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starship-design: Fw: Mystery Object in Space Confounds Astronomers (Fwd)

Observer <observer@tin.it> wrote in message
> New York Times / By John Noble Wilford - August 17 1999
> Mystery object radiating deep in northern sky is no normal star, they
> say.
> Astronomers have an unyielding mystery on their hands, something they
> have observed and pondered for three years, a point of light deep in
> the northern sky that appears to be like nothing seen before.
> This may turn out to be only a curiosity, an odd variation of a
> familiar phenomenon, or it may be the first evidence of some
> unsuspected object with reverberating theoretical implications.
> The mystery object has so far confounded astronomers because they
> cannot decipher the language of its light. Usually, by breaking down
> the spectrum of light into its component elements and charting the
> spikes and dips on a graph, astronomers can identify and describe an
> object within minutes.
> In this case, however, astronomers are finding nothing familiar about
> the light spectrum, a couple of Everests representing emissions from
> the object surrounded by lower peaks and broad valleys of heavy
> elements that blot out the true contours of the object's nature. "I've
> never seen a spectrum anything like this, and I take spectra for a
> living,'' said S. George Djorgovski, an astronomer at the California
> Institute of Technology who is the leader of the sky survey that
> detected the mystery object.
> Whatever the astronomers are seeing, it is probably not a star, at
> least not any normal star. The light signature of stars is much simpler
> than this object's. Nor is it a distant galaxy, which would have much
> different light patterns.
> With little evidence and even less conviction, some astronomers
> speculate that the object is a quasar, one of the sources of tremendous
> energies at the farthest reaches of the universe where the enormous
> gravitational power of black holes presumably gobbles up surrounding
> matter. If it is a quasar, it must be a rare kind beyond current
> understanding.
> "It doesn't look like a quasar to my eye, but I may be wrong,'' said
> Dr. Wallace Sargent, a Caltech astronomer and quasar specialist, who is
> also director of Palomar Observatory in Southern California, where the
> discovery was made. So if it is not a normal star, galaxy or strange
> quasar, astronomers say, the most intriguing possibility is that the
> mystery object is announcing the existence of an entirely new cosmic
> phenomenon.
> "But we must do everything to rule out the known before we postulate
> that we have discovered something really and truly new,'' Djorgovski
> said.
> Djorgovski and his team -- Dr. Stephen Odewahn, Dr. Robert Brunner and
> Roy Gal, a graduate student -- examined the object's light spectrum.
> Some of the lines of emissions, especially the two Everest spikes,
> looked too sharp to be from a quasar. They combed the star catalogs and
> published research papers but found nothing like it.
> A search in the archives of X-ray and infrared surveys failed to show
> anything in those wavelengths at the location where the object's
> visible light was detected. Radio antennas of the Very Large Array in
> New Mexico scanned the same patch of sky. They picked up only weak
> radio emissions from the region; many quasars have proved to be "radio
> loud.''
> "This was the first one of something new, and a complete mystery to
> us,'' Djorgovski said.
> The next step for Djorgovski's team was to photograph the object again
> and again. Some aspects of the spectrum reminded them of a supernova a
> few days after the explosion. But in the pictures, the light from the
> object did not die down, as it would as a supernova faded.
> Other examinations ruled out the possibility that the object was an
> aging white dwarf star, where strong magnetic fields had distorted
> normal spectral lines. Comparisons with all other examples of peculiar
> stars also failed to suggest a solution.
> It is not even clear from the spectrum whether the object is extremely
> far away or relatively close by. Distances are estimated by the shift
> of light to the red end of the spectrum, a sign of the object's
> velocity as it recedes from the observer in the expanding universe.
> In a presentation at the June meeting of the American Astronomical
> Society in Chicago, Djorgovski issued a challenge to all colleagues to
> help solve the mystery.
> "We may find it's a sub-sub-subspecies of quasars for which there may
> be only one example,'' he said in an interview. Or it could be
> something entirely new. "We can't think we have discovered all the
> kinds of things there are out there,'' he added.
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