Monthly Archives: February 2013
February 28th is the last day of the month, which means that this is not a Leap Year. As you probably know, every four years we add an extra day onto February assuming that we didn’t do so in the last 300 years. Since this is a somewhat confusing and imprecise system, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining it here.
The reason we don’t have a precise calendar with a nice round 365 day year is because calendars are based around a rather imprecise clock- The Earth. Because of the Earth’s dizzying running pace of 19 miles per second around the Sun, it actually turns nearly four extra quarter turns on its axis, which adds up to one extra day, and that is why we add an extra day on February 29th. But here’s the catch- it’s not actually a complete day, which means that after a few centuries, the accumulated time we lose by adding a day means that we get off track with the Earth’s cycle around the Sun. This is why we skip a leap year every 400 years. The year 2000 was a leap year, but the year 2100 won’t be.
I found this nifty little algorithm to help you figure out whether or not the current year is a leap year:
If the year is divisible by 400 then
it is a leap_year
If the year is divisible by 100 then
If the year is divisible by 4 then it is a leap year.
In this video, you can see a fun look about the science and history behind this phenomenon, and how it relates to, -gasp- MY FAVORITE STAR- SIRIUS:
As you can see from the video, the human race has evolved a great deal of calendars over the years to precisely track the motions of the planet around the Sun: the Egyptian, Mayan, the Julian, and Gregorian. Even today, with our cesium laser powered atomic clocks, we still use this system as the basis for how the world tells time; as mammals we still respond to the cycle of our planet, its Sun, and its moon, and we depend on that to keep our lives in sync with the rhythm of the cosmos. Imperfect though it may be, it is what links us with the rest of creation.
So enjoy this non-leap year, and while you do, take a little time to think about how you are part of this great cosmic dance, and how our planet knows the steps even after 4.6 billion years.
Last week I got my fiancee her wedding ring, just in time for Valentine’s day. Although she was thrilled, I was kind of taken aback when I read in the New York Times about a far stranger love gesture- giving the girl you like a spoon full of Moon-dust!
As you can see, lunar dust (pictured left), has a grayish charcoal-like appearance. The astronauts from Apollo 11 even said it smells like gunpowder as it coated the boots of their space suits. It actually cut up parts of the ship like finely ground glass.
In this particular story, a young male astronomer who was examining lunar dust, (possibly at the University of Boulder Colorado), wanted to impress his sweetheart, so he gave her a spoonful of the lunar dust. Before the university could confiscate the valuable material, SHE ATE IT! According to Dava Sobel, an astronomy reporter from the New York Times, (and a personal friend of the woman in question), The lunar dust was incredibly shiny and bright, and seemed to take on a mystical quality as it entered the woman’s body:
I exaggerate the romance of the incident in my reverie, so that as the moon dust enters Carolyn’s mouth, it ignites on contact with her saliva, shooting sparks that lodge in her every cell. Crystalline and alien, it illuminates her body’s dark recesses like pixie powder, thrums the senseless tune of a wind chime through her veins. By its sacred presence it changes her very nature: Carolyn the moon goddess (excerpt from New York Times.com 10/1/95)
It is probably not true that lunar dust could actually shine from within you, but it is true that lunar rocks reflect a lot of light, which is why the Moon shines like a mirror at night when the Sun hits it. The dust itself is also very jagged and shiny like finely ground glass, which is why eating lunar dust in great quantities could pose some great health risks, as scientist Jennifer Hedmann explains in this video.
Some studies suggest that breathing Moon-dust could actually damage a person’s lungs. With their fine powder, the dust particles could damage the fine air sacks in the lungs that we need to provide oxygen-rich blood to our cells, in a fashion similar to Stone-Cutters disease. So in the future, if human beings ever do return to the Moon, they will have to be very careful about dusting.
Unfortunately, this romantic gesture didn’t quite work- the woman in question never married her astronomer boyfriend, and soon he and the Moon dust in her body just… slipped away. So I suppose if there is a lesson to ladies looking for a man to give them the Moon and the stars it’s probably this: some men are good for your heart, but not good for your lungs. And to the men I say, “stick to Earth rocks.”
Till next time, Happy Star gazing!
I’m playing a little bit of catch up, since I spent yesterday enjoying my birthday, so here’s the topics I’ll be covering for the rest of the week:
Today In Space History: Today I’ve posted a brand new discovery of the extrasolar planet Kepler 37b- the smallest planet ever discovered! It’s only about the size of the moon, and orbits its closest star in less than a month.
This Month In Astrology: Pisces. My birthday, (like Copernicus’) falls on the zodiac sign Pisces, which runs from February 19th-March 20th. Tonight I’ll be writing some interesting details about my own star sign- the placement in the sky, the elements. and the dominant characteristics that a Piscean such as myself is supposed to have. I’ll also be writing a post where I’ll teach you to create your own horoscope!
Astronomy Myths and Legends: Taurus Right now, the Moon and the planet Jupiter are right in the eye of the constellation Taurus the Bull. I thought I’d give you guys some insight into this zodiac constellation, and the somewhat curious myth that spawned it.
Special Post (Today In Space History) Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the greatest astrophysicists of our time, and director of the Heyden Planetarium.
Special Post- How to Survive an Asteroid Impact!
Enjoy all this as the week goes on!
Today is my birthday, as well as the Renaissance scholar and astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, who helped prove that the Earth revolves around the Sun. To be honest, I’m taking a little break today to enjoy my own birthday, so in my absence, enjoy this documentary about Copernicus, and I’ll be back tomorrow.
HOOLY COW! What a week it has been- between the asteroids going across the globe, a comet in Australia, meteors in Russia, and lightning strikes in Rome; it seems like the gods of astronomy are working overtime to make this a very fascinating week. I have posted a recap of this week’s events on Today In Astronomy to fill you in on anything you missed, with the best reporting the web can offer!
Asteroid DA 14 is due in the skies in North America in the next two hours, so I thought I’d provide links to the best live coverage. First, here’s a
live feed from NASA that begins at 9PM EST:
Secondly, here’s a compilation of clips from astronomers at SLOOH.com, which was featured on Dateline last night:
That’s all I got for now, I gotta get ready for the tour tonight!
As you read this, there is a NASA mission going on to send a supply ship to the International Space Station. I’ve included a live feed from the mission on the Today In Space History Page. Please click on this page and enjoy watching this once-in-a-lifetime space mission!
I’ve also included the ISS tracker, so while the spacecraft is docking with the station, you can figure out when it passes over your hometown! Click here to access it: http://www.isstracker.com/&vm=r
Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival; the time in the Chinese lunarsolar calendar that signifies the beginning of the Spring. It is also the beginning of the new Chinese zodiac sign, which begins every 12 years. Each year is associated with one of the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. I found this handy little chart from Chinese Zodiac.com. This year is actually the Year Of the Snake.
A person’s zodiac was determined by marrying a person’s year animal, their birth element- earth, water, fire, metal, and wood, which were associated with the 5 planets of the solar system- wood for Jupiter, fire for Mars, Earth for Saturn, metal for Venus, and water for Mercury. Like the European astrologers and philosophers, these elements and planets also had a powerful influence on the human body.
The belief that the stars can control human bodies and destinies was one reason that the Chinese became such good astronomers, as this video demonstrates:
Many astronomers believe the Chinese had the best astronomers in the world in the period before the Arabs. Even before the Greeks, the Chinese figured out how to predict eclipses, and to navigate by the North Star. By the fourth century, they had charted most of the night sky. This chart on the left, accurately depicts the 28 Chinese constellations.
So enjoy your Chinese New Year day, and good fortune in the new year!
Tomorrow a re-supply ship will dock with the ISS, and you’ll get to watch the whole thing live HERE! I’ll provide you with a little history on the ISS, and of course, the live feed from NASA. So don’t miss it! The launch begins tomorrow at 9:40 AM.