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What is the Aurora Borealis and Where is it Seen?

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The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is considered one of the most awe-inspiring sights that can be viewed on Earth. An ethereal display of color in the night sky, it has been accorded varied supernatural powers by diverse indigenous peoples.

Although there are also Southern Lights—termed Aurora Australis—these are less included in folklore, since fewer people reside in the Southern regions where they are apparent. Around the North Pole, the auroral zone extends as a radial belt encompassing around 2,500 miles, and its primary latitude is described as 56-69 degrees North.

Solar Flares – The Cause of Northern and Southern Lights

Storms on our Sun periodically cause the eruption of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. In turn, the released ions, electrons, protons and the like—as well as radiation—travel through space, and can strike the Earth’s magnetic field.

It is this engagement with the neutral atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere—and subsequent traveling along the Earth’s magnetic field—that causes the magnificent display of wavy colors in the night sky.

Impact on Earth’s Electrons of Coronal Mass Ejections

In the Earth’s atmosphere, stricken neutral atoms’ electrons move to higher-energy orbits, which is further away from its nucleus (excitement phase). Then, when an electron moves back to its lower-energy orbit, it releases a photon or particle of light (relaxation phase).

It is this relaxation phase that lights up the sky with its Aurora displays near each of the Earth’s poles. Meanwhile, atoms in the Earth’s gasses that are re-radiated (excited) determine the colors displayed in the Northern and Southern lightshow.

If the solar eruption comes from a sunspot group located near the center of the earth-facing solar disk, then chances are high that the coronal mass ejection will strike the earth’s atmosphere, according to the SpaceWeatherLive website.

Meanwhile, the intensity bell curve of the sun’s coronal mass ejections corresponds to an 11-year period. Therefore, every 11-year period, there is a particularly spectacular Aurora Borealis observed.

Three Solar Factors Required for Occurrence of Auroras

The following are three solar factors affecting whether an Aurora Borealis (or Aurora Australis) will occur. These are:

  • Duration of the solar flare;
  • Size of the plasma cloud;
  • Speed at which coronal mass ejection has departed the Sun’s atmosphere

Best Locations for Viewing Northern and Southern Lights

Alaska is the only state in the US where the Aurora Borealis can be regularly witnessed. Outside of the United States, the Northern Lights frequently can be viewed in:

  • Northern Canada;
  • Greenland;
  • Scandinavian countries (g., Norway, Denmark, and Sweden)
  • Northern Siberia

However, Northern Lights can also be viewed in other areas that are at an altitude of at least 80 km. The best viewing of the Aurora Borealis is typically from January to March, according to the AuroraZone website.

Colors of the Northern versus Southern Lights

The focus of a PBS television episode of NOVA was devoted to the Northern and Southern Lights on February 1, 2017, and presented striking views of the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis in various countries. While the colors are typically green in the Northern regions, they are more reddish in color in the Southern regions. However, colors can also be pink, yellow, and violet—and occasionally even orange or white.

Specific atmospheric gasses in tandem with their Aurora-related colors are as follows:

  • Oxygen: causes greenish color.
  • Nitrogen: causes reddish or bluish colors.

For scientists unable to observe the Aurora Borealis in person, development of the Planeterella machine enabled the re-creation of this natural lightshow in a Langley Research Center lab, per a NASA report!

Snow Moon Predicted to Dodge Celestial Bullet in February

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Reserve a seat now to watch the premier celestial show on February 10th, 2017. This Friday night, a three act performance will begin around 5:34pm EST with the best viewing at 7:44pm.

The show will kick off with a penumbral lunar eclipse, followed by the fiery antics of Comet 45P (aka Honda-Mrkos-Padusakova). After a sigh of relief, we will gasp again as the Snow Moon rises in its somewhat dimmer glory, unable to shake the overshadowing effect of the first act.

Act I: Moon Dancing in the Shadows: The Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

Talk about dimming your light. When the Earth passes between the moon and sun, it casts a shadow. A big shadow. A shadow so big that it has two parts: a penumbra, which is a somewhat fainter more diffuse shadow; and the umbra, which is the darkest part of the shadow. A ‘new moon’ is similar to a penumbral lunar eclipse, only the moon passes through the umbra of Earth’s shadow, appearing as a dark, ghostly apparition in the night sky instead of its usual glowing self.

