Blog 7: Culmination of a Semester in Astronomy

Because of this class my view of the solar system has changed. From a young age I knew the order of the planets and even some basic facts about each of them. What I did not know, however, was how much more there was to know not only about our solar system, but about the vast number of stars in our galaxy and the current work being done to find extra-solar planets. I have learned so much more information about what goes on inside the planets as well as the fascinating moons that particularly Jupiter and Saturn have. It has also been so interesting to see how the physics class I am currently in and this class coincide. On practically the same day we learned about magnetic fields and how they protect the Earth from charged particles from the sun. Similarly, we learned about Jupiter’s magnetic field and how the tidal forces brought about the volcanism of Io on the same day in Physics and Astronomy. This really excited me about the future classes that I want to take that are about the physics of astronomy.  Hopefully through taking these classes I would be able to more fully understand the current work that is happening in the search for exoplanets and in the continued search for an answer to the mystery of dark matter and dark energy, a field that is so fascinating to me.

Jupiter’s Magnetosphere

Blog #2: Special Relativity

Albert Einstein was one of the most influential thinkers regarding the fabric of the universe. Einstein’s major contribution to modern physics was his theory of relativity. The first part of this revolutionary idea was his special theory of relativity. Published in 1905, it established two major points: the laws of physics are the same in any inertial frame and the speed of light is always constant no matter the speed of the source or the observer. While the theory most directly dealt with physics on a microscopic scale, it still had many major implications. His first point dealt with the idea of relative motion and the fact that there was no ether, a nonmoving frame of reference, that all previous physics was based upon. The ether was an important idea in the belief that the universe was orderly and structured. The new idea of relativity where there was only relative motion rather than absolute motion unraveled this idea. There was nothing absolute. His second point about the consistency of the speed of light is a bit more difficult to understand; however, it constitutes the idea of a curved spacetime, something that was explained more elaborately in his general theory of relativity. The idea of time as a dimension that, along with space, could be warped showed that we did not live in a universe of the orderly Euclidean geometry but in a non-Euclidean universe. These concepts unraveled the prevailing idea that the universe was fundamentally structured and worked according to Newton’s orderly laws and vaulted scientific thought into a whole new era. 

Image of the Non-Newtonian Spacetime

Sources (from research I did in high school so I couldn’t hyperlink them):

“Relativity” World Book Encyclopedia. 1989.

Pearce Williams, L. “Ether.” Encyclopedia Americana.Scholastic Grolier Online,   ea.grolier.com/article?id=0147190-00. Accessed 15 Feb. 2017.

 Will, Clifford M. “Relativity.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.Scholastic Grolier Online,   gme.grolier.com/article?assetid=0244990-0. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.•

Historical Astronomers in Context

Galileo Galilei

15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642

Galileo Galilei was extremely important to astronomy. He made some adaptations to telescopes and then used them for studying the stars. Thus, he was able to much more closely and precisely objects in the sky. He observed sun spots on the sun, proving it wasn’t perfect and thus that the objects in the heavens were not all perfect. He also overturned Aristotelian physics by showing that objects in motion stay in motion thus birds and clouds won’t fly off the Earth if it was moving. Finally, he saw the phases of Venus that would only make sense if the Earth was orbiting in the sun.

Events During Galileo’s Lifetime:

The Spanish Armada occurred during Galileo’s lifetime. The Spanish fleet of ships were defeated by the British, beginning of the end of Spanish power in the world. 

The 30 Years War also started during his lifetime. It was a basically a war between Catholics and Protestants that occurred in four stages: Bohemian, Danish, Swedish, and French.

People During Galileo’s Lifetime:

Charles I of England. He ruled without parliament until 1642 when he was beheaded during the English civil war. His beheading was after Galileo died, but Charles I reigned while Galileo was alive. 

Reflections:

It was very interesting to figure out what was going on in the world when these astronomers were doing their work. It is easy to think of these people as isolated and not really a part of any time period, so it was cool to see that there were wars and things of great historical significance happening while these astronomers were alive. It makes them seem more like people rather than just the work they did.