Solar System

Big Stars, Bigger Nothing

Space is truly awe inspiring - and amazingly empty.  It's often hard for us to conceptualize both the immense size of planets, stars, and other bodies with the incredible amount of space between them.

To show the immense size,  introduced me to a fantastic YouTube video compared planet and star sizes. The video does a great job of showing relative size - once you think you're at the largest size possible, another body comes along and knocks it out of the park!



All of those wonderfully huge (and woefully undersized) bodies are faaaaaaaaaaaaaar part.  Check out this interactive scrolling game from Josh Worth (props to Steve Greenwood for linking me to this).  If you can scroll the entire way, I commend you.


This background knowledge helps to fully appreciate the Pluto news as covered by the latest This Week in NASA video - check it out!

After a nearly decade-long journey, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto on July 14 - passing by at a mere 7,750 miles above the surface ... resulting in an absolutely breathtaking image - the closest ever of Pluto. Initial congratulations included a Twitter post from the White House ...

Spaaaaace: Voyager Leaves the Solar System

Image from NASA. Not the best impression to send to another species

Licking, eating, and drinking. This is one of the images inside of Voyager 1, a spacecraft launched by NASA in 1977. NASA has received confirmation that Voyager has reached the edge of the solar system, becoming the first man made object to do so.

Voyager's primary missions of analyzing the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn occurred in the early 80s. In the 90s, Voyager pointed itself back towards earth and captured the now famous Pale Blue Dot photo, showing our planet in all of us nothingness amongst the vastness of space. How many electronic devices do have that still work after all of that time? Who knows what Voyager will accomplish next?

Voyager is well prepared for anything interesting that it may bump into. Wonder how we will communicate? By using science that any space fearing civilization would need to know. For example, the plaque adorning the spacecraft can be translated in the following way:

The key to translating the plaque lies in understanding the breakdown of the most common element in the universe - hydrogen. This element is illustrated in the left-hand corner of the plaque in schematic form showing the hyperfine transition of neutral atomic hydrogen. Anyone from a scientifically educated civilization having enough knowledge of hydrogen would be able to translate the message

All of the other information, including greetings in multiple languages and scenes from Earth, is encoded on 12-inch gold-plated copper discs. As described, "each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per second. "

If we launched a probe now, would it contain a giant iPod? And would that iPod travel so far that it becomes reprogrammed by another species and eventually becomes self aware? That's exactly what happened with the Voyager spacecraft in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Check out the film clip below of Captain Kirk making the discovery: