To Measure the Universe’s Expansion, We Might Need New Physics

A Constant Discrepancy

As far as astronomers can tell, the universe is continuing to expand — and our understanding of how it is doing this needs to expand as well. In fact, recent findings from researchers partnering with NASA suggest that we may need to discover new physics to explain discrepancies between measurements of universal expansion.

The rate by which the universe expands, called the Hubble Constant, consistently indicates that the size of the universe is growing — but no one can be sure exactly how quickly. The currently accepted rate is a little over 70 km/s/Mpc (roughly 44 miles/s/Mpc). A number of recent studies suggest, however, that the rate of expansion is actually faster, while others suggest that it could be slower.

Image credit: NASA
Image credit: NASA

“The community is really grappling with understanding the meaning of this discrepancy,” Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Johns Hopkins University, told NASA. Riess was one of the researchers who studied Cepheid stars and Type Ia supernovae to measure the universe’s expansion, and they found it to be faster than what we thought.

Precision is Key

Riess and colleagues, including Stefano Casertano who is also from SRScI and Johns Hopkins, have been giving these stars another look using NASA’s Hubble to gather data on Cepheids that are some 6,000 to 12,000 light-years away. What they did was measure the how the positions of these stars changed with the Earth’s every rotation around the Sun.

“You’re measuring the separation between two stars, not just in one place on the camera, but over and over thousands of times, reducing the errors in measurement,” Reiss said said in the NASA press release.

The Evolution of Human Understanding of the Universe [INFOGRAPHIC]
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While their latest findings, which have been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, suggest a different measurement for Hubble’s Constant that’s supposedly more precise because of the instruments they have been using. They’re not stopping there, though.

The team plans to improve their measurements using data from Hubble and the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory. “This precision is what it will take to diagnose the cause of this discrepancy,” Casertano said in the NASA press release.

Reiss and his team, however, are still uncertain why there have been discrepancies in the first place, which could potentially show that there is something going on in the universe that could even require new physics in order for us to understand.

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Bad News: The Amazon Might Be Past the Point of Saving

The Point of No Return

The world’s forests are shrinking. For years, they’ve withstood a multitude of human impact. But according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, they may be reaching a crisis point. If deforestation goes beyond 20 percent of its original spread, the Amazon Rainforest will have reached the “point of no return”.

In the study, Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre set out to concretely establish that tipping point, as well as concretely identify what must take place for it to be reached. Essentially, they wanted to know how far deforestation could progress before the rainforest’s water cycle would cease to support the ecosystems within it.

“If the climate changes – by deforestation or global warming – there’s a risk that more than 50% of the Amazon forest becomes a degraded savannah,” Nobre told Euronews, emphasizing that in the last 50 years, deforestation has made its way to about 17 percent of the Amazon’s vegetation.

By their estimates, it would take just an additional three percent to render the rainforest unsalvagable.

While deforestation poses an imminent and severe risk to the rainforest, it is not the only threat to these ecosystems. Climate change and the use of fire also play a major role in this region’s ongoing ruin. In addition to its potentially decimating what’s left of the rainforest (and the wildlife that inhabit it), the degradation of the water cycle would also have a severe impact on South America’s human population.

Despite this grim prediction, we have not yet reached the point where there is no turning back. The Amazon Rainforest may be close to the point of no return, but it has not yet passed it. The right kind of human intervention could help steer the forest away from imminent doom — but in light of the destruction that’s already been done, and the speed of its continuation, putting a stop to it won’t be easy.

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A Tax Incentive Might Finally Make Carbon Capture a Thing

Here’s a cool idea for you. Wouldn’t it be great to remove the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide responsible for warming our planet, and deposit it into underground rocks? It would be, right?

That’s carbon capture, and it’s (kind of) a real thing. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a promising idea, or an enormous failure.

Soon, though, carbon capture may meet its long-theorized potential. The most recent budget deal, which President Trump signed on February 9, contains tax incentives for companies to invest in carbon capture. The incentive isn’t much, but it might just be enough to help the technology mature, which could lead to more widespread adoption — and, ultimately, could achieve the desired effect on the climate.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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Yes, carbon capture facilities already exist. There’s a big one in Texas, and another in Canada.

But the overall consensus is that the technique, as it stands today, is nowhere near mature enough to slow or offset the process of global warming. Some fear that it will never get there, and that the time and money we spend developing it could be better used on techniques already known to work – like reducing emissions from their source. Others say we won’t be able to mitigate the effects of climate change without it.

The new budget initiative gives companies a $ 50 tax credit for every metric ton of carbon they capture and bury underground. For every metric ton they capture and use in other ways, the government gives the company a $ 35 tax credit. It’s a significant increase over the previous tax credits ($ 20 and $ 10, respectively). But it still doesn’t offset the cost of carbon capture, which could run between $ 60 and $ 70 per metric ton, according to a 2015 report from the Office of Fossil Energy. Companies will need to spend an additional $ 11 per ton to transport and store the carbon.

