The Heartbeat of a Sun-Like Star in Infancy

SUPER NERD ALERT!  ASTROPHYSICS INCOMING!

This is so beautiful — you’re looking at what appears to be the “heartbeat” of a protostar, which is a sun-like star that forms out of a giant interstellar cloud full of molecular hydrogen and dust.  Most of these clouds are found within the interstellar medium, which is best explained as the big space between star systems in a galaxy.  Inside of these huge clouds of dust and molecular hydrogen (among other interstellar stuff), there is a lot that goes on, and it is some very complicated stuff, as you can imagine.  Essentially, all of our knowledge on this is theoretical to some extent, as we obviously can’t just swing over and check it out for ourselves, we have to rely on telescopes, satellites, spectral analyses, and other data we collect on the subject.

As dust and gasses float around inside of these interstellar clouds, gravity plays a huge part in the creation of a new star.  As gravity pulls dust and gasses into a “clump” at the center of one of these clouds, more and more stuff clumps together, creating a core of sorts — nobody really has a clue how this happens and why it occurs, but as a trillion trillion trillion of these bits of dust, interstellar gasses, and other “stuff” pull together to create a mass, the temperature of the core goes up.  This is to be expected, as these bits of dust and gasses slam into each other.  The density of this “core” also increases as more and more atoms inside of the interstellar cloud try to occupy the same space as they are pulled together by gravity.  Also as you can imagine, the gravity of this core gets considerably stronger as more and more bit of interstellar stuff collect and clump at the core, which causes the temperature to get higher and gravity to get even stronger.  This is the birth of a star.  This process of a star grabbing more and more mass is called accretion.

A pretty interesting phenomena happens when the star being born reaches a point where the gas pressure inside the core is equal to the gravity of the entire core — the protostar reaches an equilibrium, and no more mass is pulled into the core.  This is what is happening right now in the star being born in the video above, called V1467 Orionis, which is being born right now in McNeil’s Nebula, a big circular cloud of dust and gas located inside the constellation Orion.  It was detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Japan-led Suzaku satellite.  This is literally a star being born.  In the video above you saw two spots, one on either side of the star — these are enormous holes where the core is sucking in more gas and dust to fuel birth.  Once equilibrium is established, this feeding will stop.  The when, where, how, and why is unknown, but boy is it gorgeous.

Click on the image below for a full-size image of V1647 Orionis.

This image below is McNeil’s Nebula, which resides inside of the constellation Orion:

Thanks to Space.com, NASA, and Cosmic Ray!

The ISS Presents The Light Friday Fantastic

My friend Jules posted this I think yesterday — a bunch of images from Don Pettit, flight engineer aboard the International Space Station.  Not regular ol’ images of life in space or anything, nay.  These are long exposure shots of stars, et al, taken from the station itself.  This is about the coolest thing I’ve seen this month, and I’ve seen some cool sh*t this month.

Here are some of my faves, but you have to check out the entire Flickr stack – ISS Star Trails on Flickr.

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Amazing Video of the Birth of the Universe

Physicists at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, CA have created some pretty cool videos of how they think the universe was created — things like the birth of stars, the universe expanding, and other things that happen to be so beautiful that not showing them is a crime.  Check this out:

Way too cool.  From the press release by Stanford University:

The mysteries of the universe – from the first stars and supernovas to galaxy clusters and dark matter – are being revealed in stunningly beautiful full-color, high-definition 3-D videos played on a huge screen in an intimate theater on the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory campus.

Diaphanous veils of semi-transparent fluorescing gas and dust swirl hypnotically among exploding stars; colliding galaxies dance a cosmic do-si-do before they coalesce. These are some of the compelling scenes shown in the second-floor Visualization Lab of SLAC’s Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC.)

In addition, KIPAC’s newly redesigned websitefeatures an elegant gallery for the movies and images.

Each animation lasts just a minute or three. But whether it depicts only the few milliseconds of a supernova explosion or nearly 14 billion years of cosmic evolution, each KIPAC video shows the results of calculations involving trillions of bytes of data, and marries the latest physics theories with groundbreaking visualization techniques. The videos give scientists insights into their research that cannot be gleaned from old-school data-dump printouts. And they’re as entertaining as they are educational: the videos are featured in planetarium shows now playing to the general public in New York City and San Francisco.

As beautiful as the 3-D videos are, though, they are first and foremost scientific tools.

“I’m trying to predict the past – how the universe came to be the way that it is today,” said Tom Abel, an associate professor of physics at Stanford University and head of KIPAC’s computational physics department, who specializes in using computer calculations and visualizations to understand how the universe may have evolved after the Big Bang.

Thanks to Space.com for the image!

Norway Aurora Borealis – Best Thing You’ll See Today

So, if you’re just sitting on your duff right now waiting for the next JOL article to hit the net (yeah right!), then rest assured that, unless you’ve got a media server and a big ass projector and a whole bunch of the brown acid, you’re about to have your face rocked.  All of the solar flare activity that’s been going on has made the Aurora Borealis go absolutely siiiiick lately.  Seriously, that was four extra “i’s” in that word just to describe the imminent sickage.

What the %$#$ am I talking about?!  WATCH THIS VIDEO!

Worth it? You’re welcome.

The Lightning Fantastic, Oklahoma City, August 8, 2011

I drove back from Arlington, Texas last night.  Long story short, I left around 8pm last night, and I spent the entire three hour drive just completely enamored with the sky lighting up with huge bolts of lightning.  I remembered seeing the Trinity test video, and so many other night-based explosions in movies; the sky last night reminded me of that type of phenomenon.  So many bolts of lightning piercing the darkness, it was just like watching that scene in the newest Harry Potter when all of the folks are casting the spells over the school campus.  Overwhelming; beautiful.

(Sorry folks, I’m not a Harry Potter person, I just saw the one…)

I got home and made this video, since I was blessed AGAIN with the lack of tiredness in my body after that drive.  I took about a half hour’s worth of lightning strikes in downtown and condensed them down to about two minutes.  I hope you enjoy!  I’m a great big goofball, just be forewarned.

The Lightning Fantastic in Oklahoma City, August 8, 2011 from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Thanks, NatGeo and Tal Bachman!

My God, It’s Full of Stars! What You See When Your Eyes are Closed – Phosphenes

As much as I love light, I love to close my eyes and stare at the back of my eyelids.  Have you ever noticed how amazing, how beautiful the events that occur are when you rub your eyes and notice the instant star and explosion show that occurs in your vision?  I always imagine it as I’m looking into the birth of a universe – each time I stare at my eyelids I see little exploding stars that each take about 2-3 seconds to fully ignite, explode, and become part of the other stars waiting for me to focus my gaze on them.  Try it, it’s a lot of fun!  It is for me, at least.  Perhaps I’m nutso.  Still, AWESOME!

These little events are called entopic phenomena, meaning that they come directly from the eye itself.  I’m pretty sure everyone’s experienced the most common form of entopic phenomena, eye floaters.  Right?

 

Eye floaters, whether or not they have a sarcastic retort like the ones in Family Guy, are entopic phenomena.

The light that you see when you don’t see any light – whether it’s the random star birth and death that I see when I close my eyes, or if I rub my eyes, or any of a few things that trigger it for me – are called phosphenes.  That word is from two greek words, phos (light) and phainein (to show), and goes to explain most of the “hey there is light in my vision but there’s no source” mysteries.  The phrase “seeing stars,” like from getting whacked in the head or from being dizzy is phosphenic.  When people are deprived of light for long periods of time, phosphenes occur in the person’s vision as well – this is referred to as “the prisoner’s cinema.”  Isn’t that just creepy and horrible?  Apparently phosphenes can occur through several methods, from strong magnetic fiends, to just rubbing your eyes, to reports of astronauts seeing them when exposed to radiation in space.

Here’s a good account of the Prisoner’s Cinema, which also happens apparently to truck drivers, pilots, and other folk who have to concentrate on something for very long periods of time:

It has been widely reported that prisoners confined to dark cells often see brilliant light displays, which is sometimes called the “prisoner’s cinema.” Truck drivers also see such displays after staring at snow-covered roads for long periods, and pilots may experience phosphenes, especially when they are flying alone at high altitudes with a cloudless sky. In fact, whenever there is a lack of external stimuli, these displays can appear. They can also be made at will by simply pressing your fingertips against closed eyelids. In addition, they can also be produced by an electrical shock. In fact, reportedly, it was high fashion in the eighteenth century to have a phosphene party. It is noted that Benjamin Franklin once took part in such an encounter where a circle of people holding hands would be shocked by a high-voltage electrostatic generator, so that phosphenes were created each time the circuit was completed or broken.

The earliest account of phosphenes is given by the Bohemian physiologist Johannes Purkinje in 1819. These subjective images are called phosphenes (from the Greek phos, light, and phainein, to show). Oster (1970) suggests that, because phosphenes originate within the eye and the brain, they are a perceptual phenomenon common to all mankind. The visual areas of the brain at the back of the head (occipital lobe) can also be stimulated to produce phosphenes.

I find these very fascinating, these entropic events.  Do you have them?  How would you describe them?  Please, leave a message in the comments, I am very interested in your phosphene experiences!

Check out this beautiful video representation of phosphene events portrayed artistically.  So pretty!

Thanks to Wikipedia, and again, and Multiple Sclerosis Info, WiseGeek, MadSci, and MotiFake!   

Create Your Own Northern Lights! Ah, Aurora Borealis, You Make Good Web 2.0

Of all the things I didn’t get to do before I left Sweden, the one thing I have to go back to do is to see Aurora Borealis, or the “Northern Lights.”  The phenomenon occurs in our ionosphere when ionized gases (like oxygen and nitrogen) get excited from the solar wind particles coming in.  The result of the excitation of these gases is a photon of light.  So those crazy Star Trek V ribbons of light that you can see in the sky in the polar regions is excited gas bouncing around in the ionosphere.

