Spring is sprung
time to increase your viewing pleasure!
Amateur astronomers are able to use their telescopes year-round and, in fact, some of the best viewing in our locale is in winter. The air is less polluted and the shimmering waves we see as a result of the heat escaping the earth in the summertime evenings aren’t there in the January/March period. Additionally, the clouds that almost depressed us in November have decreased significantly and many evenings are clear.
However, it is so darn cold! As a result, we tend to increase our viewing of the skies when the warm weather arrives. It is now that time of year and I hope all of you who have been dormant vis-à-vis telescope use during the past while are now going to increase your activity for the next several months. Our star party at Waterloo Park on Saturday, April 27th will be the beginning of KW-RASC’s community activities for 2013. Please visit our website often to be informed about what is happening where and when.
On another note, we have good news! Einstein’s theory of gravity (general relativity) has been confirmed again by a newly-discovered relativist binary system. This must be the umpteenth time that Einstein’s theory has been confirmed but there have always been doubters and it seems that we have to reconfirm the theory every so often. In a nutshell, this theory, describes how matter warps space-time and thus causes gravity and, in so doing, predicts that objects in orbit will produce ripples called gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves have still not been detected but the energy carried away by them will cause the orbit of a binary system to shrink by a specific amount each year. Scientists have now, in fact, detected such a change in a binary orbit. They have detected a decline in the orbital period for the double pulsar system PSR B1913+16 (commonly referred to as the ‘Hulse-Taylor binary pulsar’). Sooooo, Einstein’s theory lives on undeterred!
Staying with cosmological matters, it is intriguing that we now have results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that suggests there is evidence of annihilation from dark matter particles. Interestingly, the revised estimate of the makeup of the universe is now 4.9% ordinary matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.3% dark energy.
We have known about dark matter for the better part of a century but we have only been able to understand its existence by its gravitational influence on ordinary matter. Now, however, we are attempting to directly detect dark matter particles by:
1) creating dark matter particles in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider
2) catching dark matter particles that whizz through the earth in deep underground detectors
3) looking in space to find evidence of rare dark matter collision events
I find the last of these methods to be especially interesting. When two dark matter particles collide, they will annihilate each other and transform their energy into high-energy photons and high-energy particles. Fascinatingly, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that was installed on the exterior of the ISS can detect these particles! Therefore, we may be on the cusp of finally determining definitively the existence of dark matter.
These really are exciting times for astronomers and astronomy. I hope you rev up that telescope and/or binoculars and go out there and sightsee the celestial wonders.