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Saturn on Steroids

J1407b and its massive ring system (artist’s rendition)

Way out in the constellation Centaurus is a peculiar solar system 434 light years away that fascinates astronomers. The central star, named 1SWASP, is similar to our Sun in size and doesn’t appear to have any unusual characteristics for a main-sequence star. However, it was discovered in 2007 that 1SWASP is orbited by one enormous exoplanet when Eric Mamajek viewed a complex eclipse that showed the presence of a “Super Saturn.” This exoplanet (called J1407b) has also been called a “Saturn on Steroids” due to its enormous system of circumplanetary rings that are around 600 times the size of Saturn’s. For reference, if this planet changed places with Saturn we would see it’s ring system from Earth and it would appear 4-5 times as large as a full moon. Additionally, there are several gaps in the ring system that suggest the presence of large exo-moons. If anyone lives on those moons, they probably have an incredible view of the sky every night. I’m jealous!

Since the solar system is very young (only about 16 million years) it is theorized that the planet’s ring system will slowly diminish in size as time goes on. However, it appears that the rings orbit J1407b in retrograde motion, so this may allow for longer ring lifetimes than usual. Additionally, the rings may be able to be replenished by passing objects that get trapped in orbit. Whatever may happen to this “Super Saturn,” there’s no doubt that its rings are certainly amazing today!


SpaceX and Bassnectar – A Love Story

Over spring break, a few of my pals and I got the incredible opportunity to see a SpaceX rocket launch in the distance as we danced to the booming music of Bassnectar at Okeechobee Music Festival 2020. It was really a once in a lifetime experience, and we would’ve completely missed it if a random person hadn’t shouted “Look!” right as the rocket came into view. As I looked up, I saw what initially seemed to be an explosion until I realized that it was the First stage booster rockets separating from the main Dragon spacecraft. The rocket needed the extra boosters in order to get the 4,300 pounds of experiments and supplies off the ground and out of the atmosphere.

All in all, this was a breathtaking feat to witness. I’ve always dreamt of seeing a real rocket in action and my dreams couldn’t have been more fulfilled. Next time, I want to be as close to the rocket as possible so as to fully appreciate the beauty of modern engineering.

Juno – Spacecraft, Roman Goddess, and….Lego Minifigure?

The Juno Lego Minifigures: Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo

Currently orbiting Jupiter is a small satellite that goes by the name of Juno. This small spacecraft was launched in 2011 and was tasked with uncovering as much as possible about Jupiter and its mysterious history. Its main mission is to measure the composition, gravity field, and magnetic field of Jupiter while simultaneously looking for hints as to how the giant planet formed. Even though we have sent many probes to Jupiter in the past, none have survived long enough to tell us much about the planet’s core or its mass distribution. Essentially, Juno is NASA’s best attempt so far at breaking through the seeming impenetrable wall of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Juno also carries with it a couple of interesting tributes and trinkets. Onboard the satellite is a plaque dedicated to the legendary Galileo Galilei who (among many other achievements) discovered the moons around Jupiter. Additionally, Juno carries with it three Lego minifigures that represent Galileo himself, the Roman God Jupiter, and the goddess Juno (Jupiter’s sister and wife). According to Roman mythology, Juno was the only one who could see through Jupiter’s veil of clouds in order to reveal his true nature. In a similar fashion, NASA hopes that the Juno spacecraft will finally be able to break through the haze and see into the massive planet, finally revealing the mysteries that lie within.

Invisible Stars Bending Space-Time with Gravity

Researchers at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw have recently discovered two previously invisible stars deep within the Milky Way. These binary stars (two stars that effectively orbit each other) were found thanks to a star called Gaia16aye that is considerably farther away. A few years ago, astronomers noticed that Gaia16aye would occasionally “flash” for a day or so and then go back to its normal brightness without initiating a supernova. It wasn’t until this past January that it was determined that these flashes were due to gravitational lensing from the aforementioned binary stars that are not bright enough to be seen from Earth. Although dim, these two stars are still massive enough to create multiple pockets of magnification that allow us to get a brighter look at Gaia16aye. Even though they are completely invisible to us, scientists are still able to determine almost everything about them thanks to the effects of gravitational lensing. This is exciting news because if gravitational lensing events like this one can show previously invisible stars, astronomers might be able to uncover even sweeter scores (like black holes) within our very own Milky Way galaxy. Space, baby!

The Speed of Light: Can We Go Faster?

The speed of light in a vacuum is around 300,000,000 meters per second (for those more accustomed to freedom units, that’s 186,282 miles per second). Thanks to Albert Einstein and many other prominent scientists, we believe that only massless particles like photons are able to achieve this speed. This implies that it’s theoretically impossible for anything with mass to travel at the speed of light as we currently understand it. However, this natural “speed limit” doesn’t stop sci-fi writers from taking creative liberties in their work. Things like warp drives, wormholes, and time travel all revolve around speculations on the true nature of light-speed and how humans can engineer machinery to mimic its behavior. With today’s technology these ideas are obviously impossible, but does that mean humans will never achieve the seemingly impossible? With the current rate of technological innovation, inter-galactic space travel might not be as far off as we think. In only the past 100 years, humans have created marvels like the rocket ship, internet, and computer chip. Who’s to say where civilization will be in a couple hundred years from now? You and I probably won’t be around to see the first human reach a different solar system, but in a few centuries reaching the speed of light might not be seen as such an unattainable feat.

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.