The Universe and Us

 

Have you ever wondered, how we and the universe around us are related?

The Big Bang Theory states that you and I are all made up ultimately of the elements of the stars or the matter left over from the huge battle between matter and anti-matter.

I believe this fact, but am keen to know how life started its journey 14 billion years ago to exist in present form and to thrive in the future – from these non-living elements like hydrogen, helium and lithium. The thing that keeps eating my head is that if we are the only planet to have sustained this phenomenal change, how did it happen? And now that it did happen, let’s thank God and science together for it. Because we are the only known living things to have been created out of this wonderful fabric woven out by him called space-time.

Space holds many secrets. It contains places where human beings can stretch into spaghetti shapes, or vaporize, or be frozen solid. Earth seems huge to us – after all, it can take you a long time just to travel from one city to another. But fascinatingly Earth is like an atom to the Milky Way itself. Imagine how small would it seem to the entire universe?

Let’s now take the talk to the next level. That is studying each aspect of how the Universe works:

Galaxies

For those who need the simple definition of what it is,

                          A galaxy is a family of stars, gas, and dust held together by gravity.

Much of a galaxy is empty space, with massive distances between stars that are hard to imagine. Many galaxies are found in galaxy clusters, with thousands of members. Our galaxy belongs to a cluster of about 30 galaxies called the ‘Local group’. Galaxies differ enormously in size, shape, and mass, but they do fall into a basic pattern, depending upon their shape (but we don’t know what gives them a peculiar shape!)

Here are a few types of galaxies which can be found

Spiral Galaxies

spiral_galaxy.jpg
Spiral Galaxy

 

These disc-shaped galaxies spin slowly. They look a bit like whirlpools, and often have two arms that curl out from a central bulge. Milky Way is one.

Barred-Spiral Galaxies

barred_spiral.jpg
Barred Spiral Galaxy

Barred spiral galaxies have arms that wind out from the ends of a central bar of stars rather than from the core.

Elliptical Galaxyelliptical_galaxies.jpg

These are ball-or egg-shaped and largely made up of old stars. They don’t contain the gas clouds for the formation of new stars.

 The Black Eye Galaxy

black_eye.jpg

The Black Eye or Evil Eye galaxy gets its nicknames from the band of light-absorbing dust that appears in front of the star system’s bright center in this Hubble Space Telescope image. Messier 64, as the Black Eye galaxy is more formally known, is thought to have taken on its ominous appearance after it collided with another galaxy perhaps a billion years ago.

Collision Course!

Two galaxies may collide in a process that will take millions of years. The stars within the galaxy won’t necessarily collide, but the gas and dust will – this collision can create new stars. And believe it or not, our galaxy is on a head-on collision course with our nearest neighbor – the Andromeda galaxy! This is going to happen in a few million years and we might remain unharmed or be thrown away in a corner of the universe where we wouldn’t survive. But this collision is certain and will give rise to ‘milkomeda’. And it might create a second earth too!

Collision.jpg
Two Galaxies Merging

Why is it called The ‘Milky’ Way?

Before the invention of the telescopes, people could not see the stars very clearly – they were blurred together in a hazy white streak. The ancient Greeks called this streak a “river of milk” and the Indians called it (and still call it) the “Akashganga”, literary “the Ganges of the sky”. This is how our galaxy became to be known as the Milky Way.

Space Exploration

When you are trying to imagine the vastness of space, consider that Voyager 1 , more than just 30 years after it was launched, is just reaching the outer edges of our solar system.

The Cassini-Huygens Mission

Cassini–Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA/ASI spacecraft mission studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites since 2004. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan, although it has also returned data on a wide variety of other things including the Heliosphere, Jupiter, and relativity tests. The Titan probe — Huygens, entered and landed on the moon in 2005. The current end of mission plan is a 2017 Saturn impact.   The complete Cassini-Huygens space probe was launched on October 15, 1997 by a Titan IVB/Centaur, and after a long interplanetary voyage it entered into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. On December 25, 2004, the Huygens probe was separated from the orbiter. So it took Cassinni about 7 years to reach Saturn.

cassini.jpg

Mission to Mercury

The closest planet to the sun, and far smaller than Earth, Mercury has blistering hot days, but freezing nights. The nights get cold because Mercury has no atmosphere to trap the Sun’s heat. It became the smallest planet in the Solar system after Pluto, which was smaller, was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

As Mercury faces the Sun, temperatures reach a sizzling 425˚C, hot enough to melt lead. Mercury is the second hottest planet, after Venus. Mariner 10 provided close-ups of Mercury that showed a heavily scarred surface. Rather like our moon, this planet has been battered by comets and meteors.

mercury.jpg

A color image taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft shows the side of Mercury previously unseen by human eyes. Launched in 2004, space probe messenger set out on a journey to Mercury. Its aim: to reach the planet in 2008(which it did), fly by three times, then enter orbit around it in 2011. This close to the Sun, messenger’s heat shield will reach 370˚C.

Kunal Kulkarni
2nd Year, ECE

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