Space Weather

In this post, we will be discussing space weather! Space weather is dissimilar from the weather that we experience on earth, however it is still fascinating to understand. Space weather, in our solar system, is sparked by activity on the suns surface. Spewing gases and solar flares on the surface of the sun form into a stream of particles that we call solar wind. Solar wind carries all of these particles toward earth and the rest of our solar system at up to a million miles per hour. Luckily, due to earths atmosphere, these particles do not enter our atmosphere and we are protected from the harsh solar wind that the sun gives off. Shown in the image below, the atmosphere surrounding earth serves as a shield which deflects this wind.

An illustration showing the Sun's solar wind as orange flares blowing toward Earth and shaping Earth's magnetic field as blue lines
Image of solar wind deflecting on earths atmosphere, retrieved from NASA

Although incredibly deadly and harsh, sometimes these charged particles are able to sneak into our atmosphere and create something beautiful. This beauty is non other than the auroras that some people can only dream of witnessing.

A photograph of green aurora against a dark night sky
An Aurora as seen in Alaska, retrieved from NASA

Devastating to a world without an atmosphere, space weather is a fascinating side effect of a constantly volatile and hot space object similar to our sun. Luckily, we are born on a world with a natural defense and if any of these particles manage to pass through, a marvelous spectacle is waiting to happen.


Atmospheres of Terrestrial Worlds

In this blog we will be discussing the atmospheres of terrestrial worlds; more specifically what an atmosphere really is and the difference in atmospheres between different worlds. An atmosphere is simply a “layer of gas that surrounds a world.” In general, this relatively thin layer of gas is responsible for blocking the suns rays and trapping heat within a world. In the example of earth, the atmosphere is essential to our survival. Earth’s atmosphere creates a pressure barrier that allows for water to exist in all three states, oxygen to exist within our globe without escape, and maintain a temperature that is suitable for living. Below is an image that shows what earths atmosphere looks like from space.

Earth’s atmosphere from space

So, how does our atmosphere differ from other worlds within our very own solar system?

Mercury and our moon are similar in that their atmosphere is SO insignificant that they are often thought to not have one. This means that the suns harsh rays come in immediate contact with the surface as they are not scattered by a layer of gas. This also means that when standing on the surface of these worlds, the sky will be pitch black as opposed to Earth.

Venus, on the other hand, has a thick atmosphere. This makes it so that the sky is always cloudy and gloomy and the heat that is created as a result of volcanic activity is there to stay.

Archeoastronomy- Chichen Itza

Located in Southeast Mexico, Chichen Itza served as the home to one of the largest Mayan cities and possesses pristine examples of complex archeoastronomy. Perhaps the most interesting structure is the pyamid El Castillo which translates to “the castle.” This pyramid serves as a prime example due to its complex engineering and design that highlights the Mayan’s fascination with the cosmos. This building was designed so that twice a year, during the spring and fall equinoxes, the shadow cast by the sun creates a serpentine like pattern that connects to a snakehead at the bottom.

Image result for el castillo shadow
An image of El Castillo casting its serpentine like shadow during an eclipse.

Each side of the pyramid consists of 91 steps, and when considering the top platform as an additional step, there are a total of 365 steps signifying an individual step for each day of the year. This complex design only serves as an example as to how the cosmos was studied and cherished thousands of years ago. If you would like to learn more about El Castillo, follow this link.

Historical Astronomers in Context

Nicholas Copernicus was born in 1473 and died in 1543.

Copernicus was one of the first “modern day” astronomers and his work changed the way that scientist of his time viewed the solar system. His most notable work involved proposing a model of the solar system. This model suggested that earth was revolving around the sun, the opposite of what had been believed up until this point. His model was not 100% correct, however it re-framed the way that many astronomers and scientists viewed our solar system.

Two other major historical events that happened within Copernicus’s lifetime were the invention of the pocket watch in 1500 and Christopher Columbus discovering the new world in 1492. The pocket watch was a revolutionary invention as it allowed anybody who could afford it, the ability to tell the time at any instance. It also looked very classy, especially with a nice chain. Christopher Columbus discovering the new world is obviously an important historical event as they teach it in every history class. His discovery led to the developments that now make the Americas what they are, for better or for worse.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1520) also lived during this time period. Da Vinci was important as his artistic ability spoke volumes to the population at large as well as the church. His paintings of the Last Supper, Mona Lisa, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel all took place within the years 1495-1512. Every one of these pieces carries immense historical significance and are still talked about to this day.

Learning about this context was interesting as you often learn about every impactful historical figure separately, but not usually all together. The ability that humans have, the capability that humans have for discovery, invention, and beauty is overwhelming. When looking at a timeline from the past of major events, it seems impossible to condense as there are always meaning events to point to, learn from, and change the way that humans will exist in the future.

Moon Phases and Eclipses

The moon is one of the most recognizable objects that appears in our sky and it has existed and has been celebrated for thousands upon thousands of years. Revolving around the Earth, the moon shows its face every night but with each cycle, appearing a little different. This is due to the moon phases- the variety of apparent shapes that it takes on based on our perspective of how sunlight reflects off of its surface from Earth. When the moon is in between the Earth and the Sun, light from the sun is not visible on the surface of the moon. When the moon is in the opposite position so that the earth is in between the moon and the sun, the moon is fully visible to us on Earth as all of the light that is reflected from the sun is visible. This is a full moon because, as the name suggests, the moon appears to be full. In between these two points, the moon can either appear to be a crescent shape, where less than half of the moon is visible, or what is known as a gibbous moon, in which more than half of the moon is visible.

Two types of eclipses may also occur due to the moon’s location in our sky, a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is caught in between the suns light and the surface of the moon. This makes it so that the moon does not receive all of the suns light as it appears in the Earth’s shadow, giving it a reddish hue also known as a blood moon. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon is directly in between the sun and earth, causing the moons shadow to be cast down on earth. This form of eclipse is significantly rarer than its counterpart as the moon is much smaller than earth, resulting in a much smaller shadow.

Image received from