Throughout the semester, I learned about things I had never thought of including the moons of others planets, tiny microbes living in extreme conditions, and astronomical objects here on Earth. Each of these topics and more helped me grasp the scope of the universe and the solar system we live in. There are so many things happening in the universe right now that amaze me still and I am excited to see what I can learn more about in the future.
Perhaps my next step in my astronomy career is looking outside our solar system and seeing how the stars and different galaxies work. Learning about these things could teach us so much about our own solar system and how it functions. Whether solar systems like ours are common or rare, or if life can develop in different ways puts our own lives into perspective and get a greater sense of the universe and its nuances. Overall, astro2110 has been a great learning experience and a stepping stone for my astronomy knowledge.
One of the biggest questions in the universe is whether or not we are alone. The Fermi Paradox seeks to answer this question and try to make sense of our place amongst the cosmos.
The basis of the paradox is if a civilization had the right rocket technology and the will, they could colonize the galaxy in 10 million years. In the scope of the universe, this is a very short amount of time to colonize a whole galaxy. A study was done from the Kepler Space Telescope that found that one in five sun-like stars have an Earth like planet orbiting them. So, why havent they come here?
There are several “explanations” as to why we haven’t made contact with aliens based off of this statement. The first is because the technology to have feasible space travel does not exist, so colonizing of different planets couldnt happen in the first place. The second is that aliens never had the drive to colonize. Maybe they have the technology, but Earth isnt worth colonizing for some reason. Another explanation is that the intelligent life advanced recently and they just havent come yet. We could be the first advanced life form in the universe and none have developed anywhere else. Lastly, we could have already been visited, maybe when the Earth was still developing, so the aliens overlooked us. (Source) Either way, contact with aliens still has not been done, but we also need to answer the question of whether we want them to come or not?
Bill Nye gives his take on the subject and comes up with a possible solution to this paradox:
Halley’s Comet is one of the most famous comets known to humanity. While there’s no real reason for its popularity, it’s still an interesting space object to be observed. It was first observed in 239 B.C. in China and notably found by Edmond Halley who examined three sightings in 1531,1607, and 1682. He stated that these sightings were all the same comet and that it would come again in 1758. ( Source)
The comets orbit is highly elliptical with an eccentricity of .967 and a period of 75 years. At the perihelion, or closest distance to the sun, its distance is .6 AU which is between the orbits of Mercury and Venus. The aphelion, or farthest distance from the sun, is 35 AU, around the orbit of Pluto. Halley’s orbit it also in retrograde, so it orbits the opposite direction that the Earth is spinning. This orbit suggests that the comet was originally a long-period comet which originated in the Oort Cloud. The gravity of the giant planets acted on the comet which guided it into the inner solar system. (Source)
Titan is one of the biggest moons in the solar system, and is the most similar object to Earth. The icy world is second in size to Jupiter’s Ganymede and is larger than the planet Mercury.
Titan is very unique in that it is the only moon to have a dense atmosphere. Like Earth, the atmosphere is made up of mostly nitrogen, except this moon also has methane. Standing rivers, lakes, and seas can be found on Titan; the only other place this is found is on Earth. There is also an earthlike cycle of liquid evaporating to clouds and raining back down to the bodies of water. Lastly, Titan has a very similar tilt as the Earth which results in seasons, but because of Saturn’s long revolution around the sun, seasons last about 7 Earth years.
Astronomers think that Titan formed early in the formation of the solar system. Titans nitrogen isotope ratio is similar to comets in the Oort Cloud, and was formed in the same nebula that the Sun was formed in. Titan is also thought to have 5 primary layers of rock, a shell of water ice, salty liquid water, an outer crust of water ice, and a final layer of organic molecules of sand and water. Source
The Aurora Borealis is one of the most beautiful phenomena in the world, but how does it actually come to be?
It all starts with the Sun. As the Sun rotates on its axis, magnetic field lines are twisted and jumbled around which cause sun spots, or regions on the suns surface of cooler temperature created by magnetic flux. These sun spots spew out plasma and solar winds creating the aurora that we see; the stronger the solar winds, the more intense the aurora is. Particles coming from the sun are drawn to the North and South poles because of their magnetization. As the particles come in, they interact with the different gases in the Earths atmosphere to create different light. Oxygen collides with the particles at lower altitudes, creating a green light. Higher altitudes produce red light which takes more energy as the air is less dense. Source
These lights have been studied for millennia, even dating back to the French Lascaux cave which show paintings of the event. Galileo was the one who named them, taking Aurora from the Goddess of the Dawn and Boreas, a Greek word meaning wind of the north. The lights can be seen in Canada and other northern countries like Sweden and Norway. When the flares are stronger they can be seen in northern England and even as far south as New England, which was recorded to be see in the 1700s. Source
Archeoastronomy is the study of how ancient civilizations understood astronomy. It examines past people’s cultures, religions, and lore and observes how it affected their art and architecture. There are many examples of this throughout history and through archeoastronomy, we can learn about the development of astronomical thought around the world. (Source)
Archeoastronomy was developed through the Stonehenge in the 1960s where scientists discovered that it was used to predict the suns and moons eclipses. (Source) Other examples or archeoastronomy include the pyramids of Giza and the Lascaux Cave in France. Theories about the pyramids include the alignment of the stars in the Big Dipper to show where north is and astronomical carvings on the pyramids. The caves in France indicate early star charts and are illuminated by the sunset on the winter solstice. (Source). All of these examples show how astronomy was studied thousands of years ago.
Galileo Galilei was born February 15th, 1564 and died on November 15th, 1630. He was an Italian astronomer and made great strides in his field.
Galileo made great strides in astronomy, one of them being the creation of his telescope. This telescope was the best of its time, measuring up to 30x magnification. Galileo also discovered Jupiter’s largest moons after seeing how they revolved around the planet night after night. Furthermore, he studied Venus and its phases which eventually gave further proof that we live in a heliocentric solar system. Source
A historical event that happened in Galileo’s lifetime was the passage of the ship The Mayflower in 1620. This ship was the first ship to transport the English Puritans to the New World. Source Also, in 1576, the Globe Theater was built. This was the first built playhouse in England where many famous Shakespearian plays were performed. Source
Shakespeare was an important historical figure in Galileo’s lifetime. He was baptized on April 26th, 1564 and died on April 23rd 1616. Shakespeare was a famous playwright whose works include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. Source
From this reflection, I realized
that my timing of history was very off. I always thought that Galileo was alive
well before Shakespeare, not them living at the same time. Also, most of the
astronomers lived a lot longer than I would have guessed. Most made it to their
70s which is very surprising for people who lived 400 years ago.
The actual size of the universe is basically immeasurable as it is constantly expanding. But even if we could measure it, our human brains wouldn’t actually be able to understand howbig it really is. Our solar system is roughly 122 AU, an AU being the distance between the Earth and the sun. This is 11,000,000,000 miles. Still, even the solar system is too big to grasp.
The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is about 238,900 miles. This seems better to work with, but as you see from the picture above, you can fit all of the planets in the solar system into this distance. The chart below states each of the planets average diameters.
Measurements from Google.
Even the closest thing in the universe to us is an unbelievable distance away. If you add up all of these diameters you get 236,130.6 miles, so even with all the planets there, you still have room for Pluto!