Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Random Cool Science and Space Stuff

Some cool pix I've collected recently:

A new scientific field is emerging: Paleo-astronomy. I find the term somewhat ironic because any and all astronomy is in essence "paleo" because the distances are so vast that the light we see is often so ancient as to have been emmitted before the human species even appeared, but what they mean is, the study of how our galaxy evolved, and what it might have looked like in the distant past.

The artist's impression above shows a view of our Milky Way galaxy and some recently discovered star streams that are associated with it. These star streams are the remnants of ancient collisions between our galaxy and others, so there have been at least three, and probably more. Eventually, these paleo-astronomers hope to piece together a chronology of these collisions and will presumably give us a graphic vision of how the Milky Way evolved.

That will be cool, but not quite as cool as this.

A European company is planning to build a space plane just to take tourists up. It will use conventional turbofan jet engines to take off and land, but a rocket engine to boost it up to sub-orbital altitudes, giving passengers about three minutes or so of weightlessness. and a view of outer space.

Sign me up. I'd borrow money if I had to for that experience.

But this is my favorite, just because I enjoy thinking about this sort of thing.

A group of scientists has proposed a new solution for the problem of black holes, which are predicted by general relativity (Einstein) but deemed impossible by quantum mechanics. According to general relativity, a black hole is a singularity of infinite density and inescapable gravity: Even light can't escape once passing the event horizon (Point of no return). Eienstein himself doubted the possibility of black holes, recognizing the fact that general relativity was incomplete. He never finished work on a Grand Unified Theory, and that has escaped all physicists since as well.

Hawking proposed "Hawking Radiation" as a solution for how black holes starved of new material would eventually evaporate away, presumably exploding violently once the gravity became too weak to sustain infinite density. The new theory says an event horizon never forms because radiated material keeps the "black star" (The new name) from ever actually becomming a singularity.

Personally, I have always thought there must be a further resistive force beyond a collapsed nutron star that simply prevents a singularity. The whole concept of infinite density strikes me as something the universe would not allow. With a further resistive force beyond the collapse of a neutron star, there could be an event horizon AND a surface. In fact, the two could be the same. But hey, I'm a musician, right?

Black holes don't irritate me as much as the concept of dark matter though. The idea that there is a whole lot of stuff in the universe that is invisible and doesn't interact with normal matter except gravitationally strikes me as a Deus ex Machina solution for physicists who can't get a proper handle on the weak force. I ain't a buyin' it.

Ballentyne's sketchbook pages look suspiciously like my imagination.


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