I just got my new Astronomy Magazine yesterday. I was lying in bed this morning perusing the latest odd-ball anomalies in space and came across a plethora of them in this issue henceforth I decided to write about most of them. I find these things wonderous beyond all measure. It reminds me of the wonder of the universe and how science and religion can work together despite the efforts of devout agnostics to not believe in God, and try to explain everything in scientific terms. It reminds me that you can’t. At least not in my opinion. Well this is another topic reserved for a future date and when I’m in a mood to write in this slant.
First thing in the book I saw was this thing. Called PSR J1719-1438 it’s what’s called Pulsar. For those of you not versed in universal objects it’s the left overs of a massive star. Massive stars have a finite life time just like most things in our universe. Because of their colossal size stars live out their lifetimes on mega scales compared to humans. When they die what happens to them largely depends upon their mass. Larger stars make bigger holes in the space-time fabric when they expire. Consequently their left-overs become stranger inversely proportional to their masses. For example some medium-sized stars and smaller ones like our sun die and leave behind what’s called a White Dwarf. This is a very dense semi-hot and very compact star. One teaspoon of its surface material would weigh several thousand tons! That’s correct, because when the star collapses upon its self the distance between the electrons and the nucleus of its atoms gets squeezed together. Sort of like a cosmic trash compactor. There’s nerdy sounding physical law that goes along with this. It’s called the Conservation of Angular Momentum. I had a difficult time with this one and it just finally popped in my head the other day while I was listening to Astronomy Cast with Pamela Gay and Fraser. Pamela was talking about spin rates of pulsars. What happens is this; When a massive star dies and goes thru its super nova event, it’s loosing a huge percentage of its mass. Because of the diameter of this star being what it used to be means that it’s rotation is not all that fast. But when you lose its main mass, this spin rate is intensified by the new diameter of the remnant that’s left over. Or in other words if the star looses most of its mass and it was big to start out with and blows off most of its diameter and mass in its super nova event, this spin momentum doesn’t just go away with the star. It’s transferred down to the new diameter of the star and because you can’t destroy energy, applies itself full force to the new star which is several times smaller in diameter. This supercharged new force spins the remnant up to in some cases 1000 revolutions per second! Think about this for minute. We have an object the size of Manhattan spinning on its axis at over 1000 revs per second! Wow! Amazing.
This is the neighborhood of the pulsars. Pulsars are even more dense than White Dwarf stars. Because of their mass they have their atoms crushed down to the point of having no electrons in the outer shells of their atoms so the matter is what’s called degenerate and consists of neutrons. This makes the star extremely dense. It has a very extreme and severe gravitational field. It warps the dickens out of the space-time fabric it sets in. Pulsars have various spin rates depending upon the original stars size. They rotate at a very specific rate and do so for a very long time. They are cosmic time pieces as well. Their spin rates are very precise and do not vary.
There’s a handy yardstick for predicting stars futures. It’s called the Chandrasekhar limit. Named after an Indian (the country) astrophysicist. It says that above a certain limit a white dwarf star will collapse gravitationally to either a neutron star or a black hole. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrasekhar_Limit. Black holes are even more weird than neutron stars or pulsars if you ask me. They are a bottomless gravity well. They are so intense they have ripped a hole in the space-time fabric. Their gravity is so intense that once something gets into its event horizon, sort of door mat into the black hole if you will, that it’s gone forever. Nothing can escape this, not even light. Yes this monster can grab onto the almost massless photons and swallow them forever. We don’t really understand what goes on as the black hole funnels down into what’s called a singularity. That’s an infinitely small and dense part of the black hole. Because of its nature all our mathematics, time itself breaks down. We don’t know what’s going on here, probably never will.
Well now that I’ve got your head spinning, let’s get back to the original subject lil ole PSR J1719-1438. Like I said earlier it’s a pulsar. Not just any pulsar however. This one has a companion star orbiting it in just two hours and ten minutes per revolution and has a mass just slightly more than Jupiter. It’s parent star PSR J1719-1438 has a rotational velocity of 10,000 revolutions per minute making it a millisecond pulsar. I told you these things were strange didn’t I? Around 70 percent of these systems belong to binary star systems (as in two orbiting each other). Sometimes these things do weird things to each other. If one of the orbitees is more massive than the other and depending upon how close they are can transfer material from one star to the other. When this happens we have that old law banging around the conservation of angular momentum. So the recipient of stellar material gets spun up faster and faster until some sort of status quo is reached within the system. Scientist think that’s what’s happened to this system. The orbiting object has been reduced to .01 percent of its original mass. The remnant probably consists largely of carbon and oxygen. Because of it’s mass, composition and pressures, the companion is certain to be a crystalline structure as in a diamond. So there’s in essence a huge diamond orbiter around this pulsar. It’s not the shinning thing you see in wedding bands but more than likely resembles a rock. Be we won’t know because this system is a mere 4000 light years away in the constellation Serpens. Or if you want to unfold the cosmic yardstick it’s 1,227 parsecs away. A parsec is a taste over 3 light years in distance. I like parsecs. It helps me wrap my mind around the distances in the universe a little easier.
Next thing on Dave’s weird list is the black hole event called Swift J1644+57. Don’t you just love these screwball tags sticky noted onto these phenomenon? Well this is a process of a black hole eating a star. It’s radiating energy in optical, X-ray, ultraviolet and near infrared wavelengths. This black hole is ripping the star apart. As this happens the material from the star is funneled around the event horizon of the black hole and spun up to near light speed velocities. As this happens the material heats up and emits high energy particles in various wavelengths. This material is outside the gravitational lock of the black hole. It’s funneled into a high-speed jet, that streams away from the center of the black hole at 90 degrees to the black holes rotation. Another nice little law called gyroscopic precession. I’m not going into this one, you can look it up. It’s difficult to explain. Took me awhile to sort this one out as well. These particle jets move at relativistic velocities which puts them at very close to the speed of light. Well this jet just happened to be pointed right at our planet Earth. Because of its distance from us doesn’t pose any sort of radiation dangers. Sometimes I’m disappointed by the sheer distances to even the closest galaxies because I’d like us to go visit and realize that probably won’t happen unless we can talk the Spacing Guild from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune into folding space for us. At other times I’m glad were this far away from things like this, and things that shoot gamma ray bursts (GRB’s) at us. GRB’s are ugly events that could be catastrophic to life on our planet if we had a bad day involving one of these events. The universe is trying to kill you. Strange but true. It has no real agenda it’s just the nature of the beast.
Last but not least this one put a smile on my face. August 5th NASA launched the Juno Spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Juno will orbit Jupiter when it gets there. It has a mere 1,740 million miles to go which will take it about 5 years to get there. It’s doing fine so far, and will send us back data from 8 different instruments after peering down thru the thick Jovian atmosphere. How cool is that? I like it! It’s hoped that by studying Jupiter will shed some light on the formation of our solar system’s origin. It will give us more information on how the planets formed as well.
There are people who think we should be spending money on other things than exploring space and building satellites. They think the money can be better spent fixing problems with America. Well to me that’s being a tad naive. If the government is handling this money it sure as hell isn’t going to anything to help the average blue-collar worker. It’ll go for some exorbitant retirement package for some government shit head that’s retiring with full pay plus a retirement package, and full benefits, a car, probably an airplane, and a helicopter or two. I’d rather see the money spent on the space program, than putting more padding under the ass of one of these government types, wouldn’t you?