Thursday, October 25, 2012

News from space

There are two new findings from the realm of astronomy.  Well, "new" is a relative term in this case.  The first news bit probably happened tens of thousands of years ago.

A rare x-ray nova has revealed a black hole.  The Swift satellite operated by NASA detected the x-ray burst last month.  An "x-ray nova," a concept which I had previously been ignorant of, is the result of gas streaming in one enormous rush from a star towards a neutron star or a black hole.  Unlike supernovae, the blast is far smaller and the star is not destroyed.  This particular x-ray stream was detected towards the center of our Milky Way galaxy.  Astronomers are especially excited by this find as x-ray novas are observed fairly infrequently.  Once the amount of x-ray emissions declines, space scientists should be able to measure the size of the black hole.  Don't worry.  This galactic devourer is plenty far away from us.

The planet Jupiter is going through changes.  Aren't we all?
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is well known for its appearance.  It is a gas giant with horizontally (mostly) striped bands and an enormous "red spot" storm.  A few of these belts of clouds have thinned or disappeared altogether only to reappear later.   Areas of radioactivity have flared up and then diminished.  All the while, Jupiter keeps getting pelted with asteroids and comets. 
So what's up with these uncanny goings-on at the Big J?  As the article states:

"Orton [Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] noted that the appearance of upheaval on Jupiter might be attributed to a recent flood of observations by amateur astronomers.
"It does appear that Jupiter is taking an unusual beating over the last few years, but we expect that this apparent increase has more to do with an increasing cadre of skilled amateur astronomers training their telescopes on Jupiter and helping scientists keep a closer eye on our biggest planet," Orton said."

So I suppose in terms of causes, the answer is "wait and see."

What I like about stories such as these is that it they seem to appear about once a month.   That means we're finding new things all the time, thus answering a bit more of the question, "What is our place in the universe?" More and more, I'd have to say that the answer to that would be "very small."

I know, I know.  I sound like Lovecraft.

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