Welcome to the -EST blog! Here we’ll chat about some of the awesome astronomical superlatives that exist in our universe – biggest, smallest, brightest, coldest, densest, and whatever else we come up with.
As this is my first -EST blog, I thought it would make sense to start with something that is a natural beginning – how about THE beginning? Let’s try to tackle the biggest bang. The Big Bang is theorized to have been the biggest bang in the history of the universe, also the one that created the universe. The Big Bang and early development of the universe is a hugely complex subject, so this is going to be a somewhat brief-ish overview and not designed to cover every explicit detail.
Voyager is soon to be the first man-made object to leave the solar system. Data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft indicate that this deep space explorer has entered a region in space where the number of charged particles from beyond our solar system has significantly increased. This could mean that Voyager 1 may be at the edge of our solar system and about to leave it. The spacecraft Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, originally designated to study Jupiter and Saturn, but have since continued their journey on to study the outer solar system. The image above depicts where the Voyager spacecraft are in relation to our solar system and the surrounding area.
The Voyager team is looking at a few specific things that they expect will tell them when the spacecraft has punched through the ‘heliosheath’ – a kind of bubble around our solar system where stellar winds slow down dramatically. First, a great increase in the number of galactic cosmic rays (energetic charged particles from outside our solar system). The numbers appear to be on the rise, which is a good sign that Voyager 1 is getting close to the heliosheath. The team is also looking at the intensity of energetic particles from inside the heliosphere. These have been steadily decreasing but have yet to drop off abruptly, as would be expected when the craft leaves the heliosphere. Lastly, there is the measurement of the direction of the magnetic field lines surrounding the spacecraft. Currently, while the craft remains in the heliosphere, the field lines run east-west. However, when it passes into interstellar space, it is thought that the field lines will switch to running more north-south. There is still much analysis of the data to be done, but we can still expect that one day Voyager will be our first man-made ambassador to interstellar space. Read more »
Last week was apparently a great week for astronomy – the shared file where Maggie and I gather all of the images, videos, and stories that we see all week was absolutely overflowing with possible content for today’s round-up! So we’ve distilled it to the best of the best, and I hope you’ll enjoy the variety that we’re featuring. This may be a monster round-up, but it is the day after Halloween. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
First up, this movie is a zoom into the giant globular star cluster Omega Centauri, from a ground-based image to one from the Hubble Space Telescope. The ending is especially cool – the simulated motion definitely looks like a swarm of bees, I can see why they’re referring to it as a “beehive” in the news release! Scientists are interested in studying this motion, and also whether there’s a black hole lurking among the stars.
There’s a time in nearly every satellite’s life where a decision has to be made – continue or game over? For NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, this question arose when the satellite reached the end of its onboard frozen hydrogen coolant. This wasn’t a surprise, but WISE used that coolant to make its detectors more sensitive to infrared light. However, NASA decided to continue the mission. Even without coolant, two of WISE’s infrared detectors can still operate and look a little closer to home for comets and asteroids. This has been dubbed the NEOWISE Post-Cryogenic Mission. And there’s still plenty of data for scientists to study from the mission’s cooler period.
Hunting for antimatter requires a serious expedition. Scientists aren’t looking for run-of-the-mill particles – they’re collecting cosmic radiation that could be the signature of primordial black holes or other forms of dark matter. With instruments suspended from enormous scientific balloons, they’re looking for a launch site that offers long orbits and lots of particles to detect. Where’s one of the best places in the world to go particle hunting? Over the remote Antarctic continent!
To find out more about Antarctic scientific ballooning, we talked to Dr. John Mitchell, the lead scientist on BESS (the Balloon-borne Experiment with a Superconducting Spectrometer), a joint Japanese/US project that is studying antimatter in cosmic radiation. BESS has flown twice from Antarctica, and a team is headed back this month to recover their detectors from the last flight. We caught Dr. Mitchell just before he left for his latest Antarctic adventure. And no, the last name is not a coincidence – Dr. Mitchell is Blueshift producer Sara Mitchell’s father!
Welcome to a special episode of Blueshift! As we approach another year of Nobel Prizes, we are releasing our full-length interview with NASA’s own Nobel Laureate, John Mather (an edited version appeared in Episode 4). Learn more about cosmology, Dr. Mather’s new position at NASA Headquarters, the importance of small missions, and the exciting future of the James Webb Space Telescope.
Welcome to the July 2007 episode of Blueshift, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Catch up on the latest astronomy headlines, and listen to our audio scrapbook from the American Astronomical Society meeting in Hawaii.
For this episode, we interviewed Dr. John Mather, co-winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr. Mather talks about cosmology, NASA missions, winning the Nobel Prize, and his induction into a little-known Swedish student organization. We’ve also got a new brain teaser!