The Story of Astronomy

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It was the first mission to explore the surface of an asteroid on site, traversing the tiny rock for three days and two nights in order to better assess the early days of solar system formation. Osiris-REX will go into orbit around Bennu on December 31st of this year — ultimately grabbing a sample of material to return to Earth in Late this summer, the Parker Solar Probe launched from Cape Canaveral on a mission that will unlock a number of secrets about our beloved host star.

It will carry a suit of instruments closer to the Sun than ever before — dipping down into the lower solar corona in order to understand the origin and acceleration of the solar wind as well as the dynamics of the coronal magnetic field.


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But, if successful, it will open a new window on solar physics. Two exciting finds this year increased the odds that the Red Planet once contained the necessary ingredients for life. First, the Curiosity rover detected organic molecules in ancient rocks. Then, a second instrument discovered evidence for present-day liquid water on Mars — or, more specifically, a salty sub-surface lake. Both are promising finds.

The Story of Astronomy

The Mars Express orbiter used radar signals bounced through underground layers of ice to find evidence of a pond of water buried below the south polar cap. Rome; R. Orosei et al The Gaia space satellite released its second batch of data in late April, including precise parallaxes and therefore distances for more than 1.

Barata Univ. Savietto Fork Research, Portugal. Gaia has also observed roughly 14, known solar system objects, most of them asteroids, and more than , quasars. The final data release is scheduled for late It has been an exciting year for exoplanet research. The mission began observations in the nick of time: On October 30th, the Kepler mission ran out of fuel , thus ending a nine-year mission that detected more than 2, planets along with thousands more candidate worlds. Huang et al. On the morning of March 14, , professor Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of He is perhaps most famous for postulating that black holes are not actually black but radiate a small amount of heat and ultimately evaporate.

But he was also a beloved public figure — in part thanks to his book A Brief History of Time , which sold 10 million copies in more than 40 languages, and in part thanks to his wicked sense of humor. You must be logged in to post a comment. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Why would Kepler say that stars were universe-sized? Because the data said they were, at least if the heliocentric theory was right. In that theory, Earth circles the sun yearly. So, if at one time of the year it is moving toward a certain star, six months later it will be moving away from that same star.

We might expect to see some stars growing brighter throughout the spring on account of Earth approaching them, and then growing dimmer throughout the fall. There is a name for this sort of effect: parallax. But no one could see any parallax. Copernicus had an explanation for this: The orbit of the Earth must be like a tiny point by comparison to the distance to the stars.

A problem lies in this negligible size and immense distance. People who have good vision and look up at the sky will see the stars as little round dots, with small but measurable apparent sizes.


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  7. Astronomers dating all the way back to Ptolemy during the second century had determined that the more prominent of those star dots measure somewhere in the range of one-tenth to one-twentieth the diameter that the round moon appears to be. But stars are more distant than the moon. Were that star times more distant, its true diameter would be times that of the moon.

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    Were it 1, times farther away than the moon, its true size would be 1, times larger. And what if that star, which appears to be one-tenth the diameter of the moon, were at the distance the Copernican theory required in order for there to be no detectable parallax? That star would be, Kepler said, as big as the orbit of Saturn.

    And every last star visible in the sky would be at least as big as the orbit of Earth. Even the smallest stars would be orders of magnitude larger than the sun. An astronomer of that time who believed Copernicus, believed the measurement data, and believed math, simply had to believe that all the stars were huge. More on where they went wrong, in a moment. The case for huge stars was so solid that the details regarding the measurements of them did not matter. Johann Georg Locher and his mentor Christoph Scheiner would neatly summarize the giant stars problem in their astronomy book Disquisitiones Mathematicae or Mathematical Disquisitions.

    We should not be surprised that people see in scientific murkiness the hand of conspiratorial establishments. That theory was compatible with the latest telescopic discoveries, such as the phases of Venus that showed it to circle the sun. Brahe had calculated that they ranged in size between the larger planets and the sun. Locher and Scheiner were not alone—for many astronomers, including Brahe himself who first raised the issue, the giant stars were just too much.

    But Kepler had no problem with giant stars.

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    For him, they were part of the overall structure of the universe; and Kepler, who saw ellipses in orbits and Platonic solids in the arrangement of the planets, always had an eye out for structure. Where magnitude waxes, there perfection wanes, and nobility follows diminution in bulk. The sphere of the fixed stars according to Copernicus is certainly most large; but it is inert, no motion. The universe of the movables is next.

    Now this—so much smaller, so much more divine—has accepted that so admirable, so well-ordered motion. Nevertheless, that place neither contains animating faculty, nor does it reason, nor does it run about.

    It goes, provided that it is moved. It has not developed, but it retains that impressed to it from the beginning. What it is not, it will never be.

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    What it is, is not made by it—the same endures, as was built. Then comes this our little ball, the little cottage of us all, which we call the Earth: the womb of the growing, herself fashioned by a certain internal faculty. The architect of marvelous work, she kindles daily so many little living things from herself—plants, fishes, insects—as she easily may scorn the rest of the bulk in view of this her nobility.

    Lastly behold if you will the little bodies which we call the animals. What smaller than these is able to be imagined in comparison to the universe? But there now behold feeling, and voluntary motions—an infinite architecture of bodies.

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    Behold if you will, among those, these fine bits of dust, which are called Men; to whom the Creator has granted such, that in a certain way they may beget themselves, clothe themselves, arm themselves, teach themselves an infinity of arts, and daily accomplish the good; in whom is the image of God; who are, in a certain way, lords of the whole bulk.

    And what is it to us, that the body of the universe has for itself a great breadth, while the soul lacks for one? We may learn well therefore the pleasure of the Creator, who is author both of the roughness of the large masses, and of the perfection of the smalls. Yet he glories not in bulk, but ennobles those which he has wished to be small.

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