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Archives for : Michelle’s Science Lab

Gravitational Waves Announcement Immenent?

 

GWvisual_620

On Thursday, February 11th at 10:30am EST, the LIGO (Laser Inferomerer Gravitational Observatory) will hold several News Conferences in Washington DC, near Pisa in Italy and Hannover, Germany. The as yet unknown topic of the press conferences is rumored to be proof that the elusive gravitational wave has been detected for the first time in history. This will be the culmination of 100 years of science, from Eintstein’s General Theory of Relativity in 1915 to the technology at LIGO labs in 2016. Proof of the existence of gravitational waves will be an important step in further cementing the accuracy of Einstein’s Theory.

We at the Lab are very excited to hear the results of the press conference. As of now, there is no publicized live webcast available to the public, however if any new information comes to light, we will inform you here!

For further reading on the theory of General Relativity as well as the significance of this discovery, read our Science Lab article we posted on the topic in early January.

Rumor Has It: Gravity Waves May Have Been Detected

Space Oddity: Starman Receives Constellation In His Honor

bowie

The Iconic Lightning Bolt constellation honoring David Bowie www.stardustforbowie.be


 

The death of David Bowie on January 10th sent shock waves through the hearts and minds of fans across the world (and universe.) Gaining popularity with his hits Space Oddity, Life on Mars? and Starman, using the universe as his muse and crafting the Persona Ziggy Stardust, the extra terrestrial embodiment of rock, It was only fitting that he be given a memorial in the stars themselves. Belgian Astronomers along with Belgian Radio station Studio Brussels sought to give Bowie the proper place in the skyscape. Philipe Mollet from the MIRA Observatory explains in his statement:

“Studio Brussels asked us to give Bowie a unique place in the galaxy,” he said.

“Referring to his various albums, we chose seven stars — Sigma Librae, Spica, Alpha Virginis, Zeta Centauri, SAA 204 132, and the Beta Sigma Octantis Trianguli Australis — in the vicinity of Mars.

“The constellation is a copy of the iconic Bowie lightning and was recorded at the exact time of his death.”

The registration of the constellation in Bowie’s honor was part of the Stardust for Bowie tribute in which fans can add notes and favorite song lyrics to the constellation on Google’s Sky Maps

A fitting tribute to a man from the stars who used them frequently in his most iconic work.

Here is Canadian Astronomer Commander Chris Hadfield’s cover of Space Oddity, recorded during Hadfield’s mission on the International Space Station. The cover had Bowie’s personal blessing.

 

Brightest Super Luminious Supernova Discovered

A before and after shot of a super luminous supernova

A before and after shot of a super luminous supernova


 

Measuring 50 times brighter than the Milky Way, A Super Luminous Supernova (or hypernova) was discovered about 3.8 million miles away by the All Sky Automated Survey for Super Nova (ASAS-SN).

Scanning The Skies

The ASAS-SN is a System of 14 centimeter  telescopes in locations in both Chile and Hawaii that can make a complete scan of the sky every 2-3 days. The scans are then compared to see if there have been any changes to luminosity of stars that could indicate supernova.

What is a supernova anyway?

A Supernova is an event that occurs when a massive star starts exhausting its lighter elements an starts fusing heavier ones, causing instability and finally collapse. This class of Supernova are dubbed “Superluminous” because they are about 1,000 times brighter than an average supernova.

Brightest and Best

ASAS-SN-15lh is twice as luminous as any previously seen super luminous supernova, making it the most violent explosive supernova in the history of the universe. The Super Luminous Supernova falls into a class that is hydrogen poor and collapses into a highly magnetic neutron star, known as a magnetar. They are responsible for the heavier elements in the universe and disrupt the landscape of its surroundings, superheating gasses and creating new hotbeds of star birth.

An Unlikely Locale

These forms of Super Luminous Supernova are usually found in dim dwarf galaxies, however ASAS-SN-15lh was found in a large bright galaxy, leaving scientists scratching their heads as to how it could be possible in the first place. A more detailed analysis of the area in which the supernova was discovered is under way with the use of larger telescopes to try and decode the event.


Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back every weekday for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!

 

NASA’s Office of the WHA-???

The Halloween 2015 asteroid cuts an ominous figure against the backdrop of space.

The Halloween 2015 asteroid cuts an ominous figure against the backdrop of space.


 

This week, NASA quietly made moves to create a special task force for “detecting and tracking”  near earth objects (NEOs.) The Planetary Defense Coordination Office quickly gained the nickname “The Office of the Apocalypse.” Of course, this sensational name makes the directive of the office sound far more doom and gloom than it actually is. So, what is the function of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office? As much as your little Star Wars loving heart may desire a more sci-fi slant, the actual function of the office is to coordinate “all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit around the sun.”

