Black Holes Only Grow So Big

A few weeks ago there was a fairly cool paper on arXiv that suggested that supermassive black holes may only be able to grow so big. This triggered several Astronomy Cast listeners to write and basically say “Huh?” We addressed this a little bit in today’s questions show (real show to follow tomorrow or Wednesday – we had problems with a corrupt audio file over the weekend and got behind). I wasn’t able to give as thoughtful a response in the show as I might have liked however, so I’m going to try and write something here. So, first, I’d like to say there are two ways to look at this: 1) In reality, 2) in make-believe land. Make-believe land is oh so much more fun. So, lets imagine that somehow we are able to grow a very...

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Rethinking the Magellanic Clouds

Rethinking the Magellanic Clouds

I have to admit, there is a soft spot in my heart for conference proceedings. Once upon a time, when you wanted to quickly dive into a new area of astronomy you went to the university or observatory library and searched out the ASP or IAU conference proceedings on the topic of your passion, and then wandered off to read it cover-to-cover. As an undergrad, I got my introduction to pulsating variable stars that way, and in graduate school I am guilty of losing 4 cloudy nights of my life to a periodical on cataclysmic variable stars for no particularly good reason. Today, I teach at a small college that doesn’t have astronomy conference proceedings in its library, so when I want to get my fill of something new, I either have to fork over the cash, or wait on...

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Unifying Concepts and Language

Astronomy is filled with ideas that share too many different names. For instance, an Quasar is also a QSO is also an Active Galactic Nuclei. In our solar system, where we once had a bunch of specific objects, we now have terrestrial planets, gaseous planets, asteroids, and icy bodies (and 1 star too). As science starts to understand more and more about our universe, we’re finding that more and more of the things we used to break into many small groups are really different versions of the same object just seen from different vantages or in different environments. This is scientifically a wonderful thing: Being able to understand what a black hole that is actively feeding looks like as a function of feeding rate and angle of view allows us to say something...

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Galaxy Evolution and the Language of Violence

Galaxy Evolution and the Language of Violence

One thing that has always fascinated me is how readily humans (myself certainly included) anthropomorphize everything around us. Even in the precise language of science, the tendency to use emotionally loaded words persists as we discuss the stress or strain on everything from physical structures (calculating the point of failure of building supports), and the failure of ecological niches (determining the tipping point that triggers an estuary to die). The equations we use to describe these failures differ, but the words – the same one we use when a human is breaking – are equally applied. Stressed and strained are not the only emotional states that describe the physical world. In the field of galaxy evolution, the words cannibalism, harassment,...

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Three New Species Discovered in the Milky Way

Three New Species Discovered in the Milky Way

hidden.gifScientists this week have discovered three previously undiscovered species: a new species of reef lobster living off the cost of the Philippines, a new source of gamma-ray radiation associated with star forming regions, and a new class neutron star+supergiant binary found the Milky Way Galaxy. Each of these three discoveries leads it’s respective discoverers to believe there are a myriad of things still waiting to found in the oceans and outer space. In our cyinical era of “been there, done that,” it seems there is nothing new to wow the mind, but these three new critters indicate our planet and our universe still have a few surprises in store for explorers.

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