Space is Faster than Light (Blog 1)

One facet of the universe that always left a bad taste in my mouth was the ostensible “speed limit” set by the speed of light (around 300,000 km/s). If the Universe is so vast, why is there a limit set by something that, for all we know, is not what makes up the Universe? I was happy to discover that sometimes, space itself, or the boundaries of our universe, can move faster than light. Right after the big bang, during the Inflationary period, the expansion of the universe itself was moving faster than the speed of light. This caused the universe to be able to spread out evenly and flatly, which is why the Universe looks the same in all directions (isotropy). This gives me hope for the idea of human spaceflight achieving a velocity over light-speed, and our exploration of the universe to be exponentially more successful.

inflation
via National Taiwan University

 

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Axial Precession and its Affects on Astrology

Earth_precession
Earth’s Rotation and Axial Precession. Source: Wikipedia.

As the modern individual is likely well aware, the earth rotates in two very fundamental ways which affect our daily lives: it rotates every day and orbits the sun every year, forming these important means by which we keep track of time. However, one of the most interesting and confusing ways that the earth rotates in space is in its precession. Precession is caused by tilt of the earth’s axis. Since the earth’s axis does not sit straight up and down but at a tilt of between 22 and 24 degrees, the gravitational pull of the sun and moon in particular causes earth to wobble like a spinning top. The wobble causes the orientation of the earth’s axis in space to change. While we may not notice this change because it takes place over a period of about 26,000 years and it does not affect our calendar, if one could observe the stars across the millennia, they would will see the difference.

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Precessional Cross. Nick Fiorenza

This means that traditions which involve the observation of starts, astrology chief among them, will be aware of this change. This is the reason why, in the Western tradition of astrology, called tropical astrology, one’s sun sign does not actually correlate with the constellation in which the sun appeared at the time of birth. For example, I was born in early February, thus according to tropical astrology, I am an Aquarian; however, at the time of my birth in the late 20th century, the sun was actually in Capricorn, not Aquarius. Other forms of astrology, such as Vedic sidereal astrology of India, takes precession into account, so in that tradition, I would be a Capricornian. On the one hand, sidereal astrology will always match the position of the sun in the constellations, but individuals born in early February (midwinter) in 1000 AD would be Aquarians while those born in in early February in 2000 AD would be Capricornians; on the other hand, tropical astrology will always keep those born in early February as Aquarians, whether in 1000 AD or 10000 AD, but the sun will actually appear in the constellation Aquarius only about 1/12 of the precessional cycle.

 

People often ask which astrology is more accurate, tropical or sidereal. In the modern age of science, there is much weight placed on empirical, scientific accuracy, so tropical (Western) astrology is often accused of being inaccurate (because of precession) and sidereal tolerated as at least in line with astronomy. This is an oversimplification. The truth is that tropical astrology’s zodiac is more focused on the seasons in which one was born as well as the time of birth relative to the solstices and equinoxes and is less focused on the stars themselves. Since the seasons, solstices, and equinoxes are based entirely on astronomy, both of these traditions are as astronomically valid as the other. It should also be noted that the main differences affect the zodiac and have little to do astrology focused on planetary aspects, their transits, or houses. Thus, those who work primarily off of these elements will not be as affected by axial precession, since they are more based on the positions of the earth, sun, moon, and planets relative to each other and do not as heavily involve the sun’s position relative to the stars. In the end then, precession alters the zodiac and draws the lines on separation between tropical and sidereal astrology, with tropical focused on the consistency of the seasons and sidereal focused on the where the sun appears in the constellations. The more weight you place on the zodiac, the more difference there is, but if you focus on aspects, houses, and transits, things don’t change so much.

Zodiacs
Zodiac Differences: Tropical (Green), Sidereal (Blue) Astronomical (Red). Nick Fiorenza
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Taylor’s Intro Post (Blog 0)

Hey y’all, just making an introductory blog post for my site. Attached is a picture of the New York City. I am originally from New York, and plan to live there for my adult life. I do not only have a nostalgic or geographic attachment to the city, however. NYC represents efficiency, innovation, and nocturnality, three of my most favored traits, all within an ingeniously designed small space.

new york
via US News and World
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Time Travel

Interstellar Time Travel
An image form the movie Interstellar where time travel is unintentional, and in fact a problem.

Time travel has always been intriguing to me. Right now, the only way it seems possible is through relativity. That is, when we go fast enough (at a speed approaching the speed of light), time around us actually slows down. This would mean that we could travel into the future, but with that method, there is no way of getting back. In addition, to approach a speed that would be close to that of light is extremely difficult with the current state of technology. In the movie Interstellar, the concept of time travel is actually a huge nuisance. When the main character, Matthew McConaughey, gets pulled into the gravitational pull of a planet going extremely quickly, he spends a mere hour there, but when he returns to his ship, he finds that decades have passed. This attribute of going so quickly is inescapable due to relativity. It would be interesting to see if scientists find some way to actually go backwards in time. Right now, time travel seems really cool, but would it be worth it if you could never get back?

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What’s Your Sign?

Ok… I’ll admit when I was younger I was really into astrology. It was a fascination fed partly by my mom, who kept around a copy of “The Secret Language of Birthdays” and would consult it regularly, nodding in solemn agreement with the book’s judgement of character. I had a horoscope app on my first iPod touch, and before that, I relished checking my monthly horoscope in Seventeen Magazine. That being said, it was all in good fun. I like the idea of having some sort of prediction, but I don’t actually believe that being born in the month of December has made me any more strong-willed or fiery than I would have been otherwise.

 

So, if your sign doesn’t predict your personality or how your day will go, is there even anything to your horoscope? Turns out, there is. Most people think the 12 astrological signs were chosen either randomly or based on popular Greek myths at the time. Surprisingly, there is an actual scientific reason for the signs being chosen. Because we rotate around the sun, the sun appears to stay relatively stationary in our sky (rising/setting aside) in comparison to the stars that are further away, which appear to move as we rotate around the Sun. Because of this phenomenon, the Sun appears to pass through different constellations during different times of the year, and surprise- your astrological sign is the constellation the sun was passing through on your birthday!

 

However, it doesn’t end there. Something called “precession” comes into play over long periods of time in our Earth’s revolution around our Sun. This is a phenomenon caused by the somewhat wonky shape of Earth, as we oh-so-slightly bulge out at the equator. This gravitational imbalance actually causes the axis to rotate in a circle, tracing out a full circumference every 26,000 years.

precession
Earth’s Precessional Rotation (source: ancient-wisdom.com)

 

Being that the zodiac signs were chosen nearly 2,000 years ago, precession has made a noticeable change in the signs. Imagine my surprise to find that my December 11th birthday now has the sun in a constellation called Ophiuchus, which isn’t even technically considered an astrological sign! Oh well, even with all this in mind, it’s still all in good fun to flip through a magazine to check your horoscope, even if it doesn’t quite account for modern science and the precession of the Earth’s axis.

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The Universe in Dots

Let’s say the average human has a lifespan of 80 years. To make it a little easier on our calculations, we’ll bump it up to 100 years. Let’s represent that as a dot.

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The species Homo Sapiens has been around for roughly 200,000 years. If the human lifespan is shown as a single dot, the age of mankind would be 2,000 dots.

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Dinosaurs walked the Earth until 65 million years ago, when they were quite rudely wiped out by a giant flying rock and the catastrophic environmental disasters that ensued. Things didn’t start settling back down for another few million years, and we enter the Eocene era about 50 million years ago. That’s 500,000 dots.

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If I were to keep going with the age of the universe, you’d quickly run out of bandwidth. So let’s take a break here and scale down our dot size. One red dot = 500,000 black dots.

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The age of Earth itself is dated to approximately 4.5 billion years old. That means that of Earth’s lifetime, humans have only been around for about 0.004% of that time. If we were to use the dot representation, we would have to use 45 million / 500,000 = 90 red dots.

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The age of the universe is estimated to be about 13.82 billion years. 13.82 billion / 500,000 is roughly 140 red dots.

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Remember, each red dot is a really, really big block of black dots.

It’s easy to forget just how mind-blowingly large a “billion” really is. Pictured above, those 140 red dots don’t seem like very much, but once you realize that each of those red dots represents one of these…

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…you start realizing just how much meaning is packed into the phrase, “13.82 billion”.

The Cosmic Calendar is a long calendar, and the human lifespan is just a blink of an eye when you compare it to the lifetime of the universe. But I think it’s also important to remember that we are an incredible species. Thousands of years ago, humans never would have dreamed of flying across the big blue sky. A few decades ago, humans never would have dreamed of traveling to the moon. Right now, we can’t even dream about floating amongst the stars. But maybe, one day we will.

As Carl Sagan said,

“We are a way, for the cosmos, to know itself.”

Thanks for reading,

Emily

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Blog 01: Megamasers

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has recently captured an awe-inspiring picture of a distant “exotic” galaxy, UGC-6093. It is an active, barred galaxy–this means the center, featuring a bar across the illuminated center, hosts an active galactic nucleus. In this center region, matter is sucked into a supermassive black hole, thereby emitting the intense radiation that causes it to shine brightly.

image_5586e-UGC-6093
UGC-6093 as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Four filters were used to capture various wavelengths to create the picture above.

What truly makes this galaxy “exotic”, however, is its classification as a megamaser; it essentially acts as a giant astronomical laser that shoots out light at microwave (and therefore, not visible) wavelengths. As estimated by NASA, UGC-6093 may be about 100 million times brighter then masers in the Milky Way galaxy–a rather impressive scale. Megamasers occur when some components of a galaxy (such as gas cloud) are stimulated to the right physical conditions to emit intense radiation.

The galaxy lies in the constellation Leo at a distance of approximately 500 million light-years from Earth. UGC-6093 is a recently discovered (January 2018) spiral galaxy.

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The Incredible Scale of the Universe

There’s really no other way to phrase it: the universe is enormous. With our current level of technology, it might as well be an infinite space, but there is a limit to our universe. Our best guess as to the size of the universe right now is that the universe is around 93 billion light years across. However, since the universe has only existed for around 14-15 billion years, we can only see out to a distance of 14-15 billion light years away from earth. This means that the light from a vast majority of the universe hasn’t had enough time to reach earth yet!

To put those numbers in perspective, the sun is about 8 light minutes away from earth. This means that the observable universe (not even the entirety of the universe) is about 919,800,000,000,000 times bigger than the distance between the earth and the sun. The closest star to Earth- Proxima Centauri- is about 4.45 light years away, so the observable universe is only about 3,111,111,111 times bigger than the distance to our nearest cosmic neighbor. The list of comparisons you can make goes on and on, but suffice it to say the universe is absolutely enormous!

Moon-pixel
A fun graphic highlighting the immense scale of just our solar system Here
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Anaxagoras

Anaxagoras
The First to Correctly Explain Eclipses. Look at that flow!

Known most for bringing philosophy to Athens before the era of Socrates, Anaxagoras is recognized as the first person in history to correctly explain eclipses. He claimed that material variation was caused by relative preponderance over other ingredients, explaining how change could occur in the pre-Socratic era. Before him, there stands no record of anybody teaching that when a celestial body gets in between the earth and either the sun or the moon, an eclipse occurs.

Anaxagoras gave a complete account of the universe.  He believed that rotation within the cosmos could produce other worlds like the one in which we live. During a solar eclipse, the orbital paths of the earth and moon align such that the moon casts a large and moving shadow across the Earth. And during a lunar eclipse, it is the Earth which casts a shadow covering the entire moon, which appears to change colors briefly.

Despite being the first to correctly discover the scientific explanation behind eclipses, he is not as widely known as the many later legends of the copernican revolution

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Every Once in A “Purple” Moon

At the end of this month, on January 31st, we will be oh so lucky enough to witness several lunar events happening at the same time. The first, a full moon, is occurring as a result of the Earth being directly between the Sun and the moon. Full moons don’t usually occur often in a month, so when they do, our second event occurs and that is called a blue moon. This is where that phrase, “every once in a blue moon” comes from, because this doesn’t happen very often. Not only will it be a blue moon, but the moon will be up to 14 percent larger, and 30 percent brighter than usual because the full moon will coincide with the moon’s perigee, which is the point in the moon’s orbit where it is the closest to Earth. Lastly, but not least, is one of the rarest celestial events of all, there will also be a lunar eclipse occurring as well. A lunar eclipse can only happen when the sun, moon, and Earth are perfectly aligned; Earth’s shadow ultimately block’s the sun’s light and then bounces that light off the moon thus turning it a reddish color. According to NASA, this color also depends on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere, effecting the light that gets reflected.

Personally, I cannot imagine in earlier time periods when people witnessed this event but didn’t know the cause. I would’ve thought fire was about to rain down, and the end of the world was about to come as we knew it, that dinosaurs were suddenly about to appear. But this is exactly the type of thoughts that come to people’s minds when they hear about events like this, instead of curiosity. People get scared, and articles about conspiracy theories begin to pop up online completely taking away the fascinating sparkle that these events have. “APOCALYPSE WARNING. BEWARE.” Yes, humans have a tendency to be overdramatic when it comes to things we know nothing about. This is nothing new though. There are theories that the moon is flat, that we didn’t actually land on the moon, that the moon is actually a projection. But those theories, are for a later discussion. I wonder, why do people fear what they don’t know, instead of just making a point to find out about it?

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