Before taking this class I had never really had an interest in astronomy other than a short run with the original series of Star Trek. My knowledge of astronomy, and the universe in general, was very limited because of this. Like most people I had a basic understanding of astronomy and the solar system, but the true vastness and complexity of the universe was foreign to me. I was aware that the size of the universe was incomprehensible but through learning multiple specific distances I was able to gain a greater perspective about the universe and my place in it. In addition to the new area of knowledge that I gained I found that the class material often made me think about religion and its relation to astronomy. Specifically how both shape a person’s view on how we came to exist and how the magic of the universe is often shaped to provide evidence for/against the existence of a higher being. Studying these astronomy topics has impacted me personally by allowing me to see the universe as a place of endless possibility. After all, how can the mystery of other intelligent life be such an outlandish idea when we are alive to know that galaxies millions of lightyears away are constantly colliding, and that there are entire solar systems being wiped out in what is a space relative “blink of an eye”. In addition to having a better grasp on the complexities of the universe, I also have a greater appreciation for the world and everything in it because of the processes that had to occur to make Earth and life possible. This class has convinced me that it’s easy to view the world as dull and boring until you understand the magic that came together to make it and everything else in existence.
Astrobiology is a fascinating field that explores life both on and beyond Earth. One interesting topic that scientists who study astrobiology have been researching is how Jupiter and other similar planets have made life on Earth possible. It is believed that Jupiter has acted like a “meteor magnet” saving Earth and other smaller planets from being impacted by space debris. Without the gas giant’s help its possible that Earth would not have been suitable for life. Recently, an article was published about astronomer Stephen Kane and his team who discovered 2 Jupiter like planets far away from Earth (150 light years) that will be useful to further astrobiology research. The scientists hope that the two large planets can help provide clues about the possibility of life on smaller planets in other solar systems.
An interesting aspect about this discovery, is the method that Kane and his team used to detect the new planets. This creative method was utilizing both the wobble method (learned in class!) and direct imaging to be able to confirm a true wobble due to a planet’s gravitational pull. The scientists were able to use this method to discovery not only 2 new planets but a third giant planet near a previously discovered star. In the future Kane and his team will continue to search for planets in order to come closer to understanding if the factors that make planets habitable or common or not.
The Solar System is home to four giant gaseous planets named Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. These gas giants have many satellites due to their mass and subsequent gravitational pull. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and has fascinated humans for hundreds of years due to the large amount of moons that it has. There are currently 67 known moons orbiting Jupiter. The four largest moons were discovered by the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei in the year 1610. These large moons are called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto and have distinct characteristics such as Europa being considered the smoothest in the solar system and Ganymede being the largest moon in the solar system. These 4 commonly known moons make up only 6% of the total moons that orbit around Jupiter. The other 63 moons are smaller and were discovered over the years by various scientists making the discovery of Jupiter’s moons a long-time group effort.
Jupiter’s moons are arranged into 3 groups. These three groups are the inner moons, galilean moons and outer moons. The inner moons, also referred to as the Amalthea group, are the ones that orbit close to Jupiter. The outer moons are the furthest from Jupiter and are made of smaller objects such as asteroids. These smaller moons (all under 3km) have wackier orbits than the inner and galilean moons because they are experiencing less of Jupiter’s gravitational force. Last year, scientists accidentally discovered 12 new moons orbiting around Jupiter while searching for another planet. One of these moons named Valetudo is particularly interesting due to it having prograde motion yet occasionally crossing retrograde moons due to its orbital incline. By studying the moons of Jupiter and likewise discovering new ones, scientists are better able to understand how the solar system came to be.
Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomena that is observable at the North and South poles. Named by Galileo and meaning “Dawn of the North”, Aurora Borealis is a visualization of the reaction between electrons from the Sun and our atmosphere. Due to our magnetosphere, most of the electrons are rejected, but some get through at the magnetospheres weakest points (the North and South poles). Once they are through the magnetosphere, the electrons begin reacting with the nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere, where energy is transferred to the gasses atoms. After this transfer, the gas atoms discard the extra energy in the form of photons, creating a brilliant display of colorful light. Oxygen and Nitrogen react differently, and since they’re at different levels of the atmosphere, it becomes easy to determine where the reaction takes place. For example, when the electrons interact with oxygen, which is located in the first 150 miles of the atmosphere, the lights are more yellow. Beyond 150 miles, the color is more red, and below the 60 mile mark, which is the location of nitrogen in the atmosphere, the lights appear more blue.
