Gas Cars Vs. EV Cars – How Much Do You Save in Gas?

White Tesla Model 3 Charging at Home
Austin, Texas, 2-1-2021: Tesla Model 3 charging at home in front of a house on an L2 charger

There are a number of benefits of driving an electric vehicle (EV). One is the cost savings on gas. The other is the environment. We will concentrate on the former now and will discuss the environment in a separate article.

Before we start discussing how EV batteries work, make sure you have read our article on electric current and Units of Power and How They are Related to Electricity but don’t worry. How EV batteries work is actually easy to understand.

But let’s review:

    • Electrons are the basis of electrical current, known as amps.
      Voltage is the force that pushes the electrons through the electric circuit.
    • Electric current usually flows through copper wire which is the conductor and the wire is covered by an insulator.
    • A Watt is the resultant energy (power) that runs the electronic device, defined by E=IR.
    • A kilowatt is 1000 watts.
    • A kilowatt-hour (kWh) equates to 1kw that runs a device for 1 hour.

      Review Example:
      If you run an air conditioner for one hour and that air conditioner uses 65 kilowatts of electricity per hour, then you have used 65 kilowatts of electrical energy for that hour. If you run the air conditioner for two hours, you would have used up 130 kilowatts of energy.

What Mineral Types are Installed in EV Batteries?

The raw materials that batteries use can differ depending on their chemical compositions. However, there are five battery minerals that are considered critical for Li-ion batteries:

    • Cobalt
    • Graphite
    • Lithium
    • Manganese
    • Nickel

Most EV cars, with the exception of the high-end luxury ones, have batteries that consist of a 60-65kWh battery, which means that you use about 60-65kW when driving each hour. Spearing you the formula, a battery of this size will equate to about 260 miles after a full (100%) charge.

How Much Does Kilowatts Equate to Electrical Costs?

Electrical Towers
High voltage transmission towers with red glowing wires against blue sky – Energy concept. iStock

Most EV cars, with the exception of the high-end luxury ones, have batteries with a 60-65kWh battery, which means that you use about 60-65kW when driving each hour. Sparing you the formula, a battery of this size will equate to about 260 miles after a full (100%) charge. 

OK But How Much Does It Cost?

Here’s the breakdown.

We will use a 2021, 4-cylinder Nissan Altima as our example.
Gas tank size: 16.2 galsMPH: 31 average. 

If we multiply 31 miles/gals * 16.2 gals, we can determine the total mileage that this car can run on a full tank of gas, which is 502 miles.  

As of this writing, the price for a gallon of gas is $5.00 on average across the United States. So $5.00 * 16.2 gallons (a full tank) equals $81 (to fill up).

The EV Cars

For EVs, we calculate energy unit per mile instead of MPH. For this example, we will use a 2020 Kia Niro, which is a fully electric vehicle and contains a 65kWh battery, and as mentioned, most EV cars have this type of battery (at least at this time).

The industry standard for fully charging any 65kWh EV is about 260 miles of available driving before you need to recharge. If you have an EV, never let it go below 30%, as you may run into trouble if you are on the road and can’t find a charging station. 

Let’s review what we know so far:

    • To fill up the gas tank of a 2021 Nissan Altima can take you about 502 miles without having to fill up again.
    • To fully charge a 2020 Kia Niro’s battery, the car can go about 260 miles without having to recharge.
    • The cost to fill up the car as of this writing is about $81.00.

Conventional Vs. Electric Vehicles

Another real-life example we need to add is the cost of electricity use in the home, and we will use the electrical costs from PSEG of Long Island, New York, which powers Nassau County, New York, where the offices of Howard Fensterman are located.

Tip: You know what they say “If you read it on the Internet, it must be true!“.  We’ll we read it on the Internet and got results ranging from 14 cents all the way up to 22 cents/kWh.

Then we decided to do something smart. Why not just call PSEGLI? So we did and lo and behold, we found that the cost to run electrical appliances in Nassau County is 6 cents/kWh!

The average electric cost in New York State is 14.34 cents / kWh, but this office is in Nassau County, so we will use the 6 cents/kWh; thus, the cost to fully charge an EV with a 65kWh battery is:

65kWh * .06kWh = $3.09

Which can take up to four hours using a 220-volt connection.

Proportion 

Now we need to match the mileage for a fully charged EV (230 miles) to fill a gas tank of a conventional car to that same mileage (230 miles).

Here are the steps:

    • Divide the total mileage to fully charge the battery by the total mileage to fill a gas tank to get the percentage between the two: 

230 mi / 502 mi = 45%
So 230 miles is 45% of 502 miles

      • Multiply this percentage by the total cost to gas up the car

To get the cost for a conventional car to go 230 miles, we multiply the cost to fill up the gas tank ($85.00) by 45% to match the 230 miles, and the cost would then be 0.45 *$85 = $38.7. 

Therefore, using an average of today’s gas prices, it would cost a gas car $38.7 to go 230 miles and an EV car would cost $3.09 to go the same distance (230 miles) in Nassau County, New York.

Drilling Down the Proportions

At this point, let’s round off the $3.09 to $3.00 for simplicity’s sake, so to go 1/2 that range (115 miles), the electrical cost would be $1.50. Similarly, to go 1/4 the distance (57.2 miles),  the cost would be .75.

But How Much Does It Cost to Go Five Miles?
Why are We Even Asking This?

Because if we know how much it costs to go one mile, we can calculate the costs for any distance the car goes at five-dollar intervals!

Gas Cars

We already know that it costs $39 (rounded off) to go 230 miles, so $39 is to 230 miles as X (as our unknown dollar amount) is to 5 miles. The formula is 230 * X = 39 * 5, so X = (39 * 5) / 230 and X = .85, so it cost a conventional car 85 cents to go 5 miles.

EV Cars

If the car (our 2021 Altima) costs $3.00 (rounded off) to go 230 miles, we use the following formula:

So, 230 miles is to $3.00 as 5 miles is to X (the unknown cost) which equates to:

230/3  = 5/X or 230X = 15 and so X = 15/230 = 7 cents (rounded)

It cost 7 cents to go 5 miles on a 2020 Kia Niro EV.

Additional Examples 

If you travel 1000 mi/month, that would equate to $170 / month for a conventional car and ~ $40 / month for an EV car.  

If you travel 750 mi/month, that would equate to $127.5 / month for a conventional car and ~ $30 / month for an EV car. 

If you travel 3000 mi/month, that would equate to $510 / month for conventional cars and ~ $120 / month for an EV car. 

In order to determine the savings on your car against one that you are thinking about buying, do the following:

      1. Look up the gas mileage of your car
      2. Call your electric company to find out how much you electricity runs per kWh
      3. Use the formula above to determine the same amount of mileage your car will go against the total kWh capacity of your future EV car
      4. Multiply that milage by your city’s gas costs.

Conclusion

If you are looking to save money on gas, EV cars are the way to go. Yes, these vehicles are more expensive than conventional gas cars, but at $5.00+ a gallon, you will be pleasantly surprised how much your savings can accumulate to.

 

 

What is Voltage and Electrical Current? (A Brief Guide)

Electrical Towers
High voltage transmission towers with red glowing wires against blue sky – Energy concept. IStock.

Electrical current is the measure of electrical flow. It’s measured in amperes, or amps for short. The current refers to the number of electrons that pass by a point in an electrical conductor in one second, and it’s usually given in units as milliamps (mA) or microamps (μA). This article explains what electrical current is and how it works. Keep reading to learn more about this topic!

How Does Electrical Current Work?

Electrical current travels through a wire (conductor) to reach a device (eg. light bulb) which causes the device to enable. This traveling of electrons through the wire to the device is called a circuit. It is the pathway for an electrical current to flow from the source to the load. 

Wires showing copper cables
Copper cables are surrounded by rubber insulation. The copper wire is the pathway from the source to the load.  iStock

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are three basic parts to a circuit:

  • The “source,” or “sourcing device,” is where the electrons come from. This can be a battery, a generator, or the flow of electricity from a wall outlet. 
  • The “load,” or “dumping device,” is where the electrons go after completing the circuit. This could be a light bulb, an appliance, or some other device. 
  • The “pathway,” or “wiring,” is the middle part that brings the electrons from the sourcing device to the dumping device. The wiring is almost always made of copper, iron, or in electronic devices, a semiconductor. The current can only flow when the circuit is complete. When the circuit is broken, the current stops.

What Is Electrical Conductivity?

Electrical conductivity is the ability of a material to allow an electrical current to flow through it. The term conductivity is used to describe the extent to which a material will allow the flow of an electrical current. If a material has high conductivity, such as copper, it means that it is very good for allowing electrons to flow rather freely through the wire, while low conductivity, such as rubber will inhibit the electron flow to a greater extent, known as resistance.

The harder it is for the electrons to flow, the more resistance the material has. That’s why rubber is used to insulate the copper wire in almost all manufacturing that will transmit electric current. Rubber has a high resistance rating. 

Wood and glass are two types of materials that have a very low conductivity rating. Have you ever used wood to connect to an electrical circuit or battery? On the other end, copper is one of the most conductive materials around and that is why you see so many wires and/or cables that have copper wiring.

Besides the type of material that is used, electrical conductivity can be affected by a number of factors. For example, temperature, and the presence of contaminants like dust and water.

What is Voltage?

Turn on your water faucet about a quarter of the way and place a cup under it. Notice how fast (or slow) the water is running to fill the cup. How long did it take?

Now turn the faucet to make the water run faster. When you do this, the water fills up the cup sooner. 

This is your voltage (actually an equivalent of voltage). The faster the water comes out, the more the force or pressure of water will be used. In electricity, this means that the more the pressure, the faster the electric current will come out to power an electrical device. The bulb will light up quicker, which you won’t notice, since it happens so quickly, but that is what will happen.

Ohm’s Law

A law that states the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance in a conductor (or insulator). It states that voltage is equal to current times resistance or E=IR. So the voltage equates to the amount of current that flows through the wire but includes the amount of resistance the current is subjected to. 

Types of Electrical Current

There are two basic types of electrical current: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC). A direct current is a constant flow of electrons that always flows in the same direction. It can flow in one direction or it can flow in both directions. It is provided by batteries, solar cells, and hydroelectric plants. Electrical current can be changed from DC to AC by using a device called a transformer. Transformers are used to change the voltage of the electricity.

Summary

Electrical current is the flow of electrons through a conductor. A complete circuit is where electrons flow from the source to the load through a pathway or wiring. Electrical current works when a circuit is complete. A circuit is a pathway for an electrical current to flow from the source to the load. There are 3 basic parts in a circuit. The source is where the electrons come from. The load is where the electrons go after completing the circuit. The pathway is the middle part that brings the electrons from the sourcing device to the dumping device.

There are two basic types of electrical current: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC). A direct current is a constant flow of electrons that always flows in the same direction. AC current can change from DC to AC by using a device called a transformer.

What is a Computer Bit and How Does it Work?

Man working on multi computers
Photo by CDC-Pexels

What Makes Computers Tick?

When you think of computing, you may have images of whizzing processors or geeks typing on screens. But did you ever wonder how all these devices actually work? If so, keep reading. As technology continues to advance and computer literacy becomes more important than ever, we are going to break down what makes computers tick!

