It’s August and one of the most highly-anticipated astronomical events of the 21st century is nearly upon us: the August 21 solar eclipse, which will be visible as a total eclipse literally across the entire United States…but that doesn’t mean everywhere in the United States. Totality will pass across the U.S. in a narrow band about 60 miles wide starting along the northern coast of Oregon at 10:18 a.m. local time (PDT) and ending along the coast of South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. But that’s just totality—the full eclipse event will actually begin much earlier than that and end later, and its visibility won’t be limited to only that path. And while it’ll be happening overhead in the daytime sky you’ll need the right equipment to view it safely, whether you’re in totality or not.
Wait, you say, what’s the difference between totality and…not totality? And how is it caused? And why is this a big deal at all? If you’re wondering those things (and perhaps others) then this post is just for you. Below are answers to some common—and certainly not dumb—questions about the solar eclipse, brought to you by yours truly (with a little help from NASA and other eclipse specialists.)
Those white areas aren’t clouds; they’re aurorae—”northern lights”—around the poles of Uranus, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012 and 2014. (The image of Uranus itself was acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in January 1986.)
“The auroras on Jupiter and Saturn are well-studied, but not much is known about the auroras of the giant ice planet Uranus. In 2011, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope became the first Earth-based telescope to snap an image of the auroras on Uranus. In 2012 and 2014 a team led by an astronomer from Paris Observatory took a second look at the auroras using the ultraviolet capabilities of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) installed on Hubble.”
Aurorae on Uranus are driven by the same process that creates them around Earth’s polar regions: charged particles from the Sun get caught in the planet’s magnetic field and are focused toward the poles, where they make ions in the upper atmosphere release energy—in these observations in ultraviolet wavelengths. Also, since Uranus orbits the Sun “tilted sideways” its polar regions are near the plane of its orbit.
Read the rest of this article from NASA here: Hubble Spots Auroras on Uranus
On April 3, 2017, as Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. At a distance of 415 million miles (668 million km) from Earth, Jupiter offered spectacular views of its colorful, roiling atmosphere, the legendary Great Red Spot, and its smaller companion at farther southern latitudes dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” Taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the image resolves details in Jupiter’s atmosphere as small as about 80 miles (129 km) across.
Read the full article on NASA’s Hubble site here, and check out a version I made with enhanced contrast and sharpness to bring out some details in Jupiter’s clouds below:
Astronomers still have yet to directly capture an image of a black hole—they’re working on it—but they know where some of the largest ones are: inside the hearts of galaxies, where they power brilliant and powerful quasars whose light can be seen across the Universe. Some of these supermassive black holes (SMBs) can contain the mass of millions if not billions of Sun-sized stars and, when two galaxies happen to collide (which they often do) their respective resident SMBs can end up locked in an orbital embrace. As their spinning dance grows tighter and tighter they send out gravitational waves, rippling the very fabric of space and time itself (the LIGO experiment announced the first detection of these waves in 2016.) But if the gravitational waves are uneven, say because the two merging SMBs are of vastly different masses and/or individually spinning in different orientations (a possible but not common scenario) then the super-duper-supermassive black hole that results from the merger can end up getting one serious cosmic-scale kick after the event occurs and the waves shut off—perhaps a strong enough kick to send it hurtling out of the galaxy altogether.
That’s what astronomers think we’re witnessing here in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope.
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.