The Northern Lights are a phenomena which have puzzled ancient civilizations and were mentioned numerous times throughout Norse folklore. The vikings were under the impression that the lights were the bridge to Asgard, some thought they were reflections from the shields of the Valkyrie, and in Finland they were thought to be the result of a battle between the Archangel Michael and Beelzebub. Due to the almost ethereal nature of the lights it becomes easy to determine how ancient civilizations, incapable of advanced astronomical research, were able to comes to the conclusions they did. Even now, with a scientific understanding of their origins, the Aurora Borealis remain one of the Earth’s most beautiful and fascinating natural occurrences.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats mankind has to face, and it’s an issue that only grows in intensity over time. Last month, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration highlighted the severity of this issue in a research article meant to explain the real dangers of climate change. NASA gathered data from all over the planet while researching this issue. They used 6,300 weather stations to measure surface temperatures in various locations. They also used ships and buoys to measure oceanic temperatures to see how they have changed overtime. The Arctic areas were heavily focused on as temperatures gathered in Arctic regions were found to be affected most. This large shift in Arctic temperatures has led to an increased rate of ice and glacial melting, causing an increase in sea levels. Along with an increase in sea levels, climate change can also cause an increase in natural fires, extreme weather events, and other natural disasters. The techniques used to gather and monitor temperature readings has changed throughout the years, but NASA is confident that their data is accurate, within 0.1 degree Fahrenheit.
The issue of climate change is one that doesn’t just affect this generation. It’s an issue that will worsen and cause irreversible problems for future generations. The rise in sea level experienced today could mean large scale displacement and flooding, spelling disaster for any coastal populations. In the past few years we have already witnessed the harsh effects of hurricanes and wildfire activity. It is important that the public is aware of climate change to work now to prevent it from worsening. This education also comes with the premise of voting for officials that are passionate about making a positive change in the way of taking care of our environment. This is an issue that cannot be ignored or swept under the rug,
Learning astronomy can sometimes be a difficult task. If it’s your first time taking any form of astronomy you may struggle to understand the vastness of the universe or Newton’s laws etc. One resource that I’ve been using to complete the lecture tutorials and study for class is P.E. Robinson’s youtube channel.
Robinson is an educator who has made very detailed videos on many topics covered by the textbook. In most of his videos he will teach based upon the lecture tutorials which can be very helpful when making sure that your answers are correct. For example, the video “Motion of the Stars” was a short and sweet lecture that talked about star trails and the celestial sphere. After watching the video I was able to easily complete the “Motion” lecture tutorial and retain a lot of the information which helped me during the test.
If you would like an extra study tool Robinson has videos on material from chapters 3,4,5,6 that will be on the upcoming test. I would recommend watching some of the following videos since they helped me process the textbook information better. Let me know if you find them helpful and why!
I chose the wonderful scientist Isaac Newton who lived from January 4, 1643 to March 31, 1727. Isaac Newton was important to astronomy because his book Principia explained a lot of helpful physics concepts such as the concept of gravity and the laws of motion. He also created a reflecting telescope that aided in the viewing of space.
Two major events during Newton’s lifetime are the end of the Thirty Years War and the Restoration of the Monarchy. The Thirty Years War was a bloody and long war between many European powers that ended in 1648. The second major event is the 1660 restoration of the English monarchy by Parliament after the death of the Lord Protectorate Oliver Cromwell.
A famous political being of Isaac Newton’s time was King Louis XIV of France. Louis XIV lived from 5 September 1638 to 1 September 1715 and is the longest reigning monarch in all of European history and was known for his strong monarch rule and for the building of the Palace of Versailles.
What was most interesting about this context is that these great scientists were so close together in lifetimes. It astounds me that historical astronomers, like Isaac Newton, were able to come up with complex concepts regarding the topics of physics and astronomy. Furthermore, it is impressive that they were brave enough to sometimes go against what was accepted or seen as the truth in science during their lifetimes.