Saturday, December 25, 2010

Voyage of the Geek

I figured a good way to come back from a break but still give me until tomorrow to get all dark and serious again would be to put up some geek posts with titles celebrating my Christmas acquisition. So herewith post the one:

A NASA space telescope has discovered two giant structures resembling bubbles emanating from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Together, they span 50,000 light years, a distance equal to half the width of the entire galaxy and are expanding into intergalactic space at more than 2.2 million miles an hour (over 3.5 million kph).
“What we see are two gamma ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center,” above and below the galactic disc itself, said Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.
Yes, we all know that technically there's no "up and down" or "north and south" in space, but astronomers often imagine the disc of the Milky Way as lying in a flat horizontal plane with a "top" ("north") and a "bottom" ("south") for ease of description. The cool part here however, is the next thing Finkbeiner said, referring to the "bubbles" the team observed: “We don’t fully understand their nature or origin.”

It could be the result of a millions-of-years-ago explosion of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Or it could be from a rapid burst of star formation. Astronomers don't know. and now they have to find out. That's what's exciting here.

David Spergel of Princeton University was quoted as saying “Whatever the energy source behind these huge bubbles may be, it is connected to many deep questions in astrophysics.” And deep questions are - well, they are just cool.

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