Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Artist's rendition of a hypervelocity star leaving a galaxy. Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Ten Strangest Things About Our Universe - 2008
At the end of any year, one is confronted with many bottom up lists describing the important events, people, discoveries, and etc. over the course of the past year just lived.
This exercise always allows one to pause and reflect on what has been learned and to ponder what might be useful for the New Year ahead.
WE at Oblate Spheroid, marvel at how different life and the place the Earth has in the universe becomes the more we learn about the space we occupy.
The more we look among the stars and galaxies, the weirder things seem to get.
Even space itself is puzzling, for example; Recent studies suggest that the fabric of the universe stretches more than 150 billion light-years across -- in spite of the fact that the cosmos is 13.7 billion years old.
This excerpted and edited from The Discovery Channel –
Hypervelocity stars were first theorized to exist in 1988. The theory was that binary star systems at the galaxy's center would occasionally wander too close to the massive black hole looming there, which would disrupt their orbital dance. While one of the pair was captured by the black hole, the other would be sent rocketing off at an incredible speed. Caption: MSNBC - Image Credit: ESO
TOP 10 STRANGEST THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE
By Dave Mosher for The Discovery Channel - Article originally posted October 31, 2008.
10. Hypervelocity Stars
If you've ever gazed at the night sky, you've probably wished upon a shooting star (which are really meteors).
But shooting stars do exist, and they're as rare as one in 100 million.
In 2005, astronomers discovered the first "hypervelocity" star careening out of a galaxy at nearly 530 miles per second (10 times faster than ordinary star movement).
We have ideas about what flings these rare stars into deep space, but aren't certain; anything from off-kilter supernova explosions to supermassive black holes might be responsible.
9. Black Holes
Conception of a black hole pulling gas off of a nearby star. Image Credit: ESA/NASA
Speaking of black holes, what could be stranger?
Beyond a black hole's gravitational border -- or event horizon -- neither matter nor light can escape. Astrophysicists think dying stars about three to 20 times the mass of the sun can form these strange objects. At the center of galaxies, black holes about 10,000 to 18 billion times heavier than the sun are thought to exist, enlarged by gobbling up gas, dust, stars and small black holes.
What about mid-sized types? Perhaps surprisingly, evidence is both scarce and questionable for their existence.
Artist's rendition of a magnetar with magnetic fields shown. Image Credit: NASA
The sun spins about once every 25 days, gradually deforming its magnetic field.
Well, imagine a dying star heavier than the sun collapsing into a wad of matter just a dozen miles in diameter.
Like a spinning ballerina pulling his or her arms inward, this change in size spins the neutron star -- and its magnetic field -- out of control.
Calculations show these objects possess temporary magnetic fields about one million billion times stronger than the Earth's. That's powerful enough to destroy your credit card from hundreds of thousands of miles away, and deform atoms into ultra-thin cylinders.
Construction of the NuMI neutrino source underway. Image Credit: BNL
Pull out a dime from your pocket and hold it up for a second... guess what? About 150 billion tiny, nearly massless particles called neutrinos just passed through it as though it didn't even exist.
Scientists have found that they originate in stars (living or exploding), nuclear material and from the Big Bang. The elementary particles come in three "flavors" and, stranger still, seem to disappear on a whim.
Because neutrinos occasionally do interact with "normal" matter such as water and mineral oil, scientists hope they can use them as a revolutionary telescope to see beyond parts of the universe obscured by dust and gas.
6. Dark Matter
False-color depiction of dark matter around a star cluster. Image Credit: J.-P. Kneib/ESA/NASA
If you put all of the energy and matter of the cosmos into a pie and divvy it up, the result is shocking.
All of the galaxies, stars, planets, comets, asteroids, dust, gas and particles account for just 4 percent of the known universe. Most of what we call "matter" -- about 23 percent of the universe -- is invisible to human eyes and instruments.
Scientists can see dark matter's gravitational tug on stars and galaxies, but are searching feverishly for ways to detect it first-hand. They think particles similar to neutrinos yet far more massive could be the mysterious, unseen stuff.
5. Dark Energy
Computer simulation of dark matter filaments. Image Credit: Science Magazine
What really has everyone on the planet confused -- including scientists -- is dark energy.
To continue with the pie analogy, dark energy is a Garfield-sized portion at 73 percent of the known universe. It seems to pervade all of space and push galaxies farther and farther away from one another at increasingly faster speeds.
Some cosmologists think this expansion will leave the Milky Way galaxy as an "island universe" in a few trillion years with no other galaxies visible.
