Category Archives: Astromony

The Goldilocks Air – Just Right!

International Space Station looking over the Earth and its atmosphere
International Space Station Looking Over the Earth and its Atmosphere

Solar System Planets

Remember learning about the planets in our solar system in elementary school? Our teacher gave us this verse: “Mary’s Violet Eyes Makes John Stay Up Nights. Period”. Well, as we all know now, the “Period” which represents Pluto is no longer a planet. It was reduced to a dwarf planet and not considered to be large enough to be part of our planetary solar system anymore. So we are left with Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Which Planets in Our Solar System Have an Atmosphere?

All of them except Mercury. It is just too close to the sun to sustain one. But if Mercury is the only planet not to have an atmosphere and thus, not allow life as we know it to thrive, why is there no life on the other planets aside from Earth? 

The Goldilocks Phenomenon 

Scientists call it the Goldilocks Theory. We like to call it something a bit more sophisticated – The Goldilocks Phenomenon, but any way you look at it, we are alive today because the atmosphere above us is the partridge that is just right! 

The Five Atmospheric Layers

If you drew a line from the first layer (the troposphere) to the last layer (the exosphere), it would be approximately 62 miles in length. As we work our way up through the layers, they each get thinner until they (the atmospheric gasses dissipate). 

The line is called the Kármán line and is the accepted standard where scientists say the atmosphere meets space, but it is not a strict designation, as it is hard to say exactly where the gasses dissipate completely into outer space. There are so many factors to consider, temperature being one of the main disparities since this component may differ within different parts of the earth.

With this in mind, let us define the five layers: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere.

Graphic of the 5 atmospheric layersThe Troposphere

Ever realize that when you go into an airplane, it gets colder as you go higher? Air is warmer near the ground and gets colder higher up. Nearly all of the water vapor and dust in the atmosphere are in this layer and that is where clouds are found here. It contains about 99% of the water vapor, called condensation within the earth’s entire atmosphere and consequently, this is where all of the weather conditions materialize. So it might not be much of a surprise that the troposphere contains about 80% of the total mass of the entire atmosphere.

The Stratosphere

This is probably the best known layer as we frequently hear about NASA’s spacecrafts  “reaching the Stratosphere”. It is also where most of our jet aircraft fly. This layer extends about 31 miles above the ground, so if the troposphere runs approximately six miles high, the stratosphere picks up at the six/seven-mile marker.  

Another common term we hear a lot is the ozone layer. Well, it’s the stratosphere that contains this sub-layer which acts as a natural atmospheric shield by absorbing harmful radiation from the sun. 

Due to man-made pollution, a gap in the ozone layer developed. It extended 6.3 million square miles at one point, but there are positive signs that this hole is naturally healing itself and is the smallest it has ever been at this time.

The Mesosphere

In one of our recent articles on deep mining, we spoke about temperatures reaching as high as 145° degrees. Now we go to an area you wouldn’t want to venture to either, but this time the temperatures go in the opposite direction; that is, way low to about −225°.  Now that’s cold and is the average temperature in this layer. Ironically though, it is also the layer where meteors burn up when entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Any water in this layer here freezes into ice clouds. They make for some beautiful colored skies. The scientific name for them is noctilucent clouds, also called polar mesospheric clouds (not to be confused with the northern lights, which are different). These mostly blue like clouds are visible at sunset from each of the earth’s poles.

The Thermosphere 

This layer extends between 310 and 620 miles and temperatures can get up to 2,700 degrees. The International Space Station orbits here and this is the layer where we do see the northern lights, also called the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis.

The Exosphere

We have reached the final destination. The air is extremely thin here, but unless you are excited with an abundance of hydrogen and helium, just be content to know that the end of the exosphere is where outer space begins.

Conclusion 

What’s your favorite layer? Before you answer, best bet is to take a ride up there. The next flight to the International Space Station is set for October 22, 2020. Register early. We hear that the bookings are filling up fast! 

 

How Planets and Stars Compare

Why is it that you can’t look at the sun for more than 1/2 second? What would happen to you? No doubt you will need a trip to the optometrist or worse, you may go blind!

So, what is it that causes this object that is 93 million miles from Earth so powerful? Simply speaking, the sun is a star and just like any stars they are extremely large in comparison to planets and carry the equivalent to millions of atomic bombs.

Learning how planet sizes compare to each other, then how the different stars compare to each other in our galaxy is a worthwhile journey and one that fascinates many. Once you read this blog, you may find it inconceivable to try to comprehend the size of our universe. In one word – Mind-boggling.

Comparing Our Planets to Each Other

Planets are a mere spec in our galaxy.  In the first illustration below, we compare the eight planets in our solar system. From the left, we have Saturn and Jupiter. Middle, we have Uranus and Neptune. Front row are Mercury, Venus, Mars and Earth. Note how Jupiter can engulf Earth by about 50 times.

In our next image, we move closer inward and look at the inner solar system. There is an error in this image below. Can you find it?

Pluto does not belong here for two reasons. (1) It is not part of the inner solar system and (2) it is not considered a planet anymore.

