Two of the most common questions in science have had there answers changed this week as more data has come to light. If you were to ask me last week how the dinosaurs died out: I would have told you it was caused by an asteroid hitting the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico one bad day some 65 million years ago. How old is the universe? I would have had to look this one up, but the answer was 13.72 billion years old.
But wait! These answers are no longer quite right. And in a very good illustration about the gradual step by step process of science, the old answers aren’t wrong, we just know a little more than we did before.
Firstly the dinosaurs. At the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science conference in Texas a team from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire suggest that it was not an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, but a comet. Their reasoning comes from their measurements of Osmium in the global sediment layer associated with the impact. This suggests that global levels of Iridium presented before were too high. As a result a smaller than previously expected object is likely associated with the death of the dinosaurs. And given the size of the crater, this means that the smaller object must have been moving quicker, so it is far more likely that the object was a comet rather than an asteroid. Its quite a far fetched idea, and there are some major assumptions. I for one am sceptical, and I would expect the story to evolve further with more evidence. The story was reported by the BBC here.
And now to the Universe. The European Space Agency has released new data from the Planck space telescope which reveals that the universe is 100 million years older than previously estimated. It now stands in at 13.82 billion years. However the new date is actually within the error of the old date which was 13.72, plus or minus 120 million years. The new data comes from looking at the Cosmic Microwave Background or CMB, which is made up of some of the earliest light emitted just 380,000 years after the big bang. If you want to have a look for yourself, go turn on a tv, its the static that plays when you’re not tuned to a channel! The story is reported by Slate here and the BBC here.