Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pulsar on film and an ocean in space




Still cranking out discoveries, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory has shot video of a pulsar.

A pulsar, in case a reader might not know, is a neutron star that spins at extreme velocities, sending out waves of particles.  From our standpoint on Earth, or any other relative point in the universe I suppose, the intermittent on/off pulses that are caused by the star's high rotation make it seem almost like a beacon.  Imagine, if you will, a lighthouse with its beacon light spinning at a far greater velocity than typical.  The particles from these emissions travel at about 70% of the speed of light, according to the linked article.  Or perhaps one of the astronomer's quoted in said article states it more simply:

" "We think the Vela pulsar is like a rotating garden sprinkler — except with the water blasting out at over half the speed of light," researcher Martin Durant, of the University of Toronto in Canada, said in a statement."

I've known about pulsars since first studying astronomy as a kid.  I never thought I would actually see one.  A picture or video of one, I mean.  So seeing this is to me, quite fantastic.  Then come to find out that this is actually the second time a video has been taken of a pulsar, the first one being in 2003.

Also in astronomy news, Discover magazine named the finding of a "hidden ocean" on Titan as one of its moments in science for 2011 or whatever they call it.  Titan, again for ones who might not know and not simply for me to sound pedantic, is a large moon of Saturn.  It has long been thought as being rather like Earth in its primordial stages.  Therefore, it has been of particular interest to exobiologists.   

Data from NASA's Cassini spaceprobe shows that in addition to a thick atmosphere and pools of liquid methane, Titan has an ocean of liquid water beneath the ice of its surface.  The combination of liquid water and organic molecules in a location are typically thought to be indicators of life.  However, conventional science would suggest that Titan is simply too cold to support life as we know it.  There are a few scientists, not ones within the SETI crowd I'm afraid, who conjecture that life might have evolved on Titan that, through its own generation of body heat, could melt its way through the icy surface and up from the depths of the ocean.

I'm going to need to track down more books on the subject.


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