Category: Astronomers

The Case For Multiverses

The Case for Multiverses

The  case for multiverses co-existing with our own is gathering more belief, indeed recently  The presenter, author and physicist Brian Cox says he supports the idea that many universes can exist at the same time.

The idea may sound far-fetched but the “many worlds” concept is the subject of serious debate among physicists.

It is a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics – which describes the often counter-intuitive behaviour of energy and matter at small scales.

In a famous thought experiment devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger, a cat sealed inside a box can be both alive and dead at the same time. Or any combination of different probabilities of being both dead and alive.

This is at odds with most common perceptions of the way the world is. And Schrodinger’s experiment was designed to illustrate the problems presented by one version of quantum mechanics known as the Copenhagen interpretation.

This proposes that when we observe a system, we force it to make a choice. So, for example, when you open the box with Schrodinger’s cat inside, it emerges dead or alive, not both.

But Prof Cox says the many worlds idea offers a sensible alternative.

“That there’s an infinite number of universes sounds more complicated than there being one,” Prof Cox told the programme.

“But actually, it’s a simpler version of quantum mechanics. It’s quantum mechanics without wave function collapse… the idea that by observing something you force a system to make a choice.”

Accepting the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics means also having to accept that things can exist in several states a the same time.

But this leads to a another question: Why do we perceive only one world, not many?

Schrodinger's cat - illustrationSchrodinger’s thought experiment was designed to illustrate problems with one interpretation of quantum physics

A single digital photograph can be made from many different images superimposed on one another. Perhaps the single reality that we perceive is also multi-layered.

The laws of quantum mechanics describe what happens inside the nucleus of every atom, right down at the level of elementary particles such as quarks, gluons. leptons, charm, muon et al with the now discovered Higgs Boson holding them all.

The weird and wonderful world of quantum mechanics reveals that nature is at heart probabilistic. Nothing can be predicted with any certainty.

“Everybody agrees about that” says Prof Cox. But where physicists don’t agree is about how these facts should be interpreted.

For decades, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which allows for only one universe, dominated particle physics.

But Brian Cox supports the many worlds interpretation and, he believes, more and more physicists are now subscribing to this view.

Gravity Power


newtonThe genius of Isaac Newton, who in the 17th  century defined gravity and produced a universal law of gravitation laid down the foundations for scientists, theoretical physicists such as Einstein.

Gravity Power

Gravity is pervasive, it affects and influences us all on our planet, in our solar system  and in our universe.

einstein1Astronomy is a hobby/interest of mine I like to learn all about what happens in the cosmos and how our space probes/telescopes are unlocking secrets preciously hidden to us.   Below Ben Gilliland excellently explains how gravity helps  push back the frontiers of space

WE ARE USED TO THINKING OF SPACE FLIGHT as a struggle against gravity. After all, it takes vast, towering rockets filled with hundreds of tonnes of explosive liquids and gases just to give a light-aircraft-sized vehicle enough thrust to break free of the bonds of Earth’s gravity.

Even if you are lucky enough make it into space, there are still endless gravitational hurdles to overcome. Contrary to what Sir Isaac Newton believed, gravity isn’t caused by two massive objects pulling on one-another. Instead, gravity is a by-product of the dents and distortions made by massive objects in the fabric of the Universe. A truly massive object, like a planet, makes a pretty big dent and, when a less massive object, like a spacecraft, strays too close it finds itself ‘falling’ into that dent – it might look as if the spacecraft is being ‘pulled’ towards the planet, but really it is ‘falling’ towards it.

The Solar System is littered with these gravitational pitfalls – a satellite falls towards the Earth, the Earth falls towards the Sun and, in turn, the Sun falls towards the centre of the Milky Way. The only way to stop this fall from becoming a direct plunge is to move through space fast enough to ensure your momentum keeps you aloft.

You can think of the Sun’s gravity as being a little like a wine glass. If you drop an olive into the glass, it will fall straight to the bottom, but, if you spin the glass, you can give the olive enough momentum to roll around the sides without falling in (like a planet orbiting the Sun). Decrease the momentum and its orbit will fall closer; increase it and its orbit moves further away. If you continue to increase the speed, eventually the olive will move so fast that it will achieve ‘escape velocity’ and fly from the glass.

A spacecraft leaving Earth has been given enough momentum to escape Earth’s gravity wine glass, but, if it wants to travel into deep space, it has to find enough momentum to escape the Sun’s gravitational dent. Using rockets isn’t practical because they’d need so much heavy fuel it would be prohibitively expensive to just leave the Earth –so scientists came up with a clever trick called a ‘gravity assist’ manoeuvre,

Also known as the ‘slingshot’ manoeuvre, the technique was first used successfully 40 years ago this week, by Nasa’s Mariner 10 Mercury probe. Instead of struggling against the gravitational pull of the planets, during a gravity assist, a spacecraft uses a planet’s gravity (or a series of planets) to give it a speed boost. By falling towards a planet that is falling towards the Sun, a spacecraft can ‘steal’ enough momentum to travel against the Sun’s gravitational pull.

So you could say that spaceflight isn’t flying at all: it’s just falling, with style.



A spacecraft leaving Earth has been given enough momentum to escape Earth’s gravity wine glass, but, if it wants to travel into deep space, it has to find enough momentum to escape the Sun’s gravitational dent. Using rockets isn’t practical because they’d need so much heavy fuel it would be prohibitively expensive to just leave the Earth –so scientists came up with a clever trick called a ‘gravity assist’ manoeuvre,

Also known as the ‘slingshot’ manoeuvre, the technique was first used successfully 40 years ago this week, by Nasa’s Mariner 10 Mercury probe. Instead of struggling against the gravitational pull of the planets, during a gravity assist, a spacecraft uses a planet’s gravity (or a series of planets) to give it a speed boost. By falling towards a planet that is falling towards the Sun, a spacecraft can ‘steal’ enough momentum to travel against the Sun’s gravitational pull.

So you could say that spaceflight isn’t flying at all: it’s just falling, with style.

Science & Space Highlights 2013

Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
– Sir Fred Hoyle

Science & Space Highlights 2013

My favourite daily newspaper (excellent as it is free too 🙂 ) is The Metro which I read on weekdays on my early morning commute to work.  Ben Gilliland produces an interesting , humorous & easy to understand updates and topics in the science world. Here are the highlights of 2013.

IT IS the start of a new year; 2013 is behind us and all eyes are looking towards the year ahead. It is a time to cast out the old and welcome in the new. But before we push 2013 into our collective wheelie bins to fester with turkey bones, congealed gravy and unrealised dreams, let us take one final look at the year on whose shoulders 2014 will stand. Like one of those chocolate selection boxes that are ubiquitous to the festive season, 2013 was a year packed with tasty morsels of sciencey goodness. We have reviewed the pictorial insert and (avoiding the whisky liqueur centres) selected a few of our favourites… [*The decision to run with a 2013 retrospective was in no way influenced by the author’s desire for two weeks off during the Christmas period. The fact that this piece could be prepared in advance is entirely coincidental]

  Thanks to Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, 2013 was a bumper year for exoplanets. On January 2, a study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) revealed that the Milky Way contains at least one planet for every star – meaning that our galaxy is home to at least 100-400 billion exoplanets (although there is likely to be many more). Just five days later, another report, from astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimated that there are ‘at least 17 billion’ Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way. On November 4, a study from the University of California (also based on Kepler data) reported that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of their host stars (the region around a star where conditions make the existence of liquid water possible). Of that number, the report estimated that as many as 11billion may be orbiting Sun-like stars – with the nearest such planet located just 12 light-years away.

Launched in 2009 along with the Herschel space telescope, the European Space Agency’s Planck cosmology probe was designed to map the Universe’s first light – the radiation after-glow of the Big Bang. On March 21, the mission’s all-sky map of this a Space was released. The exquisitely-detailed map revealed the tiny temperature variations that were present when the Universe was just 380,000 years old. Although they vary by less than a hundred millionth of a degree, these fluctuations in the density and temperature of the young Universe would form the seeds of the stars and galaxies that inhabit the cosmos today. Planck’s results confirmed many aspects of ‘Big Bang’ theory – including so-called ‘cosmic inflation’ (a period of exponential expansion thought to have occurred in the first fraction of a second of the Universe’s existence). It revealed the Universe to be slightly older than previously though (by about 80million years) and that it contains a little less of the mysterious dark energy (68.3%) thought to be driving the expansion of the cosmos and a little more of the ninja-like dark matter (26.8%) that interacts with the cosmos through gravity alone and a little more of the ordinary matter (4.9%) that makes up you, me and the stars and planets.
Farewell Planck

On October 3, after more than four years of sky mapping, the last of Planck’s instruments ran out the helium coolant they needed to operate. Six days later, the craft was moved out its operating position and placed into a ‘graveyard orbit’ around the Sun. Finally, on October 21, Planck was given the command to power down for good.

On April 29, another iconic ESA spacecraft, the Herschel Space Observatory, exhausted the last of its 2,300-litre supply of liquid helium coolant – marking the end of more than three years of stunning observations. Designed to see the Universe in the dust-piercing far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Herschel gave us stunning images of the intricate networks of gas and dust from which stars are born. It identified star-forming regions in the most distant galaxies – revealing that, even in the early Universe, stars were formed at prodigious rates. In all, Herschel made over 35,000 scientific observations and collected more that 25,000 hours-worth of science data.

If you’ve been following the progress of Nasa’s veteran space probe, Voyager 1, you may have noticed that it seems to have ‘left the Solar System’ more than once. In September, Nasa announced that, on August 25, the craft had at last (for certain this time) become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System behind and pass into interstellar space. Launched in 1977 for a ‘grand tour’ of the planets, Voyager 1 covered an astonishing 19 billion km (about 121 Astronomical Units, or AU) of space before it passed beyond the reach of the solar wind and departed the Solar System. Of course, another definition would put the edge of the Solar System at the point where the Sun’s gravitational influence ends – a distance of about 63,200 AU – meaning Voyager won’t truly leave for another 17,000 years or so. If mankind is ever going to colonise Mars, we’ll need a steady supply of water.

On September 26, Nasa announced that their Curiosity rover had detected ‘abundant, easily accessible’ water in the Martian soil. The robotic explorer had found that the red surface of Mars contains about two per cent water by weight – meaning that future colonists could (in theory) extract about a litre of water from every cubic foot of Martian dirt. Then, in December, a study of images taken by Nasa‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was released that hinted that there might still be liquid water flowing near the Red Planet’s equator. The images showed dark lines, called ‘recurring slope lineae’, which might be formed when water ice at high altitudes melted during the Martian summer and flowed down hill.

The Sun powers our existence here on Earth through the energy released by nuclear fusion in its core and it has long been a dream that we will one day recreate this process here on Earth. On October 7, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California announced that they had taken a significant step towards that dream. Using a technique called ‘Inertial Confinement Fusion’, they zapped a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel with the combined might of 192 laser beams – heating it 100 million degrees and initiating fusion. Significantly, for the first time, the reaction liberated more energy than was needed to initiate it. The amount of energy was tiny, but it showed that cheap, clean, fusion energy might one day be a reality.

Neutrinos are virtually massless particles that flood the cosmos, but have no electric charge so pass through the Universe (and through stars, planet and you) oblivious to, and unaffected by their surroundings. On November 22, scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, an ice-entombed telescope in Antarctica, said they had detected high-energy neutrinos from beyond the Solar System for the first time. The neutrino’s ability to pass through space unsullied by their surroundings means that, unlike the electromagnetic radiation most telescopes look for, none of the information they carry is lost or corrupted. The discovery has been hailed by astronomers as opening up a ‘new era of astronomy’.

A mission that could revolutionise our knowledge about our home galaxy was launched on December 19. One of the most ambitious space-charting missions ever conceived, ESA’s Gaia space craft will map the precise location, composition, brightness and age of a billion stars. It’s near-billion pixel camera (the most powerful ever flown into space) will create an ultra-precise 3D map of our corner of the Milky Way. By pinpointing the position and motions of the stars, the map can be used to chart how the Milky Way is evolving (by fast-forwarding their motions) and how it first evolved (by rewinding them).

