Science Around Us

Thursdays at 7:42 a.m.

Dr. Todd Young shuttles us into the mysteries of the universe. 

Mars, our neighbor.

May 17, 2018

This summer, Mars will highlight the night sky as it will be closer and brighter than it has been in years.  In honor of this, this week we’ll continue talking about Mars.  Mars is named after the Roman god of war, presumably due to its red color and reds association with blood and violence.  Mars gets its red color from the large amount of iron oxide in the soil of Mars; we know iron oxide better as rust.  How exactly Mars’ soil was oxidized is still a bit of mystery that is connected to the speculation of ancient life on Mars, but that discussion will be saved for another week in the nea

Today we will conclude the astronomical tale of how the motion of Mars arguably sparked the origin of modern astronomy and science.  Last week we discussed how Nicolaus Copernicus presented a heliocentric, or Sun-centered, model of the universe with the all the planets, including Earth and Mars, orbiting the Sun.  But Copernicus’ model was not well received because it did not predict the positions of the planets much better than Ptolemy’s geocentric, or Earth-centered, model, and religious influences during the time period also wanted to maintain that the Earth was the center of the univer

This week let’s continue the astronomical tale of how the motion of Mars arguably sparked the origin of modern astronomy and science.  Last week we discussed how Claudius Ptolemy presented in about 150 AD a sophisticated mathematical model to explain why Mars and the other planets, moving around Earth, periodically moved retrograde relative to the background stars.  This Earth-centered model of the universe presented what was imagined to be a true representation of the motion of Mars and the rest of the planets for over a millennium.  As time went on, though, the model was not able to accu

Last week we discussed how Mars periodically exhibits retrograde motion, where the planet moves east to west relative to the background stars instead of its more typical west to east motion. Understanding why Mars undergoes this motion has been a challenge for hundreds of years. One of the first people to present a mathematical theory for the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets was Claudius Ptolemy, who was thought to have lived from 85 – 165 AD.

The Motion of Mars

Apr 19, 2018

This coming summer in 2018, Mars will be spectacular in our night sky as it outshines all the stars and planets except Venus. It won’t be quite as bright as it was in 2003, but nearly! In honor of this, the next few discussions will be about various topics connected to Mars.

Today let’s conclude our visualization of the size and scale of space by trying to imagine our place in the Universe. To begin, let’s complete our “cosmic address” by noting that we our located in the Milky Way galaxy which is part of a local cluster of galaxies called, unimaginatively, “The Local Group”. There are about 54 galaxies in the Local Group, which also contains the Andromeda Galaxy, a galaxy that is much like our Milky Way galaxy and can be seen with the naked eye in the constellation of Andromeda.

Let’s continue trying to visualize the size and scale of our universe with a discussion about our Milky Way galaxy.  Galaxies are large collections of stars, on average about 100 billion stars, that come in different shapes and compositions.  There are elliptical galaxies (which have basic shapes of spheres or eggs), spiral and barred spiral galaxies (which have a basic shape of a disc), and peculiar galaxies (which have, as their name suggests, irregular shapes).  The galaxy our Sun is part of is a barred spiral galaxy, which means that as you look down on it from above, it sort of looks

This week, let’s continue discussing the size and scale of things in astronomy.  Our Solar System has one Sun, 8 planets, 5 dwarf planets, hundreds of natural satellites, thousands of comets, and hundreds of thousands of minor planets.  It has a basic shape of disc and the Sun at the center.  For this discussion, we are just going to focus on the Sun and the planets.

Last week we began a discussion about the scale of things by talking about how big the Earth is and our size on the Earth.  Today, let’s talk about the Earth and Moon.  The Moon, our companion in space, has a diameter of about 2,100 miles, which means it is about one-fourth the size of the Earth.  Now while the Moon is smaller than the Earth, that is actually big compared to other moons in the Solar System relative to the planets they orbit.  Most of the moons in the Solar System are only about one-hundredth the size of their planet.  Our Moon is so big that it actually stabilizes the rota

The Scale of Space

Mar 15, 2018

I find that when I talk to people about astronomy and space, one of the hardest concepts to understand is the actual scale of things in our Solar System, galaxy, and universe. But this is not wholly unexpected because just every astronomical picture found in the media is depicted with a scale that is either incorrect or not understandable by the viewer. So let's go ahead and talk about the scale of things. First, let's start with the Earth.

The Equinox

Mar 8, 2018

You may have noticed that it is getting more and more difficult to drive east in the morning and west in the evening. The reason is because we are approaching what is called the spring, or vernal, equinox. This year the vernal equinox is March 20th. On the calendar, this is noted as the first day of spring, but this day is special because of what is going on astronomically. As the Earth orbits the Sun in a near perfect circle, it also rotates. This rotation of the Earth is what provides us with day and night, and the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun is our year.

I have many things that fascinate me (as I hope you do too), and one of them is the study and measurement of time, known as horology.  Previously we’ve discussed the origin of the days of the week and a bit about the history of the calendar, but today I’d like to focus on something we all reference every day – a.m. and p.m.

I give a lot of planetarium shows to kindergartners and at the end of each program, I like to ask them if they have any questions about space and astronomy.  Most questions I receive are usually not questions and more about how they want to be an astronaut, which is fun. But, occasionally, someone asks a really good question.

