May 28, 2017

Review: Brilliant Blunders by Mario Livio

On sale now!

Many scientific discoveries often come out of left field.

The history of science (if we learn any of the history of science at all in school) is often depicted as a neat, tidy progression from ignorance to enlightenment. How could Isaac Newton not have formulated his laws of gravity and motion, or Einstein not have stumbled on his Theory of Relativity? It all seems foreordained in hindsight. [Read more...]

Review: The God Problem by Howard Bloom.

On sale now!

A personal confession; we almost didn’t read this weeks’ book, but looking back, we’re glad we did! And no, it wasn’t because it clocked in at over 500+ pages, but because we were a bit skeptical of whether or not it was a good “fit” for the science-themed franchise that is Astroguyz… y’all have come to expect standards from us bloggers, right? True, we review lots of sci-fi, and we did review “that one UFO book“… but I’ve only ever turned down one (unnamed) book, on the grounds that the only good thing I could say about it was that you could use if to play “name that logical fallacy” at your next skeptical gathering… [Read more...]

Review: Cycles of Time by Roger Penrose.

A real mind-bender of a summer read!

The science of cosmology is often the study of counter-intuitives. Why are we here? Where did it all come from? Are the multiverses infinite in number, with infinite possibilities, such as intelligent tentacled canines and/or Paris Hilton as president (it does explain the bizarre reality that is our current iteration of our universe, I know). Enter one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, physicist Roger Penrose and his most recent work, Cycles of Time. Dr Penrose draws upon some of the most recent findings in cosmology as a science that has moved from one largely of philosophy to one of hard science just within the last century. [Read more...]

The Universe: You Are Here in Time & Space.

Our present understanding of our expanding universe. (Credit: NASA/WMAP).

(Editor’s Note: The essay that follows is a re-bloggified version of an essay I wrote in our quest for a science teaching degree. As that quest for knowledge has changed into a quest for employment, I thought it would be a worthy exercise to place these works out where eyeballs might fall upon them once again…)

Cosmology is one of the fastest evolving fields in astronomy today. In less than a century, our understanding of the past and future evolution of our universe has gone from one largely of conjecture to a diverse study with hard observational data. [Read more...]

Review: Black Holes & Baby Universes by Stephen Hawking.

A Hawking Classic!

Many know the man, but few have read his work… this week, we take a look at Black Holes & Baby Universes, a collection of essays, speeches and musings by the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking. Though his body may be revenged by Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, his mind is as fertile as ever. [Read more...]

AstroChallenge: Bagging Omega Centauri from Mid-Northern Latitudes.

Omega Centauri as seen from Arizona. (Image Credit: Mike Weasner/Cassiopeia Observatory).

The Magellanic Clouds. The Tarantula Nebula. Sure, the Southern Hemisphere skies have all the “good stuff…” but did you know that in the summer months, YOU may be able to nab one of its crowning glories? [Read more...]

31.05.11: Cosmic Distance Record Broken?

GRB 090429B as seen by Swift. (Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler).

Last week, a new possible record smasher was announced in the realm of cosmology. It seems that every few months, we get another “largest, biggest, farthest” in the world of gamma-ray bursters. This one, designated GRB 090429B was discovered by NASAs Swift satellite and recent photometric calculations place its redshift at z=9.4, which would make it about 13.14 billion light years distant. [Read more...]

29.05.11: Hubble: New Views of a Historic Star.

Thar be (a) Var! (Credit: NASA/Space Telescope Inst).

It’s hard to imagine that less than a century ago, our home galaxy was thought to be the extent of the universe. That all changed the moment that Edwin Hubble wrote his famous “Var!” remark across an image of the Andromeda Nebula, M31. The intrinsic brightness of the star dubbed V1 enabled astronomers to get the first fix on the distant smudge, and they were floored by what they had found; clearly, M31 was an island universe onto its own.

Fast forward to today. Researchers at the Hubble Space telescope institute have recently partnered with the American Association of Variable Star Observers to compile new images and a new light curve of this famous Cepheid variable star. The results were unveiled at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in Boston, Massachusetts this past week. The project was part of the Space Telescope Institute’s Hubble Heritage project.

Why study old variables? This project represents a refinement of one of the most crucial cosmic standard candles at cosmological distances. It’s also interesting to note that backyard observers have the capabilities that only a few years ago were the realm of professionals. Seriously, I’ve seen some mind-blowing backyard images of M51 and its ilk that scant years ago that even professional technology couldn’t touch. The capability is out there, man… why not put that backyard light bucket to scientific use; join the AAVSO and the quest for cosmological knowledge!

05.05.11: Simulating Dark Matter.

The tadpole galaxy UGC 10214…being strung along by dark matter?

(Credit: Hubble/NASA/H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin).

How do you study the gravitational effects of dark matter on galaxy rotation over the span of a billion plus years? Simple; you get a supercomputer to do it for you! That’s exactly what 13-year old Cole Kendrick of Los Alamos MiddleSchool did to win the 21st New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge hosted recently by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Using an initial Python code, he condensed what would amount to 1 billion years of rotation into a period of 15 days… [Read more...]

19.04.11: AMS-02: A Preview.

AMS-02…Good to Go! (Credit: 

A very special payload will be aboard the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, one that had a long hard road to launch. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is destined for installation early next month on the S3 Upper Inboard Payload Attach Site on the International Space Station. Once aboard the ISS, the AMS will begin doing real science almost immediately, utilizing a large permanent magnet and no less than five detectors to perform astrophysical experiments. [Read more...]

