since I am not an expert in the field, I have the tendency to take things for granted.

If the James Webb Telescope works, we will be able to see earlier into the life of the Universe than ever before. Read the article to understand the details. Energy is still reaching us from earlier on in time from the farthest reaches of the Universe. We just need to be able to detect it with our tools. We still do not have the capability to see things that are close to the Big Bang. Hubble revealed a lot about the early Universe. Hopefully this telescope gets us even closer. This is fascinating stuff.

The article talks about the long developmental history of the telescope, and about its design and the nature of its operation. The challenges include design of this large piece of equipment so that it can be launched into space by rockets of today, a design that can detect extremely low levels of energy from distant galaxies, etc… This is probably the most sophisticated and precise instrument that has ever been built by human hands. Its cost approaches 10 billion dollars, about the cost of building the US Navy’s aircraft carriers today. If even one element of the implementation and deployment goes wrong, we have a problem that would be very difficult to recover from. When deployed about 1 million miles out in space, there is no physical access to the telescope. (That was a lifeline we had with the Hubble telescope.) This is the cost of discovery today.

The first possible launch date for the James Webb telescope is December 22nd of this year. The telescope is in Kourou, French Guiana, at the Ariane launch site. It has been fueled up..

It is a long article, but well worth it, I thought…

https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-nasas-james-webb-space-telescope-matters-so-much-20211203

This is a video from the the article.

Quantum Computers, Explained With Quantum Physics : Quanta Magazine

I am not sure I will ever understand the concepts of Quantum Computing completely, but I still a kick when I get a feeling that I have gotten a somewhat intuitive sense for what is going on. For me to get beyond this state of understanding, I have to put in a far greater level of effort than I am capable of doing at this time. For now, this will suffice.

Federico Ardila on Math, Music and the Space of Possibilities: Quanta Magazine

This is beautiful! Combinatorics, geometry, algebra, multidimensional spaces, robotics, music, education, social awareness – this podcast episode touches on all of this! This guy is a remarkable human being.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/federico-ardila-on-math-music-and-the-space-of-possibilities-20210329/

Life of Bacteria

Did you know that the single-cell bacteria are able to communicate with each other, and that they have the ability to detect the presence, and numbers, of other bacteria around them through a process called “quorum sensing”? Individually, they cannot do much, but when they sense enough of their numbers around them they can behave in a collective manner. The result can be either good or bad for human beings when this collective behavior happens within their bodies. There is strength in numbers! Also, there are more bacteria in the human body than human cells. It also appears that the behavior of bacteria when it comes to organization is very similar to that in human beings. Of course, bacteria existed billions of years before human beings did! You could call the behavior of bacteria intelligence. I blogged about this kind of collective behavior in ants a while back.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/bonnie-bassler-on-talkative-bacteria-and-eavesdropping-viruses-20210308/

Tiktaalik

Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did.

I listened to a fascinating podcast a couple of days ago. It had to do with evolution, and the transition on Earth of living forms from fishes (of the water) to creatures who lived on dry land. Perhaps you, like I, have come across some pictures in the media in this regard that try to illustrate the concept in a easy to follow manner. The illustrations could include a body of water on one side and dry land on the other, and show a series of creatures emerging from the water onto the dry land, with the nature of the creatures changing form as you sequence them from the water on to the land. At one end of the sequence you will find a fish. At the other end you will find a human being. Here is an humorous example.

Of course, the pictures do not represent anything close to reality. The transition from fish form to human being took place over hundreds of millions of years and not in single picture frame – obviously. The process was also very complex, and impossible to capture in pictures like this. Also, if I understand correctly, there were simpler forms of life on earth before the fish. Nevertheless…

When scientists study evolution, they try to find evidence of the transitions from one kind of life form to another. This is the realm of the paleontologists. This is a fascinating subject, especially when you are dealing with the study of fossils/skeletons of lifeforms that existed hundreds of millions of years ago. It seems that we know enough about the geology of the earth and the ancient land forms that used to exist in those days, including the mountains, rivers, and oceans, to have some idea as to where to look for pieces of evidence of life from those times. And, surprising to me, there are such land forms, from those times, that are accessible to us easily. For example, there was a section of the Pennsylvania turnpike that was built by blasting a path through a mountainside that revealed rocks over 350 million years old. These rocks revealed preserved fossils from that period of time. (Human beings are capable of destroying our sources of knowledge without even a second thought in our quest for progress and all things “modern”, including mindless and unlimited convenience and speed.)

The reader will surely agree that, as part of the evidence of the evolution that took place, it would be great to find the lifeforms that represent the transition from a form of life that existed solely in the waters to one that lived solely on land, i.e., the fish to tetrapod transition. You may be surprised to learn that the first of this evidence was only discovered in 2004. This life form was given the name Tiktaalik (for reasons you will discover if you follow the links I am providing). The scientific process in this case allowed the scientists to narrow down the time-frame of possible existence of the kind of creature they were looking for, and then look for places where they could access the right kind of rocks of that particular period of time in order to search for the creature. They were successful in their quest.

My blog includes only a small part of the things I learnt from the podcast that I listened to. There is no way I, with my limited understanding, can do justice to the subject matter in a blog. Hopefully, I have stirred your curiosity, and motivated at least one or two of you to also listen to the podcast. Science is fascinating!

https://www.quantamagazine.org/neil-shubin-on-tiktaalik-ballistic-tongues-and-evolution-20210302/

Computer Scientists Achieve ‘Crown Jewel’ of Cryptography | Quanta Magazine

I have worked on projects involving cryptography in my past. I understand some of the basic concepts that provide the security in cryptographic systems enough to be dangerous when discussing the topic, but I never became an “expert” on the subject. I found it a difficult subject to tackle, requiring a greater level of dedication and/or level of smartness than I was capable of. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating topic. I wrote about the extent of my exposure to the topic here.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/computer-scientists-achieve-crown-jewel-of-cryptography-20201110/