In the light of recent events, we are using this week’s post to focus on the ABC of astronomy.
It’s my belief that astronomy is for all of us. Science should trigger curiosity and start conversations that challenge our imagination and make us think big. Science communication should make us curious on the world around us more so than explain detailed technicalities of complex topics.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the things we find in astronomy.
The Letters Of The Universe
A for Asteroid – An asteroid is a small rock that orbits the Sun. Most of the solar system’s asteroids are found in the Asteroid Belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. It takes an asteroid up to 200 years to make one orbit around the Sun.
B for Betelgeuse – This is probably the most famous high-mass star we know. At least it is heavily observed as it can blow up in a magnificent supernova explosion any day now. It’s found only 650 light-years from Earth, but luckily we are in safe distance to observe the show when it goes off.
C for Constellation – Many of us can identify constellations on the night sky. Stars that appear to be close to each other that make up shapes of men, animals, vehicles and much more. Stars in one constellation can in fact be very far apart along our line of sight, so their proximity is often an illusion.
D for Dust – The universe is full of dust. Without dust we wouldn’t even be here. Dust make up the cocoons that nurture star formation. Dust is opaque to optical telescopes but if we observe infrared light we can see through dust clouds such as Barnard 68.
F for Frequency – Everything we know about space we know from the electromagnetic radiation that was emitted from the object and afterwards spend years and years traveling into our telescopes. Each of these tiny light particles is a wave and the length of the wave determines the frequency. Each frequency carries special knowledge with it, so in some abstract way frequencies are the letters the universe writes with.
G for Gravity – Anything with mass has gravity. When we pull out the long equations we even see that gravity is simply the curvature of space-time caused by an object. Imagine space-time to be a trampoline and the object to be a bowling ball on it, then gravity would simply be the curvature of the trampoline.
H for Hubble Expansion – The universe is expanding. Every day it grows a bit bigger, and we can see this when we observe distant galaxies that radiate light. The way the universe expands was discovered by Edwin Hubble around 100 years ago.
I for Interstellar Medium – We sometimes call this the ISM. The ISM is all the gas and dust that flows around in between the stars.
J for Jupiter – The biggest planet in the solar system. Jupiter is spectacular in size and function. It has a famous red spot that can fit three earths and around it floats asteroids that are caught in Lagrange points L4 and L6. These are the stable gravity points in front of and behind Jupiter.
K for Kuiper Belt – This belt of icy rocks is found just outside Neptune, the furthest planet in the solar system. The most famous Kuiper belt object is the dwarf-planet Pluto.
L for Laniakea – The beautiful name Laniakea is used for the galaxy supercluster that hosts our own galaxy, the Milky Way, along side 100,000 other galaxies. Each galaxy contains billions of stars, and each star probably has a planet around it. Oh my.
M for Moon – Our own moon is the Earth’s companion year in and year out. The moon is believed to have been formed some million years after a young Earth was born. It is believed to be the result of an impact that happened when the small planet, Theia, hit our newborn Earth.
N for Neutron Star – When a massive star dies it either shrinks to a black hole or a neutron star after blasting away much of its mass in a gigantic supernova explosion. A table spoon of neutron star weighs around a billion cars and some of them spin a thousand times per second.
O for Oort Cloud – While still speculative, the Oort cloud is believed to exist far far beyond our solar system. It’s too faint to observe but the presence of comets with very long orbital periods hints that it might hide at a distance of 1,000 AU.
P for Planet – A planet is a round object, not too small, that orbits a star. Some are rocky, some are gaseous. But so far, we only know of one that has life on it.
Q for Quasar – In the center of some galaxies we find black holes that are so big that their mass corresponds to millions and billions of Suns. They are extremely luminous and emit not only visible light but also radio waves. So far, more than a million has been identified and the closest is found 600 million light-years away.
R for Radio Wave – Radio waves are the longest waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are very useful as they are the whispering voices of sealed dust clouds and the loud screams of quasars.
S for Solar System – Our solar system has eight planets. Four of them are rocky, four of them are gaseous.
T for Telescope – The magnificent JWST and your own backyard telescope share the purpose of collecting light from distant stars and turning it into beauty for our eyes to see. Telescopes come in all sizes and price ranges, and my best advice for you that are looking to shop: Get one that you will actually use rather than one that is overly complicated.
U for Uranus – This planet is perhaps the most laughed at planet in our solar system because of its funny name, but this is not the only hit that our beloved planet has endured. The almost 90 degree tilt of the rotation axis indicates that something heavy once knocked the planet out of its course. Poor Uranus.
V for Virgo – Virgo is a large constellation that can be observed from the Northern hemisphere in spring time. It contains the bright star Spica that is often used to locate the entire image.
W for Worm Hole – Worm holes are the shapes believed to be found in places where space-time has a curvature so large that it connects to another part of space-time. Imagine bending a trampoline so that two points, that are otherwise far apart, suddenly touch.
XYZ for XYZ – Without coordinate systems astronomy would be nothing but a loud yelling competition among people with creative imaginations. Coordinate systems allow us to reference objects, events, time periods and everything else that we either observe or build in theory. Without coordinate systems we would truly be lost.
If you liked this post, then be sure to check out my new ABC poster.