Forget About Dog Years — What About Planetary Years?

Pluto discovered 1930 still not completed one full orbit

A planetary year is defined as the time it takes for that planet to make one complete orbit around the sun. Neptune was discovered on September 23, 1846. In terms of planetary years, it turned one year old on July 12, 2011, when it completed its first full orbit since its discovery. Continue reading

Was Tycho a Psycho? Weird Facts About One of History’s Greatest Astronomers

Tycho Brahe fun facts death nose drunk moose elk

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was one of the greatest astronomers to ever live. He was also probably at least a little bit off his gourd, if history is to judge. The Danish astronomer who brought a new level of exactitude to astronomical observations and applied that specificity to the theories and observations of Copernicus and Ptolemy, guaranteed his place in history as one of the last “naked eye” astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations. Perhaps his genius as a man of science has helped him be remembered for something other than the following quirks: Continue reading

Feeling Old? Tell People Your Age in Galactic Years

A galactic year (also known as a cosmic year) is the amount of time it takes for our solar system to orbit the center of the Milky Way. Traveling at 514,000 mph relative to the galaxy’s center, that works out to between 225 million and 250 million years in one orbit.

To put it in perspective, the Big Bang is estimated to have occurred 61 galactic years ago. Life on earth began 15 galactic years ago. Man appeared 0.001 galactic years ago.

In just 2-3 galactic years in the future, the moon will be so far away from earth that total eclipses will no longer be possible. In 22 galactic years the Milky Way and Andromeda begin to collide. A scant 3 galactic years after that, the sun will eject a planetary nebula, leaving behind a white dwarf.

Presumably the day after that, income tax rates will finally begin to drop.

“State of the Art” From a 21st Century Vantage Point

The Apollo Guidance Computer
The Apollo Guidance Computer

The super-sophisticated, miracle machine of the 20th century was the guidance computer for the Apollo rockets. This technological marvel made it possible for manned flight to and from the moon.

Developed by MIT in the 1960’s, it was one of the first integrated-circuit devices. It had a clock speed of 2.048 MHz — about one one-thousandth the speed of an iPad. The memory available for storing functions for guidance, navigation and control of the lunar spacecraft was only 2k.  That’s maybe just enough space to store a Word document in which you wrote “2k.” The read-only storage capacity was slightly larger at 32k.

Since every ounce of weight necessitated additional fuel, the computer had to be light and compact. It weighed in at 70 pounds (compared to the roughly one-pound iPad).

Despite its limitations in comparison to 21st century technology, the Apollo guidance computer was more than sufficient to make history by allowing mankind to break free to terrestrial barriers for the first time.

Just imagine the snickers people in 2159 will be making about the “primitive” technology we use in 2014!


Singular Facts About Singularities

The regions around supermassive black holes shine brightly in X-rays. Some of this radiation comes from a surrounding disk, and most comes from the corona, pictured here as the white light at the base of a jet. This is one possible configuration for a corona -- its actual shape is unclear.
The regions around supermassive black holes shine brightly in X-rays. Some of this radiation comes from a surrounding disk, and most comes from the corona, pictured here as the white light at the base of a jet. This is one possible configuration for a corona — its actual shape is unclear.

Black holes — also known as “singularities” — can be big or small. Scientists think the smallest black holes are as small as just one atom. These black holes are very tiny but have the mass of a large mountain. Mass is the amount of matter, or “stuff,” in an object.

Another kind of black hole is called “stellar.” Its mass can be up to 20 times more than the mass of the sun. There may be many, many stellar mass black holes in Earth’s galaxy. Earth’s galaxy is called the Milky Way.

The largest black holes are called “supermassive.” These black holes have masses that are more than 1 million suns together. Scientists have found proof that every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its center. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy is called Sagittarius A. It has a mass equal to about 4 million suns and would fit inside a very large ball that could hold a few million Earths.

Man in the Moon? Maybe… But Two-Legged Beavers?

New York City newspaper The Sun printed a series of six articles in 1835 about the discovery of civilization on the moon.

The articles claimed that a British astronomer named John Herschel had used a powerful new telescope to spot plants, unicorns, bipedal beavers, and winged humans there. The articles even went a step further, claiming that our angelic moon brethren collected fruit, built temples from sapphire, and lived in total harmony. The hoax was debunked immediately. Soon after the first installment ran in The Sun, its competition, the New York Herald, slammed the story under the headline “The Astronomical Hoax Explained.”

The story was too compelling for the public to dismiss so quickly. It created such a buzz that papers around the world rushed to reprint it, while a theater company in New York worked out a dramatic staging. Before long, The Sun was selling pamphlets of the whole series and lithographic prints that depicted life on the moon. It took five years for the story’s writer, Richard Adams Locke, to finally confess to making it all up. As he wrote in the New World, his intention was to satirize “theological and devotional encroachments upon the legitimate province of science.”