Terrifying Science News Roundup


A large part of my affection for science comes from the thrill of terror I get when a particularly insane piece of science news hits the presses. When an article begins with a sentence like, "there is something strange in the cosmic neighborhood," or "all the black holes found so far in our universe may be doorways into alternate realities," my pulse quickens and a dormant paranoia is roused from deep within my breast: a sensation of joyful panic. I used to call this the "fourth-grade nightmare fantasy." This might be because as a long-time science fiction adept, I tend to read science news stories like they're the premise for a tale of intergalactic war, or the first inkling of a technological dystopia we can't yet see coming.

The last few weeks of science news, in this regard, does not disappoint. Conspiracy theorists, avert your eyes!

1. Mysterious Radio Waves Emitted from Nearby Galaxy

Highlight of Horror:

It seem[s] to be moving - and fast: its apparent sideways velocity is four times the speed of light. Such apparent "superluminal" motion has been seen before in high-speed jets of material squirted out by some black holes. The stuff in these jets is moving towards us at a slight angle and travelling at a fair fraction of the speed of light, and the effects of relativity produce a kind of optical illusion that makes the motion appear superluminal.

I think my fellow SciBling Greg Laden said it best: "I, for one, welcome our Overlords from Galaxy M82."

2. Every Black Hole Contains Another Universe?

Highlight of Horror:

According to the new equations, the matter black holes absorb and seemingly destroy is actually expelled and becomes the building blocks for galaxies, stars, and planets in another reality.

This is really a science fiction story waiting to be written; even the physicist who came up with the theory is quoted as saying "It's kind of a crazy idea, but who knows?" One baffling theoretical implication of this Black Hole-as-Wormhole theory is the potential that gamma ray bursts are actually just discharges of matter from alternate universes, spewing material into our universe through supermassive black holes (wormholes) in distant galaxies. Speaking of gamma ray bursts....

3. Gamma-Ray Burst Caused Mass Extinction?

Highlight of Horror:

A brilliant burst of gamma rays may have caused a mass extinction event on Earth 440 million years ago--and a similar celestial catastrophe could happen again, according to a new study. Such a disaster may have been responsible for the mass die-off of 70 percent of the marine creatures that thrived during the Ordovician period (488 to 443 million years ago), suggests study leader Brian Thomas, an astrophysicist at Washburn University in Kansas.

The simulation also shows that a significant gamma-ray burst is likely to go off within range of Earth every billion years or so, although the stream of radiation would have to be lined up just right to affect the planet.

Great. Like I'm not already paranoid enough about the "Big One."

4. Why NASA is Sending a Robot Into Space That Looks Like You


"I'm a very strong believer in human-robotic interaction. You can build up a synergy to accomplish what neither humans nor robots could accomplish on their own," Hoffman said. "That's the inspiration behind Robonaut."

Synergy! Why do these robots have to look like people? And why do they have to be holding what look like laser guns in the above picture? Imagine being an astronaut, trying to sleep in your little suspended cubby in the cramped quarters of the International Space Station, peering over the edge of your sleeping bag at a dormant humanoid robot, with its blinking lights and quiet machine hum. Oh God, did it just move?

More like this

Those of you who keep up with your news may have seen this headline on CNN last week: Star Explodes Halfway Across Universe. What they're talking about is a Gamma-Ray Burst, which was so bright that, despite being 7.5 billion light years (that's 2.3 Gpc) away, it was still visible on Earth with the…
Last week, the brightest gamma-ray burst ever was observed. (See here.) I wanted to know what it was that caused this bright explosion that, despite it being at redshift z=0.94 (or about 7.5 billion light years away), it was visible on Earth with the naked eye! Well, a scientific paper was written…
The ever-present fog of energetic gamma rays permeating the universe isn't created by what astronomers expected, new observations from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveal, leaving scientists with a new cosmic mystery to solve. The sky glows in gamma rays even far away from well-known…
"Presently thought to be the most powerful explosions in nature... their sources have only recently been localized by observations of associated afterglows in X-rays, visible light, and radio waves, delayed in that order." -Richard Matzner, on the dictionary entry for Gamma Ray Burst It seems like…

#3 reminds me of this series written by Arthur C. Clarke called A Time Odyssey where the "Firstborn" attempt to bring about the extinction of humans by creating an intense solar flare (different than a burst of gamma rays, but similar). The firstborn's motives are to slow the Universe's death by optimizing the usage of available energy.

Great stuff. You can also use emerging technology to demonstrate that at some point people are the same, or that technology has made us lazy. For instance, a story in which at some point engineers and scientists develop working androids, but the humans around them lose their ability to do basic math because of an over reliance on the technological wonder...or lose their will to actually go to distant planets/galaxies opting instead to send robots and drones...

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Why go to space for Terrifying Science News when the planet is being shut down by the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in Iceland ?