By Michael Lanza
Less than an hour into our five-day backpacking trip into the Wind River Range, we turn onto the Doubletop Mountain Trail and within minutes splash across the shallow New Fork River at a spot where it’s flowing just inches deep; I ford it with boots on, walking gingerly on my toes to—happily—keep my socks dry. On the other side, just before beginning a long climb out of this valley, we run into a couple coming down the trail and stop to chat.
They’re finishing a 10-day hike punctuated by some challenging weather—a not-atypical Winds stew of rain, hail, wind, thunder, and lightning—but they tell us, it was a beautiful walk through the mountains. By contrast, my wife, Penny, our friend Chip Roser and I are heading out on a 43-mile loop with a forecast for five just about perfect, sunny days at the tail end of August into early September, with highs in the 60s and nights possibly down into the 30s.
Once we move on, it occurs to me that the fact that they took a trek that long and we are embarking on a hike of half the days and distance illustrates the trail and route options in the Winds.
A backpacker hiking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.
” data-image-caption=”My wife, Penny, backpacking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ decoding=”async” width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker hiking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.” class=”wp-image-58503″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?resize=150%2C100&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Wind8-014-Penny-Beach-backpacking-the-Doubletop-Mountain-Trail-Wind-River-Range-WY..jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />My wife, Penny, backpacking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.
We climb for a couple of hours under a blazing sun through hot, shadeless switchbacks in an old burn now populated by wildflowers and young trees, our perspective of the hills around us slowly expanding as we gain elevation. Finally leaving the burn behind, we enter conifer forest where the trail parallels Willow Creek and crosses the meadows of Martin Park. Less than four hours of leisurely hiking drops us at the doorstep of Rainbow Lake, where we find a spot for our tents nearby in the forest.
After setting up camp, Chip and I explore farther up the trail, which soon breaks out of the woods into classic Wind River Range high country: Just ahead, a tiny lake lies still in a meadow littered with boulders on a rolling plateau of wildflower and rock gardens. Miles in the distance, the Continental Divide shoulders up over 13,000 feet into the stratosphere. We will walk toward that giant wall of peaks over the next couple of days.
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When Black Holes Merge, They’ll Ring Like a Bell
When two black holes collide, they don’t smash into each other the way two stars might. A black hole is an intensely curved region of space that can be described by only its mass, rotation, and electric charge, so two black holes release violent gravitational ripples as merge into a single black hole. The new black hole continues to emit gravitational waves until it settles down into a simple rotating black hole. That settling down period is known as the ring down, and its pattern holds clues to some of the deepest mysteries of gravitational physics.
Gravitational wave observatories such as the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have mostly focused on the inspiral period of black hole mergers. This is the period where the two black holes orbit ever closer to each other, creating a rhythmic stream of strong gravitational waves. From this astronomers can determine the mass and rotation of the original black holes, as well as the mass and rotation of the merged black hole. The pattern of gravitational waves we observe is governed by Einstein’s general relativity equations, and by matching observation to theory we learn about black holes.
General relativity describes gravity extremely well. Of all the gravitational tests we’ve done, they all agree with general relativity. But Einstein’s theory doesn’t play well with the other extremely accurate physical theory, quantum mechanics. Because of this, physicists have proposed modifications to general relativity that are more compatible with quantum theory. Under these modified theories, there are subtle differences in the way merged black holes ring down, but observing those differences hasn’t been possible. But a couple of new studies show how we might be able to observe them in the next LIGO run.
The modified Teukolsky equation. Credit: Li, Dongjun, et al
In the first work, the team focused on what is known as the Teukolsky Equation. First proposed by Saul Teukolsky, the equations are an efficient way of analyzing gravitational waves. The equations only apply to classical general relativity, so the team developed a way to modify the equations for modified general relativity models. Since the solutions to both the Teukolsky and modified Teukolsky equations don’t require a massive supercomputer to solve, the team can compare black hole ring downs in various gravitational models.
The second work looks at how this would be done with LIGO data. Rather than focusing on general differences, this work focuses on what is known as the no-hair theorem. General relativity predicts that no matter how two black holes merge, the final merged black hole must be described by only mass, rotation, and charge. It can’t have any “hair”, or remnant features of the collision. In some modified versions of general relativity, black holes can have certain features, which would violate the no-hair theorem. In this second work, the authors show how this could be used to test general relativity against certain modified theories.
LIGO has just begun its latest observation run, so it will be a while before there is enough data to test. But we may soon have a new observational test of Einstein’s old theory, and we might just prove it isn’t the final theory of gravity after all.
Reference: Li, Dongjun, et al. “Perturbations of spinning black holes beyond General Relativity: Modified Teukolsky equation.” Physical Review X 13.2 (2022): 021029.
Reference: Ma, Sizheng, Ling Sun, and Yanbei Chen. “Black hole spectroscopy by mode cleaning.” Physical Review Letters 130.2 (2023): 141401.
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There’s a Polar Cyclone on Uranus’ North Pole
Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun, and so that last time that planet’s north polar region was pointed at Earth, radio telescope technology was in its infancy.
But now, scientists have been using radio telescopes like the Very Large Array (VLA) the past few years as Uranus has slowly revealing more and more of its north pole. VLA microwave observations from 2021 and 2022 show a giant cyclone swirling around this region, with a bright, compact spot centered at Uranus’ pole. Data also reveals patterns in temperature, zonal wind speed and trace gas variations consistent with a polar cyclone.
Uranus as seen by NASA’s Voyager 2. Credit: NASA/JPL
Scientists have long known that Uranus’ south pole has a swirling feature. When Voyager 2 flew past Uranus in 1986, it detected high wind speeds there. However, the way the planet was tilted did not allow Voyager to see the north pole.
But the VLA in New Mexico has now been studying Uranus the past several years, and observations collected in 2015, 2021, and 2022 were able to peer deep into Uranus’ atmosphere. The thermal emission data showed that circulating air at the north pole seems to be warmer and drier, which are the hallmarks of a strong cyclone.
“These observations tell us a lot more about the story of Uranus. It’s a much more dynamic world than you might think,” said Alex Akins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is lead author of a new study published in Geophysical Letters. “It isn’t just a plain blue ball of gas. There’s a lot happening under the hood.”
The researchers said the cyclone on Uranus is similar to the polar cyclones observed by the Cassini mission at Saturn. With the new findings, cyclones (which rotate in the same direction their planet rotates) or anti-cyclones (which rotate in the opposite direction) have now been identified at the poles on every planet in our solar system that has an atmosphere. The researchers said this confirms a broad truth that planets with substantial atmospheres – whether the worlds are made of rock or gas – all show signs of swirling vortexes at the poles.
Uranus’ north pole is now in springtime. As it continues into summer, astronomers hope to see even more changes in its atmosphere.
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