Tag Archives: astronomy

118 Element Periodic Table Poster with Hubble Stars and Nebula

This printable periodic table is poster-sized (60 inches across). It features all 118 element names (yes, you’ll find nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson on it), with the element symbols, atomic numbers, and atomic weights. It is, in fact, our popular 2016-2017 colorful periodic table, except the background is the incredible public domain Hubble image of the Carina nebula. Elements are made in stars in nebula, after all!

Here’s a smaller version of the table so you can see what it looks like:

118 Element Periodic Table Poster with Hubble Stars and Nebula (Todd and Anne Helmenstine and Hubble)

118 Element Periodic Table Poster with Hubble Stars and Nebula (Todd and Anne Helmenstine and Hubble)

Download and Print the Periodic Table Poster

Here’s the .jpg image file for the poster you can download to print or use as your device background. Right-click that image and save it. If you print using a regular printer, choose landscape mode and tell it to fit the page. You can also have a regular printer make a poster by setting it to print multiple panels and then taping them or artfully arranging them to make the table. Another option is to take the image file to a professional printer. Just send them to this page so they can see “Yes, we give permission for you to print this table.”

You might also be interested in some of the other wall murals available on Hubblesite (which also contains their public domain notification, in case you get a persnickety printing company that wants to see proof Nasa/Hubble have released the image to the public).

Periodic Table Poster Terms of Use

Laptop skin with the periodic table poster featuring the Carina Nebula.

Laptop skin with the periodic table poster featuring the Carina Nebula.

While you’re free to print the table and hand it out, it is copyrighted, and not available for use on other websites or for sale.

However, we’ve teamed up with Redbubble to offer a wide variety of products that feature this table, such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, laptop skins, phone cases, and posters.

10 Jupiter Facts – Interesting Facts About the Planet Jupiter

Jupiter - The Fifth Planet (NASA)

Jupiter – The Fifth Planet (NASA)

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth planet from the Sun, after Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. It’s named for Jupiter, the Greek equivalent to Zeus, the king of the gods. Humans first recorded sighting this world in 7th or 8th century Babylonia.

Here are 10 interesting Jupiter facts, as well as essential data about this gas giant.

10 Jupiter Facts

  1. Jupiter is the largest and most massive planet in the Solar System. You would need to line up 11 Earths to reach Jupiter’s mean diameter of 139,322 km. It would take 318 Earths to equal Jupiter’s mass of 1.90 x 1027 kg. Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets combined. The volume of Jupiter is so great that 1300 Earths could fit inside it.
  2. Jupiter has three thin rings, although they are not nearly as spectacular as those of Saturn. It’s difficult to see Jupiter’s rings, even with telescopes. Astronomers believe the rings consist of material ejected by the Jovian (Jupiter’s) moon when they are struck by meteorites.
  3. A day on Jupiter is 9 hours and 55 minutes, giving it the shortest day of any planet in the Solar System. Because it spins so quickly on its axis, the planet appears flattened at the poles, with a bulge at the equator. It’s wider at its equator than it is is if measured from pole to pole.
  4. Although Jupiter is famous for its Red Spot, this is actually a gigantic storm that will eventually fade away. In fact, it’s dwindling more quickly than expected. The Red Spot has persisted for about 350 years. It was spotted by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini in 1665.

    Fun Jupiter fact - If you had been around over 350 years ago, you wouldn't have seen the Red Spot because it didn't exist then. (Voyager 1, NASA/JPL)

    Fun Jupiter fact – If you had been around over 350 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen the Red Spot because it didn’t exist then. (Voyager 1, NASA/JPL)