Act II: Comet 45P: Bad Aim Spares Us All

What’s green and 10OMG faster than a speeding bullet? Comet 45P, that’s what. Its sights are a little off, though. Both the Earth and the Moon will be spared when it blasts by at a face-melting 51,000mph (82,076km/hr).By comparison, a bullet pokes along at a veritable snail’s pace, clocking only 1,022mph (1,645km/hr).

If you plan to wave it through, you’ll have to stay up late. It won’t blast by with its closest pass until about 3am EST on Saturday, February 11th. You may want to duck while you’re waving, though–it will be only 0.08 Astronomical Units (7.7 million miles) away when it makes its closest pass.

For the early-to-bed and early-to-rise types, you can still get your green on. In fact, you can see this celestial version of the Green Lantern now, if you have a telescope, good camera, or binoculars. It’s just too faint for the naked human eye.

Act III: Snow Moon Rising

February’s full moon was given the moniker Snow Moon by Native Americans during Colonial times. The moon got its name because February is the month when the most snowfall occurs. This made hunting difficult, with some Native American tribes dubbing it the Hunger Moon and even the Bone Moon.

Such stark names for a brilliant moon. Then again, it would be difficult to trudge through knee-deep snow for a shot at a deer that can cover 30 feet in one leap. Might be best to stick with that venison from last fall. It probably won’t help to note that National Weather Service data backs this up; on average, February is the USA’s snowiest month.

What’s so great about this coming Friday and early Saturday morning is that you can watch one, two, or all three acts. Hopefully, the weather will help us out with clear skies and something north of sub-freezing temperatures.

The Mind Blowing Achievements of the Hubble Space Telescope

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Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has changed our understanding of the cosmos. NASA considers the deployment of the Hubble telescope as the most significant advance to studying the universe since Galileo’s telescope in 1609.

Key facts about the Hubble telescope

The following are some of the key factors associated with the Hubble telescope, as noted by NASA:

  • This telescope has made more than 1.3 million observations.
  • This telescope has traveled more than 3 billion miles along a circular Earth orbit (at an approximate altitude of 340 miles from Earth).
  • This telescope is 13.3 meters (or 43.5 feet) long.
  • The primary mirror of this telescope is 2.4 meters across (or 7 ft., 10.5 in. across).
  • This telescope can enable viewing objects with an angular size of 0.05 arc seconds.

According to the Hubble telescope’s website within NASA’s site, more than 14,000 scientific articles have been published so far based based on this telescope’s data.

Importance of Hubble’s cameras

The Wide Field Planetary Camera (WFPC) was the primary work-horse of the Hubble telescope from 1993-2009. This camera “sees” the following three different kinds of light, albeit not simultaneously: 1) near ultra-violet (UV), 2) visible, and 3) near infra-red (IR).

The WFPC2 was installed in the Hubble in 2009, and occurred during NASA’s Servicing Mission 4. It had a far greater resolution and field of view than its predecessors, so enabled increased imaging of the galaxy.

Accomplishments of the Hubble Telescope

As a telescope, the following are its five main accomplishments, according to an article in January of 2017 in Forbes Magazine:

  1. The original Hubble telescope “deep field” – ability to view miniscule details (e., less than 0.002 square degrees).
  2. Visualization of Jupiter in acute detail – including as it was struck by a comet.
  3. Imaging of an ultra-rare “ring” galaxy – Arp 147 (an interacting pair of ring galaxies that lies 430-440 million light years away from Earth, and in the constellation termed Cetus).
  4. Gravitational lenses ( along with multiple image capacity, arcs, and increased magnification).
  5. Visually-capturing the birth and death of stars.

The Hubble telescope enabled confirmation that there are at least 100 billion galaxies in our Universe alone. However, one of its foremost achievements was the evidence it produced for galaxies that existed just 500 million years following the “Big Bang” event.

Successor to Hubble Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is planned as the successor to the Hubble, which will be retired. The new space telescope’s purpose is basically to “see” out to the universe’s edge—and its launch-date is scheduled for October of 2018.

The following are just three of the tremendous differences between these two telescopes:

  • The Hubble’s single glass mirror has a 95.4 inch diameter, while the JWST’s mirror is composed of 18 segments with a 21.3 foot diameter.
  • The JWST will be positioned 1 million miles from earth, as compared to the low-Earth orbit of the Hubble telescope.
  • The Hubble’s mission length was more than 25 years, while the JWST’s mission length is expected to be only 5-10 years due to its fuel requirement.

Indeed, Air and Space Magazine describes the JWST as ‘Hubble Times 100’!

