Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Calling All Thrill Seekers: Microgravity Experience? 02.24.12

For those that enjoy riding roller coasters, it is a very big deal to find the biggest, fastest, and most exciting ride possible. What if you had the opportunity, even for just a few seconds, to ride a roller coaster that would give the same sensation as floating in outer space’s microgravity? We have to wonder if even those with sensitive stomachs would pass up an opportunity like that.
The idea comes from BRC Imagination Arts, a design firm in Southern California. They are putting together plans for one of the most sophisticated roller coasters in the world. The term “roller coaster” is a gross understatement for this monster, however. Because of the extremely precise calculations needed to give the maximum sensation, the ride will be meticulous enough to weigh and recalibrate the controls for every single flight of its passengers, even as the ride is in progress.
The ride is expected to give its passengers the feeling of one-g, zero-g, and then double Earth’s gravity through the duration of the trip. The microgravity sensation would be for about 8 seconds at the top, which, BRC claims, will feel like an eternity in the enclosed space of the ride.
What is more, the ride has researchers excited because it could offer a much cheaper alternative for testing experiments in zero gravity. NASA’s current “Vomit Comet,” the KC-135A aircraft used to simulate zero gravity for astronauts in training, is a very costly trip to take. When the zero gravity contraption is built, though, even grade school students can run experiments while they ride the coaster. Who says science cannot be fun, too?
Information credit: SPACE.com.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Shot in the Dark, 01.18.12

How do you look for something if you do not know what to look for? This is a challenge being laughed in the face by scientists at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics in Chicago. The team there will be spending the next five years trying to answer some of the biggest questions about the three main problems in astronomy: dark energy, dark matter, and cosmic inflation.
Why try to find out about these things, you ask? Well, based on a dizzying amount of calculations done by astronomers and other scientists through the decades, it was determined that there is a lot more “stuff” in outer space than what can be seen. What is more, some of those scientists have a sneaking suspicion that the sleuths they are looking for do “not consist of quarks, neutrons, or protons.” A little review here: neutrons and protons are both parts of atoms, and quarks are the things that make up the parts of atoms. Basically, the scientists were looking for things so small that they could not be seen with the naked eye, but now they are beginning to think that their best guesses were not on track anyway.
Astronomers also know the Big Bang Theory leaves something to be desired as it has no answer for cosmic inflation. So, hopefully getting some more answers could even change what astronomers think about the Big Bang Theory itself.
So, when someone does find the answer, rest assured it will be something never before seen in history.
Information credit: The University of Chicago.
Read more about quarks: The Particle Adventure.
Want to talk with us about discoveries like this? Be sure to come to our MARCH 20th Astronomy Series show in the Wetherbee Planetarium.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hungry, Hungry Black Holes 02.10.12

Black Holes have a way of “eating” anything that gets re­motely close to them. In astronomical terms, we are talking about 100 million miles away or less.

It turns out, these pesky over-eating habits seem to be the answer for some questions regarding recent flares from the gigantic black hole at the center of Sgr (Sagittarius) A*. Closer studies seem to reveal that the black hole is surrounded by a cloud of asteroids and other detritus that is continually swept into its path. As it gets close, it gets torn to pieces by the black hole, and this friction makes the pieces heat up and glow, much like a meteor in our atmosphere, NASA says. A flare is produced as an astronomical burp of sorts, and the cycle of destruction continues.
Image credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss.

This is no baby with its first birthday cake, though. Far from it, actually. Needless to say, this monster at the center of our galaxy is getting a lot of attention.

Information credit: NASA

Monday, February 6, 2012

No Doubt: a Super-Earth in a Habitable Zone, 02.03.12

Humans have wondered throughout history if there is life out­side of Earth. Is it possible for it to exist elsewhere? Could there really be planets hundreds and thousands of light years away that have their own life forms on them? It is very difficult to tell.
One of the first criteria astronomers say a planet must meet is to be in the habitable zone (or, life zone) of the star around which it orbits. This is a region that is determined based on the size and temperature of the star, which would render the temperature on the planet at a happy sort of medium. It would not be so hot that everything would dry out and die, and it would not be so cold that it would become a frozen world. Hundreds of planets have been discovered outside of our own solar system, and some of them seem promising, but until now, there has always been a margin of doubt. Most of the planets discovered either missed the mark entirely or were situated just on the fringe of their life zone. A study led by the private nonprofit research organization, the Carnegie Institu­tion for Science, happened to stumble across one particular planet that leaves no doubt about its orbit. Meet GJ 667Cc.
CREDIT: Carnegie Institution for Science
This particular planet has been termed a “super-Earth” be­cause it is about 4.5 times as massive as our own planet. The gravity there would feel greatly multiplied compared to that on Earth, but there is no doubt that this terrestrial planet is smack in the middle of its habitable zone. It is situated rela­tively close by in the constellation Scorpio, about 22 light-years away.
One other interesting fact about the planet that is leaving as­tronomers puzzled is it is in orbit around a triple star system, all of which are lacking heavier elements typical of stars with their own solar systems. GJ 667Cc only orbits one of those stars, but it would still be rather odd to see three in the sky, we think.
Information credit: SPACE.com