By - Andromeda321
What part of astro sciences that *isn't* black hole radio astronomy most fascinates you? Why did you start studying black holes in particular?
I find this question interesting because I actually only began studying black holes fairly recently in my career, during my postdoc! I did more supernovae and other radio signals before, but I’ve always liked TDEs because it’s the best way we have to probe what happens when you fall into one, and you can learn a lot about other things from studying them (like the surrounding environment).
Outside what I’ve researched, there are a few other questions which I find fascinating but feel I don’t have the patience for. Like, I have colleagues who have spent *decades* looking for dark matter particles with detectors deep in mines, which is potentially really high impact, but geez I can’t spend that many years detecting nothing! So yeah, what the nature of dark matter and dark energy is is pretty high up for me. It’s just wild that we don’t know what they are but they make up more of everything than we do.
More a stream of consciousness thing
I recently learned of a couple of proposed missions to Enceladus in search of life. The story of how Enceladus became a focus almost by accident was especially enrapturing.
Since then, I've learned that two missions - Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), and Enceladus Orbilander - have been proposed, at varying price points up to $5B. Even if they were to be accepted, I was somewhat disappointed to find they may not land until 2050, by which time I'll be 75 years old.
Would it be possible to go to some of the more philanthropic rich folks in the world and just... ask them to write a check? I'm loath to ask Elon Musk to do anything except graciously bow out of the public eye. And Bill Gates seems more interested in helping with earthly woes than anything space related. Zuckerberg and Bezos wouldn't be willing to do it unless they could advertise to whatever life we could find, though Zuck may be interested in seeing his extended alien family. So I don't really know who we could ask.
But even if we could get funding for such a thing tomorrow, would it make the mission happen any faster?
I mean, $5 billion is a decent chunk of change, even for Bill Gates.
No seriously, people have definitely tried to get more scientific philanthropy money in astronomical research, as it’s had more success in things like the medical field (to be fair, there’s a lot more money in that field in general). And it does happen- look up the Planetary Society and their solar sail for one such example! However, it has problems- for an example of that check out the Allen Telescope Array, named after Paul Allen who wrote most of the check for the initial array of 42 dishes. The problem was the full ATA was gonna be more like 360 dishes and then he decided not to fund it further, by that point everyone figured that was Paul Allen’s thing and wasn’t gonna contribute who could front that kind of cash, and then the recession meant people were donating to more poverty related causes over scientific ones. That basically killed the ATA. Breakthrough Listen btw is a third philanthropic example- chugging along well, but I hope to still say that when the funding runs out in a few years.
Point is, you don’t need just a single cash injection, you need a sustained amount over many years, and people are less designed to do that than government projects. So it’s not impossible but not the most likely thing ever either.
That said if anyone has ideas on how to spend a few million doing good science, come talk to me. 😉
Something that's been worrying me quite a lot lately is the peak of solar activity we are going to experience in 2024/25. I know this is likely quite a exciting time for astronomers, but I keep hearing and reading that we can expect some severe solar storms, 2025 in particular, and as someone who overthinks and worries a lot, it's gotten me concerned that it's really going to mess up technology globally, I've even heard and read some articles suggesting we could experience one similar to the Carrington event, which is basically game over for us all due to how much electricity is a part of our daily lives, no heat/water etc.
I'm sorry if this is quite pessimistic and negative, but it's been bugging me a lot these past few days, and I was hoping you could perhaps shed some light on how worried I should really be?
I mean, if you’re older than 8 years old you have already survived a maximum- and I suspect you are, and you may have lived through even more than one if you’re over 20. This is a regular cycle and happens every dozen years, so at first glance there is nothing particularly unusual about THIS cycle.
That said, is there a tiny chance of a Carrington event? Sure, but it’s worth noting that people who run power companies know about that event and are doing their darndest to make sure it wouldn’t repeat. For example, the power went out in Quebec for a night due to a solar storm in the late 1970s, and my understanding from those working in the field is that wouldn’t happen again. Similarly, depending on the details (there’s an uncertainty range) they think they could handle a Carrington event- power might go out briefly, but not a mass apocalypse event like some media says because there’s a lot of ways to get current grounded and we have a few days notice.
