Category Archives: solar system

Spacetime!

Spacetime will suck up all your time...and space!

Spacetime will suck up all your time...and space!

Charae and Bryce take us on a trip into spacetime, with a song about everything they’ve learned from Astrofacts, to the tune of Rihanna’s Disturbia.

Listen here [2:50m]:

Download here [2.7 Mb]: ftp://space.mit.edu/pub/ajb/radiopio/astrofacts_090730_spacetime.mp3

What’s the Facts:

Charae & Bryce have put together a song that’s rich in astrofacts. Let’s break down the lyrics to see what they will encounter on their trip into spacetime.

Lyrics:

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Plut-
Whao! Hold up. Not Pluto.
What?!? Not Pluto?
Yeah, Not Pluto.
I’m goin’ crazy now

Here’s our planets of the Solar System, up to Pluto, which has been “reclassified” as a dwarf planet.  Pluto might be feeling a bit down about it, and plenty of people are not happy either!  By the way, Neptune comes after Uranus, our mistake!

To the moon in this ship,
We’re gonna get it started,
Fuel tanks filled to the rim,
Discover the uncharted,
Breaking through atmospheres,
It’s not for the fainthearted,
We’re gonna go into space, yeah

Want to go into space?  Be prepared for an explosive ride!  You only need enough force to overcome Earth’s gravitational pull to go toward space – which you can do briefly by jumping!  But to sustain the upward trajectory requires lots of fuel and thrust.  The rockets that carry the Space Shuttle have a combined thrust of 13 million Newtons – 20,000 times the force you exert when jumping – to lift the 4.5 million pounds (2 million kg) that hold 7 lucky astronauts!

It’s real hot on the Sun,
Forgot my sunscreen,

It’s definitely hot on the Sun – 9,800 degrees Farenheit! That’s so hot that everything is essentially evaporized on the surface, and atoms are even stripped of their electrons to form a 4th state of matter called plasma.

The day’s long here on Mars,
I need some caffeine,

A day on Mars take 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds – about 3% longer than that of Earth.  So it’ a little longer, but you’ll adjust.

2.9 times 10 to the 13
Miles a minute, I’m carsick.

That’s a pretty big number, and  one would hazard to guess that it’s the speed of light.  However, the speed of light is only about 11 million miles per minute.  290,000,000,000,000 miles is about 5 light-years, a little further than the nearest star to the Sun, Alpha Centauri.  If you could do that in a minute, you would certainly be carsick!

We’re in great heights,
In one of Saturn’s rings, yeah
You ain’t go bling like mine,
Meteors made for kings,
We watch the stars shine,
From Polaris to Betelgeuse,
The universe is mine.

Some of the most beautiful things in our Universe! Saturn’s rings are definite bling, comprised of small particles of water ice and dust that are extremely reflective – that’s why Saturn it so bright despite being further from the Sun than JupiterMeteors are of course another dazzling night sky event, while Polaris (the North Star, in the constellation Ursa Minor, or Little Bear) and Betelgeuse (in Orion’s armpit!) are two of the brightest stars in the sky.

We’re all in Space-time,
Two words in one continuum,
Space-time,
1, 2, 3, 4 Dimensions,
Your mind’s in Space-time
Beyond comprehension,
Space-time, Space-time.

Space-time is that idea of three-dimensional space (length, width and height) combined with one-dimensional time as the “framework” of the Universe.  You probably already think this way, as in “I need to get to the third floor of the building on the corner of Main and 1st Avenue at 3pm”.  These dimensions appear to be completely separate in our slow, small-scale world, but when you travel close to the speed of light, or near a massive object like a black hole, Einstein’s theory of general relativity tells us that the continuum of space and time can get mixed up, resulting in some bizarre effects!

There’s a guy in the sky,
His names Orion,
Not a man, he’s made of stars,
Emitting carbon.

This refers to the massive giant star Betelgeuse in Orion, which is currently losing mass and size as it sheds its outer atmospheric layers.  It will eventually supernova, releasing many elements such as carbon into space.  It is all part of the cycle of life in the Universe, as the elements shed from stars like Betelgeuse when they die make their way to form other stars, planets and even people!

