The “Zombie” Planet Rises

The Zombie Planet

World War Z? Certainly looks like it. A planet though to be buried has come back alive… undead, some might say. Coincidentally, the analysis of Hubble Space Telescope’s observations came  right before Halloween. The massive alien zombie planet, called the Fomalhaut b (the name even sounds creepy, if you ask me), orbits the star Fomalhaut, which is 25 light years from the constellation Piscis Austrinus. These recent discoveries, however, contradict conclusions in November 2008 that indicated Fomalhaut b as a giant dust cloud. Fomalhaut b, three times smaller than Jupiter, was the first planet directly imaged in visible light. The planet seems to be inside a vast debris ring. Because the scientists did not discover any brightness variations in the 2004 and 2006 Hubble observations, they concluded that Fomalhaut b must be a massive planet. Watch the Halloween-themed video below on the Zombie Planet!

References

Space.com. “Massive ‘zombie’ alien planet rises from the dead.” NBCNews.com. NBCNews.com, 28 2012. Web. 28 Oct 2012.

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Age of Earth and Age of the Universe

How do scientists determine the ages of the Earth and the Universe? –Peyami

Earth

Age of Earth

Planet Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old. But how did scientists determine this? With the radiometric dating of meteorites and the ages of the oldest known minerals. While the oldest meteorites found on Earth are approximately 4.5 billion years old, the oldest known mineral, zircon, discovered by Jack Hills in Australia is at least 4.4 billion years old. One meteorite used was the Canyon Diablo meteorite (4.55 billion years old) aged by C. C. Patterson. Since most of Earth’s minerals have undergone change in the core, mantle, and crust by plate tectonics, weathering, and hydrothermal circulation (circulation of hot water), scientists usually cannot use them in dating Earth. However, scientists used ancient Archaean lead ores of galena (natural mineral form of lead II sulfide), the earliest formed homogenous lead isotope, which very precisely dated Earth at 4.54 billion years. Furthermore, inclusions rich in calcium and aluminum in meteorites were formed within the solar system about 4.567 billion years age. As the oldest known solid component of meteorites, these Ca-Al inclusions determine the age of the solar system and set the upper limit of the age of Earth. Scientists do not known the time of Earth’s accretion (growth by gravitationally attracting more matter), but believe it started some after the Ca-Al inclusions formed.

In fact, scientists have long debated over and calculated the age of Earth. People had estimated Earth at just hundred of thousands of years! Later, scientists extended their estimates with more evidence. However, it wasn’t until Charles Darwin, who proposed the theory of natural evolution, that scientists began to make closer estimates. Using the molecular clock and the rate of genetic divergence, scientists estimate the last universal ancestor of all organisms at 3.5-3.8 billion years old.

Expansion of the Universe

Age of the Universe

The age of the Universe is 13.75 billion years old. People long thought the Universe as much younger— millions, let alone billion of years old. Edwin Hubble’s observations in the 1920s showed that the Universe has a finite age. Using Doppler Shift, Hubble discovered that the Universe was expanding. Every galaxy seemed to be moving away from each other, showing red shifts in their spectral lines. In 1958, Allan Sandage made the first calculation of a value called the Hubble’s constant, which determines the rate of the Universe’s expansion. With the Hubble’s constant, Sandage made the first accurate (closer than before) estimate of the age of the Universe at ~20 billion years. Discovered in 1965, the microwave cosmic background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang, confirmed the expanding Universe theory. As the Universe expanded, it gradually cooled. The CBR shows the Universe at 2.7 K. In fact, scientists have recently discovered dark energy. Dark energy accelerates the expansion of the Universe, reducing earlier estimates of >14 billion years to 13.75 billion years.

Graph of Expansion: Expansion is Accelerating!

Expansion of the Universe

Expansion of the Universe

Hubble’s Law, written by Edwin Hubble in the 1920s, describes the expansion of the Universe.

Edwin Hubble & Expansion of the Universe – Timeline

1917: Vesto Slipher discovered that the spectra of galaxies were almost always red shift (moving away). Infact, most galaxies are moving away and 2 out of 15 spirals moving at over 2 million miles per hour.

1929: Edwin Hubble derived distances to these galaxies and showed that implied recessional speed, v1, is proportional to its current distance from us

  • Hubble’s Law: V – H0d, where  H0 is Hubble’s constant (71 km·s –¹/Mpc), v is velocity, and d is distance
  • The value of Hubble’s constant is how fast the Universe is expanding now; if Hubble’s constant is bigger, the Universe is expanding faster

1927: Belgian astronomer, G. Lamaitre, had a similar result, proving that the Universe is expanding

  •  Combined Einstein’s theory of relativity with the redshifts of spiral galaxies
  • Published a paper on mathematical  super structure connecting redshifts and expanding Universe of general relativity, but nobody noticed since he was only an obscure Belgian priest and mathematician
  • Universe began as a single pinpoint, a primordial soup

1998: Acceleration of the expansion of the Universe is caused by “cosmic anti-gravity” or “dark energy” (still unexplained)

Measuring Velocities of Red Shift

  • Light of a galaxy moving away from us will be “red-shifted,” or the wavelength gets longer
  • Light of a galaxy moving toward us will be “blue-shifted,” or the wavelength gets shorter
  • The faster the speed galaxies travel, the more the “red-shift”
  • Objects at the edges of galaxies tend to move faster than objects in the centers

Understanding the Expansion

  • Galaxies are all moving away from us: Does that mean we are at the center of the Universe?
    • No. There is “no” center. All points in space claim to be the center
    • e.g. Raisin bread rising: raising don’t expand, the space between them expands

Olbers’ Paradox— Why is the night sky dark?

