The Sinister Side of the Cosmos: Killer Galaxies, Cosmic Forensic Science and Deadly Radiation

The ghost of a dead dwarf galaxy hangs around the killer, spiral galaxy (R. Jay Gabany)

It’s been a busy day with a range of topics posted on the Universe Today, but all have a common thread: the universe is a deadly place for man and galaxy. For starters, research into the radiation mankind will face when settling on Mars and the Moon could prove to be one of our main challenges in space. The threat of a massive dose of radiation from a solar flare is bad enough, but the gradual damage to our cells and increased risk of cancer is a problem we need to solve, or at least manage. But that’s nothing compared with what dwarf galaxies have to put up with; their larger spiral cousins like to eat them for dinner, leaving behind galactic ghosts of the dwarfs that were…

Mankind is always adapting, and although there is a lot of bad news coming out of medical studies of the effect that radiation has on our physiology, I think we’ll develop ways to fend off this problem. As discussed in Radiation Sickness, Cellular Damage and Increased Cancer Risk for Long-term Missions to Mars, new research on “high linear energy transfer” (LET) – the study of high-energy particles and their damaging effects on the human body – demonstrates that we’ll have long-term radiation woes to contend with. Increased rates of colon cancer and premature aging can be caused by living in space and on planets with little or no atmosphere. But will this stop us from exploring space? I shouldn’t think so, but it’s good to be warned (besides, it might be a race against the Space Monkeys should the Russian space agency send primates to Mars…).

If you thought this was bad, spare a thought for the dwarf galaxies out there. It appears that many get eaten by their larger spiral cousins, creating a huge halo of old, metal-poor stars, ripped away from their dead dwarf galaxy. In the article Galactic Ghosts Haunt Their Killers, I report on recent observations that show two examples of “galactic ghosts”, some stunning images with massive scientific merit. These images prove that the large spiral galaxies (like the Milky Way) are formed by devouring surrounding dwarf galaxies, leaving the eerie dwarf remains behind.

And to round off this trip around our dangerous cosmos, I investigate new reports from the ongoing search for an answer to the “Pioneer anomaly”. In The Pioneer Anomaly: A Deviation from Einstein Gravity?, new work by one of the guys who discovered the Pioneer anomaly in the first place is pulling old data from magnetic data storage disks from the Pioneer missions from the 1970’s. He hopes to piece together the heat and electric distribution around the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes and run some simulations. This is the most detailed study yet and requires one hell of a lot of forensic work. There is a possibility that the heat distribution around the probes is inconsequential and that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity might need to be slightly adjusted when considering large distances. This will of course turn the physics world on its head, so they will be suitably careful when piecing the clues together…

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