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Category Archives: Features

No, the Solar System (Still) Isn’t a Vortex

Animation of a “vortex” Solar System. (Credit: DjSadhu)

Like a bad penny (or a grossly inaccurate science meme) this tends to rear its shiny animated head online at least a couple of times a year, and it seems this year will be no exception. It’s a GIF showing the motions of the Sun and planets through space, trailing glowing lines (which they don’t but that’s just an illustration) in order to “prove” that the Solar System is really a vortex and vortices are cosmically significant and life is magic and ehrmagerd your mind should = blown. Or something like that.

Except, other than being a pretty animation, it’s simply not the case. The creator, DjSadhu, is much more metaphysicist than astrophysicist (really he’s a music and video producer) and ultimately what he was supporting is a reconstruction of the heliocentric model and an alternate path of the Sun around the galaxy itself, which is simply just wrong. Luckily an astrophysicist and an astronomer—Rhys Taylor and Phil Plait, respectively—were more than willing to offer their professional opinions on the matter when this all first appeared, the former writing a blog post in response to the latter’s. I was able to convince Rhys to let me share his post on Universe Today, and it offers a lot of entertaining insight as to why that little animation is not only misleading but the herald of a slew of inaccuracies.

Read the full debunking on Universe Today: Is the Solar System Really a Vortex?

Note: A year after the original article(s) were published Rhys shared another in which he commends Sadhu for openly communicating about the physics involved and actually creating a more accurate version of the animation—and without the unscientific woo. You can (and I suggest you do) read that post here. Unfortunately on the internet nothing ever really goes away, so the first GIF inevitably shows up every now and then. Remember all this the next time it does.

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Voyager 1’s Famous Long-Distance Valentine

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

If you’re in love with space then you’ll fall head over heels for this: it’s a picture of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto back in 1990—on Valentine’s Day, no less. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, which reminds us that we are all just riding on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Space Geek Gift Alert: The Year in Space 2017 Calendar!

If The Year in Space calendar were any more densely packed with information it would become a black hole. And try hanging one of those on your wall.

If The Year in Space calendar were any more densely packed with information it would become a black hole. (Don’t try hanging one of those on your wall!)

What brings you an entire sidereal year of awesome space facts and pictures, each and every day? That’s right: The Year in Space calendar! And it makes a super great gift for the space fan in your life (especially if it’s yourself.) Find out how to order below.

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NASA Sets Sail to Study Ocean and Climate

The research vessel Atlantis departing its port at Woods Hole, MA on May 11, 2016. © Jason Major

The research vessel Atlantis departing its port at Woods Hole, MA on May 11, 2016. © Jason Major

NASA has launched on another mission of exploration, except this time it wasn’t on a rocket ship from Cape Canaveral but rather on a research ship from Cape Cod.

NASA’s North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study—aka NAAMES—is a five-year-long investigation to resolve key processes controlling ocean system function, their influences on atmospheric aerosols and clouds and their implications for climate. The second month-long NAAMES cruise aboard the R/V Atlantis set sail from the ship’s harbor in Woods Hole, Massachusetts a little after 3:00 p.m. EDT on May 11, 2016, headed for target sites in the North Atlantic off the coast of Greenland and Nova Scotia.

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Pale Blue Dot: Our Valentine from Voyager 1

If you’re in love with space exploration then you’ll fall for this: a picture of Earth (and five other planets) taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto in 1990, 26 years ago today. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, and reminds us that we are all just floating on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever will NEVER happen.)

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space.

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

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Scientists Prove It’s Still Einstein’s Universe and We’re All Just Living In It

Ripples in space-time from merging black holes have been detected for the first time in history (LIGO/Caltech/NSF)

The ripples in space-time from two merging black holes have been detected for the first time in history (Illustration LIGO/Caltech/NSF)

In what has truly turned out to be a momentous occasion in astrophysics, today scientists announced the first-ever direct observation of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, which consists of two enormous detector facilities located in Louisiana and Washington state and an international consortium of thousands of researchers.

First predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915, gravitational waves are the “ripples” in the fabric of space-time created by exceptionally turbulent and powerful cosmic events. Physicists have accepted their existence for decades and in recent years have even observed their effects, but only with the incredible sensitivity of the NSF-funded advanced LIGO instrument has their direct detection been made possible.

“This was truly a scientific moon shot, and we did it. We landed on the moon.”
– David Reitze, Executive Director of LIGO

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