VY Canis Majoris

VY Canis Majoris is the largest known star in the universe, being around one billion times bigger than our sun — which is one million times bigger than Earth — which in turn is already pretty immense. If it were to replace our sun, the star’s surface would reach up to Jupiter or Saturn. Imagine how the individual human matches up? We could scarcely register the scale of it all in our minds, much less physically grasp it with our senses.

The following short video further emphasizes how mindbogglingly vast our universe is — and how infinitesimally small we are by comparison.

The Profundity of Space Travel

I’m quite sure everyone imagines space travel to be an experience unlike anything imaginable. The impact it must have on one’s psyche and worldview (no pun intended) is incomparable to any other experience we can conceive of.

Imagine seeing everything we’ve ever known and experienced — the culmination of all histories, lives, and events — within a single frame of view. Imagine being so far away that you could put your hand up and see the Earth as smaller by comparison. It’s no wonder so many astronauts, from what I’ve seen, appear to be so philosophical and worldly.

There is a 20-minute video posted on Upworthy shows breathtaking images and videos of Earth from space, intersected with beautiful ruminations and narratives told by a variety of people, from astronauts and scientists to popular writers and academics. I highly recommend you watch it, as it’s worth every minute.


I hope to live to see the day when space travel is as easy as taking a plane. It’s hard to imagine what such a world would be like.

On This Day in History: The First Woman in Space

Fifty years ago today, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman into space, having been selected from more than 400 applicants and 5 finalists to pilot the Vostok 6, the last mission of the Vostok program. Although Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight, she orbited the earth 48 times and spent almost 3 days in space. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.

She was also the first civilian into space; whereas most astronauts and cosmonauts had military backgrounds, Tereshkova, who had humble origins, was employed as a textile worker. She chosen only for her skill and enthusiasm for skydiving, which she pursued as a hobby (she was made an honorary member of the Soviet Air Force after her mission). Talk about a career seque.

Even though there were plans for further flights by women, it took 19 years until the second woman on Earth, Svetlana Savitskaya, flew into space. Tereshkova now lives a quiet and low-key life in Russia, although she is a staple in many science conferences and political functions.

Learn more about her and the history of women in space here.


Happy 540th Birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus

Happy 540th Birthday to Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543)

A name well-known to students across the western world, Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a comprehensive heliocentric model, which as opposed to the prevailing geocentric model of the time, placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center of the universe. The model was also one of the first to describe the system’s mechanics in mathematical terms.

Just before his death, Copernicus published is magnum opus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which is considered a major event in the history of science. It began the Copernican Revolution and contributed importantly to the subsequent emergence of the Scientific Revolution.

In addition to his achievements in mathematics and astronomy, Copernicus was one of the great polymaths of the Renaissance — he was quadrilingual, a jurist with a doctorate in law, physician, classics scholar, translator, artist, Catholic priest, governor, diplomat and economist.


A Star is Born

A Star is Born

An artist’s impression shows the disk of gas and cosmic dust around the young star HD 142527, as observed by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. They have witnessed vast streams of gas flowing across the gap in the disc, the first time we’ve seen the stages of a star being born. Click the photo to learn more.

What Makes a Human

A human is made of the following:

  • Oxygen (65%)
  • Carbon (18%)
  • Hydrogen (10%)
  • Nitrogen (3%)
  • Calcium (1.5%)
  • Phosphorus (1.0%)
  • Potassium (0.35%)
  • Sulfur (0.25%)
  • Sodium (0.15%)
  • Iron (0.70%)
  • Magnesium (0.05%)
  • And trace amounts of Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt,  Lithium, Strontium, Aluminum, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine.

It’s hard to realize that everything we are, down to the smallest sub-atomic level, is a product of nature. We share the same origins and atoms of a tree, rock, insect, or star. Everything around us, everything in this entire universe, has the same origin. How strange it is that we’re all so connected in this way.

And just as our bodies are made off the atoms of previous organisms and stars, so too will future substances contains our atoms once we die. Nothing is ever destroyed. Our matter merely moves on to take another form, to make up some other part of our wonderful universe. As a great physicist once said, we are literally made out of star stuff – and visa versa.

