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?


When it rains crazies, it pours crazies.

I just saw an “article about an astrologer in Russia who is proceeding to sue NASA because she believes that a future planned comet mission will disrupt the natural order of the universe”:

Says the woman’s lawyer, “My client believes that the NASA project infringes upon her spiritual and life values as well as the natural life of the cosmos and would disrupt the natural balance of forces in the universe.”

Let me reassure her, the natural balance of the forces in the universe will not be disturbed. An impact on a distant comet involves the interaction of electrons in the comets surface with those of the probe; the electromagnetic force, while infinite in range, falls off in intensity as a function of the inverse-square of the distance. The effect on the surrounding universe (i.e. earth, sun, etc) is smaller than ambient electromagnetic disturbances (like lightening, or even a cell phone).

The impact is not energetic enough to break up atoms, so we don’t have to worry about the strong or weak nuclear forces (which are finite in range anyway). So that leaves gravity. Since the effect of this comet on the earth is vastly masked by the effect of the sun and moon on the earth (i.e. comets don’t cause tides, since they move past us quickly), and the comet’s material will merely be redispersed instead of totally annihilated, no problem there.

Let me assure you, Ms. Bai: there will be no disruption in the natural forces in the universe. Those forces have withstood much worse (i.e. the very creation of the universe) and this small probe will have no effect on us. Go back to your job with some satisfaction in that regard.