Welcome to Science at Your Doorstep!

On this blog, I try to bring the wonders of the universe right to your doorstep by simplifying scientific topics.

You won’t find any of the usual science “technobabble” on this blog.

Think this blog looks familiar? The name “Far Beyond the Stars” might ring a bell. Same blog, different url. Welcome back! For more information on this change, click here.

If this is your first time here, welcome aboard! Feel free to take a look around!

By all means, feel free to follow! You’ll find the option at the top of the sidebar. To follow via email, enter your email address and my posts will be delivered straight to your inbox.

I’ve moved the updates on the changes I’m making to this blog to my About page.

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Tycho Brahe, the Observer

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It is surprisingly difficult to find a flattering image of Tycho Brahe.

Honestly. Do me a favor and do a Google image search for the guy. It’ll come up with all sorts of disfigured images, mostly because his nose got messed up in a sword fight…

I know what you’re thinking. A classical astronomer in a sword fight? Suddenly these people seem less like heroes of modern-day science and more like human beings with lives of their own.

Tycho certainly fits the trend. He’s known for being quite the unpopular sort. Bad-tempered and vain, there were few who respected him for more than just his astronomical accomplishments—and even those were few.

So why is he even important, then?

Continue reading

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The Copernican Revolution

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Nicolaus Copernicus lived from 1473-1543, a time when rebellion against the Church was at its height. And unfortunately for the astronomy of the time, it had gotten inextricably tied up with Christian teachings.

In that time, heaven and hell weren’t just parts of our personal religions and beliefs—the Church held some of the highest authority over the land, and questioning heaven and hell just wasn’t done.

The way astronomers of the time pictured the universe fell right in sync with the heaven and hell geometry—Earth was the imperfect center of the universe, with hell nested deep below. Heaven was a place of perfection, and it was where all the heavenly bodies—the moon, sun, planets and stars—all moved.

Problem was, the Ptolemaic model of the universe really couldn’t explain detailed observations. It used epicycles to explain why the planets moved backwards sometimes. And no matter what people tried, they couldn’t get it to be accurate…

But then along came Copernicus, who would be the first to challenge the Ptolemaic universe and be believed. Continue reading

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The Ptolemaic Universe

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Claudius Ptolemy lived about five centuries after the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s time. Aristotle’s model for the universe—the first geocentric model, with Earth at the center—was still widely accepted, and Ptolemy sought to improve it.

Ptolemy was one of the first of the ancient Greeks to be a true astronomer and mathematician, rather than a philosopher.

Where Aristotle, Plato, Thales, and Pythagoras before him had tried to use “pure thought” to understand the nature of the heavens, Ptolemy set about to perfect the geocentric model mathematically.

This was a huge step forward for science as a whole, as science today relies heavily on mathematics.

In Ptolemy’s time, science didn’t really exist yet. The Greeks preferred to just think through problems logically and reasonably, and if the logic they used was based on untrue assumptions…well, no one was the wiser.

But Ptolemy came up with the wonderful idea to line up observations of the sky with mathematics. And even though Aristotle’s view of the universe shackled him, he moved science forward with great strides. Continue reading

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Aristotle’s Universe

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You might have heard of Aristotle. He’s the guy who said that we are what we repeatedly do. His words are often interpreted to mean that, for instance, a person who farms is therefore a farmer—or a person who writes science posts is, therefore, a science writer.

He also contributed a lot to the arenas of politics, philosophy, and basically every other field of study the Greeks could think of. His teachings were almost as widely accepted as Plato’s. And, like Plato, he had a few ideas about astronomy.

Well, most of what he taught about astronomy was dead wrong. But he had his moments. And his failures illustrate an important concept of science. No level of understanding is beyond our reach, and sometimes it takes pure imagination and guesswork to get there.

Aristotle may have been wrong most of the time, but he dared to imagine. And that’s something all scientists must do. Continue reading

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From Classical Beginnings

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The universe as we know it was born out of chaos.

We have a pretty good idea of the scale of our universe and how it began—as an infinitely dense point of matter that blew apart in what we call the Big Bang. That’s chaos for you, right there.

And chaos continues to define our daily lives. Stars are born out of the complete chaos of gravity, and nothing in the universe forms gently. Our moon was born out of a violent collision with the Earth. And I’m sure you’ve noticed how easy it is to let a room get disorganized.

All these are examples of chaos—known as entropy in science. Everything tends toward chaos. But the ancient Greeks rebelled against this idea.

In their view, everything in the cosmos had to be perfect. It was a somewhat spiritual way of looking at the universe, if you think about it. And even as they developed the groundwork for science as we know it today, one idea hindered them… Continue reading

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Archaeoastronomy

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Imagine that you’re living sometime around 2000 BCE, give or take a thousand years or so. That’s about 4000 years before our time.

You look up at the sky at night, and see it filled with numerous points of light. Some of them stay mostly fixed, but move mysteriously in circles around the north pole. Others move with the rest, but wander a bit from time to time.

And then there’s the sun, whose brilliant rays light the day. The moon, like the sun, doesn’t seem to follow the path of the lights in the sky. It even changes its shape, and sometimes disappears entirely.

Wouldn’t you wonder if there was some pattern to these otherworldly motions? Wouldn’t you devote time to studying them and seeing if you could predict them? Continue reading

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The Saros Cycle

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Would it surprise you to hear the solar eclipses repeat?

Now, I know we can’t go back in time to see past eclipses, and once the date of an eclipse—say, March 7, 1970—has passed, that date will never come again. It’s simple reality, and we’re all aware of time’s passing.

But as you’ll soon realize through these astronomy posts, astronomy is full of repeating cycles. And one of those is the saros cycle, or simply the “saros.” It’s an eclipse prediction cycle, and after every one, the same eclipse occurs again.

But how? Continue reading

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The Eclipse Seasons

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There can be no doubt that solar and lunar eclipses are some of the most fascinating sights for the “naked” eye. (And I say “naked” under the assumption that you know never to look directly at the sun without approved protection!)

Unless it’s during totality. Then you can take those glasses off.

But what I mean is, solar and lunar eclipses don’t require telescopes or binoculars to be seen. You don’t need to use any special equipment. You just need your eyes, and in the case of a solar eclipse, some form of protection—like solar glasses.

You may have noticed that when a solar eclipse comes up—or even a lunar eclipse—it’s all the rage. Suddenly, the media is swamped with safety warnings and calendar countdowns to the big event.

The United States just about lost its mind over the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. And I have a feeling the next total solar eclipse to pass over the US, in seven years, will be just as dramatic.

But you might also be wondering…how do we know when these incredible sights are going to happen? Continue reading

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Under the Moon’s Shadow

This is adapted from a post I wrote for the wonderful Momma over at A Momma’s View. For the original version, click here.

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The total solar eclipse is an incredible phenomenon, one that I hope to see myself someday.

It isn’t often that an astronomical event occurs of such magnitude that people of all walks of life from all around the globe are drawn to one measly 65-mile wide strip of land, to crowd in like sardines as they watch the world change around them.

What’s important to realize about a total solar eclipse, versus just an annular one, is that it’s a people event.

Scientists do take this opportunity to study the sun’s corona, an outer layer of gases that’s usually too faint to be seen. But in general, this is an event for crowds to enjoy.

And enjoy it they do. I have never known another event of astronomical significance to populate the web and turn heads like a total solar eclipse.

But what happens during a solar eclipse? What can you expect to see, and how can you protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays? Continue reading

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The Annular Eclipse

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An annular solar eclipse is…an interesting sight, to say the least.

(I sincerely hope the photographer didn’t fry his camera taking this picture. Enough light from the sun is still reaching us to fry your retina, or damage your optics…)

The annular eclipse is not to be confused with an annual eclipse. When my dad first got excited about it back in 2012, preparing us for the spectacular sight of a solar eclipse in May, I wondered why the heck we hadn’t done this every year before.

The fact is, I’d never heard the word “annular,” so I thought Dad was just wrong.

But in reality, “annular” means something very different from “annual.” Continue reading

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