Andromeda – Our Nearest Spiral Galaxy

The spiral galaxy of Andromeda
Andromeda Galaxy. 220,000 light years across, containing 10 trillion stars

What was the subject of the popular heated debate between ace astronomers, Heber Curtis and Harlow Shapley? – The Andromeda galaxy!

Back in 1920, Shapley believed that the Pinwheel and the Andromeda galaxies were actually nebulae found in the Milky Way. Curtis believed that this wasn’t the case, based on the argument that the Andromeda galaxy is on a multi-million light-year distance from our Milky Way. It was later established through the work of Henrietta Leavitt, Edwin Hubble, and others that Curtis indeed was right.

Over the years, a lot astronomers have researched Andromeda with some of the findings listed below..

Once a Nebula?

Long before the actual expanse of the universe was realized, the rim of the Milky Way was considered to be the boundary of outer space. Within those boundaries the fuzzy blur visible in the sky (the Andromeda) was believed to be a cluster of cosmic dust clouds and forming stars. The galaxy was originally named the Great Andromeda Nebula until the powerful telescopes of the 20th century proved otherwise.  

It Can Be Seen From Earth

This mammoth, dazzling galaxy is at least at a 2.5 million light year distance away from us. However, if you find a clear night sky (the pollution levels need to be down too) you can see the galaxy with the naked eye. It would appear as a scattered haze. Grab a pair of good binoculars and you can clearly witness the central region of the galaxy. A large powerful telescope will leave you in awe of the spectacular view of Andromeda.

It’s Gigantic

The galaxy has a diameter stretched across almost 220,000 light years. A colossal structure that seems longer that the full moon at night and is actually 2.5 times longer in length than the entire Milky Way. It is farther than any other star visible from earth, yet it can still be seen with the naked eye. 

It is believed that the Milky Way is the most immense body in the Local Group (a galactic group based on more than 54 galaxies), but the Andromeda takes the cake when it comes to being more voluminous. It contains trillions of stars, twice as much as the ones in our galaxy. It was the Spritzer Space Telescope that made this observation.

We’ve Known It for a Lifetime

The Andromeda galaxy being clearly visible in the night sky has been constantly scrutinized, observed, and studied by astronomers for multiple decades. The galaxy spawned about 10 billion years ago when several smaller protogalaxies merged together. About some 8 billion years ago it collided head on with another galaxy that led to the formation of the giant that is Andromeda today.

Now here’s the fun part.  Andromeda is moving towards our galaxy. And it’s not just moving – it’s actually on a collision course! 

Let that sink in. Andromeda and the Milky Way are both moving towards each other at a speed of 120 kilometers per second. But here’s the catch: at this rate it’ll take around 4 billion years for the galaxies to collide!


Johannes Kepler’s “Three Laws of Planetary Motion”

Johannes Kepler was a mathematician, astronomer and teacher, born in Germany in 1571. He studied under Tycho Brahe and expanded upon his knowledge to calculate planets orbits around the Sun. His works contributed to the heliocentric model that stated that the planets orbited around the Sun and not the Earth.

The difference between the Ptolemaic system (Earth as the center) and the heliocentric system can be seen here.

Kepler’s theories became proven fact and subsequently became physical laws, although there are now more precise laws that govern the actions of the planets’ orbit around the sun.

Kepler’s first law states that each planet moves in an elliptical orbit, with the sun located at the center.

Ke;[er's 1st Law

Kepler’s second law, known as the Law of Equal Areas states that the (triangular ) area between where the sun and the planets over a given time are always equal, despite the fact that the planets move faster when further away from the sun and travel slower when nearer to the sun. Consequently, the the triangular  area increases and decreases as the planets distances change.

For example, the image below depicts a planet revolving around the Sun. As the planet moves away from the sun, it picks up speed. If we draw a triangle where one point is time A and the other point is time B, then the area is equal to the same area for the triangle that represents time points C and D.