A Very Real Danger

Can we have more f*@#ing budget increases now? - NASA

Can we have more f*@#ing budget increases now? – NASA

 

With an increase in budget of $50 Million dollars to detect and track asteroids and comets that potentially pose a threat, NASA is better prepared to tackle the Herculean effort. How Herculean? NASA funded programs are said to detect 1,500 new NEOs annually, with a total of a whopping 13,500 since NEO tracking began.Of those objects, there are roughly 1,500 that are dubbed Potentially Hazardous (see graphic above.) NASA has reassured the public at large that there is no immediate threat from the stars, but with a “near miss” at 300,000 miles, the Halloween asteroid  2015 TB145 (detected October 10th 2015) is a good example of why there is a need for such an office in the first place.

A Rock and a Hard Place

With such an immense number of NEOs discovered each year, its hard to understand why NASA is still cash strapped when it comes to annual budget, especially when it comes to things like missions to Mars. While the NASA budget for NEO detection increased to $50 Million dollars this year, it is only 1/10th of what NASA says it requires to detect, track and (hopefully in the near future) have the ability to redirect potential threats. It is something that Congress, Senate and future administration should consider taking far more seriously.


 

Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back every weekday for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!

 

Rumor Has It: Gravity Waves May Have Been Detected

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When you think of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, you envision a great part of scientific history. Published in 1916, his theory revolutionized the field of physics, completely turning it on its head. This theory may seem staid or like given knowledge now, but the truth is far from that.  So far all of Einstein’s predictions have held true. The great thing about science is that it is not satisfied with a handful of truths and call the rest gospel. The theory is constantly being tested in modern times, as technology advances to do so.

So, what is General Relativity?

Heavy objects such as planets, stars and black wholes physically warp the fabric of space.

Heavy objects such as planets, stars and black holes physically warp the fabric of space.

An extremely abbreviated explanation from this armchair physics enthusiast is simply that heavy objects such as planets and stars physically warp the “fabric” of space time. That this warp is felt as gravity by other objects. It explains the orbit of the planets in our solar system around our much more massive home star. Einstein also posits within the theory that two massive objects that collide, or supermassive objects actually cause waves to ripple out from their point in space.

All About The Waves

So what’s all the commotion? It has everything to do with the waves. While the warping of space-time was proven in a 2011 NASA experiment, the matter of gravitational waves has yet to be conclusively decided. Enter the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory or LIGO. LIGO is equipped with highly sensitive laser interferometers which as stated in a 2014 The Nature of Reality article on PBS by Jennifer Ouellette:

“Here’s how it works: Split a laser beam in two and send each beam down one of two long, perpendicular tunnels, each with a mirror at the end. When the laser beams strike the mirrors they will be reflected back to the same spot, where they will recombine and cancel each other out. But if a gravitational wave happens to be passing through, it will warp the space between those mirrors ever so slightly. One beam will travel a longer path than the other, and when they meet up again, they won’t cancel each other out, producing light that will be picked up by a detector.”

Now To The Rumors

Theoretical Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss excitedly tweeted the following on January 4th:

 

And today:

So apparently Dr. Krauss has some inside information on the experimental data and is extremely excited about what he has seen and has been confirmed by outside sources.

It is exciting indeed to imagine that yet another part of Einstein’s 1916 theory on which all of modern physics is based has been proven correct, However this does come with both caution and detractors. Science is not a field of rumor and conjecture. So, while the hard working scientists at LIGO pour over miles and miles of raw data looking for the unmistakable patterns that point to the presence of gravitational waves, we should remain as patient as possible.


Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back every weekday for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!

 

 

SpaceX: Barge or Bust!

 

Historic first landing of the Falcon 9 rocket, December 21st 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Historic first landing of the Falcon 9 rocket, December 21st 2015. Credit: SpaceX


 

The Sea Awaits

Following the successful December landing of its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX will make another landing attempt on January 17th. This attempt will be made on the unmanned, autonomous barge the company previously made landing attempts with.

This mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will ferry NASA’s Jason-3 Satellite to low orbit, which will be used to monitor ocean current and sea levels.

Why Land Rockets?

Why is SpaceX making these attempts in the first place? Why is it so groundbreaking? It is a matter of money. Rockets like the one Falcon 9 successfully landed have historically been lost in the ocean upon reentry which makes for some very costly trips to space. How costly? Letting the rocket land in the ocean after a launch is the monetary equivalent of discarding brand new passenger jet after a single flight (Roughly $60 Million dollars.) The endeavor is not without difficulty. Two “hard landing” failed attempts proves just that. During the live webcast of the December 21st launch, a SpaceX engineer equated the process to throwing a pencil over the top of the Empire State Building, have it flip over completely and landing it upright in a shoebox on the other side. See the video illustration below:

Why the Barge?

