Category: Galaxies

Supernovae Near & Far

A Supernova is the result of a massive star more than 10 times as massive as our sun reaching the end of it’s multi million year life and as it is so massive gravity makes the sun collapse in on itself. The implosion leads to an explosion so incredibly and unimaginably powerful that only the universe creating Big Bang is larger!

These enormous stars typically have a life of tens of millions of years, as opposed to our longer living smaller sedate sun that is middle aged at roughly five billion years old!

The super giant stars burn brightly living their lives in the fast lane. They consume massive amounts of hydrogen and helium gas at their cores. Other elements are formed near the core as the star tries to maintain nuclear fusion. Finally when iron is created at the core, fusion can no longer take place and gravity wins pulling the star’s incredible mass in on itself. The resulting titanic explosion creates most of the elements we know which are thrown deep into space forming vast clouds that will one day form other stars, planets and even life. Our sun, solar system of planets and us owe our existence to a long past supernova that created the elements, atoms etc., which created life billions of years ago.

Below are two articles about two stars that have gone supernova.
The nearest supernova for decades was discovered at an observatory about 3 miles (5 kms)from where we live!

UCL Observatory

Jean and I pass by this observatory regularly.

Supernova The supernova may be visible to stargazers through binoculars – and could grow brighter in coming weeks

An exploding star has been spotted in the night sky – the closest supernova to Earth that has been seen in decades.

The dramatic event happened 12 million light years away in Messier 82 – known as the cigar galaxy for its shape.

It was discovered by undergraduates during a telescope class at the University of London Observatory.

“One minute we’re eating pizza then five minutes later we’ve helped to discover a supernova. I couldn’t believe it,” said student Tom Wright.

“It reminds me why I got interested in astronomy in the first place.”

Supernova before and afterBefore and after: The supernova appears like a ‘new star’ in the lower image

The students from University College London were taking part in a 10-minute lesson with astronomer Dr Steve Fossey when they noticed what appeared to be a “new star”.

“We pointed the telescope at Messier 82 – it’s quite a bright galaxy, quite photogenic. But as soon as it came up on screen, it didn’t look right to me,” Dr Fossey told BBC News.

“We fired up another telescope, we got another frame – and that was when we knew it was a supernova.”

The “fluke” discovery led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra from the dazzling object.

It now been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union as a supernova – a violent blast of energy and light that is hurled out as a star dies.

It has taken 12 million years for the light to reach us. But though this may seem like a long way away, scientists say this is the closest supernova to be spotted since the late 1980s.

Scientists says it could grow even brighter over the coming weeks, before fading away.

If this happens, astronomers in the northern hemisphere may be able to spot it with binoculars, by looking between the Great Bear and the Little Bear.

Supernova ‘Mingus’ could shed light on dark energy

By Jason PalmerScience and technology reporter, BBC News, Long Beach, California

Supernova, artist's conceptionSupernovas are traditionally named after composers

Astronomers have spotted the most distant supernova ever seen.

Nicknamed “Mingus”, it was described at the  221st American Astronomical Society meeting in the US.

These lightshows of dying stars have been seen since ancient times, but modern astronomers use details of their light to probe the Universe’s secrets.

Ten billion light-years distant, Mingus will help shed light on so-called dark energy, the force that appears to be speeding up cosmic expansion.

Formally called SN SCP-0401, the supernova was something of a chance find in a survey carried out in part by the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP) using the Hubble Space Telescope, first undertaken in 2004.

But the data were simply not good enough to pin down what was seen. As David Rubin of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author on the study, told the AAS meeting, “for a sense of brightness, this supernova is about as bright as a firefly viewed from 3,000 miles away”.

Further news had to wait until astronauts installed the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble telescope in 2009 and again trained it on the candidate, which had – in an SCP tradition of naming supernovae after composers – already been named after jazz musician Charles Mingus.

“Unfortunately, it took the development of Wide Field Camera 3 to bring home what the [2004] measurements meant,” Mr Rubin told BBC News.

“The sensitivity is a few times better, which makes a huge difference, and we have a much cleaner image.”

Wide Field Camera 3 installationThe Wide Field Camera 3 enabled scientists to focus in on Mingus

The team went on to confirm that the supernova was in fact a Type 1a – a particular class of exploded star whose light occurs in such a regular way that it is known as a “standard candle”.

‘Bit of history’

What interests astronomers trying to find ever more distant Type 1a supernovae – distant both in space and in time – is the chance to compare them to better-known, more local supernovae.

“We were able to watch these changes in brightness and spectral features for an event that lasted just a few weeks almost 10 billion years ago,” said Saul Perlmutter, who leads the Supernova Cosmology Project.

Prof Perlmutter shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for work with Type 1a supernovae that proved our Universe is speeding up in its expansion.

Elucidating the mysterious force, “dark energy”, which has been invoked as the cause of the expansion, will require careful study of supernovae all the way back to the epoch of the earliest stars.

“We’re seeing two-thirds of the way back to the beginning of the Universe, and we’re getting a little bit of history where the physics of what makes a supernova explode have to all work out the same way there as they do near here,” he told the meeting.

Dark Ambitions

Supernova SN SCP-0401Supernova SN SCP-0401 fits into a wider story, Prof Frieman says

The meeting also heard from Joshua Frieman, director of the Dark Energy Survey – a five-year mission using the most powerful camera ever trained on the skies to get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.

The phone-booth-sized Dark Energy Camera took it’s first cosmic  photos in Sept 2012 and will begin its formal mission in September this year, looking not only at supernovae but also at three other dark-energy signatures in the cosmos.

Prof Frieman told BBC News that the distant supernova result fits neatly into a story that he hoped the Dark Energy Survey would explore in great detail.

“What they’re doing is using the Hubble telescope to go really deep – we’re going to use the Dark Energy Survey to go very broad,” he explained to BBC News.

“They’re finding tens of supernovae at these high [distances], and we’re going to find thousands of supernovae not quite as deep. You really need both of those together to really make progress in trying to figure out why the Universe is speeding up.”


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).

Stuff and Dust of Us – Supernova Creation


Tremendous amounts of dust (red) were detected in the centre of the supernova, within the outer shockwave (blue)

Tremendous amounts of dust (red) were detected in the centre of the supernova, within                     the outer shockwave (blue)

Stuff and Dust of Us – Supernova Creation

Striking images of a young supernova abundant with fresh dust at the centre, have been captured by a telescope in the Chilean desert.

Supernova dust2

It is the first time astronomers have witnessed the genesis of the grains which formed galaxies in the early universe.

The pictures were captured by the Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) radio telescope.

Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope

Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope

They were revealed at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

They will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

It is generally known now that our star the sun, our solar system, planets like our home earth and ultimately us originate  from dust grains forged in the crucible of a massive dying star called a supernova. A supernova is the biggest known explosion in nature after the Big Bang which created our universe. Such is the tremendous heat and power produced all the known elements  that make us up are created.

Space & the  universe is full of tiny solid particles we can call space dust. We can see so called dark dust lanes  in our  Milky Way  galaxy  along with  beautiful clouds in  pictures from the Hubble  and other telescopes

Dust from dead stars more so supernovae  form  dust clouds particles of dust clumps/coalesces  together  driven by static electricity attraction then gravity as  mass of these clumps increases after attracting more and more smaller clumps.   At the centre of the the clump a proto-star forms under immense pressure until nuclear fusion is triggered. Spinning and orbiting this new star  star further clumps of dust coalesce in to the planets, moons and, asteroids  debris that makes up our solar system.  Although we know this dust exists throughout the universe and galaxies, there was no firm evidence of where it actually originated from.

In today’s universe, it largely forms around dying stars as they burn out. But these fading giants were not around at the dawn of the universe.

“It’s the same problem as we have in my house – there’s a lot of dust and we don’t know where it comes from. Space is quite a messy place,” quipped Remy Indebetouw, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

“So we took one of the most technologically advanced telescopes ever – Alma – and tried to find out how dust formed in the early universe.”

“Supernovas have long been thought to be the creators – the bright factories that burst out building blocks for galaxies. But catching one in the act is far from easy.

“And even when we do spot a supernova cloaked in a dusty plume, there’s the old chicken-egg problem: how do we know that the cloud wasn’t there first?”

‘Not a nuisance’
To settle the argument, a team of astronomers from the UK and US used Alma to observe the glowing remains of 1987A, the closest recently observed supernova, 168,000 light-years from Earth.

They predicted that, as the gas cooled after the explosion, solid molecules would form in the centre from atoms of oxygen, carbon, and silicon bonded together.

Earlier observations of 1987A with the infrared telescope Herschel had only detected a small amount of hot dust.

But thanks to the power of the Alma radio telescope array, which stretches out over the Atacama desert, it took only 20 minutes to capture the evidence on camera.

“And all of that matter – the red area you see at the centre of the picture – was there in the core of the star before it exploded.That’s the exciting thing.

“People think of dust as a nuisance – something that gets in your way. But it turns out it’s pretty important and essential in creation.”

While supernovae signal the destruction of stars, they are also the source of new material and energy, says Dr Jacco van Loon of Keele University, a co-author on the study.

“Our lives would be very different without the chemical elements that were synthesised in supernovae throughout history,” he said.

“Grains are incredibly difficult to make in the vast emptiness of space. And if supernovae indeed make lots of them, this has very important and positive consequences for the eventual formation of the Sun and the Earth.”




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


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.

Dark Matter Doughnuts (Donuts)!

Dark Matter is the name given to the mysterious material that makes up over 80% of al the matter that exists in our universe and is the basis of 26% of all universal energy too. The matter we see and are aware of accounts for less than 5% of the total in the universe. This massive hidden stuff disturbed physicists, scientists etc. By its name Dark matter is practically invisible and so far undetectable. Astronomers and theoreticians wondered how spiral galaxies such as our own Milky Way Galaxy, kept in shape as the spiral arms containing billions of stars, gas, dust and other stellar stuff etc., did not break up as they moved around the galactic centre. They surmised that some unknown material was holding the galaxies together, this material was called dark matter.

Spiral Galaxy Messier-77. There could be a halo of dark matter surrounding galaxies

Spiral Galaxy Messier-77. similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy.  There could be a halo of  Dark Matter surrounding galaxies

SINCE THE EXISTENCE OF DARK MATTER was first suspected back in the 1930s, scientists have been trying to figure out what it might be made off. In the last eighty years all sorts of oddities with funky names have been put forward as candidates. We’ve had the mighty ‘Macho’ (Massive astrophysical compact halo object); the feeble ‘Wimp’ (Weakly Interacting Massive Particle); the villainous (in a sci-fi kind of way) ‘Axion’; the unfortunate ‘sterile-neutrino’; and the sexy ‘Susy’ (supersymmetry) particle.

Recently it has been therised that Dark matter complete with magnetic doughnuts. Many of us  like yummy ‘Krispy Kreme’ donuts, with varied fillings, well this ‘donut’ has the most exotic filling of Dark Matter.

This mysterious substance doesn’t interact with the electromagnetic radiation (heat, light, radio etc) that we rely up to see the Universe so it is invisible and is only detectable by the gravitational influence it has on stuff we can see.

It has been assumed that dark matter was invisible because it interacts through exotic forces that we are unaware of in our normal existence, but now there’s a new theory that puts dark matter back into the realm of the everyday.

In a paper published in the imaginatively named  journal, Physics Letters B, two physicists from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, suggest that dark matter is made of a theoretical particle called ‘Majorana fermion’.

Named after the Italian physicist who thought it up, Ettore Majorana (who rather like dark matter itself, inexplicably vanished in 1938), the Majorana fermion doesn’t require exotic forces to explain its shyness – just good old electromagnetism .

Ordinary matter has a north and south pole magnetic pole, which create a dipole magnetic field that interacts freely with electromagnetic radiation (light, for example, bounces off it then returns to our eyes, allowing us to see it). But Majorana fermions (fermions are elementary particles like electrons and quarks) have a doughnut-shaped magnetic field called an anapole, which will only interact with electromagnetism when the particle is moving.



Although dark matter was able to whizz around in the young energetic Universe, as it cooled dark matter ran out of energy, stopped moving and settled into the clumps we detect (through its gravitational influence) today. But, because it is no longer moving, its anapole field can’t interact with electromagnetic radiation, and we can’t see it.

The effect can be likened to two children on a busy railway platform. The children represent particles whose arms represent their magnetic fields and the crowd of commuters represents electromagnetic radiation.

The first child is a particle of normal matter. He’s had one too many midget gems and is running around the platform flailing his arms. As he passes through the crowd, he interacts strongly with the electromagnetic commuters (by slapping them in sensitive places and making them react). Because he’s swinging his arms around, he will continue to interact with them even if he stands still.

The second child is a Marjona particle. She is having a strop and is standing still with her arms tightly crossed. Because her magnetic field arms are bound to her chest, the commuters pass by without even noticing she is there. But if she were to keep her arms crossed, but start moving around the platform, she would start to interact with the commuters – the faster she moves, the more she will interact with them.

Of course, the term ‘dark matter’ is a collective one that serves as more of a place-holder name than as a definition. There could be many different particles that make up dark matter so, even if Majorana fermions are proved to be dark particles, there is certainly a Universe full of dark mysteries still to uncover.

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