The Spinning Earth

Astronomers have to compensate for the motion of the Earth in their calculations
The earth rotates on its axis in about 24 hours, give or take a few minutes

The Earth rotates on its axis each day

The Earth goes through a number of different positions which astronomers have measured

We’re always in constant motion

Astronomy questions and answers – The Earth is constantly in motion relative to everything around it and rotates on its axis once every day and orbits Sol once per year. The Earth’s axis is defined as an imaginary line connecting the North and South poles and passing through the center of the planet. The Earth rotates west to east, viewers above the North Pole will see the Earth move counterclockwise from their view, and this is why to star gazers the Sun and stars appear to rise in the east and set in the west every day.

Looking upward at the night sky you don’t actually feel the relative motion of the Earth beneath you, despite this you’re rotating at about 1000 km/hr, depending on where you’re situated on the Earth. Standing in the exact center of the North Pole, your relative speed of rotation is much less than if you were standing on the equator, and the closer you’re to the equator, the faster the Earth beneath you is moving. Standing on the equator the Earth beneath you is rotating at about 1,670 km/hr, move half-way to the North or South Pole, and the speed of rotation of the Earth decreases significantly to about 1,275 km/hr, and once you are standing on the exact North or the South Pole the Earth isn’t rotating. The rotation of the Earth on its axis has consequences for the planet and all life existing on the spaceshipearth1. The daily rotation of the Earth on its axis creates the night and day cycle we all rely on, and this motion combined with the spaceship earth’s orbit around Sol produces the seasonal cycles we all experience during life on Earth. We’ll talk about the Earth’s daily cycle and what this means for life on Earth in future articles.

The spinning Earth makes many things possible

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The Moving Universe

The Earth is moving relative to everything else in the universe

Everything on your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time” is moving relative to everything else in the universe

The Earth rotates on its axis

The solar system is moving through the Milky Way

Astronomy questions and answers – Staring upward at the night sky above you get the notion you’re stationary in the universe, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Earth beneath you is spinning on its axis at 1000 km/hr, orbiting Sol at 100,000 km/hr, the Milky Way Galaxy at 800,000 km/hr while the solar system is moving relative to the local stars at 70,000 km/hr. In fact, the universe around us could be moving through a relative space and time of some unknown kind unimaginable to the human consciousness, and we would have no way of detecting this relative motion. We are all travelers in a sense on spaceshipearth1, which is the only habitable planet we know of for humankind that exists in the universe.

The Milky Way is moving through the universe

Everything appears to be moving relative to everything else we view as we look outward into space and time, which makes traveling through space and time a hazardous activity at the best of times. The universe you’ll experience on your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time” isn’t the universe you experience on Earth. The relative motions of everything in the universe mean we’ll need to explain a few things to you about the way things work in the universe. In future articles, we’ll talk about the Earth’s rotation and orbit around Sol, and how this affects the planet, we’ll explain the Earth’s motion in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the motion of our solar system in relation to the nearby stars in the night sky. This will give you a base upon which to stand as we take you further out into the cosmos to explain the relative universe you’ll experience during your journey. Toward this goal, we’ll explain the meaning of Einstein’s General and Special Relativity for your trip and the way you’ll experience things during your journey.

Check out my newest astronomy site at

Learn why astronomy binoculars are a popular choice with amateur astronomers

Read about the Anasazi Indians

Read about astronomers viewing a supernova they think might have given birth to a black hole

To be a Planet, or Not to be a Planet?

Astronomers are constantly rethinking old theories and designing new ones to fit new ideas

Astronomy News – astrophysics: planets; the number and type of planets

Count the planets in the solar system and make an assessment of their various sizes and distances from Sol and the Earth as you leave on your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”. You’ll find that the line between planet and smaller planetoids, like asteroids and meteorites, has yet to be firmly set in place in the astronomy books, and in the universe.

We were all taught during our school indoctrination of nine planets circling Sol at varying distances. Mercury and Venus lie closest to Sol, with the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn residing at greater distances from Sol, while Uranus, Neptune, and disputed Pluto orbit at the greatest distance on average as compared to the other planets. Millions of school and reference books, thousands of articles, and countless periodicals also include references to Pluto being officially recognized as the ninth planet in the solar system. The publishers of these publications will be calling for a rewrite of all of this material and the history books will have to be changed if some astronomers and space scientists have their way.

Planet X came spinning into the view of Caltech astronomer Michael Brown on July 29, 2005 and changed the way astronomers and star gazers think about Pluto and the definition of a planet. An icy, Kuiper Belt resident Michael named after Xena the warrior goddess of the famed television series, at least until the International Astronomical Union speaks on this matter, Planet x orbits Sol at a distance nearly twice as great as Pluto’s. Planet X’s 560-year orbit is also inclined to the ecliptic by nearly twice as much as Pluto’s, which results in Planet X being closer to Sol than Pluto during its orbit, at times.

Planet X is still a bit of an enigma to astronomers

Astronomy takes you to the Kuiper Belt
The largest Kuiper Belt objects compared

How much bigger is Planet X than Pluto? Astronomers have measured the brightness and distance of Planet X from Sol, as compared to objects of known brightness in the solar system. Based on their data and calculations, astronomers believe Planet X to be bigger than Pluto, but just how much bigger has yet to be firmly etched in stone by the various astronomical societies and agencies tasked with determining if Planet X is indeed bigger than Pluto and by how much. This fuzzy-news has pushed Pluto into tenth place in the nine planet race in the solar system and into second place in the size ranking of the objects in the Kuiper Belt and astronomers, and star gazers have only searched a small percentage of the Kuiper Belt for objects bigger than Pluto.

Will bigger objects than Planet X be discovered in the Kuiper Belt or somewhere on the outer fringes of the solar system? The first Kuiper Belt objects were viewed by star gazers and astronomers in the early 1990s, but since this time, larger and larger objects have been located in the Kuiper Belt. In 2002, an object half the size of Pluto was discovered floating in the Kuiper Belt, which astronomers named Quaoar. Just two years later, 2004DW and Sedna were discovered, each respectively two-thirds and three-quarters the size of Pluto. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, if star gazers and astronomers were to find an even larger object floating in the Kuiper Belt than Planet X at some point in the human “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”.

The definition of a planet has changed over the years

Hubble has given us our best views of Pluto, so far. This photo shows Charon as well.
Compare the various sizes of the planets as you pass by
A distance object at best, Pluto looks quiet and serene here

The Earth being round was old news to ancient astronomers

Read about China rejoining the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Are you looking for a great apochromatic refractor to keep you company on long nights during the winter?

Mankind’s Next Great Step into the Cosmos

The James Webb Space Telescope Takes Mankind to the Edge of Infinity

The James Webb Space Telescope Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time

The study of astronomy takes astronomers to places undreamed of in human consciousness

Astronomy News – Mankind’s Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time is about to voyage into unknown areas of the universe in search of answers to questions that were in the minds of the first-star gazers. Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe or is life abundant? Plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit in 2014, or earlier in 2015, are still on target, and this telescope will allow mankind to delve into regions of the universe and look for answers to these questions and more technical questions. The largest telescope ever constructed by mankind, the James Webb Space Telescope is slowly beginning to take shape in three NASA space centers around the United States.

A combined effort between the Canadian space agencies, NASA, and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to allow us to view the universe in ways never before experienced by humankind. Once launched into space the James Webb Space Telescope will maneuver into position orbiting the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sol system, L2. This position in the solar system is just one of five locations where the gravitational pull of the Earth is equal to Sol’s. At this remote location a service call by astronauts is definitely out of the question and budget limits of the program. The James Webb Space Telescope simply must work upon arriving on station at L2, without the possibility of servicing by astronauts.

The absolute need for the James Webb Telescope to operate without a hitch upon arriving on station, and the facts learned during the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, has convinced the designers and engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope that a new testing program is needed to ensure every component in the James Webb Telescope works as designed, before being launched into orbit. Over in the gigantic thermal-vacuum test chamber of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas technicians are currently preparing to begin tests designed to test the entire optical train of the James Webb Space Telescope. They want to ensure the optical system of the telescope operates as a single unit in a vacuum and at the correct operating temperature for optimum performance of the optical systems. In January, engineers started testing six of the primary mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope, to ensure everything is as it should be. By the end of 2014 engineers should be nearing completion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s 18 mirror segments, and all flight instrumentation should be tested and ready to go.

These mirror segments are currently undergoing testing by NASA technicians

The James Webb Space Telescope will take mankind on the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Once on location at L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will fully deploy its 18 hexagonal, gold-coated mirror segments to form a primary mirror with an effective diameter of 6.6 meters (259 inches). This is a full 6 times the light-collecting area of the Hubble Space Telescope, but the designers and engineers have also added systems driven by software that will analysis the incoming image, and allow astronomers to fine tune the view by controlling the mirrors overall shape.

Out orbiting L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will be far from problematic heat sources, and with a tennis-court sized sunshade shielding the telescope from Sol, the heat-sensitive instrumentation of the telescope will cool passively in the cold darkness of space and time, to the required operating temperature of -388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius).

