Wiggly Jiggilies

by Ted Frimet

or when black holes collide

Commercial break. All had a great time, during our AAAP outreach. Three telescopes were present, one manned by Dr David Letcher, the other by Outreach Chair, Gene Allen. The third telescope, my 8” SCT push-to, used for hands on – in my own humble opinion, was the star of the show. As you all know, most of our equipment is very expensive. So it goes. An observer must retain domain over his or her telescope and mount. However, this eight inch lady of the light is forever in the public domain. You should see kids faces light up. Even parents. Yes, even with Venus as the only “star” of the show due to light pollution and a sliver of the moon. The experience is especially rewarding. I can’t say enough good things about the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton for sponsoring Outreach. Welcome back, audience.

How best to solve a maze? I’ve always been fond of working backwards. For the most part, maze designers made them difficult. They are, or were, a source of entertainment, if not simply down right time consuming. Most persons solving a maze, take the time of an eyepiece view to solve. As astronomers, we take in the scenery, sweeping from West to East. And lastly drop in on the latent glowing red of a binary system at a higher magnification. Was I alluding that a maze is like the night sky? Maybe so. If you like mazes, then I challenge you to backtrack from the end to the beginning of this passage!

Determined as you may be to solve to the bards room, from entry to exit, and not vice-versa, my maze may be somewhat challenging. I intend to tease and defeat those that are back-door solvers. And you few that dip the ink into an old fashioned labyrinth, now manage to make my mental glee that much harder to obtain. However, the vocabulary to describe said “maze-management” remains a constant. Or at least a scant web search suggests that to be so.

Welcome to my reverse maze. As of the time of this writing, the Lyrids are not at full peak. And I will be a tired soul for staying the course, late into the evening to view them. And at first light, I will engage the star drive to Sunday’s North East Astronomy Forum (NEAF 2018 – Yes, Saturday was a sleep-in). Yes. Definitely tired. Maybe skip the Lyrids, and go to bed early?

Friday was a Minatour. I found him imprisoned in the labyrinth of Knossos. It was the Annual Meeting of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) of North America. And lest I am questioned to answer for myself, you will find me as the center focus of King Minos of Crete. You’ve got to admit, though. Minatour is such a cool sounding maze based name. Truly, the IOTA meeting was more of maze junction, or a decision point. It was a place where we have to decide between at least two alternative paths. Keep alert! Be certain that all discussions held, here, at the Crowne Plaza in Suffern, NY were all revelations. And many silent decisions were being made by the nube in the back row. And it is here, in brief that I present the alternative path I have discovered. You knew it already. I simply did not say so, up front.

Regulus before the occultation.

Regulus before the occultation. Courtesy David Dunham

White Dwarf during the occultation.

White Dwarf during the occultation. Courtesy David Dunham

Regulus is such a bright star. He is why we use him as a guide, during the spring night. With the help of fellow Amateur Astronomer John Miller, my sighting of Leo’s alpha is now correct. A knowledge of one more star locus meets my monthly quota. And then came IOTA. I learned from two still pictures that an occultation event dims even the mighty Regulus. And in doing so, revealed the secret of his binary accomplice; a White Dwarf. I am still uncertain as to how a high UV emitter was revealed by white starlight. Still – the evidence lay before me in the images portrayed on the projection screen, during an IOTA talk. The Regulus occultation by the asteroid 268 Adorea appears above. Let us forgo the aforementioned question on account of my humble learning process. We now delve into the more mysterious nature of the occult.

We can discover binary star systems while being visual observers. The fainter, gravitationally bound doublet was previously obscured by the Regulus’ absolute magnitude [-0.57]. The dwarf remained cloaked until a passing asteroid blinked her twin into a temporary visual oblivion. Our three actors; the guide star, a dwarf, and asteroid formed the maze vortex. Ultimately they were linked together, if only for a brief instant in time, and in space. And then the asteroid continued on thru her passageway, bound to repeat her spiral retreat to the outerwall. And once again, orbit back thru the maze.

There is no rest for the weary. However, do take a breath, and have a snack. I’m getting up to get a cup of coffee… Fear not, ye star traveler. I promise not to lead you into the cul-de-sac of Troy. I will not lay before you the blind alley of the maze.

This month might have been, for me, a classical bottleneck. Outreach to scouts, we were told, were for fourth graders in attendance. How difficult could it be? Plan on a chance encounter on my ruse in “how to ride a light beam”, in this months Sidereal Times. There you will find the result of an ask for an academic paper. Never an easy task. And then to convey the essence of the essay message into a hands on experiment? Maybe a little more difficult? I dare say.

After the fact, but before the outreach encounter, I looked up some data on our scouts. Those in attendance were not your everyday fourth graders. These were STEM participants. And I will tell you, frankly, how their behavior was outmatched only by their scientific prowess. They were knowledgeable, and formed solid, lucid questions. Clearly, even as I strike the keys, I show my mazes end. I let you all know that these STEM scouts are a replacement for me. In so very short years, they too will search and find AAAP and the wonders of Sidereal Times!

