April 21, 2014 in sci
Week #1: Using Telescopes to Expand Scientific Knowledge of the Universe
Science is different from every other school subject: it is uniquely modern. History, geometry Art, … all of these subjects could be studied in ancient times, but not science. Its origins can be clearly traced to specific times and places just a few centuries ago. For example, the day Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope into the night sky is heralded as one of the first scientific events ever.
What made his actions “scientific” was that he observed, measured and sketched what he actually saw in the dark sky, rather than repeating the millennium old catechism that heavenly bodies are pure spheres, revolving around the Earth. Simply by looking through his telescope, from a scientific perspective, he did something no other human dared to do: he moved the Earth 93,000,000 miles away from the center of the universe, and placed the Sun there instead.
Every time an improvement to the telescope was made, a new, radical, scientific insight into the nature of the universe was made. For example, William Herschel’s telescope was one of the first to use mirrors rather than glass lenses, and with it he was able to discover a new planet, Uranus. He effectively doubled the size of the known solar system simply, like Galileo, by pointing his telescope toward the dark heavens. Edwin Hubble, in October 6, 1923, pointed the Mount Wilson telescope at the Andromeda spiral nebula, and found a Cepheid variable star that is 900,000 light years away — well beyond the reaches of our own Milky Way galaxy — thus proving that there are many galaxies, not just the Milky Way, in the universe, a universe now many times larger than was assumed before that day.
Today, space telescopes are offering us similar epiphanies into the nature of the cosmos. Where Galileo found a couple of moons around Jupiter, we now know of 146 moons in our solar system. News flash: one of them, Enceladus, has a liquid lake probably containing organic molecules, our first evidence of possible life existing outside of Earth. Last week, NASA published evidence of an exoplanet, Kepler 186f, that is likely in the “habitable zone” of its sun. Just a month ago, a new supernova, SN 2014J, exploded into the heavens. It has allowed scientists to observe the effects of dark energy, phenomenon that we only discovered a few decades ago, yet occupies 70% of the stuff that makes up the universe.
Our children will know so much more about the universe than we did growing up,, because of these new space telescopes. Even now, we can learn about strange moons and planets, simply by surfing the webpages listed to the left of this post.
- Use the NASA moon webpage to choose a moon in our solar system to research. Describe the Greek/Roman god associated with the name,
- Choose an exoplanet discovered by the Kepler space telescope. Find any news articles associated with it, and the constellation it resides in.
- Choose a nearby galaxy