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Searching the Sky: Solar system or universe?

Jul 25, 2023

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

Many people seem to have trouble figuring out which is which, and where do we reside, the solar system or the universe? I must admit I was one of those wondering the same thing as I was growing up. It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out, I thought. To me sol means sun, the bright thing keeping us warm and alive.

So that must be it; we live in the solar system. But wait; let’s not leave the universe out of this just yet. The universe has many, or I should say billions of suns, many hundreds of times larger than our sun, and containing their share of other bits and pieces (planets, asteroids and such). Okay then, that settles it; we live in the universe. Yes, in a way we do live in the universe, as does the solar system.

Just after the big bang all we had floating around was a milky soup like material waiting for time to change its consistency into suns, planets, asteroids and comets along with other bits and pieces that would eventually make up the things we know as the solar system.

Then that settles it. Or does it? Sorry for dragging this out, but we actually live in both places; the solar system, which is our home, which resides in the mass universe along with so many other solar systems, maybe not unlike our own.

Now that we know where we live, maybe it would be informative to know just what makes these bits and pieces that make up our home. This time we’ll keep it simple and call them members.

Besides the Earth, there are many other members revolving around the sun. All these other members make up a sort of family, with the sun as father. The name sun comes from the Latin word for ‘sun.” Now that seemed simple enough. Our system has eight major planets; Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars (now considered rocky planets), and we have the four large gas giants; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Then we have the icy planets of Pluto, Ceres, Pallas, Iris, and many more out in the vast area past Pluto’s orbit known as the Kuiper Belt and the farther reaching Oort Cloud which seems to go on forever. And all together there are over 460 natural satellites, or moons, with 171 of them belonging to our known planets.

Now to put things into order. We start with the mighty sun. As you might know the sun is a star, an average star which contains about 740 times as much matter as the rest of the solar system combined. Now that is big. This ball of gas is made up of mostly hydrogen. At the center there is tremendous pressure and heat, which makes it possible for a process of constant nuclear explosion. This is what produces the sun’s light and therefore life as we know it, here on Earth.

Next, we have the planets. Just recently about 200 top astronomers got together and felt they had to re-catteries the naming of the planets. You can see the breakdown above. The main change was moving Pluto over with the icy planets. Now that caused an uprising among the rest of the astronomers in the world. I believe no one would have been more upset than my eighth grade Sacred Heart teacher, Sister Saint John. She knew Pluto was a planet, and taught it as such, so I in turn knew it was as planet. And the fact that I thought she was always right, being the smart lady she was, made it so; Pluto is a planet, so there. Well, I feel better.

Well, have we covered everything? Not just yet. We covered a little about the icy planets, some of which are asteroids located in the asteroid belt revolving around the sun. It is thought that this collection of large rocks as large as 600 miles in diameter, was once a planet that may have gotten too close to Jupiter and was torn to bits by its larger neighbor. I had a neighbor like that once…

One last object, but certainly not least, are the beautiful comets. About one thousand of them have been seen, over the centuries, but there may be many more too far out in space for us to see. Every now and then one comes close enough to be able to be seen even in the daytime. It’s interesting to think when you are looking at one someday think about the gathering of ice, dust, and rock of that comet that was formed back at the beginning of the solar system some four and a half billion years ago.

Clear Skies….

What’s up there this month?

Aug. 4: Moon passes 1.5° south of Neptune

Aug. 8: Moon passes 3° north of Jupiter

Aug. 8: Last Quarter Moon

Aug. 8: Moon passes 3° north of Uranus

Aug. 9: Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation

Aug. 13: Perseid meteor shower peaks

Aug. 16: New Moon

Aug. 16: Moon is a apogee (252,671 miles from Earth)

Aug. 18: Moon passes 1.1° north of asteroid Pallas

Aug. 18: Moon passes 7° north of Mercury

Aug. 18: Moon passes 2° north of Mars

Aug. 23: Mercury is stationary

Aug. 24: Moon is at First Quarter

Aug. 24: Moon passes 1.1° north of Antares

Aug. 27: Saturn is at opposition

Aug. 28: Uranus is stationary

Aug. 30: Moon is at perigee (221,942 miles from the Earth)

Aug. 30: Moon passes 2° south of Saturn

Aug. 30: Full Moon

I am excited to bring you my monthly article on my favorite subject; Astronomy. My interest started in the seventh grade when my Mother, no I mean Santa, brought me my first telescope, a 3" Refractor.... More by David Baumgartner

Many people seem to have trouble figuring outWhat’s up there this month?