High Resolution Image of Earth

A high resolution image of Earth taken from a Russian weather satellite. While watching this, it’s hard to image that I’m somewhere on that planet, sharing it with 7 billion other people who are going about their little lives. It makes me feel so insignificant, yet I hardly mind. There is something beautiful, even liberating, about realizing and accepting that fact.

See more breathtaking videos from this satellite here.

Salyut 1

On this day in 1971, Soviet Russia launched the world’s first space station, the Salyut 1. Unfortunately, it was followed shortly after by one of space exploration’s worst tragedies: the three cosmonauts pictured above died during re-entry, after having completed the first successful space docking. Salyut I was scrapped shortly after, though it would be followed by many others.

Read more about it here. I would’ve put a picture of the station, but there weren’t any good ones worth posting.

Yuri’s Night

Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it! – Yuri Gagarin

On this day in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Imagine being able put your thumb up  in front of you and see the planet as small as your fingernail. It’s something very few of us could ever imagine.

He was like a sound amplified by a mountain echo. The traveler is small, but the mountains are great, and suddenly they merge into a single whole. Such was Yuri Gagarin.To accomplish a heroic exploit means to step beyond one’s own sense of self-preservation, to have the courage to dare what today seems unthinkable for the majority. And to be ready to pay for it. For the hero himself, his feat is the limit of all possibilities. If he leaves something “in reserve”, then the most courageous deed thereby moves into the category of work: hard, worthy of all glorification, but — work. An act of heroism is always a breakthrough into the Great Unknown. Even given most accurate preliminary calculations, man enters into that enterprise as if blindfold, full of inner tension and ready for any outcome.

-Valentina Malmy, in Star Peace

 Learn more about Yuri’s Night, a celebration of his – and humanity’s – remarkable achievement.

Amazing Pictures from Hubble Telescope

The following images are courtesy of National Geographicthough they represent just a handful of the gallery. Click the hyperlink to see the rest – it’s well worth it.

This 1995 portrait of the Cat’s-Eye Nebula in the Draco constellation is considered one of the most iconic photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Also known as NGC 6543, it is a classic planetary nebula that glows by the high-energy emissions thrown off by the star seen at the center of the gas cloud.
This false color image shows off the intricate bubbles and twisted features within the 0.2-light-year-wide expanding shell of gas blasted out by a dying sun 3,000 light-years away.

This craggy fantasy mountaintop enshrouded by wispy clouds looks like a bizarre landscape from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or a Dr. Seuss book, depending on your imagination. The NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, which is even more dramatic than fiction, captures the chaotic activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being assaulted from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks.
This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. The image celebrates the 20th anniversary of Hubble's launch and deployment into an orbit around Earth.

Located 20,000 light-years away at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, this red star—complete with dusty cloak—caught the eye of Hubble in 2002 and again in 2005 in the above image, revealing dramatic changes in the illumination of the surrounding cloud.
V838 Monocerotis is a red supergiant star that mysteriously produces multiple flashes of light over time, illuminating different layers of the surrounding gas and dust. This phenomenon, known as a light echo, was first seen by Hubble and may represent a previously unknown, unstable phase in aging stars many times the mass of our sun.

A cosmic angel seems to spread its shimmering wings in a newly released Hubble Space Telescope picture of the star-forming region called Sh 2-106.
The cloud of dust and gas is being shaped by a young star called S106 IR. On the cusp of adulthood, the growing star is "rebelling" against its parent cloud, ejecting material at high speeds and creating glowing lobes of hot, turbulent hydrogen gas.

Considered the most detailed image ever taken of the famous Crab Nebula, this Hubble portrait shows off countless wispy, branchlike filaments of hydrogen gas throughout the supernova explosion remnant. The electric-blue coloring of the interior of the cloud is the naked core of the dead star at the heart of the Crab Nebula.
Ancient Chinese astronomers witnessed the supernova explosion that gave birth to the nebula in A.D. 1054; records indicate there was a new bright star visible in the sky for two weeks.