Welcome to the last Spacetime Report of 2009. As you all know, 2010 is the year we make contact. So we have that to look forward to…
*Look at this image:
This is a photograph of Saturn’s moon, Titan (taken by the Cassini Saturn probe). The bright spot up top is a reflection off of a mammoth liquid lake on Titan’s surface. How cool is that?
*The Voyager space probes, launched in 1977, are still making some pretty great discoveries. They’re currently passing through an interstellar region of gas called the “local fluff” on their way out of the solar system. They’ve detected a strong magnetic field generated by the gas cloud, which helps to explain why the cloud has stayed relatively cohesive rather than dissipating away over time.
*Here are some predictions by scientists and engineers of what the next 50 years will bring in terms of science and technology. If history is any indicator, this is really a list of what almost certainly will not happen, as these sorts of predictions are notoriously wrong.
*Scared of terrorists, plagues, asteroid impacts, disastrous climate change and overpopulation? Here’s a good one to add to your list: magnetar quakes. Five years ago this week, the Earth was hit by a blast of high energy particles from such an event that occurred 50,000 light years away and it wreaked havoc here in our neck of the woods…
The scale of this onslaught is nearly impossible to exaggerate. The flood of gamma and X-rays that washed over the Earth was detected by several satellites designed to observe the high-energy skies. RHESSI, which observes the Sun, saw this blast. INTEGRAL, used to look for gamma rays from monster black holes, saw this blast. The newly-launched Swift satellite, built to detect gamma-ray bursts from across the Universe, not only saw this blast, but its detectors were completely saturated by the assault of energy… even though Swift wasn’t pointed anywhere near the direction of the burst! In other words, this flood of photons saturated Swift even though they had to pass through the walls of the satellite itself first!
It gets worse. This enormous wave of fierce energy was so powerful it actually partially ionized the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and it made the Earth’s magnetic field ring like a bell. Several satellites were actually blinded by the event.
And that was from a small shift in the crust of neutron star 50,000 LY away. Imagine what would happen if the crust of a more local neutron star shifted. Yikes!