Taking a Telescope to Galileo

    Listen 10:37

    Today is Galileo’s 456th birth anniversary. His iconoclastic reputation overshadows his basic raison d’etre at the time – to make a buck. He was a struggling teacher who worked in the ‘gig economy’ of Renaissance Italy. Galileo wasn’t born to a high place in society; he wasn’t a politician, his parents were not rich and his father actually wanted his son to become a physician. He really wanted to be a mathematician. He eventually ditched medical school and became a university math instructor where he began to investigate physics of motion.

    A colleague informed him of a new optic device he’d seen. After a bit of research, Galileo figured out how others were making these new optic devices and using his math skills, made a better one. He immediately saw the how this invention could get him hired by a wealthy and influential patron to whom he sold the manufacturing rights. He got a better university appointment and didn’t have to teach classes, so he could pursue his research interests.

    Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs (first detected in 2007) are intermittent, ubiquitous, low frequency, very high energy, speedy pulses of radio energy. They are considered unusual because of the power – very intense and very brief – just milliseconds – and seemingly from billions of light years away – translate as from very far off, hence very old. To date only a few dozen have been seen but their origin is a mystery.

    Recently, astronomers using a Canadian radio telescope have found one with a repeating 16-day pattern and have pinpointed its point of origin in a relatively nearby spiral galaxy. First, astronomers have several possibilities they refer to for origin of phenomena like this but these FRBs don’t fit the pattern of any of the known source types. Second, they are very energetic and seem to come from outside our galaxy, sometimes from halfway across the universe. Being so bright the source phenomena must be powerful because the FRBs outshine any other source in the sky except the sun – albeit for just a millisecond.
    The mystery of the mechanism that creates these has been compounded by the repeating pattern. Sometimes that’s a result of rotation as in rotating neutron stars or pulsars. Maybe there’s some kind of unusual energetic interaction between black holes and neutron stars in a rotating galaxy setting that accounts for the regularity. We don’t know.

    Starting on Sunday morning and all this week at 6:00 am, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear in a diagonal line upper right to lower left; the moon marches past each planet starting Monday – Tuesday at Mars, Wednesday above Jupiter, Thursday at Saturn, done by Friday.
    If you catch Venus and Mercury tonight (or tomorrow night) – best seen between 6:15 pm and 6:20 pm, you’ll have seen all five visible planets in one day!

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