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The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

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The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

It’s easy to pontificate about what the future may hold, but sometimes it comes with disastrous results. Instead, the best way to get a taste of the future may be to look at the most recent scientific developments that happened in the last year.

Today’s infographic from Futurism reviews some of the top science news stories from 2015.

These include headlines in the fields of space, robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics, drones, transportation, and energy storage.

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Maps

Every Visible Star in the Night Sky, in One Map

This striking map depicts all the stars and celestial bodies that are visible in the night sky, all on one giant backdrop.

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Every Visible Star in the Night Sky, in One Map

View the high resolution version of this incredible map by clicking here.

The stars have fascinated humanity since the beginning of civilization, from using them to track the different seasons, to relying on them to navigate thousands of miles on the open ocean.

Today, travelers trek to the ends of the Earth to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, untouched by light pollution. However, if you’re in the city and the heavens align on a clear night, you might still be able to spot somewhere between 2,500 to 5,000 stars scattered across your field of vision.

This stunning star map was created by Eleanor Lutz, under the Reddit pseudonym /hellofromthemoon, and is a throwback to all the stars and celestial bodies that could be seen by the naked eye on Near Year’s Day in 2000.

Star Light, Star Bright

Stars have served as a basis for navigation for thousands of years. Polaris, also dubbed the North Star in the Ursa Minor constellation, is arguably one of the most influential, even though it sits 434 light years away.

Because of its relative location to the Earth’s axis, Polaris is reliably found in the same spot throughout the year—on this star map, it can be spotted in the top right corner. The Polynesian people famously followed the path of the North Star, along with wave currents, in all their way-finding journeys.

Interestingly, Polaris’ dependability is why it is commonly mistaken as the brightest star, but Sirius actually takes that crown—find it below the Gemini constellation, at the 7HR latitude and -20° longitude coordinates on the visualization. Located in the Canis Majoris constellation, Sirius burns bluish-white, and is one of the hottest objects in the universe with a surface temperature of 17,400°F (9,667°C). Sirius is nearly 40 times brighter than our Sun.

The Egyptians associated Sirius with the goddess Isis, and used its location to predict the annual flooding of the Nile. This also isn’t the only way humans have used visible stars to “predict” the future, as evidenced by the ancient practice of astrology.

Seeking Answers in the Stars

In the star map above, the orange lines denote the twelve signs of the Zodiac, each found roughly along the same band from 10° to -30° longitude. These Zodiac alignments, along with planetary movements, form the basis of astrology, which has been practiced across cultures to predict significant events. While the scientific method has widely demonstrated that astrology doesn’t hold much validity, many people still believe in it today.

The red lines on the visualization signify the constellations officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922. Its ancient Greek origins are recorded on the same map as the blue lines, from which the modern constellation boundaries are based. Here’s a deeper dive into all 88 IAU constellations:

