I Can’t Stop Thinking About The Eclipse.

2017 Eclipse

I can’t stop thinking about the eclipse.

I thought I pretty much knew what to expect from the 2017 solar eclipse. I understood the science. I had already witnessed a few partial/annular eclipses. I’ve been anticipating the event for a few years now and had read about the sensory changes I could expect to witness. I had a few good viewing locations scoped out with choices depending on the cloud coverage or crowds we might run into that day. My 3 1/2-year-old twins had plenty of food, water, sunscreen, eclipse glasses, and excitement. We were prepared for the event. But I soon learned that nothing could prepare me for the experience.

We had a perfect location on a ridge near Muddy Mountain Wyoming that provided 360 degree views. We were away from the crowds. And most importantly it was cloudless with 2 minutes and 18 seconds of anticipated totality.

We spent an hour watching the partial eclipse and eating a picnic lunch in the shade provided by some old, scraggly, Limber Pines. Eventually, the temperature began to drop slowly. Soon our surroundings dimmed and crickets began to chirp. I found myself caught off guard by the strangeness of my environment. The landscape appeared rosy and dimmed – as if I was wearing sunglasses. My stomach flipped with anticipation and anxiety caused by the surreality of my surroundings.

Quickly, much faster than I anticipated, darkness descended on us. The disorienting passage of time was head-spinning. I took my eclipse glasses off to see if I could see the umbra race toward us from across the valley below. But it happened too quickly. It was with a ridiculous suddenness that the moon’s shadow had shrouded us. I quickly turned around and looked up and saw the eclipsed sun glowing in the sky and my brain turned inside out.

My fingers fumbled around for my camera phone and I somehow managed to capture the image above. I tried to take a video of the “sunset” that surrounded us in every direction, but I only managed to catch these three seconds. I was overwhelmed.

The corona was much more bright and lustrous than I envisioned. It shone bright white and with a jaw dropping brilliance. We were all bewildered with its beauty and absolute strangeness. To look up into the sky and see a sparkling shine, unlike anything I have ever seen in my years of looking at the heavens. To share this with my wife and children.

And then it was gone. And now I can’t stop thinking about the eclipse.

TRAPPIST1 Size Comparison Chart

Seven Earth-like Planets Found Orbiting Nearby Star

TRAPPIST1 Size Comparison ChartImage via Space.com

This morning NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-like planets “that could harbor life” orbiting an ultra cool red dwarf star. Three of these seven newly discovered planets are in the Habitable Zone. The exoplanets circle the star TRAPPIST-1, which lies just 39 light-years (235 trillion miles) away — a mere stone’s throw in the cosmic scheme of things.

From Washington Post:

The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have ever detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying alien worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.

“Before this, if you wanted to study terrestrial planets, we had only four of them and they were all in our solar system,” said lead author Michaël Gillon, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don’t, whatever we find will be super interesting.”

Here’s the paper in Nature: Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby star TRAPPIST-1.

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

There Are At Least 10 Times More Galaxies In The Universe Than We Thought

The universe suddenly looks a lot more crowded.

Waaaaay back in 1995, the Hubble Deep Field images surprised the world by revealing how crammed the universe is with galaxies. At that time astronomers estimated there were about 200 billion galaxies in the universe. Recent estimates put that count closer to 2 trillion, at least 10 times as many galaxies as we thought. However, about 90% of the galaxies in the observable Universe are actually too faint and too far away to be seen or studied. Phil Plait explains:

Now, let me be clear. This doesn’t meant the Universe is ten times bigger than we thought, or there are ten times as many stars. I’ll explain — I mean, duh, it’s what I do — but to cut to the chase, what they found is that there are lots of teeny, faint galaxies very far away that have gone undetected. So instead of being in a smaller number of big galaxies, stars are divvied up into a bigger number of smaller ones.

And it doesn’t mean the Universe has 10 times more mass than we thought. The mass is the same, it’s just distributed differently than we thought. It’s like knowing there are 1 million people in a city, and finding out they live in 100,000 buildings when you thought they were only in 10,000. There are more buildings, but not more people

This discovery has also helped lead to explanations for Olbers’ paradox which states, “Why is the sky dark at night if the universe contains a multitude of stars?” NASA helps explain:

The team came to the conclusion that indeed there actually is such an abundance of galaxies that, in principle, every patch in the sky contains part of a galaxy. However, starlight from the galaxies is invisible to the human eye and most modern telescopes due to other known factors that reduce visible and ultraviolet light in the universe. Those factors are the reddening of light due to the expansion of space, the universe’s dynamic nature, and the absorption of light by intergalactic dust and gas. All combined, this keeps the night sky dark to our vision.

The sky is literally covered in galaxies! Mind boggling to be sure!

Youthful NGC 362 Globular Cluster

A Young Globular Cluster

Youthful NGC 362 Globular Cluster

Earlier this week NASA released this dazzling image of NGC 362. It is one of about 150 known globular clusters on the outskirts of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Globular clusters are giant spheres that contain hundreds of thousands of stars and reside in the outskirts of galaxies. The ESA says NGC 362 is unusual:

By studying the different elements present within individual stars in NGC 362, astronomers discovered that the cluster boasts a surprisingly high metal content, indicating that it is younger than expected. Although most globular clusters are much older than the majority of stars in their host galaxy, NGC 362 bucks the trend, with an age lying between 10 and 11 billion years old. For reference, the age of the Milky Way is estimated to be above 13 billion years.

This image, in which you can view many of NGC 362’s individual stars, was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) If you want a new desktop image, here’s the 42 MB full-size original (it will automatically download).

100000 Stars

100,000 Stars: Interactive 3D Visualization Of Our Galaxy

100000 Stars

Are you ready to space out? 100,000 Stars is an interactive 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy created by the folks over at Google. It accurately plots 100,000 local stars pulling data from a range of sources, including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Bright Star Catalog.

100,000 Stars is an interactive visualization of the stellar neighborhood created for the Google Chrome web browser. It shows the real location of over 100,000 nearby stars. Zooming in reveals 87 individually identified stars and our solar system. The galaxy view is an artist’s rendition.

Instructions: Pan using your mouse and zoom in/out using your touchpad or mouse wheel. Click a star’s name to learn more about it.

Warning: Scientific accuracy is not guaranteed. Please do not use this visualization for interstellar navigation.

Be sure to take the tour. This is a WebGL Google Chrome Experiment, so it’ll run best on Chrome or Safari and with a decent graphics card. Damn nature, you pretty.

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field
Image courtesy of NASA

NASA has recently released a new Deep Field image called eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) that improves on the older Ultra Deep Field (UDF) image. The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen. This image is a composite of nearly ten years worth of photographic exposures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope – over 2,000 photographs totaling 22.5 days worth of total exposure time. Nearly everything you see in the picture is a galaxy containing billions of stars.

The new full-color XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies and includes very deep exposures in red light from Hubble’s new infrared camera, enabling new studies of the earliest galaxies in the universe. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view [than the UDF]. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.

The universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the XDF reveals galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years in time. Most of the galaxies in the XDF are seen when they were young, small, and growing, often violently as they collided and merged together. The early universe was a time of dramatic birth for galaxies containing brilliant blue stars extraordinarily brighter than our sun. The light from those past events is just arriving at Earth now, and so the XDF is a “time tunnel into the distant past.” The youngest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.

Click on the image above for the gigantic 1.4MB image. And keep looking up.