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Re: starship-design: Mysterious light leaves astronomers in the dark

It's a starship at relativistic speeds!!! A REALLY BIG One.


----- Original Message -----
From: L. Parker <lparker@cacaphony.net>
To: Starship-Design (E-mail) <starship-design@lists.uoregon.edu>
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 1999 10:12 AM
Subject: starship-design: Mysterious light leaves astronomers in the dark

> Mysterious light leaves astronomers in the dark
> New York Times
> Every night at their telescopes, astronomers invite the universe to a
> of wits. Surprise us, they say, with some teasing wink of light, some few
> cryptic clues to something unfamiliar and, better yet, an implied
> to a cherished theory. In most cases, astronomers boast, we will have it
> figured out by dawn.
> Now 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
> reverberating theoretical implications -- similar in that sense to the
> recent detection of planets around other stars.
> No clues from spectrum
> 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
> surrounded by lower peaks and broad valleys of heavy elements that blot
> the true contours of the object's nature. They are beginning to sympathize
> with archaeologists who sought to read Egyptian hieroglyphics without the
> Rosetta Stone.
> ``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
> 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
> 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
> of black holes presumably gobbles up surrounding matter. If it is a
> 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
> Wallace Sargent, a Caltech astronomer and quasar specialist, who is also
> director of the 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
> 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.
> New discoveries ahead
> Mystification is likely to be a more common experience in astronomy as
> powerful telescopes and instruments with improved sensitivity are used for
> systematic probes deeper into the universe and over broader stretches of
> sky.
> Several comprehensive sky surveys under way or just beginning are expected
> to discover many rare or even previously unknown types of astronomical
> objects and forces.
> Exploring the entire northern sky in different color filters, for example,
> the Digital Palomar Sky Survey, now nearing completion, has collected data
> on more than 50 million galaxies and about 2 billion stars. The census has
> identified more than 70 quasars at such great distances that they are
> seen at a time when the universe was less than 10 percent of its present
> age.
> One surprising discovery was a star like light several hundred times
> brighter than the galaxy with which it was associated. Astronomers are not
> sure, but they suspect they were seeing the after-effects of a gamma-ray
> burst, the most powerful events in the universe today.
> First detected in the 1960s, gamma-ray bursts are examples of an
> astronomical mystery that is only now being solved.
> Isolating rare points
> For the survey, astronomers devised computer programs to sift through
> processed photographs for star like objects, then distinguish the stars
> galaxies and isolate rare points of light that are not immediately
> recognizable. This was how the new mystery object showed up.
> Djorgovski and his team 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.
> ``This was the first one of something new, and a complete mystery to us,''
> Djorgovski said.