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Recently, several articles have appeared in the popular press regarding modern day astronomy, articles concerning the massive radio telescopes in Chile and China and a picture of the cosmic background radiation (CMB) taken by the European Space Agency’s 900 million dollar Max Planck space probe. The new data added 80 million years to the age of the universe and now the best estimate is 13.81 billion years.
Years ago, the question was; “How many angels on the head of a pin?” Today the question is: “How did the universe of 100 billion galaxies each with a 100 billion stars and that is only the small part, fit on the head of a pin? Big Bang cosmology was born about 1930. Edwin Hubble, using the 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson, reported that distant galaxies were moving away and the further out they were, the faster they were moving. The Jesuit priest and mathematician Abbe Georges Lemaitre proposed the universe started with a Big Bang.
In the beginning, the universe began to expand and the temperature dropped to a temperature of zillions of degrees. In an instant, the density dropped to where a volume the size of a sugar cube weighed a billion tons. By a minute the temperature had dropped to a few billion degrees, the temperature inside an exploding hydrogen bomb. Hydrogen and Helium and a trace of Lithium were formed. After 400,000 years, the universe had cooled to 3,000 Kelvin. As the universe continued to expand, this radiation is now red shifted down in frequency and is observed as the cosmic background radiation, the ashes of the Big Bang; observable as noise on your TV as well as the Planck probe.
Looking out into an expanding universe is equivalent to looking back in time; astronomers can view the universe as it was for the past 13.8 billion years. Astronomers now see billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars. At the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way is a black hole with the mass of four million suns, our galaxy is surrounded by a halo of dark matter and all galaxies are floating in a field of dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy make about 95 percent of the mass of the universe. Like the wind, the effects of dark matter and dark energy are evident even thought they are invisible.
I suggest there is a considerable interest in astronomy among the general public. I believe Reservoir Hill would be an excellent site for a small public observatory equipped with simple and inexpensive optical instruments along with video equipment, powered by solar energy, to show the beautiful deep sky images obtained from the Hubble telescope. (See hubble.com.) The archeo-astronomy lectures at Chimney Rock are well attended. Perhaps they could be supplemented with lectures on modern cosmology at Reservoir Hill? Most flatlanders have never seen the night sky.