A (Very) Brief Primer on Black Holes

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John Wheeler was a physicist and National Medal of Science recipient who is credited with coining the term “black hole” in 1967. However, Albert Einstein described it far earlier in a prediction included in his 1915 Theory of General Relativity.

NASA defines a black hole as a place in the universe where the gravitational force is so strong that no light can escape it. Radiation emission is a feature. It was not until 1970 that Stephen Hawking described the life-cycle of a black hole from “birth” to “death”.

Stars and Black Hole Formation

Stars collapse inward when their energy resources are exhausted. This collapse creates a density that increases until an explosion creates a supernova, which is the end of a large star’s life. In turn, supernovas are the primary source of heavy elements (e.g., uranium) in the universe.

The exertional force of the resulting mass of a huge dying star can result in a black hole, which is unable to collapse completely. The reason the existence of black holes was so difficult for scientists to show is that telescopes are designed to observe light, x-rays, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, so are are not able to reveal black holes.

The following three properties are associated with black holes:

  • Mass;
  • Spin;
  • Electrical charge

A star—which is considered a sun if the center of a planetary system—transforms first into a white dwarf; then into a neutron star; and finally into a black hole. On the other hand, not all dying stars actually transform into black holes.

The Size of Black Holes and their Mass

Mass is the amount of matter (e.g., atoms) in a given object, and black holes are described in terms of mass. For human beings on Earth, the term Body Mass Index (BMI) is the relationship of height to weight. Gravity ensures that our BMIs can be be compared to a normal range as established in medicine.

Black holes most frequently have stars orbiting them. Their mass is typically calculated by measuring the speed of the orbiting material, according to NASA’s Hubblesite. One of the unknown features of black holes is the causal factor that produces their two tremendously different size scales.

Types of Black Holes

The three recognized different types of black holes are:

  1. Miniature black holes – tiny-point explosions;
  2. Stellar black holes – due to huge star collapse;
  3. Super-massive black holes – largest black holes

Einstein’s Contributions as Basis for Hawking’s

Albert Einstein’s relativity theory included space-bending capacity, and black holes demonstrate this mechanism. Per Michael Finkel’s National Geographic report, Einstein did not believe that black holes actually existed. In contrast, Hawking not only showed that they existed, but that black holes could leak energy into space and even explode.

Prior to Hawking’s discoveries, it was believed that black holes could only absorb anything in its gravitational field—but not that it could also explode outward.

Recent Discoveries about Black Holes

In 2016, NuSTAR reported that the XMM-Newton of the European Space Station had documented that a black hole’s gravitational vortex caused material to wobble around it. In that same year, Hawking suggested that mini-black holes could potentially power the Earth with their energy.

Given the need for new global energy sources, this is an exciting idea!

The Alien Hunting ‘Breakthrough Initiatives’ in a Nutshell

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Perhaps the most exciting recent development in the field of space exploration has been the Breakthrough Initiatives program, spearheaded by Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.

The program, founded in 2015, aims to search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the far reaches of space, using three key initiatives; Listen, Message, and Starshot. Also partially funded by Mark Zuckerberg, the program is the first of its kind to take significant steps to find and contact alien life in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.

Listen

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative will monitor the skies for extraterrestrial radio activity by surveying the one million stars closest to Earth, as well as listening for messages from the one hundred closest galaxies. The plan is to use stronger, more sensitive telescopes than have ever been used before, survey a much larger section of the sky than others have in the past, and cover a much larger radio spectrum than has previously been attempted.

In addition to radio signals, the initiative also hopes to search for optical laser transmissions. The project is expected to last ten years and has been estimated to cost approximately $100 million.

Message

Breakthrough Message is the initiative aimed at communicating with extraterrestrial life, should any be found. The program has suggested that, while there is no current plan to send these messages, they “hope to encourage debate about how and what to communicate with possible intelligent beings beyond Earth”.

The tricky part is coming up with a message which is both representative of all human beings and would be understood by alien life, which is why Message is taking the form of an international competition. Open to everyone who wishes to participate, $1 million will be divided among those who come up with the best messages. 

Starshot

Starshot is by far the most ambitious of the initiatives, as its goal is to send swarms of probes to neighboring star systems, employing a fleet of solar-sail spacecraft.

The mission presents a slew of interesting, but very tricky, problems to overcome. The primary issue designers will face is the fact that Alpha Centauri is 41.3 trillion kilometers from Earth, which would take tens of thousands of years at the speed of our current technology.

