Daily Roundup: Astrium Spacecraft Mass Production, Saturn’s Rings and Quantum Communications

Astriums new concept for space tourism. Image credit: Astrium/Marc Newson. Source: BBC

It looks like things are really beginning to develop for the space tourism era. European rocket manufacturer Astrium has announced plans to develop the next generation of small space planes capable of sending 5 people into space. This design is different from the rest as it will take-off and land conventionally and will use jets for atmospheric flight but blast into space with a powerful oxygen-methane rocket. The promo video is also pretty exciting, documenting the two hour flight by means of a simulation…
Continue reading “Daily Roundup: Astrium Spacecraft Mass Production, Saturn’s Rings and Quantum Communications”

Artificial Cosmogenesis – Building a Virtual Universe

Could black holes be used to contain our virtual universe? Credit: unknown. Source: http://netjmc.typepad.com/globally_local/kmworld_intranets_2006/index.html

The Universe as we know it could be in big trouble. I have reported before on situations where our universe may be changing beyond the realms of “normal” physics, but the “heat death problem” could be a physical situation where the Universe will eventually expand so far that all energy will dissipate and be lost. Thermodynamics will eventually catch up with all the stars in the cosmos, ensuring they extinguish, all energy ebbing away into frozen space. Even the last of the supermassive black holes will evaporate after 10150 years. What’s left then? Well… nothing. So the question is: if a sufficiently advanced incarnation of the human race can beat the increasing entropy of the cosmos, can the future “us” continue to live beyond the heat death? Some rather philosophical ideas have come to light, including the creation of a virtual universe
Continue reading “Artificial Cosmogenesis – Building a Virtual Universe”

How do you catch a Supernova in the Act? Build a Neutrino Detecting, Early Warning Device.

The massive star, Eta Carinae, explodes producing a huge pair of gas and dust clouds captured by the Hubble telescope. Image credit: NASA and Jon Morse, University of Colorado.

Observing a supernova as it happens is a very tough thing to do. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Astronomers are constantly trying to find ways to look in the direction of a massive star just before it blows, but supernova prediction is a very young science. Now, combining the sensitivity of neutrino detectors and attempting to make the data as “real time” as possible, the SuperNova Early Warning System (SNEWS) is born, sending you a neutrino weather forecast direct to your inbox hours before a star explodes.
Continue reading “How do you catch a Supernova in the Act? Build a Neutrino Detecting, Early Warning Device.”

Supermassive Black Holes Can’t Swallow Dark Matter

A modelled accretion disk around a black hole. Image credit: Michael Owen, John Blondin (North Carolina State Univ.). Source: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap050312.html

Apparently, black holes and dark matter don’t play well together. Broadly speaking, black holes can be considered to be a significant portion of the “missing mass” in the universe, but dark matter is distinguished as “non-baryonic matter”. It seems that this mysterious non-baryonic matter is being used to explain a huge number of unexplained cosmic mysteries, but in the case of supermassive black holes, dark matter plays a very small role insofar as being used as black hole food…
Continue reading “Supermassive Black Holes Can’t Swallow Dark Matter”

Could Mars Quakes, Seasonal Temperature Changes or a Chance Meteorite Impact Cause Mars Avalanches?

Detailed view of one of the avalanches observed by the HiRISE instrument in the Mars North Pole region. Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA

It doesn’t get much better than this. A robotic orbiter snaps a photo hundreds of miles above the surface of an alien planet, capturing a geological event as it happens. Yes, we’ve seen Io’s immense volcanoes erupt, and we’ve seen huge storms rage on Jupiter, but often these large-scale planetary events are too massive for us to put into context and so we file them under “astronomy”. But, when we see an event like an avalanche on Mars, we can relate it with events on Earth, we have a “feel” for what this means. Suddenly an avalanche on Mars holds a special meaning to us; we instantly have a connection with other planets in our Solar System.

