Ep. 517: Fritz Zwicky and the Zwicky Transient Facility


This episode of astronomy cast is brought to you by eighth light Inc. Eighth? Light is an agile software development company. They craft beautiful applications that are durable and reliable eighth. Light provides disciplined software leadership on demand and shares its expertise to make your project better. For more information. Visit them online at WWW dot eighth light dot com. Just remember that's WWW dot the digit eight t h L I G H T dot com. Drop them out eighth light softwares their craft. Shaima cast at for soup five seventeen Brits Wiki and sweet transient facility. Welcome to strana facts beast journey. The cause will be held you understand. I'm Lou what we know. But how do we know? I'm prisoner. Cain publisher of university date with me as always Dr Pamela, gay senior, scientists of the planetary Science Institute and the director of causal quest Hamill. He done I'm doing well. How are you doing? I'm doing great. And I want like a couple of things I've got a quickly log roll here. One is that you and me and skyline and Johnny goad gate and Paul Sutter are all going to be leading a fantastic star party in Joshua, California. And that's going to be in the end of June. And if you wanna be a part of this go to Astro, tours dot CO. It's called the all stars party. We're going to be setting them much telescopes. We're going to be teaching than sky. We're going to be hanging out or it could be going on adventures. It is going to be fun for the whole family. So check that out. The second thing is did you know that oceanside photo telescope has a new podcast as well. I did junk both been on it. Yes, separately. So it's called space junk, and I'm not sure what wonderful topic they picked for you. But for me they want to talk about conspiracy theories. So that was that was fun and couldn't I couldn't help but turning into conversation about the Fermi paradox and colonizing Mars, but but still we talk a bit about about this the nature of conspiracy theories. So if you want an interesting podcast to listen to check it out twenty Darnell in and Dustin Gibson are the hosts and ran for a long time. It was a very low uncover sation, and we had a lot of fun. I was well caffeinated during that and some of you may already know Tony journal he's done some work with us in the past. And he is the voice behind deep astronomy. Yeah. Yeah. In twenty two hundred Darnell does give ten super fun to talk to hilarious. And. Yeah, it was a great thing. So check check out their podcast space junk. One of the most influential. Astronomers in the twentieth century was Fritz Wicky hit his hand in the discovery of dark matter gravitational Lenzing supernova neutron stars. And he also worked on a few more controversial ideas like tired light. So let's learn about the Wiki, Pamela. You chose Fritz Wiki this week. What what led you to? There's no mission. Why does he go there? There's a new telescope facility. So so one of the things that I noticed this week is we have a brand new reused telescope for years and years and years, the palmar sky survey had been re purposed to instead of doing sky survey will the Palo Marsh. Mitt telescope had been re purposed to doing the palmar transit survey and they'd been looking night after night at fairly. Okay. But not great resolutions that. Sky looking for things that flicker flair and move in the night specifically their goal was to uncover supernova upon supernova. So that we could better measure, the Hubble constant and the expansion of the universe. Now, recently, they upgraded the system and gave it a new name. They named it after Fritz Wiki, which is a an individual who's the kinda character who's really worth discussing. And I felt that this upgrade to the system. This new camera. They stuck on the telescope the new discoveries. They're making well, it all added up to one new episode highlighting the guy who came up with the idea of a spiritual b word. A spiritual be word. Well, be it. I I'm going to go ahead and say it a spherical bastard. Switz- Fritz zwicky is is perhaps best well known among graduate students as the individual who came up with the concept of an idiot who is eighty it as seen from any direction is a spiritual bastard because spherical same in all directions. Yes. Easy it from from all directions. All right. So who was who was Wicky Zoecke was a European scientist who lived in the number of different nations throughout his life, but claims Switzerland as his home, he moved to the United States after World War One where he took up residence at Caltech. He there worked with badeah. He was a professor in his own, right? And he was a tremendous observer and along with doing amazing up survey ship. Analyst Ron me. He thought long and hard about the things that he was doing. And I've seen various sources that claimed that he is the person who coined the term supernova that his colleague Batas the person who coined the term supernova, whichever one. It was it was these two gentlemen, working together that figured out that a large star dying violently exceeding. Chandrika say cars limit on. How large a white dwarf can be would have an