How Fast is the Universe Expanding?

The universe is a big place. And it’s getting even bigger, and at a faster rate than scientists had predicted.  That’s according to a new study at Johns Hopkins University, led by Professor Adam Reiss.

The study is based on an analysis of data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Adam Reiss was one of three scientists who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for their 1998 discovery that the universe is expanding at a rapid rate.

Scientists have been stumped as to what might be causing such an accelerated expansion. Dark matter, dark energy, dark radiation and perhaps a new subatomic particle are among the suspected causes.

Reiss and his colleagues are working on ways to more accurately measure the rate of the expansion of the universe. Reiss says that making these measurements more precisely could provide clues to what’s behind the rapid expansion.

This is an example of an early therian mammal, Purgatorius Union. (© Nobu Tamura)

This is an example of an early therian mammal, Purgatorius Union. (© Nobu Tamura)

Mammal Species Prospered Before Dinosaurs Became Extinct

Common wisdom has long held that mammal species really didn’t expand until after the land-roaming dinosaurs became extinct some 66 million years ago.

However, a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that 10 to 20 million years before dinosaurs disappeared from Earth, ancestors of today’s mammals had already begun to greatly branch out.

The study also points out that the diversity of prehistoric mammals also suffered greatly as the result of the same extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The researchers suggest one of the reasons why so many believe that these warm-blooded animals were repressed during the age of the dinosaurs may be that many of the early mammalian fossils found up until recently didn’t really reflect a variation in species.

But over recent years’ fossils of more mammal species have been found.  These have included various dog sized and hooved animals that had a variety of teeth.

An upland stream (oatsy40 via Flickr/Creative Commons)

An upland stream (oatsy40 via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Pharmaceutical Compounds Found in U.S. Waterways

Pharmaceutical medications – they are meant to make life better, but ironically, these compounds, when improperly disposed, can be dangerous for other life forms.  The drugs are finding their way into lakes and streams, posing serious health concerns for aquatic life.

Researchers have pointed to treated wastewater as the culprit – the main source of water that contains medicinal compounds and is released into the environment.

But a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters finds that a number of chemical compounds, such as the diabetes drug metformin and the anti-seizure medication carbamazepine, have also been found in lakes and streams that don’t take on wastewater from treatment plants.

Scientists from the United State Geological Survey suggest that run-off from urban areas and sub-surface water movement may be behind the flow of drugs into these waterways.

Research shows that metformin, which has also been found naturally occurring water bodies and even tap water can cause genetic changes in fish.

Artist’s impression of LISA Pathfinder, ESA’s mission to test technology for future gravitational-wave observatories in space. ((c) ESA-C. Carreau)

Artist’s impression of LISA Pathfinder, ESA’s mission to test technology for future gravitational-wave observatories in space. ((c) ESA-C. Carreau)

LISA Pathfinder Sets Course for Space Gravitational Wave Observatory

The European Space Agency, or ESA, says they are now very confident of their plans to build a space observatory to detect and observe gravitational waves.

Their enthusiasm is based on what they say is the extraordinary performance of its LISA Pathfinder mission, which was designed to test some of the most important technologies that have been developed for such a mission.

ESA’s proposed Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna or eLISA mission to measure gravitational waves in space would be made up of one “mother” and two “daughter” spacecraft that will orbit the Sun in a triangular configuration.

Each spacecraft would be separated by a distance of a million kilometers and will be connected to each other by laser beams, to form the arms of a highly precise laser interferometer.

Any incoming gravitational waves would be detected by this interferometer by monitoring for any changes in the distance between its lengthy laser arms.