Category Archives: Astronomy

Free-Fall Spinning Tunnels

Jump into an evacuated hole drilled straight through a uniform, static Earth-like sphere. Accelerate to 7.9 km/s (or 18 000 m.p.h.) at the center, then decelerate back to zero at the antipodes 42 minutes later! Step out of the hole upside down — … Continue reading

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Mars Sky Crane

At the NASA press conference today, chief engineer Adam Steltzner presented three iconic images of the space age: Armstrong’s photo of Aldrin on the lunar surface, Voyager 1’s photo of Saturn and its rings from above the ecliptic, the Hubble … Continue reading

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Nightfall

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a sextuply-eclipsing sextuple star system. I think of “Nightfall”. The six stars of TCY 7037-89-I orbit each other in three binary pairs, as in the schematic. The primaries are slightly larger and … Continue reading

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Losing Betelgeuse

At my computer Tuesday evening, I receive a message from a university physics chat that is both thrilling and chilling: LIGO + Virgo report a “burst” gravitational wave event, possibly due to a core-collapse supernova (or a binary collision where … Continue reading

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Black Hole Radii

I set the alarm for 8:55 AM. Brutal, but I wanted to watch live the National Science Foundation Event Horizon Telescope news conference. I was expecting the first image of a black hole, and the EHT team did not disappoint. … Continue reading

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The Longest Day

The December solstice is the longest day of the year, despite being the northern hemisphere’s shortest daylight. Earth’s sidereal day is the time to rotate 360° with respect to distant stars, about 23 hours and 56 minutes, and its solar day … Continue reading

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Luna’s Convex Orbit

Luna orbits Earth and Earth orbits Sol (where Luna is Earth’s moon and Sol is Earth’s star, the sun). As a kid, I thought Luna’s solar orbit formed a loopy spirograph pattern. Instead, Luna’s orbit is convex! Neglecting the eccentricity … Continue reading

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Saturnday

Ancient cultures everywhere observed seven “wanderers” move against the apparently fixed stars of the night sky: our star the sun, our natural satellite the moon, and the brightest planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. In many languages, these wanderers … Continue reading

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