This astrophysicist explains the surprisingly complex concept of ‘nothing’

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Philosophers have debated the nature of “nothing” for thousands of years, but what has modern science got to say about it?

In an interview with The Conversation, Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, explains that when physicists talk about nothing, they mean empty space (vacuum).

This may sound straightforward, but experiments show that empty space isn’t really empty – there’s a mysterious energy latent in it which can tell us something about the fate of the universe.

Rees was interviewed for The Conversation’s Anthill podcast on Nothing. This Q&A is based on an edited transcript of that interview.

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Enigma of Missing Stars in Local Group of Galaxies

‘Missing’ stars in the Andromeda Nebula and our Milky Way?

In the local group of galaxies that also includes the Andromeda Nebula and our Milky Way, there are about 100 billion stars. According to astronomers’ calculations, there should be many more. Now, physicists from the University of Bonn and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland may have found an explanation for this discrepancy.

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Secrets of Exploding Plasma Clouds on the Sun

Coronal mass ejections seen on sun!

The Sun sporadically expels trillions of tons of million-degree hydrogen gas in explosions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Such clouds are enormous in size (spanning millions of miles) and are made up of magnetized plasma gases, so hot that hydrogen atoms are ionized.

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Cosmic Curiosity Reveals Ghostly Glow of Dead Quasar

A “Ghostly” image for those undead terrestrials

While sorting through hundreds of galaxy images as part of the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project two years ago, Dutch schoolteacher and volunteer astronomer Hanny van Arkel stumbled upon a strange-looking object that baffled professional astronomers. Two years later, a team led by Yale University researchers has discovered that the unique object represents a snapshot in time that reveals surprising clues about the life cycle of black holes. Continue reading… “Cosmic Curiosity Reveals Ghostly Glow of Dead Quasar”

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Extreme X-Ray Source Suggests New Class of Black Hole

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This is an artist’s impression of the source HLX-1

A group of international astronomers in the UK, France and the USA, led by the University of Leicester, have found proof to confirm the distance and brightness of the most extreme ultra-luminous X-ray source, which may herald a new type of Black Hole.

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After Growth Spurt, Supermassive Black Holes Spend Half Their Lives Veiled in Dust

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black hole.

Supermassive black holes found at the centers of distant galaxies undergo huge growth spurts as a result of galactic collisions, according to a new study by astronomers at Yale University and the University of Hawaii.

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Astronomers Discover Most Primitive Supermassive Black Holes Known

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This artist’s conception illustrates one of the most primitive supermassive black holes known (central black dot) at the core of a young, star-rich galaxy.

Astronomers have come across what appear to be two of the earliest and most primitive supermassive black holes known. The discovery, based largely on observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, will provide a better understanding of the roots of our universe, and how the very first black holes, galaxies and stars all came to be.

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Super Supernova: White Dwarf Star System Exceeds Mass Limit

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Cosmologists use Type Ia supernovae, like the one visible in the lower left corner of this galaxy, to explore the past and future expansion of the universe and the nature of dark energy.

An international team led by Yale University has, for the first time, measured the mass of a type of supernova thought to belong to a unique subclass and confirmed that it surpasses what was believed to be an upper mass limit. Their findings, which appear online and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal, could affect the way cosmologists measure the expansion of the universe.

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Scientists Discover ‘Catastrophic Event’ Behind the Halt of Star Birth in Early Galaxy Formation

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Artist’s representation showing outflow from a supermassive black hole inside the middle of a galaxy.

Scientists have found evidence of a catastrophic event they believe was responsible for halting the birth of stars in a galaxy in the early Universe.

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No Place to Hide: Missing Primitive Stars Outside Milky Way Uncovered

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The Fornax dwarf galaxy is one of our Milky Way’s neighbouring dwarf galaxies.

After years of successful concealment, the most primitive stars outside our Milky Way galaxy have finally been unmasked. New observations using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have been used to solve an important astrophysical puzzle concerning the oldest stars in our galactic neighbourhood — which is crucial for our understanding of the earliest stars in the Universe.

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NASA’s Chandra Reveals Origin of Key Cosmic Explosions

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Composite image of M31, also known as the Andromeda galaxy.

New findings from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have provided a major advance in understanding a type of supernova critical for studying the dark energy that astronomers think pervades the universe. The results show mergers of two dense stellar remnants are the likely cause of many of the supernovae that have been used to measure the accelerated expansion of the universe.

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Black Hole Hunters Set New Distance Record

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This artist’s impression depicts the newly discovered stellar-mass black hole in the spiral galaxy NGC 300.

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have detected, in another galaxy, a stellar-mass black hole much farther away than any other previously known. With a mass above fifteen times that of the Sun, this is also the second most massive stellar-mass black hole ever found. It is entwined with a star that will soon become a black hole itself.

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