A Long, Long Time Ago ... Galaxies Far, Far Away

October, 2009 by Ray Bendici
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A few things as we continue to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. . .

First off, loaded up the family truckster this past week and went on a field trip to Yale's Leitner Family Observatory & Planetarium in New Haven. Opened just this past year, the Leitner is a state-of-the art facility featuring a digital high-def planetarium and multiple observatories. Every Tuesday night it's open to the public and offers two separate planetarium shows, plus public observation when the skies are clear. It was slightly cloudy this week, but we did get to see Jupiter -- could make out the bands and three of its moons. So cool!

The Leitner also has a multitude of lectures and special events: Friday October 23rd is movie night -- Seeing in the Dark -- while on Nov. 3, the Leitner welcomes Bob Crelin, who will present "Faces of the Moon."

Just a great place and well worth a visit! Can't say enough how much my family enjoyed our field trip there.

deep_spaceFeeling spacey this week, I saw this post on Discovery's Bad Astronomy blog (always worth reading if you have a healthy curiosity about space) talking about a cluster of galaxies seen on the edge of the known universe, only a mere 10.2 BILLION (with a "B") light years away.

From the post (which goes with the image here):

The cluster, called JKCS041 — evidently all the cool names have already been taken — was discovered in 2006 and subsequently observed by Chandra. The image above also includes observations by the Very Large Telescope in Chile, and the Digitized Sky Survey. In this image, the blue glow is from X-ray-emitting hot gas between galaxies, and the white galaxies are from the optical and infrared observations.

The image doesn’t look like much, but it’s scientifically amazing. When light left those galaxies, the Universe was only about 3.5 billion years old! Remember, for a long time the whole cosmos was just gas, and that took a long time to collect, clump up, and form stars and galaxies. It’s currently thought that it took a few billion years for clusters of galaxies to form after the Big Bang, so JKCS041 looks like it was an early bloomer. We may find even more distant clusters, but there probably aren’t too many more out there, and they almost certainly won’t be much farther away than this one.

I know people talk about time travel, but I always forget that if you genuinely want to go back in history, all you simply have to do is go outside on a clear night and look up. The fact that we can see almost all the way back to the creation of the universe is just completely mind-blowing.

It'd be really awesome if somehow we could speed up the speed of light so we could see what those stars billions of light-years away are doing at this very moment -- or if they even exist any more. And no doubt there could be something even more unusual or mysterious beyond those clusters at this very moment. Maybe stronger telescopes will eventually give us the answer ...

Again, so cool.

Finally, if you remember back a few weeks ago, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (aka LCROSS) was in the news as it was spectacularly crashed into the moon in a search for ice on the moon, with the idea that it could possibly be retrieved and used by inhabitants of a base there.

From early indications, it sounds like NASA has retrieved a lot of data, including tons of new information about the crater it rammed into, but there's no word yet if ice was actually found. Reading between the lines, I wonder if maybe it didn't quite turn out as hoped.

From the article --

The satellite, which slammed into the crater was followed four minutes later by a spacecraft equipped with cameras to record the impact and its after effects -- including the creation of a "faint but distinct" dust plume.

"There is a clear indication of a plume of vapor and fine debris," said Anthony Colaprete, principal investigator and project scientist for the experiment.

If I remember the pre-event hype, it seemed as though there was supposed to be a substantial dust cloud thrown up by the collision. Hmm ...

Regardless, we'll be keeping an eye out for the results.

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