The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the relic radiation from the Big Bang, revealing new information about the Universe’s age, contents and origins. Acquired by ESA’s Planck space telescope, the image is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck and is the mission’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when it was just 380,000 years old.
The map results suggest the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previous estimates, and is expanding more slowly than scientists thought. The data also show there is less dark energy and more matter, both normal and dark matter, in the Universe than previously known. Dark matter can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.
The age, contents and other fundamental traits of our universe are described in a simple model called the standard model of cosmology. New data from Planck have allowed scientists to test and improve the accuracy of this model with the greatest precision yet. However, some curious features are observed that don’t quite fit with the simple picture. For example, the model assumes the sky is the same everywhere, but the light patterns are asymmetrical on two halves of the sky, and there is a spot extending over a patch of sky that is larger than expected.
“On one hand, we have a simple model that fits our observations extremely well, but on the other hand, we see some strange features which force us to rethink some of our basic assumptions,” said Jan Tauber, the European Space Agency’s Planck project scientist based in the Netherlands. “This is the beginning of a new journey, and we expect our continued analysis of Planck data will help shed light on this conundrum.“
Planck is a European Space Agency mission with NASA contributing technology for both of Planck’s science instruments, the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), and the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI). The instrument’s detectors convert the microwave and radio light gathered by Planck’s telescope into very accurate maps of the microwave sky. The detectors are so sensitive they can measure temperature variations in the sky of millionths of a degree, a task similar to measuring from Earth the heat produced by a rabbit sitting on the Moon. To achieve this, some of Planck’s detectors must be cooled to about one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero (-273.15 °C), so their own heat does not swamp the signal from the sky.
European, US, and Canadian scientists work together to analyze the Planck data. One of the most complex aspects of analyzing the data involves the noise from its detectors. To detect the incredibly faint CMB these detectors are made of extremely sensitive materials. When the detectors pick up light from one part of the sky, they don’t reset afterwards to a neutral state, but instead, they sort of buzz for a bit like a ringing bell. This buzzing affects observations made at the next part of the sky.
Under a unique agreement between NASA and the Department of Energy, Planck scientists have been guaranteed access to the supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The bulk of the computations for this data release were performed on the Cray XE6 system, called the Hopper. This computer makes more than a quintillion calculations per second, placing it among the fastest in the world.
Herschel To Finish Observing Soon
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory is expected to soon exhaust its supply of liquid helium coolant after spending more than three very exciting years studying the cool Universe. Launched in May of 2009, with a main mirror 3.5 m across, Herschel is the largest, most powerful infrared telescope ever flown in space and was named after the astronomer William Herschel who discovered the existence of infrared radiation while studying the Sun in 1800.
Herschel’s mission, the first to cover the entire wavelength range from the far-infrared to submillimetre, made it possible to study previously invisible cool regions of gas and dust in the cosmos, and provided new insights into the origin and evolution of stars and galaxies. In order to make such sensitive far-infrared observations, the detectors of the three science instruments, two cameras/imaging spectrometers and a very high-resolution spectrometer, must be cooled to an extremely frigid –271°C, close to absolute zero, and as such, sit atop a tank filled with superfluid liquid helium, inside a giant thermos flask known as a cryostat.
Part of the Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES) Key Project, studying the evolution of galaxies in the distant, ancient Universe, this Herschel image, taken in the Lockman Hole region of space, shows thousands of galaxies packing themselves closely together, forming large clusters of galaxies by the force of their mutual gravity. Indications are that these galaxies are busy crashing into one another, forming large quantities of stars as a result of these violent encounters. Each dot is an entire galaxy containing billions of stars.
Herschel has made extraordinary discoveries across a wide range of topics, from starburst galaxies in the distant Universe to newly forming planetary systems orbiting nearby young stars. However, as all good things must come to an end, engineers believe that nearly all of Herschel’s liquid helium, more than 2,000 liters at launch, has now gone.
“It is no surprise that this will happen, and when it does we will see the temperatures of all the instruments rise by several degrees within just a few hours,” says Micha Schmidt, the Herschel Mission Operations Manager at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Once the detectors start to warm from their ultra-frigid state, they will stop working. The end, when it happens, will be sudden. The science observing program was carefully planned to take full advantage of the lifetime of the mission, and all of the highest-priority observations have already been completed. Herschel is also performing numerous other observations specifically chosen to exploit every last drop of its helium.
“We will finish observing soon, but Herschel data will enable a vast amount of exciting science to be done for many years to come,” says Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “In fact, the peak of scientific productivity is still ahead of us, and the task now is to make the treasure trove of Herschel data as valuable as possible for now and for the future.”
Herschel will continue communicating with its ground stations for some time after the helium is exhausted. Finally, in early May, it will be propelled into its long-term stable parking orbit around the Sun.
The Rosette Nebula, a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Monoceros constellation. This image is a three-color composite showing infrared wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green), and 250 microns (red). In this image from Herschel the bright smudges are dusty cocoons containing massive embryonic stars, which will grow to 10 times the mass of our Sun. The small spots near the center of the image are lower mass stellar embryos. The Rosette Nebula itself, and its massive cluster of stars, is located to the right of the picture.
Because Herschel can obtain data at a wide range of infrared light and reveal a more complete picture of star birth than ever seen before scientists discovered that galaxies do not always need to collide with each other in order to drive vigorous star birth, overturning a long-held assumption and painting a more complete picture of how galaxies evolve. These results were based on Herschel’s observations of two patches of sky, each about one-third the size of the full moon. In this artist’s conception, a galaxy accretes mass from rapid, narrow streams of cold gas. These filaments provide the galaxy with continuous flows of raw material to feed its star-forming.
In this, the most detailed image of the Andromeda Galaxy ever taken at infrared wavelengths, two ESA observatories combine forces to show the galaxy in an entirely new light. Herschel shows us rings of star formation, while ESA’s X-ray space observatory, XMM-Newton, shows us dying stars shining X-rays into space. This image of our nearest large spiral galaxy neighbor clearly shows that more stars are on their way. Infrared and X-ray images convey information impossible to collect from the ground because these wavelengths are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere.
All images credited to the European Space Agency.
For more Herschel images visit OSHI – Online Showcase of Herschel Images.
This video is a segment of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s March 26 talk on Cosmic Quandaries in St. Petersburg, Florida. Though the entire talk is well over an hour long, I found this particular segment, featuring Tyson delivering some incredibly interesting thoughts on the nature of the universe and our place within it, to be both engaging and exciting. I recently finished reading Dr. Tyson’s Space Chronicles in which he goes into greater detail on some of the subjects mentioned in this video, as well as his views on NASA, the future of space travel, and America’s role in that future…all subjects I find very interesting. If you enjoy the video, I highly recommend Space Chronicles.
‘Oh look. The sun has a little happy face.’
These were the words tweeted this week by Jason Major of Lights In The Dark in reference to this image. Quite honestly, I don’t see the little happy face, but I’ve got to admire anyone who does! Jason is also the man who in a post last month titled Sun, Moon and Spots in reference to a video of the Feb 21, 2012 Solar transit by the Moon from the perspective of SDO remarked…’I think the sun looks a little surprised.’ I’m not much into applying human characteristics and expressions to cute little kittens and squirrels, however I have to admit to finding it clever when applied to Astronomical objects. I also have to admit to agreeing with Jason in the case of that particular video….the sun does appear to be ‘surprised’. But don’t take my word for it, go there and check it out for yourself. While there also check out Jason’s March 14th post, Is This Comet SWAN’s Swan Song. Very cool!!
Also in the Cool Science Department this week A Frank Angle got me all weepy-eyed with his post On The Universe featuring videos of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot in comparison to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s, now quite viral, The Most Astounding Fact. After reading Frank’s post followed by stepping outside for a look at the Venus and Jupiter conjunction…it was quite an emotional evening for me. Speaking of Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’s Space Chronicles I FINALLY got my hands on…and it’s AWESOME, Kyle Hill at Science-Based Life also compares deGrasse Tyson to Sagan in a March 12th post titled…Neil deGrasse Tyson is the New Carl Sagan and featuring deGrasse Tyson’s Why We Stopped Dreaming video….completely inspiring, and completely important.
