Thursday, January 26, 2017

Two bits of science news I didn't have time for on the show

First, I now have a second reason beyond the next eclipse in 2024 to make sure I live another six to eight years.

A team of astronomers is predicting that in 2022, give or take a year, two stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide, creating an explosion in the night sky so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye.

It would mark the first time such an event was predicted by scientists.

I gather that it won't be some incredibly dramatic event, it won't be like a supernova visible even in the daytime, but it will be, again, visible to the naked eye in the night sky and it would just be so cool to be able to stand and look at the night sky and think that I was watching the explosion of a star some 1800 light-years away.

Our second bit of cool news is that in spring of 2017 nine telescopes around the world will aim towards the center of the Milky Way, around 25,000 light years away, in an attempt to capture the first-ever image of a black hole.

Black holes, by definition, do not emit visible light and we can't even "see" the blackness of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way because it is obscured by the clouds of gas that surround it.

But radio waves are not blocked by those clouds and by using a technique called interferometry that can synthesize data from multiple sources, these nine radio telescopes essentially can function as one big telescope as big as the entire Earth, with a resolution sufficient to show an orange on the Moon.

Which means these telescopes, working together, can create a radio image of the matter surrounding the black hole, enabling astronomers to "see" the black hole in its shadow.

Exactly what that will look like, no one knows. There are ideas, but no one actually knows. And that, as I think is always true in science, is part of the attraction.

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