Given the success of the landing of the Falcon 9 rocket back at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, you might wonder why they would bother trying a landing at sea again at all. The answer is simple: Choice. With the variety of missions, cargo, flight speed and payload weight SpaceX encounters, it bests serves to have multiple landing options. Landing down course may be a better option in some of  those missions. The versatility the autonomous barge would allow after deployment will serve the business of recovering rockets much better than to be tied to one landing site option.

Baby, Come back! Elon Musk's message to the Falcon 9 Rocket following the first failed barge landing attempt. Credit: SpaceX

Baby, Come back! Elon Musk’s message to the Falcon 9 Rocket following the first failed barge landing attempt. Credit: SpaceX

CEO Elon Musk has announced that the rocket used on the January 17th mission will not be the same rocket used during the successful December 21st landing, however, the rocket will be test fired to ensure re-usability.

As with every SpaceX mission, there will be live video coverage of both launch and reentry. New to the live feed event for the December 21st launch was actual live footage of the rocket landing. It speaks to the confidence they had for success. Visit SpaceX.com for access to the live webcast on launch day.


 

 

Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!

 

Robot Revolt?

- Futurama


Where do you see yourself in 25 years? According to Logan Streondj, an expert on artificial intelligence, you may just be fighting for the survival of humanity  against the great robot uprising as soon as 2040.

Why this point in time? The robot singularity is estimated to occur in about 25 – 35 years. It is the point at which there will be as many robots produced in a year than there are humans.

Might wanna get your hands on this bad boy...

Might wanna get your hands on this bad boy…

Streondj also happens to be a sci-fi writer. How much of this is educated conjecture and how much is it a flight of fancy? We at the Science Lab will leave that for you to decide, however you may want to read this BBC article from 2014 in which pre-eminent physicist Stephen Hawking warns that artificial intelligence may mean the end of mankind.

Or how about the fact that Elon Musk put 1 Billion dollars behind a research group created solely to stay one step ahead of A.I tech and keep it beneficial?

You may also want to take a gander at this StarTalk episode where Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and co-host Chuck Nice bring perspective to the subject:

 

What is your take? Sound off in the comments, but don’t let your smart fridge in on the conversation.


 

Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!

 

 

 

Globular Clusters May Be Rife With Life

Messier 13 - Great Hercules Cluster

Messier 13, The great Hercules Cluster, may well harbor the perfect conditions for intelligent life.

 

-January 7th 2016 – Michelle Joy Gallagher


 

When you think of intelligent extra terrestrial life, how do you picture the planets it might inhabit? Do you picture them in a solar system like ours? On a lonely planet surrounded by neighbors such as failed stars, superheated rocky wastelands and Icy moons?

Rosanne DiStefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics posits an alternative. Along with her colleague Alak Ray of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, Mumbai, DiStefano suggests that the first signs of intelligent extra terrestrial life may come from Globular Clusters. At a press conference Wednesday, they announced:”A globular cluster might be the first place in which intelligent life is identified in our galaxy.”

Globular Clusters are spherical, densely packed clusters of stars which on average boast 150 stars in only a 100 light year span. The outer reaches of the Milky Way are littered with 150 known Globular Clusters. The stars in these clusters are usually older and contain less of the heavy elements needed to create planets. Only one planet has ever been detected in a Globular Cluster. Critics argue that the lack of heavy elements leave the Clusters as unlikely regions to contain life. They also argue that due to the density of stars in these regions, any planet that does happen to form may be in danger of encounter from a neighboring star.  DiStefano and Ray say it is “not unreasonable” to expect to find more planets upon further observation.

Their theory is built upon the fact that the stars in the clusters are extremely stable, meaning they outlast newer stars born with heavier elements. The age of the stars themselves are also important, as any planet formed around them has had ample, relatively stable time to develop intelligent life. They argue that the densely packed characteristics of Globular Clusters are actually a plus aiding things like exploration, communication and interplanetary travel.

“We call it the ‘globular cluster opportunity,'” says DiStefano. “Sending a broadcast between the stars wouldn’t take any longer than a letter from the U.S. to Europe in the 18th century. Interstellar travel would take less time too. The Voyager probes are 100 billion miles from Earth, or one-tenth as far as it would take to reach the closest star if we lived in a globular cluster. That means sending an interstellar probe is something a civilization at our technological level could do in a globular cluster”

The team is not the first to entertain the idea.

In 1974, the Arecibo Radio Telescope was used for the first time to purposefully broadcast a message from Earth to Space. Astronomer Frank Drake (Author of the famous Drake Equation to calculate possibility of extra terrestrial life) Aimed it at the great Hercules Cluster (Messier 13, pictured above)


 

-Via Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Do you need a daily dose of Science? Keep coming back for science goodies from your resident science dork Michelle and Digital Nerdage!