Speed often provides clues to an object’s nature. For example, our planet travels at 18.5 miles (29.8 kilometers) per second. Interestingly, every solar system body must move at this same speed when it’s our distance from the Sun. Therefore, anything that collides with us, like Quadrantid meteoroids on January 4, zooms at this velocity, too.

But are they traveling alongside us like adjacent horses on a carousel, or meeting us head-on like in a game of chicken? Because comets and their debris can orbit in any direction, some do barely catch up to us from behind while others, like December’s Geminids, hit us nearly sideways, which makes them impact at around 22 miles (35 km) per second. August’s Perseid meteors slam into us head-on with a ferocious combined speed — theirs plus ours — of exactly twice our orbital velocity, 37 miles (59 km) per second. Suddenly, it makes sense that meteors are generally much faster after midnight. Those are the ones hitting us head-on as our part of Earth then faces forward in the direction we’re traveling.

Once in a Blue Moon, something hits us with a seemingly impossible speed. Then we know it must have been freshly whipped like a slingshot by an encounter with Jupiter, or else it’s an intruder from beyond the solar system. Cosmic rays are like that. They’re too fast to be from around here. But even within our galaxy, there’s some sort of speed limit. It’s probably 600 miles (1,000 km) per second — three-thousandths the speed of light. If anything were to go faster, it would escape the Milky Way.

That’s the cosmic speed limit within a couple of million light-years of here, except for a few recently discovered stars slung outward by a massive black hole. But we can access an even faster realm by observing other galaxies. The universe’s expansion means that for every million light-years of distance, galaxies rush away from us 14 miles a second faster. This is called the Hubble Flow, even though Edwin Hubble was a haughty control-freak who reportedly never flowed with anything. Just remember 14. Any galaxy 100 million light-years away whooshes at 14×100=1,400 miles per second. Simple. If you prefer kilometers, use 23.

Do the math, and galaxies 13.3 billion light-years away must apparently zoom away at about the speed of light — 186,282 miles (299,792 km) per second. Do they?

Absolutely. But how can anything go faster than light? It is here that we invoke our Einsteinian escape clause. We say the galaxies barely move. Rather, space itself is inflating. The galaxies just sit inertly like Scrabble players waiting for a vowel.

But how can space expand? Isn’t space simply nothingness? How can nothingness do anything?

Turns out, space is not nothing. There’s no such thing as nothing. (Meditate on that one, grasshopper.) Space has properties. Virtual particles pop in and out of it. An inconceivably powerful “vacuum energy” pervades its every nook and cranny. Space is no medium for sound, but it is a medium for quantum phenomena like tangled particle information, which makes the trip from Disney World to space’s farthest ZIP codes in exactly zero time. More germane to this article, space is also expanding wildly.

Back in our local sandbox, where we cannot blame squirmy space for the perceived motions of things, any increase in speed also boosts an object’s mass. Einstein insisted that a hurled baseball is a bit heavier than one sitting at home in a drawer. This is why we only compare objects when they’re all at rest in a lab. A quick brown fox is heavier than a lazy dog.

But a photon of light is a special case. You often hear that light weighs nothing. What physicists mean, however, is that photons have no “rest mass.” Like a habitual knee-shaker, a photon is never at rest. It can’t stop moving. Each photon’s high speed endows it with an “equivalent mass” that is nowhere near zero. That’s why bits of light can damage atoms and human genes. If they were truly massless, they wouldn’t harm a fly.

Moreover, all moving objects have “kinetic energy.” Make anything stop, and it suddenly releases this energy, as the dinosaurs noticed when a giant meteor slammed into their favorite Mexican beach. But when we discuss the kinetic energy of moving atoms, we call it heat.

The fact that everything is moving, spinning, or jiggling means stupendous energies are everywhere. And because the universe’s total energy never decreases in the slightest, it means the cosmos must exist forever. It surely also means it never had a true birth. (The Big Bang is merely the earliest event we know about or can date.) This strongly suggests that the universe is eternal.

Yes, on all levels, there’s much we can infer from the endless varied motions that pervade Earth and the heavens.


The Pillars Of Creation & Eagle Nebula
A star forming region within the Eagle Nebula (M16) some 7,000 light years from earth. The Pillars Of Creation (named after The Hubble Telescope’s famous capture in 1995) just to the right of centre in this image.

This collaboration by Retired Airforce Col. John Mansur of Florida who acquired the H-Alpha, SII and OIII data remotely from Siding Spring NSW Australia using a 27.5″ F6.6 Astrograph/FLI-PLO9000 with processing in Hubble Palette by Terry Hancock using CCDStack and CS5
Total Integration Time 75 minutes

Annotated Full size view can be seen here — in Fremont, Michigan.



The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy M83  
This collaboration by Retired Airforce Col. John Mansur of Florida who acquired the LRGB data remotely from Siding Spring NSW Australia using a 500mm Planewave/FLI-PLO9000 with processing by Terry Hancock using CCDStack and CS5 

Total Integration Time 140 minutes








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The Crescent & Gamma Cygni NebulaeA very deep and Bi-Color view of The Crescent and Gamma Cygni Nebulae using H-Alpha and OIII filters covering 4.01 x 2.62 degrees of sky. 
Captured from my amateur backyard observatory in Fremont, Michigan using a QHY11 Monochrome CCD/Takahashi E-180.
Total Integration Time 3.3 hoursImage details
Location: DownUnder Observatory, Fremont MI
Date of Shoot: March 12th 2014, June 9th 2015 
H-Alpha 120 min, 15 x 10 min bin 1×1
OIII 80 min, 8 x 10 min 1×1 Equipment
QHY11S monochrome CCD cooled to -20C 
Takahashi E-180 F2.8 Astrograph
Paramount GT-1100S German Equatorial Mount
Image Acquisition Maxim DL
Stacking and Calibrating: CCDStack
Registration of images in Registar
Post Processing Photoshop CS5




Deep View Of Orion

Except for my mosaic this is my widest and probably deepest view ever of The Great Orion Nebula combining data captured from my Bortle 4.0 sky and amateur backyard observatory in Fremont, Michigan from 2010 through to 2014 using QHY9 and QHY11 Mono CCD’s, 5 inch TMB 130, 3.6″ TMB92 refractor and Takahashi E180 Astrograph. Collected using LRGB + H-A filters and covering 4.08 x 2.91 degrees of sky. The constellation of Orion is home to many treasures, including the Orion Nebula seen here. A small part of the immense Orion Molecular Cloud, M42 is perhaps the most studied extra-solar object in the sky. intricate and picturesque filaments of dust.

Other images in my Orion collection can be seen here



Planets, Priests and a Persistent Myth

The Catholic Church and scientific discovery are utterly incompatible, right? History disagrees.

Ceres, discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi.ENLARGE
Ceres, discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES


May 21, 2015 7:22 p.m. ET

Last week NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, after a voyage of about eight years, captured incredible video of two bright spots on Ceres. Ceres has an interesting history, labeled for decades a planet, then an asteroid (or minor planet), and most recently a dwarf planet, a category that includes another erstwhile planet, Pluto. Ceres was discovered through the dedication of a Catholic priest, Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826), who obtained the best astronomical instruments of his day, and positioned them where they could be used to best effect.

When he was 19, Piazzi joined the Theatine Order of clerics, which supported his doctoral studies in philosophy and mathematics. At 34, he was asked to occupy the chair of higher mathematics in Palermo. Palermo had climatic conditions favorable for astronomical observations, and Piazzi decided to found an observatory there, the southernmost in Europe. He traveled to England to obtain the most accurate telescope then available. With its help he developed a catalog of almost 7,000 stars, the most extensive and accurate up to that time. L’Institut de France awarded it the prize for “best astronomical work published in 1803.” 

Piazzi’s entry into history began on January 1, 1801, when he noticed a faint “star” not contained in any catalog. Tracking it over the following nights, he found that it moved across the background stars the same way planets do. After more than 40 nights, however, it moved too close to the sun to be seen. Would it ever be found again, once it emerged from the sun’s glare? 

That would require the difficult feat of computing its orbit precisely from the positions Piazzi had measured. This was accomplished by the great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, and Piazzi’s object was located again by a German observatory exactly a year after its original discovery. In 1802, Piazzi named it Ceres after the patron goddess of Sicily. 

But what was it? Was it a planet? It moved like one, and didn’t have the characteristics of a comet. The picture was clouded, however, by the finding in short order of three more objects with similar orbits: Pallas (1802), Juno (1804), and Vesta (1807). It turned out that Piazzi had found the first of many thousands of “asteroids” or “minor planets” whose orbits lie mainly in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is the largest asteroid, large enough that its gravity squeezes it into a sphere, like a planet and unlike other asteroids. Hence its recent reclassification as a “dwarf planet.” 

Most news accounts don’t mention that Piazzi was a Catholic priest. In fact, the remarkable story of the Catholic clergy’s contributions to science is one of the best-kept secrets of scientific history. The exception is Gregor Mendel; it is widely known that the science of genetics began with the experiments of the Austrian monk. 

But it is the rare person who knows that the big-bang theory, the central pillar of modern cosmology, was the brainchild of the Belgian Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. In the 1920s, Lemaître showed that Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity allow space itself to expand and, connecting this to observations that distant galaxies were flying apart, he formulated his famous theory of how the universe began. 

The Jesuits have an especially rich scientific tradition. In the 16th century, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius developed our modern calendar. In the 17th century, Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli mapped the moon, and Christoph Scheiner helped discover sunspots. Francesco Grimaldi discovered the enormously important physics effect called “diffraction,” the effects of which you can see in the colorful bands of a glimmering CD. In the 19th century, the Jesuit Angelo Secchi, a founder of astrophysics, pioneered the study of the sun and stars using the spectra of their light and developed the first spectral classification of stars, the basis of the one now used. 

But Jesuits don’t have all the glory. Blessed Niels Stensen (1638-86) made major contributions to anatomy, especially of the glandular-lymphatic system, and, even more impressively, helped found the science of geology by developing the correct theory of sedimentary rock, geological strata and the origin of fossils, which unlocked Earth’s history. Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), of the Minimite Order, made fundamental discoveries about sound. The work of the Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani, one of the top biologists of the 18th century, is taught in high-school textbooks today. 

Ask a Catholic audience whose name they associate with the Catholic Church and science. “Galileo!” they shout. Ask them about Lemaître, Grimaldi, Stensen, Secchi—or Piazzi—and you get blank stares. Is it any wonder the science-religion warfare myth persists?

Messrs. Barr and Mullan are professors of physics at the University of Delaware. Mr. Barr is the author of “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith” (Notre Dame, 2006).


Microwave oven to blame for mystery signal that left astronomers stumped

Australian scientists first detected interference in 1998, which they assumed was from lightning strikes, but earlier this year they finally found the real culprit

radio telescope, Parkes
 The source of ‘suspicious perytons’ that caused headaches for astronomers at the Parkes radio telescope for years has finally been identified. Photograph: Julian Chang/Guardian Australia

Tuesday 5 May 2015 03.21 EDTLast modified on Tuesday 5 May 2015 

The mystery behind radio signals that have baffled scientists at Australia’s most famous radio telescope for 17 years has finally been solved.

The signals’ source? A microwave oven in the kitchen at the Parkes observatory used by staff members to heat up their lunch.

Simon Johnston, head of astrophysics at the CSIRO, the national science agency, said astronomers first detected the signals, called perytons, in 1998. The signals “were reasonably local, say within 5km of the telescope”.

Originally researchers assumed the signals – which appeared only once or twice a year – were coming from the atmosphere, possibly linked to lightning strikes.

Then on 1 January this year they installed a new receiver which monitored interference, and detected strong signals at 2.4 GHz, the signature of a microwave oven.

Immediate testing of the facility microwave oven did not show up with perytons. Until, that is, they opened the oven door before it had finished heating. “If you set it to heat and pull it open to have a look, it generates interference,” Johnston said.

Astronomers generally operate the telescope remotely and do not reside at Parkes. There were, however, a number of operational staff members who maintained the facility and used the microwave oven to heat their coffee or lunch.

Johnston said the “suspicious perytons” were only detected during the daytime and as they now knew, not during the evening when all the staff had finished their shift.


The signals were rare because the interference only occurred when the telescope was pointed in the direction of the microwave oven. And “when you only find a few it’s hard to pin them down”, Johnston said.

The findings have been reported in a scientific paper.

Human interference is a common frustration for astronomers. At the Siding Spring optical observatory in northwest New South Wales, astronomers recently voiced concerns over a proposal for a new coal seam gas project, fearing it could lead to increased light pollution in the area.

Johnston said there were many things that caused interference to the Parkes radio telescope – famous for its role in the moon landing, as portrayed in the movie The Dish – including FM radio, digital televisions, mobile phones and wireless internet. “If we tried to have an observer in Sydney the radio noise would be so terrible you’d never see our astronomy signal,” he said.

Johnston added that in 1967 astronomers at the Haute-Provence observatory discovered what they thought were potassium flare stars. They eventually concluded the spectroscopic observations were probably caused by matches struck in the vicinity.

The telescope was established in Parkes 50 years ago in what was “the middle of nowhere”, Johnston said, far away from any radio noise. But in recent years digital interference from the town was getting worse and worse.

However a new telescope in Western Australia called Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) was being built in what Johnston called “the quietest site on earth to do astronomy”.

“There’s no mobile phone coverage, no radio station, no Wi-Fi – it’s pristine and quiet and we can look into the universe and see things that you can’t in Parkes.”

Johnston said the new telescope is placed in a protected “radio quiet zone”. “People can’t just go in there with wireless internet or radios – they have to tell us and be properly licensed. This is a big step for us.”

The telescope will be completed in 2016.