Astronomy news from Long Beach

To start off 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, the The American Astronomical Society this last week, held their meeting in Long Beach, CA. That was more or less in my neighborhood, and I wish I had had the time to attend some of the talks. There were some pretty interesting things covered.

One of the items to catch my attention was some evidence suggesting that black holes precede the formation of galaxies. Black holes seem to be located around the center of most observed galaxies and there was a question about which came first. From the article:

“The black holes in these young galaxies are much more massive compared to the bulges than those seen in the nearby universe,” Walter added in a statement. “The implication is that the black holes started growing first.”

What is not understood is how the birth of a black hole might have affected the formation of a galaxy, the astronomers told a news conference and telephone briefing.

So the interesting question now is how the birth of a black hole affects galaxy formation. As a rough guess, I’d imagine shock waves from the formation formed pressure waves, which could have helped the compression towards star formation.

In other galaxy related news, it has been found that the galaxy is more massive (and hence denser) then previously thought. More information here. This moves up the schedule for our upcoming collision with the Andromeda galaxy to about 2-3 billion years from now. So stay tuned! It also means that our solar system is moving more quickly relative to the galaxy, from 500,000 mph to 600,00 mph. Another report mentioned in the article to which I linked showed that our Milky Way has 2 additional arms, weaker arms closer towards the center.

In addition, to all that, an unidentified strong radio signal has been discovered. It is six times brighter than all cosmic radio sources put together and nobody is quite sure what it is yet. So, there is definitely some interesting research to be done in the future.

One of the items I heard was being promoted was a telescope kit called the Galilieoscope. It sounded like a great way to introduce more people, especially younger folks, to the thrilling science of astronomy. From Astronomy 2009 web site, we read:

A project to create and distribute a new high-quality low-cost telescope kit called the Galileoscope is preparing to accept orders soon at http://www.galilescope.org after expressions of interest from around the world.

A variety of dark-skies awareness programs and related “citizen-science” activities—covering including both optical light and radio wavelengths—are being planned by an active group involving observatories, the International Dark-Sky Association, the Astronomical League, and the National Park Service, including the networks of the ASP: see http://www.darkskiesawareness.org.

Be sure to check it out, especially you have any potential astronomers in the family!

Sounds like an exciting future for the field of astronomy and I wish I could have been there.

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