Tag Archives: space



I think it’s so cool that so many of the stars that we can see may not even be there anymore. As the article states, since Betelgeuse is 642 light years from us, it could have done its supernova show that long ago and we would still be seeing it as “normal” in the sky.

That’s super wild.

Also, “The Armpit of Orion” would be a fantastic metal band name.



It’s the surface of the sun.


Holy fucking shit.

What you’re seeing here are cell-like regions of the sun’s plasma that result from the turbulent motions of hot plasma rising to the surface of the sun, cooling, and sinking again. This process of convection affects the sun’s magnetic fields, which can lead to solar storms if the fields get tangled enough.

For perspective, note that each of those “cells” is about the size of Texas.

Isn’t this beautiful, though, seriously? I love it so much.


I love this guy’s video simulations of space stuff.

I also love the disclaimer “Saturns rotation is extra impossible, but I had to prevent the rings from colliding.”

Don’t we all, yeti dynamics? Don’t we all?

Total Eclipse of the Moon. Or Sun. Or Heart. Whatevs.

Nate and I were talking recently about solar eclipses vs. lunar eclipses. It seems like lunar eclipses are rarer than solar eclipses, just given the number of announcements we hear about each.

Both types of eclipse actually happen about the same number of times each year (usually two solars and two lunars). However, it IS more common to see a lunar eclipse, due to the different sizes of the earth, moon, and sun, as well as the different angles of the moon and sun in the sky.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon moves into the shadow of the earth. That is, it occurs when the earth is in between the sun and the moon. This type of eclipse can be seen anywhere on earth where the moon is over the horizon, which is approximately half the earth at any given time.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon is in between the earth and the sun. The shadow cast by the moon onto the earth’s surface is quite small—about 300 miles in diameter. Thus, only the people/animals/sentient things within that small disk of moon shadow as it moves across the earth will be able to see the solar eclipse.

The difference in the number of reports on lunar vs. solar eclipses might just be due to the fact that when a solar eclipse is about to happen, a lot of sources might want to report on it so that they can tell people who might expect to see it. With a lunar eclipse, it’s more like, “well, about half the world can see this, so it’s not as newsworthy.”

Maybe. I dunno.

So there you go.

See the Light

I’d like to think that if I ever decided to start completely over with this schooling business*, I’d like to work to become a heliophysicist or a helioseismologist, because the sun is a freaking amazing thing. Want some evidence? Check it:

Our star is a badass.

*Something I wouldn’t ever rule out, knowing me.


So today was sufficiently awful.

But you know what made it better? The news that we LANDED ON A FREAKING COMET.

Isn’t that the most ridiculously cool thing? I, for one, didn’t even know we had plans to land on a comet, let alone that Rosetta was launched way back in 2004. I was in high school then!

It’s just so sci-fi, isn’t it? I guess now we have our backup plan ready for when global warming gets out of control even more so than it is. Comet ice mining will solve the problem ONCE AND FOR ALL!

TWSB: You Missed a (Big) Spot

Jupiter news!

So we all know the giant red spot on the giant, fast-rotating planet, right?

Of course we do! But do we know why it’s red?

For a long time, the main theory has been that the spot is red because the giant storm creating it is churning up reddish chemicals from beneath Jupiter’s clouds and bringing them to the surface for us to see.

But a new theory states that the redness of the massive swirling isn’t due to chemicals from beneath the clouds but rather due to chemical reactions with sunlight. Work by Kevin Bains, Bob Carlson, and Tom Momary, scientists based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, state that based on data collected from both laboratory experiments and Cassini’s flyby of the planet in 2000, they suspect that the red tint is due to the effects of ultraviolet light on ammonia and acetylene, the gases in the uppermost portion of the storm.

Baines states that if this is the case, then the spot is probably pretty dull in color beneath its uppermost clouds. According to the older theory, if the reddish chemicals are indeed coming from beneath the clouds, then the spot would be red all the way through. Baines and the others are currently doing more testing/simulations to try to gain evidence about what color lies beneath the red.

As for why the great red spot is, well, the only great red spot on the planet, Baines suggests it’s because it’s a very tall storm—much taller than any other—and thus is more likely to get “sunburnt.”


The flip is imminent!

What flip?

The solar magnetic field flip, of course!

