News from the Universe: 06/17/04

Posted by barb on Jun 17, 2004 in Science Musings |

There’s been a lot in the news about various astronomy events, so I thought I’d summarize a few of them here:

  • Space.com has an exclusive article answering the questions of where Kerry stands on the whole Bush moon-and-Mars plan, Kerry Criticizes Bush for Space Vision.

    “NASA is an invaluable asset to the American people and must receive adequate resources to continue its important mission of exploration,” Kerry wrote. “However, there is little to be gained from a ‘Bush space initiative’ that throws out lofty goals, but fails to support those goals with realistic funding.”

    This is all quite true — there is little chance that the initiative will succeed given the modest funding Bush has proposed. Kerry does also mention the cancelled servicing of Hubble; however, I was disappointed that there was nothing in the article about other space science missions. The rerouting of funds to the human space flight projects has really curtailed some of the upcoming (next decade or so) space science missions.

  • Another Space.com article, Odd Black Hole Defies Explanation, describes results of a study by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics scientists that has found the best evidence for an intermediate black hole yet.
    There have traditionally been two types of black holes observed: “galactic” black holes with masses on the order of a few times that of our sun and “supermassive” black holes with masses millions of times that of our sun (and found in the centers of galaxies). One outstanding question has been how do supermassive black holes form, and if they start as smaller black holes and form by “eating” materials that fall within it’s gravitational influence, then where are the intermediate black holes — the ones with masses between the galactic and supermassive black holes.

    Yet several attempts to identify middleweights, those suspected of weighing hundreds or thousands of times as much as the Sun, have not fully panned out. Some astronomers think middleweights might have been very important in the early universe, serving is an intermediate stage in the development of a stellar black hole into one of supermassive proportions. If so, there ought to be a few that didn’t fully evolve and are still around as middleweights.

    Naturally, it’s always exciting when evidence for a new, previously un-observed object comes along. This particular type of object may provide clues to the origins of the supermassive black holes. (These results were presented at the 204th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 30 May – 3 June 2004 in Denver, Colorado.)

  • Astronomers have also seen evidence of a black hole (or possibly neutron star) in the midst of the remnant of a very recent supernova: Youngest Possible Black Hole Spotted Near Birth

    It is the closest researchers have come to witnessing the birth of a black hole, from the explosion two decades ago to the recent emergence of a dense object amid the chaotic scene. The object may be a neutron star instead of a black hole, however. Scientists hope to figure that out with continuing observations, they said Thursday.

    Evidence of black holes and neutron stars has been seen previously in supernova remnants; however, the remnants are centuries old. This is the first time astronomers have observed a supernova, and then less the 20 years later observed a compact object within the supernova remnant. While the connection between supernovae and black holes/neutron stars has been well accepted by astronomers, this is an exciting observation to strengthen that connection. (The full article is in the 11 June 2004 issue of Science.)

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