Radio Galaxy Zoo and Black Holes

by Maritza Hernandez (a 2016 Adler Astro-Journalist)

Black holes are always found in the center of galaxies and we need help to discover them. There are two ways to find a black hole. One way to find a black hole would be by their gravitational influence. For example, we could find stars rotating around a black hole. The second way to find a black hole would be observing matter falling into the black hole. The more massive galaxies have bigger black holes in them, and generally the bigger the black hole is, the easier it is to locate. Bigger (more massive) black holes can eat more matter, and when a black hole eats matter it can create jets of material and those jets can travel close to the speed of light. You can detect these jets of material by a radio telescope than we can guess the location of the black hole.

On the Radio Galaxy Zoo site, they combine radio images with infrared images to find these black holes and their jets. Most of the radio images come from the Faint Images of the Radio Sky Twenty- Centimeters or for short FIRST, but also they come from the Very Large Array (aka VLA) telescope in New Mexico. The infrared images come from the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (aka WISE) and also the Spitzer Space Telescope. Radio images comes from the jets and the infrared comes from galaxies. Infrared is the color that dust glows bright in and of course galaxies have a lot of dust. Radio Galaxy Zoo needs your help to line up the images of the jets with the galaxies to help you to find a complete black hole system. But make sure that the jets look like they are coming from the black hole/galaxy.

We need your help to find these black holes! The Radio Galaxy Zoo team hopes that you can help astronomers learn how black holes are formed, how they are found, and much more. They try to use computers to find these black holes and their material jets. But what if the computers can’t do the job? Well, it’s hard for the computers to tell whether the jets are coming from a certain galaxy. Some other reasons that they want to find black holes are that we want to know what goes on inside of a black hole and why is it that time is affected by the black hole. We also want to know what role a black hole plays in unfolding the universe.

Why not go to an exoplanet?

by Dawna Peterson

An exoplanet is not just a planet outside of our Solar System, but it’s a planet that holds new and debateable discoveries waiting to be found. Although we cannot directly view these planets, scientists infer that an exoplanet is there based on inductive reasoning such as the fact that they are able to detect shifts in the light coming from a star if there’s a planet orbiting it.

If we can conclude that these exoplanets exist, why not design a mission for astronauts to travel there? If we can infer that they are there, what’s stopping us from further exploring an exoplanet?

An exoplanet is a planet outside of our Solar System. The nearest exoplanet is approximately 4.42 light years away, 26 trillion miles from Earth, which is nearly 10,000 thousand times the distance from Pluto to the Sun. If we are able to go at the speed of light, 3.0 x 10^8, then this would only take us 4.42 years to get there. However, the current technology is only able to go 20,000 miles per hour, so it would take 142,000 years to reach the nearest exoplanet to Earth. Scientists have not yet developed an aircraft that has been able to even come close to traveling at the speed of light. 

This trip would require generations of people to live in space because of how long it will take, and we don’t have that many people that are willing to live their full lives in space. Think about the fact that living here on Earth will be nothing like living in space for your entire life. When going to space, one needs to carry light because the more weight that we put inside of the aircraft, the more energy needed to actually move the aircraft. We don’t need a lot of fuel to travel, but we do need it to actually get to the exoplanet. Because of the need to save space and energy, there can only be a limited amount of the things needed to survive. So, when things such as food, water, or fuel runs out there is no way to renew these things for the people in space. Scientists need to find a way to renew these important things and this is something that is stopping them from traveling to an exoplanet.

Technology regarding the aircraft itself and a person’s health becomes a huge problem when it comes to attempting to travel to anything outside of our solar system. Earth’s atmosphere usually protects us from the solar rays and cosmic rays. In space, astronauts no longer have that protection, so it’s important that the deeper we are into space the better protection we have to protect our technology and our astronauts. The problem that they face presently is the fact that statistically, a week in space’s cosmic ray environment will shorten an astronaut’s life by about a day. We can only guess how much shorter someone’s life will be with a generation of people needing to be in space for 142,000 years.

The cosmic rays during the trip to an exoplanet would do serious damage to most of our technology presently because of the high energies coming off of cosmic rays, especially if we would need to go to a quicker speed than ever before. Scientists do not yet know whether or not the deeper depths of space hold high energy rays or low energy rays. There is no real way to detect the energy of the rays that are in the path of traveling to an exoplanet.Therefore, it is quite difficult to know what they are actually preparing for when building an aircraft for an area not as well known. Whatever the energy of the rays are the technology still needs to be able to withstand these high amounts of cosmic rays for a distance that is almost 4.42 light years away. Our spacecrafts that we have aren’t able to withstand cosmic rays for this long amount of time and distance. There are ideas to advance this technology such as using hydrogen- rich plastics or adding an extra sheet of metal or aluminum on the aircraft.  There are ideas such that they would build the metal on an aircraft thicker but this still will make the actual craft heavier, and it wouldn’t be much of any help because metal can’t withstand high cosmic rays for a long period of time. In addition, it is believed that this would cause an increase to secondary radiation and cause an increase to the risk of radiation depending on the energy source itself. The longer scientists take to figure out a plan to advance the technology for space travel, the longer it will take for there to be a real mission to an exoplanet in the deeper depths of space, unfortunately.

When attempting to travel outside of our solar system to an exoplanet, there is so much time, money, and brainpower that needs to go into it. There are so many things that needs to be fixed before any expedition to space can happen. There are things such as the lives of people, the cosmic rays’ power in space, the fact that we can’t renew valuable resources, and the power of current technology that goes into it. Scientists still are thinking about ways to improve these things, so that maybe one day there will be successful mission to our nearest exoplanet.

Dark Energy: Taking Over the Universe

by Tatiana Burns

In the early 1900’s, we thought the universe stood still. However, that changed later on in the century. Now we believe that the universe is expanding rapidly its movement is called Dark Energy. Dark energy takes up about 68% of the universe, Dark matter takes up about 27% of the universe, and the other percent is the “normal” stuff. However, how is it we didn’t catch this in the early part of the century?

Albert Einstein had an equation to explain how and why the universe stood still. His equations came up with the idea that we lived in a static universe. However, there was a part that didn’t add up. Einstein called this part the fudge factor. Subsequently in 1929, Edwin Hubble realized that universe was actually expanding. Now Einstein’s equation was actually making some sense. The “fudge factor” was the universe expanding; however, when Einstein came up with the equation there was no evidence for the movement so Einstein just called it the fudge factor.

After Hubble realized the universe was expanding, it changed the way we viewed the entire universe. Then in 1998, two astrophysicists added more to this continuous discovery. The universe was actually expanding at an accelerating pace. So, not only were we wrong about  a static universe, or a universe that stood still, we were also wrong about how the universe was expanding. When Hubble first realized the universe was expanding, he believed the universe was expanding at a steady pace.

However, the question still remains, what happens to the universe if it expands to the furthest it can go? Does the universe break apart? Will that be the end for us? If the universe expands too much, will it slowly build itself back together? These are the questions scientist are yet to figure out the answers to, but sooner or later we will find out the answers.