Sunday Sermonette

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Will there be a White Wolf Comet?
To me, a look at the pristine night sky, far from the light pollution of nearby cities is a rare event. Ancient people studied the night sky with vast interest as the stellar clock unfolded before them. 
TODAY have to go a long way and get to a place of clear, clean, dry air in the desert or on a mountain top if you want to see what the ancients watched every night. The Discovery Channel chose Happy Jack, Arizona, near the infamous White Wolf Mine, to site its telescope. Good move, Discovery Channel. 
There is NO light for many miles in any direction from the White Wolf Mine, which is more remote still than the telescope, that is located near the Happy Jack Ranger Station. There is nothing to pollute the pristine night sky. Phase 2 in the development of the White Wolf Mine project will feature a small observatory for private use and study (maybe I can get a White Wolf Comet named?). The location in Arizona is the sweet spot for examining the Kuiper Belt from Earth. The dome will fit on top of the Phase 2 building.
Will the coming of the White Wolf Comet presage the end of the world as we know it? That would be my luck. Build Phase 2 only to have it destroyed by a comet named for the place.
I’m posting this while on the road, working to fund ‘Phase 2’. Excavation has finally started for construction of the hovel (Phase 1) There is some blasting of bedrock, some jack hammering and the footings will lead to re-bar and block before the foundation can be poured. That all will be complete before Thanksgiving. Phase 2 could be called the laboratory, observatory and conservatory building, constructed on the lower property (or you can call it a barn). It will accompany the green house. I’ve vowed not to begin until I can throw down cash…so it might be a long wait…Or perhaps I’ll get lucky? The granular details of Phase 2 are still being worked out. The budget must precede serious architecture and engineering.

(at least) 20 Generations of Stars

Hydrogen and helium make up a combined 98% of the mass of the universe, on a cosmological scale everything else is just a rounding error. But on smaller scales (small, as in the size of a cluster of galaxies) the amount of metals becomes important. Except for a tiny amount of lithium, everything that is not hydrogen and helium was produced inside stars, one way or another.

When a star goes through its life cycle it will return a significant amount of mass back into the interstellar medium in the form of stellar winds. For a large star with an initial mass of 10-20 times the mass of the sun, the star may return 80-90% of its mass to the interstellar medium in the form of stellar winds, or a nova or even a supernova. 

While a star may start out as almost entirely hydrogen and helium when it forms, the gas that returns to the interstellar medium will be slightly enriched with metals, that is, the metallicity will go up. This enriched gas that has been returned to the interstellar medium will go on to form a second generation of stars, which will still be almost entirely hydrogen and helium, but now with a tiny fraction more of metals. The process will repeat, and each time it does the gas will become more enriched with metals. In order to have enough metals that rocky planets such as the earth can form the gas must go through at least 20 star formation and enrichment cycles. To date, the highest metallicity ever observed in a star is about three times the metallicity of the sun.
Source: Wikipedia
While normal stellar processes can explain the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen we see, and novas and supernovas can explain the amount of aluminum, iron, nickle, and zinc we see, neither of those can explain the amount of gold, silver, lead, and uranium that we see.
This is where merging neutron stars come in. In the collision there certainly is enough energy for the nucleosynthesis to take place, and because there are two massive sources of neutrons being ripped apart, the problem of meeting the minimum neutron flux is solved. But up until now we had no hard confirmation of neutron star mergers, much less finding evidence of r-process production of heavy elements. It has been suspected for years, but only with the LIGO detection and the followup observations of the nova remnant has this been confirmed. With the detection of reactions in the remnant of the merger we can now conclude that almost all of the gold, uranium and other very heavy elements come from neutron star mergers.
On August 17th the LIGO gravity wave observatory detected gravity waves from the collision of two neutron stars. This was quickly followed by the detection of a gamma ray burst by the Fermi space telescope, and then a host of other observations from other telescopes. This event quickly became the most heavily observed single event in astronomy. There are several good general reviews of what happened that are very accessible to the average reader (NY Times, NPR, Veritasium, and one more in depth from, there is also a whole webpage about the detection with links to many papers).

32 thoughts on “Sunday Sermonette

  1. Our existence, given the time scale our rocky planet needed to form, is insignificant.

    Three days a week, weather permitting, I see the dark sky around Chugwater, WY as I exercise the male privilege, "The world is my urinal".

    Most of my youth was spent in areas with little light pollution and I had an interest in the stars. Finances being what they were, only had access to binoculars. A few times was able to visit the Gates Planetarium in Denver. Such a treat!

  2. Looks like you have the start of a bonafide 'compound,' there, LL: hovel up above, outbuildings down below. Probably a defensive perimeter on the drawings, maybe pill boxes, turrets with machine gun mounts, moats, who knows.

