20 February 2009

A Great Year to Look Up!

Posted by Dan Satterfield

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Many different scientific organizations will have activities this year. I began myself by showing on air the incredible picture below.


This is what is left of a giant Supernova observed by Tycho Brahe in early November of 1572.

Actually the whole world observed it! Supernovas in our own Milky Way Glaxy are very rare. The kind of event that would make every astronomer on the planet collectively wet their pants! At Christmas time in 1572, the bright supernova “rivaled Venus in brightness”. It gradually faded away over the year or so. 

Supernovas are GIANT EXPLOSIONS! That is really an understatement. A supernova can shine brighter than several entire galaxies for a few weeks! In the last 1000 years, there have been 6 known supernovas in our Galaxy. Less than one per century. They are very important to Astronomers because they can use their brightness as a cosmic mileage marker. Alex Filipenko the UCB Astronomer says they put out more energy than all the visible galaxies in the Universe for a short time. Yea, that big.

We are overdue!

Imagine, a new bright star in the night that everyone on Earth notices. Let’s hope it is not within 500 light years. Closer, and it could destroy life on Earth. Fortunately, there do not seem to be any impending supernovas that close. Beetlejuice, the orange start in upper Orion, is likely to go supernova. It’s 1000 light years away, but it might go tomorrow or in 10,000 years. No one knows!

I have mentioned before here, the FABULOUS series of lectures by Alex Filippenko, the renowned Astronomer at the U. of California at Berkeley. If you want to know more about these giant explosions. That is the place to go!

The international Year of Astronomy has several web sites. Click on the banners below to get started!