Kepler Space Telescope finds ‘most Earth-like’ worlds to date

As astronomy is a keen interest of mine,  I found this interesting article from BBC Science news. With the vastness  of our Milky Way Galaxy containing approx a thousand billion stars, other planets exist around many stars, the search for possible earth-like planes gathers pace and more candidates are beinbg found. Whether these planets hold life or even intelligent life awaits future discovery.


Artist's impression of Kepler-62 systemArtist’s impression: The outermost pair are the smallest exoplanets yet found in a host star’s habitable zone
By Jonathan AmosScience correspondent, BBC News
The search for a far-off twin of Earth has turned up two of the most intriguing candidates yet.

Scientists say these new worlds are the right size and distance from their parent star, so that you might expect to find liquid water on their surface.

It is impossible to know for sure. Being 1,200 light-years away, they are beyond detailed inspection by current telescope technology.

But researchers tell Science magazine, they are an exciting discovery.

“They are the best candidates found to date for habitable planets,” stated Bill Borucki, who leads the team working on the US space agency Nasa’s orbiting Kepler telescope.

The prolific observatory has so far confirmed the existence of more than 100 new worlds beyond our Solar System since its launch in 2009.

The two now being highlighted were actually found in a group of five planets circling a star that is slightly smaller, cooler and older than our own Sun. Called Kepler-62, this star is located in the Constellation Lyra.

 The two planets go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f

Its two outermost worlds go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f.

They are what one might term “super-Earths” because their dimensions are somewhat larger than our home planet – about one-and-a-half-times the Earth’s diameter.

Nonetheless, their size, the researchers say, still suggests that they are either rocky, like Earth, or composed mostly of ice. Certainly, they would appear to be too small to be gaseous worlds, like a Neptune or a Jupiter.

Many assumptions

Planets 62e and 62f also happen to sit a sufficient distance from their host star that they receive a very tolerable amount of energy. They are neither too hot, nor too cold; a region of space around a star sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone”.

Kepler Mission

An illustration of Kepler
  • Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescope is on a mission to find Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars
  • It works by detecting periodic variations in the brightness of stars caused by orbiting exoplanets passing in front of them
  • In January 2013, astronomers used Kepler’s data to estimate that there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy

Given the right kind of atmosphere, it is therefore reasonable to speculate, says the team, that they might be able to sustain water in a liquid state – a generally accepted precondition for life.

“Statements about a planet’s habitability always depend on assumptions,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, an expert on the likely atmospheres of “exoplanets” and a member of the discovery group.

“Let us assume that the planets Kepler-62e and -62f are indeed rocky, as their radius would indicate. Let us further assume that they have water and their atmospheric composition is similar to that of Earth, dominated by nitrogen, and containing water and carbon dioxide,” the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg researcher went on.

“In that case, both planets could have liquid water on their surface: Kepler-62f gets less radiation energy from its host star than the Earth from the Sun and therefore needs more greenhouse gases, for Instance more carbon dioxide, than Earth to remain unfrozen.

“Kepler-62e is closer to its star, and needs an increased cloud cover – sufficient to reflect some of the star’s radiation – to allow for liquid water on its surface.”

Key signatures

None of this can be confirmed – not with today’s technology. But with future telescopes, scientists say it may be possible to see past the blinding glare of the parent star to pick out just the faint light passing through a small world’s atmosphere or even reflected off its surface.

This would permit the detection of chemical signatures associated with specific atmospheric gases and perhaps even some surface processes. Researchers have spoken in the past of trying to detect a marker for chlorophyll, the pigment in plants that plays a critical role in photosynthesis.

Dr Suzanne Aigrain is a lecturer in astrophysics at the University of Oxford.

She said ground-based experiments and space missions planned in the next few years would give more detailed information on distant planets like those announced by the Kepler team.

Astronomers would like to pin down the masses of the planets (information difficult to acquire with Kepler), as well as getting that data on atmospheric composition.

