Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's Up? - Parallel Universe(s)

Welcome back to What's Up?

The size of our universe, with its multitude of galaxies containing billions of stars, each with numerous planets orbiting around them, is mind-boggling. Although it's probably not infinite in size, its true size is currently unknown. 

Many astronomers believe that life is out there, even if the odds are very low, due the sheer number of other worlds in our universe.

This universe might not even be the only one. A growing number of physicists, particularly string theorists (who are a bit loopy at the best of times), believe that there are many other universes out there, possibly even an infinite number of them.
Yes, this might be a bit of a plug for my favourite TV show, but there may actually be alternate universes, some with histories similar but slightly different than our own.
If there were an infinite number of universes, it would explain why we find ourselves in a universe that can support life. It's simply because if you were to pick any universe that isn't fit for life, we wouldn't be there asking why we exist at all.

If true, then there are new universes popping into existence outside of our universe constantly. But how can something come from nothing?

If you look at all of the matter and energy in the universe, it will perfectly cancel out with gravity. This means that the overall energy of the universe is exactly zero!

At the tiniest possible level, the quantum level, the world is essentially random. Exact predictions of the future on the quantum level are impossible. 

One result of this randomness is that little particles pop in and out of existence all around you extremely quickly. This has been proven in laboratories with very careful and precise experiments.

There may be many other universes,
with a few very similar, but
slightly different than ours.
It is thought that a universe could be born out of an extremely rare and large fluctuation. Maybe there are many universes similar to ours, but with very slight differences, with alternate versions of ourselves going about their lives slightly differently than we are.

Another set of theories predict that there may be parallel universes, that may occupy the same space as we do, but in different dimensions.

These ideas are very weird and interesting, but are they really science? Are they even testable?

Whether our universe is one of many in a much larger multiverse will likely never be known, but parallel universes could possibly be detected from gravity leaking through from other dimensions.

Maybe someday we'll travel to these parallel universes (if they actually exist). This is already frequently portrayed in science fiction  television shows like Fox's "Fringe". But unlike "Fringe", we have no crazy Dr. Walter Bishop to do this.

Until then, let's allow our mind to relax while we take a look at what's up in this month's night sky.

The new Moon was on Feb. 3 and the full Moon will be Feb. 18.

Jupiter will be low in the western sky this month after sunset. Catch Jupiter while you can, Jupiter will be setting earlier and earlier each night.

Saturn will be rising later in the evenings in the east. If you know someone with a telescope, check out Saturn. In recent months a large white storm has broken out in Saturn's upper atmosphere. This storms is ten Earth-widths in length! It will likely show up as a bright white streak on Saturn's surface.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will be having its monthly meeting on Feb. 27, the last Sunday of the month. The meeting runs from 7pm to 9pm at the Wilmot Community Centre. Guests are always welcome.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
In the winter sky there are a lot of bright beautiful stars. The brightest of these stars, Sirius, looks like it's twinkling the most. If you look upand to the right a little bit, there will be a group of fairly bright stars that make up the constellation Orion. The bright red star is called Betelgeuse (which sounds like beetle-juice). Betelgeuse is a red giant star and is a very lumpy shape. This star will someday blow up and get really bright in our sky. It likely won't be for quite a while, but if we do see it go, it will one of the brightest objects in the sky. It might be almost as bright as the Moon! Keep an eye on the sky, you never know what you might miss.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What's Up? - Eclipses

Welcome back to What's Up?

The total lunar eclipse on Dec. 11,
2010 as seen from California.
Last month, there was a very special lunar eclipse. It occurred on Dec. 21, the winter solstice. It is special because in the last 2000 years, only one other lunar eclipse has fallen on a winter solstice.

Sadly, it took place in the middle of a very messy December and was clouded out. But, to be ready for the next eclipse, let's find out what an eclipse actually is.

From Earth, two different types of eclipses involving the Moon can be seen. The first kind, a lunar eclipse, happens when the Moon is hidden in the Earth's shadow. If you were on the Moon, you would see the Sun getting blocked out by the disc of the Earth. 

A small amount of light is bent by Earth's atmosphere and projected on to the Moon. Depending on atmospheric conditions, the Moon can appear a deep blood red, brown, or dark grey. During years with volcanic activity the Moon can appear quite dim since less light makes it through the dusty upper atmosphere.

In some eclipses, the Moon isn't in the darkest part of the Earth's shadow. These are called partial lunar eclipses. Part of the Moon may appear to dim and can even look like someone took a bite out of the Moon!

The other type of eclipse involving the Moon is the solar eclipse. Total solar eclipses are much more dramatic because they take place in a matter of minutes instead of over a few hours.

During a solar eclipse, the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun. The Moon may cover only part of the Sun resulting in a partial eclipse. The Moon could also be too far from Earth (depending on the time of year) and not be large enough to cover the entire disc of the Sun, lead to a beautifully bright ring, called an annular eclipse.

When the Moon is close enough to Earth, it can just barely block the entire Sun, and if you're at the right place at the right time, you're in for quite a show.

A total solar eclipse in 1999.
The Moon will slowly cover up the Sun, but this doesn't actually dim the light from the Sun very much. As the Moon is covering up the last bit of the Sun, the final bit of sunlight will be shining in between lunar hills, causing what is known as Baily's beads.

During the last few seconds, everything around you will go completely dark, and stars show up in the sky. Some animals may behave oddly thinking its nighttime. This time is called totality. It may be very brief, but can last up to seven minutes, if you're lucky.

Since the bright surface of the Sun will be blocked, you would be able to see the Sun's outer atmosphere glowing around it. You might even see a solar flare!

But, if you happen to be lucky enough to be watching a solar eclipse, be careful. The Sun's light can severely damage your eyesight, especially after totality when your eyes will be used to the dark. The majority of the eclipse is best viewed through welding glasses, or through a telescope with a solar filter firmly attached to the front of the telescope.

The next total solar eclipse visible in Summerside, PEI, is on August 8, 2024, but solar eclipses happen a couple of times a year, visible only in a small area somewhere around the globe. Lunar eclipses are just as common, but can be easily seen from anywhere on the planet.

Until then, let's take a look at this month's sky.

The Quadrantid meteor show will peak on the night of Jan. 3, so keep an eye out for "shooting stars".

The full Moon will be on Jan. 4, while the new Moon will be on Jan. 19.

Jupiter will be shining brightly in the south-west shortly after sunset throughout the month.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will be holding its monthly meeting on Sunday, Jan. 30, at the Wilmot Community Centre. The meeting runs from 7pm to 9pm. Guests are always welcome.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Remember those little robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, driving around on Mars? They are still there and seem to be working fine. Spirit is stuck in some sand and is hibernating for the winter, waiting for Martian spring. Opportunity, in a warmer location, keeps on truckin'. Right now, Opportunity is taking a look at a big hole in the ground, caused by an asteroid smashing into Mars many years ago. This crater is the size of a football field! Maybe it will discover something that will help keep us safe from asteroids. You can never know with science what useful nuggets of information you may find, unless you go out and look!