Thursday, January 12, 2012

Space bits


A veritable cavalcade of the finest photographs from space telescopes was featured in a photoblog on MSNBC.com.  The collection was released at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week. 

 The first photo that you'll see after clicking the link is of the star-forming region of space known as Cygnus X.  Spectacular colors, almost giving the photo the bonny impression of a watercolor painting.  But it's real, all out there in space.  Stars show up as blue dots, gas and dust are the reds and greens.  Hot white or yellow areas are where stars are forming.  Take a look at the rest of the photos, it's worth the couple minutes it will take.

Also in the news astronomy-wise, the same gathering of astronomers mentioned above featured the staggering announcement that our galaxy is home to an estimated 100 billion planets.  That's right.  Billion with a "B."  That means nearly every star you see in the night sky has planets orbiting it.  What's more, many of these planets may orbit two stars in a binary system a la Tatooine.  As invariably occurs, there's always someone who responds to such a figure with "how do they know that?"  Here's what the linked article says:

"To estimate the number of other worlds, Dr. Cassan and his colleagues studied 100 million stars between 3,000 and 25,000 light-years from Earth with gravitational microlensing. The technique uses distant light amplified by the gravity of a massive star or planet to create an astronomical magnifying lens. Then they combined their findings with earlier surveys, which used other detection techniques, to create a statistical sample of stars and the planets that orbit them, which they say is representative of the galaxy."

I know that my age will be showing with this comment but it amazes me to stop and contemplate the fact that when I was just in my teens, the idea of extrasolar planets was mere theory.  No one had ever seen one for certain.  Now, you can't go anywhere in the galaxy without tripping over them. Indeed, our own solar system does appear to be quite so unique but rather standard and run-of-the-mill as things go in the cosmos.  I find that rather encouraging.

One other small bit of trivia from article, one of the tallest mountains in the solar system is not on any planet.  It's on the asteroid Vesta that made its close approach to Earth not all that long ago. 


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