Volume XXXII Issue 1
In this issue:
1. Elseness - An Ode to Nothing
2. Searching for the Invisible
3. NASA NIGHT SKY NETWORK UPDATE
4. Treasurer’s Corner
5. A New View of the Andromeda Galaxy
6. Up Coming Events
Pegasus is a bimonthly publication of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society
Editor/Desktop publisher: Melody Gardner
E-Mail submissions may be made to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Slate of 2006 Club Officers
Bret Cadmus—Vice President
Paul Becker—Hotline Coordinator
Barry Shupp—Public Relations
Mike Bashore—Website Coordinator
Melody Gardner—Yours Truly
"Elseness - An Ode to Nothing"
by Karl J. Kuehn
"And God said, 'Let there be Elseness,' and there was Elseness, and it was good."
So, you ask, "what's this biblical paraphrasing have to do with astronomy? This isn't one of those essays about science having a warm-fuzzy with religion, is it?" These are reasonable questions and as an initial response to any concern you might have I'm going to ask that you engage in the following daydream. To begin with, try to imagine yourself sitting with God, a daunting but essential part of our muse.
To stay religiously neutral, sitting with any God credited with the creation of everything will do. Next, imagine it's before the beginning of creation itself, before there was anything at all. There's no space, no time, no Wal-Mart's. It's just you and God, hanging out.
One slow day while you happen to be minding your own business, perhaps contemplating the joys of a cappuccino if such a thing existed, God turns to you and says, "I've just created a universe."
Wow, a universe. That sounds exciting! You're about to turn to God and say, "Cool, but what's a universe?" when He says, "Okay, your turn, ...and No Peeking!"
Whoa, talk about fuel for a panic attack! What would you do? Your mind begins to race, frantically searching for any hint of a thought that might get you started. When that fails, you begin to experience massive waves of confusion and disorientation, like confronting your worst math finals nightmare times infinity. My God, a universe! Just where would you begin?
At this point our little daydream comes to an end, or does it? You might feel otherwise if you've been reading some of the recent books and articles on cosmology. Think about it, in the past few decades astronomers and cosmologists have been trying to imagine what an unseen, "dark" 95% of our universe might look like. That's a lot of universe to imagine! It's a task nearly on par with inventing an entirely new universe except for one important fact. Oops, ... we peeked.
And perhaps "peeked" is being a bit too kind. It's more like we've been poking and prodding the universe. We've been fissioning, fusioning and smashing pieces of it in particle accelerators. We've placed cameras, detectors and multi-spectral sensors everywhere; buried in caves, situated on mountain tops, floating in space. The universe must think it's being stalked by some kind of geeky, scientific paparazzi. All this peeking has yielded a flood of data and with this new information, scientists more than ever have been enthusiastically pushing and pulling on our cosmic accordion of knowledge, developing a multitude of new theories. However, just like an accordion, the results sound something like music, but …
Today's theoretical medleys in need of orchestration include dark matter, dark energy, and dimensions that now come in strings. There are plenty of dimensions too. Four, five, six ... no wait, make that ten (There were 24 at one time, if I'm correctly remembering something called super-symmetry). The universe has been accelerated, decelerated, opened, closed and flattened. And, if it wasn't bad enough that Einstein grabbed those perfectly straight strands of Newtonian spaghetti and boiled them in relativity for a decade, theorists are now trying to microwave the one thing Einstein refused to touch: the speed of light. Various "Varying-Speed-of-Light" theories have recently emerged, vying with an inflationary universe to explain some of those Big Bang conundrums.
There's no doubt about it, a lot is happening in astronomy and cosmology. Most of it is fascinating and exciting. But with all these theories competing for viability it's hard to know exactly where we stand. Are any of these theories really "the" explanation of our universe? With 95% of the cosmos up for grabs, there's still a lot of unknown to reckon with and a tremendous amount of wiggle room for virtually any theory.
It's in the light of this theoretical uncertainty (the light of dark matter, ironically speaking) where we can perhaps first glimpse hints of elseness. So, exactly what is "elseness"? Just the tip of a bad grammar iceberg? Perhaps, but I'd rather think of elseness as a metaphor for the very unknown or unimaginable we seek. It's the missing stuff of our universe, or better yet, the initial something of a universe that begins entirely different than ours. A universe where Pi equals 42 on Thursdays, and besides, there are no circles, spheres, or numbers anyway. No protons, electrons or croutons', a totally particle and salad-free universe. It's where space is far less than a vacuum and would never think about expanding, contracting or having energy. Length, width and height are nonexistent. In fact, there's no such thing as a dimension. It's what we need to invent after we've erased everything. We have a totally clean slate; the slate then vanishes, and we now proceed to forget there ever was a slate. In my mind, this incomprehensible state is the state from which our universe actually burst into existence. Not from a hiccup in some quantum fluctuation, but from a hiccup in a nothingness that knew nothing about a quantum anything. A hiccup that then exploded from an entirely unimaginable nothingness into an unbelievably remarkable everythingness.
Maybe that's my real point. The fact than anything can and does exist looms as a philosophical juggernaut over our attempts to find the bulkof our missing universe or to explain its operations. We may eventually be forced to admit that there is perhaps one ultimately unanswerable question: "Why is there anything?" Any revelation we hope to find in our search to explain the cosmos will be partial at best. We may eventually discover how everything works and how it formed, but to discover why it's here, well, ... welcome to the big league. If there is a God, that's where He lives.
It may be disconcerting to imagine that answers to some questions could be beyond us or that the natural state of the universe, any universe, is no universe at all. But I still find it amazing that we can ask such questions and think such thoughts. If at the end of our quest the universe hands us a box of bitter pills labeled "the unknowable," at least we can take some comfort. They'll most likely go down a lot easier with a cappuccino ... "extra sugar please!"
Karl Kuehn is a former member of BCAAS who now lives under the "lake effect" skies of Upstate NY, where he spends much of his time reading about astronomy and studying the bottoms of clouds. He can be reached at email@example.com.
[Editor’s Note: Thank you very much for sending us your contribution from out-of-state.
Talk about club loyalty!!
Searching for the Invisible
Three blind flies land on an elephant. Each crawls over his part of the elephant and describes what he touches. The first one explores the trunk and says, “This creature is a wrinkled snake.” The second one walks around on an ear and says, “This isn’t a creature at all. It’s a pancake.” The third one hikes up and down the tail and says, “You are both crazy. This is nothing but a skinny rope hanging down from the sky.”
If we are lucky enough to see the whole elephant at once, we understand how magnificent this animal really is.
So it is with astronomy. If we have only our poor eyes to look at the night, we see only a tiny part of the Universe. There is so much more to it than our eyes can see!
The light we see is but a tiny part of the light all around us. Therefore, humans have invented special telescopes that can see these different kinds of light. Using these new telescopes, both from the ground and from space, we have begun to see the entire elephant . . . er, Universe.
One kind of light we can’t see is radio waves. We have learned to make our own radio waves for sending TV, radio, and cell phone signals through the air. Radio waves also come from stars (including our Sun), planets, clouds of gas in space, black holes, and other strange objects in space.
The telescopes that see radio waves don’t look anything like the telescopes that see visible light. Radio telescopes are large dish-like antennas that can point to different parts of the sky. In addition to radio wave astronomy, NASA also uses this type of antennas—equipped with transmitters—to communicate with its unmanned spacecraft out there exploring the solar system.
Telescopes for seeing some kinds of light, such as x-rays and ultra-violet light, work best in space, because Earth’s atmosphere blocks most of these kinds of light from reaching the surface. Several space telescopes now orbit Earth, each seeing a different kind of light.
Astronomers can now study images and data from all different types of telescopes just to understand one star or galaxy. They know that looking at the Universe in only one kind of light is like touching only the ear of the elephant.
Use the “Cosmic Colors” viewer at The Space Place, spaceplace.nasa.gov, to see places in the night sky through the eyes of many of these very special telescopes.
This article was written by Diane K. Fisher. It was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
This giant dish antenna is about the size of a soccer field! It is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network and is used to send and receive messages from its robotic space explorers.
NASA NIGHT SKY NETWORK UPDATE
By Barb Geigle
This year well over a hundred Night Sky Network clubs have already qualified to receive the "Telescopes: Eyes on the Universe" ToolKit this January! The NSN sends new outreach toolkits to clubs that have logged at least two events since receiving their last Toolkit. Participating clubs who log events also qualify for quarterly and annual drawings and continue to enjoy the many benefits of Night Sky Network membership like participation in teleconferences with fore -runners in the space and astronomy fields and access to the NSN discussion board. I am pleased to announce we have qualified for this new Toolkit and will be receiving it shortly. I look forward to sharing it with you soon.
January 31st NSN Teleconference with Dr. Jeff Rosendhal:
As a perfect compliment to the newest Toolkit "Telescopes: Eyes on the Universe", NASA's own Dr. Jeff Rosendhal will be speaking on “Assembling the Jig-saw Puzzle Picture of the Universe." Former EPO Chief for NASA's Office of Space Science, Dr. Rosendhal's knowledge and expertise will provide Night Sky Network members a rare chance to learn more about our most used tool: the telescope, as well as giving us the inside track on current and future missions. Dr. Rosendhal shares his enthusiasm for the upcoming tele-conference: "I am certainly glad to be able to do this." He goes on to say that his talk will “focus on some very basic considerations that may be useful to [members of the Night Sky Network] using illustrations from current missions together with an indication of where things might go in the future." More information about this exciting teleconference will be coming soon!
November Teleconference Wrap-Up:
The Night Sky Network Teleconference with Dr. Janice Voss, astronaut and Science Director for the Kepler Mission, was a real hit with members with over 120 participants listening in! Dr. Voss gave us a fresh and inspiring new perspective on the experiences of an astronaut. For those who may have missed it or wish to enjoy the teleconference again, I recommend listening to the MP3 while looking at the awe-inspiring photographs in the companion slide presentation. The teleconference was titled: Dr. Janice Voss, Astronaut and is now available as both an MP3 and Word document along with the companion PowerPoint.
This year's special award for five different member clubs who logged at least five Night Sky Network outreach events during 2005 is a Coronado Personal Solar Telescope for use at astronomy outreach events. The drawing will be held on January 16.
If anyone is interested in more information on these items, or the Night Sky Network in general, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DUES ARE DUE. If you receive a paper Pegasus, you will notice a brightly colored renewal notice attached. If you get an electronic Pegasus, you will receive your brightly colored renewal notice in the mail. For those who joined during 2005, your dues have been pro-rated to bring your next due date to January. As usual, there is that nasty late fee of $2.50 for those who do not pay by the end of January. If you receive a dues notice and you have already paid your dues, please let me know.
A New View of the Andromeda Galaxy
By Dr. Tony Phillips and Patrick L. Barry
This is a good time of year to see the Andromeda galaxy. When the sun sets and the sky fades to black, Andromeda materializes high in the eastern sky. You can find it with your unaided eye. At first glance, it looks like a very dim, fuzzy comet, wider than the full moon. Upon closer inspection through a backyard telescope—wow! It’s a beautiful spiral galaxy.
At a distance of “only” 2 million light- years, Andromeda is the nearest big galaxy to the Milky Way, and astronomers know it better than any other. The swirling shape of Andromeda is utterly familiar.
Not anymore. A space telescope named GALEX has captured a new and different view of Andromeda. According to GALEX, Andromeda is not a spiral but a ring.
GALEX is the “Galaxy Evolution Explorer,” an ultraviolet telescope launched by NASA in 2003. Its mission is to learn how galaxies are born and how they change with age. GALEX’s ability to see ultraviolet (UV) light is crucial; UV radiation comes from newborn stars, so UV images of galaxies reveal star birth—the central process of galaxy evolution.
GALEX’s sensitivity to UV is why Andromeda looks different. To the human eye (or to an ordinary visible-light telescope), Andromeda remains its usual self: a vast whirlpool of stars, all ages and all sizes. To GALEX, Andromeda is defined by its youngest, hottest stars. They are concentrated in the galaxy’s core and scattered around a vast ring some 150,000 light years in diameter. It’s utterly unfamiliar.
“Looking at familiar galaxies with a new wavelength, UV, allows us to get a better understanding of the processes affecting their evolution,” says Samuel Boissier, a member of the GALEX team at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Beyond Andromeda lies a whole universe of galaxies—spirals, ellipticals and irregulars, giants and dwarfs, each with its own surprising patterns of star formation. To discover those patterns, GALEX has imaged hundreds of nearby galaxies. Only a few, such as Andromeda, have been analyzed in complete detail. “We still have a lot of work to do,” says Boissier, enthusiastically.
GALEX has photographed an even greater number of distant galaxies—“some as far away as 10 billion light- years,” Boissier adds—to measure how the rate of new star formation has changed over the universe's long history. Contained in those terabytes of data is our universe's “life story.” Unraveling it will keep scientists busy for years to come.
For more about GALEX, visit www.galex.caltech.edu. Kids can see how to make a galactic art project at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/galex/art.shtml.
The GALEX telescope took this UV image of the Andromeda galaxy (M31), revealing a surprising shape not apparent in visible light.
Thursday, January 12, 2006 @ 7:30pm - BCAAS General Meeting. Presentation is Chuck Kunesh (LVAAS member) speaking on “An Armchair Exploration of Our Solar System”.
Thursday, February 9, 2206 @ 7:30pm - BCAAS General Meeting. Presentation is Ray Harris (LVAAS member) speaking on "The Art and Science of Early Printed Star Atlases".
Valentine’s Day — C’mon, you guys! Don’t wait until the last second this year—plan ahead and score points!!!
Thursday, March 9, 2006 @ 7:30pm - BCAAS General Meeting. Dr. Devon Mason, a professor of physics at Albright College, speaking on "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: ET phone us, we'll do lunch".
May 6 - May 7, 2006 - 15th Northeast Astronomy Forum http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.htm
June 22 - 26, 2006 - Tentative Cherry Springs Star Party http://www.cherrysprings.org/
July 28 - 30, 2006 - StellaFane Convention http://www.stellafane.com
August 25 - 27, 2006 - Black Forest Star Party http://www.bfsp.org/starparty
Oct 18 - 22, 2006 - Mason Dixon Star Party http://www.masondixonstarparty.org
Oct 20 - 22, 2006 - Stella Della Valley XX http://www.bma2.org/Sdv.html
Call our hotline at 610-921-0173 for the latest club events and meeting details!
“Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it.” - Albert Einstein