AND….before I move on from space, I absolutely HAVE to mention Galicia Futura‘s March 17th post titled Las estrellas vistas desde la Estación Espacial Internacional featuring The Stars as Viewed from the International Space Station, edited by Alex Rivest using Adobe Lightroom. A-MA-ZING!!
After a week of much star-gazing it was nice to have St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday as an excuse to lift a glass or two. I was kept fully up to date on the approaching event, as I am with ALL my news, by the informative, straight-talking, and hard hitting tag-team of Smaktakula and Tardsie D. Bagg over at Promethean Times. The guys got us in the spirit early in the week with a March 12th introduction to the Emerald Isle titled Ireland The PT Way!. On March 15th the boys reminded us that March is not only about St Paddy with their timely post titled Bewaring The Ides Of March (Among Other Things). They then finished up on Saturday with an all-out St Patrick’s expose titled St. Paddy’s Day! These are just small samples of the top-notch journalism to be found at Promethean Times, not just this week, but every week. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the folks over at Pulitzer are forced to recognize Smak and Tardsie …even if at gun-point. (Warning: Prolonged exposure to Promethean Times may cause the following side effects including temporary eyelid droop and nausea, gas with oily spotting, loose stools, and more frequent stools that may be hard to control. Babies born to mothers who have read Promethean Times in the latter half of pregnancy have reported complications, including floppiness, stiffness, irritability or constant crying. Even moderate exposure may result in sleepwalking, and eating or driving while not fully awake, with amnesia following the event. Consult your healthcare practitioner before reading Promethean Times. …things I LOVE, Alex Autin is in no way responsible for any ill-effects experienced before, during, or after viewing Promethean Times.)
Another blog I’ve been following closely this past week is artist J.E. Lattimer’s Uncharted Revelations. J.E. demonstrated his extremely interesting and innovative experimental art this week in posts with such compelling titles such as Surveillance and Censorship, Iniquitous Manifestations, and Harmonic Frequencies. Fascinated by his work, knowing I’d want to write about it, and wanting to properly categorize it, I earlier in the week questioned J.E. as to the process involved in the creation of his art….
J.E. – Well, I usually don’t tell anyone how I create my artwork / photographs, but okay, here goes… You know how some people can bend spoons using only their minds? It’s kind of like that: I take a roll of unused / undeveloped film into a completely dark room where I sit cross-legged and meditate with the film held tightly in my hand. While meditating I visualize each image as clearly as possible, then, when I go to develop the roll… Voila! No, that’s mean, only kidding… Seriously though, the truth is that these images are only possible because I’m one of the five people on earth who have been given a prototype of the new quantum computer… Only kidding again… The truth is that I’ve developed most of the techniques for over a decade now and they’re fairly top secret– Only shared with those that I know very well and have known for a long time……
Cleverness combined with brilliance and talent….and highly recommenced.
Rounding out the week with music, Marilia from World Music took me on a week-long tour of Portugal. Starting in Porto with X-Wife and their haunting song Across The Water , then the beautiful music of Os Azeitonas and their song Anda Comigo ver os Aviões. Marilia then invited us to her home region of Alentejo to close out the week with a song from Virgem Suta titled Linhas Cruzadas. Such beautiful music and such a beautiful country! Obrigada Marilia, danke Xandi and everyone at World Music!
Cheers and enjoy your week!
Earlier this week while making one of my habitual visits to Kyle Hill’s Science-Based Life blog I came across this completely amazing, completely fun, interactive Scale of the Universe ….which can be found here.
After playing around with it for just a bit, and being entirely blown away, I knew I wanted to share it. I asked Kyle for his permission to do so and loved his response….‘Absolutely, spread the science!’.
The scale is entirely interactive, not only can you slide along the various scales of the Universe…from the ‘I can’t wrap my head around it’ tiniest, to the ‘wow, are you shitting me’ largest …but you can also click on the various images to get very cleverly written information on each. I could easily kill several days with this, and never stop being amazed. Also… I fully agree with Kyle in that you should turn the volume WAY up to get a full immersing effect! Enjoy!!!
Earlier this week I opened my in-box to learn I had been nominated for The Liebster Blog Award. While thrilled with the nomination I then waited to learn if I had actually won. I’ve seen award programs before, in every case there is a handful of nominees which are then narrowed down to one actual winner. Apparently this is not the case in regards to this particular award. (Also, apparently there is no cash prize associated with it either. Wtf?!)
My nomination was presented to me by Colline who is a wonderful writer/photographer (not to mention a very fine human being!) and who has been schooling me in how this blogging thing works. Her blog is titled Colline’s Blog, and I applauded her for being wise enough to not saddle herself in by titling it something completely absurd such as Things I Love (Things I Love? Really?! How freaking creative…)
So, what exactly is this Liebster Blog Award anyway? Well, I’m about to tell you. Liebster is German for ‘dearest’. In the blogosphere, this translates to ‘I like you, I really, really like you’. (And we all know how much we all want to be LIKED!) The award is presented to new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers in appreciation of their work and also in encouragement that they should continue this work.
As with any award…THERE ARE RULES, and they are as follows, so listen up:
1 – Thank the fellow blogger who nominated you. (Thank you Colline, you are DEFINAELY appreciated!)
2 – Link back to the person who awarded you. (BAM! —> Colline’s Blog)
3 – List five blogs that have affected your writing in a positive manner. (This will, without question, lead to much sadistic pleasure on my part!)
4 – Leave comments on those blogs to let them know of their nominations. (Oh, I certainly will…)
5 – Post the award on your blog. (I‘m assuming this final bit to be optional, however one should refer to the official Liebster Award Guide Book and certainly not take my word for it.)
Now, without further ado, my nominations… (These are listed in no particular order. In actuality, I taped the names of my nominees to five mice, then released the mice in the same room with my room-mate’s cat allowing her to determine the order based on which mouse she tortured first, second, and so on. She completely lost interest after the first two mice at which point I placed a large box in the room with the name Schrödinger written on it. It was then that things got REALLY weird…. I should point out that taping pieces of paper to mice is totally humane, so not a word from PETA! Had I stapled the paper to the mice, then you could bitch.)
And the nominees are:
1 - Antonio Pinon – Antonio does not list stats on his blog such as number of followers (though something tells me he is, indeed, a man interested in statistics). I’ve no idea how many followers he has, nor do I particularly care. My affair with Antonio’s blog began innocently enough with meeting over my morning coffee. It then led to lunch, and most recently, dinner. He has quietly, eloquently, and thoroughly amazed me, awed me, and brought me to tears (though we’ve agreed not to mention this, my apologies). He is also kind enough to respond to my gushing comments. If you haven’t had your mind completely blown recently by the universe, the 10th dimension, how the brain works, planetary astronomy, or any number of other extremely interesting subjects, I highly recommend a visit to Antonio Pinion.
2 – She Kept A Parrot – Again another blog with no interest in posting popularity stats, and the only Photo Blog to make my list of nominations. I enjoy photo blogs, and there are many excellent ones, but rarely am I so amazed by not only the work, but also the courage behind the camera. This woman has not only talent, but also guts, charisma, intelligence, and a large serving of love-of-life. The introductions accompanying her work are as brilliant, as honest, and as engrossing as the work itself. I’ve a feeling this is a woman who has never faked a smile in her life, but yet has effortlessly garnered millions of them. Well done.
3 – God Is Not Here – This is Chris Lim’s blog in which he tackles the often-times controversial issues regarding Rationality versus Religion, a subject which I find extremely interesting. Chris is an outspoken, informed, and intelligent humanist, atheist, and anti-theist. He is a very talented and engaging writer, and he’s also a very friendly and approachable man. He even tolerates my ogling over Brad Pitt and Rafael Nadal in his comments section. I’ve no doubt Chris does not in any way need my encouragement in order to continue to do what he does. This, however, does not mean I’m letting him off the hook. Chris, consider yourself Liebster-ized.