Electricity is the Common Demonator

Set of realistic vector hands pressing light switches
You turn on a switch and you are allowing current to flow. That is represented by a ‘1’ in  computer language called Binary Code. You press Off and you cut out the electric current from flowing and the is represented by a ‘0’. Photo iStock.

You flick a switch and a light bulb turns on. You flick the switch again and the blub turns off. If I were to tell you that computers run on this simple principle, would you believe me?   Well, believe you should because that’s all there is. Simply refer to a bulb that is lit as the number ‘1’ and when it is off, refer to it as a ‘0’. In other words, the values ‘0’ and ‘1’ are based on whether electricity, more popularly referred to as current, is flowing is represented by ‘1’ or current is not flowing, represented by ‘0’.

So I Should Call Them Ones and Zeros?

Not exactly. These two values are known as bits. So whatever you are doing on the computer; such as reading this article, you are actually reading a long list of bits that the computer sees and then translates into words. 

Of course, it is a bit (pun intended) more detailed than that. Not complex though, just a bit more to absorb, starting with the fact that when I mentioned “reading a long list of bits”, we have to translate these “long lists” into an organized pattern that the computer can read and understand how to translate them into something we humans will understand.

I’ll Byte!

Seamless pattern with abstract binary code, digital matrix background
4 rows of 8 bits = 4 rows of bytes. Photo: iStock

If you align eight bits in a row where some are set to ‘1’ and others are set to ‘0’, you have created what is referred to as a byte. It’s an arrangement that has a particular meaning to the computer.

A byte can be any letter or number from A-Z, 0-9 respectively. It can also store special characters, For example, binary code 00001101 is equal to 13 in decimal form. The alphabetic character “M” is similar in bit arrangement, but with one bit (pun intended again) of a difference, and that is it has an extra ‘on’ bit – 01001100. 

If you were to type the letter ‘R” on your screen, it would involve a different combination of eight bits. In this case, for the letter ‘R, the sequence would be 01000010, and the letter ‘S’ would be 01000011, and so on. 

Let’s backtrack and look at how these bits equate to their electrical equivalent. For our ‘M’ example above, which has the bit arrangement of 01001100, that would equal the following combination of electrical current that is, in this exact sequence: off, on, off, off, on, on, off, off.

This is based on a table called ASCII (As Key), which displays the eight bits (bytes), in ascending sequence, where each byte equates to a letter or number.  

What the particular instruction would be is dependent upon the arrangement of the 1s and 0s. If you are thinking this seems like some type of code, it is and is called binary code.

Understanding how computers use bits and bytes can help you understand how they process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating topic!

Why are Bits Important?

The bits that make up your data are vital to how your computer operates. Bits determine whether a file is an image, spreadsheet, movie, or audio file; they tell your computer what to do with the information in that file. Converting information into digital form is called encoding; the process of converting it back into its original state is called decoding. Encoding and decoding both involve assigning values to different pieces of information so that a computer can store and process it appropriately.

For example, let’s say you have a picture that you want to save on your computer. The picture will be broken down into individual pixels and assigned an identifying number. This number will represent the color of each pixel (e.g., red, blue, or green). Thus, encoding this picture involves assigning numbers to each piece of information in it—in this case, the colors of each pixel in the photo.

Decoding would work the same way it would give a pixel its original identifying number so that it could once again be identified as a specific color; thus allowing you to see the photo as intended by its creator!

Bits in Programming

When you’re programming a computer, you use bytes to represent information. For example, when the programmer asks the computer to calculate 5+5, it translates this into binary. “0001 0010 0101” So in binary, 5+5 is “0110 0100 0101” (This is called a binary addition). These two numbers are added together and the answer of 10 is sent back. And that’s how bits work!

Summing Up

A computer bit is the smallest unit of information that a computer can read. When you align eight bits in a row, it is called a byte and each byte represents a letter, number, or special character, which is defined by the arrangement of the bits in the byte.

The translation of each byte can be found in the ASCII table. Bits are used to process everything from the simplest math problems to streaming video or playing games online.

What are Semiconductors and How Do They Work?

Close up photo of a motherboard
Semiconductor Computer Chips. Photo by CristianIS https://pixabay.com/users/CristianIS-2094012/ on Pixabay

Overview

This is where we describe the device that controls the flow of electricity inside the semiconductor so that the bit patterns (bytes) can become the language that the computer will translate into human literacy, or in layman’s terms, translate from bytes to English characters, numbers, and special characters.

Driving the Current

You might say electricity hates semiconductors because current can only travel through them when you tell it to, or more specifically when you turn a switch on or off. It is similar to driving a car. You can’t drive down the road and not think there will be any obstacles such as a red light to stop you.

A good example is to picture your car as the current and the road as the semiconductor. Now imagine a light bulb at the end of the road. If the current (your car) continues to travel down the road without hitting a stop light, you will reach the bulb, and voila! You (the current) reached the bulb and lit it up.

Car on road with arrow pointing to light bulb
Photo by SS. Light bulb Pixaby.

But what if there was a red light on the road? You must stop the car (stop the flow of current) and then there is no voila. The bulb will not light because no electricity was allowed to continue down the road to reach it.  

Another analogy is when you turn on a faucet to allow water to flow. When you are done, you turn it off and the water stops flowing, but you can also control the speed or force at which the water comes out. It is this force that can be equated to voltage when referring to electricity. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail. 

The Voltage Factor

So the flow of electricity that is controlled through the semiconductor is via the amount of voltage that is being used. If too little voltage is implemented, then no electrical current will flow through, but if you raise the voltage, it will trigger the semiconductor to open the gate and allow the current to flow through. In other words, voltage is the controlling factor in whether current will or will not flow through the conductor.

