Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Importance of Space Exploration to the World

Space exploration is extremely important to the world. One of the main reasons why it is so important is because it fulfills human curiosity and increases our understanding of how the universe works. Space exploration has helped discover how the dinosaurs went extinct, how the moon formed, and how nuclear reactions work, just to name a few.

A second major reason why space exploration is so important is because it provides every person with a sense of where they stand in the universe. It is very humbling to know the Earth is a tiny speck orbiting a mediocre yellow-dwarf star nowhere near the centre of our galaxy, let alone the universe!

A third reason why space exploration is so important is the spinoffs created from new technologies that are developed. From space exploration technology thousands of products have been developed such as digital cameras, cordless power-tools, memory foam, and UV-proof sunglasses. These three reasons are just a few of the reasons why space exploration is so important to the world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What's Up? Be Grateful for Earth's Forgiving Weather

Welcome back to What's Up?

The summer has finally provided us with some needed sunshine and clear nights allowing the Athena Community Astronomy Club to get in some boardwalk viewings. We go out to show the public the skies every clear Wednesday evening starting at 9pm.

During a recent viewing, August 26, the moon was starting to set in the western horizon. As it started sinking below the horizon it became a magnificent deep red. It looked very much like descriptions of the legendary burning ship reported to be seen occasionally over the Northumberland Strait.

As the crescent moon was dipping below the horizon it even resembled a curved sail, not too hard to imagine why someone would think of it as a burning ship.

Get out to take a look at the skies while you can, because winter will soon be rolling in and there's nothing more uncomfortable than standing out in the cold while trying to enjoy the beauty of night sky.

Weather in Canada can seem very harsh at times, with rain, heat waves in the Summer, frigid temperatures in the Winter, with sometimes ridiculous amounts of snow falling, and even the odd hurricane thrown in!

Earth's weather can seem pretty intense and hard to deal with, but it is nothing compared to the intense weather on the other planets in our solar system.

Let's take a quick tour of the weather conditions on other planets throughout the inner solar system.

On Earth, temperatures have reached 57º C ( 134º F) in Death Valley, California and have plummeted to a frigid -89º C (-130º F) in Antarctica. The fastest wind speed ever recorded on Earth was - hold onto your umbrella - a blistering 508 km/h (318 mph)!

The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, is the second hottest planet in the solar system. It is a scorched and cratered planet with little or no atmosphere. The temperature during its day can reach 420º C (788º F) while at night the Mercury in a thermometer will plunge to as cold as -220º C (-364º F).

Venus is even more hostile, with a nearly constant temperature of 460º C (860º F), so hot that lead runs like water. It is so hot because of the runaway greenhouse effect, which is a reminder of what extreme global warming can look like.

The atmosphere is as dense as 92 Earth atmospheres with a pressure at the planet's surface similar to being under 1 km of ocean water here on Earth. If the heat and pressure weren't bad enough, it rains sulfuric acid!

After Venus, we fly by Earth and head out farther from the sun to check out the Martian weather.

Since Mars is farther from the Sun than the Earth and is much smaller it is very cold. Winter temperatures can dip as low as -140º C (-220º F) but throughout the year Mars has an average planet-wide temperature of a toasty -55ºC (-67º F).

Mars isn't always cold. In some regions near the equator temperatures have climbed up to 32º C (89.6º F) for short periods. These warm temperatures help spawn large dust storms and even cyclones that are similar to our hurricanes.

Let's hope our hurricanes stay away so we can have some clear skies for the remainder of the International Year of Astronomy.

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy and Galileo first discovering the moons of Jupiter 400 years ago, come by the Summerside baywalk any clear Wednesday this month sometime around 9pm. Some members from the Athena Community Astronomy Club will be there to show Jupiter and its moons, Earth's moon, and other celestial objects through a telescope, to anyone interested.

The Moon was full on September 4 and will dwindle to a new moon by September 18.

Jupiter will be the brightest object in the South-East after sunset.

Finally, to finish off this month, is the monthly meeting of the Athena Community Astronomy Club. It will be held 7pm to 9pm on September 27 at the International Children's Memorial Place (Scales Pond, near Kinkora). There will be a sky viewing afterwards if weather permits.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...

Astronomers have just discovered what they call a suicidal planet around a distant star in our galaxy. It's a gas giant planet ten times the size of Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. This enormous planet orbits its star in slightly less than one Earth day. It is slowly spiraling inwards and will finally fall into its star within a million years. Astronomers have discovered 370 planets around other stars so far, who knows what they will discover next!