The Northern Lights

One of the world’s most fascinating and natural wonders are the Northern Lights. These magical lights come in a variety of dancing colors. This seemingly random light show occurs as a result of interactions of Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere with solar winds. Solar winds released by the Sun’s sunspot regions travel through space until they meet with Earth’s magnetosphere. Usually, the magnetic field is strong enough to block these winds, but near the poles, it is weak enough to be penetrated by the solar winds. The solar winds collide with Earth’s atmosphere and create the beautiful lights that we’ve come to admire.

How Hard is Interstellar Travel?

Traveling to other solar systems seem pretty easy in the movies, but in real life, it could get quite complicated. First of all, the closest star system to us is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.37 light-years away, which is very far from us even if we can travel at the speed of light. But even traveling close to that speed is a problem. The fastest manmade object in history was the Parker Solar Probe that reached speeds of 430,000 miles per hour using the gravity of the sun to accelerate it. That speed is only 0.064% of the speed of light! So maybe we could just use normal rockets to get there? Well, accelerating a spaceship to a tenth of the speed of light would take 4.50×1017 joules, which is about twice the yield of a hydrogen bomb. So reaching a fraction of the speed of light requires a dangerous amount of energy, so it seems like visiting the closest star system is impossible at the moment, let alone other galaxies.

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Halley’s Comet

In 2061, Halley’s Comet will return to pass by Earth in 75-year long round trip across the solar system. But what else do we know about this mysterious visitor?

Studying the reports of comet sightings in 1531, 1607, and 1682, Edmond Halley deduced that these comets were in fact the same one and that it would return in 1758. Though Halley died in 1742, the comet did indeed return in 1758 and was named after its discoverer. When Halley’s comet returned in 1986, technology had finally allowed astronomers to study it. Probes from multiple international space programs were sent take close-up pictures of the comet for the first time. Research has shown that Halley’s comet is slowly losing about a thousandth of its mass with every loop around. Although it will still take thousands of years to finally die out, it is disheartening to see that not all things in the universe are permanent.

History of Constellations

Long before history has been recorded, humans have studied the stars in the night sky. Although we have looked at stars for thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1930 that the 88 constellations were officially named by the International Astronomical Union. 48 of these constellations were named by Ptolemy in his book The Almagest in 150 A.D. The rest of the 40 constellations were given names by various astronomers throughout the years. In modern terms, a constellation is an area or region in the sky. That area has stars within them to identifying the region, but the stars and the patterns they make are referred to as “asterisms.

Nuclear Fusion in the Sun

Nuclear fusion is the process in which the Sun and all other stars generate energy through the combination of light atoms into heavier ones. The nuclear fusion in most stars is carried out in proton-proton fusion. In the first step, two protons fused together to create a proton-neutron core and emitting a neutrino and positron. Then, the core is fused with another proton to form helium-3. Finally, two helium-3 atoms are combined together to create helium-4 with two additional protons. Since the mass of the final product in this process is lower than the mass of its original components, the “missing” mass was converted into energy. The quantity of this energy can be calculated by Einstein’s famous formula: e = mc^2. Because the speed of light is such a massive quantity, even the most tiny of masses converted into energy will yield very large outputs.

Telescopes

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Telescopes have been an essential instrument in the history of astronomy. So much has been learned and will be learned through the use of them. Although, they all have the same general function, telescopes can come in many shapes, sizes, and types. The two main types of telescopes are the refractor and reflecting telescopes. In a refactor telescope, a piece of glass known as the objective lens gathers light and focuses it onto the eyepiece lens, which enlarges the image for our eye to see. Galileo used this type of telescope to see the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus. On the other hand, a reflector telescope has two mirrors rather than the refractor’s two lens. One curved mirror reflects the incoming light from a distant object onto a tiny, flat mirror which in turn reflects the light to the eyepiece. Isaac Newton is credited for inventing the reflecting telescope. Reflecting telescopes are the most popular telescopes used for research purposes.

Historical Astronomers in Context

Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564 – January 8, 1642) made great strides with astronomy with his telescope. He showed that many of the heavenly bodies were not perfect as many had thought them to be. He saw that the moon had craters and valleys in it and that the sun had little imperfections in it as well. His view of Venus’s phases, similar to the Moon phases, was great evidence that the solar system followed a heliocentric model. 

On April 13, 1598, the Edict of Nantes was signed, ending the French Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and Huguenots that had lasted for 36 years. 

On September 6, 1566, Suleyman the Magnificent, leader of the Ottoman Empire for 46 years, died at the Battle of Szigetvár. Despite his death, the Ottoman Empire remained strong.

Sir Francis Drake was born in 1540 and died on January 28, 1596. He was an English sailor known for fighting against the Spanish Armada for England.

It was interesting to see that although we may be focused on the evolution of astronomy, during this same time period, many other important events are happening too. These events in their own right have also shaped and defined why the modern world is the way it is now. With the complexity of the history of the world, its eye-opening to see how so many events have occurred for the world to become the way it is now.

Where the Zodiac Signs Come From

12 Zodiac Signs

What’s your sign? This is a common question you may have encountered in your life. While most people aren’t too deep into astrology, chances are that most of us have looked into our daily horoscope at least once for fun. However, a lot of people don’t really know where these signs come from, or why they exist in the first place. If you are curious, keep reading.

The twelve zodiac signs come from the way the sun moves across the sky throughout the year. As each day passes, the sun will slightly shift its position among the stars. Due to Earth’s orbit, the sun will cycle around the stars in nearly the same pattern every year. The twelve zodiacs get their names from the constellations that the sun appears in front of during the year. Although the sun actually crosses over a thirteenth constellation Ophiuchus, it unfortunately does not a place in astrology.