ConstellationEnglish NameCategoryBrightest star
AndromedaChained Maiden/ PrincessCreature/ CharacterAlpheratz
AntliaAir PumpObjectα Antliae
Apus Bird of ParadiseAnimalα Apodis
♒ AquariusWater BearerCreature/ CharacterSadalsuud
AquilaEagleAnimalAltair
AraAltarObjectβ Arae
♈ AriesRamAnimalHamal
AurigaCharioteerCreature/ CharacterCapella
BoötesHerdsmanCreature/ CharacterArcturus
CaelumEngraving ToolObjectα Caeli
CamelopardalisGiraffeAnimalβ Camelopardalis
♋ CancerCrabAnimalTarf
Canes VenaticiHunting DogsAnimalCor Caroli
Canis MajorGreat DogAnimalSirius
Canis MinorLesser DogAnimalProcyon
♑ CapricornusSea GoatCreature/ CharacterDeneb Algedi
CarinaKeelObjectCanopus
CassiopeiaSeated QueenCreature/ CharacterSchedar
CentaurusCentaurCreature/ CharacterRigil Kentaurus
CepheusKingCreature/ CharacterAlderamin
CetusSea MonsterCreature/ CharacterDiphda
ChamaeleonChameleonAnimalα Chamaeleontis
CircinusCompassObjectα Circini
ColumbaDoveAnimalPhact
Coma BerenicesBernice's HairCreature/ Characterβ Comae Berenices
Corona AustralisSouthern CrownObjectMeridiana
Corona BorealisNorthern CrownObjectAlphecca
CorvusCrowAnimalGienah
CraterCupObjectδ Crateris
CruxSouthern CrossObjectAcrux
CygnusSwanAnimalDeneb
DelphinusDolphinAnimalRotanev
DoradoSwordfishAnimalα Doradus
DracoDragonCreature/ CharacterEltanin
EquuleusLittle HorseAnimalKitalpha
EridanusRiverObjectAchernar
FornaxFurnaceObjectDalim
♊ GeminiTwinsCreature/ CharacterPollux
GrusCraneAnimalAlnair
HerculesHerculesCreature/ CharacterKornephoros
HorologiumPendulum ClockObjectα Horologii
HydraFemale Water SnakeCreature/ CharacterAlphard
HydrusMale Water SnakeCreature/ Characterβ Hydri
IndusIndianCreature/ Characterα Indi
LacertaLizardAnimalα Lacertae
♌ LeoLionAnimalPraecipua
Leo MinorLesser LionAnimalRegulus
LepusHareAnimalArneb
LibraScalesObjectZubeneschamali
LupusWolfAnimalα Lupi
LynxLynxAnimalα Lyncis
LyraLyreObjectVega
MensaTable MountainObjectα Mensae
MicroscopiumMicroscopeObjectγ Microscopii
MonocerosUnicornCreature/ Characterβ Monocerotis
MuscaFlyAnimalα Muscae
NormaCarpenter's SquareObjectγ2 Normae
OctansOctantObjectν Octantis
OphiuchusSerpent BearerCreature/ CharacterRasalhague
OrionHunterCreature/ CharacterRigel
PavoPeacockAnimalPeacock
PegasusWinged HorseCreature/ CharacterEnif
PerseusHeroCreature/ CharacterMirfak
PhoenixPhoenixCreature/ CharacterAnkaa
PictorPainter's EaselObjectα Pictoris
♓ PiscesFishesAnimalAlpherg
Piscis AustrinusSouthern FishCreature/ CharacterFomalhaut
PuppisSternObjectNaos
PyxisMariner's CompassObjectα Pyxidis
ReticulumReticle (Eyepiece)Objectα Reticuli
SagittaArrowObjectγ Sagittae
♐ SagittariusArcherCreature/ CharacterKaus Australis
♏ ScorpiusScorpionAnimalAntares
SculptorSculptorCreature/ Characterα Sculptoris
ScutumShieldObjectα Scuti
SerpensSerpentAnimalUnukalhai
SextansSextantObjectα Sextantis
♉ TaurusBullAnimalAldebaran
TelescopiumTelescopeObjectα Telescopii
TriangulumTriangleObjectAtria
Triangulum AustraleSouthern TriangleObjectβ Trianguli
TucanaToucanAnimalα Tucanae
Ursa MajorGreat BearAnimalAlioth
Ursa MinorLittle BearAnimalPolaris
VelaSailsObjectγ2 Velorum
♍ VirgoMaidenCreature/ CharacterSpica
VolansFlying FishAnimalβ Volantis
VulpeculaFoxAnimalAnser

(Source: International Astronomical Union)

Into the Depths of Deep Space

The quirk of naming stars after flora and fauna doesn’t end there. Our night sky also reveals visible galaxies, nebulae, and clusters far, far away—but they’re named after familiar birds, natural objects, and mythical creatures. See if you can find some of these interesting names:

  • Open Cluster: Wild Duck Cluster
  • Open Cluster: Eagle Nebula
  • Open Cluster: Beehive Cluster
  • Open Cluster: Butterfly Cluster
  • Emission Nebula: North American
  • Emission Nebula: Trifid Nebula
  • Emission Nebula: Lagoon Nebula
  • Emission Nebula: Orion Nebula
  • Open Cluster with Emission Nebula: Swan Nebula
  • Open Cluster with Emission Nebula: Christmas Tree Cluster
  • Open Cluster with Emission Nebula: Rosette Nebula
  • Globular Cluster: Hercules Cluster

There’s an interesting concentration of unnamed open and globular clusters just above the Sagittarius constellation, between 18-20HR latitude and -20° to -30° longitude. Another one can be seen next to Cassiopeia, just below Polaris between 1HR-3HR latitude, at 60° longitude. The only two visible spiral galaxies, Andromeda and Pinwheel, are located close between 0-2HR latitude and 30°-40° longitude.

The Relentless Passage of Time

We now know that the night sky isn’t as static as people used to believe. Although it’s Earth’s major pole star today, Polaris was in fact off-kilter by roughly 8° a few thousand years ago. Our ancestors saw the twin northern pole stars, Kochab and Pherkad, where Polaris is now.

This difference is due to the Earth’s natural axial tilt. Eight degrees may not seem like much, but because of this angle, the constellations we gaze at today are the same, yet completely different from the ones our ancestors looked up at.

If you liked exploring this star map, be sure to check out the geology of Mars from the same designer.

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Misc

The Extreme Temperatures of the Universe

From the Big Bang to the Boomerang Nebula, this stunning data visualization puts the extreme temperatures of our universe into perspective.

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The Extreme Temperatures of the Universe

For most of us, temperature is a very easy variable to overlook.

Our vehicles and indoor spaces are climate controlled, fridges keep our food consistently chilled, and with a small twist of the tap, we get water that’s the optimal temperature. Of course, our concept of what’s hot or cold is actually very narrow in the grand scheme of things.

Even the stark contrast between the wind-swept glaciers of Antarctica and the blistering sands of our deserts is a mere blip on the universe’s full temperature range. Today’s graphic, produced by the IIB Studio, looks at the hottest and coldest temperatures in our universe.

But First: What is Temperature Anyway?

Before looking at this top-to-bottom view of extreme temperatures, it helps to remember what temperature is actually measuring – kinetic energy, or the movement of atoms.

Hypothetically, atoms would simply stop moving as they reach absolute zero. As matter heats up, it begins to “vibrate” more vigorously, changing states from solid to gas. Eventually, plasma forms as electrons wander away from the nuclei.

With that quick primer, let’s dig into some of the hottest insights in this cool data visualization.

Highs and Lows on Planet Earth

Earth’s lowest air temperature, -135ºF (-93ºC), was recorded in Antarctica in 2010. Since then, scientists have discovered that surface ice temperatures can dip as low as -144ºF (-98ºC).

The conditions need to be just right: clear skies and dry air must persist for several days during the polar winter. In surroundings this cold, human lungs would actually hemorrhage within just a few breaths.

On the other end of the spectrum of extreme temperatures, the hottest surface reading on Earth of 160ºF (71ºC) occurred in Iran’s Lut Desert in 2005. In fact, the Lut Desert clocked the highest surface temperature in 5 out of 7 years during a 2003-2009 study, making it the world’s hottest location. The desert’s dark pebbles, dry soil, and lack of vegetation create the perfect conditions for blistering heat.

There are very few organisms that can withstand such temperatures, but one fascinating phylum makes the cut.

The Amazing Tardigrade

Commonly known as a “moss pig” or “water bear”, the one-millimeter long tardigrade is extremely resilient. While most organisms need water to survive, the tardigrade gets around this by entering a “tun” state, in which metabolism slows to just 0.01% of its normal rate.

When water is scarce, the creature curls up and synthesizes molecules that lock sensitive cell components in place until re-hydration occurs. Beyond dry conditions, the tardigrade can also survive both freezing and boiling temperatures, high radiation environments, and even the vacuum of space.

This video courtesy of TEDEd explains more about the hardy critter:

Testing the Limits

For better or worse, humans have pushed the limits of temperature here on Earth.

At MIT, scientists cooled a sodium gas to half-a-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In the words of the Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle, who co-led the team: “To go below one nanokelvin (one-billionth of a degree) is a little like running a mile under four minutes for the first time.”

Not all experiments are conducted out of simple curiosity. Conventional bombs already explode at around 9,000ºF (5,000ºC), but nuclear explosions take things much further. For a split second, temperatures inside a nuclear fireball can reach a mind-bending 18,000,000ºF (10,000,000ºC).

The highest man-made temperature ever recorded is 9,900,000,000,000ºF (5,500,000,000,000ºC), created in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. It was achieved by accelerating heavy lead ions to 99% the speed of light and smashing them together.

Highs and Lows of the Universe

While humans have been able to manufacture extremely hot and cold temperatures, the universe has created these extremes naturally.

Undoubtedly, the creation of the universe is made of the hottest stuff of all. The temperature of the universe at 10⁻³⁵ seconds old was a whopping 1 octillion ºC. Moments later, it “cooled down” to 1,800,000,000ºF (1 billion ºC) when the universe was less than two minutes old.

On the other end of the spectrum, the coolest natural place currently known in the universe is the Boomerang Nebula at -457.6ºF (-272ºC). It’s found 5,000 light years away from us in the constellation Centaurus, and it is currently in a transitional phase as a dying star.

As space exploration goes further than ever, these extreme temperatures may one day reach even hotter or colder heights than we can imagine.

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