Others think the rate of expansion will become so great that it will result in a "Big Rip." In this scenario, the force of dark energy overcomes gravity to disassemble stars and planets, the forces keeping particles sticking together, the molecules in those particles, and eventually the atoms and subatomic particles. Thankfully, humankind probably won't be around to witness to cataclysm.
Illustration of terrestrial, extrasolar planets. Image Credit: R. Hurt/NASA/JPL-Caltech
It might sound strange because we live on one, but planets are some of the more mysterious members of the universe.
So far, no theory can fully explain how disks of gas and dust around stars form planets -- particularly rocky ones.
Not making matters easier is the fact that most of a planet is concealed beneath its surface. Advanced gadgetry can offer clues of what lies beneath, but we have heavily explored only a few planets in the solar system.
Only in 1999 was the first planet outside of our celestial neighborhood detected, and in November 2008 the first bona fide exoplanet images taken.
Artist depiction of gravity waves around merging black holes. Image Credit: NASA
The force that helps stars ignite, planets stay together and objects orbit is one of the most pervasive yet weakest in the cosmos
Scientists have fine-tuned just about every equation and model to describe and predict gravity, yet its source within matter remains a complete and utter mystery.
Some think infinitesimal particles called gravitons exude the force in all matter, but whether or not they could ever be detected is questionable.
Still, a massive hunt is on for major shake-ups in the universe called gravitational waves. If detected (perhaps from a merger of black holes), Albert Einstein's concept that the universe has a "fabric" of spacetime would be on solid ground.
E. coli bacteria. Image Credit: NIH
Matter and energy abound in the universe, but only in a few places is the roll of the cosmic dice perfect enough to result in life.
The basic ingredients and conditions necessary for this strange phenomenon are better understood than ever before, thanks to abundant access to life here on Earth.
But the exact recipe -- or recipes -- to go from the basic elements of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur to an organism is a prevailing mystery.
Scientists seek out new areas in the solar system where life could have thrived (or still may, such as below the surface of watery moons), in hopes of arriving at a compelling theory for life's origins.
1. The Universe
Illustration showing the creation and expansion of the universe. Image Credit: NASA
The source of energy, matter and the universe itself is the ultimate mystery of, well, the universe.
Based on a widespread afterglow called the cosmic microwave background (and other evidence), scientists think that the cosmos formed from a "Big Bang" -- an incomprehensible expansion of energy from an ultra-hot, ultra-dense state.
Describing time before the event, however, may be impossible.
Still, atom smasher searches for particles that formed shortly after the Big Bang could shed new light on the universe's mysterious existence -- and make it a bit less strange than it is today.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Tracking Santa The NORAD Way Christmas 2008
Christmas is a time we come together to celebrate forces that are beyond our own experience. On December 25, the birth of the son of God is the source of the excuse for additional forces we know are beyond our own experience to come to life.
Santa is even known to stop and leave a gift where some people are not even aware they actually believe in him and/or God’s power because he knows what resides deep in all people who wish for a better world but have not found a conscious way to its understanding.
Technology and the internet were made for times like these.
This from the How Stuff Works website -
How Santa's Sleigh Works
by John Fuller – How Stuff Works
On Christmas Eve, millions of children around the world will settle uneasily into bed, hardly able to contain themselves. What vision could possibly dance through their heads, turning them into twitchy, restless insomniacs for just one night? Is it the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker" or the sugarplums from Clement Clarke Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas"? Can sugarplums really do such a thing?
Chances are the children are thinking about toys, Santa Claus and his team of reindeer -- if the children have been nice this year, jolly old St. Nick should be landing his sleigh on their roofs sometime late in the night.
Everyone has their own traditional image of Santa's sleigh, but could there be more to it than just a sled and a team of reindeer? Although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, we at HowStuffWorks have what we think are the most logical explanations for how the big guy accomplishes all that he does: science and technology.
Sure, demystifying Santa's modus operandi puts us at risk of getting nothing but coal in our stockings this year, but it's all for the noble pursuit of yuletide knowledge. After all, have you ever wondered how Santa's sleigh flies? What about the reindeer? And how does Santa fit all of those presents into one bag? In the next section, we'll look at the possible technology behind Santa's sleigh.
Rustic on the outside and state-of-the-art on the inside, Santa's sleigh would have to be a marvel in engineering. These are the main parts of the sleigh that would be needed to get Santa across the world in one night.
