Cosmic Explosions? What The Heck Is Going ON?

Have you heard the news? There was a big, bang, boom way out in outer space! What the heck was that? Is it the birth of a new universe? A star gone supernova? Has galactic war broken out? What the heck is going ON up there?

What We Know: Astronomers engaged in a bit of stargazing through a powerful X-ray imaging telescope called the Chandra Observatory. It is an orbiting observatory, launched and managed by NASA, and named after Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Observing astronomers witnessed several cosmic flashes (aka EXPLOSIONS). In order for these flashes to have been visible as they were, they had to have packed a punch with at least one thousand times greater energy than any other star in that neck of the deep space woods. The explosions occurred over a period of hours on a single day.

Although this event was witnessed in 2014, scientists are still scratching their heads over the phenomena. And, considering the scientific law about energy never ceasing to exist, transforming yes, but disappearing no, well, this head scratcher is a deep mystery. There seems to have been no energy trace left behind by these explosions.

Where It Happened: If you happen to have access to a deep space, X-ray telescope, you will want to take aim at an obscure, unnamed galaxy that is nearly 11 billion light years away (but chances are you will have to rely on what Chandra relays back to NASA). This is a region of deep space called “Chandra Deep Field-South”. Although the explosions are over, it may be worth staying tuned. Who knows what might happen next? I mean, after all, we don’t know what the heck actually happened.

The Big Question: How the heck can what seems like a cosmic cataclysm leave no footprint in the Universe?

What Experts Theorize (in other words, scientists’ best guesses):

  • A destructive event like a neutron or white dwarf star that died.
  • Merging of a star with a black hole (which would result in the death of a star)

Death Of A Star: When a neutron or white dwarf star dies it is actually an energy rich collapse of gases, plasma, and all other kinds of energy related “stuff”. This creates a gamma-ray burst which is a fancy way of saying massive explosion of energy. This is what is commonly called a supernova event.

Where’s The Aftermath Evidence? If a star went supernova, or got destroyed in a crushing black hole, where’s all the tidbits that would be left behind? Depending on the size of the star, several things will happen after the explosive excitement:

  • The star’s core shrinks back to form a tiny neutron star if it was about twice the size of our own Sun.
  • A black hole forms where the star used to be if the star was massively larger than our own Sun.
  • In a supernova, the layers surrounding the star’s core are blown out into space.
  • The shockwave of the final, spectacular explosion helps the blown out bits form new stars and, perhaps, a new galaxy.

What The Heck Is It? So, if there is not a new, tiny, neutron star or black hole in that particular part of space, scientists may eventually rule these likeliest theories out. But there’s more to consider, making a supernova/black hole theory unlikely:

  • Time: A Supernova event usually takes a few years of explosive activity to build up to the final KABOOM when the star finally collapses and explodes. This recent event occurred in a single day within a span of a few hours.
  • Experience: Scientists have a lot of experience identifying supernovas. In a galaxy the size of our Milky Way, supernovas occur about twice in a century. Throughout our Universe, scientists estimate, from their observations, that a supernova happens every single second. So, if this event wasn’t immediately recognized as a supernova by scientists familiar with what to expect, chances are it wasn’t one.

Now What? We have to continue to follow the logic. Which brings us full circle to the original question:

“What the heck just happened? What the heck is it?”

What is it that Sherlock Holmes or Spock would say?

“When you rule out what is most likely, whatever is left, however unlikely, must be the answer.”

What The Heck Are We Left With?  UFOlogists will be quick to conclude it must be evidence of alien life. Perhaps they are tinkering with catastrophic weapons. Maybe a devastating planetary conflict took place. It could have been an alien science experiment gone bad. Maybe it’s the deep space version of a telephone call or SOS. Perhaps a mega-asteroid impact with a star or planet occurred. You see, it could be a natural cosmic event. But it may be of a unique nature. One never observed by humans before. The simple explanation could be that scientists are flummoxed because no suggestion of such a thing exists “on the books” today. They may have to figure this one out from scratch, on their own.
In the unlikely event it does turn out to be a cosmic conflict between alien species or alien planetary natural disaster apocalypse, should Earth expect an influx of ET refugees? Well, if they do begin to show up, the gringa’s got a bit of advice for them. Don’t come to the US. Trump yanked up the refugee welcome mat a few months ago.
If you really want to live in the good ol’ U.S. of A, here’s a better plan for a space alien refugee. You see, since Trump is bent on building that stupid border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he’s trying to come up with the dough to pay for it. Turns out he’s not the great business negotiator he made himself out to be. Mexico ain’t paying for it.
One clever plan he has for some quick cash is to slash the budget of the U.S. Coast Guard. All an ET refugee need do is camp out in a Mexican coastal town, buy a kayak and wait for construction to begin. Then, chances are there won’t be anyone on duty patrolling our coastal waters because their paychecks have been invested in that dumb wall. All a space alien refugee has gotta do is paddle north along the coastline!

