Want to discover a new planet?

Are you curious about what’s out there in our universe? Have you been wanting to do your own astronomical research? Has it been a dream of yours to discover a new planet? Fear no more! A team of astronomers led by MIT and the Carnegie Institution for Science is now giving the public the opportunity to engage in research of exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars outside the solar system.

HD 209458 b (“Osiris”)

The team recently released data they compiled over the last 20 years, a software package, and a tutorial to the public. The data set includes information about 1600 nearby stars and 100 possible exoplanets those stars may be hosting. The team believes they don’t have enough scientists on the job, so they want to include the public in this exciting mission to find these exoplanets. I think this community based, hands-on learning initiative is a great way to foster the public’s interest in astronomy. So what are you waiting for? Let’s find some exoplanets!


Tides Explained

High Tide vs. Low Tide

Tides are the rise and fall of the sea levels. The above image captures this very normal phenomenon that we can all observe for ourselves if we go to an oceanside beach. Whenever I went to the beach as a young kid, I was always hoping the tides would be high. Since I knew they would be higher the later it got into the evening, I was always determined to stay as late as possible. But why does this happen? This is tides explained.

The Moon’s gravitational influence is responsible for tidal flows of water. It is common knowledge that the Moon feels the gravitational pull from the Earth, which explains why the Moon orbits the Earth. However, many people may not know that the Earth feels a gravitational pull from the Moon too.

Earth, Moon, and Sun Cartoon

The closer an object is to a massive object, the stronger that massive object’s gravitational pull is on that other object. Likewise, the further away an object is from a massive object, the weaker that massive object’s gravitational pull on that other object is. Therefore, the side of the Earth facing toward the Earth feels a much stronger gravitational pull from the Moon facing away from it does. This explains why if you were to go the beach at midnight when the Moon is in the sky, the tidal waves would be much higher than if you were to go to the beach at noon when the Moon isn’t in sight.

However, local geography also has an effect on how high the tides are. A location in which water does not flow completely freely will experience later high tides than locations in which water does flow freely.

We Are All So Small!

Space is such a fascinating thing. There is just so much out there beyond our planet: so much we know about and even more we don’t know about! Growing up in school, we all learned about the solar system. As a result, we concluded that maybe our world isn’t the center of the universe like we may have thought it was. For example, there are 7 other planets on their own orbits around the Sun too. And this is just in our solar system, which comprises a seemingly negligible part of our universe. It really makes you think about how trivial one person’s day-to-day live is in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, even with all of this in mind, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt overwhelmed by how infinitely small we are until I watched the video below.

Powers of Ten (1977)

The short film takes us through a journey. First, it begins with an overhead view of a man and a woman having a picnic in a one square meter space. Then, it zooms out to view a 10 square meter space with the picnic still being the center of the image. It continues to zoom out at a rate of one power of 10 per 10 seconds. We start to acknowledge how insignificant this picnic is in the context of Chicago and then in the context of the states bordering Lake Michigan and then in the context of our entire Earth! As it zooms out, our planet vanishes in the distance. Beyond our earth lies the orbital paths of all the planets in our solar system. Then the video takes us outside even our solar system. Although the Sun is so incomprehensibly massive to most of us, it is clear that the center of our solar system is merely one of a myriad of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. By the time we reach 100 million lightyears out, our galaxy becomes just one of many galaxies and many clusters of galaxies in the distance.

The theme I took away from this video is while the world relative to us is so minuscule and appears increasingly so the more and more we begin to understand what more is out there in the universe, the infinitesimal fraction of the universe that is our world becomes increasingly significant the more we realize how rich it is compared to the vast emptiness in the majority of space.