Category Archives: Cosmology

Scientists determine exact colour of Milky Way

Astronomers seeking to classify the exact colour of the Milky Way have reached a conclusion. Announced at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting, the answer is … white.

The scientists wanted to establish the precise colour that the Milky Way looks from the outside – which is tricky, seeing as we are stuck inside it. But, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, comprising information from about a million galaxies, the conclusion is white. Specifically, our galaxy is the colour of spring snow at an hour after sunrise or before sunset.

Determining our galaxy’s colour may help us interpret its past and forecast its future evolution. “For astronomers, one of the most important parameters is actually the colour of the galaxy,” Jeffrey Newman of the University of Pittsburgh told the BBC. 

Full story: BBC News


Earth and giant asteroid have near miss

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier whistled past planet Earth at 30,000 miles per hour yesterday.

As you can probably tell, judging by the lack of an apocalypse on Tuesday, and the fact you are still here, the giant lump of cosmic rock did not hit our planet. However, it is the closest an asteroid has passed by planet Earth in over 200 years.

NASA had been tracking the asteroid – named 2005 YU55 – and confirmed that it had come to within 201,700 miles of our planet. That may sound somewhat distant from us – but that is well over four hundred times closer than the distance to the sun.

The next visit by a large asteroid will occur in just under 20 years: we have a regular visitor to our planetary neighbourhood named the Apophis asteroid. It has been calculated to have a near miss with Earth in the year 2029, and again in 2036.

NASA can give incredibly precise forecasts of these things. On 13 April 2029, Apophis will pass by Earth and come to within just 18,300 miles of our planet. Put a note in your diary and remember to look up at the sky.

Full story: BBC News

Domino’s: One day we will serve pizza on Moon

Don’t you just hate it when you go for a trip through space, visit planetary satellites, and can’t go for a pizza? Fear not. Domino’s has announced plans to become the first pizza restaurant to open on the Moon.

It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but the Japanese branch of the pizza chain is serious about constructing a two-storey, dome-shaped concrete restaurant on the Lunar surface. The company have calculated it will take 15 rockets to transport 70 tons of construction material and pizza-making equipment to the Moon, and estimate the entire project will cost Y1.67 trillion (£13.4 billion).

Their reasoning behind this somewhat audacious plan is that, one day, people will be inhabiting the Moon. Tomohide Matsunaga, a spokesman for Domino’s, told the press: “In the future, we anticipate there will be many people living on the moon, astronauts who are working there and, in the future, citizens of the Moon.” Domino’s have said they first started thinking about this project last year, but admitted they have yet to decide when the restaurant will actually open. 

The notion of having “citizens of the Moon” may not realistically happen for decades, or even centuries; it may never happen. But if and when it does occur, at least there will be somewhere for these people to have a take-away pizza.

Full story: Daily Telegraph

As the world turns…

The VLT (Very Large Telescope) is an array of four optical telescopes, sitting at an altitude of 2,635 metres in the Atacama Desert. It is operated by the ESO (European Southern Observatory), scanning the skies for extra-solar planets and distant galaxies. The VLT was one of the first to produce direct images of extrasolar planets in 2004. More recently, it has discovered the farthest gamma-ray burst, evidence for a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and a candidate for the farthest galaxy ever observed, some 13.2 light years away.

Well, that’s enough about it. Here is a time-lapse video of the VLT at work. It is the magnificent backdrop of the rotating, ever-changing sky that will blow your mind.

The mind-blowing image of the sun blowing its top

It looks so beautiful, so calm,  so intriguing – and yet it is a photograph of something so violent and explosive. Astronomical photographer Alan Friedman captured this image of “Sun Spots” – massive eruptions taking place on the Sun’s surface.

Full story: Discover Magazine

To see this photo in its full size and definition (you really ought to!):

Sun’s eruptions are on their way to Earth


Immensely powerful waves of charged solar particles will be blasted towards planet Earth over the next couple of days. These solar flares are expected to toy with the Earth’s magnetic field, lighting up our skies with unique patterns, but also confusing an awful lot of our technology. 

This is a result of three “coronal mass ejections” – eruptions on the surface of the Sun caused by sudden releases of magnetic energy stored in its atmosphere. The third eruption is the strongest recorded since 2006.

It is thought that this could affect modern technology here on Earth: there is a danger that electrical power grids, communications systems and satellite signals may all be disrupted. So there is an outside risk of powercuts, blackouts, radio signals being lost, and the Sat-Nav in your car losing its sense of direction.

On a more positive and cheerful note, the Aurora Borealis (pictured above) are expected to occur far further South than usual, and may therefore be visible here in parts of the UK.

Full story: BBC News

Scientists compile most detailed map ever of night sky

Scientists working on SDSS (The Sloan Digital Sky Survey) have created the most detailed image ever of the night sky. It has taken over a decade of scanning the skies with a 138-megapixel camera to compile this image – consisting of over a trillion pixels in total.

It is an image so detailed and so massive that it would take half a million high-definition televisions to take it all in at full resolution… And this is just a map of one-third of the sky!

Full story: POPSCI Popular Science

The scale of things

Here is a stunning computer-generated illustration of the planets in our solar system, our sun, and a handful of other stars that exist in our galaxy.

Just reading (for example) that the Earth’s diameter is 12756 km and Jupiter’s diameter is 142984 km fails to really make you appreciate the relative size of these things. It’s only when you place them all side by side and zoom out that you are fully able to realise the grand scale of it all.  

Warning: watching this video may make you feel very, very small…