Dark Seas and Bright Highlands

On the basis of lunar rocks brought back by the astronauts, explain why the maria are dark-colored, but the lunar highlands are light-colored?

Regions of both the near side and far side of the Moon not covered by mare basalt are called highlands. The highlands consist of the ancient lunar surface rock, anorthosite, and materials thrown out during the creation of the impact basins. (“Lunar Rocks | National Air and Space Museum,” n.d.)

The anorthosite rock highlands are brighter than the maria basalts.  Pulverized by meteoric action, both the basalts of the maria and the anorthosite of the highlands are covered by a blanket of powdered rock, also known as regolith. Continue reading “Dark Seas and Bright Highlands”

Gas Giant Genesis

Which giant planet formed first?

Short answer:  Jupiter

Long answer:  Still Jupiter, but let’s dive in and take a more detailed look.

Image Credit: NASA

Birth of a Gas Giant

A long time ago in a solar system very near you, just 1 or 2 AU past the snow line, enough surrounding planetesimals were accreted to become an Earth-like body containing about ten (10) Earth masses of metal and rock.  This, in turn, gave this massive body enough gravitational attraction to pull vast amounts of hydrogen, helium and ices near its orbit, creating the first planet in our solar system: Jupiter.  Impacts from the infalling gases and ices heated Jupiter up, so much so that for a short time, it outshown the protosun, if viewed from equal distances.  Jupiter lacked the total mass to become a star, needing to be seventy-five (75) times more massive to achieve the necessary compression and heat in its core to sustain fusion.

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Foci and Mirrors

This week’s discussion topic will attempt to answer the question:

Suppose your Newtonian reflector has a mirror with a diameter of 20 cm and a focal length of 2 m. What magnification do you get with eyepieces whose focal lengths are: a. 9 mm, b. 20 mm, and c. 55 mm?

From my textbook:

The magnification of a reflecting telescope is equal to the focal length of the primary mirror divided by the focal length of the eyepiece lens:

Magnification = Focal Length of Primary / Focal Length of Eyepiece

In the question stated above, the three different eyepieces will result in the following magnifications:

2000 mm / 9 mm = 222X
2000 mm / 20 mm = 100X
2000 mm / 55 mm = 36X

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Newton and Neptune

My second post in my series of weekly discussion topics for my Introduction to Astronomy online class.  Last week I got up close and personal with the many sides of the Moon.  This week I take a closer look at the other blue planet in our solar system and how we discovered it without observing it first.

Parting Shot of Neptune as Voyager 2 began journey into interstellar space (Jan 1996)
The image is among the last full disk photos that Voyager 2 took before beginning its endless journey into interstellar space. (NASA Jan 1996)

Why was the discovery of Neptune a major confirmation of Newton’s universal law of gravitation?

Before Newton, astronomy relied on observational data from which mathematical formulae and equations were created. Newton pioneered an approach which allowed mathematicians to extrapolate and predict the movement of objects using three assumptions, now commonly known as his laws of motion. Together with his formula for gravitational force, Newton transformed Kepler’s three laws to predict orbits of comets and other solar system objects. He further formulated a mathematical model, known as the Law of Universal Gravitation, that describes the behavior of the gravitational force that keeps the planets in their orbits. (Comins, 2015, p. 42-44)

Image credit Tony Wayne Jan 2004

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