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DULUTH — Chances are you've seen Orion's Belt this winter. It's hard to miss the striking symmetry of those three equally-spaced bright stars in a row. The Belt appears due south around 8 p.m. in mid-February. Not far from it, another bright star-pattern calls for our attention, the Winter Triangle. It's big and bright, and faces us every clear night in February and March.
DULUTH, Minn.—Some months have two full moons. This month is like that, with full moons on Jan. 1 and Jan. 31. The second full moon in a month is called a Blue Moon. January's Blue Moon is even more special because it will be totally eclipsed that morning. (More on that in a future blog post.)
Every time we think we're in a class by ourselves, it's only a matter of time. Used to be our solar system had the most planets around a single star. But thanks to new data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, we're now tied with the Kepler-90 system, a sun-like star 2,545 light years away in the constellation Draco.
DULUTH — If you tried to start a car that's been sitting in a garage for a couple years, you'd have to clean and replace parts, then hope. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up after 37 years in the deep chill of interstellar space. In that same time interval, I've gone through six cars. Voyager's one mean machine!
If you can't wrap your head around every aspect of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, that's understandable. Neither can I. But when it comes to massive objects warping the fabric of space — one of its more dramatic predictions — the Hubble Space Telescope help us make sense of this bizarre phenomenon.
We rarely use our sense of smell in astronomy except for the occasional run-in with a skunk during late night sky sweeping. We can't smell the irony-dusty air on Mars, the pungent ammonia clouds that swaddle Jupiter or the reeking sulfur plumes of Io's many active volcanoes. Our noses are helpless.
DULUTH — Planets, planets everywhere, and here and there an Earth. Astronomers announced the discovery this week of a new, temperate Earth-sized planet only 11 light-years away orbiting the star Ross 128 in the constellation Virgo. After Proxima b, the planet circling Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple star system, it's the closest, potentially life-friendly planet found.
DULUTH — Earth is just so ... limited. With so many other places to visit in the solar system, why restrict yourself to one planet? You've probably used Google Maps at one time or another to get directions to a restaurant or dog groomer. Now, Google offers the same tool for getting around the solar system. With it, you can zoom into and explore three additional planets, two dwarf planets, 10 moons and a favorite hangout in the International Space Station.
DULUTH — The Hubble Space Telescope is always up to something. Now, a German-led group of astronomers have observed a one-of-a-kind object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scratch that. Two-of-one-kind: a pair of asteroids orbiting each other that show comet-like features including a bright coma and a long tail. It's the first known binary asteroid also classified as a main-belt comet. The team's research was published in the journal Nature recently.
DULUTH — You'd think by now we'd know exactly how long a day is on Saturn, but Cassini's still working on it.