Saturday, June 25, 2011

Death by black hole

This story is a smidge old but relevant nonetheless to a future post.
Astronomers have recently been able to observe a star as it was shredded apart by a black hole.  It was the Swift spacecraft that first noticed the stellar demise, registering it as an enormous burst of gamma radiation in the depths of space.  The duration and intensity of the burst befuddled scientists as to the nature of its origin.  After review of the data, it is now strongly believed that the gamma rays were the dying gasp of a star as it fell into the gravitational vortex of a black hole.

For the uninitiated, black holes are thought to form after a star goes supernova, leaving behind an incredibly dense remnant.  This region is so dense that nothing, not even light, can resist its gravitational pull.  A gas and other matter are dragged  into a black hole, bursts of light and radiation are emitted and can at times be visible on Earth.  In certain ways, black holes may be the most pivotal occurrences in cosmology, acting as the great destroyers/creators in the universe.  
Everybody go that down?  Good.  Check back tomorrow for how it applies.

In other space news, Saturn's moon Enceladus has been observed spewing ice and water vapor through geysers.  This seems to indicate that a large saltwater ocean sits beneath the moon's icy surface, an ocean that may support life.
The cluster of galaxies known as Pandora (no, not the planet from that dumbass Avatar) is now thought to be the result of a collision between four or more galaxy clusters.  The study of this exact collision may yield a greater understanding of dark matter.

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