Caption: Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope, Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA
Image by: NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA 
Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope 

Clever Apes: Curveballs from space

From: WBEZ
Series: WBEZ's Clever Apes
Length: 08:31

Embed_button
Astronomers re-evaluate origins of our solar system and entertain the idea that the universe is shaped like a small doughnut. Read the full description.

Three_galaxies_small

Often in science, a new insight doesn’t fit in with the old patterns. That means something, of course, is wrong – either the fresh idea, or everything we thought we knew leading up to it. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider two of these curveballs. One has already rewritten the solar system's history. The other seemed, for a while, like it might mean the universe is either left-handed, or shaped like a small doughnut.

For starters, many of us learned in school that the solar system formed by a nice, orderly process. Tiny things gently coalesced into bigger objects, settling into this pleasant little arrangement of planets and moons. But now, scientists think it was probably a bloodbath, with would-be planets snuffed out in cataclysmic collisions. In some parts of the solar system, as much as 99.9 percent of the material that was once there has been completely ejected from the solar system.

Mark Hammergren, Adler Planetarium astronomer and Friend to the Apes, is trying to recover that lost history. He’s searching for traces of planetesimals, a nearly extinct race of giant asteroids that were the seeds of our planets. Their story shows just how rough of a neighborhood the early solar system was. Jupiter, for example, probably lurched around like a bull in a china shop, its gravity knocking asteroids and planetoids into each other and, in many cases, out of orbit completely.

The fate of those ejected bodies leads to one of the most evocative consequences of this model of solar system formation: interstellar space could be thick with “rogue planets,” whipping through the blackness. Some, says Hammergren, could even still be heated by their molten cores, leading to the speculative, but awesome, possibility that some could harbor life.

Second, the story of a curveball that threatened to topple some very basic ideas about space and time. Scientists, including the Adler’s Chris Lintott, started several “citizen science” initiatives, which enlist the help of tens of thousands of people at their home computers to help sort through data. In this case, they’re categorizing pictures of galaxies from the Hubble Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. People log on, look at a galaxy and enter its shape, orientation and, if it’s a spiral, which direction the arms are moving. Before long, Lintott noticed that they were getting significantly more counterclockwise galaxies than clockwise galaxies. This was a little scary.

There’s no reason there should be a bias toward one or the other, because it all depends, of course, on which way you look at the galaxy. If there is more of one kind than the other, that would have some very spooky implications (for example, the universe might be quite small and doughnut-shaped). It would require scientists to throw out well-established axioms about the universe.

So Lintott and his team worked to get to the bottom of this crazy observation. I won’t give away the punch line, but let’s just say the answer caused Lintott to invoke this quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Click the “listen” button above for the whole story. 

Lintott, by the way, is a fascinating fellow in his own right. Besides his gig at the Adler, he does research at Oxford, hosts a long-running series on the BBC called The Sky at Night, and even wrote a book on cosmology with the guitarist from Queen.

Also in the WBEZ's Clever Apes series

Caption: Megan Bang helped incorporate systems-level thinking into the design of an early education classroom., Credit: (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)

Clever Apes: Nature and human nature (08:16)
From: WBEZ

We go back to one of the first lessons kids learn about science, and what it says about how human minds develop. As children discover the natural world, do they learn they ...
Caption: Gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo, Credit: WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer

Clever Apes: The critter economy (08:25)
From: WBEZ

WBEZ's Gabriel Spitzer explains why figuring out high finance means you have to understand the critter economy.
Caption: Joseph Orgel holds his sample of T. rex tissue. , Credit: (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)

Clever Apes: Breaking the fossil record (08:25)
From: WBEZ

In this installment, Gabriel Spitzer discovers how an ancient specimen might rewrite prehistory, and maybe medical books, too.
Caption: Philip Janicak of Rush University Medical Center adjusts his TMS machine. , Credit: WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer

Clever Apes: The happiness machine (08:25)
From: WBEZ

Host Gabriel Spitzer explores how doctors are using magnets to tweak the brain's machinery and treat depression. Plus, how magnets and radio waves are being used to hear molecules.
Caption: Scientists say the intestines are like a second brain., Credit: (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)

Clever Apes: Gut Feelings (08:25)
From: WBEZ

We take a trip into the emerging field of gut science and its effects on everything from cancer to dementia to obesity.
Piece image

