Adam Frank

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Part of an unclassified video taken by Navy pilots that has circulated for years showing interactions with “unidentified aerial phenomena.”Credit...Dept. of Defense handout/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images

This month the TV news program “60 Minutes” ran a segment on recent sightings by Navy pilots of unidentified flying objects. The pilots’ accounts were bolstered by videos recorded by cameras onboard their planes that captured what the government now calls “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

In the wake of these enigmatic encounters, people are asking me what I think about U.F.O.s and aliens. They’re asking because I’m an astrophysicist who is involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. My colleagues and I were recently awarded one of the first NASA grants to look for signs of advanced technology on planets outside our solar system.…  Seguir leyendo »

La fotografía de la Tierra tomada por William Anders desde el Apolo 8 en 1968 Credit William A. Anders/NASA

En 1968, el astronauta William Anders miró hacia afuera desde su cápsula en la misión Apolo 8 que orbitaba alrededor de la Luna y vio a la Tierra de color azul que emergía sobre el grisáceo horizonte lunar. Fue la primera vez que alguien vio un “amanecer lunar” y la foto que tomó se volvió icónica.

En ella, nuestro planeta se ve solo y frágil en contraste con lo negro del espacio. A cincuenta años, la foto de Anders sigue siendo un resumen visual de la apremiante necesidad de salvar al planeta de nuestro pésimo comportamiento. Pero ¿qué tal si hemos malinterpretado el significado real de esa imagen?…  Seguir leyendo »

Sí, ha habido vida extraterrestre en la galaxia

Los astrónomos del equipo de la nave espacial Kepler anunciaron el mes pasado el descubrimiento de 1284 planetas nuevos; todos ellos, estrellas que orbitan fuera de nuestro sistema solar. La cantidad total de esos exoplanetas, confirmada por Kepler y otros métodos, ahora es de más de 3000.

Esto representa una revolución en el conocimiento planetario. Hace más o menos una década, el descubrimiento de un solo exoplaneta era una gran noticia. Ya no es así. Las mejoras en la tecnología para la observación astronómica nos han llevado de un descubrimiento planetario al detalle a descubrimientos al por mayor. Ahora sabemos, por ejemplo, que es muy probable que todas las estrellas en el cielo tengan al menos un planeta.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Crisis at the Edge of Physics

Do physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?

You may think that the answer is an obvious yes, experimental confirmation being the very heart of science. But a growing controversy at the frontiers of physics and cosmology suggests that the situation is not so simple.

A few months ago in the journal Nature, two leading researchers, George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published a controversial piece called “Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics.” They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today’s most ambitious cosmic theories — so long as those theories are “sufficiently elegant and explanatory.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is home to almost 300 billion stars, and over the last decade, astronomers have made a startling discovery — almost all those stars have planets. The fact that nearly every pinprick of light you see in the night sky hosts a family of worlds raises a powerful but simple question: “Where is everybody?” Hundreds of billions of planets translate into a lot of chances for evolving intelligent, technologically sophisticated species. So why don’t we see evidence for E.T.s everywhere?

The physicist Enrico Fermi first formulated this question, now called the Fermi paradox, in 1950. But in the intervening decades, humanity has recognized that our own climb up the ladder of technological sophistication comes with a heavy price.…  Seguir leyendo »

This summer, physicists celebrated a triumph that many consider fundamental to our understanding of the physical world: the discovery, after a multibillion-dollar effort, of the Higgs boson.

Given its importance, many of us in the physics community expected the event to earn this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. Instead, the award went to achievements in a field far less well known and vastly less expensive: quantum information.

It may not catch as many headlines as the hunt for elusive particles, but the field of quantum information may soon answer questions even more fundamental — and upsetting — than the ones that drove the search for the Higgs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sometime this year Voyager 1, a probe sent from Earth 35 years ago, will cross a threshold no human-fashioned object has reached before. Passing through a sun-driven shock wave at the edge of the solar system, it will reach the icy dominions of interstellar space. Voyager is one of the fastest vessels we’ve ever blown out of Earth’s gravity well. Still, after three and a half decades of hyper-velocity spaceflight, it will take another 700 centuries for the craft to cross the distance to the nearest star.

Short of a scientific miracle of the kind that has never occurred, our future history for millenniums will be played out on Earth and in the “near space” environment of the other seven planets, their moons and the asteroids in between.…  Seguir leyendo »