Observing Satellites a New Thing Stargazers Do!

GPS Satellite NASA art iif

Just like our Moon orbits the Earth, many of our artificial satellites also orbit the planet. These satellites are used for communication and imagery by the military and the public and various scientific institutions. Artificial satellites have been in our planetary system since 1957. The first artificial satellite was launched into space by Russia and it was named Sputnik, a beach-ball sized probe. Satellites are launched into space to observe Earth from above or to observe space without the impact of our atmosphere. Their use in our daily lives is significant as weather satellites are used in helping us prepare for any incoming disasters and phone satellites are used to ease communication.

Satellites vary in size and shape. Some are cubes while some are elongated or circular. They range from 10cm to 7 meters depending on their function.

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The Solar System Asteroids

Early in August 2020, an asteroid narrowly missed our planet. That wasn’t the first incidence of the year, in fact in June, a similar event took place. But the asteroid that passed Earth in August, was the closest natural object to pass by our planet ever recorded. It flew 2,950 kilometers away from our planet (about 8 times the distance between the Earth surface and our International Space Station).

Although the asteroid was small, about the size of a car, and would not have caused significant damage to us—it was still of great concern to astronomers. Especially since we actually completely missed that asteroid until after it passed by the Earth. So we could never have deflected it.

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All the information on the universe and how it operates comes from our knowledge of light. Light constitutes waves – electromagnetic waves to be specific.

Similar to how a prism splits light into a rainbow (multiple colors) is how spectroscopy splits electromagnetic radiation into different wavelengths which are known as a spectrum. A spectrum is more complicated than a rainbow of colors. While a rainbow is simply different colors that make up white light, electromagnetic radiation constitutes wavelengths that carry a lot of information on the nature of various astronomical objects.

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How we went from theoretical Gravitational Waves to seeing them everywhere?

Gravitational Waves of Merging Black Holes

Gravitational waves were predicted as far back as 1916 by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity. His calculations showed that massive interstellar objects such as black holes or neutron stars that orbited each other had the ability to cause ripples that would disrupt space-time. These waves are usually caused by black holes colliding or when large stars (supernovas) explode towards the end of their life. This ripple, though invisible, moves at the speed of light and stretches and squeezes any object/s in their path. It has also been predicted that the great Big Bang has also created these waves. In a sense, gravitational waves create disturbances and ripples in the space-time continuum.

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Measurement in Astronomy

Calculation of the Earth-Moon distance using trigonometry

The above image shows the trigonometry used by Hipparchus in 190 BCE to calculate the Earth-Moon distance. The computation used time, two wells in Hellspond and Alexandra, an eclipse, and a little bit of math. Note that since then, such a natural setting never occurred again! The position of eclipses since then would all have been off.

Measurements in astronomy began even before the word astronomy was coined. Early astronomical work by ancients mainly included creating a calendar so that we could have a concept of time. The earliest records of measurements were from the Babylonian Empire, where they recorded the position of the planets on clay tablets. They used this information to determine seasons and the best times to plant and to harvest.

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Why do I so often hear of Messier’s Objects?

The Ring Nebula (M57)

The image above is M57, the Ring Nebula. The picture shows many different elements in various colors which a large telescope such as the Hubble Space Telescope and computers are capable of. When looking at the object with the naked eye, you won’t see those colors. It will be a gray shade. It is still an impressive sight.

Charles Messier was a French astronomer who was born in Badonviller in France. He is the first person on record to create a catalog of nebula and star clusters. He made this catalog so he could distinguish these objects from comets to prevent other astronomers from making the same mistake. He was the first person to view Halley’s Comet in 1758/59 and was popularly known as the comet ferret. He was a passionate finder of comets. In 1764, he was elected as a member of the Royal Society of London, although he was a foreigner. He also held a seat at the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1770.

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Lucky Luke — “man who shoots faster than his shadow”

Lucky Luke shooting his shadow

As a kid, I would read many French and Belgium cartoons, such as Lucky Luke, the lone cowboy who can shoot faster than his shadow and his horse, Joly Jumper.

Of course, this is a joke for the character has to be really fast to draw and shoot at bad guys so he can win all battles. The whole cartoon has many jokes, with, for example, the Daltons who just can’t do anything right and always end up in jail (well, the real Daltons did not really do much properly either…)

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Can I Become a Famous Amateur Astronomer?

The picture above is a Wide Field image of the 2011 Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) by Naskies. The comet is the long streak on the left side. The images shows the Milky Way in the background. The yellow toward the left is due to Zodiacal Light (sunlight reflected on interplanetary dust). The green toward the right is due to airglow.

Every year, we are still making numerous discoveries in Astronomy. For example, Robert Weryk found ʻOumuamua in 2017, the first interstellar object we’ve observed passing through our solar system. Robert, like most professional astronomers, has access to a plethora of powerful devices to accomplish his work.

On the other hand, amateur astronomy is seen as more of a hobby. However, several amateur astronomers have broken out and made a name for themselves by finding celestial bodies that had previously not been found by even professional astronomers.

Several amateur astronomers have not only made a name for themselves, they even have been recognized within the field for their discoveries. Using basic equipment, they have proven that passion is enough to get you ahead in your quest to become a notable astronomer.

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Historical Observatories Every Astronomer Should Know About

Star Gazers Stone by Beejus Christ

Throughout the ages, humans observed the night sky and we ended up with constructions that reflected what we saw in the dark: various star positions, sunrise and sunset, lunar cycles, etc.

Here I talk about a few the ancient observatories we’ve discovered in the last couple of centuries.

Astrology is how this was called. The science of the Astro (objects in the sky). This is how the people in ancient time were able to predict various natural things that were linked to the cycle of life: the time it takes Earth to go around the Sun and the Moon Cycle. Later, some people tried to extend the predictions to themselves and powerful kings. This is how Astrology became the science of prediction which is now refuted by most scientists.

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Black People in Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Solar Corona

In recent years, the number of black people within the STEM industry has been on a gradual rise. However, the same cannot be said for the physics and astronomy departments. Researchers have actually noted a decline in diversity in the past ten years of the field. In physics, black representation is down to 3%, as compared to 1999 when representation was over 5%. In Astronomy, black representation is only at 2%.

In this article, we take a look at some prominent black astrophysicists and astronomers and their contributions to the field.

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