This is a Scale Model of the Solar System Like You’ve Never Seen Before

We’ve all seen illustrations of the Solar System. They’re in our school textbooks, on posters, on websites, on t-shirts… in some cases they’re used to represent the word “science” itself (and for good reason.) But, for the most part, they’re all wrong. At least where scale is concerned.

Sure, you can show the Sun and planets in relative size to each other accurately. But then the actual distances between them will probably be way off.* And OK, you can outline the planets’ concentric orbits around the Sun to scale pretty easily. But then there’s no convenient way to make sure that the planets themselves would actually be visible. In order to achieve both, you have to leave the realm of convenience behind entirely and make a physical model that, were you to start with an Earth the size of a marble, would stretch for several miles (and that’s not even taking Pluto into consideration.)

This is exactly what filmmaker Wylie Overstreet and four of his friends did in 2014, spending a day and a half on a dry lake bed in Nevada where they measured out and set up a scale model of the Sun and planets (not including Pluto, don’t tell Alan Stern) including their respective circular orbits. They then shot time-lapse images of their illuminated cars driving around the orbits. The resulting video is educational, mesmerizing, beautiful, and overall a wonderful demonstration of the staggering scale of space in the Solar System.

Watch the video below:

Or watch full-screen on Vimeo here.

For some reason whenever I think about the sheer amount of space there actually is in space, it gets me a like choked up. These guys get an “A+” for effort, execution, and entertainment!

Credit: Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh

*There have been a few web pages that have been able to show the scale sizes and distances of the planets (and there are even some driving-distance ones too) but often they oversimplify by lining the planets up in a row — which doesn’t happen all that often and doesn’t portray the orbital circumferences either. This all just happens to be a favorite contemplating point of mine.

Watch the You-Know-What Out Of This New Trailer for The Martian

The second full trailer for 20th Century Fox’s upcoming film The Martian dropped this morning and it looks like a whole red-planetful of awesome space adventure! Directed by Ridley Scott and based on the runaway hit novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a member of a fictional yet not-too-distant-future NASA mission to explore the surface of Mars. After a violent dust storm batters the camp the team is forced to abort the mission, abandoning the base and Watney, who was injured and assumed dead. Except, of course, he’s not, thus beginning his new mission to remain alive on Mars long enough to be rescued — a feat which will require bravery, brains, luck… and a whole you-know-what-load of science. (If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s a lot of fun. I highly suggest it.) So check out the trailer above, and feel free to repeat as necessary.

The Martian opens in U.S. theaters on Oct. 2. Visit the official movie site here.

Ride Along with New Horizons on its Pluto Flyby

On July 14, 2015, after nine and a half years journeying across the Solar System, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its historic close pass of Pluto and its moon Charon. Traveling a relative velocity of nearly 13.8 km/s (that’s almost 31,000 mph!) New Horizons passed through the Pluto system in a matter of hours but the views it captured from approach to departure held the world spellbound with their unexpected beauty. Those images and data – along with a bit of imagination – have been used by space imaging enthusiast Björn Jónsson to create an animation of New Horizons’ Pluto pass as if we were traveling along with the spacecraft – check it out above.

You can find more science images and discoveries about Pluto and Charon from New Horizons here, and see more renderings and animations by Jónsson on his website here.

Our Universe is Dying

Brace yourselves: winter is coming. And by winter I mean the slow heat-death of the Universe, and by brace yourselves I mean don’t get terribly concerned because the process will take a very, very, very long time. (But still, it’s coming.)

vista-survey-telescope
Part of ESO’s VISTA telescope in Chile, one of seven telescopes used in the GAMA survey (ESO)

Based on findings from the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, which used seven of the world’s most powerful telescopes to observe the sky in a wide array of electromagnetic wavelengths, the energy output of the nearby Universe (currently estimated to be ~13.82 billion years old) is currently half of what it was “only” 2 billion years ago — and it’s still decreasing.

“The Universe has basically plonked itself down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” said Professor Simon Driver from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia, head of the nearly 100-member international research team.

As part of the GAMA survey 200,000 galaxies were observed in 21 different wavelengths, from ultraviolet to far-infrared, from both the ground and in space. It’s the largest multi-wavelength galaxy survey ever made.

Of course this is something scientists have known about for decades but what the survey shows is that the reduction in output is occurring across a wide range of wavelengths. The cooling is, on the whole, epidemic.

Watch a video below showing a fly-through 3D simulation of the GAMA survey:

“Just as we become less active in our old age, the same is happening with the Universe, and it’s well past its prime,” says Dr. Luke Davies, a member of the ICRAR research team, in the video.

But, unlike living carbon-based bags of mostly water like us, the Universe won’t ever actually die. And for a long time still galaxies will evolve, stars and planets will form, and life – wherever it may be found – will go on. But around it all the trend will be an inevitable dissipation of energy.

“It will just grow old forever, slowly converting less and less mass into energy as billions of years pass by,” Davies says, “until eventually it will become a cold, dark, and desolate place where all of the lights go out.”

Our own Solar System will be a quite different place by then, the Sun having cast off its outer layers – roasting Earth and the inner planets in the process – and spending its permanent retirement cooling off as a white dwarf. What will remain of Earthly organisms by then, including us? Will we have spread throughout the galaxy, bringing our planet’s evolutionary heritage with us to thrive elsewhere? Or will our cradle also be our grave? That’s entirely up to us. But one thing is certain: the Universe isn’t waiting around for us to decide what to do.

The findings were presented by Professor Driver on Aug. 10, 2015, at the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, and have been submitted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Read more/sources: ESO and ICRAR

See the Beauty of Earth and Space in Stunning New ISS Timelapse

Moonrises, sunsets, aurorae and of course, our beautiful planet Earth star in this latest timelapse compiled from imagery taken by astronauts on board the International Space Station. “Orbit 3” was put together by Phil Selmes using ISS footage captured during ISS Expeditions 42 and 43 between January through May 2015.

“I hadn’t planned on making another ISS time lapse video but I have been so awestruck by some of the recent footage I couldn’t help myself,” Selmes told Universe Today. “I think the point of difference for this video is that it not only draws on very recent footage but it includes many views not seen in other time lapse videos, for example some of the full screen “fisheye views” have not been featured too heavily nor have some of the shots looking through the ISS side viewing windows.”

This is the 4th video Phil has produced using ISS time lapse footage (see another here and a ‘Birdman-like tracking shot timelapse here). Phil says he still gets a lump in his throat every time he sees our “tiny little planet with its miracle cargo of life orbiting alone in the absolute vastness of space.”

We do too.

See more of Phil’s work on Facebook or G+.

This Video About Solar Superstorms is Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch and It Looks Awesome.

What’s better than a full 180-degree digital theater experience that takes you into the heart of our Sun to see how solar storms form? Why, all of that accompanied by a rumbling narration by Benedict Cumberbatch, of course.

The video above is a trailer for “Solar Superstorms,” a digital planetarium presentation distributed by Fulldome Film Society and co-produced by Spitz Creative Media, NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Lab, and Thomas Lucas Productions. It uses the monster Blue Waters supercomputers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois to visualize the complex processes occurring in, on, and around the Sun. It might look a little weird in the flat 2D format above, but I can only imagine what it will be like to see it from inside a digital dome (and have the disembodied voice of Smaug/Sherlock/Khan thundering through the room!)

The film itself is still in production so I couldn’t find an official release date. But keep an eye out for it at your nearest planetarium and visit the FulldomeFilm.org catalog page for other films from the same distributor.

You can find a database of fulldome theaters and digital planetariums around the world here.

Video credit: Spitz Creative Media

Trail’s End: Beautiful New Night-Sky Timelapse by Randy Halverson

Stunning views of the Milky Way, shimmering aurora, spectacular thunderstorms, flashing meteors, zipping satellies, stirring music, and spooky sprites and gravity waves …. they are all part of this wonderful new timelapse by night-sky guru Randy Halverson.

“Trails End is a compilation of some of my favorite timelapse shots from 2014, with a few aurora shots from early this year,” Halverson told us. “It was shot in Wyoming, Utah and South Dakota.”

A few moments to note in the video:

:56 Bolide Meteor
1:01 Aurora at Devils Tower and throughout video
1:33 Two Bolide Meteors
Meteors With Persistent Trains 2:29 very fast and short persistent train to right of the Milky Way, a better one at 3:20
2:43 Final Boost Stage of GSSAP and ANGELS satellites
2:55 Owl sitting in tree
3:00 Pink Aurora in the sand dunes of Wyoming’s Red Desert
3:14 Sprites and Gravity Waves

See more images and details at Randy’s website, dakotalapse.

Using 19th Century Technology to Time Travel to the Stars

In the late 19th century, astronomers developed the technique of capturing telescopic images of stars and galaxies on glass photographic plates. This allowed them to study the night sky in detail. Over 500,000 glass plate images taken from 1885 to 1992 are part of the Plate Stacks Collection of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and is is the largest of its kind in the world.

“The images captured on these plates remain incredibly valuable to science, representing a century of data on stars and galaxies that can never be replaced,” writes astronomer Michael Shara, who is Curator in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who discussed the plates and their significance in a new episode of AMNH’s video series, “Shelf Life.”

These plates provide a chance to travel back in time, to see how stars and galaxies appeared over the past 130 years, allowing astronomers to do what’s called “time domain astronomy”: studying the changes and variability of objects over time. These include stars, galaxies, and jets from stars or galactic nuclei.

But viewing these plates is difficult. The glass plates can still be viewed on a rather archaic plate viewer—a device that’s like an X-ray light box in a doctor’s office. But those aren’t readily available, and Harvard is hesitant about shipping the 100-plus-year-old glass plates around the world. If astronomers travel to Cambridge to dig through the archives, they can spend hours poring over logbooks or just looking for the right plate. Plus, there’s not an easy way to compare these plates to today’s digital imagery.

AMNH is helping CfA to digitize the glass plates, which is discussed in the video. There’s also a citizen science project called DASCH to help digitize the telescope logbooks record that hold vital information associated with a 100-year-long effort to record images of the sky. By transcribing logbook text to put those historical observations in context, volunteers can help to unlock hidden discoveries.

Find out more about DASCH here, and you can read the news release from last year about it here.

Find out more about AMNH’s digitization project here, where you can also see more episodes of “Shelf Life.”

Past episodes usually focus on the “squishy/hold-in-your-hand side of natural history collections,” said Kendra Snyder from AMNH’s communications department, adding that this latest episode about astronomy offers a different take on what people think is in museum collections.

This Is The Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Us


All right, sure – there are a lot of asteroids that don’t hit us. And of course quite a few that do… Earth is impacted by around 100 tons of space debris every day (although that oft-stated estimate is still being researched.) But on March 10, 2015, a 12–28 meter asteroid dubbed 2015 ET cosmically “just missed us,” zipping past Earth at 0.3 lunar distances – 115,200 kilometers, or 71, 580 miles.*

The video above shows the passage of 2015 ET across the sky on the night of March 11–12, tracked on camera from the Crni Vrh Observatory in Slovenia. It’s a time-lapse video (the time is noted along the bottom) so the effect is really neat to watch the asteroid “racing along” in front of the stars… but then, it was traveling a relative 12.4 km/second!

UPDATE 3/14: As it turns out the object in the video above is not 2015 ET; it is a still-undesignated NEO. (My original source had noted this incorrectly as well.) Regardless, it was an almost equally close pass not 24 hours after 2015 ET’s! Double tap. (ht to Gerald in the comments.) UPDATE #2: The designation for the object above is now 2015 EO6.

Continue reading “This Is The Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Us”

Watch the Aurora Shimmer and Dance in Real Time

I for one have never witnessed the northern lights in person, and like many people I experience them vicariously through the photography and videos of more well-traveled (or more polar-bound) individuals. Typically these are either single-shot photos or time-lapses made up of many somewhat long-exposure images. As beautiful as these are, they don’t accurately capture the true motion of this upper atmospheric phenomenon. But here we get a look at the aurora as it looks in real time, captured on camera by Jon Kerr from northern Finland. Check it out above or watch in full screen HD on YouTube.

The video was shot with a full-frame mirrorless Sony a7S. See more of Jon’s aurora videos on YouTube here.

Video credit: Jon Kerr. HT SunViewer on Twitter.