Hexagon Jet Stream

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Hexagonal jet stream over at Saturn’s North Pole. Source: NASA

If hurricane on Earth doesn’t sound horrendous enough for you, imagine the hurricane on planet Saturn!

Located on 78 degree North, Saturn’s hexagonal hurricane took its place on the ten most fascinating astronomical facts. The sides of the hexagon length about 13,000km each, which is longer than the diameter of our planet Earth! Scary, isn’t it? Imagine a hurricane that huge could sweep away our continents. Cassini is only able to give good resolutions of the hexagon in 2012 because of its orbit and the weather change on Saturn. The sun was said to clear out the haze at Saturn’s North pole due to the season change.

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Color change at Saturn’s North Pole. Source: Wikipedia

One hypothesis proposed at Oxford University is the hexagonal shaped jet stream forms at a very steep latitudinal gradient of the atmospherical wind. Scientist have created similar shape of in the lab when a circular tank is rotated with different peripheral and central speed. The shape is formed due to the tubular flow of rotating fluids at different speed. I think this phenomena is very unique because the hurricane has been going on for more than a decade. Imagine having hurricane that long-lasting on Earth. I think it could wipe out almost all human populations on Earth.

READ MORE – Saturn’s Hexagon

Seven Brave New Worlds

Comparing the TRAPPIST-1 planets
Seven new planets on the TRAPPIST-1 Solar System. Source: NASA

Do you ever feel like one day the Earth is going to be too crowded and we would run out of resources? Is there any other habitable world out there that we could some day create a new life on? Maybe I’ve seen too much fictional movies that I somehow thought it is possible! But the real question is, where do we go to??

February 2017, NASA came out with news that surprised a lot of people. NASA’s telescope called Spitzer has discovered another solar system with seven Earth-sized planets. This has tremendously increase the opportunities of studying the possibility of life on another world. TRAPPIST-1 was named after the famous Belgium Trappist beer that the astronomers used to toast their profound discovery!

Back in 2015, TRAPPIST-1 was known to have only 2 planets. Now however, these new world was said to have 7 planets, with 3 of them orbiting their star in the habitable zone. So, scientists believe that liquid water could exist on its surface. What’s more interesting is that TRAPPIST-1 is just 40 lightyears away from us. TRAPPIST-1 is different from Earth. Its star is a cool dwarf star that is slightly larger than Jupiter yet more massive. Despite the size, the star is able to temperate its 7 terrestrial planets.

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Illustration of possible surface on the TRAPPIST-1f. Source : NASA

The discovery is phenomenal, somehow, there are still some disagreements on the habitability of these planets. Some astronomers says that proposed habitable worlds must simultaneously satisfy other habitable zones concerns rather than just having the right temperature to sustain liquid water on its surface. For example, we hadn’t yet known if planets in TRAPPIST-1 receives the right amount of Ultraviolet Radiation, tidal forces and also magnetic field. Hopefully researches would tell us more about it in the future.

READ MORE – TRAPPIST-1

The Tabby Star

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Image of Tabby Star‘s light blocked by “mega-structures”

Tabby Star is an unsolved and inexplicable mystery, situated 1,500 light years away from us. Tabby star is located at the constellation Cygnus it was named after the lead scientist in the study of this star, Tabetha S. Boyajian. What’s the mystery behind this star? Well, this star has an unusual light fluctuations where 20% of the light emitted by star is blocked by unknown objects. Scientist believe that whatever is blocking the light isn’t a planet because if it were, a planet as big as Jupiter would only obscure this star by the size of 1%.

An astronomer named Jason Wright and some other scientists have proposed that the blockers are most probably parts of megastructures made by an alien civilization called “Dyson Swarm”. Dyson Swarm is a hypothetical structure that is built by advance civilization (purportedly the alien’s), that is said to be intercepting the light energy by star and use them for their energy needs. This fictional-sounding explanations have created so many controversial thoughts from the media especially. Natural explanations aren’t yet to be expected from this phenomena, until the launch of James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

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Concept image of a Dyson sphere

Well, I don’t usually believe in aliens or stuffs like it, but who knows it could be it? I am excited because alien megastructures sounds like a pretty cool thing to study about.

READ MORE ABOUT IT HERE: TABBY STAR

Planet-hunting

Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri

Image of the Surface of Proxima b

Why would people live on other planet? Wouldn’t our Earth suffice the human needs? The answer is absolutely. But wouldn’t it be nice to discover some other worlds other than ours? What if there are actual lives out there besides humans who proclaimed to be the dominant of the entire species? The degree of narcissism of human designation of dominance is undeniable yet arguably, could be challenged by other species on some distant worlds.

Proxima b, is the closest (known) exoplanet (or an extrasolar planet)  from our solar system that is potentially habitable. Proxima b is a planet that orbits around the red dwarf triple star system called Proxima Centauri which is far smaller and cooler than our Sun. This planet is 4.2 light years from our Earth.

What’s so special about Proxima b other than it being the closest to us? Well because of its close distance, this planet has temperature mild enough for water to pool on the surface of the planet, just like our Earth. Water is the essence of life! Proxima b is a rocky planet in the habitable zone. This finding is very exciting for the scientist especially because it boosts up more more research because they believe there are a numbers more habitable planets, potentially even closer than Proxima b.
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Image of exoplanet Proxima b or Proxima Centauri b
Isn’t it amazing to know that there are probably other lives out there other than us in our stellar neighborhood? There are more things we don’t know about than those we do. Our universe is too vastly scary to me but somehow I am intrigued to know more and more.

READ MORE ABOUT PROXIMA B HERE

The Voyagers

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Image of The Voyager 2 

The study of astronomy has been made easier and easier day by day because of the powerful man-made space probes.  Two spacecrafts that I find very interesting is from the Voyager Program, called Voyager 2. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were two of the human-made most distant objects, other than Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11.

But why am I more interested in Voyager 2 than Voyager 1? Well, contrary to what they were named of, Voyager 2 was the first one to be launched in 1977 to further the studies of our vast Solar System. Voyager 2 was launched on 20th August (it’s my birthday yay!) weighing about 773 kilograms where 150 kilograms are scientific instruments. Voyager 1 was named so even though it was launched 16 days after its twin is because its trajectory follows a quicker path to Saturn and Jupiter. So, Voyager 1 reached Saturn and Jupiter before Voyager 2 did, hence the name! Despite that it is 4 months to late to reach planets Saturn and Jupiter, Voyager 2 was considered more special (at least by me haha). This is because it is the only and only spacecraft that has ever reached Uranus and Neptune! Up until today, this spacecraft has served us a vast range of knowledges about the outer space that we could not be thankful enough.

Here are some of the images captured by the Voyagers

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One of the 33,000 pictures of Jupiter taken by the Voyagers
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Saturn in ultraviolet, violet and green filters captured by Voyager 2.

Read more about Saturn findings here and Jupiter findings here by the Voyagers.

Tides!

mont_saint_michelImage of Mont Saint-Michel

As we learned from Chapter 4, tides and waves are caused by the actions of gravitational force of the Moon and the Sun. Without tides, scientist won’t be able to predict the alarming predicament of global warming and the beachgoers are not able to enjoy surfing at the beach. There are also countries who generates electric from the tidal energy. So, without us knowing, tides bring advantages to us.

In Europe, the highest tides occurs at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. It is said to be having less than 50 people living there. This is because Mont Saint-Michel can only be “accessed” during low tide periods. The bay at Mont Saint-Michel is very dangerous because the sea water could rise as tall as a four-floors building and faster than a human could swim. On 30th March 1997, about 3 million people came to this place to watch the supertide or better known as “The Tide of the Century”.

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Image: What Causes Tides?

The phenomena is called Spring Tide. It is caused by the alignment of the Sun and The Moon with Earth in between which usually occurs in Spring (which explains the name). The gravitational force from the Moon and the gravitational force from the Sun are added up together thus enhancing the tidal effect. I think it’s amazing how the universe works. At some point, Mont Saint-Michel is an island and at another point, it becomes an opportunity for tourists and locals to walk on the seabed while embracing the spectacular Norman architecture. Read more here.

The Hubble Telescopes

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(Photo by NASA)

Since it first introduction, telescopes have served mankind a vast deals of researches experiences and discoveries of planets, moons and other intergalactic contents. As we all know telescopes help us to see stars beyond our naked eyes. It becomes a defense mechanism to predict the fall of asteroids or predict movements of celestial bodies.

One powerful telescope that has done many many great things is The Hubble Space telescope. Since it’s launch in 1990, the Hubble Telescope was marked as the most significant advancement of the astronomy field since Galileo’s Telescope. It has been said to cost NASA $2.1 billion to make the telescope. It was said to be more than 14,000 scientific papers was published using the data from this telescope, thus making it the most productive scientific apparatus ever exist. Also, I find it interesting that this telescope has moved more than 3 billion miles along the circular orbit of the Earth.

This year, Hubble is turning 27 years old and some says that Hubble telescope will eventually die due to the pulling gravity force by the Earth. The sun is also heating up the telescope at high temperature and degrading the telescope over times. Hubble Telescope had its last servicing mission in 2009 which was done by spacewalks. It will allow a robotic spacecraft to attach itself on the telescope and guide itself back down into the Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its life.

Read more – The Hubble Telescopes

Stargazing

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(photo by my friend, Aisyah Areena)

Last summer, I went to see meteor shower the Perseids for the second time since I came to United States. Seeing meteor shower was one of the main reason I wanted to study abroad because we can’t see them in Malaysia as much as we get here. I drove 40 minutes from Vanderbilt to somewhere in Natchez Trace parkway to find a very dark environment to stargaze. It was not only very dark, but it was also very quiet and eerie. The meteor showers lasted for a few hours but during it’s peak. I was mesmerized when I saw something like “firebolts” in the sky and it was the best feeling ever.

The picture was taken with Canon 60D with 30 secs shutter speed on a tripod, f/2.8 and ISO 4000. It took us several shots before getting some real nice ones. And luckily, there was a shooting star that got in our frame during the capture and made the picture even better. However, most of the times my friend and I just ended up lying on the ground while looking up at the sky to enjoy the absolutely calming real-life painting.

Every year during mid July to early August, Earth crosses orbital path of comet Swift-Tuttle and causes the debris of the comets to enter Earth’s atmosphere and becomes visible to our eyes. The Perseids lies in constellation Perseus and was actually named after the Greek term Perseides, coming from the Greek mythology which means the sons of Perseus. There are a lot other meteor showers throughout the year but The Perseids is always anticipated because it could peak up to 60 meteor showers per hour. I also like the Perseids because it usually comes in around 11-13th August (peak) just before Fall semester starts which means I won’t be too busy to go stargazing. In 2016, The Perseids had an outburst where the amount of meteors almost doubled. I am definitely going to see the Perseids again this year during summer and I have planned to stay in Vanderbilt to make sure I get to go see the meteor showers again.

Read more – The Perseids