Comparing Jupiter To Earth Reveals Wonders Of The Solar System

3 color view of Jupiter by NASA's Cassini space probe

3 color view of Jupiter by NASA's Cassini space probe

3 color view of Jupiter by NASA’s Cassini space probe

Since on January 5 Jupiter was at Opposition (Jupiter is opposite the sun in our sky) and 93 million miles closer to Earth than during the rest of its orbit I thought an article about the giant of our solar system was in order. For reference the Earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun. Which is called an astronomical unit. So Jupiter is one AU closer to Earth than during the rest of its orbit this week. Now don’t get all excited about this, Jupiter’s average distance from the sun is 5.2 astronomical units. Yeah, our solar system is vast.

So what makes Jupiter so interesting? Well let’s take a look at some of the fascinating things scientists have discovered about the solar system’s big brother. Since we are all residents of Earth and are, therefore, most familiar with it I think a little comparison is in order just for the sake of understanding better what we are dealing with in Jupiter.

For starters the Earth is around 25000 miles in circumference and takes 24 hours to complete a rotation. This makes the speed at which the Earth turns on it’s axis 25000miles/24hr or approximately 1000 miles/hour. (NASA)

Compare this with Jupiter which is around 272,942.9 miles in circumference. Now for the astonishing part: Jupiter’s day is only 10 hours long! Every time I think about that it boggles my mind. Jupiter is so large 1000 Earths could comfortably fit inside and it completes a full rotation in less than half an Earth day. (NASA Jupiter Factsheet)

Now unlike the Earth which has a solid surface Jupiter is a gas giant, so all we see is the gaseous upper cloud decks of the behemoth planet. Because of this the surface of the equator rotates more rapidly than the poles resulting in different lengths of the day depending on your latitude. The day varies from approximately 9 hours and 56 minutes at the poles to approximately 9 hours and 50 minutes at the equator. (Caltech)

Which brings us to composition. We know the Earth has a solid surface, we walk on it every day. Granted 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by vast and life giving oceans but we have dry land to walk on. Also our atmosphere is mostly Nitrogen (N2) a whopping 78% with Oxygen comprising 21% and only traces of other gasses.

Jupiter’s atmosphere is Hydrogen and Heilium. NASA doesn’t even give percentages. The Earth has an iron core with just a smidge of nickel. Jupiter’s core is predicted to either be a solid inner core about the size of earth or some speculate a ball of liquid hydrogen. Jupiter does, in fact, have a faint ring system, discovered in 1971 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The only ring the Earth has is an artificial one made by satellites we’ve launched.

Speaking of satellites, the Earth has one, our Moon. Jupiter has over 50 moons and while Jupiter itself cannot support life as we know it some of its many moons have liquid oceans under the surface and may support alien life.

Hurricanes on Earth last for a few weeks. The great red spot on Jupiter is an enormous storm 3X the size of Earth that’s been raging for hundreds of years and shows no sign of slowing down. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

On Earth the gravitational constant is 9.8 m/s^2. On Jupiter the gravitational constant is 24.79 m/s^2 wow. this makes the escape velocity of Jupiter 134,664 mph. Again, wow. By comparison the escape velocity of Earth is 25.031mph and look at the size of the rockets we have to build to get going just that fast.

Ok just one more fact comparison, because it’s fun and fascinating. The Earth’s revolves around the sun in 1 Earth year, which is 365 of our days. Our average orbital velocity is 66.622mph. Jupiter revolves around the sun in 1 Jovian year which is 12 Earth years. Compared to the Earth, Jupiter’s orbital velocity is a leisurely 29.205mph. The big planet is farther away from the sun and as a result doesn’t orbit as quickly around the Sun as the Earth.

And one last fact about Jupiter, at 5.2 AU from the sun Jupiter radiates more energy than it receives from the sun. That is amazing! Not a star but an almost star. If it had been but 80X more massive it would have ignited fusion in its core. (NASA Solar System Exploration)

So since Jupiter is at Opposition this week it’ll be at it’s brightest for skywatchers. Go, take a look and marvel at the wonders of our universe. K.

Ursid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend & Other Astronomy

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

That’s right my skywatching readers. The Ursid meteor shower peaks this weekend. The Ursid meteors come from the debris trail of comet P/8 Tuttle which has a period of 13.5 years. The Earth passes through the debris from the comet’s path around the sun every year around the winter solstice.

You know, I have been focusing on things that happen in our own solar system and the reason for that is that these are things we can see. The average, casual skywatcher can see these things. You don’t need a multi-million dollar telescope or access to the Hubble telescope to see them and that makes it exciting and accessible.

That being said, there have been some amazing discoveries outside of our humble solar system this year. NASA’s Kepler telescope has been searching for Earth-like planets that orbit in their star’s habitable zone and there are over 3000 contenders at last count. These are exciting times for skywatches and those who are interested in astronomy.

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory has a facebook page where they post exquisite images and fascinating facts. There are still the free books from NASA chock full of gorgeous images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Wander on over to the NASA.gov website and feast your eyes while you feed your mind.

ISON Survives After A fashoion

Image Credit: 
ESA/NASA/SOHO/Jhelioviewer

Image Credit:  ESA/NASA/SOHO/Jhelioviewer

Image Credit:
ESA/NASA/SOHO/Jhelioviewer

On Thanksgiving day comet ISON grazed the sun. News at first looked grim for the 3 mile wide bit of ice and dust from the outer reaches of our solar system. The first reports were that the comet had not survived. Two telescopes did not see it emerge on the other side of the sun and it was thought that the comet had either been torn apart by the immense gravity or been vaporized by the extreme temperatures.

Then, the following day reports from other telescopes came in and it appears that the comet, or more accurately, a part of it, did survive. Check out this video from the Solar and Heilotrophic Observatory

It’s still too early to know precisely what happened and how much of the comet survived but it appears that some part of it did. Will it get as bright as some had hoped? Unlikely but still possible.

ISON Slingshots Around The Sun On Thanksgiving

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON is about to be out of view from Earth as it slingshots around the sun. The 3 mile wide chunk of primeval ice from the birth of our solar system will skim barely over the surface of the sun, just 1.1 million miles away, classifying it as a Sungrazing comet . In fact it is a large Sungrazing comet and as such is of particular interest. If the temperature doesn’t vaporize the rock and ice that make up the comet, the colossal gravity of our sun could well tear it apart.

Already astronomers think some pieces of the comet have broken off, creating wing-like structures and resulting in the brightening that has been observed in recent days. If ISON isn’t pulled into the Sun by gravity, and it’s moving pretty fast so there’s a good chance it might survive the close approach, then in December it’ll round the other side and possibly be even more spectacular than it has been.

To see Comet ISON the best thing to do is get in touch with your local amateur astronomers club or science museum. This is just the kind of thing that science museums, local observatories and astronomers clubs like to cooperate on. We drove out to a state park to get outside of the glare from the city and some very kind folks allowed us to look through the eye-piece of their gorgeous 8″ telescope that they had painstakingly set up and sighted on ISON already.

Mercury was gorgeous, ISON was amazing, we also saw Jupiter, Orion, Vega and the Pleadies. Sure we were up before sunrise and it was cold but a few mugs of hot chocolate or coffee and it was an adventure that everyone enjoyed. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime, especially since ISON has never been seen by our species before. Astronomers think this is the first time it has come into the inner solar system from the Oort cloud approximately 1 light year away and there is a good chance it’ll never be seen again by our kind. ISON has spent the last 4.5 billion years in the Oort cloud.

Even now there is uncertainty as to what will become of ISON. Will it survive Sungrazing our own star? Will it plunge into the stellar inferno? Will it survive only to be ejected from our solar system entirely? Or will it fly back out into the Oort cloud from whence it came and return again in 190 million years – 350 million years or more? Because no one knows what will happen when it slingshots around the sun, no one knows for certain what ISON’s ultimate fate is just yet.

ISON NASA Deep Impact Spacecraft

ISON NASA Deep Impact Spacecraft

Stargazing, comet watching, these are the kinds of things that families and communities can do together for very little money. Our local science museum had people on hand to talk about the comet and our solar system. Next time I’m bringing a couple dozen doughnuts to share.

Hubble Space Telescope Solves Galactic Mystery

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope has been one of NASA’s many shining successes. The images Hubble has taken and scientists have compiled over its brief lifespan have been nothing short of breathtaking. The Hubble Space Telescope Deep Field Survey expanded our universe by lightyears upon lightyears.

Recently Hubble was turned on a puzzling feature of our Galaxy: A long ribbon of gas, called the Magellanic Stream, that reaches quite literally almost half way around our own Milky Way Galaxy.

For 40 years scientists have wondered about this feature that seemed to follow behind the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies that orbit our own galaxy. According to NASA:

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have solved a 40-year mystery on the origin of the Magellanic Stream, a long ribbon of gas stretching nearly halfway around our Milky Way galaxy.
The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, are at the head of the gaseous stream. Since the stream’s discovery by radio telescopes in the early 1970s, astronomers have wondered whether the gas comes from one or both of the satellite galaxies. New Hubble observations reveal most of the gas was stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion years ago, and a second region of the stream originated more recently from the Large Magellanic Cloud.
A team of astronomers, led by Andrew J. Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., determined the source of the gas filament by using Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to measure the amount of heavy elements, such as oxygen and sulfur, at six locations along the Magellanic Stream. They observed faraway quasars, the brilliant cores of active galaxies, that emit light that passes through the stream. They detected the heavy elements from the way the elements absorb ultraviolet light.
Fox’s team found a low amount of oxygen and sulfur along most of the stream, matching the levels in the Small Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion years ago, when the gaseous ribbon is thought to have formed. In a surprising twist, the team discovered a much higher level of sulfur in a region of the stream that is closer to the Magellanic Clouds.

Also a quick video also from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope featuring comet ISON

You can follow the Hubble Space Telescope very easily at the NASA web site. K.

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory Worth Following

Cassiopeia A courtesy of NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Cassiopeia A courtesy of NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Cassiopeia A courtesy of NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

NASA, that most wonderful, educational, altruistic of Government programs makes much of what it discovers available free on the web. This is the purest of the lofty ideals of science as a discipline and as a philosophy: That what science discovers is for the benefit of all mankind not just the enrichment of a few.

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which you can easily follow in Facebook describes itself thusly:

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a telescope specially designed to detect X-ray emission from very hot regions of the Universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and matter around black holes.
Mission
Chandra is designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the Universe.
Description
Since its launch on July 23, 1999, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has been NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy, taking its place in the fleet of “Great Observatories.”

NGC7793ChandraThey publish some of the most beautiful images of the stars and outer space that I’ve seen. They rival the Hubble Space Telescope and sometimes when I’m feeling a bit down or something I look at these gorgeous images of the universe we live in and they fill me with peace and awe. K.

Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight, Aug 11

Perseid Map courtesy NASA

Perseid Map courtesy NASA

Perseid Map courtesy NASA

This map shows where, in North America, to look to see the Perseids. They seem to radiate out from the constellation Perseus.

The shooting stars we see during a meteor shower are in fact bits of rock, dust an debris falling into our atmosphere. The enormous friction caused by the high velocity of the objects and the density and composition of our atmosphere literally cause the objects to glow and burn as they enter.

The Perseids were once a part of the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits our sun once every 130 years. A piece of it got ripped off during an orbit and every year the Earth passes through the region of space where that debris floats in space. It is beautiful and awe inspiring to watch. I hope it clears up here so I can see some tonight.

According to NASA some 10 to 40 tons (I guess depending upon the day and the density of the material in any given part of space the Earth is passing through) fall into our atmosphere each day. Most of this is invisible to us. It takes one of the bigger showers like the Perseids or the Leonids for us to be able to see some of the meteoric entries into our atmosphere.

This is the universe happening right in our backyards here. If you have the chance, go out and spend a few minutes skywatching. some of the meteors even get bright enough to be seen through the glow of the city. K.

The Latest News for Comet ISON

Hubble's view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure. Credit:NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

Hubble's view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure. Credit:NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

Hubble’s view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure. Credit:NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

NASA’s Hubble Telescope took an amazing shot of Comet ISON in April that shows its coma against the velvety backdrop of space. The coma is already approximately 3,100 miles across (approx: 4,988.97 km). The really mind boggling thing about this is that early measurements indicate that the nucleus that is producing this enormous coma is no more than 3 or 4 miles across (4.828 to 6.437 km).

There is some speculation that it could get as bright as the full moon come late November, early December after it skims a bare 700,000 miles (1,126,540.8 km) above the surface of the sun on November 28th during the swing around before heading back out of the solar system.

For more information and to keep track look to NASA’s website.

Nerdly News from NASA:Wave to Cassini Be An Extra on In Saturn’s Rings

This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This simulated view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth’s picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I love NASA. I really do. Astronomy has always fascinated me. One of the most beautiful pictures to come from NASA is the picture shot by Cassini in 2006 of Saturn backlit by the sun. I’m sure you’ve seen it before. Well on July 19, 2013 the Cassini spacecraft is going to take another photo of Saturn backlit by the sun and the Earth is going to be in the shot. A great deal of care must be taken when shooting a photograph like this because there is danger of blinding the cameras when looking back at the sun. Because of this pictures looking back towards the heart of our solar system are very rare. In fact NASA has only taken 2 of them. For this special third photograph NASA would like to make special by including all of us. The fine folks at NASA want us Earthlings to take pictures of ourselves waving at Cassini and send them to NASA via social media. You can read the details at the official NASA website.

Those who follow along on my blog will know that I’m also keeping track of an amazing movie coming out in 2014 called In Saturn’s Rings. They’re taking IMAX quality photos of Saturn and other objects taken by Cassini, millions of them, and creating a breathtaking real animation of what it would be like to go to Saturn. They also want your pictures of you waiving at Cassini and they want to put them in their movie. You can send your photos to their email at nfo@sv2studios.com

In Saturn's Rings Wave at Cassini Promo

In Saturn’s Rings Waive at Cassini Promo

Also keep an eye on comet ISON. And you can do that real time at this fantastic website: The Sky Live. ISON is a new visitor to the inner solar system.

Here’s the deal, and it is kind of a big deal; this November the solar system is putting on a show for us. A new comet will make its appearance in the fall and is called ISON, official designation C/2012 S1, named after the International Scientific Optical Network. According to NASA this is ISON’s first trip into the inner solar system. ISON was discovered in September of 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. What’s amazing is that we only just discovered this comet less than a year ago.

ISON is swinging towards the sun right now and is expected to pass very close at its perihelion. Once it comes around the other side, say around December, it may be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye even through the light pollution of being in a city. There is some speculation it might be visible during the day. Astronomers are hesitant to make any promises because it’s impossible to tell what will happen when ISON goes around the sun but there is a good chance it could be huge.

New Moon On Monday NASA Discovers New Moon Orbiting Neptune

This composite Hubble Space Telescope picture shows the location of a newly discovered moon, designated S/2004 N 1, orbiting Neptune. The black and white image was taken in 2009 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in visible light. Hubble took the color inset of Neptune on August 2009.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter/SETI Institute

This composite Hubble Space Telescope picture shows the location of a newly discovered moon, designated S/2004 N 1, orbiting Neptune. The black and white image was taken in 2009 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in visible light. Hubble took the color inset of Neptune on August 2009. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter/SETI Institute

This composite Hubble Space Telescope picture shows the location of a newly discovered moon, designated S/2004 N 1, orbiting Neptune. The black and white image was taken in 2009 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in visible light. Hubble took the color inset of Neptune on August 2009.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter/SETI Institute

Astronomer Mark Showalter, with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California discovered the wiley little moon by searching through Hubble Telescope images for moons. On July 1st he found it, you might say he found the New Moon on Monday (you’re welcome). This brings the total number of moons orbiting the Gas Giant to 14. Designated S/2004 N 1 it is estimated to be around 12 miles in diameter, so quite tiny. It orbits at around 65,400 miles (approximately 105,251.1 km) from Neptune, between the orbits of the two moons Larissa and Proteus. It makes an orbit in around 23 hours. A paper on the discovery is pending. You can find all of the details at the official NASA website, one of my favorites. This is just one more reason to be delighted by the knowledge we’ve gained from the Hubble Space Telescope. Long may she fly. K.