Monday, July 30, 2012

Looking at a Star With a Scientific Angle of Vision

Historically stars have been fascinating man. They made patterns with them to group them and they used them to find their way during voyages. Scientific research has been done extensively to understand their nature. Stars are defined as bodies that contain plasma that are held together with gravity. The star that is closest to earth is the sun. It produces vast amounts of energy that is being used in the earth for the sustenance of animal and plant life.
Due to massive stellar explosions that take place, gravitational instabilities occur within molecular clouds. Due to this reason, higher density regions occur. When such a region gains a certain density, they collapse due to their own density. When this happens, individual globules of dust and gas form. When these globules collapse the gravitational force increases and heat generates. Once this protostellar cloud comes to the level of hydrostatic equilibrium, the formation of a protostar begins.
Around 90% of its lifetime, a star fuses hydrogen to produce helium emitting energy. These are stars that are in main sequence. At the early stages the proportion of helium in the core of the star will rise steadily. As a result, the star will increase in luminosity and the temperature. This has occurred in the sun 4.6 billion years ago.
Most of the stars we see are 1billion to 10billion years old. Some stars are as old as 13.7 billion years, which is equivalent to the age of the Universe. The larger stars have shorter life spans as they convert hydrogen into helium faster. Their age will be a few billion years. But a smaller star may be active for up to hundred billion years.
Stars in the Milky Way consist of 71% hydrogen and 27% helium with little heavy elements by mass. Though the stars that we see in the night sky look like twinkling little bodies they are also similar to the sun which is also a star. Due to their distance they are not able to emit heat or light in sufficient quantities to reach earth.
Rotation, radiation and the temperature of stars are measurements that are important when you study them. Young stars may rotate at 100km/s at their equators and old ones may have speeds up to 225km/s. When it comes to temperature there are some that have over 5,000K. Some of the stars have 100 to 150 times of the mass of the sun but their life time is short.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Cosmic Last Laugh

"Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it," Nicolaus Copernicus wrote in his revolutionary De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543).
Our species has many times confused reality with illusion. One of our most outrageous illusions was the old notion that we are at the center of the Universe. The Copernican or Cosmological Principle is a fundamental concept in cosmology that states that there are no "special" observers. For example, the Aristotelian model of our Solar System, that was still used in Medieval times, placed our tiny, lovely blue planet at the very center of the Solar System. This unique and very special position was wrongly assigned to our beloved rocky and watery home, because it appears to us that everything circles around the Earth. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) demonstrated for the first time that this view is an illusion and that, in reality, the Sun is at the center of our Solar System with the Earth, like all the other planets, circling the Sun. "At rest in the middle of everything is the Sun," Copernicus wrote.
The importance of Copernicus' work cannot be over-stated. His great and then-revolutionary insight challenged the dogmatic and literal interpretation of the Scriptures, shook the very pillars of the traditional moral beliefs of his era, and, last but not least, devastated humanity's precious Earth-evolved common sense. The upshot, of course, was that there was extreme opposition to Copernicus' reported revelations. However, hisheliocentric theory was ultimately begrudgingly swallowed by the world's "natural philosophers", and their reluctant acceptance eventually put to rest the general uproar against Copernicus. With Copernicus, our conceited species lost forever its dream-like notion that it somehow held a privileged place in a Universe where there is, in reality, no privileged place!
However, human life, as well as any intelligent life that may exist on other worlds, actually does play a very special role in the cosmic scheme of things. Conscious living creatures enable our Universe to be aware of itself. If observers did not exist anywhere in the Cosmos, all of its fantastic denizens, all of its mysterious and nonsensical attributes, would go forever into the oblivion of the unknown and unknowable. The late Cornell University astrophysicist, Dr. Carl Sagan, said: "We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself."
We are stardust come to life!
In spite of the alluringly secretive nature of our weird and mysterious Cosmos, scientists have nevertheless acquired the means to open new windows on its hidden character. This is often accomplished (very simply) by using new and more sophisticated technologies when they emerge, and also by just doing what good observers are supposed to do--the purpose of the observer is to observe! In astronomy, the opening up of new vistas within the electromagnetic spectrum frequently results in new and exciting revelations about the Universe's current attributes, past evolution, and general contents. Indeed, the final decade of the 20th century saw a great number of new and exciting discoveries in astrophysics. Until recently, it was thought that our entire Universe consisted only of the matter that we could see--only familiar atomic matter composed of a nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Now we know that this is far from the case. In fact, the familiar atomic matter of which stars, planets, and people are made, is the runt of the cosmic litter. A mere 4% of the matter-energy content of the Universe is made up of familiar atomic matter. The rest of it--96%--is composed of invisible and mysterious stuff. In fact, 22% of the Universe is composed of dark matter, which is thought to be made up of some as yet unidentified exotic particles that do not interact with light, and are therefore invisible--and the existence of dark matter was unknown until the 20th century! We believe that it is there, however, because it does interact gravitationally with ordinary atomic matter, and we can see these gravitational effects. The dark matter forms an immense web--the Cosmic Web--which is invisible to our human eyes. However, we can see the brilliantly starlit galaxies and clusters of galaxies dancing around in this web, outlining for us what we cannot see, like sparkling dewdrops outlining the web of some enormous spider.
The lions-share of the matter-energy content of the Universe--74% of it--is made up of the mysterious dark energy, a bizarre substance that is causing our Universe not only to expand--but to actually accelerate in its expansionThe existence of the dark energy was unknown until 1998. Up until that time, scientists thought that the Universe was slowing down in its expansion.
When our Sun dies, it will go with relative gentleness into that good night by softly puffing out its newly formed batch of heavy ordinary atomic elements into space. Stars, both large and small, create heavier elements out of lighter ones in a process termed stellar nucleosynthesis. Hydrogen, helium, and small quantities of lithium were formed in the Big Bang birth of our Universe almost 14 billion years ago. All of the rest of the elements of the Periodic Table were formed in the hearts of our Universe's stars, or in the supernova explosions that heralded their demise. Massive stars die in supernova explosions, that spew their newly forged batch of heavy elements into space. Smaller stars, like our Sun, go with more of a whimper than a bang. Our Sun's corpse will be a dense little object termed a white dwarf; its shroud an exquisitely beautiful planetary nebula, a luminous cloud of varicolored gases. Stars of solar-type usually die with relative peacefulness, and with great beauty--when they are solitary stars like our Sun, that is. Something very different, however, can happen when a solar-mass star is a member of a binary system, and there is another star involved in its death throes. In that case, the relatively small star goes supernova, just like the big guys. This results in what is termed a Type Ia supernova.
Many white dwarfs dwelling in our Universe exist in binary systems, where they are situated in close orbits with an ordinary, large main-sequence star that has not yet perished, and is still actively burning its supply of hydrogen fuel. Such a binary system, when it involves a white dwarf whose sister is an ordinary star, is a party waiting to happen. The fun begins when the dense white dwarf sucks off enough gas from its sister star to become heavy enough to reach the mass necessary to go supernova. When the white dwarf, or what was the white dwarf, "goes critical", the resulting runaway thermonuclear explosion completely destroys the dense stellar remnant in one spectacular Type Ia supernova blast. The entire process usually takes millions of years, with the vampire-like white dwarf mercilessly sucking up a steady stream of gas from its luckless sister and victim. Then it happens. The white dwarf can swallow no more, and it goes critical. The slow and relentless process--that reaches a sudden, dramatic, and catastrophic climax--erases most of the original variations among progenitor stars. Thus the spectra and light-curves of all Type Ia supernovae are almost identical. This makes Type Ia supernovae great "standard candles" that astronomers can use to measure distances.
In 1998, observations of Type Ia supernovae by the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the High-z Supernova Search Team suggested that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. Since then, these observations have been confirmed by several independent sources. In addition, improved measurements of supernovae indicate that this acceleration is probably real, and not a mirage.
Because all Type Ia supernovae display very similar spectra and light curves, the two teams were able to track the history of the cosmic expansion and discover, to their amazement, that it was speeding up. As far back as 1938, the eminent scientist Walter Baade, working closely with the cantankerous "creative genius" Fritz Zwicky at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, realized that supernovae, in general, were very promising tools for measuring the cosmic expansion. Their peak brightness seemed exceptionally consistent, and they were bright enough to be observed at very great cosmological distances. In fact, for weeks, a supernova can even outshine its entire host galaxy.
The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae", with one half going to Dr. Saul Perlmutter of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the other half jointly to Dr. Brian P. Schmidt and Dr. Adam G. Riess. Dr. Schmidt is at the Australian National University Mount Stromlo Observatory, and Dr. Riess is at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland.
An amazing series of events was set off by the Big Bang birth of our Universe, resulting almost 14 billion years later in literally everything we know of in the Cosmos, including ourselves. In the ancient Universe, the dark matter continued to clump together into ever larger and larger globs, and the so-called "ordinary" atomic matter followed it, somersaulting into halos of the dark stuff. Even though the gravitationally-bullying dark matter was far more abundant, the "ordinary" atomic matter had something of the cosmic last laugh. Although the "ordinary" atomic matter is the runt of the cosmic litter in comparison to the big guys--dark matter and dark energy--the atomic interactions of the "ordinary" matter brought our Universe to life. Though far less plentiful than the great masses of dark matter with its powerful and relentless gravitational pull, "ordinary" matter, after it had fallen deeper and deeper into dark matter halos, began to stick together to form objects composed primarily of atoms--the lovely and luminous stars blazing within majestic galaxies, the glowing gases that float around both between the stars and between the galaxies, and the dim planets--and their accompanying moons--that circle the beautiful, fiery stars. On at least one planet in our visible Universe (and very likely on many, many more), "ordinary" atomic matter evolved into the marvelous concoction that we call life. The dark matter was left to its bullying self to dominate the largest gravitational structures--the immense filaments of the Cosmic Web. But the atomic matter gave rise to us--and to other living creatures, both on Earth and wherever else they well may be, dwelling out there in the remote corners of of our Universe, on planets or on moons, made of atoms.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Solar Flare Radiation - Hey Let's Collect Those High-Energy Particles

Well, we are in a solar maximum period, and we seem to have quite a bit of activity as of late. We've dodged a bullet a couple of times when there were large solar X-flares but luckily facing away from our planet. We should expect that we will be hit directly by one of these eventually, as they are such a common occurrence during these cycles. Is there anything we can do about it, is there any way that we can be forewarned? Well yes, scientists are making good headway there, but I'd like to take this conversation to a higher level. Okay so let's talk.
There was an interesting article in Solar Science Online News recently titled; "New system could predict solar flares, give advance warning," by Staff Writers in West Lafayette, IN (SPX) Aug 16, 2012. It turns out the concept could give up to a one-day notice of a solar flare eruption thus giving a warning to private space flight operations and potential satellite communication or power grid disruptions.
Now then, I have a concept I'd like to throw out here to the world. What if we coupled this with the new science of how the solar flare plumes open up and pierce through our Earth's bubble created by the movement of the Earth through space? Then, what if positioned a system of swarming satellites with open funnels to the incoming charged particles to collect that energy? Then we could fill them up with energy, beam some back to Earth in certain places to use for energy, perhaps compressing gases underground to use later for geo-thermal or pressurized strategies to turn turbines.
Plus we might use some of that energy to power up space stations, space hotels, and even a lunar colony or refueling station allowing docking or laser energy transfers in space for space travel? You see, for us, it would basically be "free energy" and if we don't collect it and use it, we lose it.
There is a theory floating around that there are types of civilizations when it comes to intelligent beings on various planets. The theory being that once a civilization can control its own sun and the physics within its realm it advances to the next level. In being able to do so it can completely control its environment. Imagine if we could guarantee 72 to 78 degree Fahrenheit at all times everywhere on earth - the perfect climate for humans and the type of life allowing for abundance, for us anyway. Please consider all this and think on it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The First Dinosaurs in Outer Space

Dinosaur Fossils Have Travelled in Outer Space

It may seem bizarre, but dinosaurs have travelled in outer space. At least two types of dinosaur fossil have been taken up into space by astronauts. There have also been a number of experiments conducted by scientists working outside of the Earth's atmosphere conducted on bird embryos.
