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12 of Astronomy's 500 Coolest Things About Space

10 of Astronomy's Top 500 - RF CafeIn celebration of its 500th month of print, Astronomy magazine's March 2015 edition published an extensive collection titled "500 Coolest Things About Space." If you have ever tried to assimilate a list of even 50 interesting facts on any topic, you can appreciate the effort involved to come up with 500. I have been a subscriber to Astronomy, on and off, since sometime around 1980, and generally prefer it to the only other major astronomy-related publication, Sky & Telescope. Since RF Cafe's audience members are science minded, I figure you might appreciate a short version of some of the objects and events that are meaningful to most people.

I hereby offer a new word for those of us who are devoted to the study of the sky: 'philastropher.' Springboarding from the word 'philosopher,' which derives from the Greek 'philosophos' which means 'lover of wisdom,' (philo + astro) a 'philastropher' is a 'lover of astronomy.' Feel free to quote me ;-)

  • Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the photoelectric effect, not for his theory of relativity.
  • Due to the geometry of the earth-sun-moon system, the longest possible total solar eclipse lasts 7 minutes and 32 seconds. BTW, there will be a total solar eclipse transiting the entire United States on Monday, August 21, 2017. The path of totality makes shore in Oregon at 9:48 am local time, and departs the continent from South Carolina at 2:36 pm local time.
  • On average, a total solar eclipse occurs once every 360 years for any spot on Earth.
  • Eugene Shoemaker, co-discoverer of the eponymous comet (Shoemaker–Levy 9) that impacted Jupiter's gaseous surface, is the only human whose ashes are on the Moon.
  • Approximately 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body every second.
  • A nychthemeron (from the Greek words nykt- 'night,' and hemera 'day, daytime') is a period of 24 consecutive hours. Be sure to use this word in your next presentation.
  • Due primarily to centrifugal force at the equator (g = 9.8144 m/s²) and not the flattening of the Earth's diameter at the poles (g = 9.8322 m/s²), a person weighing 200 pounds at the pole would weigh about 199.6 pounds at the equator. This gravitational phenomenon was responsible for transporters of Yukon gold being accused of stealing prospectors' bounty when weighed first in far northern latitudes and then weighed again at southern latitudes.
  • Thus far, more than 1,500 planets (exoplanets) have been discovered orbiting distant stars.
  • On June 8, 2011, Neptune, with an orbital period of 165 years, completed its first full orbit since its discovery by Johann Gottfried Galle on September 24, 1846.
  • The BBC's television show, The Sky at Night, is the world's longest-running science program. "The show had the same permanent presenter, Patrick Moore, from its first airing on 24 April 1957 until 7 January 2013."
  • More than half of all stars are part of double star or other multi-star systems.
  • The speed of light in a vacuum (like space) is exactly 299,792,458 meters per second.
  • The 1933 Chicago World's Fair officially began when a photocell detected the star Arcturus in the constellation Boötes.

Pale Blue Dot, NASA Voyager Image - RF CafeThe Coup de grâce of the list, though, was item #500, as reproduced here. The photo was taken by NASA's Voyager 1 space probe while visiting Jupiter. "This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system." Quoted is Carl Sagan:

Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan - RF Cafe"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. "





Posted  February 11, 2015

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RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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