Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Astronomy

Living in space

  By Paul Woodward To see things clearly, we often need to break the patterns of habit. The Earth, physically and metaphorically — the ground of human experience — is the stationary foundation that forms the background of movement: our movement across its surface; the terra firma against which the oceans wash and above which birds fly; the horizon that the Sun rises above and then falls beneath. Intellectually, as

Giant, active galaxies from the early universe may have finally been found

Science News reports: Astronomers may finally have laid eyes on a population of enormous but elusive galaxies in the early universe. These hefty, star-forming galaxies are shrouded in dust, which hid them from previous searches that used starlight. Now observations of radiation emitted by that interstellar dust have revealed dozens of massive, active galaxies from when the universe was younger than 2 billion years, researchers report online August 7 in

Most detailed ever 3D map of Milky Way shows ‘warped’ shape

The Guardian reports: The most detailed three-dimensional map yet of the Milky Way has been revealed, showing that our galaxy is not a flat disc but has a “warped” shape like a fascinator hat or a vinyl record that has been left in the sun. “The stars 60,000 light years away from the Milky Way’s centre are as far as 4,500 [light years] above or below the galactic plane –

Scientists stunned by ‘city-killer’ asteroid that just missed Earth

The Washington Post reports: Alan Duffy was confused. On Thursday, the astronomer’s phone was suddenly flooded with calls from reporters wanting to know about a large asteroid that had just whizzed past Earth, and he couldn’t figure out “why everyone was so alarmed.” “I thought everyone was getting worried about something we knew was coming,” Duffy, who is lead scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, told The Washington Post.

Moon landing: What Armstrong and Aldrin saw

Arizona State University: As the Apollo 11 Lunar Module approached the moon’s surface for the first manned landing, commander Neil Armstrong switched off the auto-targeting feature of the LM’s computer and flew the spacecraft manually to a landing. A new video, created at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, shows what Armstrong saw out his window as the lander descended — and you’ll see for yourself why

The search for extraterrestrial technology finds none

The Guardian reports: The close encounter will have to wait. Astronomers have come up empty-handed after scanning the heavens for signs of intelligent life in the most extensive search ever performed. Researchers used ground-based telescopes to eavesdrop on 1,327 stars within 160 light years of Earth. During three years of observations they found no evidence of signals that could plausibly come from an alien civilisation. The only signals picked up

Trump: ‘we are going back to the Moon’ but ‘NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon.’ Huh?

May 13, 2019: Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars. I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019 June 7, 2019: For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going

A bizarre form of water may exist all over the universe

Joshua Sokol writes: Recently at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Brighton, New York, one of the world’s most powerful lasers blasted a droplet of water, creating a shock wave that raised the water’s pressure to millions of atmospheres and its temperature to thousands of degrees. X-rays that beamed through the droplet in the same fraction of a second offered humanity’s first glimpse of water under those extreme conditions. The

A new glimpse of the evolving universe

  HubbleSite reports: Astronomers have put together the largest and most comprehensive “history book” of galaxies into one single image, using 16 years’ worth of observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The deep-sky mosaic, created from nearly 7,500 individual exposures, provides a wide portrait of the distant universe, containing 265,000 galaxies that stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the big bang. The

Mystery of the universe’s expansion rate widens with new Hubble data

NASA reports: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope say they have crossed an important threshold in revealing a discrepancy between the two key techniques for measuring the universe’s expansion rate. The recent study strengthens the case that new theories may be needed to explain the forces that have shaped the cosmos. A brief recap: The universe is getting bigger every second. The space between galaxies is stretching, like dough rising

2014 comet may be first known interstellar visitor to have come close to Earth

Science News reports: Earth may already have been visited by an object from outside our solar system — a meteor that burned up in the planet’s atmosphere in 2014, astronomers claim. If confirmed, it would be the first known interstellar object to have entered the atmosphere. The first interstellar visitor known to have come close to Earth was the roughly 400-meter-wide asteroid named ‘Oumuamua.’ It swooped within about 24 million

Regaining a sense of proportion in our universe

 

How scientists took the first picture of a black hole

Science News reports: Black holes are extremely camera shy. Supermassive black holes, ensconced in the centers of galaxies, make themselves visible by spewing bright jets of charged particles or by flinging away or ripping up nearby stars. Up close, these behemoths are surrounded by glowing accretion disks of infalling material. But because a black hole’s extreme gravity prevents light from escaping, the dark hearts of these cosmic heavy hitters remain

Is methane in Mars’ atmosphere evidence of life?

The New York Times reports: Methane gas periodically wafts into the atmosphere of Mars; that notion, once considered implausible and perplexing, is now widely accepted by planetary scientists. Why the methane is there is still a bewildering mystery. It may even point to present-day Martian microbes living in the rocks below the surface. In Nature Geoscience on Monday, scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter reported that

Evidence of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth

Douglas Preston writes: If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and

Astronomers say it’s time to start taking the search for E.T. seriously

Science News reports: Long an underfunded, fringe field of science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be ready to go mainstream. Astronomer Jason Wright is determined to see that happen. At a meeting in Seattle of the American Astronomical Society in January, Wright convened “a little ragtag group in a tiny room” to plot a course for putting the scientific field, known as SETI, on NASA’s agenda. The group is