Archive for the ‘The Universe’ Category

Einstein Was Right   Leave a comment

Gravitational Waves

To watch a fascinating video from the New York Times, click http://nyti.ms/1SKjTJ5

It’s all over the internet: Einstein was right – there are such things as gravitational waves.

In a seemingly impossible experiment, a group of astrophysicists announced on Thursday, February 11, 2016 that they now had aural evidence of gravitational waves. An international mega-group of 1000 scientists published a report in Physical Review Letters confirming their findings.

For those of you who might be asking, “What are gravitational waves?”, here’s a quick definition. They’re ripples in spacetime created by any particle or object with mass. Einstein predicted them in his theory of relativity in 1916.

In a classic case of “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound,” two black holes collided so impossibly far away – a billion light years – and only now is the Earth receiving the noise from that cataclysmic event.

Two antennas designed for receiving any sound a gravitational wave would generate, located in Washington State and Louisiana, and part of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), picked up a brief chirp on September 14, 2015.

This event’s also a significant achievement for astronomy, where so much is dependent upon what can been seen. This experiment delivers another dimension from which to observe and measure the universe.

If you’d like to read more about this important confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, here are a few sources:

 

World’s End   Leave a comment

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Credit: Don Davis/NASA

Hope you didn’t make any plans to take that much-needed restful vacation to Puerto Rico from September 15-28, 2015.  And while that’s the heart of the hurricane season, this wrath-of-nature event’s going to create giant waves not as the result of intense low pressure, but the crashing of a honking huge space rock.  Yes, folks, this sucker’s got our name on it and it’s that apocalyptic nightmare we’ve been long warned about.  So if any of you were thinking about paying bills or going to college, your time’d be better spent making plans of an otherworldly sort – the kind that involves a sudden belief in religion and hoping that all of those priests, preachers and other sorts are right.

NOT!

Oh geez, here we go again.  Once again, life on Earth is going to end.  Or that’s what they’d like you to believe on the internet.

So much buzz and inquiry flew around in cyberspace that the American authority on such matters, NASA, had to release a statement that categorically denied our home planet’s days were numbered.

As things go, this latest rumor of our planet’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  There is no asteroid, the Earth is still planning to turn and as far as vacations to Puerto Rico are concerned, it’s still hurricane season and you still might want to check the forecast before you leave.

Back in 1982, a rare alignment of all nine planets (back then, Pluto was considered one) occurred.  Our entire solar system lined up within a 95° arc, all on one side of the sun in March of that year.  This amazing event prompted horrific rumors of devastating earthquakes, shifts in gravitational forces and life as we know it’d go the way of Betamax players (also popular at the time).  And no Earth-ending force would be complete without California’s San Andreas fault sliding off the West Coast and offering the residents of Arizona the beachfront property they’d been longing for.  Of course, no one would have even given this planetary lineup a second thought had it not been for the book written by John Gribbin, Ph.D., and Stephen Plagemann, called The Jupiter Effect, published in 1974.    For some reason, nothing really happened except nighttime sky observers had a fantastic view.  Not long after, Gribbin and Plagemann published, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, backtracking to say the actual event occurred in 1980 and was responsible for the monumental eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  Finally, in 1999, Gribbin admitted he might have been mistaken about the whole thing.

There seems to be no end of apocalyptic predictions, it seems – humankind thrives on them.  Most of them seem to revolve around Christ coming again and bible predictions, or some deity wreaking havoc, or even a random event magically pull the plug on our planet.  To illustrate, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive (although by no means complete) list of popular end-of-it-all predictions.  Suffice it to say, we’re all still here.

Why is it seemingly so popular to want life to end on our planet?  Lots of reasons.  Those in power used it as a means to control less sophisticated types, while others, through limited means of scientific understanding, considered such celestial events as comets to be a omen of death.  The same goes for plagues, droughts and other extreme weather events, earthquakes, eclipses and more.  I remember as a kid hearing Pat Robertson of the 700 Club predict the world would end in 1982.  Why?  He was a big fan of the Antichrist and figured that’d be a good time as any for the devil to show up.  That, and this prediction bolstered viewers for his popular TV show.  Hey, wouldn’t you want the latest details of your demise?  Of course, if you were God’s Chosen, you’d be lifted up in The Rapture…and all of his viewers were special, natch.

Alas, as long as humans trod the earth, there will be naysayers for its future.  The Assyrians are famously known for making this oft-quoted prediction, way back in 2800 BC:

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Oh, if only it’d be true…

 

The Versatility of Black Holes   Leave a comment

Black Hole Toy

There’s been a lot of talk about black holes lately and it seems our fascination with them never quits.  Even the term ‘black hole’ joined our lexicon long ago (“Can’t figure out what I did with my keys; it’s like they fell into a black hole or something” – c’mon, admit it, you’ve generated versions of this phrase, haven’t you?).