  5.  Jupiter can’t become a star. If the planet gained more mass, its size would decrease because gravity would pull the planet in on itself, but there simply isn’t enough mass for the hydrogen and helium to start the fusion process. Scientists estimate Jupiter could gain 4 times its present mass and still be the same size. It would need to be at least 70-80 times more massive than it is now to have any chance of becoming a star.
  6. The clouds we see on Jupiter are only 50 km thick. There are at least two decks or layers of clouds, which consist of ammonia crystals and maybe ammonium hydrosulfide and water. Lightning has been spotted within the atmosphere. The orange and brown coloration is believed to come from the interaction between ultraviolet radiation and phosphorus and and sulfur compounds. Below the clouds, Jupiter consists of hydrogen and helium. There is a layer of metallic liquid hydrogen and perhaps a rocky core.
  7. Jupiter exerts a massive magnetic field. It’s 14 times stronger than that of the Earth. All that spinning hydrogen generates a huge electromagnetic field.
  8. Jupiter has a lot of moons. There are four major moons, called the Galilean Moons, which are (in order from Jupiter) Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system. At least 67 moons have been named, but there are probably over 200 moons orbiting Jupiter. Galileo’s discovery in 1610 of the four largest moons was mankind’s first proof celestial bodies orbited something other than the Earth.
  9. Jupiter is so large and bright that it’s visible with your naked eyes. Jupiter is the 4th brightest object in the Solar System, after the Sun, Moon, and Venus. The planet appears as a bright star in the sky, although you can see the bands of color and four Galilean Moons with good binoculars or a telescope.
  10. Jupiter emits more energy than it gets from the Sun. This world generates heat, which it radiates outward to its moons. Because of its magnetic field, telescopes can view aurora on Jupiter.

Jupiter Planetary Data

Axial Tilt3.13° to orbit
Surface Gravity24.79 m/s or 2.528 g
Mean Orbital Distance7.78 x 108 km (It takes about 43 minutes for light from the Sun to reach Jupiter.)
Orbital Period (year)11.86 Earth years
Apparent Magnitude-1.6 to -2.94
Chemical Compositionabout 89.8% hydrogen, 10.2% helium, with traces of methane, ammonia, hydrogen deuteride, ethane, and water. The clouds contain ices of ammonia, water, and ammonium hydrosulfide

What If Jupiter Never Existed?

Most extraterrestial solar systems have their large planets close to their suns, not like our solar system, where the gas giants are out beyond the smaller, rocky worlds like the Earth and Mars. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Jupiter didn’t exist?

How To Watch the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse

A supermoon total lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon is eclipsed when it is at its closest point to Earth.

A supermoon total lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon is eclipsed when it is at its closest point to Earth.

Are you ready for a rare astronomical event? This weekend, you can see a supermoon total lunar eclipse, which is the last eclipse of the “blood moon tetrad” of total lunar eclipses over the past year.

Why Is the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse Special?

This particular eclipse is special because it combines three events: a full moon, a lunar eclipse, and lunar perigee. Together, these events combine to produce an extremely big “blood moon” or lunar total eclipse. While lunar eclipses (even total eclipses) are not particularly rare, and lunar perigee (when the Moon is closest to the Earth) occurs every year, this is your last chance to see a total lunar eclipse at lunar perigee for 18 years (2033). The moon during this total eclipse will appear 14% larger than usual, offering a spectacular view.

When Is the Lunar Eclipse?

The eclipse is Sunday, September 27, 2015. Expect to see slight dimming of the full moon starting shortly after 8 pm EDT. The edge of Earth’s shadow begins to fall across the moon (starting the eclipse) at 9:07 pm EDT. The total eclipse starts at 10:11 pm EDT and last for 72 minutes. During totality, the moon appears reddish because of the diffraction of light in the atmosphere (much like how sunset works). You may want to check the sky earlier, depending where you live, so that you can view moonrise of the supermoon (truly beautiful).

Is the 2015 Supermoon Eclipse Visible Where I Live?

I found this handy graphic on Wikipedia that shows the Earth as it would appear if viewed from the Moon during the point of greatest eclipse. If you can see your home in this image, theoretically you can go outside and view the total lunar eclipse. About 2 billion people can see this rare event, including Europe, North and South America, Africa, and parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Wondering whether you can see the September 2015 total lunar eclipse? This image shows the parts of the Earth visible to the Moon at its greatest eclipse. If you are in this picture, you can see totality! (SockPuppetForTomruen)

Wondering whether you can see the September 2015 total lunar eclipse? This image shows the parts of the Earth visible to the Moon at its greatest eclipse. If you are in this picture, you can see totality! (SockPuppetForTomruen)

How Can I Watch the Supermoon Eclipse?

You have two great ways to view the eclipse.

  1. If you live in a place where the supermoon total lunar eclipse will be visible, just go outdoors and watch it.
  2. If you can’t view the eclipse or it’s cloudy, tune in to the Slooh Community Observatory to watch live coverage of the total lunar eclipse.


Total Solar Eclipse from the Air – March 2015 Iceland

Diamond Ring Effect - Total Solar Eclipse 2015

Diamond Ring Effect – Total Solar Eclipse 2015 (Anne Helmenstine)

Viewing a total solar eclipse from an airplane is a bit different from viewing one from the ground! On the one hand, you can get above the clouds, so it’s practically a given that you’ll have a clear sky. Also, the speed of the jet increases the duration of totality, sometimes by a long time. On the other hand, it’s incredibly complicated and requires a lot of planning. Also, it probably doesn’t work well unless the sun is low enough in the sky to view the eclipse out a window. Conditions were perfect for viewing the total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 over the North Atlantic.

My group set out to view the total solar eclipse from Reykjavik, Iceland from 3 Icelandair Boeing 757 jets. These jets had been sitting on the ground awaiting our arrival for a couple of weeks, with perfectly clear windows and everything else we could need or want. We headed south to get into position over the ocean, then turned to follow the path of the eclipse before returning to land. Here’s a fun fact for you. Each of the Icelandair jets has a name, after one of the country’s famous volcanoes. These aircraft are very cool, featuring interior aurora lighting. The crew turned off the aurora display for this flight to aid our viewing, but it’s wonderful if you’re flying at night.

Icelandair Aurora Hekla (Anne Helmenstine)

Icelandair Aurora Hekla (Anne Helmenstine)

The aircraft were spaced at different altitudes so they would not interfere with each other. We could see the other jets during the turns, but not at all during the eclipse. Somehow Icelandair worked out positioning of a few hundred other aircraft chasing the aurora. In my plane, we had 2 people per row, so we shared a window for viewing. Refreshments included coffee, juice, and Icelandic twisted donuts, so this eclipse was extremely comfortable to watch.

Total Solar Eclipse from a Boeing 757

Total Solar Eclipse from a Boeing 757 (Anne Helmenstine)

The sun was straight out off the right side of the aircraft, so once we were in position it was easy to watch the show. We could watch the shadow of the moon racing across the surface of the Earth below us. When the sun was eclipsed, I could look down and see the dark spot on the ground and the sunset and sunrise on either side of the shadow. It was a bit tricky to photograph, with reflections from the window, but you get the idea. It’s very different from the view from land. If you ever get the opportunity to view an aurora from the sky, take it!

I took about a hundred pictures of the eclipse. Here’s one for now. If you look closely you can see the red solar prominence on the edge of the disk. I was surprised these were visible because the supermoon that caused the eclipse blotted out more of the sun than usual.

Total Solar Eclipse - March 2015

Total Solar Eclipse – March 2015 (Anne Helmenstine)

I’ll add more details and photos when I get back to the US. I have one more day of adventuring and then 2 days of travel.


Iceland Total Solar Eclipse Trip – Getting Ready

So, as you may (or may not) know, I’m headed to Iceland this weekend. It’s a huge bucket list trip for me, second only to visiting Mars, but a tiny bit more attainable. While it’s a working trip, I’m also calling it my 50th birthday present to myself (yep, I’m that old, but hey… I hear the new Bond girl is 50, so I’m going to be in good company).

What will I do there? There is a total solar eclipse only visible in the northern Atlantic. I’d go even if there wasn’t an eclipse, to see the aurora borealis, geysers, waterfalls, volcanoes, wildlife, and to check out the culture of Iceland. Oh… I almost forgot soaking in the natural hot springs. I fantasize about that part of the trip while drudging through tax preparation.

I leave at dark o’clock in the wee hours of Sunday morning for a fun-filled day of domestic travel, ideally chilling at Boston’s Logan International Airport for the quick jaunt over to Reykjavik Sunday night. More likely, I’ll be playing a game of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, frantically trying to get to Boston for the flight. I know how it works.

I tested my camera yesterday. It’s a Canon 60D, a bit scuffed up from adventures, but going strong. I’ll use Canon’s 100-400 mm L-series lens for the eclipse. Since I don’t want to incinerate either the camera’s or my personal optics, I picked up a cheap $6 solar filter for telescopes and cameras off Amazon. I tested it yesterday on the sun:

Photo of the sun taken with a Canon camera and cheap solar filter on March 11, 2015.

Photo of the sun taken with a Canon camera and cheap solar filter on March 11, 2015.

Not awesome, but not awful. I can see a sunspot! It was windy and the camera is heavy, so I figure it’s a decent test. I’ll be chasing the eclipse in a Boeing 757 over the ocean, so there will be some shake.

Right now it looks like a bomb went off in my room (even more than usual), as I collect items for the trip. I discovered my power adapter is wrong, so I’m off to Amazon to get the right one. Being unable to charge my cameras or computer would be… bad. Will I remember to bring a brush? Possibly not. Will I remember gizmos and gadgets? You betcha!

Gotta get that adapter so they all have juice… I’ll keep you posted on my progress and will blog about the trip here.

In the meantime, if you have tips for how to photograph totality, feel free to post. I have neutral density filters and polarizers and know to tape the viewfinder so I don’t accidentally blind or burn myself if I choose poorly, but I had trouble photographing that bit when I was in Africa.

Today In Science History – July 15

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Irish astronomer who discovered the first pulsar. Credit: Harry the Dirty Dog/Creative Commons

July 15 is Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s birthday. Bell is an Irish astronomer who discovered the first four pulsars.

A pulsar is a rotating neutron star that generates a beam of electromagnetic radiation from the star’s magnetic poles. As the star rotates, the beam creates a lighthouse effect giving a ‘pulse’ of light. Pulsars get their name from the contraction of ‘pulse’ and ‘star’. One amazing aspect have very short rotation periods ranging from milliseconds to seconds. and emit radiation in visible, x-ray, radio and gamma ray spectrums.

Jocelyn Bell was a doctoral graduate student at Cambridge under the supervision of Anthony Hewish in 1966. She spent a summer assisting in the construction of a radio telescope that covered 4 1/2 acres of the English countryside. The telescope was constructed to help detect and identify a recently discovered phenomenon called quasars. Quasars are were discovered in the early 1960s as sources of radio noise, but had no visible source. Anyone interested in radio astronomy was tuning their equipment to investigate quasars.

One of Bell’s duties was to operate the new telescope and analyze the data it collected. The telescope’s signal was recorded on a rolling track recorder that generated nearly 100 feet of paper per day. Her job, check the paper for peaks indicating a radio source. When she found a peak, she had to distinguish it from noise, interference or a genuine source. She eventually noticed a small section of the chart that wasn’t quite a peak, but wasn’t interference either. Further study showed it was a signal that repeated every 3.66 seconds. The first reaction was that the signal was too regular to not be man made. After eliminating these sources of interference, the signal had to come from space. Because of their regular pattern, the idea that maybe it was a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization became a sort of joke among the team. They even labeled the signal LGM-1 or Little Green Men – 1. Four different radio sources were discovered that would be determined to be a form of neutron star that would eventually be called a pulsar.

After news of the discovery appeared in Nature, the media became interested in the story. Once they found out a woman was involved, they got even more coverage. Jocelyn became a celebrity almost overnight. She would go on to earn a lot of recognition for her work in astronomy and for her efforts to improve the status and number of female scientists.

One award she did not share in was the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars. This award went to her advisor, Anthony Hewish. Some people have expressed the opinion the Nobel committee made a grave error in this omission, but not Bell. She said the  supervisor is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of events and discoveries in their laboratories. She also believed Nobel Prizes should not be awarded to everyone that helped as that would diminish the honor.

Happy Birthday Jocelyn Bell Burnell!

Direct Image Of Exoplanet Sets New Record

Image taken of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. The planet is the white dot and the blue circle is a mask blocking the light of the Beta Pictoris star. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

Image taken of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. The planet is the white dot and the blue circle is a mask blocking the light of the Beta Pictoris star. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

This image is of an exoplanet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. While it doesn’t look like much, it is the best direct image ever taken of a planet outside our Solar System. The image was taken using the new Gemini Planet Imager’s adaptive optics system. This equipment was a recent addition to the Gemini South Telescope in Chile and already proving to be one of the most powerful Earthbound telescopes.

Beta Pictoris is a star 63.5 light-years from Earth. Previous images from Hubble showed the star has a ring of debris. This debris has a gap that suggested a large planet was clearing a path with its orbit. This planet’s existence was confirmed in 2009 using the European Southern Observatory’s VLT (Very Large Telescope). Beta Pictoris b is a gas giant planet four times the size of Jupiter and orbits Beta Pictoris once every 20.5 years. Astronomers believe the planet will transit Beta Pictoris in 2015 and allow them to get more precise measurements of its mass and size.

This study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, May 12, 2014. Note: National Academy of Science papers are available free online, no subscription required.