When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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Good News, Bad News: The Universe Next Door

Jan 9, 2013

Maybe some readers recall Immanuel Velikovsky's 1950 mega bestseller Worlds in Collision. The book, which caused a real sensation at the time, was an attempt to "explain" many of the big cataclysms and "miracles" recorded in mythic and folkloric narratives of ancient cultures as real astrophysical events. Velikovsky's thesis was that narratives of floods and mass destructions were not just allegorical or metaphorical but records of events that did take place. Mythic and biblical catastrophism had a historical and a scientific value to them.

In Velikovsky's theory, Venus was ejected from Jupiter as a kind of comet sometime around the 15th century BCE. Its periodic passage by Earth caused all sorts of havoc. His mythic inspiration came from Greek mythology, in particular the fable where Athena (Venus) was ejected from the head of Zeus (Jupiter). In spite of its popular appeal, the astronomical community summarily dismissed Velikovsky's ideas, a key player having been none other than Carl Sagan, who knew a lot about Venus and its atmosphere. In any case, Velikovsky's celestial catastrophism follows on the footsteps of many claims of apocalyptic endings due to upheavals in the skies. And even if his thesis was unfounded, bad things can and do happen from time to time due to collisions between "worlds." Think, for example, of the demise of the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago due a collision with a seven-mile wide asteroid.

Still, Velikovsky's doomsday imaginings are a child's play compared to some catastrophic ideas that modern cosmologists have been putting forward. I don't mean the devastation caused by a collision with an asteroid or comet, but of whole universes colliding with one another, including with our own.

Welcome to cosmic catastrophism.

The universe began its existence 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. However, current observations indicate that this expansion wasn't always at the same rate. Right at the beginning of time, the cosmos underwent a short period of hyper-accelerated expansion called inflation. According to this theory, proposed by MIT cosmologist Alan Guth in 1981, our whole universe could have emerged from a tiny patch of space that was stretched like a rubber band by the enormous factor of one hundred trillion trillion times (1026) in a fraction of a second. The universe we observe today fits within this stretched region, like an island in an ocean.

Now imagine that other portions of space, neighbors to that tiny patch that gave rise to our universe, also got stretched at different rates and at different times. We would have a universe filled with island-universes, each with its own history and possibly even types of matter, etc. This ocean of island-universes is called the multiverse.

Since physics is an empirical science, any hypothesis needs to be tested before being accepted by the community. This is as true for a ball rolling down a hill as for Guth's inflating universe or the multiverse. For the ball, we know how to apply Newton's laws of motion to describe its rolling and the results come out in excellent agreement with observations. Cosmic inflation predicts that our universe is geometrically flat (or almost) like the surface of a table but in three dimensions; it also predicts that space should be filled with radiation with a uniform temperature, as bathwater fills a bathtub. These two predictions have been confirmed, although a skeptic could argue that inflation was designed to accommodate these two observational facts about the universe. To its merit, inflation also offers an explanation as to how galaxies were first born and then grouped together in clusters, something that no other theory can do satisfactorily. Cosmologists like inflation a lot for its simplicity and range of explanation.

Since we can't receive information from outside our universe (or better, from outside our "horizon", the sphere that delimits how far light travelled in 13.7 billion years), how can we possibly test the existence of other universes "out there"? This has been a sticky point with the multiverse and indeed, the notion that the multiverse extends perhaps to spatial infinity is untestable. Infinity makes sense mathematically and may even be realized in Nature; but we will never know for sure.

However, we can do the next best thing, and see if at least neighboring universes exist. Just as with soap bubbles that vibrate when they collide with one another without popping, if another universe collided with ours in the distant past, the radiation inside our universe would have vibrated in response to the perturbations caused by the collision. These perturbations would be registered in the cosmic radiation and could, in principle, be observed. Matthew Kleban from New York University and his collaborators, and Anthony Aguirre from the University of California at Santa Cruz and his have been studying what kinds of signals would be left over from these dramatic events. Kleban found a unique signature, concentric rings where the radiation temperature would show a characteristic fluctuation. On top of the rings the radiation itself would be polarized, that is, it would oscillate in tandem in a specific direction of the sky. At least for now, no telltale rings have been found in the cosmic radiation, although the European satellite Planck promises to deliver more accurate polarization data that may shed light on the issue.

The bad news is that the probability of a collision with another universe increases with time: we could disappear at any instant: live life to the fullest!

The good news is that, although the multiverse as a whole may not be a testable scientific hypothesis, with some luck we may at least know if one or a few other universes exist. An observational test distinguishes science from idle speculation.


You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

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