Category Archives: Stars

If It Weren’t For This, the Stars Wouldn’t Have Their Names!

We’ve all heard the stories of the North Star guiding sailors through the mighty oceans to their destinations. We’ve got songs and poems based on stars – remember chanting “like a diamond in the sky” every time you were asked to recite a nursery rhyme?

Star Cluster
A Star Cluster

Stars have been around for centuries and have been the point of fascination for as long as we humans have existed.

But were you aware of the fact that every star that you see shining in the sky on a clear night actually has a name?

Stars were given names since the ancient times. It gave astronomers the opportunity to study select stars in a precise manner.

Why else do you think the North Star is called so?

While some stars get proper names, others are named using a catalog number as and when they are observed by someone. However, the interesting question remains:

How do stars get their names?

Let’s find that out.

In ancient times the constellations were seen as patterns that resembled objects, animals, or people – some constellations like “Orion” even became a representation of the Greek myth of Orion the Hunter. This is one of the major reasons why most stars have been named in a mix of Latin and Greek languages. There is Bellatrix and Cappella (Latin), Canopus and Alcyone (Greek), and Alnair and Caph (Arabic), among various other stars.

Can you name a few popular stars? Let us give you a start; there’s the Sirius and Rigel – how many more can you think of?

But giving fancy names to the stars has diminished to a mere act of the past. In today’s world, Stars are mostly assigned a numerical descriptor. The descriptor is reflective of the star’s position in the sky at night. These numbers are generally associated to a catalog. The star catalogs are used to group stars with similar properties or on the basis of the instrument that discovered their radiation initially.

Modern day astronomers often make use of constellations to name the stars. There are 88 officially recognized constellations in the universe. It’s the International Astronomical Union that keeps record and track of the naming of celestial objects. The stars within a constellation are named using Greek alphabets: alpha, beta, gamma, and so on followed by the name of their constellation for scientific recognition. The brightest star called is the “alpha” and the rest follow. Once all Greek letters are used, the remaining stars are assigned numerical designations.

There are a number of stars that have been named since the ancient times, like the Betelgeuse. In Arabic it translates to “the hand of the giant”. Since the Betelgeuse is the brightest star of the Orion constellation, it gets the scientific name Alpha Orionis.

Did you know that the North Star’s actual name is Polaris? It is also sometimes referred to as the Pole Star.

As displeasing to the ears as the modern day names of the stars may sound, thy prove extremely useful in helping astronomers search, study, and learn more about a particular star in the night sky.  These names are internationally agreed upon and used worldwide to avoid confusions.

 

White Dwarf Stars

Whether a star morphs into a white dwarf, a neutron start or a black hole at its end of life cycle will depend upon the amount of mass that is contained in its center core, along with the mass’s proportional gravity.

As mentioned in our article, the more mass or matter that a body contains, the more gravity that is produced. This is the key, for the more mass, the more gravity and consequently, the more pressure from the gravity. It is this pressure that provides for the extreme heat that is generated and subsequently, the fusion of atoms. The types of elements that are fused is what determines if the dying star will be a dwarf, neutron or black hole. These rules of physics are universal.

Stars die when the fusion process ceases. Then, depending upon its size, it will change into one of the types mentioned above.

Our sun, which is in the category called the main sequence, is not an extraordinary star by any means, although we may feel that is not the case here on Earth, as we mortals cannot even set our eyes on this star, but the fact remains that in comparison to other stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies, our sun is a mere pea compared to some of the giants in the universe.

With that said, the sun, when it dies will expand to become a red giant.

The Sun

The SunThe Sun is a standard ‘G’ sized star, compared to the smaller stars and large supernovas in our universe. All stars in the universe are made of gas held together by its own gravity. Every planet in our solar system revolves around the Sun and is held in orbit by the speed at which is revolves against the gravitational pull of the Sun. The closer the planet is to the Sun, the more the gravitational pull the sun has on the planet, but the faster the planet will revolve around it.

The temperature at the Sun’s core is about 27 million degrees and without its light and energy, there would be no life on earth. Formed about 4.5 billion years ago, it is estimated that it has another 4.5 billion years before it destroys itself into most likely a neutron star (larger stars would morph into a black hole, due to the much larger gravitational pull they have).

All stars are fused together (called nuclear fusion) by hydrogen atoms and helium atoms due to the powerful gravitational pull in the star’s core, resulting in the enormous amount of energy that becomes our sun. The energy of this star is so powerful that it is equivalent to the explosion of over 100 billion Hiroshima bombs per second. Hard to comprehend, but true. And noted before, our sun is just a standard size star. A star the size of Betelgeuse would release even more fusion energy per second.

Comparison of Sun with gas giant planets
Comparison of Sun with the gas giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune

The sun contains more than 99 percent of the mass of the entire solar system. It would take 1.3 million Earths to fill up the Sun. Here us a quick calculation:

The volume of the Sun is 1.412 x 1018 km3. The volume of the Earth is 1.083 x 1012 km3. So if you divide the volume of the Sun by the volume of the Earth, you get 1,300,000. The size of the Earth is insignificant compared to the Sun. It is only about the size of an average sunspot.

When we look at the Sun (not recommended), we are actually looking at it as it was nine minutes ago, because the sun is about nine light minutes away from Earth, so if the Sun exploded right now, we would still have a comforting nine minutes longer to live.

The Curiosity of One Star’s Odd Century Long Flickering

Unfortunately, mankind’s knowledge of the universe is lacking, and there are many unexplained phenomenon that are observed in the distant reaches of space. One such instance is the star KIC 8462852, a complete ordinary star that showing dramatic dips in its brightness at irregular intervals.

Usually, astronomers use dips in the light from a star to determine the location of other objects, such as planets. However, a planet as large as Jupiter would only dim the brightness of the star by roughly 1%, and changes in the brightness of what has become known as Tabby’s Star can be as large as 20%.

The light pattern suggested a lot of matter circling the star in a tight formation, which happens with young stars, but Tabby’s Star is not young, explained The Atlantic. As a result, many theories have been brought up about what could be causing the star’s light to dim so dramatically.

One of the more interesting, but unlikely, was posited by Jason Wright, from Penn State University, who suggested that the star might be surrounded by a “swarm of megastructures.” Alien technology placed around a star to harness energy.

As a result, the SETI Institute turned its telescopes in the direction of Tabby’s Star, but has not seen any laser pulses that would indicate extraterrestrial civilization. With the star being nearly 1500 light years away, any signals received by Earth would have been sent just after the fall of the Roman Empire, explained Marlin Schuetz, director of the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory.

“The hypothesis of an alien megastructure around KIC 8462852 is rapidly crumbling apart,” said Douglas Vakoch, president of SETI International, said in a statement. “We found no evidence of an advanced civilization beaming intentional laser signals toward Earth.”

Astronomers also conjectured that the star is swarmed by comets. For a while, this was the most popular theory, but a recent study from Bradley Schaefer, with Louisiana State University, has cast doubt on this theory as well.

In a new paper, he explained that 36 giant-comets would be required to make the light dim as much as 20%, and that this unusual flickering has been going on for a century. For the comet theory to be possible, there would need to be 648,000 giant-comets passing in front of the star over the century.

“I do not see how it is possible for something like 648,000 giant-comets to exist around one star, nor to have their orbits orchestrated so as to all pass in front of the star within the last century,” Schaefer wrote. “So I take this century-long dimming as a strong argument against the comet-family hypothesis to explain the Kepler dips.”

Neutron Stars

neutron starStars will die when their fusion process stops and then some, specifically a giant star (four to eight times as massive as the sun) will explode into a supernova.

When the supernova explodes, it outer areas give off extremes light and energy, so much that it can be see with the naked eye. After this light and energy disperses, what’s left is a small, compact core that is continuing to collapse.

The collapsing is due to the extreme heat that is exerted via the strong gravitational pull on the remaining matter and this pull is so powerful that the electrons and protons fuse together to form neutrons.

Neutron stars are about 18 miles in length, with a mass about 2 times that of the sun. Let’s think about this. In comparison, this is equivalent to a sugar cube holding the weight of Mount Everest.

Learn more about neutron stars in this video.