The program hopes to tackle this problem by using light-powered spacecraft at 20% the speed of light speed, which is 60,000 km/s (the current record is 70 km/s set by Helios II in 1976). They hope to use ground-based light beamers to push lightweight, microchip-sized nanocrafts up to 160 million kilometers per hour, which would allow the probes to reach Alpha Centauri in roughly 20 years.

Other challenges the project may face include getting past the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud without the probes being damaged, figuring out the engineering and design of the gram-sized StarChips, and making the long-term use of the light beamers sustainable.

It is hoped, that in addition to the goals of Breakthrough Initiatives, the project will inspire new methods and technologies to benefit other scientific fields, both astronomical and otherwise.

These initiatives have been hailed by some as groundbreaking and a noble pursuit, while other have brought into question the practicality and feasibility of the program. No matter which opinion you hold, one thing is for sure, it will be interesting to see where the project goes, and more importantly, where it will take us in the future.

Check out Futurism’s great infographic about Breakthrough Initiatives below.

5 Carl Sagan Quotes That Will Blow Your Mind Wide Open

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We live in Carl Sagan’s universe–awesomely vast, deeply humbling. Sagan was the most popular scientist of the 1970s and 1980s; he popularized science more than one before (and arguably since) and was the gatekeeper of scientific credibility.
With his words, Sagan inspired many people to gaze out to space, but also to appreciate the wonder of our own planet. Here are 5 of the best quotes from Carl Sagan that will send a shiver up your spine.

 1. “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

2. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

3. “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

4. “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”

 5. “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Meet Kepler, the Extraordinary Exoplanet Hunting Telescope

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If you’ve never heard of NASA’s Kepler Telescope, or perhaps only have a passing familiarity with the project, then you’re in for quite a pleasant surprise. The telescope’s mission, which was launched in 2009 under NASA’s Discovery Program, is to search for Earth-sized exoplanets in relatively small sections of the Milky Way in order to find those which fall into the sweet spot known as the habitable zone.

Even those of us who have followed the mission for years are continually impressed by NASA’s findings. To date, the telescope has found 2,330 confirmed exoplanets, another 4,706 planet candidates, and 2,165 eclipsing binaries.

An exoplanet, put simply, is one that orbits a star other than our own, and the habitable zone is the Goldilocks region – not too hot, not too cold – where liquid water could be found. The reason this is important is because if any significant life is out there in the galaxy, that’s where it will be found.

Eclipsing binary stars are cool too because they can be used to measure the distances to external galaxies, which is more accurate than the standard candle method based on a star’s luminosity. All of this basically boils down to one fine point; the more information NASA has, the more likely it will be that they find what they’re looking for.

While the The Kepler Space Observatory may technically be a telescope, it shares little in common with the plastic optical tube you got for your ninth birthday. The 4.7m long, 1,039kg spacecraft is equipped with a Schmidt catadioptric camera with a 0.95m front corrector lens, a 1.4m primary mirror, and 94.6 megapixels. This may all sound like meaningless technical jargon, but when you break it down, it comes out to the largest camera ever launched into space. Aside from a handful of mechanical malfunctions, which are common in virtually all spacecraft, the Kepler telescope has worked exceptionally well.

To know just how well it has worked, all you have to do is look at the numbers. Kepler uses a photometer to analyze approximately 145,000 stars in a single field of view, looking for periodic dimming, which is caused by astronomical transit (when one celestial body crosses in front of another).

This information then goes through a long and headache-inducing process involving raw light curves, signal analysis, and words NASA probably just made up to confuse the rest of us, all to rule out a false positive.

So far, there have been 2,330 confirmed exoplanets, with 44 of them habitable (15 Earth-sized and 29 superterran). Experts have estimated the total number of habitable planets in the Milky Way at approximately 40 billion, leaving quite a lot of work to be done.

NASA plans on continuing the mission until 2019, or at least until the on-board fuel supply has been exhausted, which should be some time in 2018. But even after Kepler goes offline for good, the Discovery Program will continue searching the skies with its low-cost, exploratory missions, such as; GRAIL, InSight, Lucy, and Psyche.

Check out Space.com’s great infographic about the Kepler Space Telescope below.

10 Facts About Mars You Probably Didn’t Know

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The planet Mars has caught the public’s imagination long before Matt Damon got stranded on it. But how well do you really know the red planet? Here are 10 facts about Mars you probably didn’t know.

Why is it red?

Mars gets its famous red color from the presence of iron (not unlike rusty metal). The planet’s regolith, a layer of loose material covering the surface, is made up mostly of iron-rich basaltic rock. Earth also has a regolith, but it contains much less iron, which is one reason our planet isn’t red (besides water and trees). Essentially, Mars is an even bigger Texas.

How big is it?

Earth and Mars have close to the same amount of land. Mars is only 53.2% the size of Earth in terms of circumference, but since Earth is mostly water, we have only about 149 million sq. km. of usable land while Mars has approximately 144 million. This odd piece of trivia may be part of the reason it’s a serious a candidate for long term colonization.

How big is it?

While Mars is 53.2% the size of Earth, its gravity is only 38%, meaning objects only fall at about 3.7 meters per second rather than the 9.8 meters per second we’re used to. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you one thing, football matches would take ages on the Red Planet.

How long is a day?

Being farther away from the Sun, Mars takes a lot longer to complete its orbit. 687 of our days, to be precise. But even though a Mars year is nearly twice as long as ours, its days are only 41 minutes longer. Which means, in terms of how a person would experience time on Mars, you would watch the Olympics every 8 years, celebrate your birthday every 2 years, and our politicians would be in office much, much longer. Be thankful we’re on Earth.

How’s the weather?

Mars is a cold place, a very cold place, which makes it extremely difficult to sustain life. How cold, you ask? It tends to range from -125C to an average of about -60C. Although, along the equator it can reach a balmy 20C. The main reason it’s so cold is because it’s much farther from the Sun, but the fact that its atmosphere doesn’t trap heat like ours does is also a contributing factor.

Distance from Earth

Since Earth and Mars orbit the Sun at different speeds, the distance between the two planets can vary from 56 million km to 401 million km apart. The average distance is about 225 million km, so if you’re planning on joining Elon Musk’s SpaceX colony, you better not forget your toothbrush because it’s a really, really long drive home.

How much would I weigh?

Planning on trying a new diet to get ready for beach season? You may want to plan a trip to Mars as an alternative. Because the gravitational pull on Mars is much less strong, 45kg on Earth is only 17 kg on the Red Planet.

That rover sure is cool

Most people are pretty familiar with the Curiosity Rover, part of NASA’s  $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. And many of us have seen the fun fact that the rover is programmed to sing Happy Birthday to itself every year on August 5th. However, many don’t know that the Fiat-sized rover has 17 HD cameras on board which could take detailed pictures of fleas (should the need arise), a high-powered drill to bore into Martian rocks, a 37kg internal computer to analyze test samples, and also shoots lasers out of its eyes (literally).

Aliens?

For as long as humans have been around, people have looked at Mars and come up with crazy stories. One strange theory, which actually gained traction among the scientific community in the 19th century, was that there were canals on the Martian surface which were built by an alien race. When traced back, this simple telescopic misunderstanding actually served as the catalyst for all modern alien conspiracy theories.

Life

Mars may have possessed life millions of years ago. It’s well known that Mars could have had oceans in the past, but 20 years ago two NASA geologists suggested that recovered Martian rocks contained fossilized microbes and organic minerals which could have been from bacteria. While that may be a far cry from little green people, it has been argued by many as a plausible sign of previous life.

Thinking About Buying a Telescope? Here Are 9 Helpful Tips

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Buying a telescope can be one of the best purchases you ever make; whether you want to be an astronomer or just want to indulge a new hobby.

The best part about stargazing is that anyone can do it. An Australian minister named Robert Evans currently holds the record for discovering more than forty supernovae, just by using a telescope in his backyard, and with no formal training. But when it comes to figuring out which one to buy for beginners, it can be a bit tricky.

So, here are a few helpful hints to ensure your stargazing venture is a success.

1. Refractors are the long and skinny ones with the L-shaped eyepiece at the end. They use lenses. These are the most commonly sold telescopes and are the most portable for practical use. Most cheap telescopes are refractors, but not all refractors are cheap. The bigger the aperture (diameter) the more expensive they get.

2. Reflectors are a little fatter and have the eyepiece on the side rather than at the end. They use mirrors, rather than lenses, and can be more affordable than refractors when the apertures begin to increase. Reflectors can be very nice, but they are also a little finicky, which means spending more time adjusting the alignment. They are also generally bigger and require more effort to transport.

3. Compound telescopes use both lenses and mirrors. They are usually a bit slimmer, weigh a little less, and give you the biggest bang for your buck. These telescopes are a marriage of reflectors and refractors.

4. Go-to telescopes are mounts that can be programmed to track celestial objects on their own, which means less time tracking and more time observing.

5. Mounts are just as important as the telescope. After all, what good is a telescope if it won’t stay in place when you want it to? Do your research and invest in a good mount, it’s worth the money.

6. Binoculars are a wise investment for a few reasons. They give you a wide field of view, they allow to survey an area of the sky that you’d like to focus on, they’re inexpensive, and in areas with little light pollution they can offer amazing views.

7. Aperture is just the size of the telescope in terms of the diameter of the optical tube. Think of it like the size of a TV, that is, if the bigger the screen meant the more of the picture you could see.

8. Focal length can be tricky to describe, but it’s nearly as important as aperture. Essentially, it’s the length between the lens and its focus, which can mean the difference between a clear picture and a fuzzy one.

9. Cost is important for a first time buyer for many reasons. You don’t want to buy something that’s too expensive right away, but if you get one that’s too cheap then you may be have a less fulfilling experience. $200 to $400 is fair for decent new telescopes for novices, but looking for used ones that the previous owner barely touched is actually a great way to start out.

10 Things You Need to Know About Elon Musk’s SpaceX

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Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of SpaceX, or at least, the company’s eccentric billionaire founder; Elon Musk. SpaceX, which aims to colonize Mars, has generated much publicity and buku controversy in the fifteen years since its inception, and is now the most talked about name in Aerospace Manufacturing.

So, if you find yourself trying to impress that cute nerd across the bar, here are ten talking points to get you started.

1. SpaceX started as a greenhouse project

In 2001, Elon Musk had the idea to land a small greenhouse on Mars to produce life on the red planet. The project, called Mars Oasis, would’ve sowed seeds in the Martian soil and used a re-hydrated gel to bring them to life. Initially, the goal of the project was to reinvigorate public interest in space exploration, a noble endeavor which would soon after become SpaceX.

2. They only hire the best. No, really

SpaceX employs five thousand people and offers stellar benefits to their workers. The catch, however, is that they only hire the best of the best, for every single position. When they needed someone to pilot the frozen yogurt counter in SpaceX’s cafeteria, Musk instructed one of his crew to “Go to Pinkberry and find the Employee of the Month, hire them”.

3. Why don’t they colonize the moon?

It’s a valid question. It’s certainly a lot closer, but as it turns out, the moon isn’t a good place for a colony. A moon day lasts about a month, there’s no atmosphere, lunar soil has a very high pH, and it’s small, which would cause long term colonization problems.

4. Didn’t a few of their rockets explode?

Two explosions, one in 2015 and another in 2016, have brought SpaceX some harsh criticism, but they may not have been all bad. While the explosions did destroy supplies intended for the International Space Station and a $200 million satellite, the incidents have forced the company to reassess its mechanical shortcomings, getting their mistakes out of the way long before a crewed mission.

5. Red Dragon…not the crappy movie

The next step in SpaceX’s race to Mars is the Red Dragon space capsule, which is set to launch in 2018. The Red Dragon missions will aim to perfect Martian lander technology in order to pave the way for human use, which will serve as the first significant steps towards the company’s long term goal of colonization.

6. Is that a billion dollars in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

SpaceX has raised more than $12 billion to fund its projects and research, including $100 million from Musk himself and a substantial $1 billion check from Google and Fidelity.

7. Get your bloody hands off my missile

Originally, Elon Musk wanted to use retrofitted ballistic missiles to launch payloads into space. In 2001, Musk traveled to Russia in search of ICBMs, and after it became clear that he knew little about rockets, designers allegedly spat on him, forcing the SpaceX team to return to America to regroup.

8. Of Course I Still Love You

Autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) are used for the recovery of rocket stages after they break away from the rest of the spacecraft. These unmanned ocean barges, of which SpaceX has two, are officially named Just Read the Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You.

9. You can go, just start saving your pennies

Originally, the estimated cost for a one-way trip to the Red Planet was roughly $10 billion per person, an amount most of us have just slightly less than, but the long term goal is now to reduce that cost to a mere $200,000 per person.

10. Sustainability is key

SpaceX’s goal is to find an overlap between the desire to go and actually being able to afford it. The only feasible way to do that, according to Musk, is by maximizing efficiency. This means reusing ships and vehicles and coming up with a way to produce propellant on Mars.