Tag Archives: telescope

That Smoke Ring Thing

Fans of Larry Niven’s superlative Integral Trees series will recognise the gas torus surrounding the red supergiant star WOH 64, located in everyone’s favourite neighbouring dwarf galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. From The Scientific Frontline Observers Gallery:

Comparisons with models led them to conclude that the star is surrounded by a gigantic, thick torus, expanding from about 15 stellar radii (or 120 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun – 120 AU!) to more than 250 stellar radii (or 30 000 AU!).

Everything is huge about this system. The star itself is so big that it would fill almost all the space between the Sun and the orbit of Saturn,” says Ohnaka. “And the torus that surrounds it is perhaps a light-year across! Still, because it is so far away, only the power of interferometry with the VLT could give us a glimpse on this object.

In The Smoke Ring, as in much of Niven’s work – the environment is as big a part of the story as the characters. Niven describes a group of humans living within a vast “smoke ring” surrounding a neutron star.

smoke ringA gas giant orbiting the star has had it’s atmosphere stripped off by the tidal forces of the neutron star, leaving a long, ring-shaped trail within which organisms have evolved to live in a weightless, three-dimensional world, where the only meaningful direction is “out”.

There are some beautiful artists impressions of WOH 64 – unfortunately there is no suggestion that the gas cloud would be anything less than monstrously uninhabitable, like almost everywhere else in the universe.

That said, it is splendid that the VLT Interferometer is working out so well. [via PhysOrg] [image by R’Yes’]

Allen Telescope Array (ATA) Is Now Online

ata_small.jpgOn Thursday, October 11, in a remote northeast corner of California, technology innovator and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen officially “turned on” the Allen Telescope Array (ATA).” The telescope array is the first one ever designed from the ground up to efficiently scan targeted stars for alien signals. Within two decades, it will increase the number of stellar systems examined for artificial emissions by a thousand-fold.