Astrophotography Sunday

I awoke to the buzzing of my wristwatch. It was 4:30am. The telescope and all its accessories were already in the car. I only needed to get out of bed and dress myself. Jupiter waited. In the night sky above Allen, I was sure it was clear and that Jupiter waited. So I put on warm clothes, a hat, and a scarf. I put coffee in a thermos. I hit the road for a nearby hill.

Jupiter waited. But so did something far more extraordinary.

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LIGO, VIRGO, and February 11, 2016

The LIGO gravity wave detection experiment - Livingston, Louisiana site.
The LIGO gravity wave detection experiment – Livingston, Louisiana site.

100 years ago, Albert Einstein published what is considered the foundational work of his theory of “General Relativity,” a scientific theory of space and time. Tomorrow, two large experiments and collaborations – LIGO and VIRGO – will present the status of their searches for one of the last undiscovered predictions of General Relativity: travelling distortions in spacetime called “gravitational waves.” Rumors are flying, hopes are high, and I am just waiting for their scientific papers.

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Messages from Blois

For the second time, I will be attending the Rencontres de Blois, a yearly conference that represents a convergence (perhaps even a conversation) between cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, and particle physics. Held in the Chateau de Blois, a castle perched above the Loire River in Blois, France, this conference will bring the opportunity to discuss the latest from physics measurements made across the globe.
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Double Bang

Since the big one, there have been few bangs as spectacular. In our frigid modern universe, two are still quite phenomenal. The first are gamma ray bursts, intense explosions that occur all the time and are largely believed to be the result of a massive rotating star experiencing a total collapse of its nuclear core into a black hole. The other are supernova, a phenomenon that is believed to occur at the end of a massive star’s life. Having burned its fuel, and no longer able to resist its own gravitational pressure, it implodes and blows it outer shell into space.

Supernovae occur about once, per century, per galaxy. Their explosions send heavy elements throughout the universe, and it is this death of stars which is believed to create all the iron and carbon that our earth, and our bodies, are made from. Today, I saw a story that fascinated me: two supernova occurring nearly at the same time in the same galaxy [1]. While there is nothing ground-breaking about this observation – it was bound to happen eventually – such cataclysm in the same host galaxy must make for spectacular viewing to any eyes looking out from a life-giving world in that galaxy. What a sight, to have your night lit bright by the death of two great stars. What might the people of that world think? What might they be led to believe about the meaning of these events?