Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Sometime "I" and Sometimes "We?"

As you read my various blog post you will notice that sometimes I write in the first person and other times in the third person, we. I make this variation because in many instances what I have written is really a report on the work of many research scientists and it is their work that I am using and citing to help all of us understand our celestial environment. In those instances I will use "we." I hope this resolves some of the confusion as to who is generating this blog.

Meanwhile: Look Up, always, and to look farther and deeper, join us at as we "surf the universe."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Is It Snap, Crackle and Pop When Galaxies and Black Holes Merge ? Part II

There is general agreement among astrophysicists, today, that most galaxies contain black holes at their center. It is, therefore, essentially a given that when galaxies merge, so do their resident black holes. Additionally, these same scientists are also hypothesizing that black holes are key controllers of the overall function and integrity of the galaxies they inhabit.

Note: In the image on the top left, "Scientists are watching two supermassive black holes spiral towards each other near the center of a galaxy cluster named Abell 400. Shown in this X-ray/radio composite image are the multi-million degree radio jets emanating from the black holes." Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/AIfA/D.Hudson & T.Reiprich et al.; Radio: NRAO/VLA/NRL

Let's stop here and take a moment to view this animation of merging black holes. This is a computer animation from NASA and as you watch keep in mind that, "According to Einstein's math, when two massive black holes merge, all of space jiggles like a bowl of Jell-O as gravitational waves race out from the collision at light speed.

When we watched the animation above, we sensed the intensity and drama of these merging black holes and looked for an even more descriptive and dramatic representation of this unification of celestial power. We found an excellent animation done by the Chandra project at Harvard University, and to dramatize it further we selected a snap from that animation and added a musical score to it. We call it the power dance. Please view the entire Chandra/Harvard animation by clicking here.

The increased research by astrophysicists into black holes, dark energy, and dark matter is yielding a new appreciation for Einstein's theories of relativity (special and general)and a strong theoretical move toward seeing a definite link between those theories and quantum physics. All of this is leading to renewed and new hypotheses on both the origin and the future of the universe. Although the "Big Bang" concept is still the most accepted other theories are challenging that there was ever an explosive beginning to the universe. The increased study of gravitational waves that are generated by most every action occurring in the universe promises to reveal many secrets and new understandings about our celestial environment.

LIGO and LISA gravitational wave research.

By the time gravitational waves reach Earth from distant galaxies or supermassive black holes they are quite small. For years, even though we knew they existed, we were unable to study them. Now, gravitational wave astronomy has become a new and very dynamic branch of astrophysics. Two key programs of this new astronomy are LIGO and LISA. LIGO is the acronym for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and LISA, a satellite system, is the acronym for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. Both are new means for detecting and evaluating gravitational waves. This new branch of astronomy will finally allow astronomers to learn exactly what is inside a black hole and about dark energy and dark matter and what they are and what they are doing. Note: The artist's concept of the LISA satellite is courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Well, we have not really answered what happens when black holes merge except they get bigger, they accrete more stars and some galaxies and hide all that they consume, except their gravitational waves. So, review the links on LIGO and LISA that we have provided and look forward to specific blog posts on gravitational wave astronomy and the secrets this science will reveal not just about black holes, but about the very earliest stages of the universe. There are going to be a lot of big surprises including a successful theory that merges quantum theory with Einstein's theories. They are already calling it quantum relativity.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is It Snap, Crackle, and Pop When Galaxies and Black Holes Merge? - Part One

In the blog post, "It's Triplets", we began to consider the process of merging galaxies and included false color pictures and diagrams of these events. As promised, this posting will consider the possible effects of these mergers, and since most galaxies are host to black holes we will look at the possible impact of merging black holes. One might wonder if the universe is eating itself alive. Lets find out: read on.

Let's start by viewing NASA's movie of merging galaxies (simulation). Click MERGE to join in. Now keep in mind in the real world or universe these mergers would take millions even billions of years to come about, but the interaction is well illustrated by this NASA simulation. You can almost hear the crackle of energy and feel the power of the merger. In my mind this is not a dying universe, this is a ongoing, creative universe.

Actually, the coming together of galaxies is expressed by astro-scientists in three descriptive ways. They use the term interacting galaxies in which two, or as we have seen, three or more galaxies gravitationally interact. This is where their gravitational forces affect their respective structures. In about two to three billion years, our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy will begin to interact. Somewhere after that time, these two galaxies will begin to merge or collilde with one another.

The term merging galaxies refers to the process, similar to that depicted in the NASA simulation above. This is where galaxies literally come together to create a new and larger galaxy. Finally, as these two galaxies or others merge, and when their central nuclei are very close to one another, they can produce what these scientists define as starburst galaxies. This is where dynamic bursts of new star formation take place. This phenomenon is expected to take place when our galaxy and Andromeda finally merge billions of years from now. This Hubble image of galaxy NGC1569 is an example of a starburst galaxy. Now this is a small galaxy and until Hubble looked it over it was not considered a star maker. You might also notice the similarities between this galaxy's structure and that of the Crab Nebula due to their common central "hot" cores, but from entirely different origins and with equally different futures. In our opinion, these new star birthing cycles do not spell a distintegrating universe but rather one that is expanding and growing - infinitely.

Take a moment and review the previous blog post "It's Triplets" and look at the images. You will see visual examples of both interacting and merging galaxies. It is also possible that in the second image a starburst galaxy is about to occur. What do you think? To learn more on this topic, visit this link here. Additionally if you would like to see a bigger view of this little galaxy with a musical tribute to its star making efforts click here. Lastly, if you wish, click here to view an image of this galaxy taken on 11/22/08 from You too can wander the universe as a member. Come join us.

We pause here. The discussion on colliding or merging black holes will follow in Part Two of this topic. We invite your questions and comments, please respond.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's Triplets !

What the image above is displaying is a false color rendition of an actual astro-photograph of the NGC1725 triple galaxy (click on the image to zoom in) The members are: NGC7128 on the left, and NGC7121 on the right and NGC1725 in the center. Actually, what we see is a foursome not a threesome. Nestled close to NGC 1721 is the galaxy VV699, and it appears right at the edge of NGC 1721's halo.

Each galaxy is in a different morphological stage. NGC 1721 is in an intermediate (SBb) barred spiral state, and NGC 1725 is classed as being in a final lenticular stage (SO D). NGC 1728 is classed as a spiral galaxy in its mature stage (Sa D). If you want to delve further into galactic morphology this link, is a very recent (8/2008) and good graphical overview. References also indicate that VV 699 is essentially merged into the NGC 1725 galaxy triplet.

Well, are these galaxies merging, and if so what will be the outcome? The image on the right is another false color actual astro-photograph of merging triplet galaxies. You may click on the image to enlarge it. To see my astrophotograph of the first set of triplets, click here.

So what is the merging process? How does it really happen? This image is from a computer simulation of that process. Follow the process from left to right and top to bottom. The dashed lines indicate the flow pattern of the mergers. Let me tell you, this is just so exciting! Some naysayers say the universe is slowly dying. It will never die, it just keeps on changing, merging, and growing in different ways with enormous displays of power and energy. This process renews me, a mere human, each and every day.

I will stop here to catch my breath, ruminate a bit, and just wallow awhile in all this power and glory. When I come back we will talk more about the merging process and what happens when the inherent black holes CRASH together!! Stay tuned, please.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fuzziness: Astronomers' Plight and Delight

The Plight
When I point the robotic telescopes at out into deep, deep space, my hope is always for a sharp, detailed image of the star, or galaxy, or nebula that I am wanting to view. Well, unless I am lucky enough to have access to the Hubble Space Telescope, or to an adaptive optics system, I have little hope that what I eventually see is not a bit fuzzy around the edges. The image on the right is an example. You may click it to enlarge it.

That particular image is of the NGC7331 galaxy which is more commonly know as Caldwell 30. Don't worry about these names, we will explore a little about naming rules and conventions in a later blog posting. This galaxy is approximately 46,000,000 light years from planet Earth. Well good grief, some objects 50 yards from me begin to appear fuzzy, so why worry? Astronomers don't worry they just want to be able to know every little detail about every celestial object in the universe. This constitutes a demand which in turn boosts both the science and technology of astronomy. An example is the series of space telescopes (the Hubble was the first) that are being developed to give astronomers better insight into these celestial wonders. At the same, large, Earth-based telescope systems seek ways to also get sharper images. An important technology that is now in use involves the adaptive optics mentioned above.

The Delight
So how can fuzziness be an astronomer's delight? It is because it serves as the source of continual demands for better technology that allows astronomers to look farther and farther into deep space and observe more details in even the faintest of objects. An example of these technology breakthroughs is the work of an astronomer at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, who learned about the research that DoD had done that related to adaptive optics. To learn more about astronomer Jerry Nelson's brilliant and innovative work, visit this narrative link. To learn even more about the entire adaptive optics technology, visit this link.

Of course, the ultimate delight comes from the improved viewing that these technological advances provide for the astrophysicists and astronomers, and for everyone of us. Many amateur astronomers take advantage of Meade telescopes' "Advanced Coma Free" systems as well as the Ritchey-Chretien designed (LX400 series)telescopes that apply a part of the advanced optics theory in their system designs. Lastly, for those who await the first light of's new 1/2 meter scope, it provides an even greater advance over the Ritchey-Chretien design. To learn more, visit this link.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Heavenly Love Story

Like the mighty warrior Perseus, I am totally infatuated with the lovely Andromeda our neighboring galaxy.