The Managing Device Within the Semiconductor

This control of whether current flows or doesn’t flow through a semiconductor has a name – transistor, which is nothing more than a switch to allow or disallow electricity to travel through it. The transistor will open when a specific amount of voltage (force) is used but will close when not enough voltage is used.

Before semiconductors were introduced, transistors were controlled by vacuum tubes. They were large, bulky devices, but they worked the same way as today’s tiny transistors do. You may recall seeing old photos of large rooms filled with vacuum tubes. That’s what it took to just make some simple calculations.Transistor size comparisons

Transistor Sizes as Compared Throughout the Decades. Top-Left is a vacuum tube that would represent one transistor., equating to one state of either on or off. The rightmost device is a semiconductor computer chip that can contain hundreds or even thousands of transistors with simultaneous on and off states. Photo vlabo from iStock

Today’s transistors are tiny and the hundreds, if not thousands of vacuum tubes that filled a room can now fit on a computer chip the size of your fingernail. These ‘chips’, sit on a board, called a motherboard that connects the circuits which allow the current to run along with it.

Computer Board
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-circuit-board-343457/

The transistor’s on and off states create logic that represents the basic building blocks of the decision making process; however, we don’t refer to this process as on or off. Instead, we represent it by numbers. ‘1’ represents ‘on’ and ‘0’ represents ‘off’, which in computer talk are called bits.

Our article on how bits and bytes work explains this in more detail. 

What are Semiconductors Made Of?

Transistors are made of silicon and germanium, an element typically found in sand. The physical characteristics of silicon and germanium can be perfect conductors to allow current to flow without much resistance, but can also be perfect insulators to stop any current from flowing, which makes it a truly superior mineral when you need to control electricity.

Summary

Transistors allow current to flow or not to flow through it. The material that the current resides in is silicon, which is used because its properties allow it to work well as a conductor but just as well as an insulator. Each on or off state is represented by a ‘1’ or ‘0’ and is called a bit. Eight bits make a byte, and it is the particular pattern of bits in each of the bytes that determines a certain instruction for the computer to follow.

What Would Space Aliens Really Look Like?

Illustration of an alien planet
Photo iStock

The Extraterrestrial Delima

Some say that we are the only intelligent life in the universe, but others would tend to differ, and if you include the calculations in our article Life in Outer Space, a Mathematical Approach, there is a good probability that they are correct.

Most probably, we are probably the only planet that has species that look exactly like us humans. The aliens would have to live under the exact same environmental conditions that exist on this planet. If there is just a .001% difference on their planet as there is no Earth, our alien friends could look much different.

That’s because all living things on Earth have physically adapted to this planet’s environment; such as adapting to the atmosphere, which is 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, as well as adjusting to the planet’s range of temperatures and seasons. The result is that we are a species that consists of two ears, two eyes, two lungs, and a bunch of other organs that keep us alive through these earthly conditions.

So the chances are very high that there isn’t a planet exactly like Earth, but some exoplanets in the habitable zone might come pretty close. Instead of saying we may be the only intelligent life in outer space, it may be more prudent to say we may be the only intelligent life that looks like us in outer space.

An Exoplanet With a Slight Change

Illustration of an extraterrestrial
Photo iStock

Suppose that there is a planet revolving around a star 100 light-years from earth.  We’ll call this planet Exo, but on this body, there is a slight change in its atmosphere, namely, its oxygen level is 90 percent nitrogen and 10 percent oxygen. If we use earthlings as a reference, then the species that would evolve on this planet, Exo, would need larger lungs to compensate for the low oxygen level.

Now suppose that Exo is 20% further from its star than the Earth is from our sun (Earth is 93,000,000 miles away). That would mean that it would be 18.6 million miles further away from its star as compared to Earth’s proximity to the sun. Everything would be darker on Exo and cooler as well.

Our hypothetical species would require larger eyes than us to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Needless to say, their winters will be colder, so those living in a Siberian type of weather on Exo would possibly have thicker skin than their counterparts on the warmer side of the planet (warmer relative to that planet’s environment, not ours).

What About Gravity on Exo?

The amount of gravity would be determined by the size (mass) of the planet, so if Exo is 10% larger than Earth, then the creatures living there would probably have heavier and stronger legs. Their legs may bulge out more or they may be longer than what we humans would look like, or maybe they have three or four legs. Not a far thought since thousands of species on this planet also have four legs.

For a more in-depth look at how aliens may evolve, take a look at this video below.

Time is Everything

We have discussed how the physical characteristics of alien life might look on a habitable planet similar to life here on Earth. But what about their evolution process? Did it take the same amount of time for these aliens to evolve as we did? In other words, humanoid life on Earth has been estimated to start around 200 million years ago, but does that mean that creatures on other planets began their evolution process within the same time period as we did?

What Year is It?

We first have to take into account that a year on Exo would probably be different than our years. If Exo is 10% further away from its sun, then it will take longer for the planet to revolve around it, a 365-day revolution (if days are the same there) won’t work. We will estimate that it takes 400 Exo days for it to complete one of its years.

Are We the Most Intelligent of All Species in the Universe? Watch What You Say!

The above scenario is based upon a similar time period it would take for beings like us to evolve on a different planet. Chances are that this would not be the case.

What if Exo was formed 500 thousand years later than it did on Earth? Well, that would mean that they would have evolved only to what we could equate as neanderthals. Now that type of communication doesn’t look promising.