A tax incentive like that may encourage companies to put carbon capture systems into place, but the technology is still far from efficient enough to put a serious dent in our emissions. Carbon capture itself requires energy, as does converting the carbon into a liquid and transporting it. So as it stands now, carbon capture might actually be adding to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

For carbon capture to make sense, we need technology that is much more efficient and cheaper. There’s a chance that companies seeking to make the most of this substantial tax incentive will invest in the research and development to make carbon capture worthwhile. But, then again, maybe the incentive will simply encourage companies to use this inefficient technology, exacerbating the use of fossil fuels, and driving global warming.

In the end, we’d be better off focusing on cutting our emissions altogether, and employing the carbon capture technology that already exists. That’s the only surefire way to limit the effects of climate change.

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3 Reasons Why Crypto Might Work For Venezuela (And Why It Might Not)

People are looking to cryptocurrency to solve all kinds of problems, from making sure that photographers get paid for their work, to addressing carbon emissions. Now the Venezuelan government hopes that a new digital coin might be able to counteract the country’s economic collapse.

As extreme inflation drags the Venezuelan bolívar down, food and medicines are scarce, crime is rife, and essential public services have buckled under the strain. Many residents have already fled the country. The new digital currency – dubbed the petro, in reference to its value being based on the price of oil – is the government’s last-ditch attempt to stem the flow.

Here’s why the plan might work:

It’s a Tried-and-Tested Strategy

Why do crypto companies run initial coin offerings? Because they are a great way to raise a lot of money quickly, and that’s exactly what Venezuela needs to pay off its debt. President Nicolas Maduro claims that the petro raised $ 735 million in the first day of its presale, as per CNBC. If that number is to be believed, the project off to a great start.

It’s Built Upon Existing Infrastructure

Wisely, the petro seems to be leveraging existing crypto technology, rather than starting from scratch with its own bespoke exchange platform. Venezuela does have plans to eventually open its own exchange, but the coin will also be traded on others. What’s more, the petro is based on proven blockchain technology – although its white paper and its buyer’s manual disagree on whether it’s built on Ethereum or NEM, as noted in a report from CoinDesk.

It Casts Off U.S. Sanctions

The Trump administration has introduced sanctions that prevent the purchase of new securities issued by the Venezuelan government in the American market, according to a report by The New York Times. The petro offers investors a way to sidestep these measures.

But Here’s Why it Might Not Work

Cryptocurrency can be volatile, and Venezuela is the first country to create its own digital currency in this manner. While various other nations are pursuing crypto, these projects are not desperate measures to save the future of the national economy.

It remains to be seen whether the petro will woo investors. People need a reason to invest in this untested coin – and given that the lack of ties to a central government has paid into the popularity of bitcoin and its ilk, the petro already has a mark against it.


Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Elon Musk’s Departure From OpenAI’s Board Might Mean Big Things for Tesla

Goodbye, Elon

On Tuesday, OpenAI announced that Elon Musk, one of the non-profit AI research company’s founding members and foremost benefactors, would be vacating his position on the OpenAI board of directors.

Musk helped craft OpenAI’s vision and financed much of the nonprofit’s growth. An announcement of both incoming and outgoing board members published on the Open AI blog said the following regarding his ending tenure on the board:

Elon Musk will depart the OpenAI Board but will continue to donate and advise the organization. As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon.

The OpenAI board of directors now consists of Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, Holden Karnofsky, and Sam Altman, with whom Musk co-founded the venture. The company has plans to not only fill Musk’s seat on the board but expand their team as well.

Since 2015, OpenAI has promoted AI research and development in a number of industries, garnering support (both ideological and financial) from many high-profile players in the AI game.

Open AI has also been a prominent voice in the conversation concerning the limitations, challenges, and potential dangers of artificial intelligence. Just this week, the company co-released a report with a number of other global AI experts that outlines the potential “malicious” uses of the technology and how to prevent them.

Hello, Autonomous Cars?

Musk’s departure from the OpenAI board is intriguing, not so much for what it might mean for OpenAI’s future, but for Tesla’s. The given reason of “a potential future conflict for Elon” could signal that Tesla is more deeply committed to their own AI projects than we thought.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Those who have had their ears to the ground for any rumblings that Tesla is ready to deliver vehicles capable of Level 5 autonomy could take this new OpenAI development as a sign that the company is inching closer to that elusive goal.

Tesla’s customer base has already demonstrated its interest in AI-enhanced features. More than 35,000 Tesla customers were even willing to pay $ 3,000 each for a “fully self-driving capability” that doesn’t yet exist. If Musk’s departure from the OpenAI board is a sign that Tesla is closing in on Level 5 autonomy, their confidence in the company could soon be rewarded.

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