And now for the question… what caused the four near-simultaneous avalanches recently observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter?
Continue reading “Could Mars Quakes, Seasonal Temperature Changes or a Chance Meteorite Impact Cause Mars Avalanches?”

The Mischievous Nature of Primordial Black Holes

A black hole dining on a star… primordial black holes on the other hand less destructive, but can cause some mayhem nonetheless. Image credit: NASA. Source: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/07/05/black_hole_3_3.jpg

Primordial black holes are strange little critters. They’re not the product of a massive star recently gone supernova and they’re not as exotic as a wormhole, tunnelling a gateway into another dimension. They are very, very old remnants of the very beginning of our Universe. Much like the foamy bubbles left over from washing the dishes, a few bubbles stubbornly hang around on the side of the sink for an hour or so after the water has long gone. Primordial black holes (or PBHs for short) are just that, the leftovers from the very energetic (and very bubbly) Big Bang 14 billion years ago…

…but they’re not done causing trouble quite yet…
Continue reading “The Mischievous Nature of Primordial Black Holes”

Snippet: Where Science and Art Meet – The Internet “Universe” Frozen in Time

San Diego Supercomputer Center image of the Internet Universe frozen in time. Image credit: UCSD. Souce:http://www.physorg.com/news122832578.html

This striking image has been created by tracking the round-trip times of data packets sent from a web site in Virginia to thousands of nodes around the World Wide Web. Using a new technique, this visualization method (3D “hyperbolic geometry”) allows the viewer to analyse large amounts of data mapped around a sphere. Not only does it give an insight to where data travels around the Internet – like an electronic dye highlighting the route packets of data take – it has also become a work of art…
Continue reading “Snippet: Where Science and Art Meet – The Internet “Universe” Frozen in Time”

Snippet: Will the Earth be Safe From Solar Expansion? The Outlook Isn’t Great…

As the Sun runs out of fuel, it will swell… but will it swell enough to swallow the Earth? Image credit: Mark Garlick/HELAS. Source: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=exoplanet-red-giant-space-astronomy-stars

In 7 billion years time, the Sun will run out of fuel. As it dies, it will swell so big that many predict that it will reach as far as Earth’s orbit. Naturally, the likelihood of the Earth still harbouring life may be debatable (after all 7 billion years is a long, long time), but should the human race still be around, and evolved into something totally unrecognizable, what will we see?
Continue reading “Snippet: Will the Earth be Safe From Solar Expansion? The Outlook Isn’t Great…”

When Stars Collide: LIGO and Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Binary black holes generating gravitational waves. Image credit: Image Credit: K. Thorne (Caltech), T. Carnahan (NASA GSFC). Source: http://lisa.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/binary-wave.html

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is an ambitious project. The experiment is designed to detect and characterize gravitational waves generated by energetic and massive events in the cosmos. What’s more, as LIGO has two stations situated 3000 kilometres (1870 miles) apart, through triangulation, the location of a star collision or black hole event can be deduced in the sky. Completed two years ago, LIGO has been taking data ever since and the time has now come to begin analysing the results, seeing if the theoretical gravitational wave can actually be observed, bringing us into a new era of astronomy, gravitational wave astronomy
Continue reading “When Stars Collide: LIGO and Gravitational Wave Astronomy”

The Chaotic Nature of Magnetic Reconnection and Coronal Dynamics

TRACE image of a hot coronal loop. Image credit: NASA

The solar corona is a strange place. For the last few decades solar physicists have been trying to understand why it is so hot. Yes, it’s the Sun, and yes, it’s hot, but the corona is too hot. There are many possible solutions to the “coronal heating phenomenon”, but physicists are generally in agreement that this extreme heating is down to waves propagating along magnetic fields, interacting with coronal plasma, or by reconnection events (small explosions). In a study published earlier this year, scientists suggest that to account for the temperatures and densities observed in the corona, chaotic forces may be at work, regulating the scales of reconnection in the coronal plasma.

Continue reading “The Chaotic Nature of Magnetic Reconnection and Coronal Dynamics”