Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

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The Milky Way is a zombie. No, not really, it doesn’t go around eating other galaxies’ brains. But it did “die” once, before flaring back to life. That’s what a Japanese scientist has ascertained after peering into the chemical compositions of our galaxy’s stars.

In a large section of the Milky Way, the stars can be divided into two distinct populations based on their chemical compositions. The first group is more abundant in what is known as α elements – oxygen, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, calcium and titanium. The second is less abundant in α elements, and markedly more abundant in iron.

The existence of these two distinct populations implies that something different is happening during the formation stages. But the precise mechanism behind it was unclear.

Astronomer Masafumi Noguchi of Tohoku University believes his modelling shows the answer. The two different populations represent two different periods of star formation, with a quiescent, or “dormant” period in between, with no star formation.

Based on the theory of cold flow galactic accretion proposed back in 2006, Noguchi has modelled the evolution of the Milky Way over a 10 billion-year period.

Originally, the cold flow model was suggested for much larger galaxies, proposing that massive galaxies form stars in two stages. Because of the chemical composition dichotomy of its stars, Noguchi believes this also applies to the Milky Way.

That’s because the chemical composition of stars is dependent on the gases from which they are formed. And, in the early Universe, certain elements – such as the heavier metals – hadn’t yet arrived on the scene, since they were created in stars, and only propagated once those stars had gone supernova.

In the first stage, according to Noguchi’s model, the galaxy is accreting cold gas from outside. This gas coalesces to form the first generation of stars.

After about 10 million years, which is a relatively short timescale in cosmic terms, some of these stars died in Type II supernovae. This propagated the α elements throughout the galaxy, which were incorporated into new stars.

But, according to the model, it all went a bit belly-up after about 3 billion years.

“When shock waves appeared and heated the gas to high temperatures 7 billion years ago, the gas stopped flowing into the galaxy and stars ceased to form,” a release from Tohoku University says.

During a hiatus of about 2 billion years, a second round of supernovae took place – the much longer scale Type Ia supernova, which typically occur after a stellar lifespan of about 1 billion years.

It’s in these supernovae that iron is forged, and spewed out into the interstellar medium. When the gas cooled enough to start forming stars again – about 5 billion years ago – those stars had a much higher percentage of iron than the earlier generation. That second generation includes our Sun, which is about 4.6 billion years old.

Noguchi’s model is consistent with recent research on our closest galactic neighbour, Andromeda, which is thought to be in the same size class as the Milky Way. In 2017, a team of researchers published a paper that found Andromeda’s star formation also occurred in two stages, with a relatively quiescent period in between.

If the model holds up, it may mean that the evolution models of galaxies need to be revised – that, while smaller dwarf galaxies experience continuous star formation, perhaps a “dead” period is the norm for massive ones.

If future observations confirm, who’s up for renaming our galaxy Frankenstein?

Noguchi’s paper has been published in the journal Nature.

https://www.sciencealert.com/milky-way-star-formation-two-generations-cold-flow-accretion-model-noguchi

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A 15-year-old boy believes he has discovered a forgotten Mayan city using satellite photos and Mayan astronomy.

William Gadoury, from Quebec, came up with the theory that the Maya civilization chose the location of its towns and cities according to its star constellations.

He found Mayan cities lined up exactly with stars in the civilization’s major constellations.

Studying the star map further, he discovered one city was missing from a constellation of three stars.

Using satellite images provided by the Canadian Space Agency and then mapped on to Google Earth, he discovered the city where the third star of the constellation suggested it would be.

William has named the yet-to-be explored city in the Yucatan jungle K’aak Chi, or Mouth of Fire.

Daniel De Lisle, from the Canadian Space Agency, said the area had been difficult to study because of its dense vegetation.

However, satellite scans of the area found linear features which “stuck out”.

“There are linear features that would suggest there is something underneath that big canopy,” he told The Independent.

“There are enough items to suggest it could be a man made structure.”

Doctor Armand La Rocque, from the University of New Brunswick, said one image showed a street network and a large square which could possibly be a pyramid.

He told The Independent: “A square is not natural, it is mostly artificial and can hardly be attributed to natural phenomena.

“If we add these together, we have a lot of indication there might be a Mayan city in the area.”

Dr La Rocque said William’s discovery could lead archaeologists to find other Mayan cities using similar techniques.

William’s discovery will be published in a scientific journal and he will present his findings at Brazil’s International Science fair in 2017.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/forgotten-mayan-city-discovered-in-central-america-by-15-year-old-a7021291.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

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By Kenneth Chang

Clay tablets, including one at the left, revealed that Babylonian astronomers employed a sort of precalculus to describe Jupiter’s motion across the night sky relative to distant background stars. They did this 15 centuries earlier than Europeans were first credited with making such measurements.

For people living in the ancient city of Babylon, Marduk was their patron god, and thus it is not a surprise that Babylonian astronomers took an interest in tracking the comings and goings of the planet Jupiter, which they regarded as a celestial manifestation of Marduk.

What is perhaps more surprising is the sophistication with which they tracked the planet, judging from inscriptions on a small clay tablet dating to between 350 B.C. and 50 B.C. The tablet, a couple of inches wide and a couple of inches tall, reveals that the Babylonian astronomers employed a sort of precalculus in describing Jupiter’s motion across the night sky relative to the distant background stars. Until now, credit for this kind of mathematical technique had gone to Europeans who lived some 15 centuries later.

Additional tablets, including this one, show that the Babylonians realized that the area under the curve of a graph of velocity against time represented distance traveled.

“It’s a figure that describes a graph of velocity against time,” he said. “That is a highly modern concept.”

Mathematical calculations on four other tablets show that the Babylonians realized that the area under the curve on such a graph represented the distance traveled.

“I think it’s quite a remarkable discovery,” said Alexander Jones, a professor at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, who was not involved with the research. “It’s really quite clear from the text.”

Ancient Babylon, situated in what is now Iraq, south of Baghdad, was a thriving metropolis, a center of trade and science. Early Babylonian mathematicians who lived between 1800 B.C. and 1600 B.C. had figured out, for example, how to calculate the area of a trapezoid, and even how to divide a trapezoid into two smaller trapezoids of equal area.

For the most part, Babylonians used their mathematical skills for mundane calculations, like figuring out the size of a plot of land. But on some tablets from the later Babylonian period, there appear to be some trapezoid calculations related to astronomical observations.

In the 1950s, an Austrian-American mathematician and science historian, Otto E. Neugebauer, described two of them. Dr. Ossendrijver, in his recent research, turned up two more.

But it was not clear what the Babylonian astronomers were calculating.

A year ago, a visitor showed Dr. Ossendrijver a stack of photographs of Babylonian tablets that are now held by the British Museum in London. He saw a tablet he had not seen before. This tablet, with impressions of cuneiform script pressed into clay, did not mention trapezoids, but it recorded the motion of Jupiter, and the numbers matched those on the tablets with the trapezoid calculations.

“I was certain now it was Jupiter,” Dr. Ossendrijver said.

When Jupiter first appears in the night sky, it moves at a certain velocity relative to the background stars. Because Jupiter and Earth both constantly move in their orbits, to observers on Earth, Jupiter appears to slow down, and 120 days after it becomes visible, it comes to a standstill and reverses course.

In September, Dr. Ossendrijver went to the British Museum, where the tablets were taken in the late 19th century after being excavated. A close-up look of the new tablet confirmed it: The Babylonians were calculating the distance Jupiter traveled in the sky from its appearance to its position 60 days later. Using the technique of splitting a trapezoid into two smaller ones of equal area, they then figured out how long it took Jupiter to travel half that distance.

Dr. Ossendrijver said he did not know the astronomical or astrological motivation for these calculations.

It was an abstract concept not known elsewhere at the time. “Ancient Greek astronomers and mathematicians didn’t make plots of something against time,” Dr. Ossendrijver said. He said that until now, such calculations were not known until the 14th century by scholars in England and France. These mathematicians of the Middle Ages perhaps had seen some as yet unknown texts dating to Babylonian times, or they developed the same techniques independently.

“It anticipates integral calculus,” Dr. Ossendrijver said. “This is utterly familiar to any modern physicist or mathematician.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/science/babylonians-clay-tablets-geometry-astronomy-jupiter.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=1

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

By Jeffrey Bennett

It has been exactly 100 years since Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity to an audience of scientists on November 25, 1915. While virtually everyone has heard of Einstein and his theory, very few people have any idea of what the theory actually is.

This is a shame, not only because there is a great public thirst for understanding of it, but also because relativity is important, for at least four major reasons.

General relativity provides our modern understanding of space, time and gravity — which means it’s crucial to almost everything we do in physics and astronomy. For example, you cannot understand black holes, the expansion of the universe or the Big Bang without first understanding the basic ideas of relativity. Though few people realize it, Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 is actually part of the theory of relativity, which means that relativity also explains how the sun shines and how nuclear power works.

A second reason everyone should know about relativity lies in the way it changes our perception of reality. Relativity tells us that our ordinary perceptions of time and space are not universally valid. Instead, space and time are intertwined as four-dimensional space-time.

In our ordinary lives, we perceive only three dimensions—length, width and depth—and we assume that this perception reflects reality. However, in space-time, the four directions of possible motion are length, width, depth and time. (Note that time is not “the” fourth dimension; it is simply one of the four.)

Although we cannot picture all four dimensions of space-time at once, we can imagine what things would look like if we could. In addition to the three spatial dimensions of space-time that we ordinarily see, every object would be stretched out through time. Objects that we see as three-dimensional in our ordinary lives would appear as four-dimensional objects in space-time. If we could see in four dimensions, we could look through time just as easily as we look to our left or right. If we looked at a person, we could see every event in that person’s life. If we wondered what really happened during some historical event, we’d simply look to find the answer.

To see why this is so revolutionary, imagine that you met someone today who deeply believed that Earth is the center of the universe. You would probably feel sorry for this person, knowing that his or her entire world view is based on an idea disproven more than 400 years ago.

Now imagine that you met someone who still believed that time and space are independent and absolute — which, of course, describes almost everyone — even though we’ve known that’s not the case for a century now. Shouldn’t we feel equally sorry for all who hold this modern misconception?

It seems especially unfortunate once you realize that the ideas of relativity are not particularly difficult to understand. Indeed, I believe we could begin teaching relativity in elementary school in much the same way that we teach young children about the existence of atoms, even though few will ever study quantum mechanics.

My third reason for believing relativity is important lies in what Einstein’s discovery tells us about human potential. The science of relativity may seem disconnected from most other human endeavors, but I believe Einstein himself proved otherwise. Throughout his life, Einstein argued eloquently for human rights, human dignity and a world of peace and shared prosperity. His belief in underlying human goodness is all the more striking when you consider that he lived through both World Wars, that he was driven out of Germany by the rise of the Nazis, that he witnessed the Holocaust that wiped out more than six million of his fellow Jews, and that he saw his own discoveries put to use in atomic bombs.

No one can say for sure how he maintained his optimism in the face of such tragedies, but I see a connection to his discovery of relativity. Einstein surely recognized that a theory that so challenged our perceptions of reality might have been dismissed out of hand at other times in history, but that we now live in a time when, thanks to the process that we call science, the abundant evidence for relativity allowed for its acceptance.

This willingness to make judgments based on evidence shows that we are growing up as a species. We have not yet reached the point where we always show the same willingness in all our other endeavors, but the fact that we’ve done it for science suggests we have the potential.

Finally, on a philosophical level, relativity is profound. Only about a month before his death in 1955, Einstein wrote: “Death signifies nothing … the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” As this suggests, relativity raises interesting questions about what the passage of time really means.

Because these are philosophical questions, they do not have definitive answers, and you will have to decide for yourself what these questions mean to you. But I believe that one thing is clear. Einstein showed that even though space and time can independently differ for different observers, the four-dimensional space-time reality is the same for everyone.

This implies that events in space-time have a permanence to them that cannot be taken away. Once an event occurs, in essence it becomes part of the fabric of our universe. Every human life is a series of events, and this means that when we put them all together, each of us is creating our own, indelible mark on the universe. Perhaps if everyone understood that, we might all be a little more careful to make sure that the mark we leave is one that we are proud of.

So there you have it. Relativity is necessary to comprehend the universe as we know it, it helps us understand the potential we all share when we put our brains to work for the common good, and if we all understood it we might treat each other a little more kindly.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/25/opinions/bennett-einstein-theory-of-relativity/index.html

British astrophysicist and cosmologist, Sir Martin Rees, believes if we manage to detect aliens, it will not be by stumbling across organic life, but from picking up a signal made by machines.

It’s likely these machines will have evolved from organic alien beings, and that humans will also make the transition from biological to mechanical in the future.

Sir Martin said that while the way we think has led to all culture and science on Earth, it will be a brief precursor to more powerful machine ‘brains’.

He thinks that life away from Earth has probably already gone through this transition from organic to machine.

On a planet orbiting a star far older than the sun, life ‘may have evolved much of the way toward a dominant machine intelligence,’ he writes.

Sir Martin believes it could be one or two more centuries before humans are overtaken by machine intelligence, which will then evolve over billions of years, either with us, or replacing us.

‘This suggests that if we were to detect ET, it would be far more likely to be inorganic: We would be most unlikely to “catch” alien intelligence in the brief sliver of time when it was still in organic form,’ he writes.

Despite this, the astronomer said Seti searches are worthwhile, because the stakes are so high.

Seti seeks our electromagnetic transmissions thought to be made artificially, but even if it did hit the jackpot and detect a possible message sent by aliens, Sir Martin says it is unlikely we would be able to decode it.

He thinks such a signal would probably be a byproduct or malfunction of a complex machine far beyond our understanding that could trace its lineage back to organic alien beings, which may still exist on a planet, or have died out.

He also points out that even if intelligence is widespread across the cosmos, we may only ever recognise a fraction of it because ‘brains’ may take a form unrecognisable to humans.

For example, instead of being an alien civilisation, ET may be a single integrated intelligence.

He mused that the galaxy may already teem with advanced life and that our descendants could ‘plug in’ to a galactic community.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3285966/Is-ET-ROBOT-Astronomer-Royal-believes-aliens-transitioned-organic-forms-machines-humans-same.html#ixzz3pOiCcJY8