Into The Dark Flow

First came dark matter and dark energy. Now, we find parts of our universe moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can’t be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon “dark flow.”

Dark flow is the name given to the motion of galaxy clusters with respect to the cosmic microwave background radiation which should be randomly distributed in all directions. But it is not. A three-year study concluded back in 2008 that there was a common motion of at least 600 km/s toward a 20-degree patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela.

This dark flow must be outside the “observable universe.”  The “observable” universe doesn’t actually mean as far as we can see with a powerful telescope. There’s a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how big the telescope.

Vela is a constellation of the southern sky (in the illustration it is at left center) and the word is Latin for the sails of a ship. It was originally part of a larger constellation, the ship Argo Navis. The larger constellation (shown here) was later divided into three parts, the others being Carina and Puppis.

If the universe formed about 13.7 billion years ago, and light started traveling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. So, if there are parts of the universe that are farther away, we can’t see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

Makes me feel rather small.

One theory to explain this dark flow is that the motion results from the influence of no-longer-visible regions of the universe prior to inflation. Telescopes cannot see events earlier than about 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the universe became transparent.  Another theory is that it is the gravitational influences of other universes.

Time Machines

The Time Machine (1960)

When I was in second grade, I saw the film The Time Machine at a drive-in theater. It was directed by George Pal, starred Rod Taylor, and was released in 1960. It was scary. It was cool. It had “primitive” special effects by today’s standards. But I loved it.

Eventually, it sent me to the library to get the novel by H.G. Wells. Twenty years later, I taught that book to a bunch of like-minded seventh graders that I had lured into reading its very 19th century pages with very 21st century imaginings about traveling through time.

Then, the summer after fourth grade, I tried to build a time machine in my own basement. I had a “lab” in a old coal bin that was full of chemistry sets, rockets, rocks, any tool I could find, model car kits and salvaged electronic components.

I had no idea where to start or what to do, but I just went at it. (Years later, I would jealously watch ET do the same kind of thing successfully.) I have never lost my fascination for time travel.

The telectroscope (also referred to as ‘electroscope’) was the first non-working prototype (i.e. conceptual model) of a television or videophone system. The term was used in the 19th century to describe science-based systems of distant seeing.

The name and its concept came into being not long after the telephone was patented in 1876, and its original concept evolved from that of transmitting remote facsimile reproductions on paper, into the live viewing of remote images.

Back in 2008, artist Paul St George exhibited an outdoor interactive video installation linking London and New York City in a faux “telectroscope.”  Of course, it wasn’t any more real than the ones from earlier centuries – but this conceptual model “worked.”

It had a fictional “back story” that said that the device worked by using a transatlantic tunnel started by the artist’s fictional great-grandfather, Alexander Stanhope St. George. People looking in one end in NYC could see and hear those at the other end in London.

I like the term “distant seeing” that was attached to the original concept and has remained.

   telectroscope in New York                photo via urbanshoregirl

The installation art actually used a visual high speed broadband link between London and New York City that did allow people to see across the ocean.

You can’t really call any of these telectroscopes “television systems” or “time machines.” And the term telectroscope was replaced by the term “television.” But, looking back at the original 1870s imaginings about these things, it sounds like they were describing our television, or even the Internet, or perhaps some merging of the two that is happening right now.