What this post was actually about was the cool make-your-own-aurora generator that the Visit Norway website has up right now.  Go make your own Northern Lights – pretty cool!

The Large Magellanic Cloud

Hey, wanna see something ridiculously beautiful?

This image is of a really young star cluster called R136 – scientists think that it’s only a couple of million years old (you know, only), and lives inside the 30 Doradus Nebula.  You know, the 30 Doradus Nebula.  Yeah, I really have no idea where that is either – but it’s a very violent, turbulent region inside of the Large Magellanic Cloud.  See the blue dots?  Those are some of the largest stars known – some over hundreds of times larger than our Sun.

The Hubble Telescope’s Widefield Camera 3 took the above image in red, UV, and visible light.  This blew my mind – that image is about 100 light years wide.  The green hue in the photo is the glow of oxygen; red from fluorescing hydrogen; the blue hues are the hottest and largest stars.  It just blows my mind – the swirling cream-colored masses, it’s like space mist, so intangible to my imagination.

From the NASA site on this image:

The brilliant stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, and hurricane-force stellar winds (streams of charged particles), which are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born. The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys, as well as a dark region in the center that roughly looks like the outline of a holiday tree. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars can also help create a successive generation of offspring. When the winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The movement of the LMC around the Milky Way may have triggered the massive cluster’s formation in several ways. The gravitational tug of the Milky Way and the companion Small Magellanic Cloud may have compressed gas in the LMC. Also, the pressure resulting from the LMC plowing through the Milky Way’s halo may have compressed gas in the satellite. The cluster is a rare, nearby example of the many super star clusters that formed in the distant, early universe, when star birth and galaxy interactions were more frequent. Previous Hubble observations have shown astronomers that super star clusters in faraway galaxies are ubiquitous.

Beautiful.  Ridiculously beautiful.

NASA’s Flying Lady with Long Distance Eyes, SOFIA

NASA has many telescopes in play, optical or otherwise, in a variety of different forms.  We have the Hubble Space Telescope that peers into the celestial bodies in several ways, we have ground-based telescopes that track the stars, radio telescopes that listen for whispers among the stars, and several other forms of watching and tracking the sky and beyond.  NASA has been working on a new one for a while (at least a few years), this time it’s a far-infrared vision system mounted on a modified 747SP.

Meet SOFIA – NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy:

See that big gaping hole in the side of that aircraft?  That’s the telescope.  SOFIA flies around and tracks planets, stars, and other space stuff – at least when it’s operational.  That’s the plan.  Right now, the feat is that SOFIA’s big open cavity there is the largest to ever have been flown.  The telescope is fully exposed, and NASA is making sure that all is copasetic with the design and equipment before doing any of the really cool stuff.

SOFIA’s main gear is a German-made, 2.5 meter far-infrared range telescope capable of seeing between 0.3 and 1600 microns, weighing in at 34,000 pounds.  She’s going to be looking for planet formations in nearby star systems, planetary composition, Milky-Way dynamic activity, and ultra-luminous infrared galaxies among her other work.  SOFIA’s got a big task, and it is super cool to me that NASA is taking this to the skies.

Besides looking at the universe from a new angle, what I like best about SOFIA is that she’s not at all trying to blow up missiles, enemy troops, tanks, planes, or any of that other nonsense crap.  SOFIA is trying to scope out things that could help us find answers.  LOVE IT!

Here’s a few videos of SOFIA – the first is a NASA “Mission Update” video:

The second video is an air-to-air video of SOFIA in flight:

Last video – an animation of the SOFIA aircraft and some of its inner workings:

Be sure to check out the SOFIA mission page at NASA, and the Dryden Flight Research Center site.

11 Minutes, 8 Seconds – Longest Solar Eclipse of the Millennium

You crazy party animals and sun worshippers – especially all of you in Africa and Asia – probably saw the latest solar phenomenon just on Friday.  The longest annular solar eclipse in the last 1,000 years occurred yesterday, turning the sun literally into a “burning ring of fire.”

“Hey Jim, what is an annular solar eclipse?”

Well, wonderful JimOnLight.com readers, when a solar eclipse is annular, it means that the sun has a big object right in the middle of it, creating what appears to be a ring.  Most of the middle of the sun gets blocked, creating a darkness and lowered temperatures for the duration of the eclipse.  This one, which won’t be exceeded until at least December 23, 3043 (at which point I will be dust) lasted for 11 minutes and 8 seconds – a record for this millennium.

People in the Maldives, Myanmar, and China got to see great views of it – Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa got a partial eclipse.  I actually had to look up the Maldives, because I thought it was something you stick in a salad.

Check out a video, followed by images from a post at Huffington Post below:

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