Tag Archives: astro201

Observing and Reddit

Interested in learning more about Astronomy or finding a community of people who love astronomy? Try the Astronomy subreddit on the website Reddit.com. They have monthly observing challenges and ask/answer all kinds of questions about astronomy. Some examples – “I want to spend my dying years observing the unknown universe from my roof. What’s the best location for that?” “I want to buy my first telescope, I have no idea what I should get. Help?” and my favorite, “How do we know that the universe is expanding and it’s not us that are changing our frame of reference?” Try it out. The people are nice and helpful.

The Reddit Mascot.
The Reddit Mascot. Picture from here

Halley’s Comet

Edmond Halley was the first to predict this comet’s 76 year orbit. It was named in his honor and is known today as Halley’s Comet. Would you like to see it? Stick around until 2061 and you can! Fun fact – Mark Twain was born and died in the same years that Halley’s Comet made an appearance. He even noted in his autobiography that he expected to die in the same year as the comet’s reappearance.

Halley's Comet in 1910
Halley’s Comet in 1910. Picture from here.

If you always take the stairs, you might be able to see her again in 2134 when she’ll be within .09 Atomic Units from earth (relatively close).


My Big Takeaway

Astronomy has taught me a lot of stuff about the universe that I didn’t know. What I will remember learning though is the size of our earth. Relative to our Sun, we are quite small. Relative to our solar system, we are barely visible, and relative to our galaxy, earth is nothing. The lesson is that it’s all relative. What are you comparing your life to? To a big shot investor on Wall Street, to Lebron James, to Oprah? I’d say that Astronomy has taught me to value how big the things around us are, but to treasure the uniqueness of our earth just as much.

Earth in size

photo from here

New Zealanders


Picture from here.

Improvise, adapt, and overcome. That’s what the Marines say. That’s what Life does, when you put it under extreme circumstances. The Anglerfish is one example of this adaptation and in this post, I’d like to take a look at some much simpler examples known as extremophiles.

My parents recently took a trip to New Zealand for their 25th anniversary. Looking through the pictures from their trip, I thought I’d really like to go there one day. The country has a smattering of landscapes and also a variety of wildlife. From whales to penguins to all kinds of wild birds, the country boasts an enormous breadth of creatures. How about those species we don’t normally think of though?

Extremophiles – Nature’s equivalent of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. These organisms thrive in extreme physical conditions. The kinds of extremophiles that live in New Zealand include thermophiles and acidophiles, which live in the hot springs such as those in Rotokawa. There are cyanobacteria in other hot springs around New Zealand. These bacteria derive energy from the sun and can produce oxygen through photosynthesis. That concludes our tour of New Zealand.


I’d like to thank my source.

The Prodigious Sun

Is the Sun an efficient producer of energy via nuclear fusion?

While humanity may be years away from commercializing nuclear fusion power, the Sun has been doing it for a while now (and for free!). The Sun is the most efficient generator of nuclear power in our solar system. Inside the Sun, nuclear reactions are happening at a seemingly impossible rate. Hide your kids and hide your wife though, because eventually the Sun is going to run out of Hydrogen and will no longer be able to produce these reactions. When this happens, about 5 billion years from now, will humanity have come up with a way to circumvent the destruction of our society that would come as a result? It took us less than 2000 years to get to sliced bread, so I’m confident we’ll come up with something.

5 Billion Years From Now

Historical Astronomers in Context

Sir Isaac Newton 1642-1727

Quite a smart man was Newton. He invented calculus. (pause in amazement) He also came up with the aptly named Newton’s Laws of Physics (or the 3 Laws of Motion). These three rules were a significant upgrade to the system astronomers were using at the time. We have the Law of Inertia, which helps explain the earth’s axis shift every 13,000 years. We have the Law of Acceleration, which tells us that the heavier an object is, the more force it will take to accelerate it. Lastly, the Third Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I’m not talking about when your girlfriend doesn’t talk to you for three days because you forgot it was y’all’s 30 day anniversary. I mean that when you push against the wall, you are also being pushed back.

Here’s a few things that happened during Newton’s lifetime. He was also alive during the lifetime of Robert de la Salle.

1665: The Great Plague of London: This epidemic killed about a fifth of the population of London at the time, 460,000. It was followed by a very big fire.

1666: The Great Fire of London: Burned about 370 acres of London and lasted for four days. Both the plague and the fire caused the people of Britain to rethink urban living and even living in general.

Robert Cavalier de la Salle: A French explorer who claimed Louisiana for France. Mr. La Salle lived from 1643 to 1687 when he was killed by mutineers.

I never really thought about Louisiana being discovered at the same time that Isaac Newton was inventing calculus but surprisingly, those were happening simultaneously.  I always think of Calculus as an ancient tool but it is really quite new.

Faster than you can say, “3.0 times ten to the eighth meters per second”



photo from here

When I was young, I read a biography of Einstein’s life. (If he wasn’t so brilliant, we might know him as Honest Al). In this book, a story was told about young Albert at the ship docks. A worker had Al stand 50 yards away from him and swung a hammer at an anvil. Einstein learned from this experience an awesome wonder for the speed of sound and light. The rest is history.

What really interests me about the speed of light is how it allows us to peek into the past. When we look out into space, we are not seeing what is, but what was. Here is an experiment I would like to see done – Blake and Chris are standing 3.1 miles away, the point where the earth’s surface curves out of sight, and Blake lights a fire. Let’s say Chris is standing on a cell tower. As soon as Blake lights the fire, he says into his cell phone, “Chris, it’s lit.” Does Chris hear the cell phone first or see the fire first? If he does see the light first, how far away would he have to get in order to hear Blake first?