4 – Eric Murtaugh – Eric is cool, and so is his blog. It’s my favorite adventure blog. I was quite shocked to find he had less than 200 followers, but he’s getting there….so I’d better write quickly. Eric’s blog was one of the first I stumbled upon when I entered the world of wordpress. It was an instant favorite, and still is. Eric is a challenging man, and I adore people who push, inspire, and not only challenge themselves, but also challenge others. His writing is top notch, interesting and intelligent, and he’s not above getting silly. Reading his ‘About’ says it all….‘Plain and simple: I’m a sucker for adventure.’.
5 – Matthew Minas – Matthew is truly a new kid on the block when it comes to wordpress blogging. Matthew opens his ‘Me’ page by saying he ‘kind of likes pretty much everything’. (I could pass this nomination to him simply for not being silly enough to actually title his blog this…unlike someone else.) When first stumbling upon Matthew’s blog it took me only long enough to read his broad range of interests for me click ‘follow’. These interests include Philosophy, Physics, Cosmology, Writing, Science, Atheism, Science Fiction, Film, Music and I could go on and on. His posts are very well written, very well researched, and exciting as hell. And I can’t just read them once, I feel compelled to read them over and over. If I were to ever meet Matthew I would probably engage him for hours just to hear him speak on some of the many interests we have in common. Instead I’ll tag him with this nomination along with my sincere wish that he continue to do what he does.
While my approach to this award may be a bit sarcastic, I hope the above mentioned bloggers will understand the sincerity in my nominations. This is my attempt to thank them for feeding my addiction to learning, truth, discovery, and exploration. As for how they respond to this nomination….that’s entirely up to them. They can play along with the chain letter, or they can dismiss it. I will not think, or feel, a damn thing either way.
(I should however point out that if they chose to break the chain it will undoubtedly result in the end of the universe. This is something which will highly piss off Stephen Hawking as he is clearly not finished with it as yet. This will also likely result in many cosmologists losing their funding and no one wants that kind of blood on their hands. At the very least breaking the chain could trigger an early 2012 Apocalypse thus denying the Mayan calendar folks, the Scary-Freakin-Asteroid folks, and the Terrestrial/Solar Pole Reversal folks their moment of glory…and our opportunity to properly stock up on toilet paper and bottled water. )
I LOVE…Libraries! Yep, first of all there’s the smell of a library. That musty scent of pages in old books…a little dusty, a little stale and dry. Used book stores have this same smell. It smells archaic but in a good sense, like lost work waiting to be rediscovered. I also love the hushed quiet of libraries. It’s an environment where if one listens, one could almost hear the ticking of the clocks…if clocks still ticked. The smell and the hush contribute to the atmosphere of a library along with the dry air and a temperature which always seems just a few degrees higher than optimum. It’s nice though, comfortable, cozy. No matter the library, there always seems to be windows with sunlight pouring through in such a way as to illuminate the dust particles in the beams of light. And I’m always, ALWAYS, reminded of Carl Sagan and that ‘mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam’, and I’m reminded of that image from Voyager 1. It completely awes me. And of course, he’s there too…Sagan. He’s in that library, alive and quite well.
Of course, the thing I love most about libraries, however, is the books. Fiction or non-fiction, every word on every page of every book on every shelf at one time existed solely in someone’s mind and imagination. Someone, through pain and patience, joy and love, created the time to write every ‘the’, every ‘of’, and every ‘is’ contained in every book. Each book is an entirely new world waiting to be entered and discovered. Worlds of heroes and villains, conquerors and lovers, empires and war, and also worlds of nature, science, elegance and love. The only requirement of entering these strange and wondrous worlds is to open the cover and turn the page. As such, the library becomes a universe to thousands of worlds.
When I enter a library some switch inside me gets turned on. This is a switch which is 99.9% of the time in lock-down ‘off ‘position, and that is the ‘horde’ switch. Anyone who knows me knows I have very few things. If it doesn’t fit in a back pack I don’t need it. However, entering a library I am instantly transformed. I want every one of those books and I sincerely believe I can actually read each and every one of them. Not only read them, but assimilate them, absorb them, learn and retain every bit of knowledge and passion they contain. And the library itself encourages and prods me. Really? I can check out up to 50 items at a time? 50?! Wow!
Oh, one more awesome thing about libraries which I love…no money changes hands. They give me the book, I read the book and return it…end of transaction. Trust.