The Sleigh's Interior
The front of the sleigh's dashboard would be dominated by Santa's own GPS navigator -- the elves would map out millions of destinations before Christmas Eve, just to make sure Santa doesn't miss anyone. The device would also have a built-in Naughty-or-Nice sensor that keeps Santa updated on children's activities. This is important, as even the most minor of naughty deeds committed within the last few hours of Dec. 24 can determine whether or not a child receives a shiny lump of coal.
A speedometer on the far left of the dashboard would allow Santa to monitor his flying speeds. On the far right would be a radio communicator -- Mrs. Claus sends broadcasts, and the elves update Santa with weather reports and toy inventory.
For in-flight entertainment, we'd like to the think that the elves would have installed an iPod dock -- perhaps even a red-and-green iPod, which would come with enough memory to play Christmas songs for the entire year through. There would also be a hot cocoa dispenser in the middle of the console, and fuel for the reindeer (in the form of carrots) in a compartment located on the left side of the sleigh.
Transdimensional Present Compartment (The Bag)
Ever wonder how Santa fits all of those presents into one bag? Think of a transdimensional present compartment in the form of a traditional gift sack, which would act as a portal between the sleigh and the North Pole. However, we'd also like to think that Santa may have harnessed the power of nanotechnology and found a way to miniaturize millions of presents into one large bag. But this information remains unconfirmed.
The Stardust Antimatter Propulsion Unit
What is antimatter? Is it some kind of magical substance Santa uses to power his sleigh?
Antimatter is the opposite of regular matter -- the mirror image of normal particles that make up everything we can see or touch. The big draw to antimatter is the amount of energy it helps create. When antimatter and matter come into contact, they annihilate each other -- breaking apart into tons of smaller particles -- and 100 percent of their masses convert into energy.
Although antimatter propulsion rockets are mainly used in science-fiction shows to allow spaceships to travel at warp speed, the possibility of designing one is very real -- NASA is currently developing one that would get us to Mars within a matter of weeks. [source: NASA]
Santa's would have to be way ahead of the game, however, and we'd like to imagine that he has his own custom Stardust Antimatter Rocket. It would be small enough to install in the back of his sleigh and fast enough to deliver every present to all good children across the globe. Of course, if the rocket ever malfunctions, the reindeer would be there to back Santa up.
Track Santa Claus across the globe as he performs his amazing task and journey -
Santa maintains a huge list of children who have been good throughout the year. The list even includes addresses, ZIP codes and postal codes. The list, of course, gets bigger each year by virtue of the world's increasing population. This year's population right now is 6,634,570,959!
Santa has had to adapt over the years to having less and less time to deliver his toys. If one were to assume he works in the realm of standard time, as we know it, clearly he would have perhaps two to three ten-thousandths of a second to deliver his toys to each child's home he visits!
The fact that Santa Claus is more than 15 centuries old and does not appear to age is our biggest clue that he does not work within time, as we know it. His Christmas Eve trip may seem to take around 24 hours, but to Santa it could be that it lasts days, weeks or months in standard time. Santa would not want to rush the important job of bringing Christmas happiness to a child, so the only logical conclusion is that Santa somehow functions on a different time and space continuum.
We believe, based on historical data and more than 50 years of NORAD tracking information, that Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of children throughout the world.
Santa Claus is known by many names, but his first recorded name was Saint Nicholas. Historians claim that the history of Santa starts with the tradition of Saint Nicholas, a 4th Century Christian priest who lived in the Middle East in an area of present day Turkey.
Saint Nicholas became famous throughout the world for his kindness in giving gifts to others who were less fortunate. Typically, he placed gifts of gold down people's chimneys - sometimes into stockings. It may be that the Santa we know and love emerged from the legacy of Saint Nicholas. Clearly, Santa's basic approach to gift giving is strikingly similar to that of Saint Nicholas. What we know from history is that the tradition of Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas merged.
Could they be the same person? Only Santa Claus can tell us for sure.
Long before the Wright brothers flew the first airplane or the Montgolfier brothers flew the first hot air balloon, Santa knew he had to find a way to travel quickly from house to house at great speed. We know from our Santa Cam images that Santa's choice for quick transportation was a herd of flying reindeer. Of course, to this day, detailed information on these reindeer remains a mystery. We do know, however, that Santa somehow found a way to get the reindeer to help him with his worldwide mission of gift giving. A veil of sweet mystery hides the rest.
Virginia's letter, written in December 1897, is the most famous example of a child wanting to know about Santa.