It’s Time to Look for Orion, the Mighty Hunter

ImageOrion, the hunter, is one of the most popular constellations in the night sky; so you may have already seen him this winter or in late fall. Throughout the year, no matter the season, when I am in schools with our Discovery Dome portable planetarium someone often asks me to point out Orion. The mighty hunter is also one of the largest and easiest constellations to find. Most people find it by locating the three stars that make up Orion’s “belt” which is an asterism or recognizable group of stars that are part of a constellation. The names of the three stars that make up Orion’s belt are Alnitak, Alnilam and Minatka. One of the brightest stars in the sky is on Orion’s right shoulder. It’s called Betelgeuse.

Orion’s belt is the only group of three stars that are spaced so evenly making them very easy to recognize. Once you have found the belt, the hunter easily pops into view especially when it is right overhead during the cold evenings of winter.

Besides being easy to spot, the constellation Orion is also where you will find one of the most beautiful objects in the night sky, the Orion Nebula. Count down to the third bright object in Orion’s sword and you will find not a star but the Orion Nebula. With binoculars focused on this object, you will find many stars rather than one.

So the next time you look for Orion in the night sky be sure to also take a look at the third object in his sword for the giant cloud of gas and dust that makes up this birthplace or stars and solar systems.

Image

The Orion Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA

 

Why Burning Wrapping Paper Could Be Dangerous: A Post-Christmas Special

burning wrapping paper

One of the best things about Christmas, of course, is finally getting to unwrap those presents under the tree – finally finding out what was in that big box.  “Oh, it’s a smaller box inside a bigger box.  Great, how clever.  I had no idea it was actually socks this whole time.  And here I am excited thinking it was that microwave I needed.  Thanks.”  Yes, opening presents is great fun, but what we’re left with is a big ole pile of wadded up wrapping paper. And once you finally tear that last crumpled up ball from the mouth of your dog (that’s been running around the house with it and shaking it all about) you might feel compelled to just toss it in the fireplace and be done with it.  Well, if you’re like me you’ve heard over and over that you shouldn’t burn your discarded Christmas wrapping paper.  But what’s the deal with that warning and why shouldn’t we just toss that holiday detritus into the fireplace?

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Star Christmas Ornaments

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Here is a fun simple way for children to  make star ornaments for  the ” Christmas Tree”!  You will need the following supplies to get started!

 

Supplies

Pre Cut Star Shapes

Glue

Confetti

Confetti Suggestions: See List Below

Iridescent Metallic Confetti

 Sparkling Snow Confetti

Blue & White Snow Flake Confetti

Newspaper

Ribbon

Hole Punch ( Optional)

 

Directions

Place individual stars on newspaper.

Place a hole in top of star for  ribbon.

Cover pre cut  star shapes with glue.

Sprinkle confetti over glue covered star.

Let star dry.

Once dry hang your stars on your tree!

 

 

The 9 Tallest Mountains In The Solar System

9 Tallest Mountains in the Solar System

Of course, when you think of the tallest mountain ever you’re going to probably think of Mount Everest with its peak of a little over 29,000 feet (5.5 miles).  But when you  look at Mt. Everest in comparison with some of the other mountains in our Solar System it won’t even make the list.  Let’s look at some of the Solar System’s tallest mountains as measured from the base to the peak.

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Simple Temperature Star Cookies For The Holidays!!

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Our night sky may appear to have stars of the same color.  Look closely the next time you view the stars at night. You will notice that some stars are colored.  Colored stars help us to determine the temperature of  a star.   A star can be defined as a natural luminous body visible in the sky especially at night.

Temperature Star Information

Blue White Stars- Hottest

White Stars- Warmer Than Average

Yellow Stars-Average Temperature

Orange Stars-Cooler Than Average

Red Stars-Coolest

This holiday seasons create a little fun in the kitchen with some cool simple “Star  Temperature Cookies”.  Please view directions below!

Supplies

Baked Short Bread or Sugar Cookies

Food Coloring – Red, Yellow, Blue

White Icing

Directions

Place cookies on individual plates.

Mix food coloring with white icing to create the following colors: Red, Yellow, Blue .

Red + White= Red Icing

Yellow + White = Yellow Icing

Blue + White= Blue Icing

Icing cookies to create your simple “Temperature Holiday Star Cookies”!

Eat & Enjoy

Keep Looking Up At The Stars The Holiday Season!

In The Wake of Comet ISON comes Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy

Poor Comet ISON was torn apart as it traveled around the Sun around Thanksgiving this year.  And as we mourn the loss of Comet ISON we can still rejoice in the fact that there is another comet to be seen in our night sky with a pair of binoculars.  Comet Lovejoy, also known as C/2011 R1, was first discovered by amateur astronomer, Terry Lovejoy, and is known as a long-period comet.  This northern-hemisphere object was discovered on September 7 2013 and can currently be seen as it travels from Bootes across the constellations of Corona Borealis and Hercules.

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How many arms does the Milky Way have?

During the last century telescope and image capturing technology grew by leaps and bounds. Astronomers for the first time could peer into the far reaches of space to study the hundreds of billions of galaxies that lie beyond our own. Over the years, astronomers developed a systems of galactic classification that categorized galaxies based on their shape and composition. Edwin Hubble created the original system of classification in the early 1900s, which was later expanded to include various other sub-categories as galactic observations improved. A majority of galaxies fall into the following categories…

Elliptical

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These galaxies are spherical or ellipsoid in shape, with very few visible features. They contain up to one trillion stars, and very little interstellar dust and gas. Research has indicated that stars in elliptical galaxies are often very old, which is why the galaxies themselves glow with a yellowish-white hue. Also there is less star formation occurring in this type of galaxy.

Lenticular

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Lenticular galaxies can be imagined as a mid category between that of the featureless elliptical galaxies and the dramatic spiral galaxies. These galaxies have a defined disk of gas and dust, as well as a glowing bulge at their middle. They do not exhibit spiral arms, but do have large amounts of gas and dust within their disks. This leads to high amounts of star formation within.

Spiral

spiralgalaxy

Spiral galaxies have very distinct shape and structure consisting of a central bulge of bright stars, and bright arms. Spiral galaxies contain large amounts of gas and dust, and stars of varying ages. Recent theories have explained that the arms are shaped by slowly rotating matter density waves that compress the interstellar gas and dust triggering star formation.

So what type of galaxy is our own Milky Way? That has proven to be a tricky question to answer, since we live inside of it, we can’t simply take a picture of it as we do with the countless other galaxies in our universe. You can take pictures of your neighbors’ houses from out your window, but you can’t take a picture of your whole house unless you go outside and walk away to get a view. The Voyager Spacecraft launched in the 1970s are the furthest man-made probes, and they have only recently exited the Solar System; we are not anywhere close to taking a picture like this of our home galaxy any time soon.

There are some simple observations anyone can make to help them classify our Milky Way.

1. The Milky Way appears as a thin strip across our sky, which implies that it is a thin disc, rather than a sphere of stars.

2. The center of the Milky Way is visible in the southern sky each Summer. This shows that our galaxy has a definite bulge at its middle.

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These facts, paired with other astronomical observations have indicated that our Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. However, the question still remains… How many arms does it have?

The interstellar dust in our galaxy blocks our view of faraway stars in the visual wavelengths. Radio telescopes allow astronomers to see through the dust to identify the locations and motions of these stars. Using this information, astronomers extrapolate the shape of our galaxy. Up until recently, data from the Spitzer Space Telescope indicated that there were two distinct spiral arms (where previous theories had suggested four arms). Spitzer was targeting middle-aged cooler stars like our Sun.

A very recent study that targeted supermassive hot young stars painted a different picture: four arms. Due to the large amount of star formation that occurs in the arms of spiral galaxies, these types of stars are found nearly exclusively in the arms. Though these stars live short lives, the high rate of star formation in the arm regions replenishes the populations of them.

Some astronomers theorize that gravitational forces within the Milky Way may have lead to an uneven distribution of the middle-aged and older cooler stars into two of the arms more than the other two, leading the Spitzer data to indicate two arms. Meanwhile the populations of supermassive hot young stars flourish in all four arms.

Truly understanding our home galaxy is a unique challenge that motivates astronomers world wide. Our picture of our galaxy and the universe beyond continues to evolve as we continue to look outward.

The Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid Meteor shower occurs each December, and this year we can expect to see up to 50 meteors each hour. Check out this awesome timelapse that I wish I could say I did, but someone else made it…. This timelapse was taken of the Geminids last year over the Pacific Coast.

Meteor showers are caused when Earth passes through the orbital path of a comet, the debris left behind by the comet falls into Earth’s atmosphere creating many shooting stars. The Geminid shower is different. Scientists have determined that this shower occurs when Earth passes through a debris field of an asteroid. This asteroid is called 3200 Phaethon. Observations show that this object is strange indeed, and sometimes behaves similar to a comet. Its orbit brings it in close to the Sun, and then back out again. Jets of dust and gas have been seen spewing from the asteroid at times. Tiny pieces of dust and rock are left behind by 3200 Phaethon as it travels through space, and these cause the Geminid Meteor Shower. The tiny arrows in the image below point to 3200 Phaethon, this image was created by combining multiple images over the span of 20 minutes to show the asteroid’s movement relative to the background stars.

3200paetheon

Meteor showers are named for constellation that their radiant lies in. The radiant is the point from which the meteors appear to radiate from in the sky. The constellation Gemini will rise above the horizon around 9 PM Central Time tonight (December 13th). It will be nearly overhead around 2 AM. This year the moon will also be visible in the sky, which will make it more difficult to see the fainter meteors.

Gemini

While Baton Rouge forecasts are saying rain throughout this evening, some reports indicate that the sky will clear a bit after midnight. Incidentally this is the best time to go out and find meteors! Meteor watching requires patience and sharp eyes, each year the number of meteors changes. Happy viewing!

Is The Universe Just a Projection?

Is The  Universe a hologram

Since the 1970s, String Theory has been fiddled with and tooled around as a means of unifying all fundamental forces and all forms of matter.  There’s always been a problem bringing together the calculations of how our world operates on a large scale and of what gravity can affect, and the small quantum world of calculations where things begin to get weird and nearly unpredictable when dealing with small particles like atoms and electrons.  The two world’s seem incompatible.  The main problem has always been figuring out how gravity fits in to both worlds.

Well, in 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed a model where the mathematical world of String Theory operated as a hologram and the larger world of the cosmos operated on more of a flatter realm where there is no gravity.

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