Acid rain falls,
It burns my eyeballs.
Venus lighting strobe light.

Remember our weather report from Venus?  Acid rain doesn’t quite make it the surface of the planet, but there are plenty of lightning strikes that might make the surface of Venus feel like a disco!

Lots of holes out in space,
They try to grab you,
They can creep up behind you and consume you,
Not even light can escape,
Nothing can breakthrough,
Spa-ghe-tti-fi-ca-tion.

Black holes are the massive remnants of stars that are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape being swallowed up. If you’re not careful you’ll get pulled into it and never come out again.  And on the way in you’ll get stretched out long and slender, like spaghetti. That’s called spaghettification!

We’re in great heights,
In on of Saturn’s rings, yeah
You ain’t go bling like mine,
Meteors made for kings,
We watch the stars shine,
From Polaris to Betelgeuse,
The universe is mine.

We’re all in Space-time,
Two words in one continuum,
Space-time,
1, 2, 3, 4 Dimensions,
Your mind’s in Space-time,
Beyond comprehension,
Space-time, Space-time.

Lyrics by Charae and Bryce

So you think you can orbit?

Pluto & Charon do the perpendicular binary hip-hop

Pluto & Charon do the perpendicular binary hip-hop

Pluto and Charon dance it off in the intergalactic smash hit “So you think you can orbit?”  Can their perpendicular orbit help them win it all?

Listen here [2:02m]:

Download here [1.9 Mb]: ftp://space.mit.edu/pub/ajb/radiopio/astrofacts_090813_soyouthinkyoucanorbit.mp3

What’s the facts:

Pluto, the second-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System (after Eris), and its largest moon, Charon, are sometimes treated as a binary system, because the center of their orbit does not lie within either body (Charon is about half as big and 1/7th as massive as Pluto).   Indeed, before its re-classification, Pluto and Charon were the closest thing to a double planet known.  The orbit of Pluto and Charon is also special in that it is nearly perpendicular to the plane of their mutual orbit around the Sun, like a record rolling on its side (Uranus and its moons are tilted over in a similar way).  As such, the Pluto-Charon orbit can be seen either face-on – like a clock – or edge-on – like a thrown frisbee – during its 248-year trek around the Sun. Between 1985 and 1990 the orbit was aligned edge-on so that the two bodies repeatedly passed in front of each other, or eclipsed.  These eclipses allowed astronomers to measure both the sizes of Pluto and Charon as well as make a rough map of Pluto’s surface features.  Finally, Pluto and Charon are the only planet-moon pair whose orbit and rotations are mutual synchronized; that is, they both face the same face to each other all the time. This makes Pluto and Charon excellent partners as the dance their way through space!

Original air date 13 August 2009.

Intergalactic Weather Channel: Dive into Europa!

Icy harbor for life?

Icy harbor for life?

Intergalactic Weather Channel’s cub reporter Timmy Cratchit reports from both the cold icy surface of Europa and its (relatively) warm subterranean sea.  Look out for that crevasse Timmy!

Listen here [3:00m]:

Download here [2.8 Mb]: ftp://space.mit.edu/pub/ajb/radiopio/astrofacts_090804_iwc-europa.mp3

What’s the facts:

Europa is Jupiter’s 4th largest moon and the smallest of the Galilean satellites (discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610), all of which are visible with the aid of a small telescope or binoculars.  One of the smoothest and shiniest objects in the Solar System (it reflects 64% of the light striking it), Europa has a surface that is made up mostly of water ice and is essentially free of craters, indicating that it is continually refreshed.    It even has a thin atmosphere of oxygen, formed from sputtering of ice from its surface.  But the most intriguing part of Europa may be underground, where a deep ocean is believed to exist, heated internally by gravitational tidal forces from Jupiter (the Moon induces similar forces on Earth that give rise to ocean tides).  Water breaking through Europa’s surface may explain its overall smoothness and some low-lying features, including “chaos” regions such as Conamara Chaos.   Liquid water may be one of the ingredients necessary for life, mitigating the chemical reactions that spawned life on Earth – the only planet with surface water known.  Hence, the presence of water in Europa implies life may exist there, perhaps in the form of extremophiles that don’t need sunlight to derive energy.  Hopefully Timmy has found a nice extremophile to play with!

Original air date 4 August 2009.

House of the Sun: Haleakala

Science City on the summit of Haleakala.

Science City on the summit of Haleakala.

Charae Tongg talks about the conflict stirring at the top of Haleakala over the construction of a new telescope, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. What happens when culture collides with science?

Listen here [2:45m]:

What’s the facts:

The final plans for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, or ATST,  are in.  The ATST will be used to study the Sun and to help predict and prepare for solar-activity related disasters. Once the builders of the ATST (headed up by the National Solar Observatory and 22 collaborating institutions) have an Environmental Impact Statement completed, astronomers will prepare to build their brand new telescope on the beautiful summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui.  While progress toward building ATST is on its way,  it isn’t, by any means, a smooth process.

When locals on Maui got wind of the plans, many were deeply offended. For centuries the mountaintop has been seen as sacred to the Ali’i or Hawaiian chief royalty, and it is believed today to be an ancient burial ground for the Ali’i and their families. Astronomers argue that studying the Sun is the most appropriate scientific activity to conduct on the top of Haleakala, whose name means “House of the Sun,” and that such research would honor ancient Hawaiian beliefs.

Those who oppose the project have formed a group called Kila Kila o Haleakala or “majestic is the house of the sun.” Some locals are willing to compromise, suggesting that the telescope be constructed differently (possibly with fewer stories, or of a different color), but engineers argue that current building plans are necessary for a telescope of such ability.

What are your thoughts?

Original air date 9 June 2009.

Cosmocoustics: What does the Solar Wind sound like?

Visual display courtesy the Solar Wind

Visual display courtesy the Solar Wind

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes to us the haunting sound of the Solar wind. This recording was made by a Toronto sound studio, taking radio frequency data of the plasma waves coming from the Sun and transposing it to the frequencies we can hear with our ears.

Listen here [10:54m]:

You can hear other recordings of the solar wind directly from NASA and similar eerie recordings of Saturn’s radio emission as measured by the Cassini spacecraft.

Original air date 14 July 2009.

Pluto’s Answering Machine

The first step to acceptance is surprise, the second denial, the third depression, and soon to come, anger.

Pluto has experienced denial, then anger, then bargaining, now depression. Hopefully soon will come acceptance.

Recently Pluto‘s been feeling a little blue due to his demotion to a dwarf planet. His buddy Eris is there to show him the brighter side.

Listen here [0:39m]:

What’s the facts:

Pluto was discovered in 1930 (accidentally) by Clyde W. Tombaugh in Arizona during a sky survey at the Lowell Observatory. It is composed primarily of rock and ice and is significantly smaller than the other 8 planets: approximately a fifth the mass of the Earth’s Moon and a third its volume. It is much smaller than any of the official planets and has been recently classified as a “dwarf planet“. This happened largely due to the resent discovery of a larger dwarf planet named Eris, by Dr. Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology. Eris opened the possibility that there may be many bodies of similar size. Scientists decided voted to consider the planets’ differences in size, orbit, and location as a criteria for a new classification, with objects like Pluto and Eris belonging to a special category of Kuiper Belt objects referred to as dwarf planets (but there is clearly debate on that decision, see comment below!). Click here to learn more about Pluto’s new classification.

Original air date 23 June 2009.

Intergalactic Weather Channel: It’s Electric on Venus

It's not a party unless Venus is there!

It's not a party unless Venus is there!

Intergalactic Weather Channel’s Trisha Takanawa and Dwayne Lamark report on the raging thunder storm on Venus. Do you hear club music?

Listen here [2:30m]:

What’s the facts:

Venus is covered with an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, and has the densest atmosphere of all the planets. Because the surface is so hot, none of Venus’ acid rain ever reaches the surface. It evaporates first! It’s very humid and there are no fluctuations in temperature and winds. American, Russian and European probes have all recorded tremendous lightening storms on the planet’s surface. One Russian probe recorded over 25 lightening flashes per second when it descended! Click here to see you weekly Venus weather report.

Original air date 7 July 2009.