The more we learn about cosmology and theoretical physics the more questions seem to arise. Here are some of the most urgent questions of this age:
Is there extraterrestrial life?
This is almost a certainty. There is most likely extraterrestrial life in our own solar system. We need to look at places such as Europa and Enceladus. And, if we find a second venue for life in our own solar system we may well conclude that life is ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.
There is life on Earth everywhere we look. There is life in the cooling tanks of nuclear power plants. There is life living on chemosynthesis in rocks miles underground. There is life in the boiling paint pots full of caustic chemicals in Yellowstone Park. There is live in the deepest volcanic vents under the Earth’s oceans, surviving in boiling temperatures, extreme pressures, in total darkness, and it feeds off of the toxic sulfur fumes being vented by undersea volcanoes.
Given the tenacity of life on Earth there simply must be other life in the Universe.
Is there intelligent, technological life on other planets with radio telescopes?
This is a hard one. Perhaps, but the vastness of space and time may mean that even if they might exist (have existed or will exist), we may never be able to connect with them.
Did life transfer to Earth by means of panspermia?
Perhaps there could be some local spreading of life by panspermia. For example, rocks blasted of the surface of Mars carrying primitive organisms could perhaps have landed on Earth and seeded life here. But the distance would need to be very small. The Star Trek notion of panspermia on a galactic level seems beyond ridiculous. And even if we embrace panspermia, what does it actually accomplish for us? What would it matter if life arose on Mars and was transferred to the Earth? We still need to answer the question of how life arose, and panspermia seems only to delay and complicate the answer. Instead of answering how life arose on Earth, we would then have to answer how life arose on Mars, how it transferred to Earth, and how it came to flourish on Earth.
Can we find a Higgs particle, and will it be what we have conjectured? DONE! 07/04/2012
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is looking for this now. If CERN fails to find it does it mean that the Higgs particle (AKA Higgs boson) does not exist, or does it mean that we will need a much higher energy level to find it?
The Higgs particle is hypothesized as a particle that produces mass. It is required by the Standard Model. If this concept is incorrect then it is back to the drawing boards.
Can we find the graviton particle?
A graviton particle is required by quantum mechanics. If we fail to find one it will be problematic. A graviton particle is most likely the messenger particle of gravity, similar to a photon which is the messenger particle of light.
What is dark matter?
Is this some non-luminous form of baryonic matter? Or is it black holes or composed of exotic particles such as WIMPS (weakly interactive massive particles) or neutrinos?
Can we find gravity waves?
Gravity waves are required by general relativity. There are gravity “telescopes” in use.
Note: These last several questions show how little that we know about gravity, even after the breakthroughs by Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and Albert Einstein.
What is the Relationship between super-massive black holes and their respective galaxies?
We know that galaxies form with black holes in their centers, and that the mass of the black hole is directly proportional to the mass of the galaxy. But we do not understand this relationship or how the black holes and galaxies form.
Will we be able to travel faster than the speed of light?
If so, it will be through the process of warping space. This is a Star Trek concept that actually jives with general relativity. So it may be possible.
Without warp drive or similar process, any interstellar voyages would be impossible. It would take us 80,000 years at space shuttle speed to reach the nearest star. And even if we could increase the speed by a factor of ten, it would still take us 8,000 years. Civilization on Earth as measured by the birth of agriculture and walled cities in only 10,000 years old. So, the notion of making voyages requiring thousands of years is not likely to occur.
Are there other universes?
We use to believe that the Universe was all that there is. Now it is not so clear. Some have said that there may be a “Multiverse” made up of a vast number of discreet universes, each one like a soap-bubble in a bath tub. String theory and the related membrane theory allows for such a concept.
What is dark energy?
This is truly one of the great mysteries of the cosmos, and perhaps the most disturbing question. Just as we are starting to make sense of the four fundamental forces and how they can work together, we are now faced with this new mystery that totally disrupts our existing models. It is a force that we know little about. But what we do know is that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, and the name we give to this phenomenon is dark energy. The questions here are endless. Is it a repulsive form of gravity? If not, how does it relate to the other fundamental forces?
One recent hypothesis is that our universe is simply one of many, and that it has an edge. This new hypothesis is that galaxies in our universe are streaming to the edges, drawn by gravitational attraction of masses in adjoining universes.
So far, string theory is nothing more than an elegant thought experiment, sort of like believing in leprechauns. String theory is almost too beautiful NOT to be true. But then again, so is a belief in leprechauns. Will there ever be an experiment that can give some substance to this vision?
Can we unify quantum mechanics and relativity?
We have two rival and dissimilar theories of the Universe. Quantum mechanics describes the world of the very small, and the forces of electromagnetism, strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces. Relativity deals with the very large, and the force of gravity. Where things break down is in objects such as black holes, where the subject is both hyper-massive and exceedingly small. This is where physics breaks down and our view of the Universe becomes schizophrenic.