Dr Aigrain told BBC News: “What we do next is we try to find more systems like these; we try to measure the frequency of these systems; and we try to characterise individual systems and individual planets in more detail.

“That involves measuring their masses and their radii, and if possible getting an idea of what’s in their atmospheres. But this is a very challenging task.”

Kepler meanwhile will just keep counting planets beyond our Solar System.

It is equipped with the largest camera ever launched into space. It senses the presence of planets by looking for a tiny “shadowing” effect when one of them passes in front of its parent star.

Planets graphic

Truly Universal Fashion – The Spacesuit

When we think of space and space age, we always assume that clothing will be of the tin-foil variety with bizarre geometrical patterns.

Well to start with our own Earth Spacemen did wear the galaxy ball look but over the years it changed to its more comfortable and less bulky look.

The space suits, also known as EMUs or Extra-vehicular Mobility Units, protect astronauts when they go outside their spacecraft.

Anatomy of the space suit:

* The outer layers protect against radiation from the Sun and other space particles and dust

* The inner side of the space suit is blown up like a balloon to press against the body  which in effect  acts as a space bubble wrap.  The function of this is to ensure that the blood would not boil. 🙁 eck

* The inner lining of the space suit encapsulates tubings which contain water, that will cool down or warm up the body during space walk.

* The suit also includes mini apparatus which provide drinks or to collect urine.

* The helmet protect against radiation as well as micrometeoroids (meteor dusts); inside the helmet, oxygen is circulated to prevent the helmet’s clear visor from misting.

* The gloves have silicone-rubber fingertips which allow for a sense of touch.

* The backpack contains up to 7 hours of pure oxygen for the astronaut to breathe.  It also functions as a machine to get rid of the carbon dioxide that the astronaut exhale.

As of year 2000, a space suit would cost about $11 million.

Behind the Fashion: What Astronauts Wore in Space

evolution-of-space-suits-2013-bean_70249_600x450Bean’s Space Suit
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

When astronaut Alan Bean went to space on the 1973 Skylab 3 mission, he wore the suit pictured here. It was designed with a spiral zipper, to allow astronauts to sit in the lunar rover without having their suits balloon out.

“The previous edition had a zipper which provided no mobility in the hips,” said Lewis. “To circumvent, engineers designed this suit with a spiral zipper, which starts at the right corner of the neck ring and goes around the side to build in the localization of air pressure in the hip.”

You may be wondering why the suit—like most space suits—is bright white. There’s a reason for that too. The color was designed with its reflectivity in mind—to help astronauts deflect solar radiation, swings in temperature, and even tiny particulates.

“It was designed to dissipate energy laterally,” said Lewis. “There are actually many layers which deflect particles and slow them down before they can puncture the pressure layer.”

All of the astronauts in the Apollo program were provided with repair kits in case of a tear, but all of them say the repair kits were never used, said Lewis. The astronauts wore the suits both outside the spacecraft and during entry and re-entry—which created a tricky balancing act for engineers trying to make safe and comfortable gear.

“On the Apollo missions, you had to fit the suits inside the spacecraft but still make them vigorous enough to work outside on the lunar surfaces,” said Lewis. “The Apollo spacecraft looks relatively small when you have to protect shoulders and give mobility so that three healthy-sized men can sit in it abreast.”


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-ex-1a_70250_600x450 No Zippers for Launch
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Perhaps the most interesting part of the experimental EXI-A space suit is its lack of zippers. The earliest space suits had zippers, but now joints are made of hard seals.

“Zippers are unreliable,” said Lewis. “Even the best ones are only okay for several pressurizations.”

Suits today are designed to last much longer, she said. And every return from space means a deep cleaning and inspection, with new seals and O-rings applied.

The result is a suit that is air-tight, for the protection of the astronaut. That also means the suit can get kind of hot.

“It’s like being in a plastic bag,” said Lewis. “Of course, there are comfort layers—usually long johns—and the astronauts are also given diapers.”

This wasn’t always the case. When Alan Shepard became the first American in space during the Mercury mission, he wasn’t given a diaper because the entire mission was supposed to last 15 minutes.