Recently in the news there was an announcement that astronomers had discovered planets orbiting stars in other galaxies.  This is both expected and amazing at the same time.  Last week we discussed how it was expected because it is part of the star formation process that planets also form around the star.  What is amazing about this discovery is how it was discovered. 

Recently in the news, there was an announcement that astronomers had planets orbiting stars in other galaxies. This is both expected and amazing at the same time. First lets talk about how it's expected, it is expected because of our current understanding of how stars are formed. Star formation begins with a huge cloud of gas and dust called a nebula gravitationally collapsing in on itself. This causes the center of the nebula to slowly increase in pressure and temperature.

The other day, I woke up and I saw a spectacular total eclipse of the moon. I've seen many, but it's always stunning for me. This total lunar eclipse was even more special because of three different things happening for this eclipse of the moon, and as such it was called a "Super Blue Blood Moon." Here's why:

Star Wars Science

Jan 25, 2018

I'm a movie buff, and I've seen my fair share of science fiction movies, and while I try my best not to get overly frustrated, it sometimes boggles my mind why these big budget movies can't hire a scientist to get some consultation for basic science. For example, the Star Wars movies are incredibly fun for all ages but they are full of scientific inaccuracies. One of the biggest ones for me are the massive explosions of the death stars. First of all, since space is essentially a vacuum, sound cannot propagate. So instead of that "boom," you hear nothing.

Time Keeping: Part 2

Jan 18, 2018

This week, let's continue discussing how we keep track of time. To summarize last week's discussion, the year is based upon the annual motion of the Earth around the sun, and the month is based on the moon's orbit around the Earth. The week is actually based upon the seven objects you can see in the sky that are moving differently that the stars. Specifically, the moon, the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. A few days of the week are obvious: Monday for the Moon, Sunday for the Sun, and Saturday for Saturn.

Time Keeping

Jan 11, 2018

Given that we all just entered a new year, I thought we could talk today about the calendar and time keeping. The calendar we use today is called the Gregorian calendar proposed by Pope Gregory in 1582 to replace the previous Julian calendar set by Julius Caesar about 1600 years earlier. Both calendars were fundamentally created to track the annual cycles of the skies, specifically focusing on the location of constellations in the night sky, and or when the sun will be at certain altitudes during the day.

Dr. Todd Young helps explain and describe what and what couldn't be the North Star, right here on KWIT.

From everyone at KWIT/KOJI, Merry Christmas!


Follow your curiosity to the Fred G. Dale Planetarium at Wayne State College.

I would like to propose a thought experiment: Imagine a box that when closed, there is no interaction between the inside and the outside world. You can't hear, see or feel anything that may be put into the box. Now attach a vile of poisonous gas to the box, which in turn is attached to a triggering device that has a 50% chance of releasing the poison gas. Now let's place a cat into the box, and let's close the box and activate the experiment. After a certain amount of time, we know that the poisonous gas released and the cat is dead, or none of that happened and the cat is alive.

On January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, and on February 1st, 2003 the space shuttle "Columbia" broke apart upon reentry. In both disasters, all hands were lost. For the "Challenger," it was determined that the O-ring seals in the right solid rocket booster failed in the cold temperatures on the day of the launch. This caused the booster to rupture and explode, taking the lives of seven astronauts, including the first teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe.

At the airport this past summer, I overheard a young child ask his mother a wonderfully inquisitive question: "Why can't we just fly the plane into space? And then we can see the stars and the moon, right?" The Mother, to her credit, gave a correct although short answer: "Planes aren't built for that, honey."

Our Lucky Moon

Nov 2, 2017

At some point perhaps tonight, perhaps later. We will look up and glance at the moon with indifference. We've seen it a million times before, I mean it's just a hunk of rock very much like our own Earth rock that does happen to have footprints of humans on it. So what? But if there was no moon, ever. What would be different? To start, if we didn't have a moon none of us would probably be here right now. Is that dramatic enough for you?

The Sun

Oct 25, 2017

The Sun has been observed and worshipped throughout much of human history. One of the first known monuments to the Sun was built in Newgrange, Ireland more than 5,000 years ago. One of the first Sun gods was Shamash of Babylonia, who was the all-seeing, all-knowing eye of justice. Later, the Egyptians believed that the Sun was the god Ra, who would sail across the sky by day in a boat.

Does E.T. Exist?

Oct 12, 2017

During breaks while working on the construction of the first atomic bomb in 1943, Enrico Fermi and his colleagues talked of many things.  One of which was alien intelligence. 

The Milky Way galaxy that we live in is easily large enough to house millions of civilizations and is certainly old enough (about 13.5 billion years old) so that one of them should have colonized the galaxy by now, so Enrico asked, “Where are they?”  This questions is now known as the Fermi Paradox. 

Don Davis

Let’s talk about the possibilities of collisions with the Earth.

Actually, our Earth is being hit all the time by cosmic dust and meteors. More often than not, these will fall into the atmosphere and burn up, producing a streak of light in the sky we call a “shooting star.”  But sometimes the chunks are big enough so that part of the original chunk gets through the atmosphere.  Anywhere between 5 – 300 metric tons of dust and meteors strike the Earth per day!