One of 27 Giant Radio Antennas at the VLA
One of the places that Martine and I would like to see on our trip to New Mexico is the Karl G. Janski Very Large Array some 50 miles west of Socorro along U.S. Route 60. It is part of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). If you are of a sci-fi turn of mind, you might think its related to SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence—but actually it’s for taking images of radio waves directed at the earth. For some of the images created by the VLA, click here.
The twenty-seven 230-ton radio antennas are in one of four Y-shaped configurations and can be moved into position along rails using a special locomotive. Tours are available (we plan to take one).
Although there are many observatories in the United States, many are adversely affected by air pollution. The data from the various VLA radio antennas can be combined to give the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across with the sensitivity of a dish 422 feet in diameter.
I expect to be swept off my feet.
Could It Be the Closest Inhabitable Exoplanet?
From NASA comes a photo comparing Earth with the planet Gliese 832c. According to the Astronomy Picture of the Day website:
This planet is only 16 light years away—could it harbor life? Recently discovered exoplanet Gliese 832c has been found in a close orbit around a star that is less bright than our Sun. An interesting coincidence, however, is that Gliese 832c receives just about the same average flux from its parent star as does the Earth. Since the planet was discovered only by a slight wobble in its parent star’s motion, the above illustration is just an artistic guess of the planet’s appearance—much remains unknown about Gliese 832c’s true mass, size, and atmosphere. If Gliese 832c has an atmosphere like Earth, it may be a super-Earth undergoing strong seasons but capable of supporting life. Alternatively, if Gliese 832c has a thick atmosphere like Venus, it may be a super-Venus and so unlikely to support life as we know it. The close 16-light year distance makes the Gliese 832 planetary system currently the nearest to Earth that could potentially support life. The proximity of the Gliese 832 system therefore lends itself to more detailed future examination and, in the most spectacularly optimistic scenario, actual communication—were intelligent life found there.
Since Neil deGrasse Tyson very effectively demonstrated that none of the other planets or planetoids in our solar system is inhabitable, I guess I’ll have to cancel my vacation plans for the Big Red Spot on Jupiter. (You really should see the video clip that comes with this link: He’s really quite good.)
By the way, you’ll notice in the above quote that NASA fudged a bit on the “photo” of Gliese 832c. If you’ll look closely you’ll see Spain, France, and North Africa through the clouds. I guess the point was to make Gliese 832c a more welcoming destination than, say, Syria, Pakistan, the Gaza Strip, or anywhere Ken Ham chooses to call home.
The Spiral M31 (Andromeda) Galaxy With Our Moon in the Foreground
As if we didn’t already have enough troubles, the Andromeda (M31) Galaxy is set to collide with our Milky Way Galaxy. But then, as I am told, there’s no point in crying over spilt Milky Way.
According to CBS News, two neutron stars in M31 just collided. By “just,” of course, we mean two million years ago—which is more than 400 times longer than when Ken Ham thought the universe was created. It took that long for the light of the collision to reach our telescopes. The CBS News website has a neat animation of what the collision with our galaxy could look like.
In case you’re upset about this adversely affecting your weekend plans, let me assure you that the event is between two and four million years in the future:
But there is nothing to worry about, [Astronomer Dennis Overbye] noted, because long before that, the Earth will have entered the solar system’s “hot zone” and become too hostile to sustain human life, so no one [that we could recognize, in any case] will be around to experience the collision.
By then Ken Ham will have been resolved into the two or three molecules that make up his brain.