Astronomers believe the first stars created after the Big Bang possessed as much as 100 times Sol’s current mass, shine millions of times brighter than Sol, but only lived a few million years, before exploding in the first supernovae. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of allowing mankind to Journey to within about 180 million years after the Big Bang if astronomers are correct, and possibly view the first moments of the universe in space terms. Astronomers will also use the James Webb Space Telescope to view celestial objects that have been exciting the human imagination since they were first discovered in the time of the first-star gazers. Astronomers are currently preparing for the beginning of the era of the James Webb Space Telescope. They’ll soon be proposing all kinds of Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time that will hopefully provide a few answers to these questions that have been exciting mankind since the first time a human looked upward into the night sky.

Thousands of people have contributed to the designing, engineering and eventual launch into orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope

Learn why astronomy binoculars are a popular choice with amateur astronomers

Read about the Anasazi Indians

Read about astronomers viewing a supernova they think might have given birth to a black hole

Begin Planning Your Journey to Comet 103P/Hartley

Board your time machine to the stars near the end of October

Astronomy is a passion, a desire to find the truth
Comet 103P/Hartley leaves a trail as it travels through the inner solar system

Comet 103P/Hartley is an astronomy treat during September

Astronomy News – September is the time for you and the kids to begin planning a journey to a celestial body that will be at its closest point to Earth and Sol, sometime near the end of October. Comet 103P/Hartley has been in the news, of late, as NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft will fly by Comet 103P/Hartley, in the first part of November. Observers boarding their time-machine-to-the-stars at this time should get a nice view of Comet 103P/Hartley and it might even be possible to view this celestial object with the naked eye, depending on the environmental conditions at the time of viewing. A good pair of viewing binoculars should give viewers a great view of Comet 103P/Hartley, but your time machine to the stars is the best way to journey to Comet 103P/Hartley, to have a look at a celestial object that only becomes viewable during specific periods of time. Comet 103P/Hartley is returning to Earth for the fourth time since Australian astronomer Malcolm Hartley discovered her in 1986. A short-period comet that loops through the inner solar system, Comet 103P/Hartley’s space journey takes about 6.5 years to complete one orbit. You should arrive at Comet 103P/Hartley just before the arrival of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft.

Deep Impact Spacecraft making astronomy history

During the visit by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, space scientists will use the information and data provided by onboard cameras and instruments to help them pierce the shroud surrounding the comet and hopefully determine the source of dusty jets viewed on Comet 103P/Hartley. Dusty jets that have been dancing in the dreams of space scientists, since they first viewed them through Earth-bound telescopes, which show the effect as a pinprick of light at the center of the comet’s glow. Astronomers and space scientists refer to this effect as a comet’s “false nucleus”, which hides the comets real surface from view.

Comet 103P/Hartley is becoming more visible to stargazers as it approaches the Earth and Sun. This celestial object could reach magnitude 10 near the end of September, which will make viewing easier for star gazers, and allow space scientists to study this comet closer. The best time for stargazers to view Comet 103P/Hartley will be under a dark sky starting around September 24. Comet 103P/Hartley will be in the arms of Cassiopeia at this time, south of Cassiopeia’s w-shaped asterism, and will be viewable throughout the night.

Take a journey to Cassiopeia tonight

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

Green Cheese? Anyone!

 The Moon waxes on and waxes off in September

The Moon has astronomy treats to delight the heart
The Moon’s Mare is a land feature you don’t want to miss during September

Viewing the limb of the Moon

Astronomy News – Focus your time machine to the stars on the features along the Moon’s limb during the month of September. This is a rare chance to view a few limb sections of the Moon that star gazers have dreamed of taking a closer look at for generations, during a single month of the year. Astronauts didn’t report any green cheese, so our ancestors can rest safely as we have ruled out green cheese as the main ingredient in the physical composition of the Moon.

Watch as the crescent Moon waxes, between September 11 to 13, and take a close look at Mare Crisium, and how far this feature is from the eastern edge. The features on the limb that you’ll notice will be the elongated dark patches of Mare Smythii and Mare Marginis. The regions near the south-eastern limb will feature primarily bright highlands that will slowly change as the 18 of September approaches and the mottled Mare Australe rotates into view.

Focus your astronomy telescope on the Moon

Focus your time machine to the stars in the hilly south polar region a few nights later and you’ll see nice 3D effects that catch-the-eye of the viewer and Mare Smythii and Mare Marginis will have disappeared from view.

A Full Moon will greet star gazers on September 23 and this is the perfect time to take a look at some of the best features on the Moon’s surface. Mare Orientale will appear along the Moon’s western limb on September 23. A magnificent impact basin, with multiple visible rings and lava lakes, get your timing right over the next few nights, and you’ll witness a scene few humans have experienced. Watch patiently and you’ll see the rings appear in profile first. This scene will slowly change as the Moon’s libration and the rotation of the Earth bring the lava pools of Lacus Veris and Lacus Autumni into view.

There will be a Full Moon on September 23

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

Caelumi Plensaum gen Lumeninis ” It’s Full of Stars”

 Take a walk into the darkness of a cold, clear night, far from the glare of interfering lights

The first astronomers thought they saw god in the night sky

Astronomy News – the first astronomers –

This image of the far cosmos shows a cosmic maelstrom of hot, glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) called stellar nursery N159 over 160,000 light-years toward the Tarantula Nebula (heic 1402). An HII region about 150 light-years across, this region of space contains scores of hot young stars emitting intense ultraviolet light causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow. Torrential cosmic winds within the heart of this region have carved out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material creating a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity called the Papillon Nebula. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope

Take a walk deep into the darkness of a cold, clear night, far from the glare of interfering human light, and you can gaze upward at a night sky filled with stars-of-wonder, much like your first ancestors did for the first time thousands of years in the past. Lay the back of your head on the cold Earth for a few hours and stare deeply into the vastness of the night sky before your eyes and watch the stars parade across the sky as they have since the birth of spaceshipearth1. Your mind will be sharing common thoughts and feelings of awe, wonder, and smallness with the billions of humans that have witnessed this scene and thousands of generations of star-gazing ancestors that walked the Earth before you.

Modern astronomy has shined the light of discovery on the cosmos

Astronomers suspect rare galaxies, like the one seen above, are extremely dusty and often produce radio jets called relativistic jets when two smaller galaxies merge. This artist’s rendition shows an illustration of just such a merger. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Thousands of years after the time of these star-gazing ancestors, modern science has managed to shine the light of discovery on many questions concerning the universe we live in and the true role humans play in the grand cosmic-play that’s unfolding before your eyes. The relative age of the Earth has been determined in relation to the universe and scientists delve deeper into the mystery of how the seemingly simple starting ingredients of the cosmic womb can lead to the rich diversity of life on one dusty ball of water far from Nowhere. We will embark on a cosmic journey of discovery from the beginning of time to the present day as we survey the contents of the night sky close to spaceship Earth, measure the scale and majesty of the universe in human terms, and the relative motion of the Earth as it travels through space and time to its ultimate destination. This cosmic journey will allow your mind to develop a larger picture of the universe around you as human scientists understand it and provide you with the knowledge and understanding that can serve as a framework upon which you can build your mental model of the universe and determine your part in the grand cosmic play in which you find yourself. 

An Earth-centred universe

This beautiful image of the sky near the bright star Deneb (just above center) reveals the stars, nebulae, and dark clouds along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy as seen from the northern hemisphere (near Columbia Missouri, USA). Just below Deneb lies the suggestively shaped North America emission nebula. Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, located in the tail of this celestial swan. Cygnus contains the asterism known as the Northern Cross and marks one side of the “Great Rift” in the Milky Way, a series of dark obscuring dust clouds which stretches on through the constellation Sagittarius. Deneb defines the top of the Northern Cross while the body of the cross extends past the upper right corner of the picture. Cygnus also harbors the most famous candidate for a black hole in our galaxy, Cygnus X-1. Credits: Hubble/ESA/NASA

After staring in wonder at the mystery of the stars above your head for a time it will be easy to understand how our ancestors looking upward at a sun, stars, moon and planets that relative to your point of view seem to revolve around spaceship Earth believed the Earth was the center of the known universe and all we survey. The heavenly bodies above your head will appear to circle above you as you stare upwards at the night sky and you won’t feel the spinning motion of the moving Earth beneath you as it spins on its axis through the cold darkness of space and time. These facts make it easy to believe and develop a belief system with the Earth at the center and humans standing on the pedestal of supremacy in the universe.

A sun-centered solar system

In the intervening years since our common star-gazing ancestors first starred upwards in wonder at the night sky, scientists have determined that spaceship Earth is a nondescript little ball of dusty water circling an average sun among an infinity of space and time taking part in a cosmic dance that has continued unabated for billions of years. The human journey through space and time to the present moment in the history of planet Earth and the universe has been filled with pitfalls we as a race have managed to avoid until this moment in the history of space and time. Humans have for the most part managed to change ancient beliefs in an Earth-centered universe that once seemed firmly based in common sense and logic to a more modern view of the universe around us. Science has provided the verifiable facts we need to determine the truth of human experience and strengthen natural bonds to the vast universe you see before your eyes in ways our first star-gazing ancestors could never imagine. This has allowed scientists to develop a cosmic picture of the universe as our senses experience it that can allow us to create a mental picture of the real universe we journey through on a daily basis. Take a cosmic journey of discovery and wonder as we travel through space and time to the beginning of the universe and back again and shine the light of discovery on mysteries deep in the minds and hearts of all humans that have walked the Earth since mankind first starred upward in wonder and awe at the night sky above your head and return to the place of our birth, the stars above us.

The Milky Way galaxy

In terms of the part humans have played and still play in the big picture of the universe, the Earth we live on is one of a number of planets circling the sun we call Sol, along with thousands of asteroids and comets that make up our solar system and the uncountable number of dust particles floating between them. The universal address of the Sol system is the Milky Way galaxy, just past the half-way point from the center of the galaxy to the edge of the galactic disc. Just one of  billions or possibly a trillion stars or more making up the Milky Way galaxy that shines their energy into the cold darkness of space, Sol is an average sun, just like billions you can see looking up into the night sky above you. A nondescript, average-looking ball of hydrogen and helium easily overlooked among the infinity of stars that make up the island of suns space scientists refer to as the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is, in fact, a rather large galaxy in comparison to the galaxies that are part of what space scientists call the Milky Way’s local supercluster of galaxies. Just one of a seeming infinity of galaxies space scientists see as they journey visually into the cold darkness of space and time before you, the Milky Way galaxy is part of the 40 or more galaxies space scientists refer to as the local group of galaxies in the part of the universe we reside. 

Just an insignificant dusty little ball of water

The night sky you see above you might appear to be web-like in nature, with galaxies and clusters arranged in huge sheets and chains of stars that seemingly go on forever and ever. Pockets of stars are dotted across the sky before your eyes, forming giant stellar bodies called superclusters of galaxies that in the case of the Milky Way galaxy are referred to as the local group of the Milky Way galaxy, with vast voids of space and time separating them containing occasional lone galaxies. The universe before your eyes is made up of the sum total of the matter and energy contained within the superclusters and voids between them and there are humans that believe this fact makes human existence and the Milky Way galaxy relatively insignificant in the bigger picture of the universe and space and time. The human ability and desire to continuously delve into the mysteries of the universe around us and improve our place in the cosmic picture could be the difference that tips the balance in favor of humans being a significant contributor to the universe, though, despite our relative insignificance in the cosmic picture before your eyes. 

The miracle of life?

One question you might be pondering as you stare into the vastness of the night sky above your head is how did the young human race come to be born amid the seeming infinity of space and time before your eyes? Modern science tells us we humans are a relative newcomer to the endlessness of space and time and the battle for survival on planet Earth. The journey upon which we embark will examine the evidence presented by scientists to support the belief in the relative insignificance of Sol, the planet Earth, and the miracle of the birth of sentient life on one little ball of dusty water in the universe. The first part of the journey we undertake will take us through the history of the development of present theories and evidence presented by space scientists to support their belief in the relative insignificance of all we know and believe to be true and important.

An expanding universe

Looking upward into the vastness of space and time of the night sky above it isn’t possible to ascertain that space scientists have determined the stars in the galaxies above you are speeding away from each other at a rate that has been measured relative to the universe you see. Scientists have measured the relative rate at which the distances between the galaxies above you’re increasing with the passage of time. The important point in this fact is that if the universe around us is expanding, all of space and time you see above you must have once been closer together. Relative estimates calculated by space scientists indicates this rate of expansion must have started at least 14 billion years in the past. This beginning of the universe space scientists have called the Big Bang, and while overall the universe has continued to expand unabated, there are areas in the vastness of space and time where the force of gravity has overcome the force of expansion created by the Big Bang. This is significant because it means that while the galaxies above you in the night sky continue to speed away from the center of the Big Bang individually, the parts within galaxies are not expanding relative to one another. In contrast, galaxies and galaxy clusters continue to expand relative to one another, despite the force of gravity pulling them together and to form into larger clumps of gas and dust, which space scientists have dubbed stars and planets. The forming of large clumps of gas and dust is part of what space scientists call the life cycle of the stars, planets, and galaxies, and although these stellar bodies are not life forms as space scientists define them, they do go through a life cycle of sorts that scientists have documented and analysed at length.

Read about the present news on the search for life beyond Earth

View the latest in high definition images of the solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

We tell you about the astronomy highlights upcoming for 2014