We know an awful lot about nothing

Friday last week was another day of high winds so I decided on a day at home using the sewing machine.

I turned on the radio and began to listen to an interview with Professor Gerry Gilmore, a New Zealand born Astrophysicist.

He is the principal leader of the Gaia project. My ears began to prick up more when I heard that the purpose of this project is to map, in 3D, 1 billion stars and the project had begun way back in 1990. Twenty three years is a long time to plan something.

The most precise telescope ever built, with the biggest camera ever made and including 10 mirrors will be launched on Wednesday 20th November 2013 from a site in French Guiana.

The destination of this amazing piece of equipment is 150 million kilometres away in outer space. It needs to be that far away from the sun, the earth and the moon to escape the gravitational pull of these celestial bodies. In order to function at its optimum it needs a gentle, stable environment and one which is shaded so it has a sun shield as part of it.

Pictures of the silicon carbide Gaia can be found here on the Radio New Zealand website.

Apparently the universe is expanding at a rate that is too fast and I would have to say that what I went on to learn from this interview caused my mind to expand at an accelerated rate too.

Gaia will take exquisite measurements of 1 billion stars, measurements equal to measuring a shirt button on the moon from earth.
• It will measure the whole sky, find what is up there and map it.
• And all this will be in 3D. A first for mankind.
• It will measure things in the sky 80-100 times, over 3-5 years because things move and will return to be viewed.
• It will find planetary systems and weigh them.
• Gaia will accurately weigh the Milky Way.

• It is hoped that Dark Matter, which astrophysicists know exists because without it the sun would fly off into outer space, may be understood in greater detail and potentially made visible thanks to Gaia and its technology. Dark matter has mass and can be weighed…..at this point my humble sewing seemed a mere speck in the great body of human achievements.

• It is also hoped that Gaia will discover and explain remnants from the early universe and explain reality around chemical elements and their relationships to earth and human beings.

source: clipart

source: clipart

If all this is not enough it is also hoped that IF Dark Energy is out there, and currently it is just a name and not understood at all, then Gaia might advance learning on this. Super Novae will be studied, critical distance calibration will be fine- tuned and perhaps answers to why the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather too quickly will be found. Suffice to say that learning will be stretched and more questions generated and more evidence accumulated.

The interviewer drew an analogy between this project and the days of the sea-going European explorers in the 1600 and 1700’s.

When Captain James Cook set off for the southern ocean he was tasked with finding land and mapping it. Other European explorers, such as Abel Tasman had reported back that there was land so James Cook had some data to work with. He was successful in mapping the coastland of my homeland and now we have a countryman who is heading an exploration of the heavens above us, seeking a 3D map of it all.

Here is a link to the Gaia project website. I will be following progress come November 20th 2013 with great interest. It feels a real privilege to stand on the edge of such awe inspiring discoveries.


14 thoughts on “We know an awful lot about nothing

  1. Gallivanta

    Love your title; so true in every way 🙂 What an amazing project. I always find it hard to get my head round the numbers and the vastness of space but I like the concrete description of a shirt button on the moon. Isn’t it exciting that there are still places to map? (What about all the subterranean caves that must still need mapping? )

    1. ordinarygood Post author

      Totally amazing project. I am still off in the clouds about it….or higher really. The good Prof was so “New Zealand” in his approach to it all. I felt very proud about yet another pioneer from our wee set of islands.

      Subterranean caves – wow and undersea mysteries too.

      1. Gallivanta

        And, of course, ordinarygood and Gallivanta are as extraordinary as any of them : D !!!!! By the way what were you sewing? Or is it a secret surprise for someone?

  2. Jo Woolf

    What an amazing and ambitious project! I had heard of it, but didn’t know much about it. I am convinced that there is a lot more to ‘dark matter’ than we are currently aware of! When you consider the size and scale of the universe as far as we can understand it, it certainly does make you feel very small and speck-like! It kind of puts things into proportion when you gaze at a starry sky.

    1. ordinarygood Post author

      I thought of you as I listened gob-smacked to the interview. What a treasure trove could be delivered to us from this telescope.
      I just hope humans don’t try and take over space and wreak havoc as we are so prone to do.
      I am intrigued with both “dark matter” and “dark energy”….fascinating stuff.

  3. Forest So Green

    I have also heard of the Gaia project and find it is amazing. There is so much interesting science news these days and here it is also gets lost behind the “sports stars”.


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