Cosmic Chaos

Welcome to Monsters and Mayhem!  Today, we’re going places.  Like…outer space!

So what does this have to do with monsters or mayhem, you ask? Well, keep your shirt on, I’ll get there. : D

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve LOVED anything astronomy-related (I even took it as my science elective in college). To this day, I still watch “space shows” if they happen to be on Discovery Channel. If you haven’t seen Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, you are missing out! Anyway, my husband called last week and asked if I thought the kids would like a telescope. A guy at work had one, he said, and wanted it to “go to a good home” where it would be used and enjoyed.  I gave that plan an enthusiastic thumbs up, thinking maybe we could get a peek at the craters on the moon, or take a look at Venus.

When I came home, I saw what looked like a small water heater sitting on my husband’s work table in the garage.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The telescope,” he said.

Okay…I was thinking about one of those white/aluminum jobs with a two-three inch lens. Oh, no, we are now the proud owners of a 10-inch telescope.

“Can we see…Jupiter with that thing?” I asked in hushed tones, scared the telescope would hear me and be offended by my lack of knowledge.

My husband laughed. “Jupiter? Kendra, we can see deep space with this thing.”

Cue Kendra pinging around the garage like an eight-year-old in a bouncy castle.  The hubby later told his work-friend that the kids were excited about the telescope, but the wife was freaking out about it.  (The telescope, if we practice and find a good, clear night, can see Jupiter about as well as the photo to the right.  I was seriously ecstatic about this.)

So, why do I have this crazy fascination with space? Well, it’s cool, for one thing. For another, even with all it’s order and rules-of-the-universe perfection, it’s chaotic. You never know what you might see.  Heck, as a friend once put it, our sun could burp and we’d be toast. Literally. Space is dangerous. In short–it’s Mayhem on the grandest scale possible.

Let’s take my most favorite space object as an example.  I can’t look away whenever the space shows feature this cosmic freak-job: Pulsars.

Now, I bet you thought I’d say black holes…but no. Don’t get me wrong–black holes are pretty dang weird and scary, but if you stay out of their gravitational pull, they’re okay. And they serve a great purpose by holding galaxies together (at least that’s what the astrophysicists are saying these days).  But Pulsars? They’re dying stars that will not go quietly into the black. When a star dies (in this particular scenario), it goes Supernova, and the tiny core that’s left over becomes something new and very, very weird.

So, what are Pulsars, exactly? NASA says:

A pulsar is a neutron star that emits beams of radiation that sweep through Earth’s line of sight. Like a black hole, it is an endpoint to stellar evolution. The “pulses” of high-energy radiation we see from a pulsar are due to a misalignment of the neutron star’s rotation axis and its magnetic axis. Pulsars seem to pulse from our perspective because the rotation of the neutron star causes the beam of radiation generated within the magnetic field to sweep in and out of our line of sight with a regular period, somewhat like the beam of light from a lighthouse. The stream of light is, in reality, continuous, but to a distant observer, it seems to wink on and off at regular intervals.

What NASA’s explanation doesn’t say is that as a Pulsar spins–at hundreds of times per second — its gravitational pull is strong enough to suck up its companion star if the Pulsar happens to be in a binary system. The pulsar itself is only about 12-20 km wide (about the size of a medium-sized city), but has more mass than our sun. So it’s a tiny, heavy, scary star-thief to a binary partner, all while emitting radiation in great sweeps across the universe.  Yeah, that’s one BAMF.

Hopefully when my family goes camping next spring, we can see some close-ups of our solar system and the topography of the moon. Even better, though, maybe we can see neighboring stars, nebulae and a comet or two. I can’t wait!

How about you? Any fascination with space? If so, what would you want to look for out there?