Friday, April 27, 2007

Black Holes and Their Dad

Stephen Hawking isn't exactly the "father of black holes," though he is the scientist most people would probably think of when you mention black holes or cosmology (if they can think of any scientist at all). Hawking is probably the best known scientist since Albert Einstein, who also has a claim on paternity for black holes, and Hawking now also has a new claim to fame, since becoming this week the first disabled person to experience a zero-G flight (in an aircraft - he's hoping to make it to space in the next few years). Go Dr. Hawking!

Hawking isn't doing this just for the thrill of it (not that this wouldn't be a good enough reason). He's pushing hard for the idea of space as a backup plan for Earth, a favorite idea of many space advocates (myself included). Before his zero-G flight he was quoted as saying, "Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space." Right on, Dr. Hawking!

In honor of Dr. Hawking, and because I have to find some web-based activities for a group of Cub Scouts who will be rained out of looking through telescopes tomorrow night at an astronomy event, I found a really cool interactive activity to learn about black holes. This is a Flash-based activity at called Journey to a Black Hole. The interactive steps and animations on the journey give you an idea of the great distances involved in getting to either Cygnus X-1 (8100 light-years) or to the center of the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million light-years) to get up close and personal with a black hole. The site also includes a Black Hole Encyclopedia with great graphics and explanations, as well as direct links to some Flash-based black hole experiments. Cool!

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