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Successful Frustrating Searches
CHAPTER 90 Elusive Galaxies and Software
Last month certainly saw the weirdest launch of a space mission in history. Of course, I'm talking about Elon Musk sending that SpaceX spacecraft out into the cosmos carrying one of his sporty roadsters with a dummy driver in the front seat! My understanding is that this mission is slated to orbit Mars but may eventually end up heading out of our solar system into interstellar space. Can you imagine what would happen if, in the far distant future, some form of intelligent life happened upon this vehicle circling his or her planet? Depending on the evolutionary stage of intelligence of this being would he or she be totally lacking of any understanding of the situation or would it be at an advanced stage such as our own that would lead it to think "What in the world would lead a person to put a car in a rocket ship and send it out into space?!!" The chances that any living thing will ever see what's inside this vehicle are virtually nil but one can speculate. Regardless of the ultimate fate of the mission, one has to be impressed with the successful simultaneous return of two of the rockets powering the spacecraft back to earth for further use to launch another space mission.
Speaking of space stuff, I've stated at least once in these columns that one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive photograph I've ever seen is the one taken by the Hubble telescope when it focused on a small patch of sky for an extended period of time with a truly remarkable result. The chosen patch showed essentially nothing before the Hubble looked at it repeatedly. However, the prolonged exposure revealed that far from being empty, that area of the sky hosted hundreds of galaxies loaded with zillions of stars. Well, something similar to this finding of "hidden" galaxies has taken place closer to home, as detailed by Adam Hadhazy in an article titled "Taking a Dim View" in the March 2018 issue of Discover. Here in New Jersey, so close to New York City that even late at night there is so much light pollution that we can't see even a small fraction of the stars and the Milky Way that can be seen if one is at sea or in the desert areas out West.
At the same time, what about the brightness of our Milky Way itself? In those desert or mountaintop locations where our biggest telescopes are based, the Milky Way and other luminous galaxies light up the sky. Could that light obscure our view of faint galaxies whose light is washed out by the light from the brighter stellar objects? Hey, you know I wouldn't be raising this question if the answer wasn't yes, as discussed in an article titled "Taking a Dim View" by Adam Hadhazy in the March 2018 issue of Discover magazine. It seems that back in 1969, while atop Kitt Peak in Arizona, astronomer Michael Disney was thinking about whether an alien astronomer in some far away galaxy would be able to see our own Milky Way galaxy. He decided probably not, the astronomer blinded by the light from his own galaxy. This thought led Disney to wonder if we here on Earth were being blinded by the light pollution from our own galaxy and other luminous galaxies and were missing the existence of hosts of dim galaxies out there in the cosmos. He decided to pursue his thought and spent some three decades in a futile quest to find such dim galaxies. One gigantic dim galaxy a billion light-years away was discovered in 1986 by workers using Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio telescope but even though many possible dim galaxies were found, many of these were thought actually to be just hydrogen clouds associated with other bright galaxies and Disney gave up the quest. However, in 2009, he met a Ukrainian astronomer, Valentina Karachentseva, who had identified many dim galaxies just by looking at existing plates and she suggested that many of the hydrogen clouds were actually not associated with bright galaxies but belonged to dim galaxies.
Disney, now 80, was reinvigorated to renew his quest and got time on an array of radio telescopes in New Mexico. The result was that 14 of 19 hydrogen clouds he looked at were not associated with other galaxies and the field was opened up again. For example, other astronomers have turned up 47 never-before-seen new galaxies in one cluster of galaxies known as the Coma cluster! These newly found dim galaxies portend the finding of possibly huge numbers of such objects and may answer a question that astronomers have been asking for years. Where is the missing matter that they calculate should be around after the Big Bang? Has it been there all along but we just couldn't see it?
I'd like now to turn to a completely different subject - computers. For some time I've read articles about how China is ahead of the USA in the computing game. In the February 9 issue of Science, Robert Service describes how the combined power of all 21 supercomputers operated by the US Department of Energy is surpassed by just the two top machines in China. The article mentions the Summit machine to be turned on this year at DOE's Oak ridge National Laboratory. Summit will be capable of 200 million billion floating-point operations per second, twice the power of the current top Chinese machine. Such numbers are mind boggling to me, having just gone through my own computer nightmare on my Dell computer, for which I have no idea of its computing power.
