Amazing Astronomy: Victorian-Era Illustrations of the Heavens

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Amazing Astronomy: Victorian-Era Illustrations of the Heavens

By Live Science Staff 

Jovial Jupiter

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

A chromolithograph of the planet Jupiter, observed Nov. 1, 1880, at 9:30 p.m. The piece of art reveals Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, akin to a hurricane on Earth, which has been raging on the planet for hundreds of years.

Tangle of Sunspots

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

A group of sunspots and veiled spots observed on June 17, 1875 at 7:30 a.m. Sunspots are magnetic regions on the sun, which appear in images as dark spots and whose magnetic field strengths thousands of times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field.

Aurora Borealis

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Aurora borealis as observed March 1, 1872, at 9:25 p.m. Glowing lights that seem to dance across the sky, the aurora borealis occurs when charged particles from the sun enter our atmosphere, smashing into the gases there and releases energy in the form of light. Depending on the gas molecule involved in the smash-up, the lights take on different colors. For instance, a common color, pale yellowish-green, is produced by collisions with oxygen molecules, while blue or purplish-red result from crashes with nitrogen molecules, according to the Northern Lights Center in Canada. They are called aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere.

Orion’s Nebula

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The great nebula in Orion produced from a study made in the years 1875-1876.

Moon Mare

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Mare Humorum is a small circular mare, spanning about 275 miles (443 kilometers), on the near side of the moon. Shown here is Trouvelot’s artwork of the mare based on a study in 1875. It is about 275 miles across. The mountains around the mare mark the edge of an old impact basin, according to NASA.

The Red Planet

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The planet Mars observed Sept. 3, 1877, at 11:55 p.m.

Shooting Stars

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The November meteors, as observed between midnight and 5 a.m. on the night of Nov. 13-14 1868.

Sun Loops

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Solar protuberances, as observed on May 5, 1873, at 9:40 a.m. These structures form from the gases of the sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. They have lower temperatures compared with the surrounding environment and can extend millions of miles.

A Great Comet

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

In June 1881, a brilliant comet streaked across the skies of the northern hemisphere. E.L. Trouvelot illustrated the Great Comet of 1881 as he saw it.

Total Eclipse

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

A total eclipse of the sun observed July 29, 1878, at Creston, Wyoming Territory and illustrated by Trouvelot.

Saturn’s Stunning Light

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

Trouvelot observed Saturn on November 30, 1874 and produced this illustration.

The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe

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The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe

By Adam Mann March 17, 2019

Weirdo universe

There’s no questioning the fact that the universe is weird. Just look outside and you’ll see all manner of strange, self-reproducing flora and fauna, crawling upon a blue ball of semimolten rock covered in a thin, hard shell and blanketed by a tenuous film of gases. Yet our own planet represents a tiny fraction of the peculiar phenomena that can be found lurking throughout the cosmos, and every day astronomers turn up new surprises. In this gallery, we take a look at some of the most outlandish objects in space.

Mysterious Radio Signals

Since 2007, researchers have been receiving ultrastrong, ultrabright radio signals lasting only a few milliseconds. These enigmatic flashes have been called fast radio bursts (FRBs), and they appear to be coming from billions of light-years away (they’re not aliens, it’s never aliens). Recently, scientists managed to capture a repeating FRB, which flashed six times in a row, the second such signal ever seen and one that could help them unravel this mystery.

Nuclear Pasta

The strongest substance in the universe forms from the leftovers of a dead star. According to simulations, protons and neutrons in a star’s shriveled husk can be subject to insane gravitational pressure, which squeezes them into linguini-like tangles of material that would snap — but only if you applied to them 10 billion times the force needed to shatter steel.

Haumea Has Rings

The dwarf planet Haumea, which orbits in the Kuiper Belt out beyond Neptune, is already unusual. It has a strange elongated shape, two moons and a day that lasts only 4 hours, making it the fastest-spinning large object in the solar system. But in 2017, Haumea got even weirder when astronomers watched it pass in front of a star and noticed extremely thin rings orbiting around it, likely the result of a collision sometime in the distant past.

A Moon with a Moon

What’s better than a moon? A moon orbiting a moon, which the internet has dubbed a moonmoon. Also known as submoons, moonitos, grandmoons, moonettes and moooons, moonmoons are still only theoretical, but recent calculations suggest that there’s nothing impossible about their formation. Perhaps astronomers may one day discover one.

Dark-Matter-Less Galaxy?

Dark matter — the unknown substance comprising 85 percent of all matter in the universe — is strange. But researchers are at least sure about one thing: Dark matter is everywhere. So team members were scratching their heads over a peculiar galaxy they spotted in March 2018 that seemed to contain hardly any dark matter. Subsequent work suggested that the celestial oddity did in fact contain dark matter, though the finding paradoxically lent credence to an alternative theory positing that dark matter doesn’t exist at all. Get it together, astronomers!

The Most Bizarre Star

When astronomer Tabetha Boyajian of Louisiana State University and her colleagues first saw the star known as KIC 846285, they were flummoxed. Nicknamed Tabby’s star, the object would dip in brightness at irregular intervals and for odd lengths of time, sometimes by as much as 22 percent. Different theories were invoked, including the possibility of an alien megastructure, but nowadays, most researchers believe the star to be surrounded by an abnormal ring of dust that’s causing the darkening.

Highly Electric Hyperion

The title of weirdest moon in the solar system could go to many celestial objects — Jupiter’s overly volcanic Io, Neptune’s geyser-spewing Triton. But one of the strangest looking is Saturn’s Hyperion, a pumice-stone-like irregular rock pockmarked with numerous craters. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which visited the Saturn system between 2004 and 2017, also found that Hyperion was charged with a “particle beam” of static electricity flowing out into space.

A Guiding Neutrino

The single, high-energy neutrino that struck Earth on Sept. 22, 2017, wasn’t, on its own, all that extraordinary. Physicists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica see neutrinos of similar energy levels at least once a month. But this one was special because it was the first to arrive with enough information about its origin for astronomers to point telescopes in the direction it came from. They figured out that it had been flung at Earth 4 billion years ago by a flaring blazar, a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy that had been consuming surrounding material.

The Living Fossil Galaxy

DGSAT I is an ultradiffuse galaxy (UDG), meaning it is as big as a galaxy like the Milky Way but its stars are spread out so thinly that it is nearly invisible. But when scientists saw the ghostly DGSAT 1 in 2016, they noticed that it was sitting all alone, quite unlike other UDGs, which are typically found in clusters. Its characteristics suggest that the faint object formed during a very different era in the universe, back just 1 billion or so years after the Big Bang, making DGSAT 1 a living fossil.

Double Quasar Image

Massive objects curve light, enough so that they can distort the image of things behind them. When researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to spot a quasar from the early universe, they used it to estimate the universe’s expansion rate and found that it is expanding faster today than it was back then — a finding that disagrees with other measurements. Now physicists need to figure out if their theories are wrong or if something else strange is going on.

Infrared Stream from Space

Neutron stars are extremely dense objects formed after the death of a regular star. Normally, they emit radio waves or higher-energy radiation such as X-rays, but in September 2018, astronomers found a long stream of infrared light coming from a neutron star 800 light-years away from Earth — something never before observed. The researchers proposed that a disk of dust surrounding the neutron star could be generating the signal, but the ultimate explanation has yet to be found.

Rogue Planet with Auroras

Drifting through the galaxy are rogue planets, which have been flung away from their parent star by gravitational forces. One particular peculiarity in this class is known as SIMP J01365663+0933473, a planet-size object 200 light-years away whose magnetic field is more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s. This is strong enough to generate flashing auroras in its atmosphere, which can be seen with radio telescopes.

Countries around the world want a Space Force — but why?

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Countries around the world want a Space Force — but why?

By Chelsea Gohd – a day ago

“Nobody wants a war in space.”

The U.S. Space Force isn't the only military space branch popping up around the world.

The U.S. Space Force isn’t the only military space branch popping up around the world.(Image: © U.S. Space Force)

As perceived security threats mount in Earth’s orbit, countries around the world are following the example of the United States and creating their own “space forces.” 

Nine months ago, in December 2019, the U.S. Space Force was born. The new military branch was created with a focus to protect the nation’s satellites and other space assets, which are vital to everything from national security to day-to-day communications. 

Now, countries including France, Canada and Japan are following suit, as leaders from those countries’ “space force” analogs said Thursday (Sept. 10) during the 2nd Summit for Space Sustainability, an online event hosted by the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.

So, why do these countries, as well as nations like Russia and China, want a military presence in space? 

Related: The most dangerous space weapons ever

According to Maj. Gen. John Shaw, the combined force space component commander of the U.S. Space Command and commander of space operations command for the U.S. Space Force, it’s analogous to asking “why do ocean-going or seafaring nations want a Navy?” They want “to secure that domain for all activity and to deter threats in that domain,” he said during the summit on Thursday. “Nobody wants a war in space.”

Space torpedoes

The threats that the U.S. Space Force aims to deter are not theoretical and have already started popping up, Shaw explained. 

For example, in April and again in July, the Space Force detected an anti-satellite missile test conducted in low Earth orbit by Russia. The April test “provides yet another example that the threats to the U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” Space Force commander Gen. John “Jay” Raymond stated following that incident.

Satellite tests are no uncommon occurrence in low Earth orbit. However, according to Shaw, Russia was testing what looked like a “space torpedo.” 

Video: Watch Russia launch the two mysterious satellites

“And I could add many other threats that we’ve seen along the continuum of space counter-space capabilities,” Shaw added, citing “the proliferation of electromagnetic spectrum jammers” as an example. Jammers deliberately interfere with information beaming to or from Earth-orbiting satellites.

And, while the U.S. Space Force is actively working to combat these threats, other countries are following suit. “We share the same concerns,” French Space Command major general and commander Michel Friedling said during the summit. 

“We want to make sure that we’re not riding coattails,” Brig. Gen. Mike Adamson, the director general and Space/Joint Force Space Component Commander for the Canadian Department of National Defence added during the summit. Canada wants to “maintain our place at the table,” Adamson said.

Satellite swarm threats

However, intentional, nefarious threats from other nations are not the only concern for the U.S. Space Force and other countries’ growing military space efforts. Constellations of satellites from private companies here on Earth can also pose serious issues.

The “proliferation in low Earth orbit of commercial satellites, in some ways, might be the greatest threat to space sustainability,” Shaw said, adding that this will only really be a threat if not done properly. 

Recently, SpaceX began launching large numbers of satellites to low Earth orbit, in an effort to grow a huge constellation called Starlink that’s designed to provide internet access around the globe. 

SpaceX has already lofted more than 700 Starlink satellites. But Elon Musk’s company has approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to launch as many as 12,000 satellites into orbit and may want to grow the constellation even larger than that someday.  

And SpaceX isn’t the only one with such ambitions. For example, Amazon aims to launch about 3,200 satellites for its own internet constellation, Project Kuiper.

Putting so many satellites into orbit raises a number of potential concerns, including the proliferation of “space junk.” While SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are designed to fall out of orbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere over time, the presence of so many spacecraft in orbit at once increases the possibility of collisions, which would generate huge swarms of debris. These swarms would then pose a potential threat to other satellites in orbit.

Related: In photos: SpaceX launches third batch of 60 Starlink satellites to orbit

As Shaw mentioned, the Space Force also expects to see more and more “academic” or science-focused satellites launched into orbit. 

With all of these new satellites expected to launch, the Space Force wants to ensure that they are made with a “responsible design so that they don’t become a navigational hazard,” Shaw said. “As we continue to expand across all sectors…how do we do that in a responsible way?” 

This is a concern for other countries dipping their toes into space-focused military branches as well. 

These emerging military enterprises have to consider things such as, “How do we coordinate with the private actors in space?” Friedling said. 

Friedling also brought up the issue of security for these private or science-focused satellites. “Do they want to be protected or escorted?” he asked, comparing these craft to private ships that were escorted in convoys during World War I to keep them safe from enemy attack from  newly introduced submarines.  

The space military representatives, which also included Maj. Gen. Hiroaki Sakanashi, the director general of the project promotion group for emerging domains and programs in the Air Staff Office in Japan, seemed to agree that these are concerns that should be addressed by space-focused military efforts. 

“You invite conflict when there’s weakness, and I believe you deter conflict when there is strength, and that is the path we’re on,” Shaw said. Taking this approach “will lead us, I believe, to a more strategically stable situation that deters conflict in space,” he added.

“Certainly, Canada is going along those lines as well,” Adamson agreed.

Email Chelsea Gohd at or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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No Escape: Dive Into a Black Hole (Infographic)

Scientists spot flash of light from colliding black holes. But how?

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Scientists spot flash of light from colliding black holes. But how?

Incredible time-lapse video shows 10 years of the sun’s history in 6 minutes

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Incredible time-lapse video shows 10 years of the sun’s history in 6 minutes

Are there really 36 alien civilizations out there? Well, maybe.

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Are there really 36 alien civilizations out there? Well, maybe.

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Very Large Telescope: Powerful Eyes on the Sky


In 2004, a team of European and American astronomers studying the TW Hydrae Association, a group of very young stars and other objects, spotted a red speck of light near one of the association’s brown dwarfs. The object was more than 100 times fainter than its parent star. Further observations confirmed that it was an exoplanet orbiting its star at 55 times the Earth-sun distance.

“Our new images show convincingly that this really is a planet, the first planet that has ever been imaged outside of our solar system,” ESO astronomer Gael Chauvin said in a statement.

In 2008, a team of scientists used the VLT to discover and image an object near the star Beta Pictoris. Most directly imaged exoplanets lie far from their stars, past where Neptune would orbit, where stellar light is dimmer. In contrast, the planet Beta Pictoris b lies much closer, where Saturn would orbit.

“Direct imaging of extrasolar planets is necessary to test the various models of formation and evolution of planetary systems,” researcher Daniel Rouan said in a statement. “But such observations are only beginning. Limited today to giant planets around young stars, they will in the future extend to the detection of cooler and older planets, with the forthcoming instruments on the VLT and on the next generation of optical telescopes.”

Spin class

Researchers also used the VLT to determine how fast Beta Pictoris b is spinning, clocking the massive planet almost 62,000 mph (100,000 km/h) at its equator. In comparison, Earth’s equator spins at only 1,056 mph (1,700 km/h), while Jupiter travels at about 29,000 mph (47,000 km/h). This was the first time an exoplanet’s rotation rate had been determined.

ESO/Stéphane Guisard

The sky appears to rotate above ESO’s Very Large Telescope in this long exposure. The star trails curve away from the celestial equator in the middle of the photo, where the stars seem to move in a straight line.

“It is not known why some planets spin fast and others more slowly,” researcher Remco de Kok said in a statement. “But this first measurement of an exoplanet’s rotation shows that the trend seen in the solar system, where the more massive planets spin faster, also holds true for exoplanets. This must be some universal consequence of the way planets form.”

The private organization Breakthrough Initiatives has enlisted the help of the VLT to hunt for planets around Earth’s closest star, Proxima Centauri. After helping to fund an upgrade to an existing instrument on the VLT, Breakthrough Initiatives will receive time for a “careful search” of the Proxima Centauri system for new planets. The improvement in the VLT Imager and Spectrometer for Mid Infrared instrument will equip it with a coronagraph, which blocks much of the light from a star, as well as an adaptive optics system to correct for distortions in starlight caused by Earth’s atmosphere. The upgrade is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

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In his famous 1687 treatise “Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica,” Newton described what is now called his law of universal gravitation. It is usually written as:

Fg = G (m1 ∙ m2) / r2

Where F is the force of gravity, m1 and m2 are the masses of two objects and r is the distance between them. G, the gravitational constant, is a fundamental constant whose value has to be discovered through experiment.

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation says that the force of gravity is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.  (Image credit: marekuliasz Shutterstock)

Gravity is powerful, but not that powerful

Gravity is the weakest of the fundamental forces. A bar magnet will electromagnetically pull a paper clip upward, overcoming the gravitational force of the entire Earth on the piece of office equipment. Physicists have calculated that gravity is 10^40 (that’s the number 1 followed by 40 zeros) times weaker than electromagnetism, according to PBS’s Nova.

While gravity’s effects can clearly be seen on the scale of things like planets, stars and galaxies, the force of gravity between everyday objects is extremely difficult to measure. In 1798, British physicist Henry Cavendish conducted one of the world’s first high precision experiments to try to precisely determine the value of G, the gravitational constant, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s Front Matter.

Cavendish built what’s known as a torsion balance, attaching two small lead balls to the ends of a beam suspended horizontally by a thin wire. Near each of the small balls, he placed a large, spherical lead weight. The small lead balls were gravitationally attracted to the heavy lead weights, causing the wire to twist just a tiny bit and allowing him to calculate G.

Remarkably, Cavendish’s estimation for G was only 1% off from its modern-day accepted value of 6.674 × 10^−11 m^3/kg^1 * s^2. Most other universal constants are known to far higher precision but because gravity is so weak, scientists must design incredibly sensitive equipment to try to measure its effects. Thus far, a more precise value of G has eluded their instrumentation.

The German-American physicist Albert Einstein brought about the next revolution in our understanding of gravity. His theory of general relativity showed that gravity arises from the curvature of space-time, meaning that even rays of light, which must follow this curvature, are  bent by extremely massive objects.

Einstein’s theories were used to speculate about the existence of black holes — celestial entities with so much mass that not even light can escape from their surfaces. In the vicinity of a black hole, Newton’s law of universal gravitation no longer accurately describes how objects move, but rather Einstein’s tensor field equations take precedence.

Astronomers have since discovered real-life black holes out in space, even managing to snap a detailed photo of the colossal one that lives at the center of our galaxy. Other telescopes have seen black holes’ effects all over the universe.

The application of Newton’s gravitational law to extremely light objects, like people, cells and atoms, remains a bit of an unstudied frontier, according to Minute Physics. Researchers assume that such entities attract one another using the same gravitational rules as planets and stars, but because gravity is so weak, it is difficult to know for sure.

Perhaps, atoms attract one another gravitationally at a rate of one over their distance cubed instead of squared — our current instruments have no way of telling. Novel hidden aspects of reality might be accessible if only we could measure such minute gravitational forces.

A perpetual force of mystery

Gravity perplexes scientists in other ways, too. The Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the actions of almost all known particles and forces, leaves out gravity. While light is carried by a particle called a photon, physicists have no idea if there is an equivalent particle for gravity, which would be called a graviton.

Bringing gravity together in a theoretical framework with quantum mechanics, the other major discovery of the 20th-century physics community, remains an unfinished task. Such a theory of everything, as it’s known, might never be realized.

But gravity has still been used to uncover monumental findings. In the 1960s and 70s, astronomers Vera Rubin and Kent Ford showed that stars at the edges of galaxies were orbiting faster than should be possible. It was almost as if some unseen mass was tugging on them gravitationally, bringing to light a material that we now call dark matter.

In recent years, scientists have also managed to capture another consequence of Einstein’s relativity — gravitational waves emitted when massive objects like neutron stars and black holes rotate around one another. Since 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has opened up a new window to the universe by detecting the exceedingly faint signal of such events.

‘Dancing’ star’s weird, spirograph orbit proves Einstein right (again)



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‘Dancing’ star’s weird, spirograph orbit proves Einstein right (again)