But what hat if Exo was formed 500 thousand years earlier than here on Earth?  That would mean that Exo’s inhabitants would have hundreds of thousands of years more time to evolve than we humans have on this planet.

If their evolution started that much earlier then we could conclude that they are mentally superior to us. If that is the case and they do (or some believe that they have already) come to Earth, will they be friendly?

We Come in Peace, Maybe.

Scientists are contemplating a new communication with ET via signals to be sent from huge telescopes here on Earth. It will be called the Beacon in the Galaxy and will contain mathematical,  physical, and biological representations of earthlings, as well as our location in the Milky Way galaxy. But if aliens do find this and they equate to the scenario of advancement over us, is this a smart move? Only time will tell!

The Eight Planets of Our Solar System

Solar System

Yes. That is correct. Eight planets. Not nine, since Pluto was decommissioned as a planet in 2006. It is now a dwarf planet that is part of the Kuiper Belt. An area at the edge of the solar system that is filled with icy bodies that orbit the sun.

A dwarf planet is an object that revolves around the sun but is not considered a planet because it doesn’t meet the criteria set forth by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), an international organization that helps to set the standard for outer space quantifications.

Want to learn more about the dwarf planet, Pluto, check it out here.

Mercury

The planet Mercury is mainly composed of the element iron. It is one of the few planets that have no moons and there is a reason. Being so close to the Sun, the gravitational pull would grab those moons like a magnet to iron, and they would be incinerated.

Planet Mecury
The planet Mercury is seen in silhouette, the lower third of the image, as it transits across the face of the sun Monday, May 9, 2016, as viewed from Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Mercury passes between Earth and the sun only about 13 times a century, with the previous transit taking place in 2006. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Designated as the smallest planet in our solar system, Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. Only 36 million miles or 0.39 AU.  Mercury orbits the sun every 88 Earth days. (The closer the planet is to the Sun, the faster it revolves around it).

It has a thin atmosphere. We could not survive in this atmosphere without protective equipment, but it is unlikely you would want to go there when the average temperature is 354 degrees F. In 1974, two spacecraft visited Mercury: Mariner 10 and Messenger. Learn More.

Venus

The second planet from the sun and slightly smaller than Earth, it revolves around the sun every 225 Earth days. Over 40 spacecraft have explored Venus. Notably, Magellan mapped over 98% of the planet’s surface. Venus’ temperatures can go up to 480 degrees. The planet is unusual as it spins backward, resulting in the sun rising in the west and setting in the east.

Earth

NASA Photo of the Earth
Photo by Pexels

Where would we be without it? Our planet is considered to be in the Goldilocks Zone. The name was coined from the Three Bears children’s story. We are located in the area of the solar system where it is not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life as we know it to exist and strive.

With that said, scientists are currently looking at exoplanets in other solar systems that also are in the Goldilocks Zone. 15% of all stars in our galaxy have planets orbiting around them and if you add them together, it would total over 500 habitable planets that have been discovered so far, so who knows? We may not be alone after all!

Getting back to Earth’s facts, we are the third planet from the sun and 93 million miles away or one AU.

Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun at a distance of 142 million miles or 1.52 AU. Mars makes a complete orbit around the sun in 687 Earth days. There are two moons orbiting Mars. Phobos and Deimos. It is believed that Mars once sustained life many years ago and we are still searching the planet with the Mars Voyager program to determine just that. If confirmed, scientists can determine that Earth is not the only planet that can sustain life.

There are plans by NASA to send men or possibly women as well to Mars.  But we better hurry up as China is also planning on manned missions to Mars as well.

Jupiter
The largest of the eight planets. If Jupiter was a soccer ball, Earth would be a pea in comparison. Jupiter is about 484 million miles, 5.2 AU from the sun.

Jupiter makes a complete orbit around the sun every 12 Earth years. Known as the ‘gas-giant’, it has no solid surface. Imagine landing on Jupiter with no solid surface!

There are 53 moons revolving around this planet. Jupiter is known for its Great Red Spot. A gigantic storm of immense proportions that has been happening since we first discovered Jupiter hundreds of years ago.

Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun (886 million miles, 9.5 AU.) Saturn makes a complete orbit around the sun every 29 Earth years. As with Jupiter, Saturn is also a gas-giant with no solid surface. There are Saturn has 82 moons. Fifty-three of these moons have been calculated by scientists and another 29 have been located but are awaiting confirmation.

Some of Saturn’s moons are larger than the planet Mercury like the moon Titan and some are smaller than a football stadium. Saturn is probably the most popular plant with its outer rings circling it. The rings, seven in all are gaseous objects that stay intact due to the planet’s gravitational pull.

Uranus
Uranus orbits our sun at a distance of about 1.8 billion miles or 19.19 AU. Uranus makes a complete orbit around the sun in about 84 Earth years. Because of the distance from the sun, Uranus is a cold, icy planet. The planet contains 27 moons revolving around it.

Neptune
This blue planet is 2.8 billion miles, 30.07 AU from the sun. Like Uranus, Neptune is also a cold (actually colder) planet than Uranus. Neptune has 13 moons. It takes Neptune 165 Earth years to revolve around the sun. And just recently, it was discovered that the temperature of Neptune unexpectedly went down. Scientists are baffled as to why. Guess we’ll just have to go there to find out!

What Happens When Stars Die?

A star changes into a number of different phases before its death. Since it is our Sun that brings us life, as well as it being part of the main sequence category of stars, let’s use the sun as our example.

Early On

During the years following the big bang, giant clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms began to form. As the years followed, these elements started to clump together to form balls of hydrogen and helium gas. In other words, they became a mass of balls of gas. When  mass is created, gravity is established and the star cycle begins.

