Thursday, September 15, 2011

New From Space!

Here's more space news.

I'm a little behind the curve on these, but that's okay. Information only moves at the speed of light and given the great distances involved, it takes time to get here.

First up, a most awesome picture. Everyone's seen this. This is one of the most famous nebula in existence, part of everyone's small reference pond. Here, take a look at it; the black spot in the corner is a part that was cut off because of the high resolution cameras that NASA used to take the picture.

These are the Pillars of Creation. They're called so because they're home to infant stars - if you think of them as being something like an incubator, you're not far off.

This probably ranks as the iconic picture of space. At 7,000 light years away, the way we see them in this picture (taken back 1995 CE) was how they looked in 5005 BCE.  So when we see them today, in 2011 CE, that's how they appeared back in 4989 BCE - back when people were first developing an alphabet and writing (long, long long before Sumeria was even a thought; you had a few river cultures in China like the Yangshao, and the builders of the menhirs and stone structures in Europe as major world cultures at this time - you can find the full list here.)

And in 2995, they won't be there anymore.

See, some 6,000 years ago, a shock wave from a nearby supernova flattened them. That beautiful, amazing structure of nature has been steamrolled by one of the most violent phenomena in the known universe.

So enjoy your pictures of them now; as of 2007, a nearby supernova erased them from the universe.

This isn't entirely bad news, though, so don't feel sad. See, there's the belief that supernova shock waves help ignite new stars; if you add to that the fact that there's a lot of stars already being incubated in the Pillars of Creation, what you see is the death of one star and the collapse of a space landmark giving way to possibly thousands of new, baby stars.

Death to life, life to death, rinse, repeat.

Now, for the next story.

Jupiter is like the Texas of the Solar System, but without the native population of arrogantly ignorant assholes (we hope), and without the infamy of having given our solar system an ignorant and stupid President and the potential for another one. Everything that happens in the solar system is scaled up on Jupiter; this is what happens when you're the prime jovian in the solar system, I suppose, and the big brother to all of the other planets.

Well, Jupiter has thing storm on it. It's called "The Great Red Spot." Like the Pillars of Creation, I'm sure you've probably heard of it, even if it's only in passing. But, here's a picture anyway:

That's a size comparison between the Great Red Spot and the Planet Earth. This is to scale. The Great Red Spot is easily as large as the planet Earth, and it's been going for a long, long time.

And Jupiter isn't alone. Extraterrestrial Cyclones are fairly common - almost all of the planets with atmospheres have at least one, but the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, especially) all have rather famous ones: Jupiter has it's Great Red Spot and Red Spot Jr., Saturn has it's Dragon Storm and the hexagonal storm around the north pole, and Neptune has the Great Dark Spot and the Wizard's Eye. You can find them all here.

Well, they're common on failed stars, too.

A while back, I made a post about the discovery of ultra cool brown dwarfs, which burn at a balmy 85 degrees F. These failed stars (or overachieving Jupiters) are home to impressive storms, too.

Not only that, but the one that astronomers currently think they discovered on one of these brown dwarfs is larger than Jupiter's Great Red Spot.This really impressive storm might cover anywhere from 15-35% of the dwarf's hemisphere. On an object that's 10 to 80 times the mass of Jupiter, that makes for an impressive storm.

Of course, as any astrophysicist will tell you, weather outside of our solar system (and even inside of the solar system) is extreme by Earth comparisons. For instance, the Hot Jupiter orbiting around HD209458 has supersonic winds. That's right - the wind around this planet is enough to flay you alive, because it's moving at mach speeds. The flashes of lightning on Saturn are 1,000x stronger than any lightning that we have here on Earth (even though we're not entirely sure how lightning forms on gas giants). And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The last story is a short one, and a lesson for planets to not be clingy to their parent stars.

It's easy to anthropomorphize the sun as a caring, loving entity that cradles Earth in its gentle warmth and gives us the light and care we need. Most people have that view of the sun, even if it is just a subconscious thing. We think that way because our sun, a G-type star (G2), is relatively well-behaved as far as stars go. I'd say we lucked out as a species, but that's not true. We're only here because our star is well behaved, our star isn't well behaved because we're here; to think otherwise is the anthropomorphic fallacy. Remember that a few billion years from now when the sun enters it's red giant phase. Despite our sun being like it is, though, there are plenty of stars that are anything but, and this is the story of one of those stars.

There's this planet dubbed CoRot-2b, and it's got about 3 times the mass of Jupiter, making it a fairly big planet as far as planets go.

And it has a love-hate relationship with its star, minus the love part. See, it's parent star is absolutely frying it.

See, CoRot-2b has a epistellar orbit, which takes it extremely close to its parent star. Its parent star also happens to be a rather active star; very spry for it's age (about 100-300 million years old), and it has an impressive magnetic field, caused by the star. See, the planet orbits close enough to the star to speed the rotation of the star up, resulting in an improved magnetic field a star this age shouldn't have. This magnetic field generates powerful x-ray bursts that, when shot off, hits its planet. These high energy beams evaporate 5 million tons of matter from the CoRot-2b every second.

At this rate, it won't last very long.

Death Star indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment