20 October 2022
Unrest in Galactic Senate?
by Don Urquhart
When informed that only two man-made constructions could be seen from the moon and that they were The Great Wall of China and the holes in the Arsenal defence, I accepted this as fact. My team was going through one of many bad patches.
Indeed I am to astrophysics what the late Stephen Hawking was to professional football but this article in The New Scientist caught my eye:
A gamma ray burst about 2.4 billion light years away is being called “the BOAT” – the brightest of all time – and is so powerful it has even affected Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomers have spotted what may be the most powerful explosion ever seen. The gamma ray burst, called GRB221009A, was spotted on 9 October, and even its afterglow is brighter than most objects in the sky.
This type of gamma ray burst (GRB) is thought to occur when a massive star explodes in a supernova, leaving behind a black hole. The explosion creates an extraordinary jet of light which makes up the GRB itself, and then the supernova causes a dimmer afterglow. This particular GRB appears so bright partially because it is about 2.4 billion light years away from Earth, making it one of the closest GRBs ever spotted in addition to being the brightest.
Now I take this to mean that the light from the event took 2.4 billion years to get to us. I also think it is incorrect to say that it happened 2.4 billion years ago – something to do with the space time continuum. Normally I would consult Mr Einstein on this but he appears to be too busy selling Smart Meters in TV ads at present.
According to the Big Bang theory, space and time emerged together 14 billion years ago, and the universe has been expanding ever since. While the spatial size of the entire universe is unknown it is possible to measure the size of the observable universe, which is approximately 93 billion light-years in diameter at present.
Our Sun is one of a few hundred billion stars in the Milky Way, which is one of a few hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Many of the stars in these galaxies have planets.
Our solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago. It has eight planets, an unknown number of smaller dwarf planets and innumerable small bodies orbiting the Sun.
Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour life. About 71% of Earth’s surface is made up of the ocean. The remaining 29% of Earth’s surface is land, consisting of continents and islands.
The Earth’s surface area is around 510 million km² and its population around 8 billion.
The United Kingdom at 244, 000 km², takes up around 0.05% of the Earth’s surface area and its 70 million people comprise around 0.9% of its population.
So our country is a small one on an average sized planet in an insignificant corner of the universe.
All the news in this backwater is about someone called Liz Truss – how long will she last? The media scour the planet for people who have a view on this. Not that the identity of the Prime Minister is a small thing. It depends on the context.
The shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 was a big thing for him but far from Sarajevo it could have looked like a typical Balkan shooting – let’s move on. In the global scheme of things Kwarteng’s mini-budget looks like a small thing. It exercises people in Britain because it is having a catastrophic effect on the lives of fellow citizens. But the news is not about the lives of the people afflicted by Kwarteng’s gaucherie. It is about the ambitious and relatively incompetent group of people we have rashly entrusted with the management of our laws and finances.
There must be a planet, star system or galaxy somewhere that does these things better.