Tag Archives: sun

Making Friends with the Night Sky: The New Moon

A glimpse of the moon through the trees, as it phases from new moon to cresent.

A glimpse of the moon through the trees, as it phases from new moon to cresent.

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes the new moon, the start of the lunar cycle.

Listen here [3:26m]:

Download here [8.1 Mb]: ftp://space.mit.edu/pub/ajb/radiopio/astrofacts_090722_mfns-moonnew.mp3

What’s the facts:

“A month is a Moonth, a Moonth is a moon.”  For many traditional calendars – Hawaiian, Chinese, Hebrew, Islamic – this is still true, although our western calendar has been tweaked to fit the months into one year.  The new moon is the start of the lunar month, and the time when the moon lies between the Sun and the Earth (this is called syzygy, a great Scrabble word).  Imagine yourself floating out in space well above the Sun, Moon and Earth, and you will see these three bodies in a row, with the Sun-lit side of the Moon facing away from the Earth.  So where is the new Moon in the sky?  Directly in front the Sun!

Why doesn’t the Moon block, or eclipse, the Sun every time the new moon phase happens?  It’s because the plane of the Moon’s orbit is actually inclined by about 5° relative to the plane of the Earth’s orbit (the ecliptic plane).  So most of the time, the Sun, Moon and Earth are out of alignment during new moon.  However, the Moon’s orbit actually rotates, or precesses, every 27.2 days.  So perfect alignment at new moon occurs about once every 18 years, a period the Babylonians called a Saros cycle (a complete explanation can be found here).  In fact, there are several Saros eclipse cycles because the Sun-Moon-Earth alignment doesn’t have to be perfect, so we get about two eclipses at new moon every year.

New moon is a great time for star-gazing as the Sun and the Moon will have both set in the evening.  So be sure to enjoy the dark skies that accompany the new Moon!

Original air date 22 July 2009.

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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

Making Friends with the Night Sky: The First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes the First Quarter Moon and brings you out into space, so you can see how lunar phases work. So take sometime out of your busy day, take a deep breath, and let Harriet bring you on a journey through the night sky.

Listen here [4:24m]:

What’s the facts:

It is called the First Quarter Moon, because that is what the moon looks like to us here on Earth (1/4 of a big round ball). To us, it seems as though the stars, the planets, and the moon, change throughout time, but really, we are turning, taking a different view of the night sky as we do. Our lunar phases are relative to the Sun (our source of light), and changes as the moon follows its orbit around the Earth, and the Earth spins and follows its orbit around the Sun. It’s pretty complicated once you think about it!

Original air date 22 July 2009.

Making Friends with the Night Sky: What is Night?

The Earth...at night!

The Earth...at night!

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt asks a simple question: what is night?  The answer requires us to view our planet from a completely different perspective. The answer just might surprise you.

Listen here [4:24m]:

What’s the facts:

Night or nighttime is the period of time when the sun is below the horizon. Nights are shorter than days on average, but vary in length as it is based on factors such as season, latitude, longitude and timezone. Night lets our bodies know when to sleep and when animals can go out to hunt, but it’s also important to science. Without the absence of the Sun, we may never have seen the stars in the sky, and astronomy would not be what it is today. So next time you’re taking out the trash and you get spooked when something stirs in the dark, take a minute to look at the sky and appreciate it, and remember that light is right around the corner.

Original air date 30 June 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.

Making Friends with the Night Sky: the Partial Solar Eclipse of 21 July 2009

A partial eclipse of the Sun by the Moon will happen in the early evening of July 21st, 2009

A partial eclipse of the Sun by the Moon will happen in the early evening of July 21st, 2009

Maui astronomer Harriet Witt describes how the upcoming solar eclipse – for which Hawaii has a partial view from 5:00 PM to 6:15 PM on July 21st – can be safely viewed using leaves in a tree as pinhole cameras.  A full eclipse will be seen in India, China, Southern Japan, and the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.  Never look directly at the Sun during an eclipse!

Listen here [4:26m]:

Original air date 14 July 2009.