So, strolling around the web, I’d thought I’d make an informal list of things Black Hole:

1.  Wired Magazine’s blog entry by Geek Dad, Black Hole Fun – Wired’s Guide to What Sucks – “10 Sci-Fi Movies we’d like to throw in a Black Hole.”  The list starts with Disney’s “The Black Hole” movie and goes down from there.  I don’t necessarily agree with his choice of the Matrix sequels (true, they were’t as strong as the original, but they had moments) or “Star Trek V” (although it isn’t the best entry in the field, it’s not that bad.), but I completely agree with his assessment of the others.  I happened to watch “Lost in Space” movie the other night, mainly because there wasn’t anything else on and I didn’t feel like doing anything else, and MAN, I gotta tell ya, it sucked.  I mean, who can honestly grasp the concept/irony of Matt Le Blanc playing a space jockey?

2.  Here’s a University in Colorado’s list, current to 2006, of a lot of Black Hole fiction in paper and film.  It’s really good.  Students get 2% extra credit for finding more sources to add to the list.

3.  Just in case you were curious, here’s Disney’s “The Black Hole” film.

4. Noisey – Music by VICE – blogged about Weezer’s lost science fiction rock opera, “Songs from the Black Hole.”  I used to be a huge fan of Weezer, until they stopped putting out good music a while ago.  Shame.

5.  You can get a 2006 forgettable version of “The Black Hole” on Amazon for $1.31.  US currency, that is.  Apparently, it seems there’s one available for a penny, but it’s a used version.

2006 The Black Hole

6.  Here’s Wendy Merrill’s advice on the black hole of bad follow up.

7.  Apple music contract will punch a black hole in the music industry.

8.  A 9.28.14 article from The Daily Beast declares black holes exist, and so does bad science.  The article discusses a paper that two physicists wrote that claim black holes can’t exist.

9.  I want this in my backyard…NOW!

10.  And, of course, no list would be complete without UFOs and black holes.  Here’s an article from the website Open Minds that discusses an Oregon witness says a UFO emitted a black hole sort of energy.

Back in Time   Leave a comment

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Hooray!  Today, the Hubble Telescope celebrates its 25 anniversary!  And what a celebration it should be, and is.  The New York times posted an article today that features astronomers and others involved in Hubble’s history what their favorite photo is.

Here’s one of my favorite images:

Monster Galaxy

This photo is from 2012, and a brief description taken from NASA’s HubbleSite.org follows:

The giant elliptical galaxy in the center of this image, taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, is the most massive and brightest member of the galaxy cluster Abell 2261.

Spanning a little more than one million light-years, the galaxy is about 10 times the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy. The bloated galaxy is a member of an unusual class of galaxies with a diffuse core filled with a fog of starlight. Normally, astronomers would expect to see a concentrated peak of light around a central black hole. The Hubble observations revealed that the galaxy’s puffy core, measuring about 10,000 light-years, is the largest yet seen.

The observations present a mystery, and studies of this galaxy may provide insight into how black hole behavior may shape the cores of galaxies.

Astronomers used Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 to measure the amount of starlight across the galaxy, dubbed A2261-BCG. Abell 2261 is located three billion light-years away.

The observations were taken March to May 2011. The Abell 2261 cluster is part of a multi-wavelength survey called the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH).

Object Names: Abell 2261, A2261-BCG

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASAESA, M. Postman (STScI), T. Lauer (NOAO), and the CLASH team

# # #

But what do I find so fascinating about it?

Click on the above link for larger files of the above photo.  Take a look.  It’s an amazing assortment of galaxies – tons of them!  And they’re beautiful, so beautiful, gems each and every one.  This literally took my breath away.  Not only are those galaxies millions of light years away, their light comes to us from millions of years ago.  What we see no longer is, and who knows what’s taken its place, if anything at all.

Within each of those galaxies floating in the universe are worlds utterly unknown to us.  We can fantasize and dream about life on another planet in another galaxy, but the truth is a bit elusive at the moment.  Still, we can regard them for what the Hubble brings to us – a beautiful perspective of the universe and its imagery.

If you find yourself a bit bored, sad or otherwise challenged by the rigors of this world, click on the Hubble Telescope site.  Explore its pages.  Allow yourself to dream and be awed at this portal on the magnificence of nature.

Spring Skies at Night   Leave a comment

Spring Constellation Map

 

There’s a tiny, disk-sized patch of snow behind the museum where I work, a reminder that winter wasn’t all that long ago.  I keep waiting for it to melt, but it refuses, so I ignore it and remember that its water’s going to water the grass it’s hiding.  In defiance, some crocuses finally gathered the gumption to bloom – a month late – and later the daffodils joined in.

Ah, spring!

But if that snow didn’t want to release its chilly grip on Earth, all I had to do was look up and see the spring sky greet me.  Clouds are the only impediment to these yearly harbingers of warmer times.

I’ve got a few favs I eagerly look for when the days begin to lengthen.  When Leo starts strutting up that heavenly hill come February, spring isn’t far behind.

