Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Universe: Strange Things (History Channel)

The History Channel tonight (Aug. 4) reran a couple of its more provocative “The Universe” offerings.

The first hour was called “Strangest Things”. It started with alcohol clouds in space, enough for billions of “solar flare discos” as I call them in some of my screenplays. They may have been vomited from stars as they formed, and seeded comets which then could seed planets like Earth.

The strangest object might be “pulsar planets”, Earth-to-Moon sized rocky planets near young neutron stars, magnetars which (through going a bit “bald” magnetically) become pulsars in middle age. How they could get there is a mystery.

The documentary went on to examine black holes (old hat), which actually evaporate (like ice on a clear day in the sun) and might explode after evaporation below a critical mass. The show also discussed the formation of momentary mini -black holes, as inside the Hadron Collider.

In a science fiction novel, I’ve proposed the idea that a mini black hole could exist inside an isotope and be used to convey portions of identities of people, enabling other entities to take over and absorb them, in a kind of spiritual contraction. In the fictitious setting, the isotope builds into a virus that causes what becomes recognized as a bizarre retroviral disease. The viral proteins can accommodate certain radioactive atoms (astatine) that produce micro black holes that allow the information imprints of other personalities to be imported.

The film concludes with the discussion of the expanding universe, and the possibility that it could end with “The Big Rip” where all matter, even atoms, is torn apart.

The second hour was about the Milky Way, and it explored the safe position of the solar system on a spiral arm, rather distant in galactic suburbs, two thirds the way out from the center, taking 250 million years to revolve around the center. The film discussed the huge black hole at the center of the Milky Way (100000 light years across) which is still small compared to other galaxies. The Milky Way is part of a galaxy group, as are the two Magellanic Clouds. Were the solar system closer to the center of the galaxy, the night sky would be so bright with stars that it would be like day, and would bombard us with deadly gamma rays.

The expansion of the universe applies only to objects too far apart to be affected by gravity.

The Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy, also a spiral and larger, will merge into one elliptical galaxy in some billions of years.

Related is an episode “Deep Space Threats” reviewed here.

Attribution link for Wikimedia image of Perseid Meteor against the Milky War

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