Saturday science smorgasbord

Danish inventors successfully launch homemade rocket.

Using money from private donations, space enthusiasts and at least one former NASA employee constructed and successfully launched their own rocket from a floating platform in the sea. The prototype cost $73,000 — extremely cheap as far as rockets go, and no wonder: the components included a hair dryer that was intended to keep a valve from freezing. The rocket was dubbed ‘Heat-1X Tycho Brahe’ after the famous 16th century Danish astronomer.

‘Gang of four’ awarded a $500,000 cosmology prize for their work in dark matter.

Dark matter was first posited to exist in 1934 by astronomer Fritz Zwicky to explain the strange behavior of visible matter spinning around in galaxies. Since that time, detailed observations and complex computer simulations, like those of the prize-winning cosmologists, have helped pin down exactly how much dark matter is in the universe and how it’s distributed.

Thirty years ago, nobody really knew how matter was distributed in the universe on a large scale. Today we know from observations that matter is distributed in cosmic clumps, chains, and filaments surrounding enormous voids. Results from computer models reproduced these features using slow-moving massive dark matter particles, giving cosmologists confidence that dark matter was indeed a major constituent of the universe.

Infrared mapping “masterpiece” shows the universe in 3D.

The map shows two dimensions in terms of celestial longitude and latitude, with a third dimension added by redshift, an indicator of cosmic distance. The map is a culmination of decades of survey work that includes 45,000 galaxies in the local universe.

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