A good rocket launch site has a few important characteristics. An unpopulated patch of land near an ocean is preferable, so no one gets showered with wayward bits of flaming metal. It’s also nice if it’s on the equator—like all spheres rotating on an axis, the Earth spins fastest in the middle, which provides rocket boosters with extra oomph. In other words, the best sites tend to be in remote, tropical locations. That such places are also often among the world’s poorest gives many launches a counterintuitive feel: billions of dollars in futuristic machinery rising up over rainforests and shantytowns.
That was so, at least, this February in Sriharikota, an island off India’s southeast coast, a couple of hours north of Chennai. To reach Sriharikota, which on maps looks like a 17-mile-long snake feasting on a 5-mile-wide goat, you cruise along a chaotic highway where semis vie for right of way with women carrying water buckets on their heads. Eventually you reach a causeway that, during the dry season, is flanked by marshlands, salt ponds, and mud. At the end of this road is the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
The facility, which opened in 1971 and was named for an Indian rocket scientist, looks more like a defunct disco than a gateway to tomorrow. At the check-in area, splotches of concrete peek through yellow-painted walls where photos of rockets and renowned engineers hang haphazardly. Beneath bulbs dangling from exposed wires, a team of friendly barefoot officials takes your information, then sends you outside to a mango-tree-shaded security gate. The police officers in olive-green uniforms and dark blue berets take no notice of the occasional white cow lumbering through the gate.
From there you reach a central compound of pastel-colored offices and living quarters, surrounded by a jungle of casuarina, eucalyptus, and palm trees. A ways away, at the water’s edge, is the launch pad. More cows collect outside the entry gate, while monkeys chatter in the trees.
At 9:28 a.m. on Feb. 15, these animals watched anxiously as an Indian rocket lifted off, roaring through the hot, sticky air. Its payload consisted of 104 satellites, dwarfing the previous world record of 37 set by Russia in 2014. The largest of them weighed 1,500 pounds and was designed to map India’s infrastructure and monitor urban and rural development. Nestled alongside were around a dozen smaller satellites from universities, startups, and research groups. What made the launch a record were the 88 shoebox-size “Dove” satellites built by Planet Labs Inc., a startup in San Francisco.
A ground-breaking study released in the journal Physical Review Letters (arXiv.org version) offers what its authors call ‘the first observational evidence that the Universe could be a complex hologram.’ The study, led by University of Waterloo Professor Niayesh Afshordi, may lead to new beliefs on the Big Bang theory and quantum gravity.
Prof. Afshordi and his colleagues from UK, Canada and Italy, investigating irregularities in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the ‘afterglow’ of the Big Bang, have found there is substantial evidence supporting a holographic explanation of the Universe.
“We are proposing using this holographic Universe, which is a very different model of the Big Bang than the popularly accepted one that relies on gravity and inflation,” Prof. Afshordi said.
“Each of these models makes distinct predictions that we can test as we refine our data and improve our theoretical understanding — all within the next five years.”
A holographic Universe, an idea first suggested in the 1990s, is one where all the information, which makes up our 3D ‘reality’ (plus time) is contained in a 2D surface on its boundaries.
“Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions — and your perception of time — in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field,” explained co-author Prof. Kostas Skenderis, from the University of Southampton, UK.
I acknowledge the Fermi Paradox has been discussed ad nauseam, which means to the point that continued discussion of a topic makes people want to vomit.
Knowing this, I naturally decided it would be a great idea to write about it.
As with most articles on OTA, there should be rolling disclaimer: I'm not an astrophysicist or particularly qualified to write on this subject. But this is the internet. A place where the unqualified are the world's foremost authorities on the most complicated matters imaginable.
So trust me, I'm an expert.
In case you haven't heard of the Fermi Paradox, let me briefly bring you up to speed.
The guy that came up with the Fermi Paradox was Enrico Fermi. And let me tell you something, Enrico Fermi was basically a genius. Ok, I'll just say it.
He was a genius.
Born in Rome, Italy in 1901, Fermi was one of the world's most prolific physicists. He created the world's first nuclear reactor, won the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics, worked on the Manhattan Project, had the synthetic element "fermium" named after him, and was one of the few physicists in history that excelled in both theoretical and experimental physics. Fermi died in Chicago, Illinois, in 1954.
It only makes sense then that Fermi coined the Fermi Paradox, a topic that has been studied and discussed countless times over the years, over lunch in 1950. It was at this lunch when Fermi asked several colleagues, "Where is everybody?" referring to intelligent extraterrestrial life.
In keeping with today's space exploration theme...