Queen of The Dark: Vera Rubin’s Voyage Through the Cosmos

Vera Rubin sent ripples throughout the scientific community, as her work proposed a novel recipe for our universe. While we once believed our universe to be full of matter, Rubin led us to see a universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy. Today, we understand the universe to be made up of nearly 95% dark energy and dark matter, leaving only 5% of baryonic matter (protons, neutrons, tables, chairs, humans, dogs, etc.). Despite its dominating presence, dark matter properties remain mysterious! For example, dark matter does not emit light or energy. Though difficult to detect, Vera Rubin guided the field of cosmology to determine this mysterious source of matter must dominate in our universe. This is the story of Dr. Rubin’s journey from astronomer to queen of the cosmos. 

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Blue Sky at Night, Martian’s Delight: The Atmosphere of Mars

Imagine you’re standing on the rocky, rust-pink surface of Mars. You’ve just finished a hard day’s work helping to build the first human base on another planet, so you decide to take a break and watch the sunset. As you gaze west across the Martian desert, a small, wan sun sinks through the hazy, orange-brown sky. The light wanes, and the temperature drops from a balmy daytime high of -15° F to an evening chill of -120° F (good thing you’re wearing your spacesuit). The weak wind that has been kicking up dust devils all day drops away, leaving you in a silence deeper than any quiet on Earth.

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The Hunt for the Elusive Neutrino

About 100 trillion neutrinos just passed through your body a second ago. Did you feel them? Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but they’re also the most elusive. They can pass through just about anything, including your body, without being noticed. Now, imagine if we could harness this power. Imagine the possibilities if you could control a particle that can pass through anything undetected.

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The Space Dust In Your Backyard Can Change the Course of History

Every day, a fine sprinkling of dust covers your city or farm, landing across the roof of your house or onto the hood of your car. Some of it may settle in your hair, or onto the vegetables you eat in your salad. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice it isn’t just any dust – it’s oddly metallic and finely grooved.

And it’s from outer space. Continue reading “The Space Dust In Your Backyard Can Change the Course of History”

Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature

Picture an animal that can live anywhere: hot springs to solid ice, mountaintops to the deepest sea levels, spanning a temperature range of -458 °F to 302 °F. Imagine that this animal can survive in outer space, live through global mass extinctions, and persist for 30 years without food or water. Sounds like science fiction? Well, these animals are real, and they’re known as tardigrades. Continue reading “Tardigrades: The Animals That Defy Nature”

A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower

For those who enjoy observing the night sky, summer is a great time of year to look for meteors blazing through the atmosphere, also known as shooting stars. Because of the favorable weather, more of us get the chance to go outside at night to look up. The Perseid meteor shower takes place each year from mid-July through late August, peaking in mid-August. With up to 100 observable meteors per hour, this particular meteor shower is easily among the most spectacular of the year. Additionally, the peak of this year’s shower coincides with a new moon, when the sky is much darker, so the 2018 Perseids will be especially exciting for stargazers. Continue reading “A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower”

Everything You Need to Know About the Summer Solstice

Today is the 2018 summer solstice, which marks the longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Many of us in the Midwest enjoy celebrating the occasion by going outside to fire up the barbecue, soak up the sun, and enjoy some much needed vacation time in our flip flops and swim trunks. Any Pagan readers out there most likely recognize the June solstice as an event of great spiritual significance with a number of associated rituals and religious practices. But for most of us, it’s just a warm weekday toward the end of June and an opportunity to spend more time outside. Back in March, we discussed the science behind the spring equinox. But what happens (astronomically speaking) on the summer solstice? Here are the most important facts to know about the longest day of the year. Continue reading “Everything You Need to Know About the Summer Solstice”

Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?

asteroid near earth object
The astroid (light green orbit) passed very close to Earth (blue orbit). Click to enlarge.

On December 16, 2017 at about 5:00 PM CST, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon passed within 64 million miles of Earth. That’s about 27 times the distance to our Moon. While this may sound like a long distance (indeed, it would take on the order of one million hours to drive that distance in a car!), this particular approach will be our closest encounter with the asteroid for another 75 years. Continue reading “Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?”