Fooling with the Universe

This year’s April Fools' provides a wealth of alarming results. Catch up on all the scientific shenanigans here.

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

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

Let’s get this straight: the arXiv — an open-access service where astronomers post copies of their research papers — is a serious website for serious articles. Astronomers are stern human beings, going about their work without the slightest sense of humor.

Today a few of these austere articles are revealing alarming results. Some claim that humankind will be erased from Earth’s surface in 12,194,755 years, while others look at the serious threat of Zombie-ism.

Scientists have yet to comment on why this date (April 1st) corresponds to such a high number of startling claims. In an effort to keep our readers up to speed on advancements within the professional astronomical community, we at S&T have provided short summaries of these new results.

A Necro-biological Explanation for the Fermi Paradox

Discovering life beyond Earth might just be the Holy Grail of science. As astronomers learn more about the frequency and size distribution of exoplanets around distant stars, it’s becoming clear that planets with the right conditions for life might be abundant in the Milky Way. So why haven’t we detected extraterrestrial intelligent life?

New research may provide the answer to this so-called Fermi paradox, the apparent contradiction that physicist Enrico Fermi once pointed out between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations’ existence and the lack of contact with such civilizations.

Stephen Kane (Center for Global Extinction Pandemic Control) and Franck Zelziz (Planetary Defense Institute - Zombie Division) conclude the only logical explanation for the Fermi paradox is Zombie-ism. Any extraterrestrial civilizations capable of detection are now extinct due to Zombie apocalypses.

By combining recent exoplanet discoveries with studies of infectious diseases, the team demonstrates how they can identify exoplanets where Zombie apocalypses have occurred. They conclude that it’s a matter of planetary defense and security to carefully catalogue and monitor these planets in order to exclude contact in the future.

This paper has been submitted for publication in the Necronomicon.

The CMB Flexes its BICEPs While Walking the Planck

Only two weeks ago, astronomers discovered the fingerprints of inflation — evidence that the universe underwent a brief but stupendous expansion immediately following the Big Bang.

One data point tells us the size of the gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of spacetime — as compared to the density fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the radiation released 380,000 years after the universe’s birth. But these new results appear inconsistent with data from the Planck satellite (BICEP2 derived a ratio of 0.2, whereas the Planck team derived up upper limit of 0.11).

New research shows this discrepancy may be easily resolved if we assume the universe is “lopsided.” The team uses the analogy that the entire universe is contained within a star: one side of the sky will have a higher ratio because it lies at the bottom of the star while the other side of the sky will have a lower ratio because it lies at the top. From this theory, the idea of a “multiverse” naturally follows because presumably there are many stars.

The team concludes that this idea will be able to better explain other astronomical mysteries, including what came before the Big Bang and the emergence of dark energy.

On the Use of Astronomy: Predicting the Doom of Humankind

Using the UNnecessary WIde SurvEy nanosatellite, astronomers have discovered a nearby brown dwarf — an object that isn’t massive enough to kick off nuclear fusion in its core — dubbed UNWISE J072004.20-084650.2. “To avoid having to use an unfortunate acronym coupled to an unpronounceable phone number name,” write author Henri Boffin (Extraterrestrial Institute for the Advancement of Earth) and colleagues, “. . . we will call this object the Death Star.”

And Death Star it is.

The team performed follow up observations with the 5-cm Extremely LIttle TElescope (ELITE) — donated by one of the author’s kids a few days after he received it as a birthday present and grew tired of the night sky — for 200 hours. After obtaining its spectrum (a long and painstaking process), the object’s radial velocity shows that 22,345 years ago the object passed 0.8205 light-years away from the Sun, or about 52,000 Earth-Sun distances.

This created havoc in the Oort Cloud — the hypothesized spherical cloud of icy planetesimals that lies roughly 50,000 times further than the Earth from the Sun. The research team modeled how these planetesimals have gravitationally interacted with one another ever since the Death Star passed through. To their dismay they found that many planetesimals are falling toward the center of the solar system.

In 12,194,755 years multiple planetesimals will crash into the Earth, bombarding it with fatal meteorites. All non-avian mammals will disappear, except for rats, which will survive and take over the planet.

Messenger Finds Spacecraft Graveyard on Mercury

Today, the Messenger team released images that appear to show the remains of several NASA spacecraft on Mercury’s surface. These include Mariner 10, which flew by Mercury three times in 1974-1975 and was presumed to be in a heliocentric orbit; the Mars Global Surveyor probe, which was never programmed to land on Mercury and went silent in Martian orbit in 2006; and one of the twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, which was thought to have impacted the Moon.

The Messenger team is at a loss to explain this collection of spacecraft on Mercury’s surface. Project scientist Nat MacRulf thinks unusual forces are responsible, such as a magnetically induced wormhole, while project manager Ellen Summers thinks the graveyard could be the result of hard-to-direct spacecraft going AWOL.

Keen to understand this new observation, the team met this morning to discuss plans to transition the Messenger spacecraft from an orbiter to a lander. Hopefully soon it will touch down near the graveyard and have the opportunity to analyze these dead spacecraft up close.

April Fools’ Everyone!

4 thoughts on “Fooling with the Universe

  1. Anthony Barreiro

    UNWISE and ELITE get my nomination for best new acronyms of the year. —– In health care, a patient who has had numerous unnecessary tests and now carries a shopping list of questionable diagnoses is sometimes said to have a high TLA count. TLA stands for "three letter acronym."

  2. Mike W. Herberich

    "Yaaj", incidentally, stands for "yet another acronym joke". I like yours a lot, Anthony. And I have another one: let’s found "The Society Against the Use of Meaningless, Long and Confusing Acronyms". Its acronym will be "TSAtUoMLaCA". Who of you guys is going to join?

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