This was first published in Takahe and first appeared on this blog in May 2018.
My head still feels like it’s full of cotton wool, though I am slowly getting better. The next installment of Dumb Vampires is in my head, and hopefully I’ll be able to write it down in the next day or so.
Cthulhu joined me this evening and we read all your posts together. I think he liked them 😉
I’ve got many things I want to work on, but as it’s quite noisy where I live at the moment I’m having difficulty concentrating, so I thought I would share some pics of Comet Neowise I’ve found.
I love astronomy, so things like comets are of great interest to me, though I’m rather miffed that I couldn’t see it here since I live in the southern hemisphere, and sadly it could only be seen in the northern hemisphere. Neowise was first discovered in March 27, 2020. By July it became one of the brightest comets seen in the northern hemisphere since Hale-Bopp in 1997 with a magnitude of 3.5. This means it could be observed by the unaided eye, though people in urban areas might have needed binoculars.
Here are some photos of it I’ve come across on the web:
I thought I would do a post of my favourite nebula images. They’re not in any particular order, except for the final two.
1. Crab Nebula
The Crab Nebula is the result of a supernova explosion seen here on Earth in 1054 AD. It spans 10 light years and is 6523 light years away from us.
2. Horsehead Nebula
The Horsehead Nebula is a small nebula in the constellation of Orion. It is around 1400 light years away from Earth.
3. Bubble Nebula
The Bubble Nebula or NGC 7635 is in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The shape is created by a stellar wind from a massive hot central star. It lies between 7100 to 11000 light years away from Earth.
4. Butterfly Nebula
The Butterfly Nebula or NGC 6302 has a wingspan of over three light years. It’s around 4000 light years away and can be seen in the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).
5. Monkey Head Nebula
The Monkey Head Nebula, also known as NGC 2174, is located in the constellation of Orion and is associated with the open star cluster NGC 2175. It is around 6,400 light years away from Earth.
6. Carina Nebula
The Carina Nebula, or NGC 3372, is in the constellation of Carina and lies around 7,500 light years away from Earth. The nebula is home to Eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars in the universe, prone to unpredictable, violent outbursts.
7. Mystic Mountain
The Mystic Mountain is part of the Carina Nebula. It was imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2010. It lies around 7,500 light years away from Earth.
8. The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
The Fairy of Eagle Nebula is a giant dust pillar of the Eagle Nebula imagined as a gigantic fairy. It is ten light years tall. The Eagle Nebula is around 7,000 light years away and can be seen in the constellation of Serpens.
9. The Pillars of Creation
The Pillars of Creation is my second favourite nebula image. It is part of the Eagle Nebula. Though it is around 4-5 light years in size, it is only a small feature of the Eagle Nebula which spans 70 by 55 light years. The image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 and is made up of interstellar dust and gas.
10. Medusa Nebula
My favourite nebula image. This was taken by ESO’s Very large Telescope in Chile. It spans around four light years and is about 1500 light years away. It is also known as Sharpless 2-274 and is located in the constellation of Gemini. It is a planetary nebula and the colours are from clouds of gas that surround the stellar core.
In late 2017 there came the interesting news that astronomers had spotted a visitor to our solar system. The first one we have ever seen. This visitor was given the name Oumuamua which is Hawaiian for “messenger from afar arriving first”. It was thought to be an asteroid or maybe even a comet. We know it’s not from our solar system due to the extreme angle (33º) it entered the inner solar system from. As someone who has an interest in astronomy I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the developments of this story as astronomers gain more insights into what it is.
There are some things we don’t know about it. We’re not quite sure of it’s shape. All images we’ve seen of it are artists impressions of what it might look like, such as the picture above. It might be cigar shaped like the picture suggests, but it might also be very thin and more pancake shaped, or it might be a group of objects. We’re also not terribly sure where it came from or how long it’s been traveling around the galaxy in interstellar space. For all we know it could have been traveling for millions of years.
When it entered the inner solar system it came surprisingly close to Earth at 0.1616 a.u. (An astronomical unit is the distance between the Sun and the Earth which is approximately 150 million km or 93 million miles) which means it was around 24.2 million km or 15.0 million miles away at closest approach to Earth on October 14 2017. This may sound a lot but in astronomical distances this is very close. And we didn’t even see it then. We only noticed it sometime later after it had passed us on 24 October 2017. This does make you wonder how many other objects have come this close to Earth and we haven’t even spotted them…
Before I go any further I would like to state here that there has been some speculation that Oumuamua might be an alien spacecraft of some kind. I will go more into this shortly, but before I do I would like to state that there is no proof of this. Before we can say it’s an alien spacecraft we have to rule out quite a few other possibilities first. The more outlandish the theory the more certain and concrete the proof has to be.
