ASTROPHYSICS: or Carrie geeking out about outer space

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a completely normal, not weird or nerdy at all, obsession with outer space. I can prove that this is completely normal because if you knew what I know, you would also think it's awesome (or you need to reevaluate your definition of awesome). Here are just a few reasons why astrophysics is the bomb.

 

Black Holes

artist's concept of a black hole

artist's concept of a black hole

This happens to be one of my favorite topics in astrophysics and for good reason. Black holes are formed when giant stars die and collapse. I’m going to try to break it down as simple as possible. Every astronomical object has a certain mass and volume and therefore density (how much stuff is in a certain amount of space). An object on an astronomical body must have a certain velocity to escape the gravitational pull. We call it escape velocity. An object leaving Earth would have to travel at 25,000 mph in order to break away from the gravitational force. When it comes to a black hole, it is so dense that the escape velocity is greater than the speed of light, so not even light can escape from the gravitational pull. Once in a black hole, nothing can escape, so things just continue to be pulled in and the black hole keeps getting bigger, but remains really really dense. Imagine the mass of the Earth squeezed to the size of a marble. The thing that blows my mind is when things get sucked into the black hole, where does it go? If it’s a hole, is there a bottom? Another side like a wormhole? I have no idea but I want to find out.

 

Relativity

twinparadoxI am currently taking Modern Physics with Professor Raths and Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is blowing my mind. If I had to break it down in one sentence: when objects travel at relativistic speeds (close to the speed of light), classical physics breaks down and things get weird. I put relativity as astrophysics because a lot of what we observe in outer space is moving at relativist speeds. So much crazy happens when objects move super super fast, but I’m just going to give you a little snippet of what’s called the twin paradox. If you want me to explain more, come find me and I would be happy to talk your ear off about it, but for now, just trust me. There are these twins (let’s call them Jim and Tim). Jim goes into space at relativistic speeds while Tim stays on Earth. When Jim returns, he finds that his twin has aged more than him while on Earth. Don’t believe me? It’s completely real and has been verified experimentally using atomic clocks and particle accelerators. Spooky…

 

The Universe is the largest thing ever

The Universe is incomprehensibly huge. It’s so big that it is difficult to put into perspective, but I am going to try. Earth is an awesome little planet around an awesome average star. There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. There are more than 170 billion galaxies in our observable universe. That’s so many stars! The observable universe is about 93 billion light years and that’s just how far we can see with telescopes. There’s even more! Our furthest satellite is Voyager 1 at a distance of around 5 billion kilometers away (.0005 light years, just outside our solar system). It took 36 years. With better, faster satellites and more precise telescopes (like the James Webb Space Telescope) we will be able to observe more and more. To get the best idea of just how massive the universe is, check out this video.

 

JUST LOOK AT IT

I feel like this would be best explained if I show y’all a multitude of images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.  LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL SPACE IS. Enjoy.

hubble6 hubble5 hubble4hubble2 hubble3 hubble1

There's so much we don't know!

One of the main reasons I got into astrophysics was that I love that there is still so much we don’t know, but we've also discovered so much so quickly. The first man went into space only fifty years ago. We’ve come so far since then; imagine how much further we can go in my lifetime. Every day there are new discoveries and theories. There is so much to the universe and I can’t wait to discover something of my own.

milkyway

Carrie Holt

Author: Carrie Holt

Carrie is a senior physics major from South Carolina with a passion for astrophysics and music. You can most likely find her geeking out about physics and outer space, singing with Vocal Synergy or hanging out with her best friends.

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