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This image was taken by Messenger spacecraft around 183 million kilometers (114 million miles) away from Earth. Our home planet and Moon seem so close that they look somewhat like a binary star.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. 2011. Full description here.
HUBBLE’S NEW SHOT OF PROXIMA CENTAURI, OUR NEAREST NEIGHBOR
Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbor: Proxima Centauri.
Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the sun.
However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a flare star,” meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a “main sequence” star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe.
These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame.
Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbor, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.
If other planets were at the same distance as our moon
I am going to spend the rest of the day staring at this.
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How Big Is The Solar System?
(Hint: Really big)
I took a trip to one of Austin’s famous moontowers so I could put the enormity of our solar system into perspective. With the help of a grapefruit, and a lot of walking, you’ll get an idea of just how tiny everything is out there!!
Do it yourself! Calculate sizes and distances, and then make your own solar system model using this calculator.
I’m serious about that part, make your own and send them to me! I’ll feature them here on the blog so everyone can see your crafty science awesomeness.
You guys like Saturn, right? Here’s a whole gallery of Saturn GIFs, from rings to moons, captured by the Cassini spacecraft. They’re part modern art and part science.
Next to the Voyager twins, I think Cassini might be the best satellite NASA ever launched. Certainly takes the best pictures. Tumblr’s own staceythinx has an iPad app called Cassini HD that features even more photos, plus color, plus science.
(GIFs by framesandflames)