How can this be? It is because the lines that make up the area between A and B stretches out a longer distance, but the planet is moving slower over a shorter distance on the elipse. When the planet moves faster, such as the area between C and D, the distance is shorter, but the distance the planet moves along the elipse is longer. Thus we have a faster speed at a greater distance and a slower speed at a shorter distance, which equals the same amount of area.

The wider area is known as the Perihelion and the smaller area is known as the Aphelion.

Kepler’s  second law is illustrated in this animation.

Kelper's Second Law

Kepler’s third law states that the square of the orbital (time) period of any planet is equal to the cube of the distance (radios, called semimajor axis) from the planet from the sun.

Another way of stating this is that the square of the (time) period of a planet’s orbit is proportional to the cube of that planet’s semi-major axis, or t^2 X d^3.

T (planet) ^2 d (planet) ^3
_____________ = ___________

T (earth) ^2 d (earth) ^3

Kepler’s heliocentric calculations let to Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation.

Fascinating Facts About the Universe

The Stars in the UniverseAstronomy undeniably fascinates all. Even the ones who would normally run miles away from learning science cannot help from being amazed by this branch of science that delves deep into our universe. Studying celestial objects, how they materialized and what goes on in them are the cores of astronomy and give rise to how we and our planets developed into the forms that we are.

Basically, anything that occurs outside Earth’s atmosphere is encompassed in the study of astronomy. One of the reasons why it is so hauntingly fascinating is how it reminds us of the immensity and unimaginable vastness of the universe, while at the same time reminding us of how tiny we are in comparison.

Something that is not merely interesting but outgrows our imagination is often thought of as too intimidating to learn about. While we won’t delve deeply by bombarding you with details likely to daze an astronomer himself, we will provide you with some important and gripping facts that may just astound you. Read on!

The Amazing Sun

Can you imagine one hundred billion nuclear bombs going off in a second? Obviously imagining something with this kind of extraordinary energy is quite beyond our comprehension, but this is exactly what goes on in the core of the sun. The heat and light from the sun originates from its core , which is equivalent to a hundred billion nuclear bombs exploding per second. This release of energy travel through the sun’s layers, surmounting thousands of years of journey making it to the surface.  As far as size and dimension is concerned, the sun is equivalent to one millions Earths .

Dark Matter

The current human capability is limited to exploring only five percent of the universe matter. The rest is dark matter (also called invisible matter) and dark energy that lies way beyond human comprehension as yet.

Gravitational waves

These were only detected last year, whereas they were actually released over a billion years ago when two massive black holes collided to form an even massive single black hole; 62 times the mass of sun to be exact. The same way that tectonic plates on earth slip past each other sending shudders through the surface known as earthquakes, similarly the collision of black holes was of tectonic nature that gave rise to immense jolts in the form of gravitational waves.


Surprisingly, Venus happens to be hotter than mercury. Wondering how is that even possible? Let’s delve into some science of it. Mercury has no atmosphere making it impossible for it to trap heat coming right in from the sun. Whereas Venus has a thick atmosphere that can easily trap heat, making it stay for longer time periods as compared to mercury.

Shooting Stars

Those moving lights in the sky that many wish upon in the hopes of being granted the wish are not really shooting stars. They are dust particles from space and meteors that fall through the atmosphere, rubbing off with the atmospheric gases which make them vaporize as a result. So the next time you wish upon them, try and tell yourself that may be the universe is playing games with you!

Constellations That Decide Our Fate

We gaze at the stars fun and interest, but they used to be a major time marker for the ancient civilizations and to this day, these constellations are central to the subject of astrology.  

The stars move across the sky on a regular basis, just as the sun does and eventually, they become visible to the people of earth through the rotation of the earth itself. Zodiac is actually a ring of 13 constellations that passes us each year when the earth orbits around it.

How Zodiac Signs are Assigned:

We all are fond of our zodiac signs and are always trying to find traits, similarities and some form of connection with these signs, but have you ever wondered on what basis are we even assigned these signs?

Before we elaborate, remember that astrology is not actually a science and does not follow any sort of scientific reasoning. That being said, assigning the stars to a particular time period is quite ironic. When someone is born, they are not given the sign based on the constellations present; in fact, they are assigned with the zodiac that is not visible in the sky at the moment.

Location of the Zodiac Constellations:

Greek mythology played a large part in naming these zodiac constellations and the myths behind them.


Aqua, meaning water, is a sign that symbolizes a man pouring water. This constellation appears in the southern hemisphere and is said to be one of the oldest recorded constellations.


The constellation of Aries is large, yet only three of its stars are bright enough to appear prominent. This constellation of stars is situated in the Northern Hemisphere and sandwiched between Pisces and Taurus.


Cancer is one of the toughest constellations to observe as it very dim and can only be seen through a   telescope. Cancer becomes visible from earth in the earlier days of spring.


If you want to catch a glimpse of Capricorn, then look across the sky during the nights of September. The constellation of Capricorn consists of three bright stars, namely alpha, beta and omega Capricorn.


Stargazers can easily spot Gemini because of its bright stars and very obvious pattern. Gemini appears during the month of February, April and May.


Leo is a lion shaped constellation whose pattern is very easy to spot. Leo was among one of the earliest discovered constellations.


Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Libra is easy to see with the naked eye.


While this star is part of the zodiac rings of the constellation, it is not used as a part of astrology. It is big in size and one of the last ones to join the zodiac calendar.


Pisces is a hard one to spot in the sky, even with its large size. This constellation is situated in the northern hemisphere and stargazers can see it on the clearest days of autumn.


This constellation is located in the center of the Milky Way galaxy.


It is also located at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.


It is one of the most visible and apparent constellations in the northern winter sky.


Virgo appears in both the northern and the southern hemisphere during different seasons.

The Mythology of the Planets in Our Solar System

Our solar system is home to eight planets – actually make it nine, Pluto is back to being a planet this year (only a dwarf on at that). Each planet has its own dynamics and traits that set it apart from the other planets that share the solar system with them.


Mercury got its name from the divine messenger of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology. He was also the god of thievery, commerce, and travel. Most likely, the planet got its name from the rate at which it spins.

The planet nearest to the sun has 3,031 mile diameter – this size up to around 2/5 of the Earth’s diameter. Mercury is so close to the sun that the sun rays are about seven times as strong on its surface as they are on Earth – imagine the scorching temperatures! Although not too far off, Mercury’s size and the brightly shining sun make it almost impossible to see it from Earth – unless you have a telescope of course.


Love comes into play with our closest planet to Earth. Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Most probably it shinny surface, seen even from Earth had some influence for this god. The only objects in our Solar System brighter than Venus are the Sun and the Moon. Other civilization of antiquity have also associated Venus with love. The Babylonians called the planet Ishtar after their goddess of womanhood and love.

The has an atmosphere that is extremely hot and may prove deadly for humans (in case you were wondering why the humans haven’t landed there yet). It is closest to the Earth and takes its name after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty. Venus is slightly smaller than Earth, about 400 miles in diameter to be precise.


Did you know that the surface of Mars can be observed in detail right here from the Earth? Mars was named after the Roman god of war because of the reddish color of its surface. Mars has a diameter of 4,200 miles. It’s a little more than half of Earth’s diameter. The only planet smaller than Mars, considering Pluto isn’t one, is Mercury.


Jupiter was the Roman king of the gods. No doubt, a fitting name for the largest planet in our solar system.
Jupiter is another one of the gas planets and constitutes 15% helium and 84 % hydrogen with traces of acetylene, ethane, ammonia, methane, water vapors, and phosphine. There’s a great red spot on the surface of Jupiter, which is believed to be a storm. This storm is said to be on-going for more than 300 years. Jupiter is so gigantic that you can easily fit 100 Earths in its red spot alone.  


Roman god of agriculture takes the name for Saturn, is has the most distinct appearance among all planets. According legend, the god Saturn stole the location of the king of the gods from his father Uranus. The throne was then stolen by Jupiter. This gigantic planet of gas is characterized by seven thin, flat rings circling it. It is the second largest planet of the solar system with a diameter of 74,600 miles – that is ten times the diameter of the Earth.


Uranus was the father of Saturn and that’s where the planet gets its name from. Uranus was discovered by William Herschel back in 1781. The planet has 27 known natural satellites.


The bluest of all our planets, Neptune was almost called ‘Verrier’, after the astronomer who discovered it, but that was greatly contested, so it was named after the god of the sea.

If we’re not counting Pluto as a planet, then Neptune is the farthest planet revolving around the sun. Neptune has a diameter of around 30,200 miles – that is about 4 times the size of Earth’s diameter!

Pluto (Degraded to Dwarf Planet)

It’s named after Pluto, the god of the underworld in the Roman mythology. Growing up, we all were taught that Pluto is the far off ninth planet of the solar system. All that changed when in 2006 the planet-like Pluto was declassified from the group to be called a dwarf planet. However, astronomers are still flummoxed about its proper categorization. Poor old Pluto behaves like a planet, but also has the qualities of a comet – so as of now, they’ve termed it to be a hybrid!

We sure hope they don’t banish it from the house of hybrid celestial bodies now.


The Science Behind the Age of the Earth

How do you calculate your age? You simply subtract your birth year and current year. But when it comes to determining the age of the sprawling sphere which we call home, Earth, it becomes a bit trickier. Let’s explore what science has to say about the age of the Earth.

The age of the Earth couldn’t be guessed by anyone before the process of radiometric dating came into play. In 1898, the pioneer of radiology, Marie Curie discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity. The atoms either decay or lose energy by emitting radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves or particles. Later, in the year 1904, Ernest Rutherford, the famous physicist determined how this decay could let them explore the age of old rocks.

With this exploration, Arthur Homes, who was completing his geology degree in London, acted as a helping hand by developing a new technique of dating rocks using the uranium lead method. He applied this technique to the oldest rock and got to know its age. Applying the similar technique to calculate the age of the Earth made him reach the conclusion that the Earth was at least 1.6 billion years old.

But wait, this is not the actual age of the Earth! The Earth’s age has always been hotly debated among the scientists over the years. That is why several revisions have been made. Later, in 1920’s, an unknown scientist declared that Earth’s age was approximately 3 billion years. This suggested that the Earth was even older than the universe, which itself is 1.8 billion years old.

Later, the scientists declared that radiometric dating of the fragments from Canyon Diablo iron meteorite was the best estimate for calculating the age of the Earth. From those fragments, they got to know that the true age of Earth was 4.56 billion years.

Since then, scientists have been using radiometric dating to determine the age of extraterrestrial objects such as Earth, meteorites, space rocks and moon rocks. For many years, scientists have tried to determine the exact age and now that they have discovered its age using the radiometric dating, they are using it for several other space objects as well.

If you want to explore some more interesting information from the world of geology, come back and join us for more interesting information on other fascinating topics.      

Electrical Power Units

The Watt is a standard unit of energy.  It is dependent upon the amount of voltage and current that it is receiving. The more of either, the more power the object will acquire; thus, the formula for calculating  watts is:

Watts =  Volts * Amps

Watt Energy Example

We can use water flowing through a pipe as an example.  The size of the pipe is represented by amps (amount of electrons that can flow through it). The larger the pipe, the more electrons that will flow at any one time, which equates to the more amps  (or current) that can flow at any one time.  And the speed (force) at which the water is flowing is represented by volts, so if 2 amps of current is flowing at a rate of 10 volts, we have 20 watts.