I blogged about this awhile ago, back when NASA stated that the flip would complete within three to four months. Now they’re saying that they can predict it will occur within a few weeks.

Apparently the most noticeable affect of this on earth will be an increase in the aurora australis and aurora borealis, but there also might be some interference with satellites and some radio blackouts.

At least those giant solar storms they were predicting haven’t happened…yet.

TWSB: International Moon Station

Another demonstration of just how much “space” is in space.

Edit: Tumblr has led me to this wonderful (and slightly terrifying) video…

…as well as this info:

“What if the moon was the same distance away as the ISS? … While we think of the International Space Station as being, well, way out there in space, it’s not that far. Only around 400 km up, actually. If the Earth was a basketball, then the ISS would only be about a centimeter off its surface.

“On average, our moon resides 384,400 km away from Earth. … Even at that incredible distance, the moon can warp the liquid on the surface of Earth! Which brings me to a major problem with this video … in order to see this, we’d all be dead, and Earth would be very messed up indeed.”



I was reading about the Hubble Space Telescope last night.

Then Taylor Swift came on shuffle.

And then this happened this afternoon.

I Knew You Were Hubble (sung to Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble)
Once upon a time in 1990
We sent you into space to show us what we couldn’t see
From here on earth, from here on earth, from here on earth
At first there was a snag: your mirror was misplaced
But with several quick repairs we saw the galaxies you faced
With clarity, with clarity, with clarity

And your first images had us all in awe
When we realized all the beauty that you saw

‘Cause I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Space so diverse, oh
I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Now we’re picturing our universe
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble

Nebulae alive with purples, reds, and greens
Our wonder begs for more, and you give us the means
To satisfy these needs, to satisfy these needs, to satisfy these needs
And I guess you’re booked up with professionals’ requests
But some of those demands end up resulting in your best
Photography, photography, photography

Like the time you stared into one part of space
And your resulting Deep Field put us humans in our place, yeah!

I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Space so diverse, oh
I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Now we’re picturing our universe
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble

And after 20 years in 2010
You’re still doing your job, and well, by bringing awe to all of man, yeah

I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Space so diverse, oh
I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Of the vast cosmos, oh
Showed us new vistas with some shutter clicks
Now we’re picturing our universe
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble
Oh, oh, Hubble, Hubble, Hubble

I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Hubble, Hubble, Hubble
I knew you were Hubble when you took pics
Hubble, Hubble, Hubble

Can you blame me, though? I mean seriously. How many things rhyme with “Hubble”?

Shouldn’t a minor in geology be a “miner”?

So Megan and I were talking this morning (“What?” you say. “Social interaction??” I KNOW, RIGHT?!) and we concluded that if there ever were a time where time travel was invented and we were able to drag someone from like the 1600s to the present time, the first thing we would show them would be a vacuum cleaner.

Because that’s probably the most futuristic-looking thing we’ve got.

Seriously now. If I were to bring someone from 300 years ago into the present time and say, “we’ve developed technology that allows us to launch ourselves into space,” and ask them which of the following two objects is the thing that allows us to do so, which do you think they would pick (ignoring scale)?


I’d be tempted to pick the second object. It would roll along a runway like an airplane and then launch once it hit a certain speed.

Fun fact: the Saturn V Rocket was a Dyson in disguise.

[end of pointless blog]

TWSB: Death by Sunspots

We are so damn screwed when the sun decides to solar storm us to death.

In fueling my paranoia about our nearest star, I came across the Wiki article for the Carrington Event. The Carrington Event was a massive solar storm documented in 1859. In late August/early September of that year,  the sun produced a bunch of sunspots, solar flares, and a giant coronal mass ejection that motored its way to earth in just 17 hours (normal travel time = 2 to 3 days). It blasted our magnetosphere and atmosphere with enough force that auroras were seen all over the globe (including in the freaking Caribbean. Can you imagine?). This was the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

Telegraphs all over the world failed, with some acting very strangely—sending and receiving messages even after they’d been disconnected from their power sources.

I did some more research and, as I’ve mentioned in my science blogs before, a lot of astronomers say that we’re overdue for another mega solar storm. Some are predicting what’s being called a “Solar Katrina”—a catastrophically huge solar storm that would, if it hit earth, knock out the entire planet’s electricity for weeks, possibly even months.

