Finally watching ISS

today I am finally going to write about my first experience watching ISS, the International Space Station. I have probably seen it before it is just that I did not realize that it is not an airplane.

ISS is a space station (biggest that humanity has) orbiting around 400 kilometers above the sea level. There is lot of interesting stuff about it but in this post, we are going to concern ourselves only with the very simple part, just seeing it.

Do not get too cocky. With naked eye, it will look like a bright star, around the magnitude of Venus at its best. It moves fast and even the best flights above your place will take maximum of about 6 minutes. From my experience, simple binoculars do not make much of a difference, though telescope could and I am yet to see how it will work out with good one, for example if I am able to track it.

Now it might not seem as much but remember, you are seeing the ISS, 150 billion $ project! The upside of it is that the station passes everyday above your place. It will always happen at sunset or sunrise, that is because the station must be sunlit but you have to be already in the shadow of Earth.

Most internet sites will recommend you the NASA webpage but it is horribly done and I will rather link to this one:

In the case you are the type of person who uses smart phone, you can also download some app like ISS tracker.


Note: even though ISS will pass over 95% of the world population it has over every place pauses for many days. This is because the Earth is rotating under it and it takes some time before it comes to “phase” again.


These telescopes are huge (E-ELT, OWL, VLT)

today I will write more about telescopes. In a previous post I already mentioned why radio telescopes like Arecibo are so huge, its because of the long wavelength. Today though I will concentrate on another type of telescopes and those are the ones that sit on Earth and collect information from visible light (those are called optical telescopes).

Comparison of various telescopes. Note OWL, the big circle in the background and even bigger white Arecibo.

I already mentioned Hubble telescope and James Webb Telescope (JWT) that is planned for launch next year. Those are in space so they have quite limited size. Down here we can build bigger ones. Right now in building phase is the E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope). Its primary mirror will have 39 meters [1] making it the largest optical telescope. It has to be so big because otherwise it could not match the ones in space. This is because we have our lovely atmosphere in the way and it makes harder for telescopes to distinquish small objects (though these days we have software that is able to account for that).

VLT aka Very Large Telescope is already working optical/infra-red telescope. It consists of 4 telescopes each of them with primary mirror of 8.2 meters in diameter. They can work together to make images of angular resolution 0.001 arcsecond. In one post I said that we are not able to take an image of star other than just point like source of light but apparently that is not true so I apologize for it:

First Direct Photo of Alien Planet Finally Confirmed

First confirmed image of an exoplanet. The ones that we can see are bigger than Jupiter and usually quite far away from their star. Credit: Gemini Observatory

VLT is second, right behind Hubble in the amount of scientific papers that its work produced (in the field of visible light/infrared telescopes).

There are many other telscopes that I might mention in the future like Thirty Meter Telescope but I will end it with OWL – Overwhelmingly Large Telescope. It was supposed to be the largest telescope ever, with primary mirror of 100 meters! The price was estimated to be about 1.5 billion euro and because of that it was decided that its not worth it. If we do not kill ourselves we might see giants like those in the future though I have no idea how the scientists, or whoever does it, will name them (UGHT – Unimaginably Giantic Huge Telescope).


[1]Just as JWT, the mirror is made from smaller segments. In the case of E-ELT it is because the mirror would be too heavy and we do not have the technology to build it and in the case of JWT it is because you have to somehow get it into orbit.

Comparison of telescopes: By Cmglee – Own workiThe source code of this SVG is valid., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Vacuum decay and Trump

today I want to do a fun post inspired by a meme that I saw some weeks ago on Theoretical Physics Memes. Well here it is:

If you dont understand the joke, its alright, I will explain. If you do understand the joke you can continue reading for the sake of… reading?

Disclaimer: I have not been using disclaimers before but the truth is I am no physicist so I do not claim to actually comprehend this stuff.

So vacuum decay or also false vacuum is the idea that you could die any second. (See I am no physicist)

Basically fields (meaning electromagnetic and other types) want to get into the lowest energy state possible. Also electrons rather like lower energy states to be more stable so, if they have more than they “need”, they will radiate it away in form of photons. Now it is assumed that these fields are either in stable position (lowest energy level) or they might be in metastable position[1], which means that there is energy barrier between the metastable level and stable, if it is “reached over” and the field drops into lower stable or again metastable level it will release energy.

If we were in false vacuum[2] we would just need to reach over the hill to get to true one.

Since particles arise from these fields some new types would appear and Universe in this place would look a bit different inside. The reason why this is connected to the discovery of Higgs Boson is that the mass that it has indicates that we may live in false vacuum, if our physics is right than we could die any moment since the false vacuum is expanding almost at the speed of light.. means we can not know if it is coming on us or not, which also means that you do not need to worry really.

Now you understand the joke though if you are Trump supporter than you do not find it very funny in which case I pity you because it is great joke 😉 [3]


Pic. source: By User:Stannered – Adapted from en:Image:Falsevacuum.png, CC BY 2.5,

Post source mostly.

[1]They can also be in unstable position but not for long.
[2]The name false vacuum has nothing to do with the vacuum of space.
[3]Proper explanation: it is so bad that Trump is elected, I hope that Universe will end soon, oh hmm.. what is the probability of it happening?

Its about Trappist-1

I noticed that in the last days lot of attention was given to this new exoplanets. Well, I guess I have to stay in the “popular sphere” and follow with my post!

Around star called TRAPPIST-1 also known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285 were found together 7 exoplanets, more on this down in the post.

First the star.

Trappist-1 is very small star in special category L which means that it is a red dwarf. You wont find this category in the normal stellar classification because this one and other are made for brown and red dwarfs and were introduced later on. This of course means that Trappist-1 is not very bright or very hot and NOT visible to naked eye (it has apparent magnitude of 18.8 which is way outside of what human eye can see).

All pictures of these planets are artist’s impression.


The planets were discovered using transit photometry. Method that takes advantage of the planets blocking out some of the star’s light. In 2015 there were 3 discovered already and in February this year, astronomers in Belgium found another 4.

There names are truly beautiful: b,c,d,e,f,g,h (aka. Trappist-1b…)
b,c,e,f,g have similar size to Earth and d,h have radius somewhere between Mars and Earth. e,f,g also orbit in the habitable zone of planet which is an area around the star where liquid water might stay on the surface.

Bit of a problem is that since the planets are so close they receive lot of radiation from Trappist-1 and are also probably tidaly locked, which means that they are facing the star with always the same side, thats what is happening to our Moon too. All of their orbits’ radiuses (semimajor axes) are in matter of few millions of kilometers. For Earth this is 1 AU or 150 millions and for Mercury roughly one third. Their years last few days, for Trappist-1b it is just 1,5 days. Those are definitely some crazy numbers but since we know so little about formation of new life we can not really say how high the probability of something living there is.

NO signals were detected from that direction.


PS: You would have amazing view from the planets since they are so close together.

Source of picture: By NASA/JPL-Caltech – Catalog page · Full-res (JPEG · TIFF), Public Domain,

How do we know that Sun is a star?

today I will shortly explain how is it that we know that Sun is a star and why it is not so trivial.

When you look up on the clear sky in night you see dots and they are said to be basically the same thing as our close Sun. They definitely shine, but not so much, they are not very warm, light up in different time than Sun, for some reason twinkle and are way smaller, even with binoculars they are still dots.

Hell yeah, they are quite small dots! Even if you take our best telescopes you will always have them so tiny! They are “point source of light”, which means that they are simply so small that from our view and practical purposes they are dimensionless.

They are huge though, most a bit smaller then Sun but still big, but so far away that they seem only as points. If even now we can not see the star’s surface as anything else than a dot, how do we know that it is the same thing as Sun?

The thought of Sun being star was there for some time. I found that already guys in ancient Greece thought that, the same idea came to the famous row of astronomers like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others but they still did not have an access knowledge that would prove it.

In 1838 Friedrich Bessel measured the distance to star for a first time without considering anything about it (I guess he might have used stellar paralax but I am not sure). He found that the distance is huge, as we know today and soon we calculated that these dots are actually about as bright as Sun, also with astronomical spectroscopy scientists found out that what is happening there is also happening here. To make it clear, we do not have a “close up” image of any star, nor do we have image of any exoplanet.. for now that is simply impossible, still we can admire the cool Jupiter that Juno is taking pics of! (it is literally porn for eyes 😉 )


Polaris won’t be North Star forever

today I will write about precession and what effect it has on our sky.

