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I'm embarrassed I've never heard of this before

July 11, 2010 2 comments

Along with the nine (sorry, eight) planets in the solar system, there are these things called dwarf planets. They’re like normal planets, but smaller, and everything they do is funnier because they’re dwarfs. Also, they orbit the sun, but aren’t able to clear the neighborhood of its orbit, meaning that are no other bodies in its orbital path.

My favorite of these dwarf planets (that is, favorite for now, because it’s the first one I’ve heard about) is called Ceres. It’s actually the smallest of the dwarf planets and exists within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Despite being the smallest of the dwarf planets, it has 1/3 of the mass of all the asteroids in the solar system, which is pretty amazing when you think about it, and even with all that mass it’s still only 4% the mass of the moon.

Here’s the really cool part. It’s theorized that underneath the crust of Ceres, there’s an icy mantle 100 km thick. This mantle would contain 200 million cubic kilometers of water. This is more than all the fresh water on Earth. In between the crust and this ice mantle, there might also be layer of liquid  water. If there were actually a layer of liquid water it would be highly volatile and saturated with salts, ammonia and other chemicals that would act as antifreeze.

When the definition of planet was reclassified in aught six, there was a debate on whether Ceres and a number of other dwarf planets would become full fledged planets. One of the possible classifications would be if the object had enough mass and gravity to take on a spherical shape and orbited the sun instead of another planet or object it would be a planet. However, it was decided that a third stipulation be added, which was that the object’s orbital be cleared of any other objects. This is the rule that caused Pluto to be declassified as a planet and kept Ceres from becoming one.

I’m wondering if Ceres won’t eventually clear her orbit. It must be slamming into asteroids all the time. Each impact changing adding to its mass (or maybe subtracting) and ever so slightly changing the velocity and orbit. You’d think that on a long enough timeline it would eventually gobble up all the asteroids, or at least gobble them up until it runs into something too big for its britches and it becomes a dwarf of a dwarf planet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to unload a huge wad of history on y’all.

Ceres was discovered in 1801 by some crusty old game named Giuseppe Piazzi. That’s pretty impressive when you think about it. This is an object that’s only about 1,000 km in diameter and it’s twice as far away from us as we are from the sun. Nobody but a crusty old guy would have the tenacity to discover something like that. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, when you’re not even looking for the needle, and it was done over 200 years ago. Before reporting his findings Giuseppe watched Ceres’s movement for about a month to try and determine what it was, then illness took him away from his work. However, by the time other astronomers could take a look for Ceres on their own, it had changed position and was being hidden by the Sun’s glare. The astronomers of the time had to discover it all over again. However, a crusty young guy, Carl Friedrich Gauss who was only 24 at the time, figured out an equation to find it’s approximate location. Since so little was known about Ceres at the time, the equation had a number of unknown quantities and only one known quantitiy, the orbit of the Earth. Through much trial and error and plugging and chugging, and a maddening amount of variable paperwork, they got a rough estimate of where Ceres should be. After that, it didn’t take much searching to find it.

Coincidentally enough, the first observation of Ceres happened on January 1st 1801, and the first time it was rediscovered was Dec 31st 1801. The first day of the year and the last day of the year.

As a complete aside, I just want to plug something cool I found while looking stuff up on ceres. Wikipedia is apparently in the book business now.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedia_books

They’ve started compiling similar articles together and making them into reference books. You can download them for free, or you can have wikipedia print you a copy for a nominal fee. I just downloaded one on the solar system and it’s pretty impressive. It’s got a table of contents, index, graphs, charts, pretty pictures, and, that bane of all research students, numerous bibliographies. There’s nearly 600 pages and 60 MB of stuff on the solar system in this “book” which is all searchable since it’s in PDF format. I’ll probably never read a lick of it, but I still find it very impressive and a neat thing to download for free. Plus they’ve got a buttload of other subjects to peruse through. Give ’em a look-see.

Categories: astronomy Tags: , ,

Morgan Freeman talks "Through the Wormhole" with Jon Stewart

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

The awesomeness of this video can not be overstated.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Morgan Freeman
www.thedailyshow.com
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:309675
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Personally, I’d never heard of “The God factor” before. I quite like it as a thought. It’s a bit more comforting than the “We have no fucking clue factor”. This whole thing reminds me of the problem with white holes explaining the beginning of the universe. If the big bang started from a white hole then what’s on the other side? The God factor. Also, I like how God has no real religious connotation, it is simply a way to account for all the unknowns. That is, until we can figure out the unknowns.

The other thing that I find awesome about this video is that you can’t tell who’s being played here. Morgan, at one point, claims that there’s a generational difference, but you get the feeling that he knows what he and Jon are doing at each step. Jon is used to messing with important people, but he doesn’t seem sure of how to take what Morgan is dishing out. Hilarious.

The worst thing about this is that I don’t get the science channel, so I unfortunately won’t get to watch this program.

Categories: astronomy

White Hole Sun won't you come…

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In a shocking new discovery, it appears that we are the diarrhetic effluence of an alternate reality’s black hole. In other words, the universe may have originated from a black hole in a different universe and each black hole in our universe could lead to a different alternate universe. What’s shocking isn’t the idea itself, which let’s face it is pretty shocking, but how cleanly this theory fits into our understanding of the universe.

Unfortunately, this theory, which was dreamed up by Nikodem Poplawski, goes against what Einstein predicted. Now before you start puffing up your chest, popping your monocle, and shouting “Inconceivable” like a tiny Sicilian with a lisp, you should be aware of what Einstein truly predicted. When Al (we’re on a first name basis, Al and I) plotted out the maths of black holes, he theorized that at the center of each one would be a singularity that has no area but is infinitely dense and infinitely hot. So, you need to decide which insane theory makes more sense, the one where the business end of a black hole is horking up stars like a frat pledge after homecoming, or the one with an unmeasurable dot that’s denser than Glenn Beck and literally hotter than Hell.

If you decide to believe in the former, you can take comfort in knowing that it can be an explanation for the big bang. The big bang is thought to have originated from a singularity, but what caused the singularity in the first place? If it originated from a parallel universe’s black hole (through what Poplawski calls a white hole) it solves the mystery of the origin of the universe, but only leads  to the new question of where that universe originated from.

Even better, this new theory could be a possible explanation for where gamma ray bursts originate from. They could be the black hole runoff from an alternate universe streaming into our universe. All we need is a crying Native American standing next to a GRB to make this conclusive.

My favorite part of this theory is that it explains why the universe is pancakeish. You’d think that the big bang would’ve created a spherical universe. After all, with no gravity to fall back into, the matter expelled from the big bang should go out relatively equally in all directions. However, as discussed before,  if the universe originated by unpsiraling itself from a white hole, it makes sense that all of the matter would be on the same plane.

The white holes could also shoot out something called exotic matter. Instead of being attracted by gravity, exotic matter is repelled by it. This way when the universe was first formed, matter moved away from each other at faster than the speed of light. Which would once again go against what Al said, but scientists have long theorized about the existence of exotic matter, since there are some objects in the universe which are so far apart from each other that when going at the speed of light, you wouldn’t be able to travel from one to the other in the time the universe has existed.

It's just not my day today.

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

I may have acted a bit…rashly in one of my earlier posts.  One of my other earlier posts. Not the earlier post that I mentioned in my other earlier post from earlier today. No, this earlier post was all about how many stars and galaxies there are in the universe.  As it turns out, according to this article my estimations, which were actually other people’s estimations first which displaces any blame from me and puts it solely on them, were slightly off. How slightly, you might ask. Only about 90%.

So, when I said

there were 125 billion galaxies in the universe.

What I really meant was

there were 237.5 billion galaxies in the universe.

Just a pittance of a difference. You can forgive me for the error, can’t you? I mean, it’s not like I didn’t convert inches to centimeters when determining rocket trajectory or left a scalpel in someone during surgery.

Don't Panic!

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

I may have acted a bit…rashly in one of my earlier posts. Thanks to trends in popular journalism, I decided to go the sensationalist route and imply that we’d all be dead in a million and a half years because some giant sun would pass through a giant asteroid cloud and send a bunch of meteors hurtling towards our defenseless planet.

According to this article I was reporting on old news. And by old, I mean ten years old. Since last week is considered ancient history on the internets, ten years is the equivalent of slogging around in primordial goo. No doubt most of you had already done your Armageddon planning when the first article came out in the 90s. Turns out the new data (which should be more accurate) gives us a bit better odds on the timing. We get an extra .1 million years to plan.

