Today PhilÕs explaining the stars and how they can be categorized using their spectra. Together with their distance, this provides a wealth of information about them including their luminosity, size, and temperature. The HR diagram plots starsÕ luminosity versus temperature, and most stars fall along the main sequence, where they live most of their lives.
How do astronomers make sense out of the vastness of space? How do they study things so far away? Today Phil talks about distances, going back to early astronomy. Ancient Greeks were able to find the size of the Earth, and from that the distance to and the sizes of the Moon and Sun.
In order to understand how we study the universe, we need to talk a little bit about light. Light is a form of energy. Its wavelength tells us its energy and color. Spectroscopy allows us to analyze those colors and determine an objectÕs temperature, density, spin, motion, and chemical composition.
Today Phil helps keep you from ticking off an astronomer in your life by making sure you know the difference between a meteor, meteorite, and meteoroid. When the Earth plows through the stream emitted by a comet we get a meteor shower. Meteors burn up about 100 km above the Earth, but some survive to hit the ground.
Now that weÕre done with the planets, asteroid belt, and comets, weÕre heading to the outskirts of the solar system. Out past Neptune are vast reservoirs of icy bodies that can become comets if they get poked into the inner solar system.
Today on Crash Course Astronomy, Phil explains comets. Comets are chunks of ice and rock that orbit the Sun. When they get near the Sun the ice turns into gas, forming the long tail, and also releases dust that forms a different tail. WeÕve visited comets up close and found them to be lumpy, with vents in the surface that release the gas as ice sublimates.
Now that weÕve finished our tour of the planets, weÕre headed back to the asteroid belt. Asteroids are chunks of rock, metal, or both that were once part of smallish planets but were destroyed after collisions. Most orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, but some get near the Earth.
Today weÕre rounding out our planetary tour with ice giants Uranus and Neptune. Both have small rocky cores, thick mantles of ammonia, water, and methane, and atmospheres that make them look greenish and blue. Uranus has a truly weird rotation and relatively dull weather, while Neptune has clouds and storms whipped by tremendous winds.
Saturn is the crown jewel of the solar system, beautiful and fascinating. It is a gas giant, and has a broad set of rings made of ice particles. Saturn has dozens of moons, including Titan, which is as big as Mercury and has a thick atmosphere and lakes of methane; and Enceladus which has an undersurface ocean and eruptions of water geysers.
Before moving on from Jupiter to Saturn, weÕre going to linger for a moment on JupiterÕs moons. There are 67 known moons, and 4 huge ones that we want to explore in greater detail.
Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. The gas giant is NOT a failed star, but a really successful planet! It has a dynamic atmosphere with belts and zones, as well as an enormous red spot thatÕs actually a persistent hurricane.
In today's Crash Course Astronomy, Phil takes a look at the explosive history of our cosmic backyard. We explore how we went from a giant ball of gas to the system of planets and other celestial objects we have today.
Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. It has no atmosphere and is, as such, covered in craters. It's also incredibly hot but, surprisingly, has water ice hiding beneath its surface.
Venus is a gorgeous naked-eye planet, hanging like a diamond in the twilight -- but itÕs beauty is best looked at from afar. Even though Mercury is closer to the sun, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, due to a runaway greenhouse effect, and has the most volcanic activity in the solar system.
The fourth planet from the sun and the outermost of the terrestrial planets, Mars has long been a popular spot for missions and imagination. Phil walks you through the planet's topography, core, and features. We'll take a look back to Mars's past and makes predictions for its future, including the possibilities for human life.