Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

April 30, 2012

‘Awesome Space’ is just right for youths

— Between the second and third grade, I got the “space bug,” a fascination with outer space that many other children get. Some space books are at too high a level for these students; other books limit what they present.

In “Awesome Space,” there is a nice balance between level and completeness. This book was written by Sue Beckdale and Steve Parker; it was published in 2011 by Miles Kelly Publishers, Ltd in the United Kingdom.

“Awesome Space” has ISBN 978-1-84810-892-9, and is 9” by 12” in size, with a spiral wound binder so it can open flat as youngsters have a habit of doing. The retail price is $18.

“Awesome Space” has three sections: Space, Exploring Space and Astronomy. Each section can be read separately; the entire book is beautifully illustrated with fine graphics and photos.

Following are some highlights of the Space Section: Space officially begins 62 miles or 100 kilometers above sea level. After Earth, the most important space body (to us) is our sun. The surface of the sun is nearly 60 times the temperature of boiling water (60 times 100 C = 6,000 C where C is the Celsius temperature used by most scientists).

If our sun was shrunk to the size of a large beach ball (65 centimeters or 25.5 inches), the Earth would be the size of a pea (0.6 cm or 1/4 inch across) and our moon would be the size of a pinhead (0.15 cm or 1/16” across).

Huge space rocks created large basins on our newly formed moon, pushing the molten rocks into rings of mountains. Venus is the hottest planet with clouds of acid droplets that would burn your skin.

Mars has a volcano three times as high as Mount Everest. Pluto, a dwarf planet is only 1/2 as wide as Mercury. Mercury’s day side is twice as hot as an oven with a night side that is twice as cold as Antarctica. Jupiter outweighs all the other seven planets put together.

The rings of Saturn consist of millions of chunks of ice. Uranus spins on its side as it orbits the sun. There are likely billions of comets at the edge of the solar system. Asteroids are rocky chunks that couldn’t join together to make a planet.

Stars form from clouds of gas and dust called “nebulae” (Latin for clouds). Young stars form together from a big nebulae and are seen in their youth as a star cluster. Small stars live much longer than huge stars.

At the end of its life, our sun will swell into a giant star, incinerating the Earth. Very heavy stars go out of existence through a colossal explosion called a supernova. Our sun is just one of billions of stars that form our galaxy.

There are billions of galaxies in the known universe. When galaxies collide, there is no “bump” as the galaxies pass through each other. The known universe is everything that we can detect.

There are some mysterious aspects of the universe that we are struggling to understand — these include dark matter and dark energy.

To blast into space, a rocket must travel nearly forty times as fast as a jet passenger plane. Space suits have a number of different layers to safeguard the astronauts from punctures. Astronauts snooze in sleeping bags that hang from the ceiling.

The International Space Station (ISS) has seven modules and four double sets of solar panels. A full crew aboard the ISS is seven. The space “taxi” to travel to and from the ISS is the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Satellites orbiting the Earth bring us many television stations, weather forecasts, views of the universe in X-rays, Ultraviolet, Infrared and Microwave radiation. There are living things in every region of the Earth’s surface, which gives us hope that there is life beyond the Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: The evening moon is just past half full tonight, giving us great views of its craters and mountain ranges through binoculars or telescopes.. Along the moon’s straight or right edge, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks.

On May 4, the nearly full moon will form a triangle with the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn (on top). The moon will be full very late May 5, then shining in western Libra.

May is the month when Venus will plunge out of view in the western dusk. Venus is dazzling in late April and early May. But our sister world is steadily gaining on the Earth in its race around the sun.

By the end of May, Venus will be lost in the twilight glare. Late in the afternoon on June 5, Venus will actually pass between the Earth and the sun, being visible as a black dot on the solar disk. Information on how to observe this rare event safely will be in future columns.

LAST PRESENTATION ON PREDATORS: In the wilds of nature, it’s eat or be eaten. The best land predators or flesh eaters roam the plains of Africa.

Our 4 p.m. presentation in Compton 224 will first treat Jackals (of dog family), Hyenas (their own family) and Small and Large Cats. Jackal pairs mate for life and also hunt together.

Pound for pound, Hyenas are the ultimate killing machines with extremely strong jaws that can break apart elephant bones. Their clans, headed by females, roam at night; Hyenas kill 95 percent of what they eat; they can devour up to 1/3 of their body weight in a single meal.

Caracals (cats) can leap up and bring down birds. Leopards climb up trees and watch for some unwary animal to go by; then they jump their prey. Leopards bring their kills back into their trees as they don’t like to share their food.

Lions have two social groups: Prides headed by females who do the hunting and Coalitions of males who protect their territories and young.

Afterwards, we visit the Science Discovery Center and meet these animals face to face. Bring your cameras.

Next month’s Sunday presentation will be on African Antelopes, with a great variety of sizes and coats.

To get a free schedule for our Animal-Sky shows call (301) 687-7799 and leave your name and mailing address.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
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