So a star is being formed and as such, our friend gravity keeps getting stronger as the mass of the star keeps getting bigger. When the gravity reaches a certain strength, the star will collapse into itself. But wait! This won’t happen because there is a force that will counter the star’s gravitational pull. So what is this mysterious force?

What Stops Stars from Collapsing?

Enter nuclear fusion! This is where the hydrogen and helium atoms combine. Another way of describing this process is when the protons and neutrons, called nuclei of an atom (in this case hydrogen) fuse with the nuclei of another atom (in this case helium) to produce one heavier helium atom

It is that simple… or is it? For the benefit of our audience, we will keep it simple by stating that each hydrogen atom is one ounce (of course this is not the actual weight) and when four of these atoms are combined into one larger atom, the resultant atoms would weigh four ounces. But no! The weight of the combined atom ends up being less than the combined weight of the four separate atoms. So, the mass that escapes when these nuclei combine is in the form of energy

This is a prime example of Einstein’s formula E=mc2, which states that mass and energy are proportionally connected; that is, as mass decreases, energy increases and vice-versa. In the case of nuclear fusion, some of the mass of the helium nucleus is released and converted to energy. 

Another way of describing this process is when a single nucleus combines to form two lighter nuclei. When this happens, energy is released because it gives off more heat than it needs and the result is energy.

If you’d like to get more insight into the actual process of nuclear fusion, then this fun video is for you. 

So the result is that there is a balancing act where the inward pull of the star’s gravity and the outward push of the nuclear fusion process cancels out each of the forces. And that is why the Sun (and all stars) don’t collapse onto themselves (at least as long as there is hydrogen to fuel the nuclear fusion).

Let There Be Light!

If you follow the bible, God said “let there be light”. Maybe it is just a metaphor that explains what this cycle of energy is, but whether you believe in the bible or not, the fact remains that this energy that is produced is in the form of light. And there you have it! Light is created when hydrogen nuclei fuse with helium.

It’s All About Gravity

The Sun, like all stars, have a limited supply of hydrogen in their cores. When the star’s core runs out of hydrogen fuel, gravity takes hold and subsequently, the star will compress. Then energy in the form of heat is then generated.

This heat caused the outer layers of the Sun to bulge out or expand across the inner part of our solar system to become what astronomers call a red giant. Big enough to engulf the orbits of Mercury and Venus and even reach Earth. Then, after millions of years, these outer layers of gas will dissipate into the darkness of the universe. 

But let’s get back to what’s left of the star. It will collapse within itself to become a white dwarf, thanks again to gravity. As an example, picture a balloon that contains solid rock (it is actually just gas, but for this hyper theoretical explanation, we will use a solid) that is pushed down to the size of a ping-pong ball. 

This is referred to as a change in volume, which means that the same amount of rock in the balloon is condensed to the pong size. In scientific terms, it refers to the volume of the mass that is condensed (to a smaller size) and so, the tiny ball still weighs the same as when it was balloon size. The result is a heavier density of the mass which would be equivalent to that of one teaspoon of the material in the ping-pong ball could weigh up to 100 tones. Over billions of years, the white dwarf cools and becomes invisible.

 What About the Other Stars

Now, let’s take a look at what happens to other stars in the universe. It all depends upon what size the star is during its main life cycle. 

Super large stars will change into supernovae, not like our sun which is considered an average star. Its end life cycle will result in a white dwarf as we discussed.  Regardless of the star’s size. All will follow a seven-cycle process. So without further ado, here are the life (and death) cycles of all stars.

1. Giant Gas Cloud

Nebulas are where stars are born. Similar to a fetus in a womb, the stars grow as the gas molecules work to form them. That is why it is called a gas cloud and we can thank gravity again for bringing these molecules together.

  1. Protostar

When the gas particles run into each other, heat energy is created This result is what scientists call a Protostar -the beginning of a star’s creation. We can view this process via infrared since Protostars show up warmer than the other materials in the cloud. 

  1. T-Tauri Phase

T-Tauri stars are the next phase in the star’s life process, but not strong enough for nuclear fusion to begin yet. This cycle lasts about 100 million years,

  1. Main Sequence

Welcome to the main sequence phase of stars and this is where our Sun is now, fortunately; otherwise, you would not be here to read this article. Scientifically, it is the process where the core temperature has gone high enough to allow nuclear fusion to begin. 

  1. Red Giant

When the hydrogen fuel starts to run out, the nuclear fusion process will end its cycle. Now there is nothing to stop the star from condensing into itself because our friend – gravity now has complete control with no force to counter it. As the star contracts inward, the outer layers of the star expand. This expansion is so great that they could reach the orbits of some of its inner planets. Say hello to the red giant! When stars reach this phase, they appear yellowish in color since they are cooler than when stars are in their main-sequence stage.

6. The Fusion of Iron

The Helium molecules start combining with each other at the star’s core, causing the core to shrink. When this happens, carbon is fused in and this process continues until the atoms turn into iron. Now the core will collapse as the iron fusion absorbs energy. This in turn causes this red giant to become a supernova. For medium-sized stars like our Sun, the star will contract and turn into a white dwarf.

7. Supernovae 

Some of the most spectacular events in galaxies are the occurrence of supernovae. In this phase, most of the star’s matter is blasted away into space. Internally, the core will collapse into a neutron star, also known as the black hole. 

8. Stellar Nursery

No doubt you have seen nebulas in photos or maybe through a telescope. These are the stellar nurseries, where its remnants of gas and other materials are floating around only to be gathered together again to form new stars.

Illustration of a star's life cycle
Illustration of a star’s life cycle

 

Andromeda – Our Nearest Spiral Galaxy

Photo of Andromoda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy. 220,000 light-years across, containing 10 trillion stars. This image was captured using amateur astrophotography equipment including a Skywatcher 80mm telescope, a QHY269M monochrome camera, and a seven-position filter wheel containing Red, Green, Blue, Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen III, and Sulphur II filters. Tracking was done using an iOptron CEM70G mount and PHD2 guiding software. It was entirely processed using PixInsight. iStock.

A Galaxy of 1 Trillion Stars!

What was the subject of the popular heated debate between ace astronomers, Heber Curtis and Harlow Shapley? – The Andromeda galaxy!

Back in 1920, Shapley believed that the Pinwheel and the Andromeda galaxies were actually nebulae found in the Milky Way. Curtis believed that this wasn’t the case, based on the argument that the Andromeda galaxy is at a multi-million light-year distance from our Milky Way. It was later established through the work of Henrietta Leavitt, Edwin Hubble, and others that Curtis indeed was right.

It has since been determined that this galaxy has over one trillion stars. With that amount of stars and with scientists’ estimates that up to 50% of the planets that revolve around these stars may be in the Goldilocks Zone, we have an astounding possibility of life somewhere in Andromeda.

Over the years, a lot of astronomers have researched Andromeda with some of the findings listed below.

Once a Nebula?

Long before the actual expanse of the universe was realized, the rim of the Milky Way was considered to be the boundary of outer space. Within those boundaries, the fuzzy blur visible in the sky ( Andromeda) was believed to be a cluster of cosmic dust clouds and forming stars. The galaxy was originally named the Great Andromeda Nebula until the powerful telescopes of the 20th century proved otherwise.

It Can Be Seen From Earth

This mammoth, dazzling galaxy is at least a 2.5 million light-year distance away from us. However, if you find a clear night sky (the pollution levels need to be down too) you can see the galaxy with the naked eye. It would appear as a scattered haze. Grab a pair of good binoculars and you can clearly witness the central region of the galaxy. A large powerful telescope will leave you in awe of the spectacular view of Andromeda.

It is Gigantic

The galaxy has a diameter stretched across almost 220,000 light-years. A colossal structure that seems longer than the full moon at night and is actually 2.5 times longer in length than the entire Milky Way. It is farther than any other star visible from the earth, yet it can still be seen with the naked eye.

It is believed that the Milky Way is the most immense body in the Local Group (a galactic group based on more than 54 galaxies), but Andromeda takes the cake when it comes to being more voluminous. It contains trillions of stars, twice as many as the ones in our galaxy. It was the Spritzer Space Telescope that made this observation.

We’ve Known About It for a Lifetime

The Andromeda galaxy is clearly visible in the night sky has been constantly scrutinized, observed, and studied by astronomers for multiple decades. The galaxy spawned about 10 billion years ago when several smaller protogalaxies merged together. About some 8 billion years ago it collided head on with another galaxy that led to the formation of the giant that is Andromeda today.

Now here’s the fun part.  Andromeda is moving towards our galaxy. And it’s not just moving – it’s actually on a collision course! 

Let that sink in. Andromeda and the Milky Way are both moving towards each other at a speed of 120 kilometers per second. But here’s the catch: at this rate it’ll take around 4 billion years for the galaxies to collide!

 

Three of the Most Popular Constellations

Illustration of the constellations around Earth
Detailed constellation map of the Southern hemisphere with names of stars. Photo: IStock

Sky Patterns

It’s a beautiful clear night and you gaze up at the sky. What do you see? Thousands of stars and perhaps even galaxies. Let’s use our imagination, just as the ancient Greeks had done, and let your creativity loose. Now, what do you see? A cow? A frog? A man with a sword?

If you see patterns, great! But if you don’t, no worries. We’ll let you know what the ancient Greeks discovered millennia ago and are still in use today.

Enter the Constellations

Constellations with figures drawn around the stats
Photo IStock

Constellations are officially defined as clusters of stars that make identifiable patterns for human clarification. There are a total of 88 constellations or to be a bit more creative, stars that make up characters that have been officially documented. The constellation Orion is the most well-known.

The term was coined from the Latin word constellti and was first used in astrology. The earliest records date from the Middle Bronze Dynasties from the Bronz Age which dates back from 2055 to 1650 BC. It is noted in the bible as Job 9:9, 38:31-32 – the “Maker of the Bear“.  In Greek mythology, the Orion Constellation represents a hunter.

Within some of these constellations and sometimes spanning across them are smaller star patterns called asterisms. An asterism is a group of stars that form figures but are not large enough to be called a constellation.

Most Popular Constellations

We won’t discuss all of the 88 constellations, but we will pick a few that are the most well-known.

Let’s Start with Orion

Constellation-OrIon-Showing-the-Hunter.
The ‘Hunter’ in the Orion constellation as imagined by the ancient Greeks’ Photo: IStock

In the Orion constellation, we have the Orion Nebula, which is a group of gas and dust that will form stars, some of which have already been formed.

Designated as Messier 42, we have the star Betelgeuse which is 642.5 light-years from Earth. It is a supergiant star and the second brightest star in Orion. It is located at the top left, near the top of the mythical hunter’s arm. Additionally, we have stars Saiph, Bellatrix, and Rigel to name a few more.

You might be familiar with Rigel, the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise talk about how they love to go there. Of course, it is not the star Rigel that they are visiting, but actually, the fourth planet revolving around it, called Rigel 4, a Goldilocks zone planet or “Class M” as Mr. Spock would say.

As mentioned, the  Constellation Orion represents the mythological Greek hunter Homer. The easiest way is to find the three stars that are aligned with each other. They are Alnilam, Mintaka, and Alnitak, known as Orion’s Belt, which is at the center of Homer’s body.

