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back to article Billion dollar telescope snaps galactic head-on

The first images are in from the immense ALMA radio-telescope array, under construction at 16,500 feet in the Chilean desert, and they reveal a galactic collision of near-unimaginable violence and equally mind-boggling beauty. The images show the collision of paired galaxies, NGC 4038/4039, which combine in what's become known …

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Mushroom

To think, there might have been intelligent life somewhere in that mess...

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Re: Mess

It might look messy from here, but stars are normally so far apart that the chances of there being individual stellar collisions is exceedingly small. The merging of galaxies per se would present no real threat to life. It's your run-of-the mill local supernovae and gamma ray bursts that you've got to worry about: if you're too close to one of those babies, you're going to get frazzled by a shell of radiation as little as ten light seconds thick but enormously more energetic than a typical solar output.

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Bah!

The chances are somewhat better of planetary systems being catastrophically disrupted by gravity interaction due to the various near (in galactic terms) misses though. Let's hope there's no-on at home on any of the planets that get ejected into space, into the nearest star or sent to smack into each other.

And if there are people involved in this celestial nonsense, let's hope they actually got on with building spaceships and space stations and so on rather than just making TV shows and computer games about them.

Remember: "There's nothing cool about CGI if you are about to be squished to atoms by your own moon".

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Essentially devoid of water ...

... but there still seems to be a lot of cloud in those pictures.

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Anonymous Coward

No rain

I stayed in Calama in the Atacama for a while. It's a surprisingly ordinary town considering it doesn't rain at all there. I wonder how the clouds affect the telescope.

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Ru

There's a fair amount of ice, too

which is slightly more unlikely in a totally arid region... but even then, this still probably represents the best place to construct such a facility on Earth.

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Boffin

Hint: the photo shows the antenna on its transporter...

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Boffin

@Evan Essence

Before being a smart arse, trying making sure you are actually being smart. Hint: the photo of the 16 completed dishes shows clouds

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Mushroom

it's pretty but...

... is intelligent life any more likely in "that mess" than anywhere else in the universe? Aside from the United States' Congress, of course?

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$179?!?!

for a muddyfunkin' book?!

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Joke

It'll probably be only $178 on Kindle

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Joke

Yeah, it's $278 on iBooks because of the agency pricing model.

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Anonymous Coward

It'll be free on Pirate Bay as soon as someone scans it, if they haven't already...

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Holmes

Misleading photo

All the detail in the photo is from an overlaid optical image. The ALMA image, while perhaps impressive for an IR photo, looks like some fuzzy blobs if viewed alone.

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Optical telescopes have a 'first light'. What is the radio telescopic equivalent?

Anyone?

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Prayer for the Day?

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Boffin

First light equivalent

For an array like that, 'First fringes'

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Boffin

"first light"

Radio telescopes still capture light, just not usually visible light. The equivalent of "first light" for radio telescopes is "first light"

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Coat

600 million years?

Isn't it supposed to be 6,000 years?

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FAIL

Yep

Satan plants all this science to challenge the true believers. Believing in the rapture is one thing. Wanting to get elected to make it happen is another.

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Go

That dish transporter ...

... definitely has the Thunderbirds theme playing in the background.

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Lucky you

I see an array of dishes like that, and instantly think of the film Contact. Then I feel overcome by suppressed shame and violation at the very memory of watching it.

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Linux

Rename it...

Call it the "Debian Formation" instead.

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Not light

Sure it's electromagnetic radiation, which includes light, but the detector equipment in these things is not optical. I define light as stuff you can see. To me IR and UV are not "light" they are radiation. thx

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For a place where it never rains and there's an extremely dry atmosphere, there sure are plenty of clouds!

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WTF?

How does this work then?

In a while our galaxy will collide with Andromeda. I thought that as a result of the big bang everything in the universe was moving away from everything else. So how can anything collide?

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As a whole the universe is expanding that doesn't mean that locally things can't move towards each other.

Just an excuse to link to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17jymDn0W6U

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Distance matters

The Andromeda galaxy is so close (couple of million light years) that the local gravitational attraction rate overcomes the expansion rate of the universe. There is something called the Local Group which are all gravitationally bound. I cba to look up how big it is but from memory its several tens of millions of light years across I think.

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Coat

@Lallabalalla

"I thought that as a result of the big bang everything in the universe was moving away from everything else"

By that definition you're gradually moving away from the earth...

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@Annihilator

We ARE moving away from the earth, just at our scale and point in time the universal expansion is so small as to be unmeasurable.

But if the Big Rip theory holds true (and I hope it does, because the idea of the entire universe tearing itself apart before our very eyes is one that holds a lot of appeal for me) this expansion WILL become noticeable at our scale about 50-80 billion years from now.

The Big Rip theory states that as universal expansion accelerates the Hubble radius (the distance from an observer at which the universal expansion rate reaches the speed of light) must become smaller over time.

Eventually, other galaxies will be moving away from us (technically) faster than light and will therefore no longer exist in our frame of reference - or we in theirs. In the last few years, even other stars will be moving away too fast for us to observe, then the other planets and the sun, and finally, in the last few seconds, the moon.

At the very final moment of life, your feet would be accelerating away from your head faster than light, and each of us will be in our own private universe for a fraction of a second, before the atoms, subatomic particles and even the quarks and strings that compose them are also ripped apart by the accelerating expansion.

I'd love to live to see that happen!

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WTF?

If the sky above ALMA is devoid of water vapour...

...why are there clouds in the sky in your pics?

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well I reckon...

Photoshop. You can tell by the pixels.

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Anonymous Coward

Fake Clouds

I have a friend who didn't like the fact that his wedding photos had a clear blue sky, so he photoshopped in clouds. It is pretty easy if you have clear sky.

Having said that though, the Atacama desert does get clouds. As a rule of thumb it has overcast mornings and cloudless afternoons. In fact there is some research out there that tries to measure the effect of the clouds compared to the cloudless afternoons - eg: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2011JD015905.shtml

My suspicion is that these clouds are real.

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Vapor

The story said "some places" are devoid of vapor, not necessarily where they built this part of the array.

100 Square miles is pretty big, if you are standing on a flat piece of ground (no such thing since the earth is mostly round) or at sea level the horizon is 12 miles away.

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100 square miles is only an area 10x10 miles, it's basically as far as the eye can see but not far enough to have differing weather from one end to the other.

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@ Fuzz Re: differing weather

You obviously have never been to Australia then. Here in Adelaide, it can be sunny and clear on the plains while it's pissing with rain in the hills just 5 kilometres away - much less 10 miles (16 km). In fact, it's not unusual to see "rain walls" here - as in, it's pissing down at my house but my neighbour's house is bone dry.

I'm not saying the same conditions prevail at the Atacama but here at least, 10 miles is more than enough distance to be experiencing completely different weather!

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or across the street.

My dad grew up two blocks from a lake, and he tells of being able to play in his front yard and watch it rain on the other side of the street.

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Clouds

1) Lack of recorded rainFALL doesn't preclude the possibility of there being clouds

2) Those appear to be mostly high-altitude clouds which consist mostly of ice particles. Don't know how that affects things, though.

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