Black holes and a clever trick

Over a year ago, last April, astronomers made history (as they always do, of course) when they managed to take the first ever photo of a black hole. Not just any black hole, but the supermassive black hole located at the center of Messier 87, a massive elliptical galaxy located in the Virgo Cluster over 50 million light years away. This link, which I will post at the end of my spiel, goes over just how exactly we pulled off such an astonishing feat.

In short, we linked together telescopes from all over the world, essentially creating a telescope the size of the earth, all synchronized towards one particular object, in this case, the black hole at the center of M87. This technique is known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI for short. Yes, astronomers aren’t very creative with their naming scheme.

The supermassive black hole located at the center of M87 is over a thousand times the mass of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagitarrius A*, which is 4 million solar masses, versus the 6 billion solar masses of M87’s supermassive black hole. M87 was chosen both for its size, and for the fact that it is an active black hole, unlike our own.

The odds of successfully pulling this off were incredibly low, but we succeeded, almost as if it was an act of divine providence that we would actually pull this off. I’ll leave the question of whether it was or not to the theologians, of course. Besides setting history for taking the first photo of an actual black hole ever, this event is also important cause it further confirms Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Those looking for answers regarding quantum gravity and how to successfully reconcile the disagreements between the Standard Model and relativity will have to wait their turn for now, alas.

As promised, here’s the link:

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2019/4/19/how-scientists-captured-the-first-image-of-a-black-hole/

The Implications of Being Alone

Someone once said, I forget who, that “we are either alone or we are not, both options are equally terrifying.” I’d like to propose a corollary to that, while they may be equally terrifying, the implications of both, especially when taking into regard the Great Filter hypothesis, are markedly different from each other.

If we are alone that’s arguably good, but still terrifying, news, because it means we have past the Great Filter that so many other would be civilizations have failed to pass through, we essentially have the entire universe to ourselves, and will not only survive, but thrive, perhaps even become as gods, but the implications of what it means to be alone are still vast. I dare not explore them.

If we are *not* alone, that’s bad, and still terrifying, news, because it means we have *not* passed the Great Filter, then, and we don’t have the universe to ourselves. It means that the path to a toolmaking and spacefaring civilization is an easy one, and that the Great Filter lies beyond the point at which life arises.

If we discover extraterrestrial microbes, that’s bad news, if we discover complex extraterrestrial life that’s even worse news, if we discover extraterrestrial toolmaking intelligences that’s a death sentence for ourselves and them.

Let us pray we do not discover alien life any time soon, however, the likelihood of alien life existing is, as a recent study showed, statistically inevitable, so we may be doomed after all.

How Did Life Begin? New Study Reveals Life in the Universe Could Be Common

Late Heavy Bombardment put under the microscope

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01074-6

The article goes over the case against the cataclysm scenario, and it turns out the case isn’t as rock-solid (sorry, had to put a pun in here somehow) as previously thought. It turns out that what we previously thought was evidence for the Late Heavy Bombardment was actually a sampling error, as the article attests to in the quote below:

Yet just when the idea of the LHB finally seemed unimpeachable, holes began to appear. Apollo data and ‘crater counting’, which estimates the order in which craters were laid down on the basis of how they overlap, had indicated that three of the largest crater basins on the Moon’s near side — Imbrium, Nectaris and Serenitatis — might all be about 3.95 billion years old (see ‘Sampling the Moon’). But high-resolution maps from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which started circling the Moon in 2009, spotted rays of debris extending from Imbrium5. This suggested that the impact that formed the crater might have knocked rocks into nearby Serenitatis, contaminating the Apollo samples picked up there. In 2010, a reanalysis of rocks thought to have been ejected from Nectaris indicated that they were also chemically and geologically similar to Imbrium material6. “We started realizing that maybe we were sampling Imbrium over and over,” says Zellner.

The article goes on further, saying that “we find no evidence of a large spike in impacts occurring around the 3.9 billion year mark” (slight paraphrasing). It also mentions the existence of crystals dated to 4.1 Ga that “demonstrate the existence of relatively calm pools of liquid water,” which would’ve been supposedly evaporated from the surface of the Earth from that period of if the LHB hypothesis is correct.

The article concludes by saying that at the most the evidence indicates a “more prolonged period of bombardment, as opposed to the sudden spike in impact events as predicted by the cataclysm hypothesis.” Others are skeptical of even that, instead believing that there was one single rapid spike that occurred very shortly after the solar system formed, whereas others believe there was no spike nor period of bombardment at all.

The Mystery of the Wow! signal.

Mr John Michael Godier here does a brilliant introduction and explanation of the eponymous “mystery of the Wow! signal,” especially why it’s unlikely to be of anything of either terrestrial or solar (as in the solar system’s orbit) origin. Perhaps most spookily, he notes that the signal appears to be corrected for the orbits of the sun and the earth, something that is not often mentioned about the solar system, and given how earth’s status as a life-bearing planet wouldn’t exactly be a secret to distant extrasolar observers, this is extremely spooky, only adding to the mystery surrounding the Wow! signal. Also of interest is that whatever emitted the Wow! signal also appears to be slowly moving towards us, at a speed of ten km/sec, of course that’s slower than the Voyager 2’s speed of 15 km/s.

Could this be some sort of intentionally sent probe, and the Wow! signal being an attempt to signal us to alert us of its presence? In the end, who knows? It’s unlikely the mystery of the Wow! signal is something that will be solved in the near future, but it definitely keeps us awake at night, showing that there’s still much more to learn about this strange universe we call home.

10 Mysteries of Titan

The excellent as always Mr John Michael Godier has come out with a new video, I suggest giving it a watch. Mr Godier here explains ten mysteries of Titan, the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere, and the only other terrestrial body in our solar system with surface liquids, specifically lakes and rivers of liquid methane. It’s also becoming more and more evident that prebiotic chemistry of sorts is occurring on Titan, and what’s happening their may hold clues for the origin of life here on earth as well, as the early earth is believed to have been very similar to Titan.

It’s even possible we may find life there, however such life would be totally alien to our own, utilizing an entirely different, and also entirely hypothetical, biochemistry than the water based one that is used on earth. Titan also quite likely has a subsurface ocean of liquid water, and that subsurface ocean may very well have hydrothermal vents, meaning that it’s quite likely that even if no life is found on Titan’s surface, that life may still be found on Titan irregardless of its surface conditions.

Tabby’s Star

http://www.astronomy.com/news/2019/09/evaporating-exomoon-could-explain-weird-light-patterns-of-tabbys-star

Apparently the riddle of Tabby’s Star has been solved, the weird light fluctuations (which aren’t due to alien megastructs, if they were we would only be seeing infrared due to waste heat emissions, instead the patterns are consistent with those of dust) are due to tidal disruptions of an icy exomoon of a planet orbiting Tabby’s Star. In other words, an exomoon is being shred to bits by the star itself and the resulting chaos is what’s causing the dimmings.

Similar explanations have been proposed for the other oddly dimming stars out there, just how common is this phenomenon of moonnapping?

Note that this is only preliminary, further research is needed, and that such a coincidence could explain these odd dimmings seems unlikely.

10 unsettling astronomical incidents and phenomena

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pul9r0jfbug&list=PL1WRbGpKFCAJMfdKHM-zwe5qecY3r910n&index=11

This is a video by the excellent as always Mr John Michael Godier listing, and explaining, some unsolved astronomical phenomena. While the general rule is that “it is never aliens, until it is,” some of the phenomena listed are so strange that aliens remain a serious possibility. One of these is the Wow signal, which to this day defies explanation, it was recently proposed it may have been due to comet emissions, but this was shot down by the scientific community because if comets were emitting at the hydrogen line radio astronomers would have noticed it by now.

I recommend giving it a watch, it’s a good reminder there’s lots we still don’t know about our universe.

Formalhaut

PBS Space Time Video

In this PBS Space Time video the forming solar system of Formalhaut is explored, with lots of Lord of the Rings puns to go around ever since the now infamous “Eye of Sauron” photo was released. Interestingly the star is a member of a tristellar system, it’s stellar siblings are a red dwarf and a flare star respectively.

Formalhaut’s solar system is also (probably) home to two planets, a hot Jupiter and a probably terrestrial planet called “Dagon,” how’s that for a cool name? Interestingly enough the orbit of Dagon indicates it was formed further in, closer to Formalhaut proper, but was thrown out into its current orbit by a close encounter with the aforementioned hot Jupiter. Something similar is posited to have happened in our solar system early on with the gas giants, as they all formed relatively close together but something threw them further apart.

Formalhaut may very well be a glimpse into what would have happened during the formation of our own solar system, as it is a solar system in formation right now as we speak.

Mauna Kea Protests

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/18/hawaii-mauna-key-protest-arrests-observatory

You know, there are already enough dark sky spots in the world as it is, and people don’t want an observatory being constructed on a sacred mount, Mauna Kea, why not just move it someplace else? It’s comparable to someone desecrating Mecca or the Dome of the Rock, learn to respect other people’s cultures, people, for fuck’s sakes.

We already have enough observatories as it is, and there’s plenty of prime real estate in places like, I don’t know, the MOON for dark sky observations, getting out into space is something that’s a big deal for many people, this should be one of the major impetuses to move to space. Why wait? It’s a win-win.

Gravity

Gravity, what is it? No one knows exactly *what* gravity is. We can predict its behaviors but not much else, because even relativity’s only an incomplete view. We don’t know exactly what the essence of gravity is, nor the answer to other conundrums like why gravity is so weak compared to the other three forces, and to be frank, speculation aside, we may never know the answer to this haunting riddle, the riddle that has haunted scientists since the days of Galileo and Newton, what is gravity?

This video by the excellent as always John Michael Godier elaborates more on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MA7jLKnQ4c

I highly recommend it.