Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘black hole

Through Thick and Thin

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Well, been steeling myself, but still haven’t read any comments to my more recent 9/11 Truthers posts. I’m just not nearly as inclined to argue with people any more. And I don’t want ugly Doug to come out ever again. Truthers are all good people working to fight evil in the world, and even if I don’t agree with them, at least they aren’t telling me that their imaginary friend is going to torture me forever after I die because I don’t believe he exists. Creepy frankly, like if Jimmy Stewart in Harvey was a serial killer.

I see Qaddafi loyalists captured a city in Libya. Someone asked me, why would they do this?  My response: It’s their country. That the question was even asked is a reflection of how steeped westerners are in cultural imperialism, the idea that some Libyans might not actually be happy with NATO bombing Libya back into the tribal warlord era apparently didn’t occur to him. I will be writing more on cultural imperialism, it’s really warped the world view of the west. It all ties into Christianity and the idea that Christians can “save” other peoples, but enough of that for now.

I mentioned this in the sidebar a few days ago, but for those who didn’t read it, astronomers are going to take a picture of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. True, they can’t actually take a picture of the black hole itself, since once light crosses the event horizon, it dun come back. However, as stuff spirals into the black hole it emits all sorts of radiation near the end, and this, the “haze” around the black hole, they hope to photograph. This will require a telescope the size of the Earth, but they can fake that. Telescopes all over the world will be combined somehow (I don’t feel like looking up the details now,) essentially combining their images to make one huge telescope. If they get a good snap shot of the bad boy lurking at the centre of our galaxy, I will be sure to post it.

Obama gave his State of the Union Address. I couldn’t watch it. The man is such a talented liar, it pains me to see. When Bush spouted patriotic drivel, at least he meant it, even if he didn’t know what he was talking about. If I understood the gist of the address right, Obama has taken up the mantle of economic injustice, and is going to run with it. In English, this means he will promise to regulate Wall Street and tax the rich; then when he gets elected, he will do neither. Mark my words.

Today is the anniversary of the deaths of the Apollo One astronauts. I was ten when it happened, it was a big deal at the time. As a friend said: “There are certain risks to sitting atop a missile.” Especially one built by NASA was my response. Sadly, the Apollo One deaths, like all the astronauts who have died, were victims of American hubris, the idea that Americans can do anything from the ground up and don’t even need to look at what others have done before. “Gigantomania” a German friend called it. Again, a topic for a future post.

They passed a law in France making it a crime to deny the Armenian Holocaust. The Turkish government and many people in Turkey are really upset by this. I certainly have mixed feelings about it. Hate speech directed at Muslims = protected free speech. Hate speech directed at Armenians = go to jail. There’s something wrong with this picture, at least to my understanding so far. I’ve blogged about the Armenian genocide before, and frankly it’s not a topic I want to return to. It’s one of those topics where anything but an extremely partisan view will get one pilloried by all parties concerned. Yeah, that’s fun.

Speaking of fun, I’ll end this with a cute video. The ancient Romans loved these little guys, dessert or appetizer, didn’t matter.

 (The above painting is titled “fish.” It is so copyright protected the gentle reader shouldn’t even think about stealing it, the artist is just like the girl with the dragon tattoo, except prettier and meaner. Copyright © 1998 Christian Damian. All Rights Reserved. Kidding aside, she’s a fine artist, inquiries welcome, email Christian at: )


Written by unitedcats

January 26, 2012 at 11:08 am

What the Hell is That? (Number 2 in a series, if you want to guess, don’t read below the image.)

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Yeast cells in a petri dish? Higgs Boson particles in the LHC? Nope, this fascinating image is an infrared view of the exact centre of our galaxy. The image is about one light year wide, and the animation loop covers a period of eight years. And it’s not obvious, but the moving stars are actually orbiting around the yellow cross at the centre of the image. In fact our sun is orbiting around that yellow cross, every orbit taking about 200 million years. That means the Sun is 22 1/2 in galactic years, just a young whippersnapper in it’s prime.

Cool new tunas so far, but it gets cooler. Again, it may not be obvious, but those stars are really moving. Look how slowly the other stars in the image are moving compared to the central stars. The only explanation so far is that they are orbiting something really massive at the yellow cross. In fact calculations show that whatever it is, it masses more than five million Suns! Well, astronomers have a pretty good idea what it is, they think it is a black hole, something that appears to reside at the centre of most if not all galaxies like our Milky Way.

Being a black hole, we can’t see it of course. It only reveals itself in x-rays and the motion of stars orbiting it. Is it eventually going to suck up the entire galaxy? No, more than the Sun is going to suck up the entire Solar System. Well, OK, yes, eventually everything in the Universe will get sucked into black holes. Black holes do slowly decay becasue they emit Hawking radiation, and eventually they will all be gone, there will be no more entropy possible, and the Universe will experience heat death, and be nothing but  a near infinite incredibly thin cold near vacuum. That won’t be for about 10100 years though, so it’s safe to say that humanity has far more pressing concerns to worry about.

It’s still amazing to me what we know about our Universe now compare to when I was a kid. And I will continue to share images that amaze me. The black hole at the centre of our galaxy is now in the process of gobbling up a huge cloud of gas, if I can find a good picture of this I will post it.

(Image Credit: A. Eckart (U. Koeln) & R. Genzel (MPE-Garching), SHARP I, NTT, La Silla Obs., ESO It’s basically a NASA image and as such may be used pretty much freely for non-commercial purposes. “It is estimated that 3.71 X 10^10 “first-star-tonight” wishes have been wasted on Venus.” OK, a little astronomer humor there. With emphasis on little, I think it’s safe to say that not many stand up comics got their start in astronomy.)

Written by unitedcats

January 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm


with 5 comments

Yes, it’s true, scientists have discovered two huge gamma ray emitting bubbles emerging from the Milky Way. The above image is what they look like … if the viewer is considerably outside the galaxy and can see gamma rays. People can’t see gamma rays, so the above image is “false colour” so to speak. I know some people get upset that so many NASA images are false colour, but when talking about colours that people can’t see, what’s the problem? What’s the deal with these bubbles? Well, no one knows. The current best guess is that they are the remnants of some sort of outburst  from the black hole at the centre of our Galaxy. There are other possibilities, and scientists will be exploring them eagerly. And while this is an exciting discovery in that it gives us new insight into our galaxy, it has no practical bearing on Earth. These bubbles don’t and can’t effect Earth in any way, my histrionic headline notwithstanding.

Yes, there’s a black hole in the centre of our galaxy. It has about as much mass as thirty million Suns. No, it’s not going to swallow the galaxy, any more than the planets are going to get sucked into our Sun. For the lay people, a black hole is a region of space with so much mass that light can’t escape its gravity. So while it can’t be seen directly, this is what a black hole would look like up close and personal:

Well, technically one can’t actually see the black hole, but the astute reader should be able to discern where it is in the above image. The black hole is so dense that it warps and bends light that gets near it. Note that every star in the picture has at least two images, and the entire sky can be seen near the black hole as light from every direction is bent around the black hole. I know, hard to grasp, the original image is here, maybe they explain it better. I’m pretty sure that being this close to a back hole would be fatal, the gravity would be so strong that normal matter would be ripped apart.

Speaking of dark objects in space, the Mars Express recently captured this image of Phobos:

Phobos is the innermost and largest of Mars’ two moons, the other being Deimos. It’s an irregularly shaped lump of ice and rock, averaging about  22 km (14 miles) in diameter, covered with about a meter of dust. It’s the darkest moon in the Solar System, and is believed to be a captured asteroid. It’s also doomed, its orbit is slowly decaying and in the next 50 million years it will be torn apart and crash into Mars. It’s going to be a pretty spectacular sight, and if I’m still around then, I’ll be sure to blog about it.

And while we’re on the topic of Phobos, since it’s not a topic I visit regularly, two minor misconceptions to clear up. Yes, there is indeed a monolith on Phobos:

It’s the bright object with a shadow in the middle right, it’s about the size of a building, whatever that means. One will sometimes actually hear alien aficionados claim that the monolith on Phobos must be artificial and should be visited, apparently confused by the fact that there was a monolith in 2001, a Space Odyssey. The monolith in the fictional movie was made by aliens, the monolith on Phobos is a rock. Yes, it is upon such slender threads that belief in aliens resides.

It gets worse. Both moons of Mars were discovered in 1877. In the 1726 book Gulliver’s Travels there is a description of Mars having two moon very similar to the moons that were discovered more than a century later. Again, some have claimed that this is proof that aliens have visited Earth, or even that the author, Jonathon Swift, may have come from Mars. No, it’s proof that Jonathon Swift was reasonably well read. Astronomers of his day were very much looking for symmetry and order in the Solar System. It was speculated that since Venus had no moons, Earth had one moon, and Jupiter had four moons … might not Mars have two moons? And if Mars had two moons, they would have had to be very small to avoid detection by the telescopes of the day. Which is more likely, that Swift’s fictional moons were based on contemporary astronomical speculation … or personal knowledge gained from alien spacefarers?

No, it’s not a trick question. Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above images are all claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are not being used for profit, they are central to illustrating the post, and they are properly attributed. Gamma Ray Bubble image, Credit: NASA/GSFC. Black hole image, Credit & Copyright: Alain Riazuelo. Phobos image, Credit: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA; Acknowledgement: Peter Masek. Phobos monolith image, Credit: Mars Global Surveyor, NASA. Is there a point to this post. Yes. We are entering the greatest age of exploration ever, the exploration of the Universe around us! I mean, two of these images were taken by cameras orbiting Mars, something that would have been considered a pipe dream by many people in living memory. How cool is that?)


Written by unitedcats

December 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm