Wednesday, May 26, 2010

As the Universe Explodes...

You know that old soap opera called As the World Turns? The title suggested something about how time marches forward and our lives go on with it and there's nothing you can do but deal with it. You can't stop your second cousin -- who actually turns out to be your mother, even though she is barren which is why she kidnapped your real mothers only child who you who would think would be you but actually turns out to be your biological father, from marrying the man who cast a demon on you and then fell in love with the demon, any more than you can stop the Earth from turning.

But I am here to tell you that we should change the name of that soap opera to As the Universe Explodes. Because if you thought human lives were dramatic and that the rest of the universe might as well be Walden Pond, well, sir, you are mistaken. Things are dramatic out there.

Scientists using data from the Gemini Telescope have found a galactic nursery ready to churn out new stars at a striking rate for a galaxy its size. The intense production appears to be due to a galactic bubble keeping all the gas and heat in one place. From the Gemini press release:

Generally, starburst galaxies show some signs of interaction with another galaxy and a close galactic encounter is usually responsible for sparking increased levels of star-birth activity. However, NGC 1313 is a neighborless “drifter,” far away from any other packs of galaxies. The cause of its deformed shape and high rate of star formation is not obvious.

In radio studies of the underlying gas distribution aimed at solving the mystery of this galaxy’s active star formation rate it appears that the edge of an expanding “superbubble” is causing gas to pile up and spur the formation of stars. Dr. Stuart Ryder, Australian Gemini Scientist at the Anglo-Australian Observatory who has studied this galaxy extensively explains, “What triggered the superbubble is still a mystery. It would have required about a thousand supernovae to go off in the space of just a few million years, or else something punched its way through the disk and set it off like ripples in a pond.”


Also exploding this week is the plasma of our sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is sending back amazing images of plasma eruptions from the sun's surface. These definitely affect the performance of Earth-orbiting satellites. From an article at Physics World:

The ejections are likely to travel around 500 kilometers per second and as a result astronomers have found it difficult to clearly observe such huge ejections. "All we could previously do is see just a blur of this phenomena," says Title.
Study the ejections will help give fair warning to satelites, and of course teach us more about our own amazing star.

Oh, and to top it all off, it turns out that just like your evil twin sister who tried to sabotage your perfect wedding because she was in love with your future husbands brother who want to take revenge on the...OK, I forget what that was about, but a new study from scientists at the University of Washington has shown that planets we thought might be habitable may actually become uninhabitable, thanks to the irregular behavior of their neighbors. The shaky orbit of one planet could cause devastating changes in the climate and water availability of nearby planets. One bad apple can spoil a nearby apple I guess.

But I should hold back. Getting angry at the unstable planet may be a premature conclusion. Because it depends on our definition of "habitable." A neighboring planet with an odd orbit could change the length of a day for a neighboring planet, but that doesn't mean life couldn't adapt to such an oddity. From Wired magazine:

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