However, since I alluded to a tax problem in my last column, I thought that my latest tax experience may be of interest to those computer buffs out there who are frustrated with such things as upgrading to Windows 10. My problem relates to TurboTax and its refusal to run on my ancient Vista software. Even though Microsoft dropped support of Vista some time ago I've been using it and have run TurboTax on it for a number of years. When I tried to download it this year I was informed it wouldn't run on Vista but it was suited to run on Windows 7. Accordingly, I consulted my grandson, who works on IT for a well known company. I had read about upgrading to Windows 7 and was concerned about possibly losing my files in the process. One evening a couple weeks ago, my grandson came over after work with a Windows 7 disc but found my computer ran on a different bit count than his disc. However, that evening he did save my files on a thumb drive or whatever you call it. The next evening he came back with the proper Windows 7 disc and started the download. After sitting here for a couple hours, he went home and I went to bed with the downloading having progressed to the point of having configured or whatever it did to some 600,000 out of a total of over 800,000 "files?"!
The next morning I woke up to find the installing had been completed and I now had Windows 7. Happily, I thought I could now download TurboTax and be on my way. Not to be. When I tried to download it I was again informed that it would not run on my computer. This led to an hour or so on the phone with a very nice TurboTax lady who ended up essentially taking over my computer and guiding me to carry out maneuvers that finally allowed me to download TurboTax onto my computer. However, when I pressed Run I was again informed that it would not run on my computer! The Turbo gal said I only had 600 megabytes of memory and that TurboTax required 650 megabytes. Stymied, she suggested I consult again with my grandson. I emailed him and he said that was ridiculous since I had 6 gigabytes of memory. End of day 3.
The next day I get up, take the laundry down to the basement and find that our furnace is making a screeching noise that would unbearable for the painters who would soon arrive to continue painting the basement. I call our furnace guy who says he'll be there later and he says it sounds like the fan is the problem. I go back upstairs, turn on my computer and there is a message that says "Important, you have an old version of Windows 7" and asks if I would like to upgrade to Windows 7 SPC1? Well, I'm leery of doing anything that might result in losing my files and especially the downloaded TurboTax. So, I start writing an email to my grandson asking his opinion when the furnace man arrives. For some reason, I decided to put my computer to sleep while I engaged with the furnace activity but accidentally clicked on Restart instead of on Sleep. The furnace man has a brought a small fan and installs it and the screeching is no longer there. When I ask how much do I owe he says 475. Naively, I reach into my pocket for my wallet when he says that's 475 dollars! He says the fan used to cost $40 but now only one company makes it and they're charging whatever they want.
Back upstairs, in an understandably depressed mood, I find my computer saying that it is reconfiguring service pack and is 15% on the way to doing so. Shocked that pushing Restart has led to whatever this means, I sit there for at least 20 minutes with the 15% not changing at all! I'm thinking what have I done? Finally, it finishes and tells me that I now have service pack configuration 1. It's at that point that I remember the TurboTax error message said something about running best on Windows 7 SPC1. So, I have accidentally upgraded my software and quickly go to the downloaded TurboTax and click on Run - and it does!!! I finish my email to my grandson and he replies in essence "Good work. You can say that you have accomplished something that TurboTax help and an IT guy couldn't solve!" Now to see if I can solve the problem of how to e-file my belated W2 form with Social Security a month past the deadline!
Finally, you wonder how big is the space that Musk's roadster has to wander in? The diameter of the observable universe is thought to be about 90 billion light-years, as stated in a reply by the editors of the March issue of Scientific American to a letter to the editor. The letter's author asked how the universe could have a diameter larger than two times the 13.8 billion light-years since the Big Bang. The answer is that space itself can expand faster than the speed of light, the limit Einstein put on objects in space.
Next column on or about April 1, hopefully.
Allen F. Bortrum