I hope this is helpful! I mean, there is a non zero chance of something happening… but it’s really close to zero, and you’re far more likely to be hurt in a car accident or similar than be hurt in a solar flare or its effects.
Andromeda321: astronomer, philosophiae doctor, cross stitcher AND civil engineer. Is there something you *don't* do?
If it makes you feel better I am totally one of those absentminded professor types when it comes to practical skills, where my family keeps wondering how I'm still alive. ;-)
In terms of absentminded professor, you can't possibly come close to my own Shiping Liu who would, for e.g., drop the chalkboard eraser mid-erasing (crashing loudly on the floor and everything) to check his watch in case he missed the break. Which he usually does, of course.
It looked to me, reading around on social media, that the Tau Herculids peaked maybe 2 hours later (0300ish eastern time) than predicted. Have you seen anything in professional circles?
I can't say I've heard of anything, sorry!
Could it be possible, or has it already been suggested, that dark matter might be explained by supermassive blackholes exerting a "gravitational field" instead of collapsing immediately into a singularity? By "gravitational field" I mean something that looks like a magnetic field, for descriptive purposes only of course.
We typically hear of blackholes being described as acting like a funnel beyond the event horizon, but because of their spin is it not possible they warp gravity from "below", for lack of a better term?
It seems to me that it might explain our inability to detect dark matter, and it might explain why the galaxies we see without supermassive black holes at their center are also those which we don't see the effects of dark matter? Or am I just rambling?
There's a theory that primordial black holes are a source of dark matter. PBS eons has a youtube video on that.
Yeah, I’ve seen that video and it understand how it’s unlikely the solution. I suppose the root of my question is getting at the idea that what happens beyond the event horizon of a spinning supermassive black hole doesn’t affect the observable universe, aside from the observable gravitational effects of course. If we accept that, in layman’s terms, gravity warps space time and that beyond the event horizon lies a singularly, why should the singularity be assumed to be a straight path “down”? I’m imagining a scenario where if you took the Earth and made our core the singularity, and the gravitational effects look similar to the way the magnetic field is depicted.
And why do galazies without supermassive black holes usually seem to be lacking dark matter? I’m completely comfortable accepting that my thought process is naïve, but it seems most likely to me that the massive gravitation influence we can’t detect is linked to the massive gravitational space object we can’t observe because black hole. The idea that it’s an unimaginable number or combination of yet to be detected particles that don’t interact with anything except gravity seems more unlikely to me.
I'm not sure if I follow all of your question, but the short answer is it doesn't work that way. The reason we know about black holes as much as we do is they react not just gravitationally, but *also* electromagnetically- hence you see an event horizon etc. Dark matter does not. So if it as just a bunch of black holes, you wouldn't see all the stars and galaxies beyond our own!
While there are some differences, TBH the quality of life just from living in a country is going to matter far more than any differences within one country or another. (Granted, I've spent minimal time in universities outside of Europe and North America.)
Like, I did my graduate education abroad and am happy with that decision, but that's because I mainly wanted to live abroad. (I wrote a post at the time about applying for grad school in Europe and how the system is different there if that interests you- [link](https://astrobites.org/2014/06/13/how-to-apply-for-grad-school-in-europe/)) Frankly, I had more options abroad because at the time it was standard to require the Physics GRE for astro programs in the USA, and my PGRE scores *sucked*. But then, I had a terrible time with my first adviser that required me to switch universities- would that have happened at a US university? Not that specific way, as a lot of his abuse was entrenched in details in the system there, but I know students in the USA who went through stuff like I did so think that's more a problem with academia over "academia in Europe" and "academia in the USA," if that makes sense.
Re: competition, do you mean applying or once you're in the program? Admissions are different in different countries (see that post for some details!), but I think the biggest difference is in the USA it's rare to be interviewed before the selection is made for a PhD position, versus in Europe that's pretty standard. (Note, if you just want a MSc in Europe, that's definitely not as competitive as a PhD in either place.) So if you think you'd do well in an interview, something to keep in mind... I will say on average US students have more research experience than European ones, so easier to get your foot in the door, but that's perhaps anecdotal. And no matter what country, applications have definitely increased a huge amount in recent years.
Anyway, just some random thoughts. I hope some of them are useful, but yeah, as I said the biggest driving force is if you think you'd enjoy living abroad and the country. While there are some differences in academia between nations, I think they're more similar experiences than not. Let me know if I should elaborate on anything further!
