What does a black widow spider, Mount Fuji, the Hulk, and Schrodinger’s cat all have in common?
From characters of modern myths to scientific concepts and tools, scientists with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have unveiled 21 unofficial gamma-ray constellations to celebrate its 10th year in operation, and the results are sure to tickle any geek’s fancy.
Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) finds gamma rays in the sky to help us earthlings better understand black holes and other mysteries of our universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light. With a million times the energy of visible light, gamma rays are capable of penetrating solid matter. A feat definitely worthy of a super monster name like Godzilla. Since opening its lens in 2008, LAT has mapped 3,000 gamma-ray sources – that’s more than 10 times what we knew before.
“Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,” said Fermi scientist Julie McEnery in a statement. “One way or another, all of the gamma-ray constellations have a tie-in to Fermi science.”
Take Black Widow, for example, named for a spider that sometimes eats its mate just like the highly magnetized pulsar stars known to eat their partner stars. Tragic.
The reddish ban seen along the bottom of the images is the plane of our own galaxy and the Milky Way. Brighter colors are gamma-ray sources. Without further ado, beam us up, Scotty!
As the classic comic book story goes, Dr Bruce Banner was introduced to his alter ego "The Hulk" after an experiment with gamma rays went terribly wrong. It's no wonder astronomers would name some gamma rays – the strongest form of light capable of converting into matter – after one of our favorite green-colored superheroes.
Short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, TARDIS is the Doctor Who's trusted time-traveling vessel. A broken chameleon circuit gives it the appearance of a 1960s London police box that's perfectly aligned with a set of gamma-ray detections. Astronomers can’t travel through time – at least, not yet – but they can analyze it by studying light from distant objects, which is sort of the same, right?
This 1954 horror flick cast one of cinema's most notorious monsters, infamous for destroying Japan with its dragon-like "heat ray". This, NASA says, “bear[s] at least a passing resemblance to gamma-ray jets associated with black holes and neutron stars.”
Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger famous 1935 thought experiment was used to explain quantum mechanics. Today, quantum effects are still used in science and technology, especially LAT.
Gamma-rays are too powerful to be reflected or refracted. To combat this, LAT uses a process called “pair conversion” that converts tungsten into an electron. LAT is then able to track and determine where in the universe the gamma ray came from.
Star Trek's famous ship was powered by annihilating matter and antimatter, which produces energy in the form of gamma rays. More than half of gamma-ray sources detected by the Fermi mission come from “a different type of engine” – supermassive black holes from distant galaxies.
View the interactive sky map for yourself here.