That was before a problem with the launch pad required Shepard to sit in his shuttle for six hours before launch. And sure enough, nature called. There were two options, he was told. Abort the launch or … urinate in his suit.

As Lewis puts it: “They didn’t have any amenities for Alan Shepard, but they learned quickly.”


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-mark-v_70251_600x450Suited for Space
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Above, a photograph of the prototype Mark V space suit, which was designed in the early 1960s to help astronauts achieve a fuller range of motion while performing delicate tasks in the vacuum of space.

This photograph, one of several on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., helps paint a fuller portrait of what astronauts wore to survive entry and spacewalks.

The photographs are part of a larger exhibit called “Suited for Space,” which traces the evolution of space suits over the past 60 years through photos, x-rays, and artifacts. (Related: “Photos: Space Suit Evolution Since First NASA Flight.”)

Cathleen Lewis, a historian and curator of international space programs at the museum, explained that the asymmetrical shoulders on the Mark V space suit were designed as a test.

“The right arm is the traditional shoulder design,” she said. “But on the left arm, you can see bellows, which would allow the astronauts to localize air displacement and restrain the pressurization of outer space.”

In other words, if an astronaut lifted his or her arm in space without these specialized joints, the arm of the suit would balloon up—making it impossible to do work.

The traveling exhibit will remain in Washington, D.C., through December 1, when it will continue to stops in Tampa, Philadelphia, and Seattle.


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-mercury-7_70252_600x450Alan Shepard’s Space Suit
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Looking at astronaut Alan Shepard’s suit—which he wore in space—it’s clear just how complex a space suit really is.

“There were communication wires and wires throughout the chest that would send measurements like an astronaut’s heart rate back down to Earth,” said Lewis. “You can see the constraints in the hips and the knees.” (Related: “What’s Inside a Space Suit? X-Rays Reveal All.”)

Pointing lower, she said, “The boots are thick and heavy, to absorb radiation on the bottom of the soles.”

A suit like Shepard’s weighed about 56 pounds (25 kilograms), sans life-support gear and helmet. Add those components and the weight almost triples, to 182 pounds (82 kilograms).

On Earth, the astronauts had technicians to help them into the suits. But during the later Apollo missions, the astronauts had to help each other.

“After landing on the moon during Apollo 11, the astronauts prepped for three hours,” said Lewis. “They were dressing and then double- and triple-checking along their checklists, to make sure everything was in place.”

Published August 9, 2013

—Melody Kramer


The Moon

Supermoon by PH Morton

The Moon

At the start of one of my all time favourite movies and novel, a sci-fi masterpiece, 2001 A Space Odyssey, the scene is the dawn of man, approximately 3 million years ago when apes where evolving into primitive humans (hominids) One  family group of hominids is settling down for the night. One the man-apes looks up to the starry night sky and beholds a large bright shining object, he is fascinated by it. He is the first of his kind to do so. Since that time we could be so real, humans have been intrigued and enthralled by our close celestial sibling we call the moon.

Astronomically speaking the moon is on our door step, its distance being 363,104 km (225,622 miles) from earth. The moon is believed to have been created approx 4.5 billion years ago. At this time it is believed that a Mars size object collided with the primitive earth, resulting in an enormous and massive ejection of material from earth that later formed the moon. The diameter of the Moon is 3,474 km. ( 2,159 miles). It is approximately a 1/4 size of the earth, which in ratio makes the earth – like moon combination the largest in the solar system. The moon is the fifth largest satellite in the solar system.

The Moon is actually moving away from the earth  spinning away  at the rate of 3.78cm (1.48in) per year. Without the Moon, the Earth could slow down enough to become unstable, but this would take billions of years for any effect to be noticed.

533257_590992367609785_244881891_nSince early humans did gaze up and look at the moon, it has become the source of folklore, mysticism, pagan worship. It




Black Hole Terra Twister

Luckily for astronomers wanting to investigate black holes, which by definition are black and therefore virtually invisible, the ‘twisted spacetime carpet’ effect allows them to study black holes indirectly by looking at the effect they have on the space around them.

Black holes and particularly the supermassive kind, which can be found strutting their stuff at the centre of most galaxies, are of great interest to astronomers because they hold clues to how those galaxies evolved in the first place.

