Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hello Andromeda!

On Dec. 30, 1924, astronomer Edwin Hubble announces that Andromeda is not a funny gas cloud, but actually a galaxy, and that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies in the universe.

First we thought the earth was the center of the universe, then the sun, then the Milky Way. Now many people reasonably believe that the center of our universe is the center of the universe (although NASA is telling kids there is no center of the universe, that the Big Bang happened everywhere at once).

But last month some guys at Oxford University and Yerevan State University in Armenia proposed a new model for universe. They found some cosmic microwaves (wouldn't the Cosmic Microwaves be a good name for a rock band?) with cocentric circles. Their conclusion:

This, they say, is exactly what you'd expect if the universe were eternally cyclical. By that, they mean that each cycle ends with a big bang that starts the next cycle. In this model, the universe is a kind of cosmic Russian Doll, with all previous universes contained within the current one.

Random side note: We've got one of those Russian Dolls by the way. Actually it's a Christmas snowman with smaller and smaller snowmen inside until the last one holds a tiny penguin. Benny finds it endlessly fascinating.

But on to science. The beginning of all this speculation was Hubble's identification of the Andromeda galaxy, which remains my favorite galaxy. (Yes I have a favorite galaxy - I am a dork.) It used to be called a Nebula before Hubble promoted it and is the furthest object visible to the naked eye. I saw it through a planetarium telescope once, but I can't claim any real acquaintance with it. If I met the Andromeda Galaxy at a cocktail party, however, I'm sure it would be polite. ("Of course I remember you, and how's Rick?")