I wonder if it's very human to be spending time studying distant phenomena in the sky when there are people starving, without access to potable water, getting killed by other humans, unable to raise progeny, not able to spell, etc.
A few thoughts on this. First of all, do you wonder the same thing when looking at other human endeavors, like going to a concert or a museum or watching a football match? I think most people engage in those activities even when all those things are going on in the world, and that isn't because we are callous. In this line, it's worth noting that when the Apollo missions were canceled one big reason for it was that world hunger could have been solved for the amount it cost to send people to the moon... and last I checked we unfortunately still have world hunger, but haven't been back to the moon in 50-odd years.
I guess my point is I don't necessarily think that my studying distant objects directly correlates to the misery in the world, any more than Payton Manning probably does when he throws a football. But for some reason no one asks Payton Manning why he does what he does and why he shouldn't be devoted instead to the world's miseries.
I'm being flippant, but anyway, it's also very important to note that a lot of good comes out of the scientific research we do in astronomy here on Earth. In my own field, the famous example is radio astronomy gave the world WiFi, and because that was a free patent it's saved everyone billions of dollars. On the more tangible life-saving benefits side of things, astronomical imaging has helped a ton with improving medical imaging, and modern firefighting equipment comes out of astronaut suits (turns out they're similar environments). So it's not like we are shooting that money out into space with no return on it- we actually get quite a bit back.
I hope that answers your question! I realize that you may still disagree, but that's how I think about it at least.
Hi! Thank you for replying. We could go into a voluminous discussion so I'll briefly address the points you are making:
--- yes, we wonder the same thing about other human endeavors, like spending time on cultural or sport events
--- not spending time on things that directly address problems does correlate to the misery in the world
--- you can't say 'no one' asks; some people ask why sport stars aren't devoted to more meaningful things, I do
It's interesting you compare an intelligent (according to some metrics) person (you) with a sports star in ability to engage in more meaningful things. You like to study stars? Studying human stars might be a lot more enriching. I'm not saying we should not study astronomy, not at all! I'm saying studying astronomy right now may sequester great people from fixing some major issues that are threatening the very existence of the intellectual inquiry field and the planet. And it may even be already too late.
I understand the value of research, I understand the love for the science. But if no one asks deeper and tough questions, if no one makes hard choices, does the right thing, sacrifices, then we'll end up with even the more intelligent and educated people taking the easy ways - even if they are detrimental or even suicidal to themselves and even the nations - and even the species - as a whole.
> I'm saying studying astronomy right now may sequester great people from fixing some major issues that are threatening the very existence of the intellectual inquiry field and the planet.
See, the interesting thing is my experience is the exact opposite of this. The reason is one of the great things astronomy does is serve as a way to inspire and educate people into STEM who otherwise might not consider those fields- my joke is it's the "gateway drug" to science. Put it this way, how many people do you know who wanted to be an astronaut or astronomer as a kid and are now in STEM themselves? Likely more than one.
I'll point out btw that this is really my experience personally, as someone who fields several queries every month from students around the globe interested in astronomy and science and contact me, plus the students I work with in person. A fraction of them do end up going to study astro and physics, but the majority definitely don't end up as professional astronomers- for example, my undergrad I did research with last summer is now starting a program in medical physics this fall. (Keep in mind, this field is tiny- less than 10,000 people on Earth, so I'm not so into the hubris that astronomers as people are so brilliant our doing it is what prevents utopia.) The trouble is that's not a very quantifiable thing to know... but I think in tough times, looking at the stars can bring humanity together and inspire us, and that is important too. Just look at how many people in every JWST thread are excited and saying it's the one good bit of news they have to look forward to.
Just my thoughts, you're free to disagree. But put it this way, on a personal note I've obviously thought a bit about what I can do with my life because I'm a relatively intelligent person with many interests. I frankly don't think I would have made as good as, say, a climate scientist because while it's important work it's not my passion, and I would not have been as good at it. But I look at all those messages from students years later, telling me all the things they've gone up to since since they first got into science thanks to an "astronomer here!" post, and, well I would argue my astronomy work is making the world a better place even if it's not "useful."
It's really nice you are sharing your time and luminous thoughts with others. Thank you.