Out-of-this-World Facts About Outer Space with Planetarium Director Eddie Whisler

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Out-of-this-World Facts About Outer Space with Planetarium Director Eddie Whisler

Are galaxies stationary?

No. Almost every single star in a galaxy is orbiting around the center of the galaxy they are gravitationally bound to.  “Almost” is interestingly placed in that sentence, isn’t it?  In the case of the sun, it takes something like 200-250 million years to orbit once around our galaxy’s center.  In addition to those individual movements within galaxies, galaxies themselves are moving in response to the gravitational influence of the other galaxies nearby.  In many cases we can witness galaxies in the act of “colliding” as they draw together under their mutual gravitational influences.  See the “Antennae Galaxies” as an example of merging galaxies.  Nothing is still in this universe of ours.

What are the glowing clouds in space?

There are a few different observable phenomena where one might describe a “glowing cloud” in space.  Look into Zodiacal Lights and the Milky Way as seen from Earth as examples of a few.  Having said that, I think you might be thinking of nebulae (singular—nebula).  These are the innumerable, beautiful, colorful space clouds that our most amazing telescopes process images of and we later get the pleasure of seeing online.  Basically, a nebula is a cloud of dust and gas being illuminated, one of a couple different ways, by the energy of nearby stars.  The different materials present in a nebula generate the different colors we observe from the astrophotography.

How does the Moon shine?

Technically, the Moon doesn’t shine.  The Moon reflects sunlight falling on its surface.  Some of that reflected sunlight then shines in our direction making the Moon look illuminated.  It’s reflected sunlight. The lit part of the Moon we see is the Moon’s daytime.  We see more or less of its daytime side (crescent moon, full moon, etc.) depending on where it is in its orbit around the Earth.  As a bonus, if you ever see a lunar phase where the dark portion of the Moon is ever so faintly lit, what you’re looking at there is “Earthshine” bouncing off the daytime side of Earth, onto the nighttime side of the Moon, then back to nighttime observers on Earth.  Earthshine… great word.  Look into it.

Why does the Sun have spots?

The Sun appears to have dark spots because those spots are cooler than the surrounding areas of the Sun. Those spots are cooler because there is increased magnetic activity in those areas keeping heat from mixing normally “on the surface” of the sun.  Cooler they might be, but they are still something like 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit.  The rest of the sun hovers around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Look at lots of different images of the Sun with sunspots.  Take note of where the sunspots are found and where they are almost never found.

How are Meteors, Meteorites, and Meteoroids different?

Did you know that not all space rocks are created equal? If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between meteors, meteorites, and meteoroids, you’re not the only one! Here’s the quick and easy breakdown:

🌟 Meteoroids are small, rocky or metallic objects that are floating around in space.
🌟 When a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor (or shooting star), which is the bright streak of light that you see in the sky.
🌟 If a meteoroid survives its journey through the atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface, it becomes a meteorite.

So next time you see a shooting star, you’ll know that it’s actually a meteor, and that the space rock that caused it could potentially become a meteorite if it makes it all the way to the ground.