Stand by to launch: The world’s 1st light sail in orbit

An elegant, 400-year-old means of navigating the stars takes flight.

Image source: Planetary Society
  • The Planetary Society is about to launch LightSail 2, a crowdfunded light sail craft.
  • LightSail 2 uses photons from the sun as fuel.
  • Space X's Falcom Heavy rocket will carry LightSail 2 aloft, 720 kilometers up.
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Technology & Innovation

Where do atoms come from? Billions of years of cosmic fireworks.

The periodic table was a lot simpler at the beginning of the universe.

  • Michelle Thaller's "absolute favorite fact in the universe" is that we are made of dead stars.
  • The Big Bang, when it went off, produced basically three elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Every atom more complex had to be formed inside a star. Over time, stars such as the sun produce things like carbon and oxygen.
  • They don't really get much more far off the periodic table than that. If you want to go any farther than the element iron, then you actually need a very violent explosion, a supernova explosion.
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How fast is Earth moving through space? That depends.

We are hurtling through space. But where are we going?

  • How fast are you, planet Earth, our solar system, and the galaxy moving right now? There's no one answer to that question because we're going in several directions and multiple speeds all at the same time. How is that possible?
  • Within the Milky Way galaxy, our solar system is orbiting around a massive black hole at the center of galaxy at half a million miles an hour. Separately, the Milky Way galaxy is in the Virgo Supercluster, which is falling into the Great Attractor, a huge group of galaxies called the Laniakea Supercluster, at one and a half million miles an hour.
  • And all of that is superimposed on top of the natural expansion of the universe, which isn't really a speed, but is happening at 75 kilometers per second per megaparsec.
Videos

Watch: Richard Feynman makes scientific concepts beautifully simple

Few could match the famous physicist in his ability to communicate difficult-to-understand concepts in a simple and warm fashion.

  • Richard Feynman was a renowned physicist who conducted legendary work on quantum physics, the Manhattan Project, and investigating the Challenger explosion.
  • Later in life, however, he became best known for his education work, gaining the nickname "the Great Explainer."
  • His series, Fun to Imagine, works as an excellent primer to Feynman's unique educational style. Here are 9 science lessons he covers in his series.
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Surprising Science

Should we turn the Sahara Desert into a huge solar farm?

The relentless sun makes life in the Sahara almost unbearable. But could it also be its greatest resource?

Photo credit: Savvas Kalimeris on Unsplash
  • If the Sahara Desert were a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world.
  • Each square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy per year.
  • There are two practical technologies at the moment to generate solar electricity within this context: concentrated solar power (CSP) and regular photovoltaic solar panels.
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Technology & Innovation