Ever heard of a neutrino?
Well, I guess now you have. But what exactly is a neutrino?
Don’t worry, they’re not harmful. They’re passing through you this very second and you’ll never notice them, not in your whole life. They’ll never hurt you because they just don’t interact with matter—including you—in the way you’d expect.
I’ll bet now you’re wondering where they even come from.
Well, as the diagram illustrates, they come from the sun. They’re kind of a side-effect of the nuclear reaction that powers the sun, and they radiate out from the sun in droves. But that’s not even the coolest bit.
We know how many neutrinos should come from the sun if our theories about its power generation are right. So if we can count them, we can prove those theories correct.
That’s when we encounter a bit of a problem. We can’t actually detect neutrinos.
So how the heck do we count them? Continue reading
Take a wild guess: how much energy do you think the sun generates?
Think about it. It definitely generates enough energy to power a world.
Humans depend on the photosynthesis of plants, which converts sunlight into energy. And that’s not all. Without energy from the sun, our atmosphere would behave very differently, and so would our oceans.
Everything that moves on Planet Earth does so because it has energy. And a lot of that energy comes from the sun. It doesn’t even stop there—obviously, the sun has plenty of energy to spare, if the recent influx of solar power means anything.
The sun is incredibly powerful. And it’s powerful enough to keep generating that kind of massive energy supply for billions of years.
So where does it get all its energy? Continue reading
Does this image look familiar?
It should—these are soap bubbles.
Okay, now you’re probably going to ask me how soap bubbles have anything to do with the battery of the sun.
Well…you might be surprised to know that soap bubbles actually work as models of stars.
How? Continue reading
Everything we know about space comes from radiation.
Now wait just a moment here. That statement explains how astronomy is such a successful field of science—it’s based entirely on the information we can glean from radiation, after all. But how does that make sense?
I mean, it’s one thing to study radiation. It’s quite another thing to study matter, the “stuff” in the universe. How does one have anything to do with the other?
Well…that’s where atoms come in. Radiation does, in fact, have a lot to do with the “stuff” it comes from. And if it weren’t for that basic principle, astronomy as a science wouldn’t work.
Thankfully for astronomers, it does. So what’s the secret, then? What does radiation have to do with matter? Continue reading
Have you ever seen something like this?
I’m going to venture a wild guess and say you haven’t, since scientists have only recently been able to take this kind of image. I learned about it in my biology class this semester, and the professor said that it was a landmark achievement.
You’re looking at an atom.
Yes, that’s right. You’re looking at a single, microscopic building block of matter.
Let me give you an idea of just how small this is. Millions of the smallest atom in the universe can fit lined across the diameter of a single pinhead.
But I’ll ask you another question. If I showed you an image like the one below, would you immediately think, “atom”? Continue reading
Does this look familiar?
It might, or it might not. If it does, you might recognize it as the periodic table of the elements—more often known as simply the “periodic table.” It’s an ingenious way to organize elements that has worked for scientists for quite some time.
To fully appreciate the ingenuity of the periodic table, I’d have to take you through a few chemistry lessons. Never fear, I have every intention of doing so—later. For now, though, I just want to address enough of the world of atoms to talk about stellar spectra.
That just means the spectrums we get from stars, by the way. (Spectra is plural for spectrum.) And that means…well…we’ll talk about it later. Let’s talk about the different types of atoms first.
Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. Which means there must be different types. But what are they? Continue reading
“The Building Blocks of the Universe.” When you put it that way, atoms sound less like a topic specifically for a chemistry class and more like something astronomers might discuss.
They really are. I’ve got a fantastic reason to include atoms under astronomy, and its name is stellar spectra.
We’ve encountered stellar spectra before in these astronomy posts. When I wrote about the spectrograph, an instrument astronomers use to study data, I talked about spectral lines. I also promised we’d come back to elaborate on that later.
We’re not actually going to talk about the spectrograph in this post. I’m saving that for another time. For now, I’m going to cover atoms in a little more detail.
That way, we’ll have a better understanding of how they interact with light later on—and that will help us understand the spectrograph. Continue reading
Cosmic rays remain, for the most part, a cosmic mystery.
But then, what about the universe doesn’t still remain partially shrouded in mystery?
Cosmic rays are radiation, but they’re not electromagnetic. That is, they’re not on the electromagnetic spectrum.
So, what are they? Continue reading