  • In the 19th century, astronomer Wilhelm Olbers asked: If the Universe is finite, why isn’t the sky bright from starlight?
  • The solution is not that stars are increasing far away, but that the apparent brightness of a star decreases (1/d²), the area of shells of stars surrounding the Earth increases like d², so the effects cancel out
  • Another solution was that the Universe has finite size, so that not all of the light from all the stars has had time to reach us (Universe expanding); the Universe is 14 billion years old, and we only see “out” 14 billion light years distance from us

The Milky Way – Timeline

The Milky Way Galaxy

HISTORY

1750: Immanuel Kant: advocated the “lens-shaped” distribution of stars, or an “island universe” with galaxies like the Milky Way

1785: William Herschel + Caroline (wife): made the first attempt to determine the shape of the galaxy; found few stars near the edge  and many stars toward the center; determined the galaxy to be an irregular “grindstone” or hockey puck

1900: If the Sun is at the center of the Universe, why is it not brighter at the center? Gas and gas prevent seeing far toward the center and light absorbed and refracted by Earth’s atmosphere  only allows us to see a small portion of the galaxy

Harlow Shapley and Herbert Curtis

1920: The Curtis- Shapley Debate

Harlow Shapley: rising star and “golden boy” of astronomy

  • Since globular clusters are not uniformly distributed uniformly around the Sun, the center of the Milky Way must be centered 30,000 light years away
  • Concluded that the Milky Way is much larger than previously believed (>100,000 light years in diameter)
  • The “nebulae” seen are not island universes but contained in the Milky Way

Herbert Curtis: established astronomer and respected

  • Spiral nebulae are galaxies out side the Milky Way, with high recessional velocities
  • Predicted that these spiral nebulae are the right size to be galaxies –> “huge” galaxy idea

While Shapley advanced that the Sun is not at the center of the galaxy and the galaxy is much larger than believed, Curtis argued that since spiral galaxies are external, there must be more big galaxies.

Who was right? BOTH. Who was wrong? BOTH.

Shapley was right the Sun is not at the center of the Universe. Curtis was right the Universe is composed of many galaxies. However, the size of the Milky Way was in-between their estimates.

1920s-1930s: Edwin Hubble: With the Hooker Telescope on Mt. Wilson, Hubble observed Cepheid Variable stars in the Andromeda Galaxy (M31); Cepheid Variable stars are 500-10,000 brighter than the Sun (in absolute magnitudes)

  • 1920s: Discovered that M31’s distance is too large to be within the Milky Way; M31 is a galaxy like the Milky Way
  • 1930s: Further understanding of the distances and distribution of globular clusters; the scientific community accepted that they underestimated the size of the Milky Way and the Sun is not at its center

Light and Telescopes

LIGHT: THE BASICS

Longer Wavelengths vs. Shorter Wavelengths

Wavelength: the distance from the crest of one wave to the crest of the successive wave

Frequency: longer wavelengths corresponds to lower frequency and lower energy, shorter wavelengths correspond to high frequency and higher energy

Radiation: transmission of energy through space

Transmission: light rays or electromagnetic waves bending through a different medium

  • All waves have a source (e.g. electromagnetic waves originate from vibrating charged particles)
  • All waves, except electromagnetic waves, transmit through a medium

Wavelengths in Visible Light

Electromagnetic Spectrum: electromagnetic waves ranging from low frequency,  low energy, and long wavelength to high frequency, high energy, and short wavelength that originate from vibrating charges from the Sun; all electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed, or the speed of light (c = 300,000 km/sec or 186,000 miles/sec)

PROPERTIES OF LIGHT

Reflection: light rays or electromagnetic waves bouncing off reflective surfaces (e.g. mirror)

Refraction: light rays or electromagnetic waves bending through a different medium (e.g. air to water)

PROBLEMS WITH LIGHT AND MIRRORS

Spherical Aberration

Spherical Aberration: when light rays incident on the edges of the spherical mirror are focused at a different point from light rays incident closer to the center of the mirror –> blurry images; corrected by using parabolic mirrors

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic Aberration: as light rays travel through a lens, different wavelength rays are bent by different amounts, resulting in different focal points

OPTICAL TELESCOPES

Three Types: 1. Reflective (mirrors), 2. Refractive (lens); 3. Combined or Catadioptic (both mirrors and lens): combines advantages of refractive and reflective telescopes, while avoiding disadvantages

  • Objective: main lens or mirror
  • Eyepiece: lens that magnifies images
  • Focal Length: distance between the center of the lens and the its focus
  • Aperture: diameter of objective

Functions of Telescopes: to collect light, to resolve details, to magnify, to measure, to record

Problems of Optical Telescopes: “seeing” (Earth’s atmosphere refracts light), air transparency, light pollution

Hubble Space Telescope

Unusual Telescopes

  • Radio: Arecibo, VLA, COBE
  • Microwave, or RadarPIONEER, COBE
  • InfraredSIRTF, IRAS, SPITZER
  • UltravioletCOPERNICUS, IUE
  • X-rayHEAO, EXOSAT, CHANDRA
  • Gamma RayGRO, EINSTEIN, COMPTON
  • OrbitalHUBBLE
  • Multiple MirrorsKECK
  • Interferometry: VLA, VLT