The Gravity Wave Era

I saw an article last night about gravitational waves, that a black hole merger was detected by not just the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), but by another project altogether, the Virgo collaboration.  This is the first gravitational wave detection confirmed by two separate groups, and it marks the beginning of a new era of experimental science, the first in astronomy in over two decades. Around 1.8 Billion years ago, to black holes merged in a faroff galaxy.  They had masses of 31 and 25 times that of the Sun, though with their incredible density they would each be...

Why We All Use the Same Units

Here is a map of the nations of the world that use the two systems of measurement.  Metric shown in blue and imperial shown in red. While it’s not always good to go with the crowd, there is a reason why more nations use the metric system. An often-cited passage from the book Wild Thing by Josh Bazell: “In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount...

Rockets Blowing Up

Modern rocketry is a pinnacle of engineering.  It requires the right balance of multiple systems, and a deep knowledge of scientific principles such as fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, and chemistry.  But a huge part of the brute force science done in rocketry has been ‘try and fail.’  Countless rockets have exploded in tests dating back to the cold war, and even though they are much less frequent today, there is still value in learning from explosive and expensive mistakes.  Here is a compilation of rocket failures and testing from the last 70 years. ….because sometimes you have a day where you...

Dark Matter is Complicated

The fact that we have found gravitational waves tells us that we have come a long way in terms of science and technology.  We detected a perturbation in the fabric of space-time that was one one-thousandth the diameter of a proton.  It’s insane to think about that level of precision.  And yet we still can’t find Dark Matter, the stuff that is literally everywhere in the universe.  Is it our problem? Or is dark matter just on a whole different level? By now, we know that dark matter isn’t some clump of stuff sitting out there in space.  But that...

Hunt for the Small and Slow

With the recent discovery of gravitational waves, we now have a target for probing the very early universe, close to the big bang.  This is because gravitational waves can travel across the universe unimpeded, meaning those created after the big bang are still bouncing around today.  It’s like the big bang was the ringing of a giant bell, and the ringing can still be heard.  But all of our Easter eggs are not in one basket.  There is another way to probe the very early universe, one we haven’t found yet, because it involves particles that are very tiny and...

Black Hole Merger Confirmed!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…. Two black holes, with masses 29 and 35 times the mass of the Sun, merged to form an even bigger black hole.  The merger resulted in three entire suns worth of matter converted to pure energy in the form of gravitational waves. The waves travelled a billion light years before a tiny meat-filled species on a pale blue dot in space figured how to see them.  Thanks to the smartest one that species had seen in a century, they knew that black holes might merge, and that they would produce these waves if...

Supernova is a Good Name

If you listen to an astronomer talk about a supernova, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of ‘A massive explosion of a massive star that is bright enough to outshine an entire galaxy.’  You can imagine how bright it might be, but it doesn’t really give you enough context to get the wow factor from it.  Carl Sagan always said ‘When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.’  Now you, dear reader, have the chance to make the discovery yourself.  A series of images of galaxy...

The Gravity Wave ‘Discovery’

You may have heard about the leaked rumour about the discovery of gravitational waves from earlier this week.  It was from Lawrence Krauss, who is an amazing science communicator and author, as well as a darn good astrophysicist. My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned! Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting. — Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016 It’s safe to say that as a guy with an inside scoop on a lot of the latest science news, this is something to get excited about.  The ‘LIGO’ he is referring to stands...

A Crabby Pulsar in a Crabby Nebula

The Crab Nebula, as it’s commonly known, is connected to one of the earliest recorded supernova explosions.  In 1054 AD, Chinese Astronomers saw the explosion of this supernova as an incredibly bright star in the sky lasting about two weeks, before fading.  Now, nearly 1000 years later, the explosion is still happening as an expanding shock front rich in heavy elements moves through the interstellar medium.  When the shock front hits dust or gas it is slowed down, giving the resulting nebula a unique shape.  In this case, it looks like a crab. The supernova wasn’t exactly the death of the original...

Dark Matter in a Galaxy Cluster

We know that galaxies like our Milky Way are far more massive than we can see.  The dark matter in the Milky Way makes up 90% of it’s total mass.  Another way of saying this is the Mass to Light ratio, comparing the total mass inferred by the rotation speed of the galaxy to the total mass of stars in the galaxy.  This ratio, M/L, for the Milky Way, is about 10.  But for a galaxy cluster, the M/L ratio is more like 100.  Galaxy clusters are not just dense collections of stars and massive galaxies, they are also immense...