On a clear night, from the northern hemisphere, just look up north. Of course, you need to be in a low-lit, wide-open location. Even if you live in a city, open areas such as parks can help you locate this popular constellation.

Ursa Major – King of the Greek Gods

Another famous constellation is Ursa Major. Latin for Great She-Bear and more popularly known to be the constellation where The Big Dipper lies, probably the most popular of all asterisms. Also known in the UK as the Plough. 

The Big Dipper is well known mostly because of its navigation capabilities. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, which is above the 35th parallel, you should be able to see it but to be a bit more realistic, those who are north of  Tennessee’s southern border should be able to find it more easily.

When you look at the Big Dipper, you may not notice it, but this and the Little Dipper rotate around a star called Polaris, otherwise known as the North Star, which is one of the brightest stars in Ursa Major.

A child once mentioned that his mother told him whenever he felt sad, he should look up at the North Star and he will know he is being watched over. Parents, whether true or not, you may want to try this! Besides keeping him or her less stressed, they may learn something about the constellations and perhaps astronomy as well! Who knows? Your son or daughter may become a rocket scientist celebrity!

Let’s look back up to see where Polaris is located. It lies at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. Now try drawing an imaginary line around the big dipper to form a Great Bear. Do you see it?

A Point of Navigation

The Big Dipper serves as a pointer to other locations in the sky. “Follow the Arc to Arcturus” is a fairly popular expression in navigation and astronomy. The “arc” can be envisioned as a curved line from the bottom of the Big Dipper and helps you locate two other popular stars called Arcturus and Spica.

So Ursa Major is quite a constellation that contains both the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper. The next time you head out, drop your GPS and compass and see if you can navigate with these stars!

The Zodiac

Not a constellation, but worth mentioning before we continue discussing onward, so let’s talk about the Zodiac. This is a group of stars that cross a number of constellations at the vernal equinox, defined when the Earth’s rotational axis reaches a particular position and occurs in the month of March. At this point, the following occurs:

    • The northern and southern hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally
    • Night and day are equal in length
    • Spring begins

Aries – The Ram

Aries is a constellation that is not as bright as some of the others; however, it is found in the northern hemisphere, but you may need binoculars or a telescope to find this one since only a few of its stars are visible to the naked eye.

Aries is one of the constellations that lie along the Zodiac and means “the ram” in Latin. The symbol for this constellation is the imaginary set of lines that form a ram’s horns.

Aries has a narrative behind it. It is the story of the Golden Fleece. The mythical story of Jason and the Argonauts is about the search for the Golden Fleece.

Aries contains the stars Hamal and Sheratan and interestingly enough, it also contains the spiral galaxy NGC 772 and the dwarf galaxy NGC 1156.

Orion, Ursa Major, and Aries

These are three of some of the most popular constellations in our night sky. We hope you gained some perspective on how the constellations came to be, their importance in navigation, their relation to astronomy, as well as a bit of Greek mythology, and some of the stars and galaxies that are contained within them. Have we sparked your interest? How about going outside to see if you can spot the Greek hunter, the Great Bear, and the ram’s horns?

What are Solar Flares and What Do They Do to the Earth?

Solar Flares
In this image, you can see an active region on the sun with dark sunspots. Image credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/HMI/Goddard Space Flight Center

Watch out but Don’t look up! A solar flare is coming… Well almost. Solar flares are giant explosions that shoot out from the circumference of the sun, emitting radiation that is beyond human imagination. These emissions of light, heat, and energy can actually spread through the 93,000,000 miles distance from the Sun to the Earth’s atmosphere. But don’t worry. They never make it past that; however, if the flare intensity becomes too strong, there can be disturbances of radio frequency transmissions here on Earth.

Generally speaking, we humans are safe on the ground, at least for now, but in a few billion years, that may not be the case, when the Sun starts turning into a red giant and then a white dwarf.

Solar Flares on the Sun
An image of active regions on the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The glowing hot gas traces out the twists and loops of the Sun’s magnetic field lines. Image credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

 

The Energy of Solar Flares

The amount of energy released is mind-boggling. Up to 1032 ergs. That is the number 1 followed by 32 zeros.  Equivalent to billions of hydrogen bombs simultaneously exploding; however, the flares emit only about 10% of the overall energy of the Sun at any one time. Another way of putting it is that these energy particles can be over a million times greater than the energy that a volcanic eruption can put out.

How Do Solar Flares Develop?

We all know what magnetic fields are and they exist in the sun also, but sometimes these fields get tangled up, like when the wires behind your computer get mixed together. Only on the sun, energy is dispersed when the entanglement gets to be just too much and a burst of fire erupts in order to dissolve this entanglement.

Solar flares can be broken down into three segments.

      • Precursor stage. This is where it begins. Huge amounts of magnetic energy are generated.
      • Impulsive stage. The acceleration of protons and electrons into gigantic energy distributions.
      • Decay stage. The release of the energy, then the flares’ began their decomposition, which can last from about three seconds to 60 seconds.

      These rapid bursts of energy reside on the sun’s outer layer, called the corona and they occur roughly every eleven years. They are difficult to see in a telescope, (of course sun filters are necessary), but with the proper instruments, they can be easily recorded.

Conclusion

Solar flares are one of the natural phenomena that occur in outer space, specifically among stars and our sun is no exception. We need not fear though as these energy bursts do not affect us here on earth with the possible exception of radio transmissions being interrupted. But as the sun matures, it will change to a red giant and then a white dwarf, but that won’t happen for another five billion years or so, so if you are planning a vacation or going to a game, feel free. You’ll be fine. 

 

Howard Fensterman Minerals