Thursday, January 27, 2011

Betelgeuse hysteria, Sliding astrology, and the farthest object in the Universe

The Huffington Post recently huffed about Betelgeuse - a red supergiant - going supernova in 2012 (of course!). And perhaps, we will be seeing two Suns for a period of time in 2012 - just like Tatooine from the Star Wars universe. Awww. Only if this was close to reality.

So I was called in at 93.9 - The River for a brief chat about this and about the recent news that astrology may be out of whack because of Earth's precession. Basically, all your horoscope months are off by about a  month (noooo!!). Here is the link to the chat- with ample dose of original Star Trek music by our morning host, Monte.

But on a more serious and awesome note, astronomers announced the discovery of the farthest galaxy known so far. Of course it goes by the sexy name of UDFj-39546284 and it was found in the ultra-deep field image in infra-red taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (that is what UDF stands for in the name). 

How far is the galaxy? About 13.2 billion light years from us! Yup. We are looking at a galaxy when the universe was only 480 million years old. Remember, the farther we look into space, the farther back we look back in time. This is because of the finite speed of light. So we are seeing this galaxy as it was 13.2 billion years ago - since light has taken 13.2 billion years to get to us. Many of the stars that we are seeing in this galaxy are dead by now. This is like a delayed transmission. Since the Big Bang happened about 13.7 billion years, this is indeed a very short time!

There is an excellent description of the galaxy and the way it was discovered at Bad Astronomy.


Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Just last night I was gazing the starry southern sky over Tasmania here through unaided eye and telling my wife about Betelgeuse that I want to live up to see a supervova in this red giant. But one thing...this star hasn't started shedding the gaseous shell outwards, or has it? (at least not in my knowledge). I know eta-Carinae as a more imminent candidate for supernova.
What visible changes do you suggest a star should undergo (as seen from earth) just before going into a final sequence of collapse? From just before, I really mean a few dozen centuries or so ;-)

Salman Hameed said...

Wow - Tasmania should be nice. And fantastic views of the Milky Way.

Betelgeuse is going through size changes (actually, there is still some dispute about its actual size because of that). A few years ago, it reduced its size a bit (the photosphere), and it was assumed that this was perhaps due to some ejection episode. But we don't exactly know how many such episodes take place in the last million years of such gigantic stars. It is juts absolutely amazing that we are seeing such episodes now in some good details. So are these the sign of its final sequence before core-collapse? Don't know. And it is exactly this uncertainty that limits the predictions to within a few hundred-thousand years.

Enjoy Tasmania!

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

Thanks for the info about Betelgeuse. I hope it this red giant waits long enough for the ELT or OWL telescope's completion, for it is the only star we actually can see the surface details of.
Tasmanian sky is amazing. The brightest thing in the sky is the Milky Way galaxy itself in its entire stretch across the sky, with large and small magellanic clouds adding more to the show in this natural planetarium above. And the most interesting part is the Orion constellation hanging upside down from these southern skies!
I have been in Tasmania for nearly a month now.