Discovery News - 12 May 2010
ESA: Baby stars in the Rosette cloudJennifer Ouellette wrote:I don't know if you've been paying attention to all the astrophysics news coming down the pipeline this week, but it's clear that our universe is feeling a bit rowdy and unruly of late, in no mood for observing the usual established customs that govern a well-ordered cosmos. Don't believe me? Check out these stories that have come out in just the last few days.
First, there's this news story on how the fundamental constants in our universe might not be so constant after all -- you know, like the "fine structure constant," which determines the strength of the electromagnetic force.
Excuse me, but the very definition of "constant" means "unchanging" -- not "more or less unchanging, so long as the fluctuations are below 3 sigma." Oh, you can say it's harmless and all in good fun, and don't be such a rigid killjoy. But constants need a firm hand. Give them a little space here, a little wriggle room there, and before you know it they'll be running amok and thinking they're free-wheeling variables or something.
And then what will keep the negatively charged electron orbiting around a positively charged atomic nucleus, hmmm? Think of the electrons, people!
Then, the Bad Astronomer picked up on this press release from the European Space Agency's Herschel infrared space telescope, revealing a hole -- a hole!! -- in space (pictured top).
Originally astronomers thought that black spot next to NGC 1999 was just a really dense cloud of dust and gas, so thick it blocked visible light from passing through it. But Herschel looks at the universe in the infrared regime, and guess what? That patch is still black in the infrared, not because it's filled with dense dust and gas but because it is truly empty.
BIG PIC: You want to see unruly? Take a look at this chaotic mess these stellar babies are leaving behind in the Rosette Nebula.
They're spinning it like this is a good thing, a "surprising glimpse into the end of the star-forming process." But let's face it: it's a young rebellious adolescent star "emerging from its birth cloud" by blowing everything around it away and creating a black patch in the process. And does it ever call? Does it write? Kids today have no respect for the interstellar gas and dust that sacrificed everything to raise them.
Also on today's roster of celestial objects behaving rebelliously is a "heavyweight runaway star," fleeing its stellar nursery at more than 250,000 miles an hour. The star grew up in the 30 Doradus nebula, "a raucous stellar breeding ground" in the Large Magellanic Cloud, along with a bunch of starry siblings. Those siblings were even heftier, and rather bullying to boot. The poor smaller star got booted out of the nursery either by a roughhouse game of stellar "pinball" with its siblings -- or by a supernova explosion, although that seems less likely given the relative youth of that particular cluster (R136). And it's been on the run ever since. Chalk it up to a turbulent early home life.
It's not just stars causing trouble, either. Supermassive black holes generally know their place, right? They stay in the centers of their galaxies where they belong. Or so we thought. Yesterday also brought news from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands that something fishy is going on with the supermassive black hole in the galaxy known as CXO J122518.6+144545 (if that's even its real name).
A young undergraduate named Marianne Heida was just combing through the Chandra Source Catalog, when she noticed a supermassive black hole that appeared to be leaving its home galaxy at very high speed, despite its mass of well over 1 billion Suns. Apparently this happens when two smaller black holes fall in love and defy their parent to merge anyway, because what does the galaxy know about their eternal love? The result is a much larger black hole that shoots away at high speeds, thanks to a recoil effect determined by the direction and speed of rotation of the original two black hole lovebirds -- or maybe the parent galaxy just gave them an ultimatum and the newly formed supermassive black hole called their bluff. "Fine! We don't need you anyway!"
See what I mean? Clearly some sort of cosmic intervention is in order. Or intensive family therapy.
ESA: Herschel reveals the hidden side of star birth
ScienceNews: Fast-moving star is a really big loser
SRON: Astronomers find recoiling super-massive black hole
NS: The imperfect universe: Goodbye, theory of everything
ESA: Herschel finds a hole in space