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Starring on TV: The Milky Way

Mad Mike

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The Unfolding Universe

The Discovery Channel (9 p.m. EDT)

From Wired.


A beam of light takes 30,000 years to get from the Earth to the center of the Milky Way, but somehow you make the journey in two and a half minutes. A million stars stream past on your way into the core. And when you arrive, you fall into infinite blackness.

Dozens of astrophysicists and computer scientists on Monday will present a computer-animated travelogue unlike any other.

The Unfolding Universe -- an hour-long documentary to be shown on The Discovery Channel (9 p.m. EDT) -- tells the story of a spinning disc of a hundred-billion suns orbiting a globe of stars and stellar remnants with a gigantic black hole in the center.

Seen from above, the Milky Way is an unremarkable spiral galaxy dotting intergalactic space. And yet, for all its blandness, its story is both familiar to scientists and emblematic of the universe as a whole.

"It's a good way to get a snapshot in the course of an hour of the breadth of cosmic history," said Tom Lucas, director of the program.

Using both the latest astrophysical simulations and computer visualization techniques, Universe showcases 20 minutes of footage that stems from months of supercomputer time at research centers such as the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center and Germany's Max Planck Institut fuer Gravitationsphysik.

The 29,413 frames represent the culmination of years' worth of work.

Tom Abel of Penn State contributed two minutes to the program -- a trek through hundreds of gigabytes of data generated by parallel supercomputers running for several weeks at a stretch.

His work, which goes back to a masters thesis project he began in 1994, considers the life cycle of the first stars in the universe. Inputting initial conditions given by observations of the early universe, Abel considered a primordial cloud of gas a half billion years after the Big Bang.

Because of its own gravity, the cloud began to collapse, eventually giving birth to a star at the center. This proto-galaxy -- with an envelope of gas weighing a million Suns surrounding a single star weighing a hundred -- may well have resembled the Milky Way's first step along the galactic evolutionary ladder.

Abel's work has helped to settle a question of just what the first stars in the universe looked like.

"Some argued that (the gas clouds) would have directly formed a supermassive black hole, while other argued you make low mass stars," he said.

"But what came out was the surprising thing that it's only one star, which has about the mass of a hundred suns," he said.

Abel's computation then followed this one-star galaxy through its sole inhabitant's three-million-year life cycle. Finally, when the star died in a brilliant supernova, he witnessed the shockwaves propagate through the surrounding cloud, potentially seeding the formation of many second-generation stars.

The outcome after the first supernova is still uncertain, though. He hasn't yet carried the simulation through to generation two.

Thanks to Ralf Kaehler of Max Planck and Zuse Institute Berlin, Abel's simulation of the first star from birth to death comprises a luscious two-minute CGI animation in Universe.

The work of Ed Seidel's team at the Max Planck Institute carries the storyline for another couple minutes as they glimpse a system of two black holes spiraling toward one another. Like Abel's work, it represents as much beautiful science as it does pretty pictures.

As black holes orbit one another, they also send out gravitational ripples into space. These signals are now thought to dominate all other sources of gravitational waves in the universe. Naturally, scientists operating gravitational wave detectors -- such as the ones coming online in Germany, Italy and the United States -- want to know what kinds of signals to look for.

Seidel's work -- representing terabytes of data generated over more than a month of supercomputer time -- provides some initial answers.

"This is the kind of problem that really pushes the limits of supercomputing," Seidel said.

One of the most stunning sights in the program comes in the two-and-a-half minute journey from the galactic suburbs where the Solar System sits through the spiral disk and into the Milky Way's bustling central bulge.

The virtual fly-through -- by Donna Cox, Bob Patterson and Stuart Levy of NCSA -- may seem to zip past so many randomly placed globs of stars and clouds. But it actually represents a state of the art map of the galaxy from outer spiral arm to inner black hole.

"Bob Patterson spent many months talking to astronomers about what it looks like and modeling the different features that are in there," Lucas said. "It's just a monumental work."


This looks cool. I may have to skip rasslin tonight:high:

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Check out these two stories if you like..I'm no scientist, but its pretty cool if you ask me.




Black Hole Dynamos Spawn Monster Energy Fields

Mon Jun 3, 7:55 PM ET

By Deborah Zabarenko

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - Cosmic dynamos in black holes could be the most efficient power plants in the universe, spawning magnetic energy fields so big they push past galaxy borders and into intergalactic space, scientists said on Monday.

These monster magnetic fields have been known to astronomers for decades, and the link between them and black holes has also been theorized, but now researchers have created a picture of the energy fields and measured just how huge they are.

Astronomers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory did this by interpreting radio waves emitted by such fields, revealing an image that looks like a pair of red wings with white circles at their tips.