24.02.11: Hefty Anti-particle Found.

Staring into STAR. (Credit: From the Brookhaven National Laboratories’ Flickr stream).

The menagerie of bizarre sub-atomic particles just got stranger, as scientists at Long Islands Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider recently unveiled the discovery of the heaviest anti-particle yet discovered. Dubbed the antihypertriton, this strange beast sits at 200 milli-electron volts (for comparison, an electron volt about 1.602 x 10-19 joules), beating out old fashioned anti-helium. [Read more...]

20.02.11: A Snapshot of a Primordial Galaxy.

A pale blue smudge…(Credit: NASA/ESA/Garth Illingworth (UC Santa Cruz)/Rychard Bouwens (UC Santa Cruz and Leiden University)/the HUDF09 Team).

When it comes to the Hubble Space Telescope, the hits just keep on a’ comin’… earlier this year, researchers pushed the refurbished telescope to its limits, revealing what may prove to be most distant galaxy (or indeed object) yet seen. At 13.2 light years distant, the smudge pictured above would have been from a time when the universe was only about 500 million years old. [Read more...]

08.02.11: A Standard Candle Re-tweak?

The size of a proton. The definition of a planet. The Periodic Table. One of the hallmarks of science is the ability to alter and modify what we know as new information comes to light. Of course, this is much to the chagrin of the man on the street, who likes his science bit-sized, tweet-able, and unchanging…

[Read more...]

Review: How Old is the Universe? By David A. Weintraub.

Out from Princeton Press.

Probably the toughest questions an astronomer ever has to field with the public are those in cosmology. How old/how big/how far are truly mind bending questions, and difficult to explain to the average man on the street in sound-bite style. This week, we look at David Weintraub’s latest, How Old is the Universe? out by Princeton Press. Fans of this site will remember our review of Is Pluto a Planet? also by Mr. Weintraub a few years back. [Read more...]

Review: How Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form? By Abraham Loeb.

Out Now from Princeton University Press!

One of the crucial questions in modern cosmology is: why is there anything at all? Why are we here to admire the cosmos, and create books and blogs about how clever we are to figure it all out? Why didn’t the early universe promptly annihilate itself in a massive matter/anti-matter collision? [Read more...]

Review: Massive by Ian Sample.

Out from Virgin Books!

Out from Virgin Books!


    A great scientific revolution may be upon us. This week we look at Massive: The Hunt or the God Particle by Ian Sample. Out from Virgin Books, Massive can be said to be a book over 13 billion years in the making. At the heart of the search lies a simple particle: the Higgs-boson, a hypothetical particle that imparts mass on the universe. [Read more...]

23.05.10-Are Black Holes the Key to Dark Matter?

Artist's impression of a torus surrounding a massive black hole. (Credit V. Beckmann.NASA).

An artist’s conception of a gas torus surrounding a super-massive black hole. (Credit: V.Beckmann/NASA).

   For the past few decades, astronomers have been hot on the trail of the “missing” part of our universe. About 23 percent of our universe appears to be comprised of dark matter, non-luminous material that gives itself away only via gravitational interaction. Pinning down dark matter has been the name of the cosmological game, and researchers have looked at everything from MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects) to WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) to everything conceivable, however bizarre or mundane, in between. Now, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico may have gained a key insight into the nature of dark matter, as well as the evolution of galaxies and how the super-massive black holes at their heart are formed. Researchers William Lee and Xavier Hernandez studied the absorption rates of these massive beasts, noting how simulations stacked up with what we observe in the universe we see today. Their findings suggest that dark matter at the cores of galaxies should be fairly homogonous; at a critical mass larger than seven solar masses per cubic light year, a runaway effect occurs, twisting and altering galaxies from the stately whirlpool we see today. Of course, with this mass limit constraint, one could easily ask the question; how did these black holes reach multi-million solar mass status in the first place?  Further studies and data gathered by platforms such as the James Webb Space Telescope will no doubt shed “new light” (bad pun intended) on dark matter as well as tweak standard models and refine the nature of its role in the evolution of the cosmos.

11.05.10: Ancient Galaxy Mergers.

Hickson Compact Group 31. (Credit: NASA/HST/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).

Hickson Compact Group 31. (Credit: NASA/HST/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).


   Astronomers may have found a cosmological missing link in the realm of galactic evolution. The early universe was a crowded place; galaxy mergers must have been much more common in the primeval universe than they are today. But studying those early collisions has been problematic; the immense distances involved over time and space mean that resolving clusters and individual stars are out of the question. Now, a team from the University of Western Ontario led by Sara Gallagher has published a study of an object which may serve as a “living fossil” of those early times; Hickson Compact Group 31. A cluster of irregular galaxies “only” 166 million light years away in the constellation Eridanus, this merger has somehow escaped coalescence over 10 billion years of cosmic history to just begin merging. “Because HCG 31 is so nearby,” Gallagher notes, “we can indentify individual star clusters.” In fact, two main components of HCG 31 approach visual magnitude +13 and have been snared by amateur instruments. HCG 31 is approximately 75,000 light years in diameter, and will probably one day form one huge elliptical galaxy. To conduct this study, Gallagher utilized time and instruments that spanned the spectrum, from Hubble in visible light to Spitzer in infrared to Galex and Swift in the ultraviolet. It is amazing that astronomers now have such capabilities in their bag of tricks at their ready disposal!