Still riding a high from watching Perseverance land on Mars! (Aren't you?) Okay, Curiosity might have just been a miracle. But this is something far, far better. Repeatable competence! Putting again into stark contrast those propagandists (and their moron followers) who spread reflexive hate toward all the skilled professions -- the folks who know stuff, or know how to do stuff.
No, it's not zero sum. Boffins who can do these things or who know a lot haven't paid for it by sacrificing realness, or common sense, or wisdom... or even art or necessarily faith. On average they are more wise about other things, as well. That's how it works. And the wise among us know it.
So how about now let's share even more examples of how skilled folks are opening to our caveman-dazzled eyes ever more wonders of a fantastic universe! And shedding light upon the wonder that is ourselves. Starting with...
== Put this in perspective, hm? ==
Hot news about where and when we are! Earth just got 7 km/s faster and about 2000 light-years closer to the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, according to a better model of the Milky Way Galaxy based on new observation data, including a catalog of objects observed over the course of more than 15 years by the Japanese radio astronomy project VERA.
The new map suggests that the center of the Galaxy, and the supermassive black hole which resides there, is located 25800 light-years from Earth. This is closer than the official value of 27700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985. The velocity component of the map indicates that Earth is traveling at 227 km/s as it orbits around the Galactic Center. This is faster than the official value of 220 km/s. So… not quite as far into the boonies as we thought.
Recently discovered, that the farthest known quasar - about 13.03 billion light-years from Earth - can be dated back to just 670 million years after the Big Bang (the universe at this time was a mere 5% of its current age), making it the most distant and earliest quasar ever found. This quasar also hosts a giga-supermassive black hole that has a mass equal to 1.6 billion of our suns. It produced a wind of super-heated gas flowing from around the galaxy's supermassive black hole, with this gas traveling at one fifth the speed of light. Fascinating. Beyond its intrinsic interest, including wonder over how a black hole could get so incredibly massive, so fast, there’s the fact that remnant giga-black holes left over from that era may be near us, now quiescent since the epoch we reside in is – naturally – much older.
Oh, but let's take that thought farther! If some astronomers have recently observed supermassive Black Holes, others have proposed that a few might measure up to a QUINTILLION solar masses. Um... gulp?
SLABS would be "Stupendously LArge Black holeS". “at the heart of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*, at 4 million solar masses, and the most photogenic SMBH in the Universe, M87*, at 6.5 billion solar masses. The chonkiest black holes we've detected are ultramassive, more than 10 billion (but less than 100 billion) solar masses. These include an absolute beast clocking in at 40 billion solar masses in the centre of a galaxy named Holmberg 15A.” Based on the primordial black hole model, the team calculated exactly how stupendously large these black holes could be, between 100 billion and 1 quintillion (that's 18 zeroes) solar masses.
Okay do I get predictive cred here? Again, while some astronomers are speculating humungous black holes somewhere in the cosmos that are vastly, vastly bigger than the biggest at the cores of galaxies... see my short story “Bubbles.”
== More mundane? Just... galaxies...==
Scientists Say There Are Likely Fewer Galaxies in Space Than They Previously Thought . While NASA previously determined that there were around two trillion galaxies in the universe, new findings say the number is more likely hundreds of billions.
More modest densities in the news. Astronomers have found the spectra of calcium and other metals at the surfaces of some white dwarf stellar remnants in the same rations as continental crust, suggesting that these thin coatings came from former planets...a concept you can find eerily similar to a plot element in Heaven’s Reach.
TESS is taking up where Kepler left off, and wonders continue! “Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a trio of hot worlds larger than Earth orbiting a much younger version of our Sun called TOI 451. The system resides in the recently discovered Pisces-Eridanus stream, a collection of stars less than 3% the age of our solar system that stretches across one-third of the sky.” Actually, this article offers FIVE ways this system is really interesting.
== A new era for visual astronomy? ==
It’s a bit abstract and complicated… but a recent discovery using the fastest ever atomic clocks and the newly coined time measure – a Zeptosecond (sounds like a Marx Brother!) – enabled researchers to prove that “the electron shell in a molecule does not react to light everywhere at the same time. The time delay (247 zs = 2.47e-18 s --GDN) occurs because information within the molecule only spreads at the speed of light.” This means that the phased arrival of visible light rays can be measured , the way radio astronomers have long done it with long radio waves, letting them do Very Long Baseline Interferometry.
My very first job as a Caltech undergraduate, the summer of 1969, was as assistant to Professor Marshall Cohen, hauling and setting up big ol’ reels of computer tape for VLBI post-analysis, using the recorded phase timings at dishes widely separated across the planet to do interferometry… turning those far-apart radio telescopes into essentially one instrument, able to parse sky-angles of incredibly small width, distinguishing objects both small and very far away. This new discovery might – perhaps – let us do this with much shorter wavelengths of visible light, possibly with baselines that span the inner solar system!
“While the Goethe work is technologically still far from an operational interferometer wavefront time-tagging capability, this seems about 100 million times better than would be needed for the optical wavelength Event Horizon Telescope that recently gave us the first image of an active black hole!” The article also speculates that aliens might be able to see us from a distance better than we thought possible.
I have to wonder how this might augment or replace the notion that I wrote about in EXISTENCE… and that we’re now funding at NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC)… to send missions to the solar gravitational lens distance (starting at 550AU), where the sun’s gravity focuses convoluted images from very far away. Fascinating…
…especially since it suggests advanced aliens might have excellent images of past eras of Earth that they might share with us, solving many mysteries. And we might start collecting such libraries, too.