Maiasaura - First Member of the Dinosauria to Go Into Outer Space
Maiasaura was a large Hadrosaur (member of the Hadrosaurine group of duck-billed dinosaurs - distinguished by their lack of adornments and head crests). It was discovered by the American palaeontologist John Horner in 1978 and officially named a year later. The remains of this dinosaur have been found in western Montana, in the late Cretaceous rocks of the Two Medicine Formation. Few dinosaurs left traces behind providing clues as to how these animals lived and behaved, however, Maiasaura is a definite exception to this. Over 200 individual skeletons have been unearthed to date, from hatch-lings right up to mature adults. Jack Horner and his team discovered a Maiasaura nesting site that has yielded a great deal of information about how this type of dinosaur raised its young.
"Good Mother Lizard"
It seems that Maiasaura looked after its babies (the name means "Good Mother Lizard"), very apt in this dinosaur's case. Fossils recovered from the nesting site, show that these animals made nest mounds out of mud, and may have covered any eggs laid with vegetation to keep them warm. Hatch-lings that have been fossilised show teeth wear but their legs are not fully formed (undeveloped legs is feature seen in the chicks of many birds). This indicates that the babies were fed at the nest, as they were unable to forage for themselves. It can be surmised from this data that the parents looked after the youngsters to a degree. The nesting site seems to have been vast, with many thousands of animals at the site, this indicates that Maiasaura lived in large herds, or at least congregated at communal nesting sites.
Maiasaura's other claim to fame is that this dinosaur was the first to be taken up into space. A piece of fossilised bone from a baby Maiasaura along with a piece of Maiasaura eggshell was taken into space by astronaut Loren Acton on a NASA mission in 1985. Not a bad record for Maiasaura, being totally unknown just 7 years earlier, and then the first dinosaur in space. The second dinosaur to travel in space was the skull of a Coelophysis, (Triassic Theropod). The skull was sent into space on the US space shuttle Endeavour on 22nd January 1998. It travelled to the Mir space station, one of a number of trips made by space shuttles to the orbiting station in the Shuttle-Mir programme.
Other Reptiles in the Cosmos
Dinosaurs were not the first representatives of the Class Reptilia to travel in space. Tortoises were used in some of the research programmes as manned space flight was being developed. The first tortoise in space was launched by the Soviet Union in September 1968, as part of the research programme monitoring the potential effect of long space flight on humans. Tortoises were ideal "guinea pigs" for such experiments, due to their ability to survive hostile conditions and to live on little food and water, characteristics recognised by early explorers on Earth, who often sailed with tortoises and turtles on board ship to provide a source of fresh meat into the journey. We have no record of what happened to this particular tortoise after the capsule in which it had travelled returned to Earth.
Experiments Conducted on Chicken Embryos in Zero Gravity
As far as we can tell no adult birds have been sent up into space. Chicken embryos were sent up into space as part of an experiment kit to test the development of chicks in zero gravity by the Americans in 1989. This particular experiment had been scheduled to take place three years earlier but it was lost when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch on January 28th 1986. Other fertilised bird's eggs have been sent into space on subsequent occasions, no birds as far as our research shows. It would be fascinating to find out how birds cope with zero gravity. Effectively, once in motion they would not need to flap their wings, perhaps they could use their wings to stabilise themselves as they were subjected to zero G.
Future Space Dinosaurs
A number of intriguing experiments have been proposed for future missions into outer space. For example, studies on how animals like tortoises can grow to great ages with possible implications for prolonging human life. There have also been proposals for more genetic research to be carried out on bird embryos under zero gravity conditions. Dinosaurs and outer space, a winning combination exciting children and enthusiastic young astronomers everywhere.
Everything Dinosaur is a company run by parents and teachers. It specialises in developing educational dinosaur toys, models, clothing and games and strives to help young people learn more about science through their fascination with prehistoric animals. Many of the items featured on the Everything Dinosaur website Everything Dinosaur have been designed and tested by the teachers and real dinosaur experts in the company.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scientific Serendipity

Serendipity means you're looking for one thing, but find something else. Throughout the history of science there are numerous examples of just such fortuitous occurrences. One of the best illustrations of how scientific serendipity can change the world occurred back in 1964, when the first cries of our baby Universe were luckily heard--by chance! It was in that year that Dr. Arno Penzias and Dr. Robert W. Wilson at the Murray Hill facility of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey noticed a mysterious and inexplicable "noise" coming from their new radio antenna. They later found that what they were, in fact, picking up with their radio dish was the first solid proof that the Universe was born in the Big Bang. Penzias and Wilson were noticing the first whispers of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, stretched out to exceedingly long electromagnetic wavelengths due to the expansion of the Universe. As it turns out, anyone can bear witness to the relics of our Universe's birth. If you tune your television set between channels, some of the "snow" that appears on your screen is actually "noise" caused by the CMB radiation.

The CMB radiation is a faint glowing light that fills the entire Cosmos, falling on our little blue planet from all directions with almost unvarying intensity. It is the heat left over from the beginning of our Universe almost 14 billion years ago; the afterglow of the Big Bang. This ancient light whispers to us some very wonderful secrets about an extremely remote epoch that existed long before there were any observers around to witness it first-hand. The CMB is the most ancient light that we can see--it has been traveling to us from the greatest distance that we can observe in Space and Time. This light began its long journey almost 14 billion years ago, and this was billions of years before our planet, our Solar System, or even our ancient Galaxy, the Milky Way, existed. It tells of a vanished, extremely remote time when all that existed was a writhing storm of fire-bedazzling radiation and a raging sea of elementary particles--hardly the relatively quiet and frigid dark place that we know now. The familiar objects that we observe in our Universe at present--the glittering incandescent stars, enchanting planets and moons, and even the majestic galaxies --eventually congealed from these newborn particles, and the Universe expanded and dramatically cooled off.
This precious, glowing relic of our Universe's infancy is a little gift, of sorts, to observers on Earth today. This is because it carries the fossil imprint of those ancient particles--a pattern of exquisitely tiny intensity variations from which scientists can figure out the attributes of the Cosmos.
When the CMB began its long journey billions of years ago, it shone as brightly as the surface of a star, and it was just as hot. However, the expansion of the Universe stretched Space a thousand-fold since then, causing the wavelength of that ancient light to be stretched, as well--to the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The temperature today of that once searing-hot light is a truly frigid 2.73 degrees above absolute zero!
The late Dr. Carl Sagan of Cornell University wrote in his book Cosmos (1993): "As space stretched, the matter and energy in the universe expanded with it, and rapidly cooled. The radiation of the cosmic fireball, which... filled the universe, moved through the spectrum--from gamma-rays to X-rays to ultraviolet light; through the rainbow colors of the visible spectrum; into the infrared and radio regions. The remnants of the fireball, the cosmic background radiation, emanating from all parts of the sky can be detected by radio telescopes today. In the early universe, space was brilliantly illuminated. As time passed, the fabric of space continued to expand, the radiation cooled and, in ordinary visible light, for the first time space became dark, as it is today."
George Gamow, Ralph Alpher, and Robert Herman were the first cosmologists to predict the existence of the CMB in 1948. Alpher and Herman estimated that the temperature of the CMB would be approximately what we now know it to be.
Because the 1948 estimates were not widely discussed in scientific circles, they were rediscovered by Dr. Robert Dicke of Princeton University and the renowned Soviet astrophysicist Dr. Yakov Zel'dovich in the early 1960s. The first published study that discussed the CMB radiation as a possibly detectable entity in astrophysics was authored by two Soviet astrophysicists, Dr. A.G. Doroshkevich and Dr. Igor Novikov, in early 1964. Also in that year, Dr. David Todd Wilkinson and Dr. Peter Roll, who were Dicke's colleagues at Princeton University, began assembling a Dicke Radiometer. In fact, it was a Dicke Radiometer that Penzias and Wilson had built, and were attempting to use for radio astronomy studies of our Milky Way Galaxy and satellite communications experiments, before it started to emit that mysterious "noise". Adding to this delightful little comedy, at around the same time, Dicke,Wilkinson, and Dr. P.J.E Peebles, a mere 37 miles away at Princeton, were preparing to search for the CMB in precisely the same region of the electromagnetic spectrum in which the befuddled Penzias and Wilson were picking up that bizarre and mysterious "noise". Penzias and Wilson were unaware of the new work on the CMB, even though much of it was being performed near them at Princeton. There were also a lot of pigeons at Murray Hill--many of them roosting near the new radio dish. At first, Penzias and Wilson believed that the bizarre and pesty "noise" was caused by pigeon droppings. The pigeons were unceremoniously evicted from their radio dish, and their droppings were dutifully wiped away--but the "noise" persisted. It was low and steady--and very persistent. This residual "noise" was 100 times more intense than Penzias and Wilson had expected and was evenly spread across the entire sky, and it was always there--both day and night! It could not be coming from the Earth, the Sun, or even the Milky Way Galaxy. The rest is history.
The instrument at Bell Labs had an excess antenna temperature which Penzias and Wilson could not explain, and that mysterious "noise" was apparently coming from beyond our Galaxy! Their yelps of exasperation, at long last, reached Dicke. After Dicke had received a telephone call from Murray Hill, he made what is now one of the most famous (and funniest) remarks in the history of science. Dicke turned to his colleagues and said: "We've been scooped!" Penzias and Wilson did not find what they were looking for--they found something else. They found the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, the first strong piece of observational evidence that our Universe had a definite beginning, billions and billions of years ago, in the Big Bang. Peebles had just written a paper discussing the possibility of finding the CMB, and when Penzias and Wilson became aware of this, they finally began to realize the great significance of their serendipitous discovery. The characteristics of the "noise" that Penzias and Wilson had picked up with their radio antenna fit exactly the radiation predicted by Dicke and his colleagues at Princeton. A subsequent meeting between the Murray Hill and Princeton teams reached the historic conclusion that the mysterious antenna temperature was indeed being caused by the long-sought and elusive light dancing to Earth since the beginning of Time--the CMB radiation. Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for their serendipitous discovery.
As Dr. John C. Mather and Dr. John Boslough wrote in their book The Very First Light (1996): "Had Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson known in 1964 of the prediction of Alpher and Herman sixteen years earlier, the two Bell scientists would have been spared a year's work trying to uncover the source of the noise in their horn antenna. Had [Robert] Dicke been aware of the prediction, he could have begun work on his own antenna years earlier without having to wait."
Almost 14 billion years ago, something mysterious and wonderful occurred--the Big Bang birth of our Universe, accompanied by a very brief episode of exponential expansion termed inflation. Why our Universe came into being in that magnificent event is the greatest mystery of all; the greatest mystery that we can ever know. All of the energy and matter that now exist in the Universe was at that first instant concentrated at extraordinarily high density--perhaps into a mathematical point that had no dimensions whatsoever. It is incorrect to imagine that all of the energy and matter in existence was then crumbled and squeezed tightly into a infinitesimal ball, sequestered in a tiny corner of the Universe that we now know. Imagine, instead, the entire Universe, energy and matter, as well as the space they fill, occupying an unimaginably minute volume.
In that great initial explosion, the Universe commenced an expansion that has never ended--and may never end. The CMB is now very cold, shining primarily in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. As such, it is invisible to our human eyes. If we could see microwaves, the entire sky would glow with a haunting and lovely brightness, amazingly uniform in all directions. By studying this ancient light, emitted long before there were stars or galaxies, astronomers can begin to understand the conditions in the Universe on very large scales at very ancient times.