Science Opinion Paper #1

                                                                                               Creation of Light

We all use it, need it, expect it to beam out at the flip of a switch, but I would guess, that for the majority of population, what light is and how it works eludes them. It’s just another one of the many conveniences we expect, demand, and complain about when forced to go without and take for granted otherwise. Hopefully, you’re about to change that dismal perspective. I believe if we truly understood how elaborate and intriguing light, in its entirety, really is we would begin to appreciate it in all its glory.

Light, as defined by is “Something that makes things visible or affords radiation.” It is also known as electromagnetic radiation, but this doesn’t tell us much, so let’s break it down. Light, also known as electromagnetic radiation, is a unique entity being that it is both a wave and a particle. It consists of, “photons, each with a precise wavelength, frequency, and energy” (Bennett et al. 108). It comes in many forms: gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and radio. Of these only one is able to be perceived by the naked eye and that is visible light, which consists of the colors of the rainbow. All forms of light travel at the speed of light which is approximately 300,000 kilometers per second. At rates that high we are able to look out into space and literally see back in time. We can do this because by the time light from very distant stars reaches us it has been traveling so long that even though we are seeing it in real time it has happened millions, sometimes billions of years ago. The oldest galaxies astronomers have been able to observe are about 14 billion years old, when the Big Bang went ka-boom!

There are two types of light that are created: spectral radiation and thermal radiation. Spectral radiation is created in an atom. Everything, including you and I are made of atoms, and every atom can create light. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you’re in a dark room you’re going to glow. Some atoms give off much more light than others. So even if you’re not lighting up you’re still producing spectral radiation, it’s just so little the eye is unable to detect it. Here’s how it works: every atom has negatively charged electrons buzzing about doing what electrons do. Just like the Earth orbits around the Sun on an unchanging path year after year, so too do the electrons have an unchanging path that they orbit around atoms. Here’s the difference, not only do electrons have what I’ll call their most comfortable orbit, known as ground state, they also have other orbits known as excited states. There are many excited states in which electrons can reside for any given atom, but the electrons need specific amounts of electricity to jump from state to state; they never go in between states, they must be within the path of a state. Now, no matter which excited state the electron may be at, be it excited state #4, #13, or #43, they all want to make their way back down to where it is most comfortable for them: ground state. Here is where the magic happens! It is when these electrons are moving downward to lesser and lesser excited states where light is produced. Because it takes energy to move up, they must loose energy to go down, and would you believe after all the scientific jargon you just endured, that light is nothing more than energy? As they move down and lose energy, that energy escapes in the form of light!

Onto the second fashion in which light is created, and even though it’s less complex it’s just as interesting. As stated before thermal radiation is name of one of the processes by which light is created. Thermal radiation is, “the spectrum of radiation produced by an opaque object that depends only on the objects temperature; sometimes called blackbody radiation” (Bennett et al. G-13). What this means is that any object, living or otherwise, that has a temperature emits thermal radiation. This means that everything creates light by way of thermal radiation, because everything found on earth has a temperature. The human eye can’t see this type of light, but technology has granted us ways around the limits of the human body such as night vision goggles. These goggles are able to detect variances in temperature and display them on a screen with different colors projected for different temperatures.

            After learning all that light is it’s hard to deny the fascination it sparks when attempting to grasp its complexities. It has become an essential part of every level in our modern-day lives. Without the magic that is light, we would no longer enjoy social networking such as Facebook and Twitter or Saturday night movies with loved ones, you know, the really important stuff. We would also miss out on world news, economic exchange, digital advancement, seeing after dark; computers, phones, internet and televisions would cease to exist. Without light none of that would be possible! That’s why light is of great importance and never ending interest. Light: millions and millions of tiny particles riding on a wave through space and time illuminating the here and now and giving us glimpses or worlds past!

Works Cited

  • Bennett, Jeffrey, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. "Light the Cosmic Messenger." The Essential Cosmic Perspective.   7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, 2015. 108,116, G-13. Print.


Science Opinion Paper #2

A Shooting Star!

            Have you ever wished upon a shooting star? If you have, you probably weren’t aware that you’d been deceived, and while I hate to be the destroyer of your sentimental, nostalgic memories, I feel I must stop the deceitfulness which lies in the name of “shooting stars.” You see, “shooting stars,” as we have all been taught to refer to them, aren’t stars at all. What we were really banking our most precious childhood wishes on were nothing more than icy planetesimals, better known as comets. But the news isn’t all bad, while comets might be only a fraction of the size of a star, they definitely have their unique and interesting qualities as well.

            Comets in our solar system were created in unison with the other objects that reside here: planets, moons and asteroids. It was in the solar nebula that all these objects began to condense. They slowly accreted through collisions with other particles and grew to be planetesimals. The planetesimals that continued to grow were able to amass enough of these particles that they became full-fledged planets. Others that weren’t able to accrete enough to do so stayed as planetesimals and fell into two classes: comets and asteroids. The difference between comets and asteroids is in not only their composition but also in their location within the solar nebula that they were created. Comets were created from particles beyond what is known as the frost-line (the imaginary line where the distance from the sun is so great that everything freezes), while most asteroids were created in the region known as the Asteroid Belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Because of where they were created their compositions vary greatly. This is due to the temperatures in which different elements are able to condense. Metals and rocks are able to condense at hotter temperatures while hydrogen compounds need much cooler temperatures to condense, thus the Terrestrial Planets and asteroids consist of much more metal and rock than the icy comets and gaseous Jovian Planets that lie further out from the Sun. It’s important to note that comets lie the furthest from the Sun than any other body in our solar system and they consist mainly of hydrogen compounds, which need the coolest temperatures to condense, thus the particles that were the furthest from the center of the solar nebula were all made mainly of hydrogen compounds and are now what we know of as comets.

            Comets, like the planets and asteroid belt, also orbit the sun. There are two main regions in which comets reside: the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. The Kuiper belt lies beyond Neptune’s orbit and extends from about 30-50AU from the Sun, and “contains about 100,000 comets [and is] more than 100km across” (Bennet et al. p247). At a mind-blowing 50,000AU lies the Oort Cloud which contains somewhere in the region of a trillion comets. The comets within the Oort Cloud are different from the Kuiper Belt comets not only in their distance from the sun but also in how they orbit it. The Kuiper Belt comets have a fairly normal orbit which follows the directional pattern of the planets and asteroids, but unlike the Kuiper Belt comets, the Oort Cloud comets, “have random tilts and eccentricities” (Bennet et al. p247). This leads us back to the lies of “shooting stars.”

            The comets we see in the inner solar system come from either the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud. They only occasionally enter the inner solar system and can range in size greatly. These comets are what we know as “shooting stars.” As they enter the inner solar system and cross from beyond the frost-line to within the region where the warmth from the Sun is able to make more of an impact, they are heated and its ices are then able to vaporize into gas and carry off dust forming the coma: a big, dusty atmosphere of the now vaporized gasses. The coma grows as the comet nears the sun and the dust and gasses are pushed away from the sun forming the comets’ tails. “Comets have two visible tails. The plasma tail consists of gas that is ionized by ultraviolet light from the Sun and pushed outward by the solar wind… The dust tail consists of dust-sized particles that are unaffected by the solar wind and instead are pushed outward by the much weaker pressure of sunlight itself (radiation pressure)” (Bennet et al. p245). The vaporization dissipates as the comet completes its loop around the Sun heading back across the frost-line. Eventually the comet will have no more ice to vaporize, at which point they crumble or become inactive nuclei (the nucleus of a comet is the icy center), and when that state is reached a tail won’t form. Until then, every time a comet enters the inner solar system at a point in which our line of sight is able to catch a glimpse of its magnificence will we see it as a “shooting star.”

            Although I’m sure it was disappointing to learn that shooting comets weren’t really stars, I’m sure the fascination in the complexities of their formation did not disappoint. To me, the process by which not only comets, but our entire solar system was formed is an awe-inspiring event. I’ve only grazed the surface of true science behind what it took to make this amazing corner of the universe, and in my limited knowledge I was only able to give the over simplified version of just one part of it. However, comets are very interesting and, call me naive and uneducated, but until I learned about them this semester I truly thought that shooting stars where stars, which demonstrates how utterly limited my knowledge of our galaxy was before taking this class. The importance of comets is not just in knowing what you’re wishing upon, but also in what it took for the beauty that comes from it to be created. Most of all, I think we as a people need to pay attention to them so that we can truly appreciate how awesome the place we live in really is, and not take anything—including our own planet, Solar System, and galaxy—for granted. Learning about comets has given me the opportunity to open my eyes and mind to just one more of God’s amazing creations!

Works Cited

  • Bennett, Jeffrey, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. "Light the Cosmic Messenger." The Essential Cosmic Perspective.   7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, 2015. 245, 247. Print.

Science Opinion Paper #3

How the Sun Remains Stable

Have you ever wondered what keeps the giant ball of churning plasma and gas that we call our Sun from, at the very least burning up and going out, or at the very most bursting at the seams in a cataclysmic explosion that could wipe out Planet Earth as we know it? You’re not alone in your ponderings about the stability of our Solar System’s great star that provides the key to life as we know it. Others before have had the very same quarries, and lucky for us, they seem to have it figured out. The answer to the unseen balancing act going on in our Sun, even at this very moment is called gravitational equilibrium—“balance… between the outward push of internal gas pressure and the inward pull of gravity” (Bennett et al. p286).

When the sun is in a state of equilibrium its “solar thermostat,” so to speak, is at the ideal temperature of around 15 million K, thus the nuclear fusion within its core is happening at a normal rate. If by chance the core’s temperature increases, even slightly, this leads to a substantial increase in the rate of fusion, which in turn raises the internal pressure of the core. At this point the Sun has two options, it can either continue as is, at an increased rate of nuclear fusion and die much younger than it otherwise would and possibly take our planet with it due to the increase in energy being radiated into space, or it can allow the natural process of core expansion to take place. Because the core has now expanded (and Earth as we know it has been saved) the nuclei within the core now have more room to bounce about and are no longer crashing into each other at the previously increased rate that resulted in the spike of nuclear fusion. This allows the core to cool down to its ideal temperature and restores the rate of nuclear fusion to normal, thus the Sun is able to return to the state of gravitational equilibrium.

In contrast to the afore mentioned rise in core temperature, a decrease in temperature can be just as consequential. A small dip in temperature leads to a rather large drop in nuclear fusion within the core, which lowers the core temperature. This causes the core to contract and squeeze the nuclei into a tighter space where they are forced to crash into each other more than they otherwise would, and because of this the core heats up and the rate of nuclear fusion is increased and returned back to a more ideal level of production in the range of normal.

So although we have nothing here on Earth that even comes close to modeling the way by which the Sun is able to produce the energy we so desperately depend for life here on Earth, we can rest assured that the Sun has it under control. It is neither going to burst into flames and burn up its resources, nor explode with the power of a billion atomic bombs. We are safe, at least for now. According to the best scientific minds of the time we have about 5 billion more years of steady energy production in our little star we call the Sun, and thankfully so. Without it we would all be doomed, so next time you find yourself basking in the warm rays of the Sun, think of the process by which it is able to produce those for you. I know I will.

Works Cited

  • Bennett, Jeffrey, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. "Light the Cosmic Messenger." The Essential Cosmic Perspective.   7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, 2015. 245, 247. Print.

Science Opinion Paper #4

The Matter of Dark Matter

            In today’s world, with its advances in technology hardly anything seems beyond our reach in the field of scientific study. We’ve successfully sent astronauts into space and have sent probes even deeper. We’ve traveled through time by way of telescopes, peering across vast distances into galaxies of the past, situated billions of light-years from our own. With all these accomplishments under our galactic belt it’s hard to imagine that there still exist areas of study that are so perplexing we have yet to conquer them, bringing us to the matter of dark matter.

            Dark matter is, “matter that we infer to exist from its gravitational effects but from which we have not detected any light” (Bennet et al. pG-3). No one has ever seen it, touched it, nor studied it, at least not directly, so how do we know it exists? The answer lies in scientific ingenuity at its best. Astronomers have had to find clever ways to observe the unobservable since the field of astronomy came into existence. They’ve learned that if you can’t see something, don’t try. Instead, look for the affect it has on the objects around it that are visible, which is exactly what they did in the case of dark matter.

            Astronomers found that they could calculate the mass of our galaxy, the Milky Way, using orbital speeds of stars or clouds of gas from within the galaxy. Similarly to how Kepler’s third law showed that the further a planet lies from the object it’s rotating, the slower that planet’s orbital period will be, you would expect that the further a star or cloud is located from the center of the galaxy, the slower its orbital period should be. However, this was not the case. Instead of orbital speeds slowing down astronomers found that, “orbital speeds in the Milky Way remain high even very far from the center” (Bennet et al. p464). Orbital speeds weren’t decreasing because the center of the galaxy and the visible portion is the much less massive than the invisible portion that surrounds it. Astronomers found that dark matter encircled the visible portion of the galaxy like a halo, outweighing it by a 10 to 1 ratio.

Dark matter is not unique to our galaxy. “Orbital speeds in the outer regions of other galaxies indicate that they, too, harbor lots of dark matter” (Bennet et al. p465). Dark matter is everywhere, making up 95% of the mass of our galaxy and all others. It gives off no light and can’t be contained. It has been established that it exists, but what is it? There are two possibilities that scientists and astronomers have narrowed it down to. It could either be made of ordinary matter, that which is made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, but it’s just too dark for modern technology to detect; or it could be something different from ordinary matter, made of particles unlike anything we’ve seen in atoms and the darkness of it could be due to it not interacting with light. In short: no one knows what it is.

While neither of these options has been proven one thing is for certain: dark matter is a unique and interesting area of study that will keep scientists and astronomers busy for some time. For now we will have to settle for knowing that its existence explains why the stars of our universe are “misbehaving” in relation to what would be expected of them if we were to deny its existence. The matter of dark matter hasn’t been settled yet, but hopefully as technology advances and more of the universe’s mysteries are revealed to us we will learn its true identity and be able to study it further.

Works Cited

  • Bennett, Jeffrey, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. "Light the Cosmic Messenger." The Essential Cosmic Perspective.   7th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, 2015. 245, 247. Print.

Science in the News Journal Entries 1-8

Science in the News JournalEntry # 1

Our New Universe: The Multiverse!

One hot topic in the world of science is something you’ve more than likely never heard of before. You’ve never had in-depth discussions regarding its relativity to astrophysics while sipping espresso and gabbing with your college Astronomy Club, at the end of which you were convinced your IQ was at least a couple points higher! No, neither you nor I have ever had the pleasure of doing so because, for starters, it has yet to be proven and therefore hasn’t made its way onto the cover of any of the leading scientific journals or magazines. “What is it?” you ask. I’ll tell you... It is the idea that the reality we live in, the one that says that there is nothing beyond the Universe but more infinite Universe is wrong. This is an idea that’s baffling, complex, and chaotic; this is the idea that our Universe is really an infinite multiverse where new universes are being born all the time. A multiverse where the Big Bang–a supposedly singular event that created everything–just keeps on banging, creating everything all over again, and again, and again, and… well, you get the picture.

Now wait a second, I know you must be thinking this to be nothing but a bunch pseudoscience nonsense, but before you dismiss it completely give it just a minute. In fact many others felt the same as you when the idea first hit the public sphere around the time the NOVA television program, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse, first aired on PBS November 22, 2011. Many astronomers and scientists thought of it more as science fiction than actual science and wanted little to nothing to do with it, however many have started to come around. Think about it, if we go back to the times of the Copernican Revolution no one believed that the Earth orbited the Sun. It was also widely accepted in the times of Columbus that the Earth was flat, and what a joke that is to us today! We have come a long way in terms of what we know about the cosmos and our role within it. We are positive that what we know to be the facts of cosmos is correct and true, but I’m sure ancient Greeks, as well as every other past civilization inclined to study the heavens above thought the very same thing. Everyone wants to believe that they’re right. And I’m sure they thought they were just as right as we think ourselves to be. So, we must ask ourselves—am I willing to accept without question that what I’ve been taught is correct? Could there possibly be a different answer? I’m open to the possibility, are you?

That’s exactly what acclaimed scientist and physicist Brian Greene—author of the book The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse by which the NOVA television program of the same title was created from—and fellow physicists are trying to wrap their minds around. They want to get to the bottom of whether the Universe we live in is truly a universe. They believe that the truth is more likely to be that we live in a multiverse. They believe that within this multiverse is an infinite plane of universes, and with infinity comes endless possibilities where no limits as to what could be created exist. These exploratory scientists even go as far as to predict parallel universes that would contain the exact same galaxies as ours, within which you could find exact replicas of our Solar System containing—you guessed it—duplicates of our Earth. They even go as far as to claim that somewhere in that far off place where Earths #2, #3 and #4 are doing what they do, there could exist clone yous and clone mes, that at this very moment are reading a paper that, strangely enough, looks an awful lot like this one! They also suggest that because of the infinite number of universes being produced the combinations in how they’re structured are endless. In line with this theory, you could have a Milky Way Galaxy that is exactly the same as our in every way except for perhaps instead of finding humans at the top of the food chain on Earth you would have some other form of alien life inhabiting and ruling Mars. You might have a galaxy where all the planets in it are completely covered with water, or where they all have some form of life, or perhaps no life at all. They point is, the prospects of what might be contained in a multiverse knows no bounds.

Although a multiverse is a wild idea, for me it really isn’t that far off. To move from an already universally accepted theory of an infinite Universe that is constantly expanding to a Multiverse that is doing essentially the same thing but in a different manner isn’t a difficult jump to make. I’m not sold on the idea but if it were proven to be true in the future I wouldn’t find my jaw on the floor from disbelief either. I think the idea of a multiverse is very interesting and plausible. We could be living at this very moment surrounded by sea of universes we never even dreamed possible, and thanks to modern-day scientific explorers who are willing to venture out into the vast ocean of the cosmos we just might find a new world!

Science in the News Journal Entry #2

 New Information Being Shot Our Way

Astrologists, scientists, and the like are always probing deeper and deeper into the great abyss of outer space, and are always trying to see what they’ve already glimpsed more clearly and with better detail. It’s a never ending process where the limits as to what can be learned are endless. There are many objectives to the various missions in which probes are sent on to gather samples and data, but there is always one question that thus far has gone unanswered. One questions alone that seems to loom in the corners of every mind interested in what’s to be revealed on these ambitious excursions: does life exist somewhere beyond Earth?

Holding true to the afore mentioned, the exploration of Saturn’s sixth largest moon is not for the sole purpose of determining whether or not life exists, it is also for the sake of a better understanding of our Solar System and more specifically Enceladus itself, and expanding upon and correcting any previously overlooked errors in the knowledge we already have of this alien moon. So far, according to the article, “What’s Inside Saturn’s Moon Enceladus? Geyser Timing Gives Hints” which was published on and written by Charles Choi on July 7th, 2015, “NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted water vapor and icy particles erupting from its south pole,” which they now surmise originated in the waters of a massive, hidden ocean. This is exciting news for a couple of reasons.

We no longer believe that Enceladus is just a big ball of ice, it has motion. Previous work led scientists to believe that the eruptions were due to the tides created by the gravitational pull of Saturn on Enceladus which varied depending on Enceladus’ position within its oval-shaped orbit. However, every prediction that was made as to when the eruptions should occur were wrong and instead ensued at later time. This forced scientists to rethink their model. In order to account for the delay in time they took into account what effect a less viscous ice shell would have on geyser eruptions. They determined that if water were beneath the ice, this lower viscosity ice shell would react to an eruption more gradually, accounting for the delay in time they were experiencing in their predictions. This provided evidence that Enceladus has a weaker interior than they previously believed: an interior of water, not of ice.

So, although scientist are closer to understanding the complex body that is Enceladus there still remains many unknowns. One of which is whether its ocean is a subsurface body of water spanning the entire moon, or whether it is merely a subsurface sea limited only to the south polar region of the moon. These are questions that will remain unanswered until new data emerges; data that most likely will have to come from landing an actual probe on Enceladus. Until then the mysteries of Enceladus will continue to elude us. Although, with the potential of finding life in the deeply buried ocean and answering the questions to one of life’s great mysteries, I’m sure one day we will make it to Enceladus on a mission to explore and discover all that there is to be found on the moon Enceladus.

I found the topic of what is inside Saturn’s moon is very interesting. I, like others, find the potential of finding life on other planets, or moons for that matter, extremely fascinating. The idea of a planet so cold that the entire surface is an icy wasteland not only scares but also entices me. I think it takes great intelligence to find the answers to such questions as why it doesn’t erupt in line with the tidal pulls. I hope that one day a probe is landed on Enceladus and that we are able to make it down to the depths, below the ice where life may exist, and that we are able to bring back meaningful data that not only helps us to understand this moon of Saturn, but also helps us to understand other moons and planets, and perhaps can point us in the right direction as to where to go next to uncover more perplexing and useful information. As for finding life anywhere but Earth, although I admit the idea does catch my attention, I don’t know what the consequences of that would really be, and I don’t know if we, or I, am ready for that!

Science in the News Journal Entry #3

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Soon, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will be doing a flyby of the dwarf planet, Pluto on July 14th, 2015. As it nears its destination, the images being sent back to NASA’s ground team get better and better with each passing astronomical unit. Within the first images to be sent back down to Earth after suffering the glitch which sent New Horizons spacecraft into safe mode on July 4th, 2015 was an image of what is now being dubbed “Pluto’s Heart.” As described in the article, “Pluto’s Heart Spied by New Horizons Spacecraft” from and written by Mike Wall on July 8th, 2015, “The bright ‘heart’ is about 1,200 miles (2,000 km) wide… To its left lies an 1,860-mile-long (3,000 km) dark patch along Pluto’s equator that mission scientists are calling ‘the whale.’”

Besides having fun names and cute shapes, the images are already revealing to us details of Pluto’s landscape, even though they are being shot from 3 billion miles away! Just above “the whale’s tail” lies a ring-shaped object that is estimated to be about 200 miles wide, and no, it’s not a jelly doughnut! Scientists who’ve reviewed the images have stated that it resembles images of impact craters and volcanoes that have been taken from other planets. That’s a big jelly doughnut! But in all seriousness, if when New Horizons spacecraft gets to the point of flyby (a mere 7,800 miles above Pluto’s surface) and the images are unclouded, it turns out to be a volcano or impact crater it will be an impressive one at that!

Like everyone else, I am also waiting in anticipation for NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft to flyby Pluto. The chance to see a far off planet (even if it’s a dwarf) is one in a million. I know that I will never find myself in a spacesuit out in the far reaches of the Galaxy, so this is as close as I’ll get to exploring the Universe. I look forward to seeing more of the spectacular images from New Horizons, images that have never before been taken with a clarity that has never before been seen of this far away world called Pluto. I also look forward to when Pluto’s Heart and Whale are revealed, and we can finally know what they really are. I’m sure that no matter what they are I will be in awe of the natural beauty that, before recently, I never dreamed could be found anywhere except my own home planet. I’ve been surprised to learn that not only do other planets, dwarf planets, and moons have just as impressive landscapes as Earth, but many have even more stunning features than anything that could be found here. Pluto, I’m sure, will be no exception. So, as for now all that can be done is to wait, wait for the outstanding surprises that Pluto has in store!

Science in the News Journal Entry #4

Take that Eris!

After reading the article, “Pluto Is Larger Than Thought, Has Ice Cap, NASA Probe Reveals,” written by contributor, Nola Taylor Redd on July 13th, 2015, I can, without a shadow of doubt conclude one thing: everyone makes mistakes. NASA, the giant in the world of space exploration, had previously thought Pluto to be smaller than recent measurements taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are now showing. With previous measurements showing Pluto to be no more than 1,430 miles across, it is now believed that Pluto’s diameter is 43 miles longer than preceding data had led us to believe. It has “shown the dwarf planet to be 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers) across, making it the largest body in the icy Kuiper Belt at the edge of the solar system,” Redd reports. This had laid to rest any debate as to what the largest object in the Kuiper Belt is.

Previously, scientists we uncertain as to whether Pluto or Eris, another icy body located within the Kuiper Belt with an estimated diameter of 1,445, was the biggest. Now, with these updated and more accurate measurements it is certain that Pluto, with a diameter of 1,473 miles wins by less than 20 miles. The data that NASA is now able to gather is more accurate than any previous data, and with the flyby of New Horizons around Pluto to happen in less than 24 hours it is doubtful the measurements will change. In addition to the recent measurements of Pluto itself, New Horizons has also managed to accomplish the feat of getting data on three of Pluto’s five moons, with Charon measuring the largest at 751 miles across, Hydra at 30 miles, and Nix at a mere 20 miles wide. The remaining two moons are both smaller and fainter and data from their sizes will have to be done during the flyby of New Horizons, when it is at its closest to not only Pluto, but the two remaining moons as well.

No less impressive than the afore mentioned information is that it is now been confirmed by the ALICE instrument that a feature of Pluto that was thought to be a polar cap actually consists of methane and nitrogen ice. Also, there is an unidentified dark patch at Charon’s (Pluto’s largest moon) north pole. Scientists remain hopeful that the dark patch will soon be identified as New Horizons closes in on Pluto, and that data from the mysterious dark patches, both of Pluto and Charon will be sent back starting this week.

Needless to say, the discoveries that spacecraft, New Horizons, has uncovered are teaching us things we would have not otherwise have known. It comes as no surprise that the closer we get to Pluto the more we are able to learn about both it and its moons. With only one day until New Horizons reaches its closes point the anticipation grows. I’m excited to see what else lies in store for us, as far as information about Pluto we previously didn’t know or that we had incorrect conclusions about. Although NASA was wrong in its previous estimates of Pluto’s size, and many of us expect the scientists at NASA, of all people, to get it right, we must keep in mind that through error comes knowledge. There is no shame in making a mistake, only in hiding that mistake when its error is uncovered. Without this mission we would have never known the genuine size of Pluto, and wouldn’t have been as accurate or as certain about the size of its moons either. I just look forward to seeing if any other surprises come from this mission and learning all there is learn in the data gathered from it.

Science in the News Journal Entry #5

The Little Galaxy that Could

The birth of a star is truly a spectacular event, but it takes the right combination of environmental factors for this phenomenon to take place. Stars are born constantly all across the universe, even in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The speed of star creation in a galaxy of our size is about 1 star every year. That may not seem like much, but in consideration of everything it takes to make a star, producing a masterpiece like that in just a year is a pretty impressive feat. Now constrict the circumstances even more, make the galaxy were considering one-tenth the size of our own, giving us just one-tenth of the resources to work with. In most cases this would mean slower star production, but for one little dwarf galaxy about 60 million light years from here that’s not the case. Allow me to introduce you to NGC 1140.

Rapid star production isn’t the only unique feature of NGC 1140, its composition, “harks back to the earliest galaxies in the universe, formed of mostly hydrogen and helium and building new stars at a frantic pace in a process called ‘starbursting,’” states Sarah Lewin, Staff Writer for, in a recent article titled “Tiny Galaxy Bursting with Star Creation is Spied by Hubble,” that was published July 30th, 2015. Because of its similarities with the earliest galaxies scientists can now study NGC 1140 to learn about how the universe has evolved from its earliest days just after the Big Bang. This is an important area of study, because as I’m sure everyone knows, we can’t go back in time. No one will ever be able to say that they got a firsthand view of what really happened during the birth of our Universe. With that being said, any chance we get to take a peek into the past by observing a real life example of something similar is a rare opportunity that must not be ignored. Anything at all that scientists might be able to glimpse from NGC 1140 about our galactic evolution could open doors to rooms of knowledge that, prior to now, we had no access, which is why NGC 1140 is so important.

However, the very thing that sets NGC 1140 apart is the very thing that will destroy it. The rapid rate of star formation will quickly use up whatever hydrogen and helium the galaxy contains, thus halting the production of stars. In addition to that, the remaining, “star-creating gas [will be pushed] away into space throwing out its potential for future stars,” due to the end of life explosions experienced by the high-mass stars, known as supernovae, Lewin explains. Like anything else in life, eventually NGC 1140 will die. Luckily, what is considered a relatively short life in galactic terms is still much longer than even the longest lives here on Earth, thus scientists will undoubtedly attain anything and everything available in the ways of knowledge long before the end takes place.

It’s easy to overlook something small, and it’s easy to think that we have already learned all there is to know in any given subject. Sometimes we just think that the end of the road has been reached, for example, in the case of the Big Bang. It has already happened, and unless a time machine is invented we’re never going back to witness it, which allows for one to submit themselves to the idea that no more can be gained in further study of the topic. This is precisely why little surprises like the dwarf galaxy NGC 1140 are so special. It’s a ticket aboard the time machine that transports us into the past to glimpse the galaxy that was. Only through real life observance can some questions be answered. Hopefully with the study of NGC 1140 more of those questions will be!

Science in the News Journal Entry #6

Looking Back in Time

            I’ve always wished I could have the power to time travel, sadly, I never will. However there are those who have done the next best thing. Astronomers have spotted the furthest, and therefore the youngest galaxy to date. The distant galaxy, named EGSY8p7, is located 13.2 billion light-years from Earth, meaning the light being emitted from it, and the view we receive is coming from just 600 million years after the Big Bang. In the overall picture of a galaxy’s life, this makes this galaxy a mere babe. Amazingly, astronomers are able to see it as it was during that time in its life.

            The team that discovered it did so in a rather surprising way. Using a method which is not normally not able to detect light at these distances, the team at the Keck Observatory of Hawaii were able to spot EGSY8p7. They used “an infrared spectrograph… to detect EGSY8p7’s Lyman-alpha emission line [which is] basically hydrogen gas heated up by ultraviolet radiation streaming from the galaxy’s newborn stars,” stated Mike Wall a senior writer of on August 5th, 2015 in his article “Ancient Galaxy Is Most Distant Ever Found.” It was a welcome surprise that the Lyman-alpha line was picked up. Due to the ever increasing number of dark hydrogen clouds that can absorb the signal as you go further into the universe, the likelihood of being able to detect a Lyman-alpha becomes less and less.

This discovery of EGSY8p7 could shed light on a subject we have been able to breach through models and theory only. It will offer insight into the beginnings of the universe in a way that only a first-hand account can. It was an astonishing discovery in less than ideal circumstances. It has already beat the odds in its discovery alone. Hopefully that isn’t the only surprise that EGSY8p7 holds for us. We all wait with anticipation to see what other secrets will be revealed from the study of a galaxy more than 13 billion years the minor of our own.

Science in the News Journal Entry #7

Dawn Spacecraft to Ceres

            In September of 2007 NASA’s $466 million dollar mission named Dawn rocketed into outer-space. Its target: the two largest objects in the asteroid belt, Ceres and Vesta. Dawn spent a little over a year from July 2011 to September 2012 orbiting Vesta and afterward headed for Ceres. March of 2015 it finally arrived and has been orbiting around this 584-mile-wide asteroid ever since. This is now its third science orbit around Ceres and some of the data that has returned has the Dawn team at NASA not only excited but perplexed as well.

            The spacecraft Dawn has taken images of, “mysterious bright spots at the bottom of the dwarf planet's 2-mile-deep (3.2 kilometers) Occator crater and a 4-mile-high (6.4 km) mountain scientists are calling ‘The Pyramid,’" states Sarah Lewin a staff writer for in her article, “Fly Over Ceres’ Mysterious Mountain and Bright Spots in Incredible Video” that was published August 5th, 2015. What makes this mountain such a unique find is that it is not associated with any visible crater like a mountain of this size normally would be. Another puzzling detail of The Pyramid that has yet to be understood are the bright streaks running down one side of it. However, those are not the only bright spots that have NASA’s elite scratching their heads. The even greater mystery of the 60-mile-wide Occator crater are the bright spots that have had scientists “speculating on [their] nature and origin since they were first glimpsed in January as Dawn approached the dwarf planet,” stated Lewin. The spacecraft Dawn has measured the spots, “which appear to be subliming gas to create a mini-atmosphere within the crater,” Lewin reveals. Also, they don’t seem to follow the behavioral pattern normally associated with water ice, so the theory that they could be ice is very unlikely. NASA scientists are counting on higher resolution images on the next and closer orbit of the spacecraft Dawn around Ceres to further their studies, which is scheduled for mid-August when Dawn will once again pass over the region in which they’re located.

            Although the Dawn team isn’t certain about the origin of the bright spots at the bottom of the Occator crater, nor the bright streaks of the Pyramid or what caused its height there is still more time. Right now the spacecraft Dawn is orbiting at 900 miles above the surface of Ceres, which is quite a distance for a good picture. As Dawn spirals downward with each successive orbit the images will become clearer and more information will be learned. Until then, the mystery is half the fun and we will all look forward to learning what has cause these strange anomalies on the mysterious dwarf planet of the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Science in the News Journal Entry #8

A Dying Star

            Photos of a the end of life phase of a star were taken recently which mirror what it will be like in the end for our beloved star, the Sun, and others like it. This star is on its last leg; death is inevitable. For this glowing gas giant the clock is about to stop, only 10,000 or so more years to go, and all that will be left is a hot but dim remnant of its former glory. This is how it will be for all low mass stars eventually, and this is the phase in which the Southern Owl Nebula finds itself.

All stars, whether low or high mass die, but the way in which they die are different. Stars smaller than eight times the mass of the sun will go out more peacefully, while high mass stars go out with a bang. The first phase of death in a low mass star begins when the star transitions into a red giant. This happens when all the hydrogen in its core has been exhausted and fusion begins in the shell around the new inert helium core. This phase lasts approximately 1 billion years. Next, the star become a helium core-fusion star, inside of which helium fusion now begins as the core temperature increases. The core expands and fusion slows allowing this phase to last about 100 million years. After this the star begins the double shell-fusion red giant phase which lasts even less time with a duration of 30 million years. At this point the core has become carbon due to helium fusion in the core, and fusion in the helium shell around the core and the hydrogen core surrounding that. Next is the phase in which the Southern Owl Nebula finds itself: the planetary nebula.

“This type of nebula lasts for a short time compared with the star's overall lifetime, only existing for a few tens of thousands of years before its gases disperse,” states Sarah Lewin a staff writer of in her article, “Ghost of a Dying Star Hints at Sun’s Future,” written on August 5th, 2015. The planetary nebula phase occurs because the “soon-to-be nebula swelled up into an enormous red giant. When it got too large and burned through its fuel, it collapsed, ejecting the outer layers of the star as a gas and retaining a small, ionizing stellar core at the gas cloud's heart,” Lewin describes. The planetary nebula serves a purpose. It is a way for stars to recycle. All our elements come from star stuff and this is how it is released to be recycled and reused in other stars and planets at a later time. After this the small leftover core is all that is left, and it’s what is called a white dwarf. They last for an indefinite amount of time, and remain very hot and dim until they eventually fizzle out and die. At the point in which they stop emitting light they are a black dwarf and are considered a dead star.

Currently, it is thought that there are currently around 10,000 planetary nebulae adrift in the Milky Way, however only around 1,500 have been detected. It’s a sad end to a beautiful life but it is what all low mass stars will eventually experience, including our own Sun. Lucky for us we have about 5 billion years to go before that happens to our Sun. Until that moment when its hydrogen has been exhausted, it and other stars like it will remain brilliantly bright, producing heat for the world to live off of.


I believe that the study skills I was taught in this class will go on to help me with other classes. I found that I retain a lot more information from the lectures when I do the homework ahead of time, the way we were taught to do it in this class. It also helped me in studying for the tests. I found that as I studied I already knew much of the information and didn’t have to spend as much time looking up the information. I hope to continue with study skills, like reviewing the information before the lecture in future classes. I know that if I do I will have favorable results. I also think that it was beneficial to do the Science in the News Journal. Putting things into a real life perspective and seeing the topics from the classroom applied to real life situations not only helped me to remember them and retain the information but it also helped me to see how it would be used in real life. It is encouraging to see what we learn in the class be put into practice. It makes it feel like less busy work and more like it is going to be useful further on. In any classes to come I hope to find ways to apply the information and principles to my life they way we were able to with the Science in the News Journals.

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