Leo

There’s no mistaking him.  He’s got a jewel on one foot, Regulus, magnitude 1.4, and sports another in his tail, Denebola, a bright second-magnitude (2.14) star.  He leads the parade for my next favorite grouping:

The Herdsman

Bootes, the Herdsman.  You can’t mistake him either, although he’s so large it’ll might take a little patience to find him.  His main-feature star, Arcturus, lights up his lap.  He’s sitting down, smoking his pipe, wondering how all those sheep he was supposed to watch disappeared (perhaps Leo ate them?).

Or maybe he’s just trying to hide that hunk of bling behind him, the Northern Crown, or Corona Borealis.  It has a second-magnitude star, Gemma, actually a binary star, or two stars rotating around each other. Its magnitude shifts from 2.21 to 2.32, not very noticeable with the unaided eye.  You’d need seventeen straight days to stare up at it with a telescope to measure the change.

Corona Borealis, Bootes

Credit: Till Credner (Own work: AlltheSky.com) 

We all know how lions pride themselves on their gorgeous manes.  Bootes must share the same sentiment, because between him and Leo, there’s a fantastic group of very faint stars known as Berenice’s Hair.

Berenices Hair            Be's Hair

It’s small, but that doesn’t make it special!  There are eight galaxies within it, several globular clusters, 200 variable stars in its region and if that weren’t enough, the North Galactic Pole is amidst her strands.  But wait!  There’s more!  She gets all twinkly and festive during the Christmas season.  Bragging her own meteor showers during December and January, she peaks from December 18-25, right in time for the holidays.  It’s also important, when looking at her, not to expect to spot the Milky Way.  When her hair is high in the sky, the Milky Way is lower in the sky, on or near the horizon.

And speaking of meteor showers, in mornings you’ll find the Lyrids, or meteor showers occurring near the constellation Lyra.  Those occur at the end of April, peaking between April 22-25.  The radiant is where to look; the meteors seem to be originating from that point.

Lyrids-2011-12_30April-23

Credit: astrobob.areavoices.com

Now, get off that couch, stop texting, get outside and go have yourselves a great look at the nighttime sky!

 

 

Einstein’s Cross   Leave a comment

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Multiple images of the Supernova Refsdal, appearing over time.  Credit: NASA and European Space Agency 

There’s a sight to behold in the universe, located in the constellation Pegasus.  It’s known as the Einstein Cross, a singular supernova that is seen four times.  It’s an example of the forces of time and gravity meeting in space, and what can happen when they dance together.

Simply put, the Einstein Cross is the result of gravitational lensing.  That means there’s something in the way that’s spreading the view.  Take, for example, one exploding star.  Place in front of it a collection of galaxies.  The gravitational force is such that the rays of light are spread in several different directions, and in this case, four.  So while it’s rare enough to catch a star exploding, it’s even more magnificent to watch it four times.

The New York Times has a great article and a very cool video regarding this unique occurrence in the universe.  You can read it here.

Posted March 6, 2015 by seleneymoon in Nature, Sci-Fi, The Universe

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Endless Time of Space   Leave a comment

600px-Galaxy_history_revealed_by_the_Hubble_Space_Telescope_(GOODS-ERS2)

Time.  Space.  There’s an awful lot of it.  The two are a married couple, together for eternity, destined to rule everyone’s ultimate fate but perhaps their own.  What is all that out there, anyway, and how did it begin?

As I drove to work yesterday, whiteness blanketed every surface, including the river I travel along.  The snow disguised every surface, shrouding shapes.  It almost became difficult to see where the river and its banks met.  Where did one begin and the other ended.  For one reason or another, my mind drifted to the endless void of space.  You know, the one that’s situated where our planet and its eight companions hang out.

Sure, there’s loads of theories detailing how the Big Bang began it all.  But what prompted it?  And where, exactly, did that bang occur?  What was the situation, the circumstance, the one moment where conditions were correct to unleash a tide of matter and send it forth for eons?  Say, now’s a good time to create…everything…

Again, there are theories about all of this.  Tracing the creation of the universe to that Big Bang is pretty much where it stops.  My curiosity lies with What Came Before.

In my opinion, some matter had to be gathered together initially to agitate enough to explode.  What created that matter and how much was there of it to launch forth an entire universe of galaxies, novas, quasars and planets?  What created the void wherein the matter floats and drifts?  And like any explosion, the shock waves fly out until they dissipate or crash against a solid surface.  Will the shock waves act as ones that dissipate or like a string on a yo-yo, reaching a limit and then curl back?

It’s a lot to ponder as one’s listening to the band Viet Cong play “Silhouette” on the car radio, driving past a white ribbon of frozen river.

Just to perplex myself even further while I crossed over a bridge, I thought about the time it took to accomplish all of this.  No, not the kind of time-bending that Einstein and the movie “Interstellar” explored.  Just a simple answer.  You know, like 30 billion years.  Or so.  And how long did that void exists before it decided to make a universe?  What came before that?  And that?

I arrived at my destination: a small museum that I run.  Out of time, I pulled into a space and parked the car.  Slipping the key into the door and turning off the alarm, I turned my attention to the matters that awaited me at work, taking satisfaction that there were few mysteries there.  Nothing I couldn’t solve, anyway.

Posted February 19, 2015 by seleneymoon in Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Universe

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