Clever Apes: First memories (08:22)
From: WBEZ

Our childhood memories may not always be reliable, but they have a lot to teach us about how we think, learn, and build an identity. In this episode, Gabriel Spitzer explores ...
Caption: Host Gabriel Spitzer and producer Michael De Bonis, Credit: (WBEZ/Andrew Gill)

Clever Apes 2011 Special (53:59)
From: WBEZ

This science special is perfect for your holiday programming needs. We've gathered our favorite segments from 2011 and gift-wrapped them in this hour long broadcast. We'll ...
Caption: Rock paper scissors, and its variations, may lie hidden in the math that underlies natural systems. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer), Credit:  (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)

Clever Apes: Paper covers rock (08:15)
From: WBEZ

Behind the workings of nature, there is math. It's the blueprint for galaxies and atoms. But WBEZ's science experiment is about to make it look easy. In this installment of ...
Caption: Marius Stan and Dan Pancake lead double lives on top of their scientific pursuits.

Clever Apes: Secret lives of nuclear scientists (08:20)
From: WBEZ

We explore the secret lives of nuclear scientists and learn why these brainiacs are way more interesting than you’d have ever imagined.
Caption: Heinrich Jaeger demonstrates the jamming effect, which led to a soft robot., Credit: (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)

Clever Apes: Reimagining Robots (08:25)
From: WBEZ

What if the next generation of robots looks less like a humanoid, and more like a slug?

Piece Description

Often in science, a new insight doesn’t fit in with the old patterns. That means something, of course, is wrong – either the fresh idea, or everything we thought we knew leading up to it. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider two of these curveballs. One has already rewritten the solar system's history. The other seemed, for a while, like it might mean the universe is either left-handed, or shaped like a small doughnut.

For starters, many of us learned in school that the solar system formed by a nice, orderly process. Tiny things gently coalesced into bigger objects, settling into this pleasant little arrangement of planets and moons. But now, scientists think it was probably a bloodbath, with would-be planets snuffed out in cataclysmic collisions. In some parts of the solar system, as much as 99.9 percent of the material that was once there has been completely ejected from the solar system.

Mark Hammergren, Adler Planetarium astronomer and Friend to the Apes, is trying to recover that lost history. He’s searching for traces of planetesimals, a nearly extinct race of giant asteroids that were the seeds of our planets. Their story shows just how rough of a neighborhood the early solar system was. Jupiter, for example, probably lurched around like a bull in a china shop, its gravity knocking asteroids and planetoids into each other and, in many cases, out of orbit completely.

The fate of those ejected bodies leads to one of the most evocative consequences of this model of solar system formation: interstellar space could be thick with “rogue planets,” whipping through the blackness. Some, says Hammergren, could even still be heated by their molten cores, leading to the speculative, but awesome, possibility that some could harbor life.

Second, the story of a curveball that threatened to topple some very basic ideas about space and time. Scientists, including the Adler’s Chris Lintott, started several “citizen science” initiatives, which enlist the help of tens of thousands of people at their home computers to help sort through data. In this case, they’re categorizing pictures of galaxies from the Hubble Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. People log on, look at a galaxy and enter its shape, orientation and, if it’s a spiral, which direction the arms are moving. Before long, Lintott noticed that they were getting significantly more counterclockwise galaxies than clockwise galaxies. This was a little scary.

There’s no reason there should be a bias toward one or the other, because it all depends, of course, on which way you look at the galaxy. If there is more of one kind than the other, that would have some very spooky implications (for example, the universe might be quite small and doughnut-shaped). It would require scientists to throw out well-established axioms about the universe.

So Lintott and his team worked to get to the bottom of this crazy observation. I won’t give away the punch line, but let’s just say the answer caused Lintott to invoke this quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Click the “listen” button above for the whole story. 

Lintott, by the way, is a fascinating fellow in his own right. Besides his gig at the Adler, he does research at Oxford, hosts a long-running series on the BBC called The Sky at Night, and even wrote a book on cosmology with the guitarist from Queen.

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

As scientists learn more about space, sometimes new insights don't fit in with old patterns.

In this installment of WBEZ's science experiment, Gabriel Spitzer brings us stories of two game-changers.

One already has rewritten the solar system's history.

The other seemed, for a while, like it might mean the universe is either left-handed, or shaped like a small doughnut.

In today's Clever Apes, curveballs from space.

OUTRO: