Welcome to a crash 101 course in Astronomy. On this page you'll find a rapidly developing collection of bite-sized Astronomy mini-lectures for the layperson who simply wants to know the key facts, theories and developments in astronomy and cosmology. If you have any queries or require further information, please contact myself, Andy Fleming, webmaster of the Andromeda Child blog at via our CONTACT PAGE.
1. THE SUN
The Sun is an ordinary star and is the brightest object in our sky. As such you should certainly never look at the Sun directly and certainly never through binoculars or a telescope.
It’s one of more than one hundred billion stars that populate our Milky Way galaxy. It’s a gigantic ball of hydrogen 870,000 miles wide. The Sun has a diameter 109 times that of the Earth and is one third of a million times its mass.
The Sun collapsed from a cloud of hydrogen gas approximately 4.5 billion years ago. The pressure and temperature of the hydrogen in its centre became so great that nuclear fusion chain reactions started where 600,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted into helium each second. In the process, under Einstein’s famous equation E equals M C squared, a small amount of mass is lost as energy including light.
This energy is what we and all living things depend on for our existence. The visible light we see from the Sun takes eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles before it reaches our eyes and is only a small part of the energy released from our star. Its nuclear reactions also produce vast quantities of ultra violet light along with deadly x-rays and gamma ray radiation. Indeed if it wasn’t for the Earth’s protective magnetic field this radiation would strip off our life-giving atmosphere and all life on Earth would be burnt to a crisp.
Temperatures at the core of our star Sun reach a staggering 10 million degrees Celsius, but it’s surface is less hot at about 5,000 degrees Celsius.
2. THE MOON
Our Moon is far more important to all life on Earth than most people realise. Simply illuminating the night sky or being responsible for ocean tides is of relatively little significance when one realises its true effect on the Earth and us. It has been intrinsic to the very evolution of life itself, and by definition the appearance of homo sapiens! And it's not hard to see why it is so important.
|The Moon with labelled 'seas' and craters.|
To start with it is the only Moon of a major planet in the solar system that is so large relative to its parent planet, indeed many astronomers consider the Earth/Moon system to be a double or binary planetary system. At 385,000 kilometres distant it is the closest celestial body to the Earth.
The Moon was created from the Earth itself, confirmed by the geological experiments undertaken during the NASA Apollo program. Unlike the Earth, there is very little iron on its surface and it consists of terrestrial mantle material.
The Moon was created by a Mars-sized impactor striking the young Earth about four billion years ago. The Earth was nearly completely destroyed by the collision, and the ejecta from the Earth's mantle and the material from the impactor itself eventually came together to form the Moon.
At that point the Moon orbited the young Earth at only a fraction of its current distance, and would have looked enormous in the sky. The Earth's day was about eight hours in duration, but over four billion years the friction of the lunar gravity has slowed this down to twenty four hours. Eventually, the velocity of the Moon orbiting the Earth matched that of its rotational speed so that now the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth: the same side of the Moon is visible to the Earth at all times and until the unmanned Soviet and NASA probes of the early 1960s, no human being had ever seen the far side. Notice it is called the 'far side' and not the 'dark side', a serious misnomer as it receives the same attention from the Sun as the Earth-facing side.
Most importantly, the Moon has prevented the Earth wobbling uncontrollably on its axis and hence over billions of years has provided the climatic stability essential for the evolution of complex life forms.
Apollo 11 Mission Highlights. It's July 16, 1969 and with their Saturn V booster on the launchpad at Cape Kennedy, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are about to embark on the most momentous journey in the history of mankind. Ultimately they will successfully land their lunar module Eagle on the Moon and be the first humans to set foot on another world.
Precision experiments left on the lunar surface by the Apollo astronauts confirm that the Moon is receding from the Earth by a couple of centimetres per year.
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