Friday, March 30, 2018

Ghostly Galaxy NGC 1052-DF2: A Dark Matter Free Galaxy?

Located 6.5 billion light years from our own Milky Way galaxy, is the ghostly looking NGC 1052-DF2 the first dark matter free galaxy ever discovered? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Back in 2015, a Harvard University astronomer named Pieter van Dokkum used the Dragonfly Telephoto Array in order to investigate faint astronomical objects, and these include ultra diffuse galaxies that look quite ghostly in comparison to our own Milky Way galaxy. Then as recently as March 28, 2018, Dokkum and his team of astronomers published their findings on why the galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 looks so diffuse and ghostly in comparison to a typical galaxy like our Milky Way – that is the ghostly looking galaxy is devoid of dark matter. 

Even though Earth-based detectors / traps containing liquid xenon, ultrapure germanium and gallium has yet to confirm the existence of this elusive substance, cosmologists and theoretical physicists had reached a consensus for about two decades now that dark matter is essential in the formation of galaxies. Since the 1950s, astronomers noticed that the amount of visible matter in a typical galaxy is not enough to hold all of the stars, gases and dust in place and from flying up given its rate of rotation – even the subsequent discovery of super-massive black holes in the centers of galaxies is not enough to hold all of it together; which makes 85-percent of the bulk of the Universe hitherto unseen hence the concept of dark matter.

Unusually ghostly and transparent, NGC 1052-DF2 (the NGC stands for New General Catalog as a new designation for the classification of nebulae, stars and galaxies – as opposed to the older M or Messier catalogue system) is about the size of our Milky Way galaxy and yet it contains 200 times fewer stars and 400 times less dark matter than our own galaxy and also lies 6.5 billion light years away from us. If this turns out to be true, NGC 1052-DF2 may be the first galaxy of its kind that is made up only of ordinary matter. Current astrophysical laws as we know then dictates that dark matter is thought to be very essential to the fabric of the Universe as we understand it. 

The study of this ghostly galaxy has recently been published in the science journal Nature. The authors of the study weren’t initially on the hunt for dark-matter-free galaxies instead they had set out to take a closer look at ultra-diffuse galaxies. These are similar in size to the spiral galaxies we’re more familiar with but have a fraction of the number of stars. When Prof. Pieter von Dokkum, lead author of the study, first spotted NGC 1052-DF2 said: “I stared a lot at that image and just marveled at it... its like a ghostly glow in the sky…” 

Galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 has very few stars but many of them are grouped together in unusually bright clusters. When the team studied the behavior of these clusters, they found that the stars seemed to account for all of the galaxy’s mass, leaving no room for dark matter. In a typical spiral galaxy like our Milky Way, there’s about five times more dark matter than regular matter. And as you go further out from the galaxy, you’ll find fewer stars and more dark matter. The dark matter halo is much more extended than the stars are in a typical spiral galaxy.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Great American Total Solar Eclipse: The Astronomical Event Of 2017?

Hailed by many as the so-called Astronomical Event of 2017, will the August 21, 2017 Great American Eclipse be able to enlighten a science-starved America under the Trump/Pence regime?

By: Ringo Bones 

The hype behind the upcoming Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 make it seems as if the current occupants of The White House are not anti-science climate change deniers and yet the event could reinvigorate - and even enlighten - the current science starved Trump administration. Nonetheless, there are a lot of things to be grateful about the upcoming celestial event given that the last one – where the path of totally is right smack inside the continental United States – last happened back in 1918, almost a hundred years ago. 

The August 21 Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 will have a path of totality of 70-miles or 113-kilometers wide and stretches diagonally across the continental United States from the state of Oregon to the state of South Carolina below the Mason-Dixon Line. Even the so-called “sleepy town” of Depoe Bay, Oregon – more famed for whale watching than witnessing rare celestial events - had been preparing for the great astronomical event of 2017 since last week. And if you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality by Monday, August 21, all you need to observe The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 is an eclipse shield to protect your naked eyes. Some serious eclipse buffs will nonetheless be preparing their solar eclipse photo gear and a filtered astronomical telescope. The next solar total eclipse whose path of totality falls in the continental United States will occur in 2024. 

Many also hoped that The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 could rekindle some of America’s lack of interest in science and the scientific method given that a sizable majority of them had elected a climate change denier into The White House who also believes that the NASA Apollo Moon Landings are faked by an elaborate US Government conspiracy back in the 1960s. Well, at least those in the know might be laughing if the Christian Right U.S. Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos issues a “faith-based warning” about the heath risk faced by pregnant women on having their fetuses acquiring defects when observing a total solar eclipse – which is for all intents and purposes a faith-based superstition - when they observe The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling Telescopes: A Great Way To Spread Astronomy Awareness?

Given that a lot of young people are still clueless about astronomy, are travelling telescopes a good way to spread the knowledge about astronomy?

By: Ringo Bones 

Astronomer Susan Murabana did not have an easy time following her passion for celestial bodies while growing up in Nairobi, Kenya. Even until this day, the country has no planetarium, only a handful of astronomers and access to even an entry-level astronomical telescope in the 200-US dollar price range is nigh on impossible, it seems that spreading knowledge and awareness on astronomy in Kenya is akin to the proverbial “fool’s errand”. But now with her Travelling Telescope Initiative, she now has the means to inspire a new generation of Kenyans to the joys and fascinations to the science of astronomy. 