The paper was a mazes’ bottleneck, and so it was not presented at outreach. It did become the backbone for replying to the Scout Master, as well as document in hand for Ms. Gold. She was the main point of contact, at the Scouts outing. Ms. Gold is the noteworthy STEM teacher for these participants. Reading my information paper was clearly off the menu. Ms. Gold made sure that the essay would be in the hands of those few that were up to the task, including Mr. T – a parent that was acutely aware of the many color palettes of Hubble Space Telescope astrophotography.

There was a diverse range of cosmological knowledge spread upon the 15 astronomers in our STEM group. A later night topic, staved off until the last possible minutes, was on Cherenkov radiation. Followed by a discussion of white dwarf UV emissions and the nebula that re-radiate their light. In demonstration, we shone a small UV flashlight onto some uranium glass; while we all went a-gaze with wonder at the glowing yellow-green light of re-radiation under then, darker skies.

Push back the clock, even earlier. All were in attendance. Due to an abundance of artificial light in the parking lot, more con-fab was called for. And then we showed, with two outstretched arms a demonstration of two black holes in a death spiral. My impression was wanting. All remained well mannered. And then came the question, “what sound does 63 solar mass’ of black holes make when they collide” ? Fortunately for us, AAAP was graced with the LIGO talk of Princeton University Professor Frans Pretorius. And I had the good luck to have heard a reinforced lecture by Kip Thorne, a few days later. Now, how to transcend the lecture room to the parking lot? Simple. Wait on the kids to answer. And answer, they did! “Boom, arrrgh, howl”, loud noises!! Maybe even a bang and crash!! And then I lamely said, “chirp”.

They looked at me, like I as out of my mind. Ok, they got me. Even if they don’t read my essays, they know I’m unusual. Since I listened to Drs. Thorne and Pretorius, I became Daedalus, anew. Yet here as craftsman, a skilled artisan, I had to manage a conveyance of a song bird. With the words of two Phd’s (Pretorius and Thorne) in my mouth; I uttered again, “chirp”. Yes. I explained that as the scientists used the interferometer to monitor one dimension of a gravity wave – our first – they decided to funnel it into a speaker. And our STEM kids were wide eyed with wonder. Although I must admit, in a less than passing fashion, that some body language expressed contempt for a bird call from a black hole. Really? Could you blame them? Chirp? Yup. Thanks, Kip. Diddo to you, Frans.

Earlier, Ms. Gold had described that they had created a model of our solar system. And pointed out how they learned how massive Jupiter was and how tiny the inner planets were by comparison. More than one scout mentioned this to me, in passing. Where was this Ven I searched for? Where is the knowledge point, a nexus where we can transcend the solar system of old, and introduce the galaxy of new? And what of the Universe of greater ascent? Asking for a volunteer; one STEM participant became the “galaxy center point”, while others formed up the many arms of our spiral galaxy. And around and around they walked – dancing the dance of the ever whirling galactic outreach. They were impressive. I am so proud of them. They produced a great spiral, that evening!

Fortunately outreach does not have to come at a high price; nor does it need to be overly complex. With six tea lights in hand – LED lights – a version for 50 cents a pop – a volunteer was selected to choose a remaining five. And six scouts sought to line up the lights, at a distance. Some close. Some from afar. And all within the safety of oversight of parents, and leadership.

Having first observed all lights at the same distance; and same brightness; they learned absolute magnitude. And now given the opportunity to see their lights close and far – they learned apparent magnitude. Here’s the tricky part. Asking our STEM participants the hard question. If two stars appear to have the same brightness, and yet are hundreds of light years apart, how do you account for this? And to my excitement, my new peer group, a group of 15 exceptional minds, gave me the answer. Among them was a spokesperson who sang out! I was so proud. So very happy not to have answered myself. If you want the whole tale of two magnitudes, please read, “how to ride a light beam”, also found in this months Sidereal Times.

If Aristotle were here, he would be analyzing this tome, a Poetics of sorts. I was going to stop. But I could not help myself. The kids were introduced to Minkowski space of length, width, height and time. And when confronted with passing thru the event horizon of a black hole – having time swap out for a dimension and having that dimension of time flowing in against them – they intuitively agreed that this flow into the black hole would never let anything escape against this arrow of time. Yes. Truly our STEM kids will need the shield of Achilles to accompany the sword of Aegeus in our maze. My essays’ are insufficient. Perhaps the AAAP outreach was never needed. There is a complication in the continuum. Due to a non-anticipated fold in space-time, it appears that all fifteen students were already in attendance at Princeton University. In which case, I was never here. And neither are you. Where is that second cup of coffee? A brief reference to Douglas Adams reveals that the cup appeared in the many worlds version of where lost pens go to. Say “hello” to Douglas, for me, when you see ‘em. Tell him I want my coffee mug back. It was my favorite.

Ah yes. The beginning of the maze presents itself. Now, stand up – raise up your arms and wiggly jigglie all that extra energy! I, as Theseus, lead the way back to the beginning. However, if you took the challenge of paragraph two, you’ve started here. Whoops. Endless loop. Or was it particulate matter, in the forms of electrons, traveling faster than light in an optical density greater than one ? Blue light, or sound waves compressed into a sonic boom? Take your pick. There lay your Minotaur in sight and in sound.

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This entry was posted in May 2018, Sidereal Times and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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