Did you know you can distinguish between stars and planets in the sky?
Stars twinkle, planets don’t.
Okay, that’s not actually correct. The stars, planets, even the sun and moon twinkle, all in varying amounts. Anything outside the atmosphere is going to twinkle.
If you’re feeling a little silly using the word twinkle over and over again, we can also use the scientific term: astronomical scintillation.
You can’t feel it, but you’re carrying the entire weight of the atmosphere on your shoulders. Every single square inch of your skin is getting pushed by 15 pounds of pressure. And even though astronomers need our atmosphere to survive, it still drives them crazy. As it makes objects in space so much harder to see.
Stars twinkle, I mean scintillate, because as light passes down through a volume of air, turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere refracts light differently from moment to moment. From our perspective, the light from a star will appear in one location, then milliseconds later, it’ll be distorted to a different spot.
We see this as twinkling.
So why do stars appear to twinkle, while planets don’t?
Stars appear as a single point in the sky, because of the great distance between us and them. This single point can be highly affected by atmospheric turbulence. Planets, being much closer, appear as disks.
We can’t resolve them as disks with our eyes, but it still averages out as a more stable light in the sky.
Astronomers battle atmospheric turbulence in two ways:
First, they try to get above it. The Hubble Space Telescope is powerful because it’s outside the atmosphere. The mirror is actually a quarter the size of a large ground-based observatory, but without atmospheric distortion, Hubble can resolve galaxies billions of light-years away. The longer it looks, the more light it gathers.
Second, they try to compensate for it.
Some of the most sophisticated telescopes on Earth use adaptive optics, which distorts the mirror of the telescope many times a second to compensate for the turbulence in the atmosphere.
Astronomers project a powerful laser into the sky, creating an artificial star within their viewing area. Since they know what the artificial star should look like, they distort the telescope’s mirror with pistons canceling out the atmospheric distortion. While it’s not as good as actually launching a telescope into space, it’s much, much cheaper.
Now you know why stars twinkle, why planets don’t seem to twinkle as much, and how you can make all of them stop.
The above picture is taken by researchers at the NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory. It is the clearest image of the Sun to date. Looking at the picture, it’s as if a Phoenix is about to emerge from the center of all that flame. Since the beginning of time, Humans have always been marveled by the Sun. We worshiped the Sun as a celestial identity. The presence of the Sun is the very reason Life is able to flourish on Earth and gave birth to the Human race.
If you know of the Kardashev scale, it measures a civilization’s level technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to utilize. Here’s a video by Michio Kaku that explains wonderfully what different Type of civilizations would mean.
Here’s another video of Kardashev scale. I put this up because this video is very simple yet comprise of compelling graphics and introduction.
Our civilization currently stands at somewhere around Type 0.72 on the Kardashev scale and it is estimated that we should attain Type 1 status in about 100 years. To become a Type 2 civilization and be fully capable of capturing the power our Sun spews out every second would probably take another few thousands years. The most interesting point is that we are now very close to becoming a Type 1 civilization, and the technological advancement would be tremendous. Our generation now lives in a very important moment of Human history, we are the ones to drive and witness the greatest transition ever. Becoming a Type 1 civilization would allow us to have total control over our Planet’s energy. Many great technological advancement have to occur in order for this transition to happen, such as, nuclear fusion, the age of magnetism, unification of language, proliferation of the internet, the internet of things and many more. These are exciting technologies and it is my dream to be involve in related projects and be part of the driving force to push Human race into Type 1 status.
There is one man that I admire deeply, as what he is doing resonates strongly with what I similarly wants to achieve.
This man is Elon Musk. He founded SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity, all these companies are created with a mission. SpaceX develop and launches their own rockets and spacecraft, and focus of the ultimate goal of allowing Humans to colonize other planets. Tesla Motors aims to push electric vehicles into the mainstream and allow people to commute with a cleaner energy source. SolarCity is around to help people switch to a cleaner and more sustainable source of energy. These companies are around to push forward a certain technology that when successful, would benefit mankind greatly. Recently he also put forward an idea of a transportation system, called Hyperloop, with the ability to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour, and runs on very little energy. His revolutionary ideas and wholehearted contribution to the Human race is something I look up to.