Together with her husband, Kenyan astronomer Susan Murabana started her Travelling Telescope Initiative back in 2013 as an astronomy outreach program by visiting primary and secondary schools across Kenya with an 8-inch astronomical telescope – about the minimum size to allow the viewer to resolve the structure of the Andromeda Galaxy, our Milky Way’s nearest galactic neighbor. Given that hands on astronomy is still largely an esoteric endeavor to children in the developing world, even seeing the moon through an astronomical telescope capable of a distortion-free 30-times magnification is enough to fascinate the uninitiated. 

Given the worldwide popularity of big-budget Hollywood space-based science fiction movies, the science of astronomy is still largely an unknown or at most a very esoteric scientific endeavor to most children in primary and secondary schools of developing nations across the world. While internet connected desktop personal computers in schools had been a boon to science education in the 21st Century in developing nations, it seems that an overwhelming majority of children in developing countries can’t even point to the planet Mars in the sky as nighttime arrives in their local time zone.    

Friday, February 24, 2017

TRAPPIST-1 Has Seven Earth Like Planets?

Even since its discovery a year ago, the red dwarf / brown dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is now believed to not contain one but seven Earth-like planets, does this make it more likely that this star system harbors Earth-like life?

By: Ringo Bones 

The most promising spot to look for Earth-like extraterrestrial life in our Milky Way galaxy just got more promising after it was found out that it not just contain three Earth-like planets but seven. The star is named after the team or astronomers manning the European Southern Observatory’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, who discovered a small dim red dwarf star about 39 light-years away last year. After other “more capable” astronomical telescopes were trained into the TRAPPIST star system, like the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s (fortunately Fake President Trump hasn’t yet made an Executive Order to disestablish NASA despite The White House is now currently overrun by the U.S. Republican Party Jesus Cult) Spitzer Space Telescope had uncovered new features of the star system that the team of astronomers led by Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium published their findings in the science journal Nature a few days ago confirming that the TRAPPIST-1 star system has not three but seven Earth-sized planets, six of which are likely rocky, and all seven could possibly support liquid water. 

Basing on the very recent discovered data, the TRAPPIST-1 star system looks very different from our own Solar System. The planets pass very close to each other as they orbit that according to NASA astronomers: “If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring words, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.” From this description alone, standing of one of TRAPPIST-1’s planets would be reminiscent of going to those “comic book” and “movie” planets as portrayed by their illustrators and set makers in those classic Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon movies and comics. 

Even though TRAPPIST-1 is a “mere” 39 light-years away which would put it right next door in cosmic terms – the planets might just have been on the other side of the cosmos from our perspective because using our current rocket technology, a spacecraft launched from Earth could only reach TRAPPIST-1 star system after 700,000 years. Given how far it is, a 595 mile-per-hour passenger jet airliner takes about 44-million years to reach it – if it could escape the Earth’s and our Solar System’s gravity. And the radio wave telemetry sent by a space-probe on one of TRAPPIST-1’s planets – travelling at the speed of light - would take 39 years to reach to NASA’s Mission Control Center.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nearby Brown Dwarf Stars: The Most Promising Home of Extraterrestrial Life?

Based on recent findings announced by astronomers back in May 2, 2016 prove that nearby brown dwarf stars are the most likely places to discover extraterrestrial life? 

By: Ringo Bones  

A few days ago, astronomers have discovered not one, not two, but three new Earth-like planets that may be the most promising places yet to look for signs of alien or extraterrestrial life. What’s more, they don’t circle a sun-like star and often referred to as “bizarre planets”. Instead, these planets are all tightly orbiting what’s called a brown dwarf star in our galactic backyard – just 40 light-years away. And these planets’ relatively close proximity just lies within what our current astronomical instruments are capable of chemically detecting via spectroscopic means when it comes to detecting signs of extraterrestrial life. 

As announced by astrophysicist and co-discoverer Michaël Gillon. an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, whose team spotted the planetary triad using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope or TRAPPIST in La Silla, Chile. The planets orbit a brown dwarf star previously known as 2MASS J230629228-0502285 that has since been  dubbed TRAPPIST-1 as of May 2, 2016 named after the telescope that discovered it which is under the administration of the European Southern Observatory, The star TRAPPIST-1 is roughly the size of the planet Jupiter and considerably smaller than our sun. The star isn’t bright white like the sun. It is called a brown dwarf star because it emits a lot of infrared light, which falls slightly outside the range of what the human eye can see. And according to data collected by astronomical instruments, TRAPPIST-1 isn’t quite technically a star – rather it’s a big hot ball of gas that never got around to fusing hydrogen like most “normal stars” do.

Standing on one of the planets surfaces and looking up would be quite dramatic. “If we were there, we would see it as red and quite big in the sky,” Gillon said. The “alien” sun would appear larger because the planets are so much closer to their star than we are to ours, the red sun would also appear much larger in the sky. It takes our Earth around 365 ¼ days to complete its orbit our sun, for example, but the innermost of the newly discovered planets of TRAPPIST-1 completes its orbit in just one and a  half Earth days and the next closest in 2.6 Earth-days. Since the dwarf star is several thousand degrees Kelvin cooler than our own sun, it is safe to assume that the star’s “Goldilocks Zone” is much closer in comparison to our solar system. 

The brown dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is relatively pretty close at 40 light-years away from the Earth and can be seen in the night sky in the constellation of Aquarius. And as soon as the James Webb Space Telescope becomes operational by 2018, the brown dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 will be one of the top priority targets in order to find out if it certainly shows signs of extraterrestrial biological activity.