Some scientists began speculating that Oumuamua might be an artificial object quite soon after it was discovered. This was because it was not from our solar system and seemed to be cigar shaped which is thought to be the optimal shape for a craft traveling through space. Since then there has been the thought that it could be more pancake shaped which could then make it a probe or solar sail of some kind. The size of it is thought to be no more than 914 metres by 122 metres (that’s 3,000 feet by 400 feet), but I’ve seen other estimates that suggest it is smaller than this. In fact it could only be a tenth of this size. As I’m a Star Wars geek I always find it easier to visualise the size of things by finding an equivalent Star Wars ship that is roughly the same dimensions, and 914 metres is virtually the same size as a Victory-class Star Destroyer (you don’t see these in the films but they’re in the Expanded Universe, or Legends as it is known now. For comparison an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, which you see often in the Original Trilogy, is 1,600 metres, or one mile long). I’m not saying it looks like this, it’s just a handy size comparison. So don’t be alarmed 😀
Oumuamua began to accelerate once it passed the Sun. For some this seemed to indicate that Oumuamua was actually a comet and the increased speed was due to outgassing created from the frozen material on it. The problem with this idea is that there is no discernible tail to Oumuamua like there is with other comets. However some scientists have also suggested if Oumuamua is something like a solar sail then that might explain the acceleration. The Sun’s radiation from the sunlight creating pressure on the sail would cause it to accelerate. However this is just speculative.
There are some reasons why Oumuamua is probably not an alien spacecraft. Firstly when it was observed it was discovered that it was tumbling from end to end. If it is an alien spacecraft then it would be out of control (or maybe they made it move like this so we wouldn’t be suspicious…). Secondly, aside from the acceleration which may still be explainable as a natural effect, it seems to be at the mercy of gravitational forces in our solar system. Thirdly we have pointed telescopes and radio telescopes at it and found no evidence of transmissions or a power source of any kind. If it is a spacecraft then it is dead or in hibernation mode.
Oumuamua is the first observed visitor from another solar system. It does have some very strange properties, such as it’s size and shape, which have suggested it may be something other than an asteroid or a comet. The problem with this is that we may never know for sure, or won’t know for a long time. Until we can observe Oumuamua up close all we can do is speculate about it. Currently there are no plans to build a probe to investigate Oumuamua and even if we did we currently lack a propulsion system that would be fast enough to catch up with it, but maybe in the future we could. Personally I think it’s an asteroid, but a very interesting one. Yet there will always be a question mark surrounding it.
First of all I would like to say thanks to all those who follow me and those who like and comment on my posts. It’s nice to know my work is appreciated. Thank you all ❤
I wasn’t planning on doing a post now (it is currently 3:18 AM) and I should be asleep, but a random thought about this article came into my head and if I don’t write it now then I will lie in bed thinking about it and maybe not get any sleep. Apologies if this post ends up rambling a bit.
One of my great passions is for astronomy. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronomer. I read any astronomy books I could get my grubby little hands on and I really wanted a telescope and would often gaze into shops which had a range of telescopes on display in the window. How I dreamed about owning one some day. Unfortunately my family wasn’t really that well off financially and the possibility of me owning my own telescope was out of the question. Also it became obvious as I got older that my skills were more suited to words and language than they were to mathematics. In fact once it came to geometry and more spatial types of mathematics I was all at sea. I thought it was a type of dyslexia, but recently someone suggested it may be a symptom of dyspraxia, which would also explain my poor motor skills, coordination, and general clumsiness (something to find out one day). So no degree in physics then. All that said I do my best to keep informed about developments in astronomy, whether it is probes like Juno or new information about black holes or the structure of the Universe. This has also led to an interest in particle physics, as they are essentially dealing with the building blocks of matter, and so I also follow news about what’s happening at the Large Hadron Collider. In fact there is a really good documentary called Particle Fever which I recommend everyone to watch. I still don’t have a telescope, but I do have a pair of binoculars though the lenses are the wrong aperture for stargazing, yet I still use them anyway. Living in the middle of a city doesn’t help with all the light pollution though.
When someone asks what my favourite planet is I tend to say Pluto, which really annoys some people and they tell me: “But Pluto isn’t a planet anymore”. I’ve vowed if I ever get any new books on astronomy that I will write in “Pluto” when it lists the planets of our solar system, in crayon if I have to. I’ve always liked Pluto and was disappointed when it lost it’s planet status. Pluto has always been enigmatic to me. It was that small far away world we never knew much about. In 2015, around my birthday, the New Horizons probe did a flyby of the Pluto system. At the time I thought it was nice of NASA to add a further level of excitement to my birthday. We finally saw what it looked like ❤ and it was confirmed that it was the largest Kuiper Belt Object and still the ninth largest planetary object in our solar system (not including moons of course), admittedly only slightly larger than Eris. In fact it was a bit bigger than they thought and it did reignite the idea amongst some astronomers that maybe Pluto’s planet status should be reconsidered again. Almost three years later and that has seemingly come to nothing, but that little ball of rock holds a special place in my heart.
Lately I’ve been watching old episodes of the BBC’s Sky At Night program with it’s host Patrick Moore on YouTube (He’s wonderfully eccentric). This has helped reignite my enthusiasm for astronomy again. In fact I’ve been thinking if I ever end with a nice sum of money I might look at getting a decent pair of binoculars, or even a telescope and other stargazing gear. And some way to get out of the city… One of the astronomers on the Sky At Night was talking about how one of the problems about stargazing is the haze created by the atmosphere which can distort or obscure stars and planets for telescopes on the ground and he then jokingly said that he “always thought the atmosphere did more harm than good”. Good one (y)
There is something very interesting about Europa, one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter. It is covered in a layer of ice and has a surface temperature of minus 160 degrees Celsius at the equator (minus 220 degrees Celsius at the poles), but scientists think that under this ice there is liquid water. This layer of ice and water is thought to be between 80 and 170 kilometres thick and also under the ice there are volcanic vents which could provide a thermal environment warm enough to support life, like underwater volcanic vents do on our planet. So this effect of heat from the volcanoes and liquid water could mean that some form of life could exist elsewhere in our Solar System. It might be just bacterial life or possibly something more complex, this is unknown. Scientists are very excited about what could be there. NASA and the European Space Agency are both sending probes in the 2020s to further analyse organic molecules there and probe how thick the ice is.
The prospect that life could be on Europa, or could eventually evolve there, has been the subject in Science Fiction. In 2010: The Year We Make Contact (both a novel and a film) as the Russian and American crew pass by Europa in the Leonov they notice some strange activity there and send a probe to investigate but a mysterious burst of energy destroys the probe before it can find anything. The main character Floyd sees it as a warning to stay away from Europa. His suspicions are confirmed at the end of the film when they are fleeing back towards Earth; Jupiter turns into another sun, and a message is broadcast: “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there…” Obviously the aliens, who we never actually meet, have plans for it. Europa Report is Science Fiction/Thriller and in my opinion well worth watching. A manned mission lands on Europa and they find some form of life is there, but it isn’t friendly…
But what is the prospect that there is actually life on Europa? How easy is it for life to begin? Both those questions can be hard to answer as there is little we can compare it to at this stage. But the chances of life being on other planets or moons in our Solar System or indeed another Solar System is hard to determine. There are at least two ways you can look at it. One thought is to get the actual right conditions to start life is quite difficult, and therefore planets like our own that are teeming with life are very very rare. If this is the case then that would make our planet almost unique and very precious, and so we should do our best to make sure we don’t do any irreparable damage to it and ourselves as there may be on other place to go. The other thought is that to get life to begin all you need is the right conditions (such as water and warmth) and life will start as a matter of course. If all you need is water, something we are finding is reasonably plentiful even in our own Solar System, and heat for life to begin then there may be other forms of life in our Solar System and definitely in others. If life is that easy to replicate then maybe life is just another stage in the development of the Universe. Maybe we are all the Universe’s attempt at perceiving itself. Just like the stars forming, organic life evolving could be part of the same process (or maybe it could just be a by-product). But even if there are billions of Earth-like planets out there we should still do our best to protect our own one, as this is where we are from, it is our home, and all the different species here are probably unique to it.