Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Podcast: Extreme Cosmos

Ever wonder what the fastest object in the universe is? Or the hottest? The oldest? The heaviest? The loudest? You could try checking Wikipedia, but you'll be surprised to find how many of these seemingly simple questions aren't answered by online sources (or are answered incorrectly). Thankfully, there is now a reputable source for all those universal records you're so curious about: "Extreme Cosmos: A Guided Tour of the Fastest, Brightest, Hottest, Heaviest, Oldest and Most Amazing Aspects of Our Universe."

Author and astronomer Bryan Gaensler talks with us this week on the podcast about his book and the many extreme things there in. He shares the story of the fastest object ever measured (not counting light, it's the so-called "Oh-My-God" particle), and explains why astronomers don't always aim to break universal records in their research, even if the news headlines can seem a little over-eager to do just that. 

Dr. Gaensler is an astronomer at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO). 

Unrelated to the podcast, astronomers working at CAASTRO are looking for new ways to study the entire sky all at once. I asked him why it's important to look at the entire sky, instead of small patches the way most telescopes do.

"We're starting to hit the limit of the questions that you can answer by peering deeply at one little patch of the sky at the time," said Dr. Gaensler. "The next big questions in astronomy, things like what is dark matter, what is dark energy, how did the first stars form; the answers aren't necessarily in one little patch of the sky but they're subtly written across all the stars. So you're never going to find the answer by staring deeply, you have to gather the signal from the whole sky and you have to look for very subtle statistical signatures to get the answer." 

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