Can you imagine humanity suddenly reverting to pre-electricity conditions? I can’t even comprehend the chaos/panic/death that would cause. Holy freaking sunspots.

That would make good material for NaNoWriMo though…

TWSB: powers of ten

First, I want to apologize if I’ve posted this video on here before. I’m currently too lazy to go back through ye olde archives and check (read: I’m too lazy to type “powers of ten” in my little search box), so I’m just going to go with it.

I logged into my older, rarely-used YouTube account today and was looking through my favorites list and I found this video.

I don’t care that it’s from 1977, I don’t care that I’ve watched it like 80 times. It still blows my mind. So I thought I’d share it for this week’s science blog.

Like I said when I posted that other video about the universe a few weeks ago: I don’t know how we could ever feel disconnected from one another when we’re all part of this working machine of huge and small alike.

Holy crap

This is beautiful. I was freaking bawling throughout this whole thing, I swear to god.

How can there possibly be hatred on this planet when we’re all so undeniably and fundamentally connected?

I am you. You are me. We are this.

(Edit: this is actually just a third or so of the longer, full vid, found here. It’s just that the rest goes into the old “religion vs. science” insanity and is not nearly as awesome as this first part in my opinion. But anyway.)

This Week’s Science Blog: Taking You to a Higher Dimension

Okay. So this week’s science blog is really, really awesome, but I think if I try to summarize it and put it in my own words here it’ll lose a lot. So I’ll just copy down a few highlights. This is another question answered by the Physicist at AskAMathematician.com: What would life be like in higher dimensions?

Seriously. Really cool answer.


  • In 4 or more dimensions orbits are always unstable, and in 1 dimension the idea of an orbit doesn’t even make sense.
  • f you set off a firecracker in 3, 5, 7, etc. dimensions, then you’ll see and hear the explosion for a moment, and that’s it.  If you set of a firecracker in 4, 6, 8, etc. dimensions, then you’ll see and hear the explosion intensely for a moment, but will continue to see and hear it for a while…it may not even be possible to understand people when they speak.
  • Which elements are stable, and the nature of chemical bonds between them, would be completely rearranged.
  • Every element after helium would adopt weird new properties, and the periodic table would be longer left-right and shorter up-down.

TWSB: I dare you to cross the line


(Sorry, I’m hyper.)

Today I finished formatting a business textbook (barf) and actually started working on a fun textbook for once.

Astronomy! In the second chapter I read about something I’d never heard about before: forbidden lines.

What’s a forbidden line? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it’s an emission line in the spectra of certain nebulae that is not observed for those same gases on earth. Why? Because apparently, on earth those gases cannot be rarefied sufficiently.

Forbidden lines result from electrons in the upper energy levels of gases transitioning to a lower energy level. This transitioning requires the atoms to be undisturbed (i.e., not bumping into other atoms) and takes a long time. The resulting photon emissions are very weak. In labs on earth, these transitions are even rarer (“highly improbable”) because the excited atoms have a much greater chance of hitting other atoms and disrupting the level transitions of the electrons.

In interstellar space, however, the atoms are able to be undisturbed long enough for the electrons to make these transitions. In fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Science, up to 90% of the visible brightness of some nebulae can be attributed to these forbidden spectral lines.

Cool, huh?

This Week’s Science Blog: Shuttle Show

I’m sure a bunch of you have seen this already, but it’s a pretty spectacular thing so I’d like to put it up here.


Shuttle program stats and info:

  • 135 flights total between the five shuttles (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour)
  • Longest flight: 17 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes, 18 seconds (Columbia)
  • First lunch: April 12, 1981 (Columbia)
  • Last launch: May 16, 2011
  • Total earth orbits: 21,158
  • Says Wiki: “Each vehicle was designed with a projected lifespan of 100 launches, or 10 years’ operational life.”

Now sit back and watch some launches, if you haven’t already done so.

TWSB: Waiter! There’s a Higgs-Boson in my Universe!

(Happy birthday, United States!)

So I’m bringing back my This Week’s Science Blogs. Because.


Why this news isn’t being vomited from every front page of every news organization is beyond me. Actually it’s not—people want Kardashians, not science—but still.


Even if it does turn out that the scientists just thought they found the H.B. instead of actually finding it, this is a big deal, people.

