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Weekend Readings and Rationales

The 49th Carnival of Space is up at Will Gater’s site, and this week I’ll point you in particular to Alan Boyle’s entry on black hole simulations. The mathematics of black hole collisions are not for the faint of heart, but the Rochester Institute of Technology’s supercomputer cluster seems up to the task, even if the work demanded a week to complete. Interesting stuff, as an actual triple black hole collision as simulated here should generate gravity waves of the sort being sought by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). But LIGO scientists need to know what to look for amidst the incoming tsunami of data, which is where supercomputer modeling comes into play. Boyle’s presentation of this work is thorough and, as always, admirably clear.

There are actually not one but two space carnivals at play this week, the other being Fraser Cain’s at Universe Today. But rather than drawing on already written weblog entries, Fraser solicited comments from bloggers on a key question: What is the value of space exploration? Numerous writers weighed in. Here’s Robert Pearlman from collectSPACE:

Many of the problems we have on Earth are rooted in a our need for new ideas. From medical advancements to political diplomacy, it often takes a new perspective to find the answer. Space exploration offers the rare opportunity to look inwards while pushing out. The photographs sent back of the Earth as a “fragile blue marble”, a whole sphere for the first time, gave birth to the environmental movement. Astronauts, regardless of their home nation, have returned to Earth with a new world view, without borders. But the perspective isn’t limited to those who leave the planet. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, “mankind” took on a new appreciation for all of humanity. It was “we” who went, even if “we” were not living in the United States. That sense of unity was recognized by the Apollo 11 crew upon their return to the planet: Buzz turned to Neil and commented, “We missed the whole thing…”

Nicely put. The whole collection is worth keeping for those times when you know you’re about to be challenged on why we don’t just keep ‘all that money’ here on Earth (this seems to be the theme of numerous dinner parties I’ve attended lately). The problem with rationales for the space program is that those of us who come up with them all tend to agree on them in the first place, while the general public is a much harder sell, as I am reminded every time I talk about preserving the species by building the infrastructure needed to divert incoming asteroids or comets. The lesson, I suppose, is keep trying, which is what these writers do day after day in their own weblogs, and more power to the attempt.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • dad2059 April 12, 2008, 16:26

    Sometimes it’s a thankless task Paul, but the pay-off is worth it.

    I get alot of blank stares when I tell people NASA only gets 1/6 of 1% of the national budget.

    It either doesn’t sink in, they don’t believe me or they never heard me.

    Probably all three.

  • Adam April 13, 2008, 5:48

    Hi All

    Making space pay has been a head-scratcher for years, but the basic answer has always been to open up a new human horizon. Being Earth-bound also binds the mind if we let it – space let’s us to think outside the box.

  • James M. Essig April 14, 2008, 21:56

    Hi Folks;

    Regarding blackhole mergers’ computational simulations, it would be nice if the exact nature of wormholes that exist perhaps within the centers of rotating supermassive blackholes with respect to the toroidal like rotating singularity that supposedly exists within such rapidly enough rotating blacholes could be accurately modeled as well.

    General relativistic calculations might be used to determine exactly where a macroscopic object entering such a wormhole would end up within our universe or within another universe in terms of its final spatial-temporal location within such a universe. Perhaps other factors come into play aside from trajectory including the gamma factor of the spacecraft entering such a wormole, the net electrical charge or charge distribution within the spacecraft as well as the magnetic analogue, the density of the space craft and density distribution of the space craft, the rotational momentum of the space craft, the moment of inertia of the space craft, the shape of the space craft including its various aspect ratios, the elemental make up the the space craft, and the list goes on and on.

    My guess is that the trajectory of the space craft as well as its gamma factor accrued in part due to its infall into the blackhole would be the largest final destination drivers although other secondary properties such as those mentioned above might also be significant in terms of fine course adjustment.

    Perhaps, the fine scale manipulation of the secondary drivers along with the primary destination arrival drivers could be accomplished to allow the space craft to enter all the more remote or exotic types of universe destinations in an analogous way that perhaps the setting up of what might a first seem to be a trivial energy barrier in front of a macroscopic object might cause it to tunnel over great distances by permitting an enhanced time evolution of its time dependent wavefunction to a form of probability amplitude that is greatly and very locally skewed at a location that is far removed from the actual space craft before it tunnels.

    Just a thought.



  • Adam April 15, 2008, 5:43

    Looking at what I wrote it’s a bit oblique. What I mean is that Space opens up our minds to bigger things and offers a possibly bigger, richer, more meaningful future for us all. Staying on Earth, fighting old fights, will produce only more tears and more needless dying. Space will be new fights and new dying, but with a whole lot more room to do it in and a chance to make a clean start for many more of us.

    I guess I am trying not to seem naive – getting into the heavens won’t make us angels, but it might just give us a chance to be better humans. Certainly its challenges and dangers and rewards require a better effort than the rather simple brutality that has been much of human history and conquest. Space, I hope, is a frontier we can conquer without having to displace the natives.

  • ljk April 15, 2008, 7:53

    Black hole pioneer John Wheeler dies at 96

    Physicist also helped develop an atomic bomb during World War II

    University of Texas Wheeler, who died at 96, was “the only physics
    superhero still standing,” a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was quoted saying.

    updated 2:15 p.m. ET, Mon., April. 14, 2008

    HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. – Physicist John A. Wheeler, who had a key
    role in the development of the atom bomb and later gave the space phenomenon black holes their name, has died at 96.

    Wheeler, for many years a professor at Princeton University,
    died of pneumonia Sunday at his home in Hightstown, said his
    daughter, Alison Wheeler Lahnston.

    Wheeler rubbed elbows with colossal figures in science such as
    Albert Einstein and Danish scientist Niels Bohr, with whom Wheeler
    worked in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Full article here:


  • ljk April 30, 2008, 11:06

    Supermassive Black Hole Kicked Out of Galaxy: First Ever Observation

    Written by Ian O’Neill

    For the first time, the most extreme collision to occur in the cosmos has been observed. Galaxies are known to hide supermassive black holes in their cores, and should the galaxies collide, tidal forces will cause massive disruption to the stars orbiting around the galactic cores. If the cores are massive enough, the supermassive black holes may become trapped in gravitational attraction. Do the black holes merge to form a super-supermassive black hole? Do the two supermassive black holes spin, recoil and then blast away from each other? Well, it would seem both are possible, but astronomers now have observational evidence of a black hole being blasted away from its parent galaxy after colliding with a larger cousin.

    Now, the same research group who made the astounding discovery of the structure of a black hole molecular torus by analysing the emission of echoed light from an X-ray flare (originating from star matter falling into the supermassive black hole’s accretion disk) have observed one of these supermassive black holes being kicked out of its parent galaxy. What caused this incredible event? A collision with another, bigger supermassive black hole.

    Stefanie Komossa and her team from the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) made the discovery. This work, to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters on May 10th, verifies something that has only been modelled in computer simulations. Models predict that as two fast-rotating black holes begin to merge, gravitational radiation is emitted through the colliding galaxies. As the waves are emitted mainly in one direction, the black holes are thought to recoil – much like the force that accompanies firing a rifle. The situation can also be thought of as two spinning tops, getting closer and closer until they meet. Due to their high angular momentum, the tops experience a “kick”, very quickly ejecting the tops in the opposite directions. This is essentially what two supermassive black holes are thought to do, and now this recoil has been observed. What’s more, the ejected black hole’s velocity has been measured by analysing the broad spectroscopic emission lines of the hot gas surrounding the black hole (its accretion disk).

    The ejected black hole is travelling at a velocity of 2650 km/s (1647 mi/s). The accretion disk will continue to feed the recoiled black hole for many millions of years on its journey through space alone.

    Full article here: