Astronomy & Space

Astronomy may well be the oldest science of all, seeking answers to questions such as: "Where did it all come from?" and "Are we alone?" But, today's astronomers are focusing on phenomena our forbearers never imagined—planets orbiting other stars, for example; black holes the size of our solar system; galaxies being driven apart by invisible "dark energy"; ripples in the fabric of space and time; and of course the big bang, where time itself began.

The search for the origin of dark energy

Members of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration explain what they hope to learn by studying the southern sky with the world's most advanced digital camera, mounted on a telescope in Chile.

Searching for other Earths

Findings by the Kepler telescope, which NASA launched into space in 2009, have led University of California, Berkeley, astronomers to estimate that in our Milky Way galaxy alone there are 40 billion planets similar to Earth, both in size and temperature. Now scientists are trying to figure out which of these exoplanets might have water, the basic ingredient of life.

Quantum foam

The laws of quantum mechanics and relativity are quite perplexing. However, it is when the two theories are merged that things get really confusing. This combined theory predicts that empty space isn't empty at all - it's a seething and bubbling cauldron of matter and antimatter particles springing into existence before disappearing back into nothingness. Scientists call this complicated state of affairs "quantum foam." In this video, Fermilab's Don Lincoln discusses this mind-bending idea and sketches some of the experiments that have convinced scientists that this crazy prediction is actually true.

Big questions: Dark matter

Carl Sagan's statement that there are "billions and billions" of stars in the cosmos gives an idea of just how much "stuff" there is in the universe. However scientists now believe that in addition to the type of matter with which we are familiar, there is another kind of matter out there. This new kind of matter is called "dark matter" and there seems to be five times as much as ordinary matter. Dark matter interacts only with gravity, therefore light simply zips right by it. Fermilab's Don Lincoln tells us why we think this seemingly-crazy idea might not be so crazy after all.

The big bang theory

In this video, Fermilab's Don Lincoln tells about the big bang theory and sketches some speculative ideas about what caused the universe to come into existence.

Last few orbits of a binary black hole merger

This is a physically accurate gravitational lensing visualization of the last few orbits of a binary black hole merger. The camera is above the orbital plane of the merger, looking down.

Is the Higgs boson really the Higgs boson?

The deputy physics coordinator for CERN's CMS experiment Darin Acosta explains what we know about the Higgs boson and what remains to be discovered. NSF funds the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment, which is investigating a wide range of physics, including the search for the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter.

NSF Science Now: Episode 21

In this week's episode we discover the oldest fossil evidence of modern, venomous snakes in Africa. We discover what was going on in the earliest moments of our universe just after the Big Bang, and finally we learn about a new weather radar network in Texas.