Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Being prepared

Today'searthquake near Parkfield, California will be a big boon to scientists who research earthquakes. For decades scientists have known that the area where the earthquake occurred produces large earthquakes every 22 years or so, and they have placed a whole slew of instruments in the area to record the next earthquake. These pages detail the experiments in gory detail. Now the hard work and investments of time and money will finally pay off.

How does this relate to astronomy? Every 100 years or so, a star in our galaxy explodes, but no such explosion has been seen in over three hundred years! Astronomers are expecting that a "supernova" could occur at any time, and so have built up an armada of equipment that can start exploring the supernova as soon as it happens. It could be decades or centuries until we see a supernova in the Milky Way, but it could happen tomorrow. Like earthquakes, it is not possible to predict a supernova. And, like today's Parkfield earthquake, when a supernova does go off, we'll be ready and our time and money will pay off.

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