Now a team from Durham University has made a ‘supermassive’ breakthrough by finding a new way to measure how fast they spin.

Armed with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, the team, led by Professor Chris Done, took a look at a supermassive black hole with the mass of ten million Suns that lies at the heart of a galaxy 500million light years away.

This black hole, like many of its ilk, is surrounded by a spinning disk of gas and dust that sits like a glowing picnic, spread out across the spacetime rug waiting to dragged in and devoured. By looking at the gaseous picnic (also known as an accretion disk) in a variety of wavelengths, the team could determine how far the inner edge of the disc was from the black hole.

This distance can tell astronomers how fast the black hole is spinning because, like the unfortunate cat, material in the disk is drawn closer as the black hole’s spin increases.

The disk was found to be some distance from the edge of the black hole, which means that, for the moment at least (bearing in mind it is 500million light years away so they are studying it as it appeared half a billion years ago), it is spinning at the relatively slow speed of ‘only’ half the speed of light.

But who cares how fast a black hole spins? Well, if you thought a pair of rubber-soled socks can make a mess of a carpet, just take a look at what a spinning black hole can do…

Photos of little Brothers Earth and Moon from Big Brother Saturn

The planet Saturn is one of my favourite planets especially to view with a modest size telescope.

I have enjoyed viewing  it with my telescope in the past

Through my scope It it is wonderful greenish pink with the awesome ring system

Nasa has just  released photos of the Earth and Moon taken on 19 July 2013 from the Cassini spacecraft  nearly a billion miles away (i.5 million Kms). Cassini has beeing studying and sending back amazing photos of the gas giant, it’s rings and fascinating moons

Scientists wanted to pay homage and so replicate  the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” image of earth captured by the Voyager 1 probe in 1990.

This was the first time people knew in advance that their long distance picture was being taken.

As part of the event launched by Nasa, people were asked to wave in what Carolyn Porco, who leads Cassini’s camera team, described as an “interplanetary cosmic photo session”.

Earth and MoonSay cheese: the Earth and the Moon pictured from a billion miles away 🙂

“It thrills me no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent,” said Dr Porco, from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The wide-angle image is part of a larger mosaic – or multi-image portrait – that imaging scientists are putting together of the entire Saturn system.

Pictures of Earth from the outer Solar System are rare because, from that distance, Earth is very close to the bright Sun.

Just as a person can damage their retina by looking directly at the Sun, a camera’s sensitive detectors can be damaged by the bright rays.

These images were taken when the sun had moved behind the planet Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view, blocking out most of the light.


The pale blue dot of earth a billion miles away below righ under part of Saturn's fabulous rings

The pale blue dot of earth a billion miles away below right- under part of Saturn’s fabulous rings






Gamma Ray Gold Bursting from Space

Atronomers & astrophysicists once again are excited; this time at the discovery of what appears to be two super dense neutron stars colliding. Such collsions may also create Black Holes

Dr Edo  Berger’s and his  team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics studied the radiation and spectra emating from  GRB (gamma ray burst) designated GRB 130603B which was detected by NASA’s Swift satellite on June 3, 2013.  This GRB lies at a  distance of 3.9 billion light-years from Earth and is one of the nearest GRB events seen to date.

GRB 130603B observations provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements, including gold.

The amount of gold created in this event could be  perhaps 10 times the moon’s mass in gold, Berger said. The gold out there could be worth around $10 octillion. (That’s $100 trillion squared). A cool piece of  ‘Black Hole’ bling 😉

The scientists have calculated that about one-hundredth of a solar mass of material was ejected by the gamma-ray burst, some of which was gold.

All the gold on earth and  in the cosmos might have come from such gamma-ray bursts.