Comparing the Sun to the Planets

This image shows the planets compared to our sun. The Earth here is now hardly visible. Even Jupiter is the size of a pea compared to the sun. If the sun was a basketball, then Jupiter would be a pea.

Think the sun is big! Think again. The image below compares the sun to the star giant Arcturus, which is 37.5 light years from Earth and is larger than the entire orbit of Mercury. Read more about Arcturus here. Another basketball to pea scenario.

Comparing Other Stars to Each Other

If these sizes don’t fascinate you, take a look at the next illustration, showing Arcturus paired with the star giants Betelgeuse and Antares. Forget about trying to see any of our planets here, as the sun is a mere pixel on the screen. That would equate to a grain of sand against a basketball (Antares). See our summary below.

We hope these comparisons give you a better appreciation and respect for the galaxy and the universe.

Summary:

We started with a comparison of Earth to the four inner planets in the solar system. Earth appears the largest. Then Earth and the inner four planets are compared to the outer planets and Earth now appears as a pea to a basketball (Jupiter).

Next, all the planets in our solar system are compared to our Sun, a medium-sized star in the Milky Way galaxy. Continuing to use the pea as our example as Earth and the basketball as Jupiter, the sun would be the size of a 10 story building. Putting a pea and a basketball next to this building, well you can start to appreciate the immense sizes of the objects in space, but we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

The image below is an estimated comparison between planet Mars’s orbit superimposed on the giant star Antares. Notice how Antares engulfs its orbit with room to spare. Earth would not be visible here, nor would Jupiter.

One could only imagine the immense gravitational pull this star would have on any objects coming close to it. Future black hole?

Well, we don’t stop here. The largest known star is UY Scuti, located in the constellation Scutum, it is 1700 times larger than the Sun.

With stars this big, one can only imagine the great gravitational pull they will have on other objects in its neighborhood, and in so doing, we can begin to understand how black holes can be formed.

View this  video of planetary and star comparisons, as well as the video creator’s view about intelligent life in the universe.

There is also a fascinating website called Scale of the Universe which will help you look at the ‘big picture’, pun intended.

March 2015 – R131 in the Large Magellanic Cloud was recently found to be the largest star to date.

What is Gravity?

Girl Jumping
Photo by Zachary DeBottis from Pexels

It’s invisible. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it, but if you fall off a tree you will definitely feel its presence. It is gravity. One of the mysteries of the universe that keeps us together, literally.

Explanation

Simply put, gravity is an entity that draws objects inward and when this happens, interesting things occur. All planets’ moons rotate around their planet due to the its gravitational pull. Planets rotate around their stars, because of the stars’ gravitational pull, and stars rotate around their galaxy’s black hole, which has a mind boggling gravitational force within it.

How Gravity is Formed

Nebulas contain random masses of gas and dust. When this gas and dust start combining, gravity begins to build, which then attracts more matter to combine with the building of gas and dust. Subsequently, the mass can become so big that planets can be formed and the forming mass gets larger, stars will be created. And onward it goes, (over billions of years), eventually entire solar systems are created, all due to the mysterious force of gravity.

Our moon has gravity as well, but since it is much smaller than Earth, it only has a minimal effect on our planet. The oceans feel the moon’s gravitational pull, which is why we see tides moving in and out.

The Moon’s Influence of Title Waves on Earth

In summary, the more massive the object is the more mass it has and the stronger its gravitational pull will be, so gravity is proportional to mass. In addition, the closer an object is to another object, the stronger its gravitational pull will be on that object as well.

What is Gravity? Explained in more detail below.

Black Holes – The Mystery of Outer Space

Photo by Yayimages

Ever wonder what a black hole is? If I told you that you would be stretched like a rubber band if you came near it, would have I captured your interest?

From planets that orbit around the Sun to galaxies that are bounded by a special force (gravity), the universe is full of surprises and one such surprise is the black hole. These entities have such a high gravitational pull that not even light can escape, which is quite fascinating and mind-boggling in itself. 

The existence of black holes was first predicted by Albert Einstein, but the term was coined many years later. Though considered a theoretical object, the first physical black hole was discovered in 1971, but the first-ever image of a black hole was released only this year, which has opened up a new area of study on these magnificent entities. Researchers and astronomers now know what a black hole looks like. But for us, it is important to understand what it is.

First-ever image of a black hole. 53 million light-years from here in the M87 galaxy. Scientists used the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which are scores of telescope arrays located in different parts of the world and synchronized to focus on the object on the same day and at the same time.

What Exactly is a Black Hole?

Before we begin, we need to identify two entities. One is matter. The other is gravity. We all know what gravity is, so let’s focus on matter, which is nothing more than an object that is made up of atoms. From the tiniest microorganisms to the largest stars, all objects are made up of matter.

The next factor to note is that all matter has gravity, which is proportional to its size, the larger the object is, the more gravity it will have (we are talking about objects that exist in space, not on Earth).

One example is our planet Earth, which weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds (or 5,974,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms or 5.972 × 10^24 kg ). Yes, that’s a lot but when referring to the size of the universe, it is analogous to a grain of sand on a beach. Its weight (or amount of matter it contains) is sufficient to have enough gravitational pull to hold the moon in its orbit and revolve around it.   

On a grander scale is our Sun, whose gravitational pull keeps the Earth and the other seven planets to revolve around it. If the Sun had no gravity, the Earth (and every other body in our solar system) would be endlessly floating through the universe. 

When stars die, they collapse within each other. When our Sun dies, which is expected to happen in about 4.5 billion years, it would collapse into itself, because gravity would be pulling all its mass towards its center. The remains would be a piece of matter about the size of Earth, called a white dwarf.

Since the Sun doesn’t have a sufficient amount of matter/gravity to collapse into itself any further, it will remain as a white dwarf. Another way of describing a white drawf is that its mass may be equal to that of the Sun, but its volume is comparable to that of Earth. This type of event is very common and consists of about 97% of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

But What About Larger Stars?

Just think of a star that is massive enough to have such a strong amount gravity that all its matter gets pulled in to the point that it is so much smaller than the Earth size we mentioned before. As a general reference, let’s say about 18 miles in diameter.

In other words, it is packed so greatly that even though the result is a smaller object, it becomes more dense, because all that matter is condensed within a smaller volume. When this happens, it is called a supernova and results in what astronomers call a neutron star.

You Still Didn’t Explain How a Black Hole is Formed?

Those stars previously mentioned do not have sufficient mass to collapse to the point that it produces a black hole. Now, for stars that are that big, 

A black hole is an area in outer space with an exceptionally high gravitational pull. So far, we have predicted the force exerted by the black hole. But it is so strong that even light cannot escape if it goes close to a black hole. 

Scientists, however, have understood the reason for such a high gravitational pull. It is because matter has been crammed into a very tiny place. When very huge stars die, they form black holes that continue to absorb all the mass in the surrounding vicinity. Scientists also believe that at times, a single hole can merge with other nearby black holes. It is also hypothesized that the center of any galaxy in outer space is actually a huge black hole. 

Since since light cannot escape, we cannot see black holes. They are invisible, but their presence can be felt. NASA has managed to develop special space telescopes which can help locate black holes. These special telescopes can also observe how stars close to black holes behave differently compared to other stars. 

Black holes can vary in size. A small black hole can be as small as a single atom, but it can have a mass equivalent to a mountain. So regardless of the size, what makes black holes unique is the mass of matter which is squeezed into it. 

Types of Black Holes

Astronomers and researchers have categorized black holes into four types.

Supermassive Black Holes 

Artist Conception of a Supermassive Black Hole
Artist Conception of a Supermassive Black Hole (Wikipedia)

The first type of black holes is also the largest. This type of black hole has an immeasurable amount of mass. Scientists believe that supermassive black holes are present at the center of galaxies in space. This type of black hole is also found in our solar system and is located at Sagittarius A*. 

Intermediate Mass Black Holes

So far, this is a hypothetical type of black hole. The mass in these black holes can range from 100 to 10 hundred thousand solar masses. There is no proof of the existence of this type of black holes. However, there is indirect evidence of the existence of such black holes due to the behavior of certain stars. 

Stellar Black Holes 

This type of black hole is formed when giant stars collapse. The mass of such black holes range from 5 to 100 solar masses. This can be observed as a hypernova explosion or a burst of gamma-ray. This type of black holes is also called collapsars. 

Mini Black Holes 

This is the last type of black hole. As the name suggests, they are small black holes with less than 5 solar masses. Mini black holes were introduced by Stephen Hawkings in 1971.

Major Black holes Near Our Galaxy 

So far, researchers have spotted three major black holes near our galaxy. 

A0620-00

Scientists believe that A0620-00 is a stellar black hole, which is approximately three thousand lightyears away from the Earth. This system of a collapsing binary star belongs to the Monoceros constellation. It comprises of an unidentified quantity of solar mass and a star. 

Cygnus X-1

Found in the constellation of Cygnus, this black hole was discovered in 1964. This is one of the few black holes which are widely accepted by scientists around the world. It is estimated that this black hole has 15 solar masses, and is about 5 million years old. Scientists also believe that it comes from a star that was originally more than 40 solar masses. 

V404 Cygni

V404 Cygni is also categorized as a stellar black hole equivalent to 12 solar masses. It also has a star. The star and the black hole orbit within a close range. Because of the proximity of the star to the black hole and the intense gravitational pull, this star continues to lose mass to the black hole. 

Beyond Black Holes

There is nothing more mystifying in outer space than black holes. So far, we only know that as we get closer to the edge of the black hole, nothing returns. The gravitational pull is so high that it attracts even the tiniest particles of light. However, we also know that the force is different from suction. So just like something falls on the ground due to gravity, it moves into the black hole due to the same pull. 

It is believed that pressure and temperature inside the black holes can be so extreme that it does not support any form of organic life as we know it. Considering life forms that are not organic, we can definitely not comment on that now. No one knows for sure what lies inside the black holes. On one end, there is a galaxy, but what lies on the other side still remains a mystery.