Category Archives: Astromony

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. 

 

The Power of the Sun!

Photo of the Sun by NASA
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

How Powerful is the Sun?

Ah, the Sun. We stay warm under it, tan in it and it gives life to every living thing on this planet. But it is 93,000,000 miles away. It is so far that if you were flying there at 550 MPH, it would take you 17 years to get there. If the Space Shuttle, traveling at 27,000 MPH would go there, it would reach the sun in about 156 days.

When you look at the sun, you are actually seeing the way it looked about nine minutes ago. In the photo above, we see a large solar flare extending out from the Sun’s surface, but if you looked at the sun right now, you wouldn’t see the flare. You would have to wait another nine minutes before it would appear.

A more dramatic scenario is that if the Sun blew up right now, we wouldn’t know about it until about nine minutes later. Actually, the sun won’t leave us for another four or five billion years, so you have a little time to prepare.

These examples boil down to the fact that it takes the light from the Sun that long to reach us, but even at that distance, don’t let your curiosity get to you by starring at the sun, or you will go blind.

The fact that an object is 93 million miles away and can still cause this kind of permanent damage to us gives you a good idea of how powerful the gas giant is.

How Big is the Sun When Compared to Other Stars?

For a comparison of the size of our Sun relative to other stars in our galaxy, take a look at this video and get ready for a mind-boggle!

Brief Overview of the Sun’s Lifecycle

In about five billion years, the star will have lost all its hydrogen fuel, which is the element that allows the fusion process to proceed. The result is that it will turn into what astronomers call a red giant.

When a star starts turning into a red giant, it begins to expand to an enormous size. So big that its size could engulf virtually all the inner planets in its solar system. For our solar system, that includes Mercury, Venus, and you got it – Earth. 

As mentioned, we won’t see the Sun’s demise for another 4.5 billion years, so when it begins its red giant cycle, you might want to pack some beers and enjoy watching the Sun blow up while sitting on a beach and having your beer before you say goodbye! 

Energy

The energy of this sun is mind-boggling. It produces energy that is the equivalent of one-trillion megaton bombs per second. Yes, you heard right. That’s 67,000 times as powerful as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and this occurs every second! 

So what is it about this medium-sized star that can be the difference between life and death on Earth? Why is it so powerful? What is it made of? 

Let’s Start with Fusion

Fusion is the process of atoms merging into another atom. In the case of our Sun (and most other stars) four hydrogen atoms fuse into one helium atom, which is the result of gravity that causes these atoms to merge together.  

Not all the mass of the four hydrogen atoms is converted into one helium atom, as the total amount of the mass of the four hydrogen atoms does not equal the total mass of the assimilated helium atom, so something must give. And what gives is energy. A lot of it. About four million times more energy than the burning of coal. 

More precisely, only 71% of the total mass of the four atoms is fused with the hydrogen atom. This is the foundation of Einstein’s formula E=MC2. The more mass that is released, the more energy that is created. So for fusion reactions to occur, Briticana.com sums it up pretty clearly: The total mass of the resultant particles is less than the mass of the initial reactants”. Basically, it is saying that mass and energy are different forms of the same thing, so if the mass of an object gives, the result is energy. 

As we mentioned, these fusion reactions occur every second. No wonder we can go blind if we look at the Sun. 

More about how this entire fusion process works can be found here.

The Sun’s Structure

Illustration of he Sun's components
Wikipedia Creative Commons

Imagine a ball of gas that is 865,370 miles in diameter. That’s our Sun. There are no solid materials in this star (or in any star in the universe). Just hot gasses, very hot. 9,900 degrees Fahrenheit hot! 

With that said, the Sun is divided into four layers: the photosphere, chromosphere, corona, and heliosphere. Let’s take a look.

    • Core – The core is where the fusion process occurs. As the hydrogen atoms merge into the helium atoms, energy in the form of light is generated.
    • Radiative Zone – This zone radiates (transfers light and heat).
    • Tachocline – The atoms are radiated through this thin boundary region and then move to the convective zones.
    • Convective Zone – Convection is the process by which less dense material rises. This part of the Sun is much cooler than its inner layers, but the result of this process is where we see the light and feel the heat of the Sun.

There are much brighter stars than the Sun. Some are called “supergiants” or “hypergiants.” These giants can be over 100 times more luminous than our own ball of gas! Now, just imagine how powerful their fusion reactions are! 

