4 hour time lapse of a meteor shower against the stars
Once a comet passed this way,
Falling in for centuries,
Only to swing away again,
Beyond living memories.
Inward past the planets
Where there are none to see,
From frozen space to solar flame,
Seared and torn by gravity.
Scattered now along its path,
Shattered to debris,
The dusty bits of comet core
Streak over land and sea.
By Kate Rauner
Thanks to space.com and the recent Lyrid Meteor Shower, but many other comets have been shattered into meteors. BTW, a “shower” with one or two meteors a minute is considered pretty intense. So pull up a lounge chair, settle in, and watch the sky.
Remember the speculation that odd dimming patterns of a star in Cygnus might be caused by orbiting structures there, built by an intelligent alien civilization? Scientists jumped on the hypothesis and checked. Alas.
We found no evidence of an advanced civilization beaming intentional laser [or radio] signals toward Earth,” said study co-author Douglas Vakoch, president of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International in San Francisco. space.com
So maybe the star has an unusual cloud of comets – strange and fascinating, but not sentient. Keep looking and listening, SETI.
BTW – why do scifi aliens say they are “from” a constellation? Constellations are regions of the sky as seen from Earth. The stars forming the main pattern are seldom related or even especially close to each other – it’s just an optical illusion and a little pattern-seeking by the human brain. Quit it, scifi aliens!
As our sphere orbits Sun,
So Sun orbits Black Hole
At the center of our galaxy,
As eternity unfolds.
In a quarter billion earthly years
Our solar system circles round,
Weaves thru the mid galactic plane
Where other stars are densely found.
Fifteen times since life began
We have circum-rotated,
And ten times in each orbit grand
The planet’s devastated.
Our Sun’s own cloud of comets
On the solar system’s edge
Are jostled from their sedate paths,
Fall inward from their ledge.
With corresponding timing
Ancient craters have been found.
It seems Earth’s plagued with comet storms
As the cosmic year spins round.
Life sized model
Bombardments are not good for life.
Half a dozen times
Mass extinctions cleared our world
As doomsday peals chimed.
Things have been quiet for some time
Since dinosaurs disappeared.
The Sun careens past cosmic dust,
Dark matter, stars, and fears.
Such grand cosmic motion can only be estimated, and the number of Earth’s mass-extinctions depends on your definition, but our movement through the galaxy makes me feel very small and oblivious.
space.com on extinctions and comet strikes
Wikipedia on Galactic year
That’s a lot of data
Kepler Space Telescope has been watching 150,000 stars – seeking the slight dimming and brightening patterns that indicate orbiting planets. But maybe, possibly, they found something more exciting.
Citizen Scientists Better than Computer Algorithm
“Since human eyes and minds are unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition, citizen scientists from Planet Hunters examine the data. They’ve found a weird pattern that suggests a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation.”
After discarding various possibilities, the only natural explanation is that a second star passed recently (as the universe considers time) and sent a flood of comets inwards. Which still seems unlikely.
This opens the door to other unlikely suggestions.
Researchers involved with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) “long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars… The unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,’ perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.” Not quite a Dyson Sphere, but maybe a step towards it.
SETI plans to point a radio telescope at the unusual star to listen for signals consistent with technological activity, and to follow up with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico if anything sounds promising.
OMG – could it happen in my lifetime?
Could I know, for sure, we are not alone?
I get chills, which is appropriate. Assuming all goes well, the first observation would take place in January – my North American winter. Until then I can only watch dark space near Cygnus – the star is too faint to see naked-eye – and wonder.
Thanks to theatlantic.com
A red dwarf might have a planets with moons orbiting it – as in this artist concept
Seventy thousand years ago doesn’t seem so very long – not too long to imagine. Anatomically modern humans – us – date back two hundred thousand years. Hunter-gatherer cultures are at least fifty thousand years old and probably older. We were about to leave Africa and meet our Neanderthal cousins when something astounding happened in the skies above us. A red-dwarf star with its smaller companion swept by the outer reaches of our solar system.
“Passing less than a light-year from Earth, the flyby was the closest stellar near-miss identified so far, scientists reported Tuesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters.” [NatGeo] Seventy thousand years ago it clipped the Sun’s Oort Cloud. No other star will come as close for hundreds of thousands of years.
Scholz’s star moves so fast it’s no longer the closest star to our Sun. The multiple star system Alpha Centauri is our closest neighbor today, only four light-years away. Scholz’s star is already twenty light-years away.
Space is so big I never expected such a close cosmic call within the lifespan of our species. Scholz’s star is too dim to see with the unaided eye today, but it may have flared bright enough for our ancestors to puzzle over its appearance in the sky. I wonder if human beings will be here to see another star flyby. If so, they may be worried. A similarly passing star could send a bevy of comets towards Earth, possibly leading to mass extinctions. Assuming they still have the technology to watch the skies, they’ll have plenty of warning.
The paper explaining this finding is here.
Neolithic “goddess” carving
Welcome Comet Lovejoy
To our northern sky.
Constellations frame your path,
Through Rabbit, Maiden, Bull you fly.
When last you journeyed near the Sun
We humans on the ground
Were mostly still nomadic,
Had no cities, had no towns.
While you were gone we learned to farm,
To write and tally busheled grain,
Domesticated dog and horse,
Built wagons, cars, and planes.
We learned to war and yearned for peace,
Found gentle commerce better
Than conquest of our neighbors,
As trade became our treasure.
Yet still we murder for our gods,
And still we crave for power,
And still we turn our backs upon
The least of sisters and of brothers.
When you return eons hence
I hope you’ll find, in human eyes,
A wiser race is gazing up
Faithful beyond kin and tribe.
This poem quickly veers from space to social science – Steven Pinker’s encouraging book Better Angels of Our Natures – Why Violence has Declined. There’s reason to hope Lovejoy will pass a better Earth next orbit.
Right after sunset, for an hour or two,
If the sky is quite clear and the ground lights are few,
If not masked by moonlight, you’ll see a faint glow;
The zodiacal cloud’s reflection will show.
Will spread ‘cross the sky frosting Archer and Bull,
Dusting Balance and Goat and Pitcher too full.
Traced by the planets, the ecliptic plane
Is powdered by comets with cosmic dust grains.
Triangular glow, apex pointing high
To the two Fishes whose tails are tied.
The heaviest specs come spiraling in,
Light the Ram and the Maiden, though wispy and dim.
The smallest escape, as solar winds blow,
Illuminate Ram and Crab as they go.
Before Islam’s false dawn or as twilight fades,
The Scorpion, Lion, in palest blaze.
Learn more about the zodiacal light and see some neat pictures at