The burst coming from the collision of two neutron stars — each roughly the size of a medium sized city  and filled with 1.5 times the mass of the sun — an impact that produced a black hole and the lethal(if close by)  incredibly intense bright burst of gamma rays that was picked up by the Swift Satellite

To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff,” Dr Berger concluded 🙂

Gamma-Ray Burst -GRB 130603B

Gold Giving Gamma-Ray Burst -GRB 130603B Below is a fun & informative guide for the creation of the yearned for yellow metal- by Ben Gilliland

Gas Guzzling Goliath Galactic Black Hole

Astronomers & physicists have been getting excited  about possibly the once in a lifetime event of seeing material being digested by  a very dark denizen of deep space namely a black hole. Normal (if such can be said!).  Black Holes are basically formed when a massive star- dozens of times the size of our sun die and explode as a supernova(the biggest explosion in space/nature known after the Big Bang).

The remnants of the dying star then collapse inward building up immense pressure at the core of the dead star the atoms of the gas etc that fall to core become super squashed and becomes composed sub atomic neutron  Such stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons,  which are subatomic particles without net positive or negative charge(neutral).  Even a spoonful of  neutron star material weighs many thousands of tons.

If the supernova results from an even larger dying star, the material collapsing in on itself  is even heavier, and the result is the incredible black hole.  

A Black Hole allows no mater even light to escape from  it’s lethal gravitational pull. Passing matter (such as gas dust etc.,) that is unfortunate to get too close  begins to fall into the Black Hole. The matter  spirals in  becoming elongated and as it gets closer  has it’s atoms stripped to sub atomic size, some particles are lucky to be  flung back out into space as high energy X rays, the other particles fall in the Black Hole and are lost forever.  

The super  massive  Black Holes in the centre of most galaxies are thought to have formed by a number of  Black Holes being created and merging soon after the galaxy  was formed with structures such as the galactic spiral arms which began to rotate around it’s dark heart.    The gas cloud is being stretched out by the gravity of our own galaxy’s central Black Hole.

  • Gas cloud

The giant gas cloud heading for the black hole at the centre of our galaxy has begun its death spiral.

The cloud, known as G2 is now being stretched out like a piece of spaghetti by the black hole’s extreme gravity.

This gravitational field has caused the head of the cloud to accelerate around the black hole and to speed back towards us.

Astronomers have been closely observing G2, hoping to catch it being ripped apart and eaten by the black hole.


Artist's impression, supermassive black hole
  • Black Holes  are incredibly dense objects with gravity strong enough to trap even light
  • A ‘medium’ black hole could have the mass of 1,000 Suns but be no bigger than Earth
  • Supermassive black holes are thought to be at the centre of most large galaxies – including ours

The cloud of gas – three times larger than Pluto’s orbit but with a total mass just three times that of the Earth – was first spotted on its course toward the galaxy’s centre in 2011.

The mass of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way is estimated to be four million times that of the Sun and is formally known as Sagittarius A (Sgr A*). It is the closest known “supermassive” black hole and is therefore considered the best places to study these dense objects in detail.

“The most exciting thing we now see in the new observations is the head of the cloud coming back towards us at more than 10 million km/h along the orbit – about 1% of the speed of light,” said Reinhard Genzel, from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

“This means that the front end of the cloud has already made its closest approach to the black hole.”

The origin of the gas cloud remains unclear, although a variety of ideas have been proposed.

These range from its recent formation due to a collision between stellar winds and the interstellar medium to its origins as a jet emerging from the galactic centre to a faint star that is losing increasing amounts of gas.

G2 gas cloudImage showing the gas cloud falling into our galactic centred Black Hole. The head(top) of the cloud is now travelling much faster than the tail

The new observations argue against the cloud possessing a stellar core that would constantly be supplying new gas.

“We see that the cloud is now being stretched so much that it resembles spaghetti. This means that it probably doesn’t have a star in it,” said Stefan Gillessen, also from the Max Planck Institute, who has been leading the observing team.

“At the moment we think that the gas probably came from the stars we see orbiting the black hole.”

Due to the tidal forces stretching G2, the front of the cloud is now moving about 500 km/s faster than its tail.

The astronomers have been using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to study G2.

As the gas cloud is stretched its light gets harder to see. But by staring at the region close to the black hole for more than 20 hours of total exposure time with the VLT’s Sinfoni instrument, the team was able to measure the velocities of different parts of the cloud as it streaked past the central black hole.

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