Types of Stars

There are many different types of stars in our galaxy. The types of stars are classified by the following criteria:

    • Temperature – Hot stars are blue or white, while cooler stars are orange or red
    • Mass – Massive stars burn out quickly, while less massive ones can last millions of years
    • Spectral Type – Stars can be identified through their colors and temperatures

Conclusion

The Sun is nothing but a huge hot ball of gas, but show some respect for it, because this great gas ball is what keeps us alive. Amazingly, it supplies life to this planet even though it is 93,000,000 miles away.

The center of the Sun is the core, where the temperatures are millions of degrees. The core’s pressure from gravity causes hydrogen to fuse together to form helium, which is the fusion process. 

The Sun doesn’t have an electrical charge, so it doesn’t produce light on its own. The heat of the core makes the gas around it become extremely hot, and this is what makes it glow.

Our Sun is a type of star called a yellow dwarf. There are many different types of stars that are of different sizes and temperatures. 

So there are many different stars in the universe and our Sun is one of them. They are all so powerful that staring at them for more than a second can make you blind. So accept the fact that this star is powerful, but don’t look up to find out!

Phobos and Deimos – An Introduction to the Properties of Mar’s Moons

Planet Mars
Planet Mars. 4h Planet from the Sun. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having craters, volcanoes, valleys, deserts. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

A Brief Explanation of Mars

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. It is commonly known as the Red Planet due to its rusty-colored soil. It is the only rocky planet (rocky planets are those that are not made up of gasses, which includes all the inner planets), and it is the only one of these planets that have more than one moon.

Mars being the next planet to Earth takes about 30 Earth hours to orbit around the sun. We already have landed several rovers on Mars, gaining a lot of information about the red planet and its moons. Six rovers have landed on Mars so far (Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance), and unbeknown to many, there is one from China, which landed on the planet on  May 15th, 2021. 

Mars’ Moons Overview

Renowned astronomer Asaph Hall discovered two moons on Mars in 1877. They are called Phobos and Deimos. These names have been given after the names of the twin sons of Ares, the god of war in Greek mythology. Mars was the Roman counterpart of Ares. 

Phobos and Deimos are different from Earth’s moon and are among the smallest known moons of the solar system. They are more like captured asteroids by the planet’s gravity.

Mras moons as seen from Mars
The relative sizes of Deimos and Phobos as seen from the surface of Mars, compared to the relative size in the sky of the Moon as seen from Earth. Deimos and Phobos photo taken by Mars Rover Curiosity on Aug. 1, 2013. (Wikipedia-NASA Public Domain)

What are Mars’ Moons Made of?

Astromenors believe that Phobos and Deimos are made of carbon-rich rocks mixed with ice. It is also believed that they materialized from asteroids.

Phobos

Phobos, meaning panic or fear, is the larger moon of Mars and orbits very close to the planet, i.e. at 3,728 miles. This makes it the only moon in the Solar System that orbits that close to its planet. Phobos completes its orbit in around seven hours and completes three orbits in one Martian day. In its longest dimension, Phobos is only 17 miles long and has a gravitational pull of only 1/1,000th that of Earth. 

Scientists have discovered that Phobos is gradually moving closer to its home planet, and every 100 years it moves around 5.9 feet closer to Mars’ surface. Additionally, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have found that the gravitational pull of Mars, which is pulling Phobos towards it, has been opening grooves, as wide as 328–656 feet and as long as 33–98 feet, on the moon’s surface.

It is expected that Phobos will either collide with Mars or break up to form a ring around the planet in about 50 million years, so if you are planning on spending time on a Martian colony, plan to leave before the 50 million years are up. That’s just a heads-up! With that said, Phobos, being one of the darkest objects in our solar system and labeled ‘fear’, it would make for a good sci-fi movie!

Neptune’s moon Triton is also said to be in a similar situation, but we’ll discuss this moon at another time.

Deimos

Deimos, meaning terror, is the smallest of Mars’ moons measuring only about 9.3/7.8 miles across. However, it orbits farther away than the Phobos, i.e. at a distance of about 14.577 miles. It takes about 30 Earth hours for Deimos to complete one orbit. Deimos is also less irregular in shape than Phobos.

Both Phobos and Deimos are dark, reddish in color, cratered, lumpy, covered with dust, loose rocks, and elongated in shape rather than round. According to scientists, both of Mars’ moons seem to be captured asteroids or may be made up of carbon-rich rock and ice.

Although scientists have not yet confirmed how these moons were formed, some, like Julien Salmon from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his associate Robin Canup claim that they were formed when a larger object was broken as a result of a collision. Mars’ moons have at least one thing common to the earth’s moon, and that is they both always present the same face to Mars, as does our moon to Earth.

Scientists have been thinking of using one of the moons as the astronauts’ base to observe the planet and to launch robots to the surface of Mars. NASA is continuing its ongoing mission of exploring and eventually landing a person on Mars. 

Additionally, SpaceX is planning on landing people on Mars by 2024. Whether that is realistic or not, the fact remains that in 2022 and beyond, we have a lot to look forward to when it comes to space exploration! 

 

What Are Moon Rocks Made of?

The Man in the Moon or Is It the Earth in the Moon?

What would Dwayne Johnson become if he landed on the moon?
A Moon Rock. OK, a little bit corny but this puts us right where we want to be. A discussion about moon rocks. 

The Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
The Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. Wikipedia/Nasa

We’ve long wanted to know what the moon is made of and Thanks to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldren, and the 10 additional heroes that followed them, we now know not only the material composition of the moon but the history of this satellite which in turn gives us a better idea of how the earth and moon were born.

So What is the Moon Made of?

When scientists investigated the moon’s composition, they found that it is made up of minerals that originally came from the Earth.  This means that the rocks on the moon are just like any other rocks on Earth.

Moon Rock
Goodwill Moon Rock

Above is a Good Will moon rock. Just one of the pieces that were distributed by President Richard Nixon to all the countries of the world. Let’s take a closer look at what elements actually exist on the moon.

    • Iron, which ranges from 5% to 40%. Earth has an abundance of this element as well.
    • Oxygen is another common element found in both lunar and terrestrial rocks. It ranges from 2% to 20%.
    • Silicon is also present in both types of rocks, but it only makes up about 0.2% to 1% of them each.

These elements are separated into different layers in the moon’s crust. The lighter materials, like silicon and aluminum, are near the surface because they are less dense than other elements. Iron is located at a greater depth because it is heavier than any other material on or around the moon.

What Were the Thoughts Before the Moon Landings?

The reason it took so long for us to figure out what the moon is made of is that no one was able to analyze it closely before humans landed on its surface for observation.

What Did Previous Research Say About the Composition of the Moon?

Previously, scientists believed that the moon had some similarities to the Earth’s mantle. They thought that it contained mostly potassium and some iron-nickel, which is common in Earth materials like the crust. But this new research found that the moon is actually made up of rocks like granite and basalt (molten rock).

Additionally, the lunar crust was primarily made up of feldspar minerals. This theory has since been disproved by new research methods that show that these minerals don’t exist in enough quantities to account for all of the moon’s composition.

These theories came from data collected by Apollo missions in 1968 and 1969. This new data comes from an analysis of lunar samples that were gathered by NASA’s Lunar Prospector mission in 1998.

The researchers think that this difference in findings can be explained by how scientists analyzed these samples. The Apollo missions were looking for a type of radiation called K-Ar, which releases a lot of potassium when a rock gets heated to a certain temperature.

To find this radiation, they used a process called “wet chemistry”, which involves putting gases into molten rock until they bubble out. The Lunar Prospector mission used a more precise technique called “multicollector inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry” to measure all sorts of elements to get an idea about it’s composition.

1986 to 1992 Moon Analysis

NASAs Lunar Prospector
Lunar Prospector. Wikipedia-NASA

In 1986, NASA launched the unmanned probe Lunar Prospector. Over its two-year mission it made detailed measurements of the lunar surface. The probe was able to collect data that would help scientists understand more about our Earth’s neighboring planet.

Lunar Prospector had three main objectives:

    • Search for water and other minerals on the lunar surface;
    • Determine whether or not there is water in ice form at or near the lunar poles; and 
    • Investigate if there was any evidence that meteorites from Mars may have come from another location besides Mars.

For two years, this probe collected data and sent information back to Earth, which helped scientists understand what materials make up our moon. However, in 1998, US lawmakers canceled funding for the project due to budget limitations.

At the Beginning

The moon was formed when a planet-sized object hit the Earth, sending fragments into orbit. These fragments eventually assembled to create the moon via gravity.

It took scientists a long time to figure out what materials make up the moon because it’s difficult to analyze such a small and far away object. Scientists found that the minerals on the lunar surface are younger than we previously thought, and they came from Earth itself.

Scientists analyzed samples of lunar rocks and looked at their chemical composition. They found that these rocks were much like those in Earth’s mantle and oceanic crust: they had the same chemical composition as materials found in Earth’s crust and mantle.

In other words, scientists figured out that all of the material for this celestial body came from Earth itself. This answer is surprising because until now people assumed that everything on earth had come from outer space!

Conclusion

There may still be some mysteries about the moon that scientists haven’t yet solved, but when it comes to its composition, there’s not too much left up in the air or vacuum to be more precise. 

We’re always striving to answer our questions about space and with this information, we can now say with certainty what the materials are that make up our nearest neighbor.

Plans are now being made for additional manned trips to the moon along with the building of lunar camps for humans to live in. This is only the beginning. Stay tuned!

Life in Outer Space – A Mathematical Approach

Milky Way Galaxy
Photo by Arnaud Mariat on Unsplash

Is There Really Intelligent Life Out There?

One of our previous articles discussed the minerals of Star Trek, giving rise to the hope that there is extraterrestrial life out there, but the real discussion about ET’s existence is a loaded subject. 

For this article, we are going to focus on what the mathematical formulas tell us. The ones developed by astrophysicists; in other words, what are the odds that there really is intelligent life on other planets?

As difficult as it is to wrap our heads around the sun’s fusion process, which is equivalent to 100 billion atomic bombs per second, we will go one step further and try to understand the immense size of our universe, and subsequently, come up with a formula that scientists have developed to determine ET’s existence.

So What Are the Odds?

It is estimated that there is an average of 1 – 2 billion stars in any recorded galaxy and there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. If 10% of each galaxy contains a solar system, that is, it contains a star with planets revolving around it, then we can estimate that each galaxy has between 100 – 200 million solar systems, with some that may be fairly similar to ours.

Outer Space Ailen
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

If 1% of the stars in each solar system have a planet just distant enough from their sun where life could evolve, called the habitable zone or as some scientists like to call it, the Goldilocks Zone, we could have 1 – 2 million possible planets that could contain life. Going further, if 1% of these planets have the right ‘ingredients’ to build intelligent life, then there is the possibility that there may exist 10,000 stars that could have planets with intelligent life in each galaxy.

Cutting the odds even further, just to be more realistic, let’s take 10% of this result, which would equate to the possibility of 1,000 stars with extraterrestrial life in each galaxy.

That would mean that there could possibly be 1,000 x 100 trillion galaxies = 1,000,000,000,000,000 (1 quadrillion) planets with intelligent life. How many is that? Let’s take a look at this numerical comparison.

If we use the estimate of 200 trillion galaxies in the universe, that would mean ET may live on over 2 quadrillion planets in our universe.

On a separate note, don’t even try to comprehend how many fusion total reactions occur here every second when you include all of these stars. Fuhgeddaboudit!

What About the Scientific Formulas?

The above calculations were based on a general assumption, considering the amount of these types of objects that have been calculated or physically found in the sky, but have the experts given the possibility of extraterrestrial life serious thought?

American astronomer and astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake developed a formula that he presented at a meeting in Virginia in 1961. It is called the Drake Equation, which calculates the possibilities of life on other worlds within our own Milky Way galaxy.

Drake Equation
Nasa Photo

We won’t go into the calculations, but in a general sense, it is based on our assumptions above but uses trigonometry to formulate a much more explicit and precise determination of ET’s existence. For you science and math connoisseurs, feel free to give it a shot below!

The terms are as follows:

N : The number of planets in the galaxy where electromagnetic emissions are detectable
R: The rate of stars that have the ability to have exoplanets with habitable zones revolve around them
fp : The fraction of those stars that actually have solar systems
ne : The number of planets in each solar system within the Goldilocks Zone
f: The number of planets on where life may actually exist
fi : The number of planets where intelligent life may exist
fc : The number of planets that have civilizations with a technology where we can detect their signals
L : The length of time that these civilizations have produced these signals

If these calculations result in any number above zero, just maybe Men in Black had it right!