It is believed that this galaxy may have been observed by Persians as early as 905 AD. Charles Messier was the first to catalog it as "Messier 31" in 1764. He was, at the time, unaware of its earlier sightings. Neighborliness, in this case, is a distance of 2.9 million light years between Earth and Andromeda. Just think how far back in time the Persians were looking when they saw Andromeda in the 10th Century AD. Click on the light year link above to learn about both distance and time with respect to the light year measurements. To read more of the discovery history of our galactic neighbor go here.

Andromeda is a massive galaxy, in fact recent research by astrophysicists leads them to believe that the galaxy is five times larger than was originally thought. Andromeda's diameter is also five times that of our own Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy is most visible in the Northern sky at the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter. It is visible to the naked eye on a dark, clear night, but to see its glorious details you need a telescope. As always, you can enjoy that easily by joining up with a host of friendly amateur astronomers at

There is both a great deal of history and science about each of the discoveries astronomers and astrophysicists have made from the Universe, but along with this there is an entrancing set of folklore or mythology attached to many of the stars, nebulae, galaxies and entire constellations in the universe. One of the most famous and endearing is the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

So the story, or mythology goes, Perseus, a brave warrior, was returning, astride Pegasus, after having just slain the dreadful gorgon, Medusa. To prove to powerful Zeus that he was successful, he carried Medusa's head with him. It was during this time that he learned of Andromeda's plight. Because of her mother's (Cassiopeia) impropriety, Andromeda was to be sacrificed to the horrible sea monster, Cetus and was thus chained to the rocks near Cetus's watery den. Perseus knew of Andromeda and her loveliness and asked her father, King Cepheus, if he rescued Andromeda, would Cepheus grant her hand in marriage to Perseus. The king agreed and Perseus set out to save his beloved Andromeda. When Cetus challenged Perseus at the rocks near Andromeda, Perseus removed the Medusa's head from its sack and turned it toward Cetus. Cetus was instantly turned to stone and Andromeda was safe.

Having freed and rescued lovely Andromeda, Perseus reaches out to her and bursts into song. Note: If you have speakers with your computer, you might want to turn them on.

The marriage of Perseus and Andromeda was a gala event attended by all the deities of the mythical heavens. Today, all the parties are in the heavens and very close to each other. When you look up to find Andromeda, very near and guarding her is the Perseus constellation and his in-laws, the constellations Cepheus and Cassiopeia are just around the block. Lastly, the bold and beautiful Pegasus, that magnificent beast Perseus rode on to rescue Andromeda is a nearby constellation as well.

Want to know more about constellations, just go here. Don't forget to visit as well.

"A Rose By Any Other Name..."

Although it does not look all that much like a rose, the Trifid nebula (M20) certainly has rose-like features. Discovered by Charles Messier in 1764, it is located in the constellation of Saggitarius. Although there is some variances in the estimated distance to this nebula, the consensus seems to focus on 5,200 light years from Earth. It can be seen with the use of a good pair of binoculars, but when accessed through a more powerful telescope it will bloom into view like the image here. By-the-way 5200 light years distance equals 30,566,491,688,538,932 Miles. There is a handy conversion calculator you may use, just click here

Now for those of you who have not met him, Charles Messier is a most important contributor to the science of astronomy. Born in France in 1730, Messier took an early interest in astronomy and at 21 went to work with an astronomer in Paris. By 1753 Messier was beginning to make and document his own observations using the observatory where he worked. Although he is noted for discovering and recording the "M" series of nebula, galaxies and star clusters, Messier's chief interest was in discovering and reporting comets. To see a listing of all of Messier's discoveries, visit this link. To read a full biography of Charles Messier, visit this link.

Lastly, if you have a telescope or access to one here are the coordinates for Messier's Trifid nebula: RA: 18h02m22s DEC: -23:02:05. Please note these coordinates are based on observations from the telescopes in the Canary Islands. To visit and find out how you can have access to their powerful observatories go here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Power and Glory

I went visiting the Perseus Cluster the other night to wallow in all that celestial energy. This cluster of galaxies, located 250 million light-years beyond our own planet is one of the largest clusters of galaxies in the universe with over 1000 galaxies within it. At the center of the cluster is the galaxy NGC 1275 (also known as Perseus A). Using my telescope access I took this image and labeled some of the larger and closer galaxies within the cluster. Although you cannot see it NGC1275 has a super-massive black hole that directly affects the galaxy's energy levels and temperatures. Click on the image to enlarge it to see the labels.

Now there is an immense amount of energy within this system and I wanted to get a better idea of how that would look. So I used a software program, DS9, that allows me to use false color to display a more graphic presentation of the power and glory of this system. Here is that picture without the labels, but NGC 1275 is still in the center. You can again click on the image to enlarge it. The color bar at the bottom is based upon color temperature which partially reveals the scope and intensity of the energy in the galaxies in this astrophotograph. It also allows us to see a few more of the distant galaxies within the cluster.