April 1st Astronomy Hijinks

In breaking news today, astronomers have discovered Pi in the sky, proposed a revolutionary search for extraterrestrial environmentalism . . . and oh yes, April Fools’!

We found life on Mars! S&T: Shannon Hall and Emily Poore

Life on Mars.
S&T: Shannon Hall and Emily Poore

On a day like today, astronomers are apt to get into shenanigans. They might go looking for Venus at midnight, spot sphinxes in dark matter maps, or even find life on Mars.

And this particular April 1st is no different — read on to see what the astro-tomfoolery is all about.

Pi in the Sky

Astronomers have spent years mapping the afterglow of the Big Bang (known as the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) to extremely high precision. The maps they’ve created, which happen to look a bit like Jackson Pollock paintings, show the incremental differences in temperature incurred by random density fluctuations in the early universe.

Among those random fluctuations, astronomers have found a few so-called anomalies: pieces of the CMB sky that aren’t quite as random as they ought to be. They’ve found a “cold spot”, an apparent lopsidedness dubbed the “axis of evil”, and even the initials of Stephen Hawking.

Now, Ali Frolop and Douglas Scott (University of British Columbia, Canada) have joined forces to show similar non-random “anomalies” in the digits of Pi, such as a “hot spot” to mirror the CMB’s cold spot. As the authors point out, one must put aside “the unreasonable possibility that these are just the sort of flukes that appear when one looks hard enough.”

Cold Spot in CMB, Hot Spot in Pi

The "cold spot" in the cosmic microwave background (left) has confounded astronomers. Now, astronomers Ali Frolop and Douglas Scott have found an analogous "hot spot" (repeating 9's) in the digits of Pi. The authors admit that some say "such statistical sleight-of-hand is the last bastion of scoundrels."

The paper’s brilliance (especially the lucidity found in its footnotes) is difficult to summarize, so we encourage you to read it on the arXiv’s astrophysics preprint server. The reading will transform your understanding of the CMB anomalies and of Pi. By the end, not only will you learn how to write poetry in "Pilish" or search for your own name in the transposed digits of Pi, you’ll also discover the true importance of the digits Pi and e — together, they spell “Pie.”

SET-E: The Search for Extraterrestrial Environmentalism

In this remarkable study, astronomers Ben Montet (Caltech) and Ryan Loomis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) undertake the feasibility of the search for extraterrestrials minding their own environment.

As we all know, aliens may well be malevolent and we may not want to attract undue attention from such beings. So, the authors suggest, perhaps one way of detecting a benevolent society would be to look for one that creates and then gets rid of an ozone hole. After all, if they care about their own planet, they might decide not to invade ours . . . we hope.

Read more about the authors’ findings on the arXiv.

Russia Sending Chimp to International Space Station

Speaking of extraterrestrial life, chimpanzees don't want to be left out of the space game. An article published online today reveals that Russia plans to send chimpanzee Yurya as a replacement for its current cosmonaut at the International Space Station. Russia is beginning this program in light of budget cuts (and perhaps due to jealousy over all the attention NASA gets), but it comes with an unexpected side benefit: the potential to renew children's interest in the STEM fields.

Read more about Russia's new chimponaut program here.

New Abstract/Dating Service for Astronomers

The NASA Astrophysical Data System has roled out a new service dubbed Enhanced®. Among its many features: Make sure your papers are boosted to the top of search results, add tweets and Facebook likes to your citation count, and try out ADS Dating, where you can rank potential mates . . . by citation!

Solar System Tourism

At Sky & Telescope, we enjoy planning tours for future astronomical events. So when we heard about the tantalizing possibility of eating extreme shrimp underneath the salty, subsurface sea on Europa, naturally we started thinking ahead. Unfortunately, it looks like that restaurant hasn’t opened just yet, but we’ll keep our wanderlust satisfied in the meantime with visions of the future.

A New Day, a New Cosmology

SDSS is reporting a groundbreaking result that w, the equation of state for dark energy, is equal to -1.3. For those not well-versed in the mathematics of cosmology, that means our universe is in for a Big Rip, a far future when everything, even atoms, will rip apart.

Here's the sequence of events, as revealed by tweets:

Oh well, I guess w is still equal to -1, and the universe will keep on keeping on.

Another Signal from LIGO?

And last, but definitely not least, S&T Senior Editor Alan MacRobert has heard a rumor that the LIGO collaboration has detected another gravitational wave signal: this one showing the signature expected of the Star Trek Enterprise going into warp drive. Surely Trekkies out there have already conducted the simulations of what such a signal would look like?

We’ll have to wait and see if that rumor pans out. In the meantime, happy April Fools’!

Monica Young

About Monica Young

Monica Young, a professional astronomer by training, is web editor of Sky & Telescope, where she creates, manages, and maintains website content, and contributes to the magazine.

5 thoughts on “April 1st Astronomy Hijinks

  1. Alan-Harris

    Regarding ADS Enhanced, note in the announcement banner the image of my favorite HST image, the “finger” nebula. That should serve as a clue.

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