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.

Colors:

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.

Ten Astronomy Facts That Will Give You Shivers

Astronaut in Space
There are many among us whose interest in the subject of Astronomy went only as far as making Styrofoam models in grade school. Since then, with all the technological advances, scientists have been able to reveal various shocking discoveries about our cosmic neighbors.

Interestingly, space is so very big that each discovery will can no doubt be fascinating. From the times of Galileo to the present day, astronomers each day bring new intelligence about space. Let’s learn some of the most intriguing facts about outer space:

The Vampire Stars:

Blue stragglers are the kind of stars that consume energy, hydrogen fuel to be more specific, from their ancient neighbors. Sucking energy is not their only similarity they have with vampires; they also stay young and shine bluer than the other stars soon after their vampiric feast.

Pluto Is Tiny:

We all know that Pluto was the tiniest planet, but did we know that it was even smaller than the USA? No doubt it has reduced in rank and is now called a Dwarf Planet.

Water in Space:

We all know that space has no gravity and everything just floats around with no point of destination. What we didn’t know is that if we throw a glass of water in space, it will take a spherical shape.

Eerily Quiet:

In all the movies about the universe and in our own imagination of outer space, we never would have imagined this one, but space is extremely and eerily quiet. Since sound waves need an atmosphere to be heard and space has none, you can safely say that the whole of outer space might as well collapse and it won’t even make a sound to our ears.

How Far?

The universe is so large that it is beyond comprehension. One example is the galaxy MACS0647-JD, which is only 420 million years old; that is, it was created 420 million years after the Big Bang and in universal terms, that is quite early. It would be equivalent to the age of a person at six months in the mother’s womb. What’s even more incomprehensible is that we see this galaxy (through the Hubble Telescope) as it was 13.3 billion years ago, since it takes light 13.3 billion years for it’s image to reach us; so, if we were to actually see any forms of life on the planets in this galaxy, we would be looking at these civilizations as they were 13.3 billion years ago. No doubt they are nothing but bands of dust floating in the universe, along with MACS0647-JD.

The Lucky Apollo:

Know how we all say that Neil Armstrong was the first man to land on the moon and left his mark there? We would never have thought that the meaning is quite literal. Since there is no water, air or living organisms on the moon, the footprints of Apollo’s astronauts and their rover’s mark will stay there for at least another 100 million years.

The Outer Space Scent:

Ever wondered what space must smell like? The astronomers who return from their strolls in outer space have been known to report that their gear smells like welding fumes, seared steak and hot metal. The smell of the dying stars perhaps?

Eau De Milky Way:

While the outer space smells like metal and fumes, the Milky Way is a whole another story. The middle of the Milky Way is known to smell like raspberries and rum.

Another Earth Maybe?

In our solar system, we are the only life forms in it, but the last couple of years of research have revealed various other solar systems like ours. So does that mean that there is another earth out there? The search is still going strong and astronomers believe there is.

Well, if they do find another earth like ours, we sure hope it is more peaceful than this one.

How Planets and Stars Compare

Learning the how planets sizes compare to each other in our solar system, then how the different stars compare to each other in our galaxy is a worthwhile journey and one that fascinates many to the point that it may be inconceivable when trying to comprehend the size of our universalize. In one word – Mind-boggling.

Comparing Our Planets to Each Other

The planets are a mere spec in our galaxy.  In the first illustration below, we compare the eight planets in our solar system. From rear left, we have Saturn and Jupiter. Middle, we have Uranus and Neptune. Front row are Mercury, Venus, Mars and Earth. Note how Jupiter can engulf Earth by about 50 times.

Planets in Our Solor System Compared to Each Other
Planets in Our Solor System Compared to Each Other

In our next image, we move closer inward and look at the inner solar system. There is an error in this image below. Can you find it?

Inner Planets
Inner (Rock) Planets Compared to Each Other

Pluto does not belong here for two reasons. (1) It is not part of the inner solar system and (2) it is not considered a planet anymore.

This illustration is another view of the sizes of all the planets compared to each other.