explosive event going from star to neutron star. And that explosive event would be a supernova having come up with this concept and Eva Lucien of a star zwicky went out and did the observations to find not just one, but over one hundred supernova this was a record that was not to be displaced until CCD's came online. He actually did all of this work entirely by comparing image upon image. Oh, that's just that's just amazing. And there's a there's a great quote that I like about Takano if you ran across this one as well when researchers talk about neutron stars dark matter gravitational lenses. They all start the same way zwicky noticed this problem in the nineteen thirties back, then nobody listened. This is true. This is true. He he was the kind of person who. Everyone I've ever talked to who knew him while he was still alive referred to him with strong terms of he was brilliant. But hell, no. They just Nope attempt. He he was Chroma jn is the word most often used, but he took personal pride in being a mathematician who did all of his work alone. And because he was happy working alone. While if you're happy, working alone, and you're doing great research, working alone. You don't have to be nice and Wiki was not nice. He did good things. But there's a difference between being someone who does good and being someone who is nice. So he's someone who dedicated huge sums of money to reshaping the world after World War Two into being what he wanted it to be. He helps collect books to send a World War torn nations to repay. Populate libraries, he spent vast sums of money to help support orphanages. He created a foundation that continues to this day. He was also not someone you necessarily wanted to have lunch with. Sounds like like Isaac Newton a little bit. So what was it just that? He was grumpy or angry or insulting like what the so the the impression that I've always gotten is. He was someone who was so brilliant that he just saw how things fit together, but couldn't be bothered to explain things clearly and well to those around him so that they actually wanted to listen and care about what he was saying. So so for instance, he he used the variable theorem to figure out how galaxies in a cluster should move once everything had settled into place. So the idea is that when galaxies are first falling into a cluster when everything is still interacting you'll have one set of loss. But over time things will relax, and you should see a set of different rotational orbital speeds, and when he looked at galaxy club. The coma cluster in particular. He didn't see the velocities that various theorems had predicted. And when instead of going from variable theorem to predicted speeds, he went from the speeds, he measured using the real therapy to calculate the mass of these clusters he found that the clusters had to have a significant amount of mass that he wasn't a tactic he along. With VERA Rubin who worked completely separately. Instead looking at our own galaxy and at the orbital of law cities of gas in the outer parts of our galaxy. They both independently determined there had to be this additional matter with with zwicky he named a dark matter, but not an English. And that's the name that stuck. And like I'm like when was that? There was like in the what the forties the thirties. Like. Yeah. It it. Well, the saying is he thought about it in the thirties and cuts and what he did. And no. Nobody listened. And that I mean, even that that first observation I mean, this idea that here in the solar system, you see the planets going around the sun and all the different planets are going different speeds because they're there I guess battling the gravity of the of the sun in the farther, you go the slower, you can you have to go to be able to to balance that gravity. But imagine if every planet in the solar system was all moving at the same speed, no matter how far away they were from the sun. It will be such a weird thing to uncover nod at all what you would be what you'd be expecting. And that leads to like there has to be some other mass something the is going on. And it's it's like, I wonder like as you show people your observational evidence of this go, look, look what's going on like it's different than a solar system. What's this about and people just come going? I don't really want to think about this right now. Well, and it was it was more than that. It was just. Sort of like zwicky come on. How many great discoveries are you gonna have because. So so he went from pointing out dark matter with his studies at the coma. Galaxy cluster and thirty three to using the Pallomari Schmidt telescope in thirty four and thirty five to do studies of the supernova concept, and and he kept doing that until he'd found over one hundred and twenty all by himself. And then from there later on in the thirties. He he got to thinking about Einstein's theories. And the prediction that Einstein had made that gravity could bend light and create Einstein rings and things like that. And he's like distant galaxies can do though. So he went looking and in seventy nine someone finally found the twin quasar the galaxy that that had been well it had its light bent and so- Zoecke south that should happen back in thirty seven and. Then he just kept getting in on other people's business in this case. I mean the business of science and so so well he was studying coma. Cluster in thirty three. He he, of course, was thinking about galaxies in general and the expansion of the universe in general. And and the expansion was something that was getting well discussed as early as the late twenties so twenty nine so he started complaining about it in the twenties. But. He came up with his own idea of tired light to basically say this whole expansion of the universe stuff. We don't need that. So hold on. So let's just for a second year. So so the like when we think about the in we've done a whole show on Hubbell, Hubble and. Did his research? I think with this with the Palo are with the same telescope, right? But was using that Wilson observant, man Wilson breath. Right. Yeah. And and was observing these heavy variables and noticing that the color that was coming from these these galaxies and other stars was shifted to the red from what we would see for stars that were relatively close by. And and they assumed that this meant that that because it was Doppler shifted it was it was shifted to the red. It meant that the you know, the light wavelengths were stretched out. And so these galaxies were moving away from some everywhere, you looked galaxies moving away from us and and swifty proposed that no it's not that these things are moving away from us. But that the that the light is. Lose energy. It's getting I know it's getting tired, all that's, but but like like, what was the mechanism that he was proposing he healed digitally felt that there were mechanisms by which light with lose its energy as it traveled through space. And and that this reading on effect was. In literally, it was the light getting tired losing energy. Just like we do throughout the day. So here you can imagine as the light goes along is just shutting a little bit of energy here. A little bit of energy. They're getting a little better as it goes, adding its energy to the universe. And while this might have been a great explanation for dark energy which had not yet been discovered. It turns out that what you would observe of our universe. If light does get tired versus what we actually observe are not the same thing. And and also the reason that he felt the need to put forward this idea also turned out to be a battery measurement. So one of the reasons is wake you was like, no, I'm not going to go with that whole expanding universe thing was originally. People thought our universe was expanding at perhaps hundreds of kilometers per second per mega par sect and that is extraordinarily fast. And and while there's no real reason the universe can't be expanding that quickly. It just wasn't uncomfortably large number and Swick. You saw physical reasons why such a large number just didn't seem to make sense. And so in the late fifties his colleague. At Caltech badeah. Who's actually my academic grandpa? Badeah was able to say, okay, we screwed up using suffocates wheat. We can slow down the expansion of the universe. The universe is actually expanding more like hundred kilometers per second or slower much better and that helped badeah, and then the other thing that ultimately, I mean, sorry that helped Wicky, but ultimately the thing that really nailed it down was if you have what's called a study state university universe that has the same amount of stuff over time. And it's just either new matters coming in or the light is getting tired. As it travels. You would expect that the structure we see today would match the structure we see in formations that gave their light off at great distances. And as we look at light from more and more distant objects. We don't see the same kinds of structures. We don't see the large well-defined large guess structure of today echoed in what we see in the past and this difference in well this fundamental difference in the structure of the universe over time. Means that. It's not just tired light. It's the universe expanding and the structures changing with dot expansion. So, and of course, I mean, one of the most important observations ever made is the cosmic microwave background. And and that like is this afterglow of the big bang and for you to see that. And know that that is the moment when the universe cooled down to the point that it could release light, and you can calculate what that temperature was when when radiation could finally be released than than that just tells you right there you go. Now, you know that that's because that is far away and moving quickly away from us not because the light was tired. And there's a weird place that happens to be thirteen point eight billion years in all directions where this interesting wavelength of radiation was released. It's a right like like once you at. But this was before, you know, we're probably twenty years. Early from the discovery of the Siyam beat rate. And this was again, he got into that. Right. But he he did he did more or less, but usually grumbling -ly he died in the late seventies. So. It's it's hard to imagine. Just what he might have thought had. He lived long enough to see dark energy come into existence to see a day where we understood that that dark matter that he was one of the first despite was broadly knowledged, we now know our universe is accelerating. And there's some evidence that the acceleration itself is accelerating. It's not the universe. That's Wicky was trying to figure out how to understand and study state doesn't stand up to modern observations rent. Tired light really doesn't stand up? Right. And actually, there's a there's a conversation in the in the chat right now. But why we why I mean, the steady state universe is the one that we preferentially. Go towards we gravitate towards pardon the pun because to have this thought that that the universe had a moment that it began. And then it has a future that it will end are troubling ideas. Whether it's a big crunch, whether it's a big rip, whether it's a heat death. They're all just like there's no way to stop the inevitable end of the universe. And also the fact of the Univer started in in a fairly. I mean, obviously beyond our art concept of time. But to thirteen point eight billion years is is in a mount of time that save the earth is you know, as experienced a significant fraction of that. And so just to think like where they come from. Why did it happen? Why is it expanding will what led to that expand? Like, they're all really troubling ideas. And I don't fence there troubling. But they've definitely changed the mainstay philosophical ideas of the time. When when I'm Stein was working in the early nineteen hundreds philosophically. The concept was well, the university says it's always been in it shall always be. And and this was in some ways driven also by religion, even though that makes no sense considering the dominant religions of the time and even the dominant religions of today all posit a universe. That has a beginning a middle and an end, it's just scientists being human beings. We sometimes get biased. And I think the troubling part is that human beings have this bias the fact that we as human beings with our bias with our broken minds can figure out the universes thirteen point eight billion years old, plus or minus a smart and that it has a beginning. And that it will probably well the inevitable heat death of the universe seems to be inevitable. I think that that's not troubling. But actually kind of awesome. Sorry. So stepping into. No, no, I I I find all 'cause I, you know, I want to live forever in succession of robot bodies and think that that. In fact, you know, no matter how strong tough I make my robot body, it's either gonna get Smersh together torn apart at an atomic level or just cool down to the background temperature of the universe. Those are all troubling for my desire to live forever. But in and I for one do not want to live forever. And my retirement account is very good. Explanation of this desire tired of it account empty. That's it. That's the end of life. Now what else did Wicky do? I his that not enough. Yeah. Well, so there's there's some stuff that I think is really great like you can see some of the papers that he wrote. So he did one in nineteen thirty four called on supernova and he did three consecutive articles. And in that he introduced the idea of a supernova and a neutron star while Oppenheimer did his paper on neutron stars. I think in the fifties. So it's again, you know, again, just twenty years early from everybody, and he because he just wasn't able to make six now. In addition to the the work that he did in science, but he also did bunch of other things he was involved in, you know, he crystallography, and it was also involved in parts of the war and rocketry and things like that, you know, and he was an engineer he has a whole number of different patents, including patenting the first jet engine that. Worked underwater. So so this is someone who started with math spoke multiple languages landed. At Caltech is a professor he did all the things basically one of things. That's funny is he's one of the people who originally didn't think that a rocket would work because there was no atmosphere for the rocket to push against you. Couldn't get this equal and opposite reaction. And and then later admitted that that he was completely wrong about that. Because obviously, which is how you should do it. If you're a good scientist. Yes. Of course, you take a position the evidence shows you that you're wrong, and you apologize and accept this new evidence. I don't think he apologized politics. All right. So let's talk a bit about this Wicky transient facility, then and just sort of what what its job is. And what it's going to help us. Discover about the universe. So so Z T F as it is affectionately called by. Who don't want to type out all of the letters is a new facility built onto the Schmidt telescope, the Palo Marsh MIT observatory and this particular facility is is replacement to the Palam are transient factory, and is making it possible to observe three thousand seven hundred and fifty square degrees of the sky per hour down to twenty point five magnitude. Wow. Now, this this is a forty eight inch telescope. So it's about four feet across that's a little over a meter for those of you thinking in metric and. This is just huge input bliss just go with it's just huge and the goal of being able to do this is they want to find supernova just as they go off. So by observing as much of the skies possible on any given night where the sun has a nasty habit of rising, and the planet isn't always pointed where you want it to be by observing as much of the sky's the night allows each and every night this telescope is catching supernova shortly after they explode allowing astronomers to follow through the entire light curve. This is particularly important in two different scenarios. The first is we're still trying to understand if all type one a supernova the kinds of supernova that are created when white dwarf stars eat too, much material off of a neighbor star and explode. We're still trying to verify that all of these things when they explode explode in the exact same way me. Meaning that we can successfully use them as standard candles to measure, the expansion of the universe. The other thing is we're still trying to understand the nitty gritty details of all the different ways that large stars find to self destruct. We're trying to understand what are the nuances that come with medalists. See the nuances that come with size and environment. And by studying the Eva Lucien of each of these different exploding systems as they take place. We can understand what is the ratio at which different materials by which I mean, different kinds of atoms are produced in different stellar deaths. We learned just within the last year that gold. Well, more often than less often comes from two neutron stars colliding rather than from just supernova we are now also slowly starting to learn what kinds of supernova produce all the other stuff by combining. This information with our understanding of what's called the initial mass function of stars that function that describes this is how many big stars you get this is how many medium stars you get we can start to build up an understanding of how different kinds of atoms came to populate our universe being able to say well, this number of generations of stars. You had this stuff available to make planets this number of generations. You had this amount of stuff to make planets. We're basically trying to figure out what ingredients were available to make that recipe that produces worlds like our own until this is the greatest supernova hunter ever developed. And a large SAIC survey comes comes online, of course, which I can't wait what? But I mean just to be able to observe the entire like it. It's gonna observe the entire path of the entire plane of the Milky Way every night. It's going to be able to as you say, you know, it's going to be able to serve the entire night sky every couple of nights, it's going to be able to gather just enormous amounts of information. And when you think about like, the brightness of things like remember what the magnitude of Pluto is but it's in the teens. So to be able to to get a twentieth. Magnitude object is is that's pretty damn. So that's an that's fast. That's good. And and you can get down to twentieth magnitude in about ten minutes in one color with this kind of a telescope. You can do it faster with higher sensitivity with bigger pixels. But it's not just doing one field in ten minutes string field after field after field in sixty minutes getting a huge area across. The sky and since it had its first light back in November. So this telescopes only been operational for few months. It's a baby facility. The telescope itself has been around this camera on the telescope is only a few months old. It has already found an asteroid of a kind. We had previously never found before it found an asteroid that's like determined to live within the confines of Venus's orbit. It goes above the plane of the galaxy the plane in the mill the sorry, the play it goes above the plane of the solar system, it dips below the plane of the solar system but its distance from the sun is consistently smaller than Venus's orbit. And that's not anywhere. We ever expected to be finding an asteroid, and it's going to help us know what we don't know. And then Ellas t will, of course, even fill in more pieces. Yeah. That news was announced today so two days ago. Again, we get to see all the benefits of Pamela being up to date. On all the species. All right, Pamela. Thanks, thanks for the show. Thanks for its Vicki and the people working on the the the Zad Tf. We'll see we'll next week goodbye. Thank you for listening to astronomy cast, a nonprofit resource provided by the planetary sites institute. Frazier Kane and Dr Pamela, gay you can find show notes and transcripts for every episode at astronomy cast. You can Email us at info at astronomy cast dot com. Tweet us at astronomy cast like us on Facebook and watch us on YouTube. We record our showed live on YouTube every Friday at three pm eastern, twelve PM Pacific or nineteen hundred UT see are intra music was provided by David Joseph Wesley, the ultra music is by Travis Searle and the show was edited by Susie, Murph.

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