Trump, what a dope! As if people can’t go under, over or around a stupid wall! And if brown-skinned “aliens” from other countries drive him loco, wait til they start showing up from other PLANETS, perhaps in shades of blue or green or gray! He’ll have a stroke for sure.
Sources: NASA

Nobel Prize Org.

Independent UK

Photo Credits: PodBean

Nobel Prize Org.

Video Credits:  Chandra X-ray Observatory



Calling All Young People! Physics Is Phun!

If kids are finding science studies boring and exhibit no interest in pursuing a career in something like physics, they just haven’t made the right connections! Look, the future of our planet’s survival depends on every generation producing fantastic scientific minds with a passion for discovery. And, trust the gringa, science, especially physics, is anything BUT boring! I mean, just check out this amazing GIF and video that illustrate physics in action. One looks like dots traveling in a straight line but they are actually traveling on curves. The other looks like the dots are traveling in a circular pattern but they are actually traveling in a straight line:


Now that the gringa’s got your attention, what exactly can a person do as a physicist? Well, you can create really cool art like this or you could work for other people. If you work for NASA you can follow their astrophysics goal:  “Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved and search for life on planets and other stars.” To do that involves all sorts of interesting work like:

  • Stargazing through incredible observatories like: Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope
  • Work with teams from all over the world: European Space Agency and Japan’s JAXA space agency
  • Perform all sorts of wacky experiments to test theories about things like: black holes, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, existence of extra-terrestrial life, suitability of distant planets to support life
  • Design any manner of dangerous stuff mom and dad won’t let you build in the garage: rockets, lasers, rocket fuel, robots, super colliders that annihilate atoms

So kids, get excited about science! If it’s boring in the classroom, search for inspiration. There are folks like physicist Derek Muller who makes science loads of fun. On his blog and YouTube channel, “Veritasium”, you can learn about science in a way that is interesting and also relevant to what the world needs to day. Check out one of the gringa’s favorite videos of Muller’s (grapes + microwave = plasma):

Look, kids, the truth is agencies like NASA needs you. Your mom and dad need you. The entire world needs you. Let’s face it, the world is in need of some major repair. The days of Batman and Flash Gordon are over. The heroes the world needs now are scientists. So, put on your goggles (and a cape if it inspires you) and get crackin’.


Sources: www.nasa.gov, Tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540,

Image Source:







Isaac Newton By The Sea

NASA recently reported images of an X-ray tail (or, ribbon) of galactic gas. It has broken cosmic records with the extraordinary length of 250,000 light years. The published images are a composite from combined data that originated from the Chandra orbiting observatory and the Isaac Newton Group (ING) of Telescopes that are located in the Canary Islands of Spain.

ING consists of two telescopes. One is named William Herschel (WMT) and the other is Isaac Newton (INT). They are located on a seaside cliff of La Palma Island and command a breathtaking view of the sea as well as the night sky. Isaac Newton began serving astronomers in 1984 and William Hershel in 1987.

ING is a collaborative effort of scientists representing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain. Their goals in serving the world community of astronomers and space related science is to provide world class telescope operations and programs that aid in research efforts. To encourage innovative methods in science and research, ING welcomes projects that involve novel instruments as “visitors”.  ING is committed to fostering original thinking as well as strongly supporting classical observing.

The Isaac Newton Telescope is open for visiting observers. New instruments are now being enjoyed with funding to provide more. One new instrument, the PAUCam, is a state of the art imaging device that creates prime focus capabilities for the William Hershel Telescope. A wide-field multi-object spectrograph is being developed for William Hershel and expected to become operational in 2017. This instrument will be part of a five year study to help understand how the Milky Way was “assembled”.

WEAVE is the name of the spectrograph developed for William Hershel. WEAVE was designed and built by a consortium of institutes from the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Although visitors will still have access to observe the heavens through William Hershel, much of the telescope’s time will be devoted to the study of three particular projects: 1. The archaeology of the Milky Way; 2. The evolution of the galaxy; 3. Dark energy and its nature. These projects create wonderful opportunities for the UK, the Netherlands and Spain to make important scientific contributions to the world community’s knowledge of outer space.

Resident student programmes are available with ING. Over the past decade, forty students have served in the position of INT support astronomers and have gained valuable hands-on experience and technical skills. In fact, since 2009, 53 PhD theses have been based on ING data. Announcements will be made in March 2016 about the details of the 2016/2017 programme which offers astronomy and astrophysics PhD’s, MSc’s. INT welcomes students who are interested in any field of astronomy or astronomical instrumentation.

Students stay in flats provided by ING and receive a modest monthly stipend. These are cozy abodes within walking distance to the observatories, however, ING also provides transportation back and forth. For one year students will have the opportunity to participate in supportive roles in the work performed by one of the world’s most scientifically productive and versatile telescope groups. They will become part of the professional astronomical family of La Palma.

To qualify for admission to the programme, students must be a European citizen or European student resident. Enrollment in an astronomy PhD or MSc program or in the final year of undergraduate astronomy or physics course is required. English is a must, Spanish is a plus. It is also helpful to have some experience with Linux/UNIX operating systems as well as IRAF astronomical data reduction software. While participating in the program, expect to work 37 hours weekly, day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. A valid driving license is expected as well as being able to pass a medical examination.

Four positions are available. Students report for duty in September. During the one year of service, students have a 25 day leave allowance.

Qualified students who are interested should prepare a cover letter presenting experience along with any other pertinent information to be considered. Two references are required. Applications must be received by May 1 via e-mail or snail-mail. E-mail contact is Ovidiu Vaduvescu, INT studentship program manager, Snail mail contact info:

Studentship Programme Manager

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

Apartado de coreos 321, E-38700, Santa Cruz de La Palma, SPAIN

Fax: +34 922 425 401

And, if you are unqualified, like the gringa, but still interested in what goes on at ING, their website has an interesting feature that the gringa really likes. It’s called “Ask an Astronomer!”. You simply fill out the e-mail form and submit. It’s not just any ol’ email form, however. It also has lots of other information to pick and choose from. Click “send” and wait for an amazing scientist to school you on what you want to know.


Photo Credit:




Chandra & the Jellyfish

IC 443 is more commonly known as the Jellyfish Nebula. What the heck is a nebula? Well, a nebula is a cloud of dust and gas found in outer space. Sometimes, at night, if you find yourself in the perfect spot for stargazing, you may notice a spot in the sky that is brighter or, perhaps, a darker shadow across a brighter patch.

The Jellyfish Nebula is thought to be the gas and dust leftovers of a supernova event that happened in outer space about 5,000 light years from planet Earth. What the heck is a supernova? Sometimes a star suddenly becomes much brighter because of great explosions happening within the gas that it is made up of. When it becomes so explosive and heated that it ejects most of its mass, it has gone supernova. So, in the simplest of terms, a supernova is a star that has exploded BIG TIME.

The gas and dust debris of the Jellyfish Nebula may also be the material that created a strange object found due south of the nebula. This object is officially called CXOU J061705.3+222127. Scientists just call it J0617. These same scientists believe this object to be a pulsar. What the heck is a pulsar? A pulsar is a neutron star that is rapidly spinning around. It also emits pulses of radio waves and electromagnetic radiation.

What the heck is a neutron star? A neutron star usually has a radius less than 18 miles but is densely packed with neutrons. They are most often created when a massive star goes supernova and leaves behind its core. As a massive star runs out of fuel the stage is set for a supernova explosion. When the fuel runs out, the outer layers collapse. When these outer layers come into contact with the core, they then bounce outward creating the supernova explosion. In the end, all that’s left is the core which is now spinning like crazy and emitting pulses of radio waves and radiation.

The post photo of the Jellyfish Nebula has an inset that shows the region surrounding J0617. Scientists are interested in the small ring that appears to surround the pulsar. There is also a feature of something jet-like that passes through the pulsar. The scientists want to determine if this emission is directly related to the pulsar or has a different source. Possibilities are a high speed wind of particles or something like a shock wave.

Nothing definitive has been concluded regarding when the supernova event occurred. Researchers have offered estimates ranging from 3,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago. Needless to say, the scientists have much more to learn about the Jellyfish Nebula and J0617. If the dear reader is interested in more details than what the simple-minded gringa can offer, check out the on-line source “The Astrophysical Journal”.

Research on the Jellyfish Nebula is managed by NASA’s Chandra program. Specifically, Chandra is an X-ray Observatory. It is the most powerful orbiting X-ray telescope in the world. Scientists from all over the world have access to the images generated by this program. The gringa loves how NASA likes to share knowledge and is not stingy with their technology.

Chandra studies cosmic X-rays, or, the effects of matter that has been heated to millions of degrees. High temperatures that create detectable X-rays happen throughout the universe wherever there are strong magnetic fields, powerful forces of gravity, or extreme explosions (like a supernova).

When a supernova happens, charged particles slam into one another. This causes them to produce energy in the form of photons. As photons fly through space, leaving the scene of a supernova event, they actually become light. These are just the sorts of things Chandra has been tracking and recording since 1999 when the Space Shuttle Columbia launched Chandra into outer space.

Chandra has eight mirrors that X-rays slam into, ricochet off, and are focused onto a focal plane that is half as wide as a human hair.  The focal plane captures the image of the X-rays and records the number, position, energy and arrival time. Two spectrometers then analyze the X-ray to determine what form of energy it is and other details of its physical condition.

Chandra is housed in a spacecraft observatory with two sets of thrusters. This observatory was the largest and heaviest payload ever launched by a Space Shuttle, weighing in at liftoff at 50,162 pounds. If you had eyes as powerful as Chandra, you could read a stop sign from twelve miles away. Chandra’s mission duration was originally set for five years. The mission began in August of 1999 and she is still going strong.

If the dear reader would like to delve into more information about Chandra, visit


Source & Photo Credit:


Alice & Albert

Could it really be that it’s been one hundred years since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity? The science community refers to Albert so often, I often feel as if he graced this earth just yesterday. But, indeed, November is the one hundred year anniversary of his publication of this theory.

Even though the gringa has heard many times someone say “the theory of relativity”, um, what the heck does it really mean? I mean, how the heck can it be used for something useful or even for something interesting or fun?  Well, this is the basis for all the time-warp fodder for great (or even lousy) literary works of science fiction, which the gringa loves, even the “lousy” ones.

The first time Albert’s theory was successfully put to the test in real life was during the observation of a solar eclipse. A prediction was made, based on the theory, of how much “bended” light would be deflected when a particular star passed near the sun. The theory supposed that the sun’s mass would cause the light of the star to bend. And the prediction, based on Albert’s theory, was spot on.

So? Now what? Thus became the  established phenomena that is known as “gravitational lensing”. Astronomers now know that this appearance of bended light is not an optical illusion but something that actually happens. This allows astronomers a method to delve into galaxies that would otherwise be off limits for research even with humanity’s most powerful telescopes.

One such galaxy that fits this description is commonly called the “Cheshire Cat” galaxy because it’s appearance reminds one of that particular elusive character from the “Alice In Wonderland” story.  What exactly causes the smiley face? Well, the theory explains that these are distant galaxies whose light is stretched and then bent by objects of great mass which are most likely made up of dark matter. Why dark matter? Well, since no large mass objects are visible but the evidence of their presence is there in the bent light, the mass must then exist in the form of  invisible dark matter.

Scientists claim that there are six galaxies that make up the outer space smiley face. Each eye and the nose are individual galaxies and there are four other galaxies that create the arcs which are bent light created by gravitational lensing by some mysterious dark matter object with great mass. Scientists view the “Cheshire Cat” through NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The eye galaxies are the brightest and are zipping through space on a collision course with one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. NASA uses the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that hot gas, millions of degrees Fahrenheit, is the evidence that these galaxies are indeed colliding. And that’s not all the mayhem that the “Cheshire Cat” is out and about doing. Aside from the bumper car routine,  the cat’s left eye has a very hungry supermassive black hole right at its center which is gobbling up all sorts of things.

Astronomers classify this cluster of galaxies as a fossil group. A fossil group has a dominant elliptical galaxy surrounded by smaller galaxies. Fossil groups are considered to be just one stage that almost all galaxy groups go through as they evolve. Perhaps it’s kind of like the teenage years for galaxies. Horrible driving and collisions and they eat everyone out of house and home.

So, once it grows up a bit, then, what’s the next stage? That would be the Cyclops group, when they merge into one mega-galaxy. Yeah, the gringa thinks that sounds about right. Just like a teenager then develops into  a mature senior who gets a bit fat and needs reading glasses.  But it will probably take a billion years or so. Looks like we will be enjoying the smiley face for a long time to come.

If any of the gringa’s dear readers happen to be passing through Huntsville, Alabama, they can check in at Marshall Space Flight Center. That’s headquarters for the Chandra program that studies the “Cheshire Cat”. Or, even better, if you find yourself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see if you can take a peek at the cat yourself. That’s where you’ll find The Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory that controls the Chandra program’s science and flight operations.


Source and Photo Credit: