Space Jam

Space Jam

Everybody get up! It’s time to slam now. We got a REAL jam going down. This week was a real showdown for attention in the sky. On the home team, the Monstars, we have the Sun and Mercury. The away team, the Toon Squad, is made up of exoplanets, or planets that orbit around a star that isn’t our Sun. So let’s take a look at our chall-en-gers. 

Up first, the Monstars. On Monday, the littlest guy of our solar system, Mercury, had his shining moment in the light.

This year, which on Mercury is just 88 days, the wee planet decided it was tired of being in the background and crossed in front of the Sun. Due to the alignment of the orbits of Mercury and Earth, we only see the teeny dude make its big debut around 13 times a century. 

 Source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein

Source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein

This was more than just an attention seeking stunt. Mercury’s passing over the Sun allowed astronomers to study the Sun’s rotation. This is important for determining how the sun changes over time. Additionally, astronomers were able to use this event to calibrate their instruments. Because Mercury emits no light and the details of its travels can be calculated mathematically, astronomers were able to get rid of any instrument error - just like how you set your scale to three pounds below zero so you’ll be your ‘accurate’ driver’s license weight when you stand on it. So congrats, you little god of war, you had your moment!

Now for the Tune Squad!

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This week planetary scientists from NASA’s Kepler mission found 1,284 planets, the most in a single discovery ever. Using a statistical analysis, they found 4,302 potential planets, but only 1,284 had a probability of greater than 99 percent of being a planet. Before the Kepler telescope launched in 2009, planetary scientists didn’t know whether exoplanets were common or not, but now one scientist remarked that there “could be more planets than stars.” 

 Source: Artist's concept - NASA/W. Stenzel

Source: Artist's concept - NASA/W. Stenzel

How do they know if these planets are there or whether these discoveries are just some loony tune? When the little fella Mercury passed in front of the Sun, the light from the Sun was just a little dimmer for a few hours. Likewise, the researchers looked at different stars where these changes in brightness signaled a potential planet. Of the 4,302 signals, 1,284 are most likely planets. Of these 1,284, a little less than half of these planets are rocky like Earth, and 9 are in the sweet spot from their sun meaning they could be habitable. With the addition of these 9 planets, we now know of 21 potential planets where life could exist. And who knows? Maybe one of these planets could have a Moron Mountain! 

With all this space news, it really makes you want to wave your hands in the air and take it into overtime. So, here’s your chance do your dance at the Space Jam! Alright!

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