Even better, if the sun does pass through the Oort cloud, it would take 1-2 million years for the asteroids to reach Earth. By that time we can expect a laser of Death Star sized proportions affixed to the roof of everyone’s star cruiser, which should take care of any asteroids trying to bust up our hood.

The other thing in our favor is that (if you’re not already aware) a light year is an awful long ways away. Even if you send out millions and millions of asteroids hurtling through the cosmos, the odds are in our favor that they would ALL breeze right by Earth leaving nary a scratch. The other silver lining to the Oort cloud/Gliese mashup is that both sets of data could be wrong. We’re constantly updating and tuning our instruments. Even in the ten years between the first findings and the recent findings, it was discovered that the first estimates were wrong on the both the time the collision would occur and how far away it would occur. Now .1 of a light year and of a million years might not sound like much but, again, we’re dealing with huuuge distances and lengths of time here. Who knows what we’ll find in the next ten or even hundred years.

Categories: astronomy Tags: , ,

I think they listened to A Saucerful of Secrets too many times

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Tired of flying around the galaxy with no goal or direction and only Zod and his cronies as company a couple of comets decided to go rogue and steer themselves straight into the sun…at a speed of a million miles per minute. Comets like this are called Stargrazers. They act like water circling a drain, with their orbits getting progressively closer and closer to the sun until the inevitable happens. The beached whales of the cosmos, as I like to call them (meaning I’ve never called them that before and probably never will after this article), were first observed in 1888 during a solar eclipse. The SOHO satellite, which caught the video, has detected over a thousand such events since being launched. The thing I love most about that video is the solar flares that erupt once the first comet hits. It appears as if the flare is a reaction to the hit. Unfortunately, there are flares going on throughout the entire video, and where the solar flare emerges from is relatively far away from where the comet actually hits. This is enough to ensure that correlation does not equal causation. Like how when I’m at parties and when I enter a room conversation automatically stops and everyone turns to stare at me. It doesn’t mean that they were talking about me, does it? Of course not. Regardless, we can find some pretty amazing thing out about that solar flare from the video. Assuming that the black spot is the same size as the sun, at the point when the flare is at its highest but still intact (meaning that there is visible matter connecting the very tip to the surface) the flare is about 982,000 km high. That’s equivalent to 77 Earths stacked end to end. That’s pretty big.

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Categories: astronomy Tags: , ,

The most depressing news you’ll hear all day (hopefully)

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

You know how the sun is going to burn out and eventually leave Earth as frigid and lifeless as the back corner of your freezer where that five year old popsicle is still waiting to be eaten (you thought I was going to say something dirty like “…as Glen Beck’s heart” or “…as Hilary Clinton’s bedroom”, didn’t you. Well I’ve  matured lately, so there.).  Anyway, the sun won’t die for another five billion years, leaving Earth plenty of time to destroy itself in all sorts of amazingly horrible ways. However, according to this article, we only have about one and a half million years before some truly scary shit happens.

A red dwarf star named Gliese 710 is scheduled to pass very close to Earth. When I say very close, you have to know that I mean that in a universally sense. The star is going to actually be passing about 50,000 astronomical units from the Sun, which is about one light year. Before you start panicking and raiding the Wal-Mart for all the Fun-Dip and Yoo-Hoo you can hoard, you should read the rest of the article. I don’t have any better news, it’s just that we have quite a while to wait. What kind of damage could a star passing 50,000 A.U. from the sun could do? By itself, not much, but if it passes through the Oort cloud it will start tearing shit up.

I know what you’re thinking, but Odo was the name of the alien from Deep Space Nine, what you should really be thinking about is what kind of impact could be had by passing through the Oort Cloud.  Like a cue ball breaking a rack, the star could disrupt the gravitational forces keeping Oort Cloud Objects (or OCOs if you’re the geeky scientist type, which I am (even more amazing, they actually have an acronym for Oort Cloud Objects)) in line. This could send numerous comets hurtling through the solar system and potentially Earth. While it wouldn’t matter if comets hit other planets (Jupiter is surprisingly resilient) if even one comet would hit Earth the effects would be devestating, like in that horrible Ben Affleck movie, Forces of Nature. I take comfort in the fact that I’ll be long, long, longlonglonglonglonglong dead before that happens.

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Categories: astronomy Tags: , ,