Solar Winds

Solar winds are arguably one of the most destructive forces in our solar system. As a kid, I never took these forces into account when thinking about space travel. In my mind, as long as you avoided flying your space ship directly into the sun (which I thought was on fire, of course), our star was not to be worried about. Unfortunately, solar winds have to be taken into account when traversing space.

A rendering of solar winds and the sun’s corona

Here on earth, tornadoes and hurricanes are some of mother natures most immediately damaging phenomenon. One of the things that make these occurrences so scary, is that they can seem to appear out of nowhere. Just recently, Nashville was hit by a devastating tornado. There was little to no warning for those that were affected by it. Tornadoes can have wind speeds up to 300 mph, the recent Nashville tornado is estimated to have had 165 mph winds. Comparatively, solar winds can reach speeds up to 500 miles per second. That’s a top speed of 1.8 million mph!

This incredible speed leads to a large transfer of energy into whatever the winds collides with, and luckily for us, we have our magnetosphere to protect us. I mentioned the magnetosphere in my previous post about the northern lights, but there are other things that occur when the wind makes contact with our magnetosphere. The near invisible collisions can cause the magnetosphere to become deformed, leading to turbulence. this turbulence can lead to a number of things, interference in terrestrial communications, satellite malfunctions, and even issues in our power grids. Solar wind is a part of our local space weather, which we need to be conscious of, whether we are traveling in space or living here on Earth.

An awesome photo by NASA on solar wind!

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon that appear to be fresh out of a fantasy novel. Otherwise known as Aurora Borealis, these lights are the product of the Earth’s magnetic field and high energy particles from the sun. Normally our magnetic field is invisible, but in certain locations, like the Earth’s poles, they become more visible when impacted by high energy light from our solar system’s star. The different colors are the result of the composition of our atmosphere (green for oxygen, and red/blue for nitrogen).

The Northern Lights visible in Iceland

While our magnetic field is a sight to behold when made visible near our poles, its true role in our lives is much more significant. The light that is being absorbed by our magnetic field would prove deadly to life on earth if it were left unimpeded. Furthermore, some species are able to actually navigate by detecting these magnetic fields. Migratory birds and fish are able to navigate long distances thanks to these forces. Scientists are still currently conducting research on other walks of life, and it seems that a larger portion of the animal kingdom can sense these magnetic forces than we first thought. The Earth is unique in how strong its magnetosphere is. This strength is due to having electrically charged liquid, and rotation. We aren’t alone in this regard, Jupiter has a strong magnetic field too!

We’re All a Little Crooked, and That’s a Good Thing

Over spring break I watched a movie called “The Dead Don’t Die” with my family. The movie starts out with Bill Murray’s and Adam Driver’s characters talking about how strange everything is, and is promptly followed up with an in-movie news channel featuring a debate on whether polar fracking is good or bad. In the movie, a growing global population has given rise to increasing energy demands, which in turn has driven energy companies to start During this debate, the fracking is connected with a change in the Earth’s axial tilt. Subsequently, the characters remark at how strange it is that the sun is still high in the sky despite it being 10 pm at night. When night does eventually come, the moon is shown to have an ominous aura (that is later hinted to be the reason for the dead to be coming back to life.)

The film’s events follow the disruption of the Earth’s axis

At this point in the movie, I had to pause the movie and explain to my family that the earth is off its axis would, in fact, alter our day/night cycle.  But more than this, a change in the Earth’s axial tilt would lead to a severe change in global climate, and could possibly lead to other terrible outcomes.

While the movie focuses on the rising of the dead, it could have taken a closer look at something that we are facing here in reality, which is the re-emergence of dormant contagions. In 2016, there was an anthrax outbreak due to global rising in temperatures where it was called a “zombie bacteria.” There are some things residing in permafrost that need to stay there, especially given our current circumstances. A study in 2014 discovered that a 30,000-year-old virus can be warmed up and still be infectious. Given these studies, it’s actually possible that a “zombie” outbreak could occur if the earth were to be thrown off its axial tilt of 23.5 degrees. So even though the Earth isn’t exactly “level” relative to our orbit with the sun, we can be thankful that it’s a little crooked. 

Our Place in the Universe

How did you first picture the universe? Before being taught in school or at home what the universe was like, we often start to wonder about the world around us. This phase in a child’s life often leads to parents being questioned about almost everything. Questions range from why the sky is blue, why is candy unhealthy, how hot is the sun, to even how far the stars are. These questions are often formed because our young minds are attempting to make sense of the mysteries surrounding us. Today we are surrounded by technology and are able to observe the universe around us with incredible accuracy, allowing us to use science and reasoning to piece together how things work. We weren’t always so well equipped to answer these questions, but not having the right tools didn’t stop ancient thinkers from asking or trying to answer questions about the universe.

Ancient Greece is given a large amount of credit for starting what we call modern science. Ancient Greece is renowned for its philosopher, who were among the first to publicly try to understand how things work without using supernatural or religious ideas. The origin of Greek science is attributed to Thales, who believed that the universe was mostly water, and the Earth was a flat disk floating in an infinite ocean. This idea didn’t catch on, but it suggested that the universe was comprehensible. This likely motivated others after him to continue theorizing our place in the universe. Thales did, however, theorize and predict that a solar eclipse would occur. He did not give a prediction date, but his grasp on the universe was ahead of many around him.

The Greeks largely believed in the geocentric model, which means they thought the Earth was the center of the universe. The Earth being the center of everything played an integral role in Aristotle’s physics. When explaining how elements work, he used their behavior in relation to the Earth to explain their “natural motions.” This lead him to saying that Fire moved away from the Earth, earth returned to Earth, water naturally goes towards Earth, and air rises away from Earth.

A German artist’s interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas

Aristotle’s physics and the geocentric model was widely accepted for a hundreds of years until the Copernican Revolution. Copernicus, Tycho, and Kepler would all contribute to a more modern understanding of the universe and a transition from the geocentric model to the heliocentric model. The heliocentric model is what we use today, and places the Sun in the center of the solar system.

The left shows a heliocentric model while the right shows a geocentric one.

We haven’t always had the answers to questions like what is our place in the universe, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to reason and theorize answers. Even with all our modern day tools and techniques we still can’t answer every question we have. Topics like dark energy still puzzle us, leading to attempts to theorize and reason what it is or how it works. Maybe one day we’ll have the proper technology to observe it, and we will look back on contemporary theories the same way we look at Ancient Greek Philosophers today.

Exploring our Universe

Growing up, I was always inspired by movies like Star Trek and Star Wars to think of other planets and the possibility of traveling in space. In the last few weeks we have discussed the scale of the universe, and how difficult it would be for us to travel to other regions of our nearby Universe. Currently, the fastest rocket we have created can travel about 16 kilometers per second. If we were to assume that in the near future we were able to more than triple this speed to a rate of 50 kilometers per second, how long would it take for us to reach the nearest neighboring star Proxima Centauri which is roughly 4 light years away? A light year is about 10 trillion kilometers, so this would take our hypothetical rocket around 25,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri. The nearest galaxy is Andromeda, which is about 2.5 million light years away. This helps put into perspective how far our galactic neighbors really are from us, and just how many generations/years it would take to reach them even if we were to achieve light speed.

Given this perspective, the significance of our planet and solar system is given more light. Without an insane technological breakthrough, we will not be exploring the universe anytime soon. We are stuck with what we have here on Earth and on the planets around us. While the escapist fantasy of fleeing our problems here on Earth by going to another fruitful solar system that’s ideal for colonization seems like a great idea, it is really in the end just a fantasy.

Proxima Centauri has been subject to plenty of observation

A web page to explore the Universe and that provides more perspective!

ASTR 2110 1st post

Hi, my name is Colin, and I am currently a student athlete at Vanderbilt University. I am taking 2 astronomy classes this semester, and hope to gain a good amount of perspective when it comes to knowing about space and our place in it. I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy genres of books, movies, and video games. An idea I once heard that has always stuck with me was the notion that the people of today were born too late to explore the world, but were born too early to explore space. From what I have learned so far in my classes, is that we are a long ways off from doing any sort of deep space voyages. I think that despite this harsh reality, people long to explore something new because of the idea of being great and having a palpable goal to work towards.

Something that I noticed I did on accident, was actually consume 3 unrelated iterations of entertainment that all explored space during Winter Break. Those 3 things being the movies Star Wars and The Wandering Earth, and the video game The Outer Worlds. I’m looking forward to gaining a better perspective on a set of topics that I’m naturally drawn too!

A depiction of our planet as it passes Jupiter in The Wandering Earth

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

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