I think things like this are most easily explained using pictures/animation, so here are two of the clearest/simplest explanation videos I could unearth. Pretty snazzy!


TWSB: Hydrogen: Putting the ‘H’ in “Holy Crap, the Universe is So Empty”


So I found this page the other day and bookmarked it for a TWSB post…the page was a demonstration of how ‘empty’ we all are at the atomic level. On the current replacement page, the author states, “The page had a picture of a proton that was one thousand pixels wide, and a little electron that was only one pixel wide, and they were separated by fifty million pixels of empty space – I worked it out that that was eleven miles if your monitor displayed 72 pixels per inch, not uncommon at the time. You could try to scroll between them and it would take a long time. It was kind of neat.”

It was neat. But because of browser issues and issues surrounding the model of the atom the author used (he used the model Bohr developed), he took down the page.

In its place, though, he offers a similar study of scale and emptiness: the solar system.

To me, his atomic demonstration is more powerful since its fascinating how “solid” beings such as ourselves are composed of so much space, but the solar system demo is pretty snazzy, too.

Related: I’m assuming some of you Moscow people who stumble across this have taken the Moscow-Pullman trail…have you seen the little solar system distance exercise set up by a bunch of elementary school kids? It’s pretty cool. Pay attention at the head of the Moscow end of the trail to see the pics.

TWSB: The Sound of a Solar Re (and a Do, a Mi, a Fa, a So, a La, a Ti, and More Do)

The authors of the Ask a Mathematician/Ask a Physicist blog received and answered this question not too long ago: If you could hear through space as though it were filled with air, what would you hear?

The answer is as follows: the sun.

Yes, our big showy center of the universe is also the loudest thing around, at least to us. The Physicist explains: both the loudness and brightness of an object is exactly proportional to how big it is. The sun’s brightness, therefore, is a function of its temperature and size. If a small ball of the same temperature as the sun were to be held up so that it appeared to be the same size as the sun, it would feel exactly as warm and seem exactly as bright as the sun.
Taking this comparison of a small bright ball = distant, huge sun with respect to the amount of heat omitted, The Physicist states that the sun, if we could hear it, “would be exactly as loud as any other large-marble-sized nuclear explosion held at arm’s length.”

So we’d pretty much be deaf. Or dead.
Insanity! Article here.

30-Day Meme – Day 19: A talent of yours.
Rewriting song lyrics. I swear this is my single talent in life. Like I said in my “100 Things” list, I credit my mom playing a lot of Weird Al when I was a kid. It comes very naturally to me. Here are a few examples:

  • Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back rewritten as Easy Mac.
  • Boston’s Peace of Mind rewritten as Piece of Pi.
  • MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This rewritten as U Can’t Prove This (it’s about logic class and how long it took  me to wrap my head around proofs).

Dear people who have found my blog by searching WordPress for “Leibniz porn”:

I don’t know who you are or where you come from, but I have a feeling we are kindred spirits.

Unless “Leibniz porn” is slang for something else entirely. In which case, someone please inform me of its meaning so as to allow me to avoid amy embarrassment if I were to go to any given public area and say, “gee, I could really go for some Leibniz porn.”

Which has been known to happen.

And on another Leibniz-related note, we are to read part of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence for Philosophy of Physics this week. This correspondence consisted of a series of letters exchanged between our hero Gottfried and Samuel Clarke, an ardent supporter of Newton and basically a speaker on behalf of him. The two men’s correspondence began in 1715 and ended a year or so later with Leibniz’ death.

Anyway. The two talk mainly about the dispute between absolute vs. relational space (Newton’s/Clarke’s and Leibniz’ views, respectively) as well as things like whether our universe could have been created by god earlier or later than it was and whether or not space is mostly empty. It’s super interesting and fantastic if you get a good translation, ‘cause then you get the snarkiness that was exchanged along with the ideas. For example, at one point in Leibniz’ fourth letter to Clarke you get this little jab as the two debate the meaning of the word “sensorium’”: “The question is indeed about Newton’s sense for that word, not Goclenius’s, Clarke shouldn’t criticize me for quoting the Philosophical Dictionary, because the design of dictionaries is to show the use of words.” Clarke’s got a couple good ones in there, too.