    David Koresh had a compound. The Kennedys have a compound. Nothing good ever seems to happen on compounds.

    Just sayin'…

  3. Maybe you can invest in a high quality telescope and connect it to the internet with a web site offering "the LL Peep Show to the Galaxy". Then people can use their credit card on something meaningful while they will get the chance to see what you are looking at in space. Fot the ones wiling to pay extra you can offer the chance to direct the scope to a special area of interest for a limited period of time. Given the location you have it seems to be a unique opportunity to offer such a service.

  4. The last time I saw a non polluted sky like that was in rural France – I was mesmerised. You absolutely MUST get a comet named after you!
    This hovel sounds like its going to be fabulous.

  5. I can remember as a kid lying on the ground and looking at the stars. I could see the Milky Way stretching out across the universe and trying to find the constellations. The last time I could do that was standing outside watch at sea. I envy you the ability to do that as weather permits.

  6. We get a decent starry sky out here on the ranch, although there is a bit of pollution from the neighbors darn yard light.
    Watch out, or you'll soon be investing in serious glass to watch those stars, planets and comets as they spin hither and yon across the heavens!

  7. The night sky was MUCH darker in Bellvue than here "in the city". One of the guys in my new Ham club is quite an amateur astronomer, as I used to be. He tells me the Pawnee National Grasslands, about 60 miles NE of here, is a place that has excellent "seeing".

    If I were to buy a "good" telescope for a site like yours, I'd get at least 10", or larger. Celestron has a very nice 14" 'super deluxe' model for under $10k.

  8. But Fredd, some compounds are bad and end in tears, others end well, with unicorn steaks on the grill and good times all 'round. I'll wager a fighting monkey that the WWM falls into the latter category.

  9. No light pollution = incredible night skies. I'm looking forward to your observatory tower and, of course, it'll make for a good defensive point if anything's foolish enough to get through the perimeter.

  10. We used to be able to see loads of stars when we first moved to Post Falls. We can still see them, but not quite as many. At least businesses are using those lights that shine down. It helps.

  11. Don't make the mistake we did here in the Sonoran Desert (Mesa). When designing the structure for our school observatory we chose masonry (concrete block) construction. We learned later that observatories are best made using wood construction for the simple reason that wood gives-off less heat thus causing less of the heat wave shimmering effect when viewing the night sky through the telescope.

  12. Even the largest "home observatories" that can image Saturn or Jupiter within the IR range, don't come close to what the Hubble Space Telescope or the more modern and recently launched James Webb Space Telescope can do.

  13. It's not about marketing. It's more about self-actualization and dealing with necessary hobbies to fill my evenings.

  14. I have to find the comet first. But that's where the fun is. Until it wipes out all life on Earth.

  15. I'm examining my options. It has to be at least 12" and I'm agreeing with DRJIM below that a 14" lens would be better.

  16. I agree with the rules to limit light pollution. It doesn't take all that much to be responsible.

  17. With the sort of IR range scope that I'm anticipating, you can resolve many of the closer nebulas (remnants of super novas, etc), the Andromeda Galaxy, and the planets resolve nicely. Beyond that, the goal is to comet hunt.

  18. The first story will be block and the second story will be stick construction with a Hardyboard concrete paneling that looks like wood.

  19. Growing up my father was an amateur astronomer equipped with a telescope in a specially built 16' X 16' room behind the garage. It was a lot of fun growing up with that.

  20. Now that Jeff Flake and John McCain are leaving their Democrat seats (for all practical matters) in AZ, maybe some real Republicans will fill those vacancies. Accordingly, God willing, good times will flow across the land, to include the Ft. Courage compound, with Sgt O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn sitting down for peace talks with the surrounding Heckawi indians (ask Mel Brookes how they got that name, he may suggest that he considered calling them the Fukawi indians but thought better of it at the time).

  21. I almost posted this same periodic table. I could never resolve my fundamental question: has the universe been around long enough for 20 generations of stars?

    How long a generation is depends on the size of the star. The more massive they are, the shorter their life. Massive stars have been around long enough, but unless they create a next generation of massive stars, do they turn over fast enough? And what about their progeny. How long can the chain be of massive stars dying (exploding) and massive stars forming from their remains?

  22. You have a solid grasp of the present and past. Now with luck the future will be brighter for AZ with the RINOs in the rear view mirror.

  23. The early stars may have had much shorter lives than the more stable, smaller stars that we see today. The new Webb telescope will reveal much about their make-up. The 20 generations concept is based on some sound science but the number is not absolute and even the people who came up with the number admit it. Never the less, it's an interesting rule of thumb. Everything we see on Earth was "barfed" out of a star at one point in time or another.

  24. One of the things that I miss about The Pilot is his vast knowledge of the constellations and the stars.

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