20 watts would be a pretty dim lit light bulb and it would still be relatively dark in any room when you turn on the light bulb, so we should use a bulb with more wattage. Let’s use a 60 watt bulb. That would be equivalent to either 10 amps (larger pipe) x 6 volts or 6 amps x 10 volts or any combination thereof. The resultant watts is commonly listed as power, so the power of any electrical source is determined by the amount of voltage (how fast it is flowing) times the amount of amps (how much is flowing).

Watts =  Volts * Amps is equivalent to Power = (how fast) times (how much)

Electron Flow Diagram
Current flows through the circuit. The larger the container (conductor) that holds the current, the more current (amps) that will flow through it.

Consider a 1200 watt bulb. It could be using a voltage of 120 with 10 amps of current, which is what is in most households. Since most homes utilize 120 voltage power sources (or voltage that is stepped down from the source electric companies that generate millions of watts (megawatts)).

Don’t ever touch a 1200 watt bulb, since the energy released will make the bulb extremely hot. This leads us to the amount of work that is done in the light bulb.

Adding Time to the Equation

How much energy is produced on the bulb depends upon on how long the light bulb is turned on. If the bulb is on for 1 second, then the power that is generated is 1200 watts for 1 second (or watt-seconds), which is equal to 1200 joules. (joules = watt-seconds).

So, joules is a unit of energy and time, where 1 watt times 1 second equals 1 joule.

Using Units of Energy in the Real World

For many, the use of watts-seconds is easier to understand, but in reality, kilowatts (1000 watts) is more appropriate.

Moving forward, 1 kilo-watt hour = the energy delivered by 1000 watts for a one hour.  To get the equivalent amount of joules for 1 kilo-watt hour, we must multiply 1000 (watts) * 60 (minutes) * 60 (seconds) = 3,600,000 joules, since joules are represented in units of seconds.

1 kilo-watt hour = 3,600,000 joules

Example: 15 kilowatt-hours = 15 * 3,600,000 = 54,000,000 joules.

What does this all mean?

Putting it all into perspective, 1 kilo-watt hour is equivalent of running a 1000 watt light bulb for 1 hour or a 2000 watt hair dryer for 1/2 hour.

Joules and Watts-Seconds are used interchangeably and their units are dependent upon need or preference.

Ways to Master Stargazing without Breaking a Sweat

People Looking Up to the Stars
Studying the Stars Can be a Very Rewarding Experience

How many times have we lifted our head and caught sight of the beautiful shining stars in the dark night sky? Uncountable times for sure. Some of us just quietly admire their beauty and walk away while others get star struck (pun intended). If you belong to the latter kind, then you’ll certainly need some pointers.

The story with stargazing is that even with all the equipment in your hands, you still end up being confused and disappointed in the beginning. What you’ll need is some amazing tips so you can master the art of stargazing, such as these:

Choose The Right Spot:

If you live in the countryside, then you are in luck! When it comes to stargazing, all the city lights wash away the darkness and make it hard to find stars. Find the darkest place for stargazing and a place from where you have access to a large, open sky with no building and trees blocking the view. Hilltops, beaches and a rooftop provide the best view of the horizon.

Gather Your Supplies:

Stargazing needs time and observation so you’ll probably want to get comfortable at your spot. Don’t forget to take all the essentials with you like a blanket, food, drinks, binoculars, sweater or a sweatshirt, compass, camera and maybe a handbook to tell you which constellation you just found.

No Need of a Telescope:

Unless you want to pursue stargazing as a full-time profession, you don’t need to buy a high-end telescope. As a start, just your eyes and a pair of binoculars would do a perfect job.

Notice The Sky:

Many things can be learned by observing. Before you go all out with your money and begin shopping for interesting looking equipment, just use your eyes. Anytime you go out, pay attention to the sky and notice the stars, their patterns and just anything that shines brightly.

Stalk The Moon:

The moon always chases us or at least that’s what we used to think when we were young. However, besides being highly suspicious of the moon, did we ever look at it? Like really looked at it and noticed its shape, the changes in it and its movement with respect to the star nearby? If not, then better start from now. It was only after observing the moon that people in the past began to notice that it is not always round and its shape changes, which lead to further discoveries in the future.

Find the constellations:

Once you find a place to see the open sky for stargazing, try to notice the patterns in them. People used to spend hours finding these patterns by connecting the stars and finding shapes in them. Eventually, they were named constellations. There are 88 constellations in total that have been found to date and anyone can find them just by looking at patterns in the stars.


Stars might seem all white, bright and shiny from the distance but they are actually made of different colors. Try to find all the different colors of stars such as yellow, red and orange. The color differences provide scientists the opportunity for determining different characteristics of the objects. It is based upon the color spectrum.

Make sure you record all your findings during stargazing. It is a very interesting hobby and if you are ready, you might even catch an anomaly or two while you are at it.

Bottom Line:

Learn how to map the sky, then consider a telescope that would be appropriate for your needs and experience. Viewing the universe can be a very rewarding experience, but use patience. It will pay off.

Force and Acceleration

Any force that acts upon an object causes the object to move, or more appropriately, accelerate. An apple falling from a tree (the force) hits a basket ball (the object) and the basketball begins to move faster and faster (acceleration), until it loses the acceleration and slows down.

Considering the ball has a mass of 1kg (mass is an objects weight on Earth less its gravity). Then the acceleration of the ball is measured by its speed per unit of time.

Newton Unit

With this in mind, 1 Newton (N) is equal to an object with a mass of one kilogram (1kg) moving at a speed of one meter per second each second.

1 N =  (1m/sec²) or simply put, 1 Newton = Mass x Acceleration

The Newton represents the force on an object or the work done, referred as the energy times the distance the force moves.

Units of newtons have no relative association to the real world, unless we add a distance factor; that is, unless we can describe how far this force has accelerated over a certain distance.  Enter the Joule.


1 joule is a unit of energy (or work done) that equates to a mass of 1 kg that is accelerating at 1 meter / second over 1 a distance of 1 meter. A more specific way to describe a joule is N times meters.

J = N x M, or simply put, 1 Joule = (Mass x Acceleration) x (distance).

If we lift our 1kg basketball 1 meter, we have 1 joule.

To gain more perspective on Joules, please view this video


1 watt is equal to 1 joule / second or 1 kg that has moved a distance of 1 meter at a velocity of 1 meter / second squared for 1 second.

Reverting back to the apple example, if the basketball of mass 1 kg is moving at 1 meter/second over a distance of 1 meter (joule) and it did this in 1 second, we have a watt. Another example would be moving 1 lb about 9 inches.


1 erg =  10−7 joules or 10 over 7 zeroes.

An example would be the sun’s luminosity (brighness) is equal to 3.846×1026 W or 3.9 x 10 33 ergs/sec.

NASA’s Orion Ares V Spacecraft

We’re going to the moon again and it’s about time. But even better than that, this time, the new spacecraft, called Ares V, will be the rocket that will help us build a permanent space station on the moon and then take us to Mars.

Our Next Spacecraft

The Orion Ares V Spacecraft has been designed with the latest technology. which includes includes research into the essential provisions (food, water, health and medical needs, spacesuits as well as all else that is needed) to send a human into deep space.

The Ares V rocket has many similarities as the Saturn V (and almost as tall), which includes storing capacity for large scale hardware and materials for deep space missions.

Ares V Spacecraft

NASA Ares V SpacecraftThe rocket is 358’ tall with two powerful boosters on each side. The leading led department is the Exploration Launch Projects Office. They are using the combined experience of all previous space missions and applying them to this project, together with all the advanced technology that we currently have available.  This includes advanced vehicle hardware and flight systems.

See the NASA Ares V Fact Sheet Here.

We are entering a new and exciting phase of NASA’s venture into space, not seen since the Apollo moon missions.