Extrasolar maelstrom!

22 10 2011

This week might be considered a red-letter period for discoveries relating to extrasolar planets, from imaging alien comets and their implications for otherworldly oceans to witnessing the dusty disks and primordial protoplanets of young, forming star systems.

In case you missed it, this week provides your healthy dose of Exoplanetology:

Very “Wet” Extrasolar System Found

Artist's concept, illustrating an icy planet-forming disk around the young star called TW Hydrae. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech )

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Telescope recently discovered direct evidence of cold water vapor surrounding the disk of dusty material surrounding a young star.

Whereas earlier studies had detected evidence of warmer water vapor within the material of young star systems, this is the first to extend this zone of water vapor into the cold regions extending far away from the parent star, TW Hydrae.

This finding is very significant to those searching for habitable planets or the life that might arise on them, as it bolsters the idea that comet-strewn planetary systems like our own (with water-rich inner planets) might be common in the galaxy.

Heavy Comet Bombardment Observed in Alien Solar System

Artist's concept, illustrating a storm of comets around nearby star Eta Corvi. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Evidence of the comet storms suggested in the previous discovery and which left their own scars on the rocky worlds of our own Solar System during the period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, (look up at the moon for evidence,) has been detected in the nearby star system Eta Corvi.

Tantalizingly, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected evidence of a titanic comet collision(s) – dust fragments that match the signature of a comet having been wiped out during an impact with a planet.

Further, the location of the dust plume coincides with the potential location of inner, rocky planets like our own…

Forming Planets Likely Culprit Dust-Sculpters

View of two spiral arms in the gas-rich circumstellar disk around star SAO 206462. (Credit: NAOJ/Subaru)

In a wave of discoveries that don’t seem to be letting up, researchers using the Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii have released images of spiral arms in the dust disk surrounding nearby star SAO 206462.

These images, the first of their kind, agree with simulations of what the gravitational effects of newly formed or forming planets can do to the gas and dust surrounding a young star.  (Researchers are cautious to point out, however, that other processes might be responsible for the pattens.)

Beyond potentially further bolstering our understanding of how planets and star systems form, the spirals suggest locations of further research to find extrasolar planets… and provide yet another serious contender for desktop wallpapers everywhere.

Humankind First: Birth of an Alien World Witnessed

Artist’s conception of newly born alien planet LkCa 15 b and its parent star. (Credit: Karen L. Teramura, UH IfA)

Not to be outdone by the truly significant discoveries already mentioned, a team of researchers using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have imaged the youngest alien world to date – so young, in fact, that it is still forming out of the disk of gas and dust around star LkCa 15.

Using sophisticated optical techniques, the team was not only able to resolve the protoplanetary disk around the star LkCa 15, but they were able to peer into the zone where the new planet was spawning – a wide gap between the young parent star and an outer disk of dust.

What they found there was truly a first:  A protoplanet surrounded by a sheath of cooler dust and gas still falling into/onto the still-forming planet.

In all, it appears that with an accelerating pace the universe is becoming less a tapestry to simply observe and more an atlas of locations and potential destinations.  Will the names TW Hydrae, Eta Corvi, SAO 260462, and LkCa 15 one day fill an atlas of solar systems the way we now appraise continents on a globe?

-And will the subtle letters behind each name, themselves indicating the presence of a planet, fill the same atlas as we currently manage nations and provinces?

We can only hope… but at this rate, odds are looking good!





Temporal Mechanics (Time update part 2)

4 09 2010

Asilomar chapel where I gave my first Temporal Mechanics talk at the International Society for the Study of Time's triennial conference, 7/30/2007. (Credit: Ben McGee)

Things have been fairly one-sided here on the ol’ astrowright blog for a while.  What with beginning classes in UND’s space studies program and with upcoming coursework in radiophysics at Oregon State, (which I hope to integrate into orbital/lunar radiation work,) it’s no surprise that I’ve been a bit hyper-focused on space science.

However, today I wanted to take a step back and pick up where I left off regarding my other scientific passion, time research.

So, we last left our time discussion with an apparent contradiction: Most of theoretical physics leads us to consider that time is an illusion and does not physically exist.  The past versions of the universe are not “saved” somewhere for us to go back to, and the future does not yet exist.  There is only the now.   However,  Relativity shows us (in repeated experiments!) that the time experienced by something changes depending on its motion, (time slows as speed increases,) meaning that some part of time must physically exist, and furthermore, it must be related to physical motion.

That brings us to the crux of my theoretical, time-centered physics work.  Temporal Mechanics, as I have developed it as a functioning theoretical framework, relates to and is derived from a single question:

  • “What if there is more to the concept of time than we acknowledge or are aware?”

As hinted in my previous time post, Temporal Mechanics goes on to posit that the physical part of what we call time and what we call motion are actually two views of the same phenomenon.  -Namely, that the apparent 3D motion of an object is the result of it moving through time (4D) at a different rate than its frame of reference.  I called this the Fundamental Principle of Temporal Kinematics.

The exciting part is that when you take this kernel and start marching it through physics, many very, very interesting things happen.

For starters, you can start answering unanswerable questions, like digging into Newtonian mechanics staple “f = ma” (force equals mass times acceleration).  If one were to ask, “Why does the application of force to a mass cause acceleration?” in the Standard Model, this is a nonsense question.  It’s simply how acceleration is defined. It is by nature an unanswerable question.

And in science, at least for me, I find these sorts of conceptual impasses troubling.

However, if motion is now the result of a temporal rate differential, (as defined by the Fundamental Principle of Temporal Kinematics,) then an answer suddenly shows up:  The application of force to a mass causes a temporal acceleration which appears to a 3D observer as motion of the mass.

Voila.  An answer where there was none.

A trick of wordplay?  Perhaps.  But think Orwell’s 1984 – it is true that the words we use to define concepts limit the concepts we use to define a reality.  If there actually are deeper physical truths to the ideas of time and motion, right now we are linguistically incapable of describing them.  Perhaps just “opening up” our conceptual language can reveal truths idly sitting beneath our comprehension, waiting for us to get around our own mental roadblocks and see them.

The adventure continues, reaching all the way back to Aristotle’s work on time and motion.  It turns out that he came within mere inches of posing Temporal Mechanics’s fundamental principle more than two thousand years ago.  Basically, he noticed that we measure that time has occurred by measuring uniform motion, (e.g., a ticking watch,) and that we measure that motion has occurred by measuring uniform time, (e.g., using a stopwatch to measure how fast someone has run a lap.)  Clearly the two are inseparable.  It only took advanced astronomy and the idea of Relativity to break the concepts of time and motion out of their separate Newtonian prisons and back toward each other.

For a future post, the fundamental principle kernel continues its radical march through physics, linking and actually predicting both quantum indeterminism and the bizarre distortions at extreme speeds known as “relativistic effects,” and while using the same mathematics and data, the kernel leads to an alternate interpretation of the Twin Paradox that, (at least according to time,) would allow travel faster than light speed.

Stay tuned.





Space: The Northern Frontier

23 05 2010

So, you want to build a rocketship?

-Lines like these are sprinkled across advertisements during the 1960s for everything from whiskey to sprinkler manufacturers, painting themselves as part of a brighter future.  So, with expectations 50 years ago set so high, in many respects the 21st Century to them would be something of a disappointment.

However, we’re starting to rise to the challenge of our fathers’ imaginations, and for those with starry-eyed dreams of spacecraft shipyards and a future on orbit, Frontier Astronautics of Chugwater, Wyoming may be your answer.

Wyoming Atlas-E silo, ca. 1960s. Credit: Frontier Astronautics

Utilizing a converted Atlas-E missile silo, the young, first-of-its-kind corporate space development company offers a full spectrum of spacecraft development services and products, from indoor and outdoor rocket engine test areas, vehicle design and assembly services, onsite cranes, a machine shop and storage space, and they even produce commercial quantities of rocket-grade hydrogen peroxide onsite.  To top it off, they’re in the process of applying for an official FAA space launch site license, making them the second private spaceport in the country (if approved).

Check them out.  Tell your friends.  Keep your rocket dreams alive, or perhaps let your imagination take flight for the first time.  This place is real.

I know in my bones that it’s outfits like these that will change the space game forever.








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