Okay, that is all. I’m in Leibniz ecstasy land today. It’s a good, safe, happy place. Full of wigs.

TWSB: Neptune’s Birthday

So apparently tomorrow will mark the first time Neptune will have made a complete revolution around the sun since it was discovered back in 1846.

Click for Neptune pics and facts!

TWSB: Planetary Perturbers: Space’s Version of Peer Pressure

So this is pretty awesome: apparently NASA’s found a Jupiter-sized planet that orbits its sun in the opposite direction of the sun’s rotation. No, this isn’t like Venus rotating in the opposite direction of the other planets…this is a planet revolving its sun in a direction that supposedly defies physics.

Wait, how in the hell…?

Let’s start with how solar systems are formed. First you need a huge cloud of particles. The collapse of this cloud and the result of the pull of gravity causes the cloud to begin to spin. As it spins, the densest part of the cloud condenses and forms a sun.  Less dense parts condense into smaller balls of matter and become planets.

Now it makes sense, since all these stars and planets and such arose from a single spinning cloud of debris, that the balls of matter would all be either rotating (the sun) or orbiting (the planets) in the same direction, the direction of the original spinning cloud.

So how the heck could a planet single itself out and rotate in the opposite direction?

NASA scientists suspect that the change in rotational direction is actually due to the influence of a planet external to the solar system containing the rebel revolver. They suspect that the opposite-orbiting planet originally revolved around the sun in the correct direction. However, it was also close to another planet, most likely a giant, that was slightly further away from the sun. Thus, it was stuck in a sort of gravitational tug-of-war. Its gravitation interacted with the giant planet’s gravity, with each pass between the giant planet and the sun causing a decrease in the angular momentum  in the planet in question.

As the planet began to lose its momentum, it began spiraling in towards its sun (since momentum is what keeps planets from just falling into their suns). But because its plunge to near certain doom gives the planet some additional angular momentum in the opposite direction of the sun’s rotation. This additional momentum causes the planet to stabilize  and establish a new orbit—one in the opposite direction of the rest of the solar system.

And how freaking crazy is that?

TWSB: “Space Debris”

Today NASA is celebrating 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch. How? By announcing the final resting places of four retired spacecrafts: Enterprise, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis.

Apparently there’s been quite a lot of vying over who gets the retired shuttles—21 official proposals were submitted to NASA, some with petitions 150,000 signatures strong behind them, others with plans to construct dedicated buildings to house the shuttles.
In the end, though, NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced that the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, a wing of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum,  the California Science Center, and the Kennedy Space Center won out for the Enterprise, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis, respectively.

Smaller shuttle artifacts, like fuselage trainers and commander seats, are being offered to various other museums, according to NASA. And those museums may be better off financially when it all comes down to it—the four winning spaces will have to find room and money to house these 170,000 pound, 122 feet long giants.


Totally worth it though, right? I’d definitely hang with a shuttle if I got the chance.

TWSB: Sometimes Lunacy is the Answer

Way back when these weekly science blogs started (or maybe it was before that?) I discussed the issue of the helium shortage we’re experiencing here on earth. Within the last year, thanks to this shortage, the price of the isotope helium-3 has risen from $150 per liter to $5,000 per liter. Nearly all of the helium on the planet exists within a single storage area within 250 miles of Amarillo, Texas. And that’s probably the least safe place for any rare commodity (‘cause Texans, man, Texas…). Helium experts (assuming such people exist) are afraid that we’ll run out of helium completely within 20 years if we remain at our current consumption rate.

Oh crap! What do we do?

Answer: mine the hell out of the moon.

After bombarding the moon in 2009, NASA scientists found—among other things—that the lunar soil is very rich in helium thanks to solar winds showering it for however long the moon’s been around (I think it’s like 4.4 billion years old or something, but don’t quote me on that).  Not only does our natural satellite have helium, but it also apparently contains a bunch of rare earth elements (common-moon elements?), including europium and tantalum, both of which have applications in solar panels, hybrid cars, and other green energy applications. Right now China is the biggest exporter of such elements, but is currently reducing such exports, indicating the possibility of a shortage.

So yeah. It’ll be interesting if we ever decide to actually utilize the moon as an orbiting mine and if doing so would ever be a cost-effective procedure. The funniest part is the fact that NASA utilizes—guess what? helium—to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks.