Monday, December 26, 2016

Have a stellar New Year

Blockbuster astronomy stories of 2016 include:

1.  Confirmation that invisible gravity waves exist, as predicted by Al Einstein a century ago.  Two complex detectors, one in Louisiana and the other in Washington State, both picked up waves caused by the merger of two black holes far out in the universe, and the findings became official in 2016. Scientists across the globe hailed it as the discovery of the generation.

2.  The confirmed discovery of a planet in the habitable zone around the closest star to us (other than our own sun), Proxima Centauri, which floats just 4.2 light years away.

3.  The spectacular successes of reusable rockets from two energetic and innovative private space companies, Blue Origin and SpaceX.  The technology will save millions of dollars in space exploration and satellite launching and servicing.

4.  The ambitious Juno flight, the fastest spacecraft ever launched (165,000 mph), arrived at Jupiter to begin its deep studies of that giant planet.

5.  Startling indications that there is a huge mysterious and yet-to-be-seen Planet Nine circling our sun in a strange orbit.

And 2017 promises to be no less fascinating.  The Quadrantid meteor shower will usher in the year, peaking January third with an amazing 120 meteors per hour.  But the big story will be a rare solar eclipse, the sight of a lifetime.  As the moon moves in front of the sun, precisely covering its disc and cutting off all its direct light, the whole sky will darken dramatically, revealing stars in daytime.  It’s a wondrous, magical, deeply moving event.  On August 21 the dense shadow band of totality will carve a 70-mile-wide curved swath from the far northwestern U.S., diagonally across the entire country and exiting through South Carolina.  Anywhere along that route the viewing will be perfect.  You’ll need eye protection, though, and if you travel to that shadow band, you’d better reserve accommodations early.  You can get details online.  Do not miss it.*

I hope you enjoy a stellar New Year in every way.

* The moon can cover the sun because, although it is 400 times smaller than the sun, it is also 400 times closer to us.

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