The red wings are the magnetic fields and between them lies the galaxy, with a black hole believed to be at its center. The fields span as much as 10 million light-years, several times the size of the galaxy at their core. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km), the distance that light travels in a year.

Black holes have never been absolutely confirmed, but evidence has steadily mounted and most astronomers accept that they exist.

They are matter-sucking drains in space that inhabit most galaxies, including the Milky Way that contains Earth, and they have gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.


However, the furious activity that occurs around the rim of the black hole, before matter falls into it, appears to generate the magnetic fields, the Los Alamos scientists said at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, in Albuquerque.

The energy contained in these huge magnetic fields is comparable to that released into space as light, X-rays and gamma rays, which means that the black hole's power generator is highly efficient, according to astronomer Philipp Kronberg.

There is an upper limit to how much energy each black hole can put out, Kronberg said at a news conference, and there is "an uncomfortably small gap between the size of the fuel reservoir and the actual energy that has to be put out.

"What this tells us is that the energy has to be put out very efficiently," Kronberg said.

He said systems like the one in the image may tend to spread out into intergalactic space. "And if they have, it means that there's a substantial fraction of energy in intergalactic space."

This energy might have been generated by a very dense, super-small but super-massive black hole, Kronberg said.

Black holes can theoretically be billions of times the Sun's mass, but scientists have also postulated that tiny ones also exist.

In another finding reported at the meeting, scientists from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory have detected two black holes in Earth's celestial neighborhood that each have a mass of just a handful of Suns.

One has a suspected mass of just 5.25 solar masses and the other has 4.25 solar masses, the scientists said in a statement.

Black holes are believed to be the end result of a very massive star's life and the progenitor stars of these two black holes are thought to have had masses greater than 25 times the Sun's.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - The Milky Way galaxy has been caught in the act of shredding an ancient star cluster and leaving a tell-tale trail of stellar debris smeared across the sky, astronomers reported on Monday.

Scientists had suspected that galaxies like the Milky Way were capable of such violence against some of the oldest structures in the universe, but now they have evidence: an image of a track of scattered stars that appears to stretch the same distance as a line-up of 20 full moons.

"This is the first time that we have managed to actually catch the Milky Way in the act of disrupting a globular cluster," Eva Grebel of the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy told reporters. "It is also the first time we can actually trace the arc of this globular cluster across the sky."

Globular clusters are clumps of thousands of stars that are thought to be billions of years old. The one in question -- known to astronomers as Palomar 5 -- is a relatively small, old cluster, perhaps 12 billion years old and containing 10,000 stars. A typical cluster can have 10 times that many.

Located in the outer reaches of the Milky Way, Palomar 5 does not sit in the galactic plane as Earth does. Instead it makes a massive orbit almost perpendicular to the disc of the galaxy, plunging through the plane of the galaxy on one side of the galactic center and resurfacing on the other.

It is ordinarily some 75,000 light-years from the Sun. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km), the distance light travels in a year.


The same gravity and centrifugal force involving the Sun and the Moon that produce ocean tides on Earth are at work on a galactic scale, Michael Odenkirchen of the Planck Institute said at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The Planck Institute is located in Heidelberg, Germany.

These forces simultaneously pull material from Palomar 5 toward the center of the galaxy and push it away, but they don't do it smoothly. The irregular push-and-pull creates clumps of stars in the debris trails, Odenkirchen said.

The destruction has been captured in an image produced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which seeks to map one-quarter of the sky in deep detail. It uses a special camera on a telescope at Apache Point Observatory, southeast of Albuquerque.

The image shows that there is now more mass in the starry trail than in Palomar 5 itself, which sits in the middle of the devastation.

"With this tidal tail, we have footprints of the orbital motion of the cluster on the sky," Odenkirchen said. "These footprints allow us to determine for the first time the orbit of such a globular cluster with high accuracy."

He and Grebel said there may be far more debris trails crisscrossing the Milky Way, but this is the first time they have seen direct evidence for one.

This also suggests that there may have been many more globular clusters in the past, the astronomers said.

The distant future looks bleak for Palomar 5, Grebel said. Eventually all of its stars could be pulled toward the Milky Way's center. The good news: it won't happen for many billions of years, Grebel said.

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One more Space story...check the image also...



Repaired Space Camera Shows Four-Galaxy Collision

Wed Jun 5, 3:16 PM ET

By Deborah Zabarenko

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - A Hubble Space Telescope (news - web sites) camera that was broken for more than three years has roared back to life after repairs, peering through cosmic dust to snap a four-galaxy wreck and a golden star-forming ring, scientists said on Wednesday.