Outer Planets
Outer (Gas) Planets Compared to Each Other

Comparing the Sun to the Planets

This image shows the planets compared to our sun. The Earth here is now hardly visible. Even Jupiter is the size of a pea compared to the sun. If the sun was a basketball, then Jupiter would be a pea.

Sun Compared to Planets
Sun Compared to all the Planets in Our Solar System

Think the sun is big! Think again. The image below compares the sun to the star giant Arcturus, which is 37.5 light years from Earth and is larger than the entire orbit of Mercury. Read more about Arcturus here. Another basketball to pea scenario.

Comparing the Sun to Other Stars in the Galaxy

Antares Star
Arcturus Star Sized with Our Sun

Comparing Other Stars to Each Other

If these sizes don’t fascinate you, take a look at the next illustration, showing Arcturus paired with the star giants Betelgeuse and Antares. Forget about trying to see any of our planets here, as the sun is a mere pixel on the screen. That would equate to a grain of sand against a basketball (Antares). See our summary below.

Antares Comparision
Antares with Other Giant Stars

We hope these comparisons give you a better appreciation and respect for the galaxy and the universe.

Summary:

We started with a comparison of Earth to the four inner planets in the solar system. Earth appears the largest. Then Earth and the inner four planets are compared to the outer planets and Earth now appears as a pea to a basketball (Jupiter). Next, all the planets in our solar system are compared to our Sun, a medium sized star in the Milky Way galaxy. Continuing to use the pea as our example as Earth and the basketball as Jupiter, the sun would be the size of a 10 story building. Putting a pea and a basketball next to this building, well you can start to appreciate the immense sizes of the objects in space, but we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

The image below is an estimated comparison between planet Mars’s orbit superimposed on the giant star Antares. Notice how Antares engulfs its orbit with room to spare. Earth would not be visible here, nor would Jupiter.

One could only imagine the immense gravitational pull this star would have on any objects coming close to it. Future black hole?

Antres to Mars Orbit

Well, we don’t stop here. The largest known star is UY Scuti, located in the constellation Scutum, it is 1700 times larger than the Sun.

With stars this big, one can only imagine the great gravitational pull they will have on other objects in its neighborhood, and in so doing, we can begin to understand how black holes can be formed.

View this  video of planetary and star comparisons, as well as the video creator’s view about intelligent life in the universe.

There is also a fascinating website callled Scale of the Universe which will help you look at the ‘big picture’, pun intended.

March 2015 – R131 in the Large Magellanic Cloud was recently found to be the largest start to date.

A Puzzling Distant Star – Kic 486

If you look up long into the sky on a clear night you can see hundreds of twinkling stars. Scientists observe these fluctuations and light because they contain information about stars, such as their composition, distance, and age.

There is a one star 1400 light years away from Earth whose strange flickering has been baffling astronomers for years. They have been observing the star using the Kepler telescope and recently. a team of researchers have put out their best theories for this bizarre twinkle. One possibility could be alien life.

The Royal Astronomical Society has published a paper on the star this month. The star called Kic 486, is unusual because the specific light curve coming from the star has never been observed before. The brightness of the star has been watched over time and about 4 years ago there was a big dip in the brightness, as if something was blocking part of the light from the star. The star stayed constant for a few years before a series of sharp dips in brightness occurred again. When Kepler’s observations were checked there were no errors in the data. This puzzled astronomers and made them question why this star is different from the 150,000 others that Kepler has looked at.

The light curve doesn’t make sense when ideas inside the box are applied. Scientists are now applying ideas from outside the box to try and and figure out what is going on with Kic 486. One of the paper’s authors, Professor of Astronomy at Yale University Debra Fischer’s best guess is a swarm of something. The paper suggests a swarm of comets. Fisher thinks this is not the best solution since the dips in light are very deep, deeper than what you would normally see with comet-like material. Another idea is a breakup of a planet that collided with another.

All these ideas are testable and researchers are now gathering more data to which these ideas can be applied and tested. One astronomer Jason Wright, a Professor at Penn State, believes the source is a natural one. However, based on the current data he suggests it might also be an alien megastructure. Until the mystery is solved of what is in front of Kic 486, this might be a good candidate for alien life. Only time and data will tell.