Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense


Atomic Connections

I love this.

Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Cool on a Galactic Level

The Arches ClusterWhile perusing Tom’s Astronomy Blog, I saw a post about the Arches Cluster, which is near the center of our galaxy, a mere 25,000 light years away. Pictures of space always fascinate me, but this picture comes with information that takes “fascinate” to a whole new level.

The Arches Cluster is a small (relatively speaking), dense cluster of huge baby stars. The new picture from the European Organization for Astronomical Research‘s Very Large Telescope is “one of the sharpest views ever of the Arches Cluster.” Check out the press release to see more details of the photo of this area of our galaxy. It’s breathtaking.

From the press release:

“With the extreme conditions in the Arches Cluster, one might indeed imagine that stars won’t form in the same way as in our quiet solar neighbourhood,” says Pablo Espinoza, the lead author of the paper reporting the new results.”However, our new observations showed that the masses of stars in this cluster actually do follow the same universal law”.

In this image the astronomers could also study the brightest stars in the cluster. “The most massive star we found has a mass of about 120 times that of the Sun,” says co-author Fernando Selman. “We conclude from this that if stars more massive than 130 solar masses exist, they must live for less than 2.5 million years and end their lives without exploding as supernovae, as massive stars usually do.”

For reference, the most massive known star is the Pistol Star, with a mass of about 200 times that of our sun. That’s in our galaxy. The biggest known star in diameter is VY Canis Majoris with a solar radius of about 18,000 – 21,000 (that’s 18 – 21 thousand times bigger than our sun). It’s also in our galaxy. Outside our galaxy, we can see other galaxies, but not much of their contents… at least not directly.

Seeing those stars in the Arches Cluster is fascinating for me, but for an astronomer, it’s got to be the stuff of dreams. There are lots of stars to study, but this formation is unique.

Our galaxy (the Milky Way, for those of you who haven’t kept up) contains an estimated 200 to 400 billion stars. The observable universe probably contains more than 100 billion galaxies.

That’s a lot of stars.

We are very tiny

I came across this video this weekend and wanted to share it. I’ve seen static images with size comparisons of the planets in our solar system, our sun, and other starts in our galaxy, but this video makes it significantly more dramatic.

It also uses the music from Disney’s movie The Black Hole, which, despite it’s scientific shenanigans with physics, is just a fun, fun movie.

(For the best effect, click the “HD” button and then make it full screen. Good stuff!)

Uber-cool Astronomical Sciencey Stuff!

Galaxy NGC 3021I found this article on today about how fast our universe is expanding… and how astronomers figure this kind of thing out. After reading the whole thing, I was in awe… for two reasons.

First, the size and content of our universe is just completely mind-blowing. Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions” quote seems to understate it to an extreme degree. Just looking at a single galaxy and trying to wrap my head around how many stars it contains… and that just one of those stars (among billions) is like our Sun, one infinitesimally small fireball in a whirling mass of billions of similar fireballs… and that our tiny planet revolves around one such tiny star… it makes my head hurt.

Second, that there are people on this planet who have the intellectual wherewithall to actually measure the distance between galaxies and the speed of universal expansion by using supernovas and the pulsating brightness of stars. I mean, I can’t really grasp the idea of how small we are in just a galaxy (one of billions) without misfiring neurons in my brain causing me physical pain, but these guys are discussing the expansion of the universe, pulsating Cepheid variables, type I supernovae, and dark energy. I imagine them doing it casually over a beer or two at their local pub, but I’m sure they work exceptionally hard in labs and observatories and classrooms. Either way… wow.

So kudos to astronomers… misfiring neurons never felt so good!

…in a galaxy far, far away…

Artist's interpretation of Fomalhaut

Artist's interpretation of Fomalhaut

Yesterday, I read that astronomers had actually photographed planets outside our solar system for the first time. Planets had been detected before, but always by methods other than direct visuals. This is the first time they’ve actually seen an object this cool (temperature-wise) and this small outside our own solar system, according to aBBC article (linked below).

To me, that’s just phenomenally cool. Astronomers viewing other galaxies and deep space features like gas clouds and nebulae has produced images that are just fundamentally awe-inspiring, showing a universe that is at once beautiful, mysterious, and scientifically enthralling. Seeing actual planets gives spine-tingling shivers to those of us who have imaginations that love to wander around the speculative playground of extraterrestrial life.

I never got to see Star Trek much as a kid, but Science Fiction has always fascinated me from an early age. Seeing images of space from astronomers’ telescopes always ignites a feeling of wonder and appreciation for the vastness of the universe and gets my imagination soaring around space travel, exploration, alien life, terra-forming, and all kinds of other fantastical ideas. It also piques my scientific curiosity about how the universe works, how it formed, and where it’s headed.

Kudos to the astronomers who made this new planetary discovery. Keep up the great work and know that you’re not only making leaps of scientific progress, but you’re providing inspiration and joy to those of us who step into the images of your discoveries… if only in our minds.

Here’s a link to an article about the discovery: