Z Machine II02/04/14
Temperatures in the hearts of stars are tens of millions of degrees — hot enough to “fuse” hydrogen atoms together to make helium. This process converts almost one percent of the hydrogen to energy, which makes a star shine. Researchers have been...
JOEL LASH: This is the diagnostic package that’s going on this week’s experiments... Joel Lash manages the world’s largest X-ray machine. It doesn’t look for broken bones or bad teeth, though. Its main job is to help maintain America’s nuclear...
The beautiful constellation Orion strides across the southern sky this evening. It’s in the southeast as night falls, with its brightest star, Rigel, to the lower right of its prominent three-star belt. If the hunter ever gets tired during his...
Some of the faintest stars that are visible to the unaided eye are really some of the most impressive stars of all. They look faint only because they’re a long way off. In fact, they’re so far away that they must be truly remarkable for us to see them...
Moon and Regulus
Many of the constellations are tough to decipher. Few modern-day skywatchers see a charioteer in the stars of Auriga, for example, or even a ram in Aries. In a few cases, though, the picture shines through. A good example is Leo, which stretches out...
Sometimes, astronomy can be just plain weird. The darkest objects in the universe can also be some of the brightest, for example, and many of the objects visible to our telescopes no longer exist. Both of those apply to a star system in the Pinwheel...
Black Hole Collisions
It’s dangerous out there. Earth is threatened by asteroids and comets, storms on the Sun, and exploding stars, among other things. Fortunately, though, a recent study has some good news about another celestial danger: If a black hole hit Earth, you...
Moon and Jupiter
Jupiter blazes just to the left of the almost-full Moon this evening. The giant planet outshines all the other planets and stars in the sky at that hour, so it makes a brilliant counterpoint to the Moon. Jupiter has a whole entourage of moons of its...
The objects known as brown dwarfs are oddballs. They’re heavier than planets, but not heavy enough to trigger the nuclear reactions that would make them shine as true stars. In fact, they’re often described as failed stars. Yet they share some traits...
Moon and Aldebaran
The Moon is a steady, unchanging companion. We always see the same “face” — the same lunar hemisphere always faces our way. But it turns out that we actually see more than just the face — we see a little behind the ears, too, thanks to a combination...
Earth Impacts V
It sounds like something straight out of Hollywood. Astronomers discover an asteroid that’s on a collision course with Earth. But there’s no reason to duck and cover — a giant laser in orbit takes aim, and in a few months it vaporizes the space rock....
Earth Impacts IV
A small space telescope was recently awakened from a long sleep to get back to work. Its new mission: to look for asteroids that come close to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Some of these space rocks could endanger our planet — a collision with even a...
Earth Impacts III
More than 3,000 years ago, Egyptian jewelers fashioned a magnificent brooch for the pharaoh Tutankhamen. Its centerpiece was a scarab beetle made of golden glass — a representation of the Sun god, Re. The glass itself was formed when a fireball...
Earth Impacts II
Two-and-a-half million years ago, a fireball worthy of a fire-breathing dragon slammed into the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It created a massive tsunami, and may have helped change Earth’s climate. It also smashed rocks at the bottom of the ocean,...
It’s been almost a year since a small asteroid exploded above Siberia, shattering windows for miles around. The blast was like a warning shot fired across the bow of a ship — a reminder that a lot worse could follow. In fact, a lot worse has happened...
Jupiter at Opposition
Our solar system is big. To understand just how big, consider the giant planet Jupiter, which dominates the sky for much of the night. It’s low in the east as night falls and high in the south by about midnight. It shines brightest for the year, far...
Mars Exploration Rovers
The first of a pair of Mars rovers bounced to a halt on the Red Planet 10 years ago this week. In the decade since, they’ve driven almost 30 miles while revealing important details about Mars’s history. Spirit was the first of the Mars Exploration...
Earth is snuggling especially close to the two most dominant objects in the solar system right now — the Sun and the planet Jupiter. They’re on opposite sides of Earth, so Jupiter shines all night long. Tomorrow, Earth will be closest to the Sun for...
The streams of debris that create meteor showers are spawned by comets or asteroids — chunks of ice and rock that lose material from their surfaces when they get close to the Sun. The parentage of most of these streams is pretty well known. But one is...
Earth is being pelted by comet dust this week — the small grains of rock and dirt that make up the Quadrantid meteor shower. The bigger ones will vaporize as they zip into Earth’s atmosphere, forming the streaks of light known as meteors. We’ll have...
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