Science Around Us

Thursdays at 7:42 a.m.

Dr. Todd Young shuttles us into the mysteries of the universe. 

The Motion of Mars

Apr 19, 2018

This coming summer in 2018, Mars will be spectacular in our night sky as it outshines all the stars and planets except Venus. It won’t be quite as bright as it was in 2003, but nearly! In honor of this, the next few discussions will be about various topics connected to Mars.

Today let’s conclude our visualization of the size and scale of space by trying to imagine our place in the Universe. To begin, let’s complete our “cosmic address” by noting that we our located in the Milky Way galaxy which is part of a local cluster of galaxies called, unimaginatively, “The Local Group”. There are about 54 galaxies in the Local Group, which also contains the Andromeda Galaxy, a galaxy that is much like our Milky Way galaxy and can be seen with the naked eye in the constellation of Andromeda.

Let’s continue trying to visualize the size and scale of our universe with a discussion about our Milky Way galaxy.  Galaxies are large collections of stars, on average about 100 billion stars, that come in different shapes and compositions.  There are elliptical galaxies (which have basic shapes of spheres or eggs), spiral and barred spiral galaxies (which have a basic shape of a disc), and peculiar galaxies (which have, as their name suggests, irregular shapes).  The galaxy our Sun is part of is a barred spiral galaxy, which means that as you look down on it from above, it sort of looks

This week, let’s continue discussing the size and scale of things in astronomy.  Our Solar System has one Sun, 8 planets, 5 dwarf planets, hundreds of natural satellites, thousands of comets, and hundreds of thousands of minor planets.  It has a basic shape of disc and the Sun at the center.  For this discussion, we are just going to focus on the Sun and the planets.

Last week we began a discussion about the scale of things by talking about how big the Earth is and our size on the Earth.  Today, let’s talk about the Earth and Moon.  The Moon, our companion in space, has a diameter of about 2,100 miles, which means it is about one-fourth the size of the Earth.  Now while the Moon is smaller than the Earth, that is actually big compared to other moons in the Solar System relative to the planets they orbit.  Most of the moons in the Solar System are only about one-hundredth the size of their planet.  Our Moon is so big that it actually stabilizes the rota

The Scale of Space

Mar 15, 2018

I find that when I talk to people about astronomy and space, one of the hardest concepts to understand is the actual scale of things in our Solar System, galaxy, and universe. But this is not wholly unexpected because just every astronomical picture found in the media is depicted with a scale that is either incorrect or not understandable by the viewer. So let's go ahead and talk about the scale of things. First, let's start with the Earth.

The Equinox

Mar 8, 2018

You may have noticed that it is getting more and more difficult to drive east in the morning and west in the evening. The reason is because we are approaching what is called the spring, or vernal, equinox. This year the vernal equinox is March 20th. On the calendar, this is noted as the first day of spring, but this day is special because of what is going on astronomically. As the Earth orbits the Sun in a near perfect circle, it also rotates. This rotation of the Earth is what provides us with day and night, and the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun is our year.

I have many things that fascinate me (as I hope you do too), and one of them is the study and measurement of time, known as horology.  Previously we’ve discussed the origin of the days of the week and a bit about the history of the calendar, but today I’d like to focus on something we all reference every day – a.m. and p.m.

I give a lot of planetarium shows to kindergartners and at the end of each program, I like to ask them if they have any questions about space and astronomy.  Most questions I receive are usually not questions and more about how they want to be an astronaut, which is fun. But, occasionally, someone asks a really good question.

Recently in the news there was an announcement that astronomers had discovered planets orbiting stars in other galaxies.  This is both expected and amazing at the same time.  Last week we discussed how it was expected because it is part of the star formation process that planets also form around the star.  What is amazing about this discovery is how it was discovered. 

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