The repaired camera is 30 percent to 40 percent more sensitive than it was before it broke, and one researcher said it will let astronomers do more science in less time.

Astronomers were predictably ecstatic.

"This is really fantastic. ... Studying star and planet formation ... with this new capability is going to revolutionize a very great deal of what we do," said Anneila Sargent, president of the American Astronomical Society, which is meeting this week in Albuquerque. "It really is like looking with a different kind of eye."

"The Hubble Space Telescope is open again for infrared business," Ed Cheng of NASA (news - web sites)'s Goddard Space Flight Center told a news conference.

The repaired Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) lets astronomers look through cosmic dust where the real action often is hidden: the birth of stars, the collision of galaxies, and other seminal celestial events.

Other cameras aboard the orbiting Hubble craft can find these regions, but much of what they see is the dusty veil; with NICMOS, astronomers can see beyond the dust because the camera monitors infrared light instead of visible light.

Looking at the universe in infrared light also enables scientists to see more distant and older objects, billions of years old, perhaps approaching the time soon after the theoretical Big Bang that gave birth to the cosmos.

An image of the four-galaxy smashup was produced with NICMOS and with the newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which looks at the universe in visible light.

ACS saw the area, but could not glimpse any detail in the golden heart of the jewel-toned blue collision site. For that, NICMOS was necessary.


In another case, where another Hubble camera saw only a fuzzy brown stripe representing a galaxy viewed from the side, NICMOS saw a glowing yellow area. Using a hydrogen light filter, NICMOS saw more, according to Daniela Calzetti of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

"We pierced all the way into the dust to the nucleus of this galaxy," Calzetti told a news conference. "This flattened yellow structure that we see here (at the center of the image) is what we think is a ring of star formation surrounding the nucleus."

A third release by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration compared a spectacular image taken by ACS of the Cone Nebula with the same shot taken by NICMOS. Where ACS saw billows of red dust clouds, NICMOS captured about 10 stars.

These three images were test shots from the revamped camera, which was repaired by space shuttle astronauts in March.

NICMOS was installed on Hubble in 1997 but stopped working in 1999, when the solid nitrogen used to keep its infrared detectors cold evaporated -- about two years before scientists expected.

The repair replaced that earlier cooling system with a mechanical cryo-cooler, roughly the equivalent of replacing an old-fashioned ice box with a modern refrigerator.

The new cooler pumps super-cold neon gas through NICMOS's internal plumbing, with three high-tech turbines the size of matchsticks at its core.

These turbines let scientists adjust the temperature of the infrared sensors and allow the instrument to operate at the optimum temperature, about minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit. It used to operate at minus 351 Fahrenheit.

"Overall I believe we have a better NICMOS than we had in 1997-98," Calzetti said. "Because the cryo-coolers allow us to set the temperature to ... actually give us the peak of performance."

She said the camera is about 30 percent to 40 percent more sensitive than in the past. "This means that for most science this translates directly in a comparable increase in the observations. ... You can have the same science in less time," Calzetti said.

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Once again.........:)

I had discovery on last night. funny how a topic was black holes.

this one was dealing with the theory of massive black holes being in the center of most galaxies, including the milky way. They also discussed that black holes may have a VERY active part in forming galaxies. The method they determined that most galaxies have black holes is by measuring the speed of the stars on opposite sides of galaxy centers. If a black hole is present, the light or speed charted for the stars from the near side and far side stars will be shifted, not linear and much faster than expected (the stars rotation speed is affected by the mass of the black hole, causig it to speed up), indicating the presence of something massive in the center of the galaxy. If there was no black hole then it theoritically should be linear.

And they discussed the theory behind "active black holes" and "sleepers". Active black holes have glowing gas accretion disks. Active ones are absorbing matter and causing the gas and matter to heat up and glow as it get excited while spiraling down into the black hole. Inactive black holes have absorbed the matter close to the hole and the remaining matter is sufficiently far away from the gravity of the hole to just rotate around. In essence there's empty space around the black hole as the hole has sucked it all in. (really simplified down and inadequate description)

At the end they mentioned that the one in the milky way is beginning to glow again. the astonomer who was taking pictures of the center of the milky way noticed a "new" star in the picture. So she took sets of pictures over (I think) 6 months. The stars in the center rotate around the center. But this new object, in the center, did not rotate at all leading her to conclude that it is the glow from the gas accretion disk. The accretion disk was glowing because the gas particles were being excited and whipped together until they began giving off heat and light as it whips around the black hole slowly sinking in to be absorbed.

Another interesting topic was the fact that the nearest galaxy (andromeda?) is in fact on a collision course with the milkway.

Once again it was late and I didn't absorb it as well as i could of. or explain it well either.

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