There’s enough room between the Earth and Moon for all of the planets

The Moon is our nearest celestial neighbor, but it’s tempting to think it’s much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer). We know that’s far, but how far is that really? It turns out it’s far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare. Check it out:

All ur planets belong to us: The planets of the solar system can fit between Earth and the Moon. Credit: Astronomy Foundation
All ur planets belong to us: The planets of the solar system can fit between Earth and the Moon. Credit: Astronomy Foundation

I spotted this image on Twitter and thought it was a perfect illustration of the actual distance between the Earth and the Moon. But even then I needed a double-check so I went to Wikipedia, found the equatorial diameter of each of the planets and added them up. Sure enough, they came out to less than the average Earth-Moon distance:

[table id=PlanetsDiameter /]

As you can see, the average distance (or semi-major axis) between the Earth and Moon can accommodate all of the planets with room to spare! But perhaps the most dramatic example of the actual distance to the Moon is to simply just show it to scale:

The Earth and Moon to scale.
The Earth and Moon to scale. Click to embiggen, it’s pretty amazing!

Space is big. It’s really, really big. So big that it’s hard to not end this post with a quote from Douglas Adams:

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Sandy’s vortex’s wind map has been producing some incredible imagery of the wind patterns of the United States throughout Hurricane Sandy. But this is as amazing as it is disturbing:

Screen cap of the winds in the Mid-Atlantic region during the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy. Credit:

Now keep in mind, this is simply a mashup of wind data, and not a radar map or a satellite image. But the pattern of Sandy is very clear. The white streaks indicate wind speeds of 30 mph, but the truth is that winds are much, much faster than that, with gusts up to 80 mph in some locations.

And that vortex is situated right in the area I grew up and not far at all from where I currently live. But it also means that there are a lot of folks I know, and many more I don’t know, without power tonight.

And the wind cries Sandy

There are many ways of tracking Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the eastern United States, but look out any window right now and the first thing you’ll notice is the wind. Tree branches are blowing and when the gusts kick up, they really start bending.

There are plenty of sites out there to track Hurricane Sandy’s progress (for lack of a better word) but this interactive wind map of the United States has the best representation I’ve seen yet:

Wind Map as of October 29, 2012 10:59 am EDT. Image credit

Click that link and take a look – the map is an animation of the predicted wind speeds and direction across the continental United States. It gets updated once per hour and the result is a mesmerizing look at something that is otherwise invisible.

You can really get a good look at the wind activity in the east, and it will be interesting to see it evolve over time. Meanwhile, just gazing at the animation, I cannot help but think of a certain Jimi Hendrix song (with “Sandy” substituted for “Mary” 🙂 )

A Sonata of Supernovae – Music of Stellar Explosions

Supernovae are the most powerful explosions in the universe this side of the Big Bang itself. There are a souple of different ways for stars to go supernova, but Type 1a Supernovae shine with a well-known brightness. Thanks to this characteristic, astronomers can use these explosions to measure the distances to their host galaxies, and figure out cool things such as the expansion of the universe.

They can also be used to create music. Feat your eyes and ears (be sure to go full screen to see the fireworks):

This eerie, hypnotic tune was created by Dr. Alex Parker, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Alex used survey data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) over a three-year period from 2003 – 2006. During this time, 241 Type Ia supernovae were detected in the four star fields surveyed.

Alex assigned each supernova a unique note based on the following criteria:

Volume = Distance: The volume of the note is determined by the distance to the supernova, with more distant supernova being quieter and fainter.

Pitch = “Stretch:” The pitch of the note was determined by the supernova’s “stretch,” a property of how the supernova brightens and fades. Higher stretch values played higher notes. The pitches were drawn from a Phrygian dominant scale.

Instrument = Mass of Host Galaxy: The instrument the note was played on was determined by the properties of the galaxy which hosted each supernova. Supernovae hosted by massive galaxies are played with a stand-up bass, while supernovae hosted by less massive galaxies are played with a grand piano.

The result is a mesmerizing sonata without a rhythm, tempo, or measure, played for us by the titanic destruction of stars in the distant past.