Polaris is the North Star or Pole Star. This means that it is close to the celestial pole. Celestial pole is a point created by expanding the Earth’s axis of rotation and piercing through the celestial sphere which is imaginary “area” where stars sit. (For Earth based observations you do not really need to take into account that the stars are in completely different distances from us)

Precession is shown by the circle on the top.

But Polaris was not always the North star. For example when the Great Pyramid of Giza was build aobut 4600 years ago, there were two shafts from the tomb added. One points towards some random stop in the sky and the other one to Polaris.. oh wait but 2600 BC it pointed to Orion’s Belt and the star Thuban in the constallation of Draco. Orion was in Egyptian mythology connected to the god of dead Osiris and Thuban used to be the star closest to celestial pole. WHY?

Orange circle shows how the celestial pole’s position will change during the next years


Because of precession. That is an effect on Earth by Moon and Sun. The same way as gyroscope creates a kind of cone shape with it top, Earth also rotates like this but very slowly, it takes about 26000 years to rotate once. This type of precession is also called axial precession.

On the southern hemisphere the South Star is Sigma Octantis. It has very high magnitude so it is barely visible and not very good for naked eye observation. This will of course also change in the next hundreds of years.

Because of precession astronomers have to update every 50 years the positions of stars and objects, right now we are in what is called J2000 epoch and the next one will be J2050.


1st picture: By NASA, Mysid – Vectorized by Mysid in Inkscape after a NASA Earth Observatory image in Milutin Milankovitch Precession., Public Domain,
2nd picture: By Tauʻolunga – self, 4 bit GIF, CC BY-SA 2.5,


Orbital period


in today’s short post I will write about orbital period of planets, more accurately synodic and sidereal period.

In the post about year and how difficult it is to determine how long it is, I mentioned that there are some ways you can measure the time it takes for planet to orbit star.

Sidereal period is the time it takes for Earth or other object, orbit once with respect to distant stars.

Now distant stars are great because they tend to be on the same spot most of the time. For example on the Voyager plague there is a map to show the position of distant pulsars, why? Because such things are stable, easy to see and far away. For year we use stars in Milky Way which is still fine, most move by fractions of arcseconds every year which is something you can not notice with eye and has some effects in thousands of years.

Sidereal period of Earth around the Sun is 365.25636 days. (I wonder if you could talk about something like sidereal period of Sun around the center of Galaxy, probably yes)

Synodic period is about two bodies orbiting Sun for example. It is the time that it takes for the two objects to get to same position. So if Mars and Earth are right behind each other (which is called opposition), synodic period is the time it takes for it to happen again. Now of course both planets orbit and the faster one (the one closer to Sun) always has to make at least one revolution. When that happens it just needs to catch up with the slower planet. With this simple thought you can come up with equation that lets you calculate the synodic period:


(lower case p is the sidereal period of the object with longer period)

Thats about it for know, enjoy your winter holiday while/if you still have it!


How long is a year actually?

today I will write about a year. The thing is that as in many other subjects when you look down into the simplest things you might find that they are not as simple as they seem. So how long is year? 365 days? 366 days?

You very well know that every 4 years we have 1 extra day in February. You might also know that this is because year is not 365 days long exactly but roughly 365.25 .. its important to say roughly because it is not perfectly true and it matters how you define one year.

First lets see how we define one day. One would say that it is the time that it takes for Earth to rotate once. Problem is that we need to define some object to compare it to, some ground, some reference point. It might be the Sun, but Sun is too close and since we go around it, this would change the length of the day.

Sidereal day is the day that is defined as a rotation of Earth around its axis compared to very distant stars that are relatively stable. 23.9344699 hours… that is pretty close to 24 that we use, but it is not what we use.

The thing is that we decided to use what is called solar day, which is in fact compared to Sun. As Earth rotates around its axis, it also rotates around Sun, which makes the solar day different length.

This is how the effect looks like. You need to turn Earth n.2 by little bit more since it moved around the Sun too.

Problem is that the length of solar day changes since our orbit is sligthly elliptical and when we are closer to Sun we are faster which means that the solar day is shorter and there is more time needed for the same spot to face Sun again. This effect adds up to almost 365.25 solar days in a year. If it was so simple we could just add one leap day every 4 years to make up this 0.25 difference but it is actually 0.242181 which makes difference over time.


Julian calender ran with 0.25 for a long time but after about 1500 years it was already 10 days behind of the real date and Christians wanted to predict Easter exactly so they changed on Gregorian calendar. This calendar is the same, except that if the year is divisible by 100 it wont be a leap year, though if it is also divisible by 400 it will be a leap year. This almost fixes the problem, though every 3216 years one day is still off from the real time. Yup. Check out this video to see how we can improve this slight mistake:

So thats it. But you can not really capture the length of year or day since it changes all the time (effect of other planets and what happens on Earth). Check out this video which I used mostly as a source, it has got cool animations that will help you understand it:


Rosetta and OSIRIS-REx

today, as promised I will look upon two missions that has to do a lot with small stuff flying around the Solar System.

Now I said stuff because Rosetta is a mission for comet and OSIRIS is mission for asteroid.

Rosetta is a mission that was launched back in 2004 by ESA which is European organization. It went for the comet 67P or also called Churyumov-Gerasimenko which kinda looks like duck:

Comet 67P on 19 September 2014 NavCam mosaic.jpg

Ok, fine, it does not but look here.. from this photo I would say that it is cat with huge tumor on back.

It went with Philae which is a lander module. It took 10 years to get there. It visited two other asteroids and went around Mars.

After some small changes it went to orbit around the comet even though it has escape velocity of 1 m/s.

Then it deployed Philae in 2014 but harpoons that should have eased the landing did not deploy and the site was much harder than it looked like before (the site was chosen because there was supposed to be “soft” regolith). It bounced twice and almost float away completely. It had battery for 2 days which were of course not enough to conduct all experiments and it could not recharge because it was under some cliff. Nobody knew where it was and we could not identify pictures that it took.

Philae found

It puts me in awe to know that this picture is from a comet. (Philae sits in the right middle of the picture in shadow.)

Luckily Rosetta still orbiting the comet finally found it and put them all in context. The mission ends in 30th September and Rosetta will too crush on the surface.

close up of Philae

The picture of Philae

Now that is for some asteroid exploration back in time.

Three days back, 8th September OSIRIS-REx, an asteroid study and sample return mission was launched.OSIRIS-REx Mission Logo December 2013.svg

The last part is pretty huge, yes USA is for the first time going to return samples from an asteroid to Earth (Utah is the landing site).

It launched on the often used Atlas V and the whole mission for asteorid called Bennu will take 7 years. OSIRIS will stay on its surface for whole 505 days! (Look how planned this whole thing is!)

There are lot of instruments on its board which I wont go through all. There are many cameras because OSIRIS will first orbit the asteroid and scan its surface to find a good place to land.

It has special leg that will try to take samples using gas of nitrogen. It can take up to 2 kilograms and enough nitrogen for three tries.


Space NEWS #10 (Very close exoplanet)

today I am bringing news about the closest ever found exoplanet that is also potentially habitable. This planet is orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Sun.

This is great news. Like really, what is the probability of finding one of the best candidates for Earth like planet closest to us that it could get. But to be clear of what is really going on, it is not as that we are going to get a picture of it. Not at all, we do not even know its size (is probably above 1.3 of Earth’s) or anything about its composition. Its just that it is very very likely that the planet is there because of Doppler shifts and other fancy astronomical tools that enable scientists to discover exoplanets.

No, this is not how the planet looks like.. but yay! Random artistic pictures!

Proxima is red dwarf. This means that it is smaller and cooler than Sun. The difference is so huge that the planet may be in habitable zone even though it is probably only 7.3 million kilometers away compared to Earth’s 150 [1]. So if there is water it may be liquid but nothing is very sure. If there are some greenhouse gases it is probably warm enough.

Before leaving, just check out this cool comparison of the angular diameter (size) of Sun and Proxima from Earth and from the new planet (Proxima b):

Sun and Proxima compared

Yes, any life on Proxima b would have much bigger and redder star to look on.


Check out these two pages for more info: 1) 2)

[1]Proxima has surface temperature of 3050K, 0.1 percent of SOlar luminosity, radius 0.14 and 12% of Sun’s mass.