Dark Flow

Dark Flow

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The universe is far stranger than anything we can truly contemplate. From the big bang, black holes, dark matter, giant diamond stars, and exoplanets coated in burning ice, one truly doesn’t have to look too far to find something that is mind-boggling or hard to comprehend. On today’s list of W-T-F’s, is a relatively new cosmic phenomena called “dark flow.” (I again, find it kind of ironic that we use the word ‘dark’ so often. Each time it usually means ‘we have no idea, really.’)

The “Observable” Universe —

Anyhow, the actual universe is divided into two parts. First, there is the ‘observable’ universe, which spans approximately 93 billion light-years in diameter. Then we have the actual universe, which has no set diameter as there is still quite a big debate brewing in the scientific community concerning whether or not the universe is finite or infinite. We may never know, as we can only see light from distant objects that have had the time to travel from its original position to our own planet, which limits exactly how much we can see of the universe. One can argue that, based on its flat geometry, the universe continues infinitely in all directions, just as we are hindered by the sea’s horizon as we gaze out in all directions here on Earth. But either way, we know something more exists beyond our cosmic horizon, we are just unable to detect exactly what lies just beyond it.

However gravity is a strange beast, albeit a useful one to us here on Earth because it provides certain clues to the existence of objects that are very small, difficult to spot, or perhaps even entirely invisible (like black holes). Rocky Earth-like exoplanets are a good example of gravity’s usefulness in astronomical observation. Most exoplanets we’ve discovered thus far were found through the radial velocity method, which observes tell-tell ‘wobbles’ that happen as a planet tugs on its parent star. It is through that same phenomena that we are able to determine there is more beyond the scope of what we can see… since gravity is still applicable on a large-scale in the universe, just as it is on a small-scale.

The ‘Dark Flow’ Cosmic Quandary —

NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe’s (WMAP) spent an entire three years studying the universe’s cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the remnants from the radiation created only 380,000 years after the big bang. It also developed a catalog of deep space clusters, some of which are more than 3 billion light-years from Earth. When scouring through the data collected, the team spotted out more than one hundred galaxy clusters that are lit up by hot, x-ray emitting gases. Our theories on the CMB basically say that the waves that sprung from the big bang should pass through said galaxy clusters and change in predictable ways under certain scenarios, including if the galaxy is moving relative to the background glow. The WMAP was developed to test this, which is known as kinematic Sunyaev-Zel’dovich (SV) effect, but physicists found something else altogether that brought more questions to light than it answered.

What did they find? —

The clusters are traveling more than 2 million miles per hour, into an expanse of about 20-degrees of sky into a line from our solar system, to the constellations of Centaurus and Hydra. Furthermore, the trend is not a statistical fluke, as it continues to hold steady throughout interstellar space instead of bucking black to normal speeds and distributions.

“It’s the same flow at a distance of a hundred million light-years as it is at 2.5 billion light-years and it points in the same direction and the same amplitude. It looks like the entire matter of the universe is moving from one direction to the next,” says Alexander Kashlinsky, the team leader of the study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What does it mean?

This baffling observation suggests that something created only a fraction of a second after the big bang (moments before inflation, when the universe began to expand outward at incredible speeds) is involved, exerting a gravitational force on the clusters from just beyond the scope of our observable universe, but what? “We can only say with certainty that somewhere very far away the world is very different than what we see locally. Whether it’s ‘another universe’ or a different fabric of space-time we don’t know,” Kashlinsky continued.

One theory put forth about the observations fits theoretical models purported by string theory, of how a ‘sister’ or ‘twin’ universe may be pulling at our own, which would account for what we’re observing with the clusters traveling so quickly. Regardless, the structure is not thought to be a part of our own simply because we haven’t observed anything that could have an immeasurable mass to accomplish anything similar to what we’re observing here. It is possible though, that there is a yet-to-be-seen neighboring part of our universe that underwent inflation much differently than our section did. Interestingly, maybe the answer to this riddle could potentially overhaul our theories about dark matter and dark energy, perhaps? It’s hard to say, but it does present some interesting questions.

“If our universe is all that’s there, then the liquid in the box shouldn’t be sliding. Whatever is pulling it has to be bigger than the size of the box,” she said. “There is a structure beyond the horizon of our universe and that structure is exerting a force on our universe and creating this flow.”

By Jaime Trosper

Sources & Further Reading:

“Mysterious Cosmic ‘Dark Flow’ Tracked Deeper into Universe:”
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/releases/2010/10-023.html

“The Observable Universe:”
http://tinyurl.com/OBSERVE-fqtq-fb

“Cosmic Microwave Background:”
http://tinyurl.com/CMBr-fqtq-fb

Image Source: NASA/Goddard/A. Kashlinsky, et al.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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Our Amazing Universe!

Our Amazing Universe!

When the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its twentieth anniversary of scouring the stars, this image was released to celebrate the millions of observations Hubble has made. These images provided us with a plethora of information that wasn’t available beforehand. Hubble has literally revolutionized many aspects of astronomy and physics; however, one thing it cannot do is help us wrap our minds around the sheer size of some of these deep-space regions. But let’s try!

Light, which is the fastest moving thing in the universe, travels at an incredible:

– 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second (one light-second)
—- about 5.88 TRILLION miles (9.5 trillion km) per year (a light-year)

Which means that:

– One astronomical unit [AU] (the Earth-sun distance) is 93 million miles (150 million km), or 8 light-minutes
—- There are 60 light-minutes in one light-hour
—- Our solar system is an estimated 10 light-hours

At this speed, it would take …

– 18 milliseconds to travel between London and New York
– 0.13 seconds to circumnavigate the equator of the Earth
– 1.4 seconds to travel to the moon from Earth
– 4.15 hours to travel from the Sun to Neptune, the most distant planet in our solar system
– 0.8 years to travel from the Earth to the Oort Cloud, which marks the boundary of our solar system
– 3,900 light-years to travel to VY Canis Majoris from the sun
– 6,500 light-years to reach the Crab nebula
– 100,000 years to travel across the entire span of the Milky Way galaxy
– 2.5 million years to travel to us from our closest galactic neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy
– 60 million years to reach the Fornax Galaxy Cluster
and 93 BILLION years to reach the edge of the ‘observable’ universe

OR if those numbers are daunting, think of it this way:

Cassini traveled six years and nine months to reach Saturn, the voyager probes were launched in the 1970’s and still haven’t left our solar system, it takes a full 8 minutes for sunlight to reach us here on Earth, 5.5 hours for light from the sun to reach Pluto (or 5 light-hours) and a full 26,000 years for light from the sun to reach Sagittarius A* (the black hole at our galaxy’s center).

Now, the first image (and the second from the left on the bottom image, which you can see a larger version of here: http://tinyurl.com/carina-hubble) is one of the most famous star-forming regions currently known. This is the Carina Nebula, which lies some 6,500 (or more) light-years from Earth. Not only is it one of the most bright and beautiful places in the galaxy, it is also more than 100 light-years in length, which makes it one of the largest cosmic nebulae found within the borders of the Milky Way.

Here is an article of ours about the Carina Nebula:
http://tinyurl.com/carinanebula-fqtq-fb

Let’s look at a few more celestial regions:

The Fairy of Eagle Nebula of M16 (on the far right) —

This dust column is approximately 9 & 1/2 light-years tall. That is over TWICE the distance between the sun and Proxima Centauri, our closest stellar neighbor. This means that it takes just as long for light to travel from the sun to Proxima Centauri and back, as it does to travel from one side of this column to the other side!

You can get a better glimpse at it here:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_974.html

The Sombrero Galaxy (bottom centered) —

This is the Sombrero galaxy, which is also known as NGC 4594 or M104. As you can see, it gets its name due to the similarities it shares with a sombrero, as we see the galaxy nearly edge-on. This beauty is located about 28 million light-years from Earth. Within its confines, it holds approximately 2,000 globular clusters, which is more than ten times as many as the Milky Way contains. Each of which, hold more than hundreds of thousands of stars.

While the Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across, the Sombrero galaxy is only a portion of that distance. It takes light approximately 60,000 years to travel from one side of the galaxy all the way to the other.

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The Pillars of Creation in M16 (on the far left) —

The Pillars of Creation are located in the Eagle Nebula, which is about 7,000 light-years from Earth. Composed mainly of cold molecular hydrogen, they are active star-forming regions within our galaxy (or rather, they were… more on that below). This particular pillar is at least 4 light-years or 23,462,784,000,000 miles long.

As I mentioned above, the Pillars are still undergoing rapid star formation from our perspective. When in fact, the Pillars of Creation were likely destroyed some 2,000 years ago by a supernova shockwave; however, since the distance that separates us from them is so vast, the light from their destruction won’t reach us for thousands of years yet. Quite literally, we are looking at them as they appeared about 7,000 years ago.

You can read about that here:
http://tinyurl.com/pillarsofcreation-fqtq-fb

Basically: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – Douglas Adams

-By Jaime 

Image(s) Credit (top): NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI) – (bottom) All Science, all the time

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Hubble Images a Swarm of Ancient Stars

Hubble Images a Swarm of Ancient Stars

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This stellar swarm is M80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy. Located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, M80 contains hundreds of thousands of stars, all held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Globular clusters are particularly useful for studying stellar evolution, since all of the stars in the cluster have the same age (about 15 billion years), but cover a range of stellar masses. Every star visible in this image is either more highly evolved than, or in a few rare cases more massive than, our own Sun. Especially obvious are the bright red giants, which are stars similar to the Sun in mass that are nearing the ends of their lives. By analyzing the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images, including images taken through an ultraviolet filter, astronomers have found a large population of “blue stragglers” in the core of the cluster.

These stars appear to be unusually young and more massive than the other stars in a globular cluster. However, stellar collisions can occur in dense stellar regions like the core of M80 and, in some cases, the collisions can result in the merger of two stars. This produces an unusually massive single star, which mimics a normal, young star. M80 was previously unknown to contain blue stragglers, but is now known to contain more than twice as many as any other globular cluster surveyed with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Based on the number of blue stragglers, the stellar collision rate in the core of M80 appears to be exceptionally high. M80 is also unusual because it was the site of a nova explosion in the year 1860. Nova outbursts occur when a close companion star transfers fresh hydrogen fuel to a burned-out white dwarf. Eventually the hydrogen ignites a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of the white dwarf, giving rise to the nova outburst. The ultraviolet Hubble observations have revealed the hot, faint remnant of this exploding star, which was named T Scorpii in the 19th century. Curiously, however, the WFPC2 observations have revealed only two other nova-like close binary stars in M80, far fewer than expected theoretically based on the stellar collision rate. So the blue stragglers in M80 seem to indicate that there are lots of collisions, yet the nova-like stars suggest only a few. Sometimes life for astronomers isn’t so simple, but it is from exploring discrepancies like this that our understanding eventually deepens.

This high-resolution image was created from 2 separate pointings of HST. One WFPC2 data set was obtained by Francesco R. Ferraro (ESO, Bologna Obs.), Barbara Paltrinieri (U. La Sapienza), Robert T. Rood (U. Virginia), and Ben Dorman (Raytheon/STX), who study blue stragglers. The other data set was acquired by Michael Shara (STScI, AMNH), David Zurek (STScI), and Laurent Drissen (U. Laval) to search for dwarf novae. Technical facts about this news release: About this Object Object Name: NGC 6093 (M80) Object Description: Globular Cluster in the Milky Way Galaxy Position (J2000): R.A. 16h 17m 03s Dec. -22° 58′ 30″ Constellation: Scorpius Distance: 8.7 kiloparsecs (28,000 light-years) Dimensions: The image is 3 arcminutes on the vertical side. About the Data Instrument: WFPC2 Exposure Dates: October 1994, August-October, 1997; January/April, 1996 Filters: F336W(U), F439(B), F555W(V), F675W(R) Principal Astronomers: 1994/1997 Image: M. Shara (STScI, AMNH), D. Zurek (STScI), L. Drissen (Laval University). 1996 Image: F. Ferraro (ESO), B. Paltrinieri (Universita La Sapienza), R. Rood (University of Virginia), B. Dorman (Raytheon STX & Laboratory for Astronomy & Solar Physics).About this Image Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Release Date: July 1, 1999 12:00 noon (EDT) Orientation: North is toward the upper right of the image. What is Hubble Heritage? A monthly showcase of new and archival Hubble images. Go to the Heritage site. This stellar swarm is M80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. Located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, M80 contains hundreds of thousands of stars, all held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Globular clusters are particularly useful for studying stellar evolution, since all of the stars in the cluster have the same age (about 15 billion years), but cover a range of stellar masses. Every star visible in this image is either more highly evolved than, or in a few rare cases more massive than, our own Sun. Especially obvious are the bright red giants, which are stars similar to the Sun in mass that are nearing the ends of their lives. *News Release Number:*: STScI-1999-26a

NASA Identifier: SPD-HUBBLE-STScI-1999-26a

Read more: http://www.dvidshub.net/image/692947/hubble-images-swarm-ancient-stars#.UOqzOm-6eSo#ixzz2HIe3LAJX

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Credit: http://www.dvidshub.net

25 Awe-Inspiring Reminders Of Just How Insignificant We Are:Prepare to feel tiny.

25 Awe-Inspiring Reminders Of Just How Insignificant We Are:Prepare to feel tiny.

One billion stars


Source: Mike Read (WFAU), UKIDSS/GPS and VVV / via: ph.ed.ac.uk

 

New view of the blue marble

Source: nasa.gov

Furthest-ever image of the universe

Source: nasa.gov

9 billion pixels of the Milky Way galaxy

Source: eso.org

The view 50 million light years away

Source: Adam Block / via: skycenter.arizona.edu

Panorama of Mars

Source: 360cities.net

A not-so-dark “dark core”

Source: nasa.gov

A twister on Mars

Source: nasa.gov

Saturns storms

Source: apod.nasa.gov

European panorma at night from the International Space Station

Source: spaceflight.nasa.gov

 

 

The “UFO galaxy”

Source: nasa.gov

 

Groundhog day on Mars

Source: nasa.gov

The Moon and the Milky Way

Source: eso.org

Thor’s Helmet revisited

Source: eso.org

Enterprise flying over NYC


Source: nasa.gov

Janus, one of Saturn’s creepy moons

Source: nasa.gov

The Pencil nebula

Source: eso.org

Coronal hole on the Sun

Source: nasa.gov

The slow death of R Sculptoris


Source: eso.org

Transit of Venus


Source: Greg Scheiderer / via: seattleastronomy.com

Transit of Venus up close

Source: nasa.gov

 
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As seen on Buzzfeed.com

Credit: Nasa.gov
Eso.org