Far Out

Astronomers use data from the Keck Telescope to identify the most distant object in the universe ever observed – it’s an eight billion-star galaxy 13 billion light years away. The edge of observable or earliest we can trace is 13. 65 billion light years, so this galaxy was in existence just 650 million years after universe began – VERY early.

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus’ water eruptions now look like curtains rather than discrete jets, with water spewing out from the interior through long sinuous cracks in the ice-crust surface overlying an ocean of liquid water. This ice supplies material to the E-ring of Saturn.

With clear night skies, watch the winter stars fall behind Venus toward the west. Makes it seem as if Venus is headed up towards Jupiter.

[Dave Heller} Looking to get away this summer? Astronomers have the jump on you…and that look is as far away as the trained telescope has ever been able to see. Let’s take a peek with Derrick Pitts, Chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute. Well, Derrick, I’m looking and I can’t quite bring this one into focus.

[Derrick Pitts] Yeah you’re going to have a difficult time with that; you’re going to need equipment and boy do you need equipment! So here we are now out at the very edge of the observable universe, that of our universe that we can see because these objects are so far away that the light from them are just now reaching us. And that distance is about 13.65 billion light years out.

And this about information coming to us from a very long time ago and a very distant place.

Right and we are talking about discreet objects that we’re seeing at the greatest distance that can be seen.

Just what is it that is being seen?

Actually we are talking about a galaxy here and it’s a very very early galaxy, one of the earliest galaxies ever observed at 13 billion light years away. Now its important for us to discover any objects out there at this distance, because, when we’re seeing objects at that distance, we’re seeing the earliest objects that ever formed in the universe. And of course these objects become data points against which we can now measure the truth of the models that we’ve built to help explain how the universe came into existence.

Does this galaxy still exist?

Wow, what a great question! It has to do with the star production in the galaxy so as we continue to look at it and gather more information, we can determine whether or not it has had stars in it that are still new. But we also have to remember that these objects are also rushing outward at a great rate of speed at some significant percentage of the speed of light. So we see it today where it was some 13 billion years ago. We see it as it appeared 13 billion years ago.

Turn it around, potentially sentient creatures out at the point training their lens on us would have seen nothing.

They would have seen nothing because we haven’t come into existence yet. We still don’t exist, yet we’re trying to see them even as we exist but perhaps they don’t exist anymore. So there’s this interesting conundrum…will they ever see us before their existence comes to an end and will we ever see them before our existence comes to an end.

Let’s bookmark this existential conversation for a moment and come all the way back to our solar system and watch a waterfall as it were, except this one is going from the ground up.

Oh yes, here we are talking about one of the moons of the planet Saturn. The ringed planet Saturn not only has this fabulous ring system but it has a tremendous system of moons. And one of those moons that is about 313 miles in diameter, Enceladus, is known to have a liquid water ocean some 20 miles down beneath its ice crust surface. Now, Enceladus seems to contribute water vapor to the E ring of Saturn. And the observation shows there are seemingly jets of water vapor escaping from the moon itself. Further observation has shown us that instead of individual jets, more than likely we are probably seeing what are long sinuous curtains of water vapor being blasted out of the moon along cracks in the icy surface. So with the water underneath, as this water escapes through the cracks, it comes into this extremely cold environment and that solidifies the water and forms these ice crystals. And these are not only the ice crystals that fall on the surface but are also contributed to the icy E ring of Saturn.

With clear dark skies is Saturn among the treats to be seen in the night sky this week?

In fact, Saturn is now rising above the eastern horizon just after 9pm. It’s really high enough to see well by 11pm. If you can’t wait that late, right after sunset, we can still see Venus high in the western sky. Now over the next week a very interesting observation can be made, and that is it seems as if Venus is moving higher in the sky while the winter constellation Gemini is setting in the western sky. So there’s a combination of events here that’s all wrapped around the earth’s orbiting around the sun. All of this adds up to the appearance that we see, of Venus looking like its going up higher in the western sky, Gemini coming down in the west and also, the planet Jupiter heading down toward Venus. The two will eventually meet up in the future in our evening sky and we’ll have a spectacular view of them later in June. But right now we can begin to see how these two are making their way together; the biggest planet of our solar system and the brightest planet of our solar system.

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