Posts Tagged ‘Alpha Centauri’

Planet at Alpha Centauri

October 23, 2012

I have been meaning to write about the planet astronomers have discovered orbiting Alpha Centauri. I think this is quite exciting since Alpha Centauri is the nearest star, except the the Sun of course, only about four light years away. Here is some information from the International Business Times.

A planet with a mass similar to Earth has been discovered in Alpha Centauri System, just right outside our Solar System. What makes this planet stand out among hundreds of exoplanets previously discovered?

Here are 10 Things You Need to Know about Alpha Centauri and this Neighboring Planet:

10. Alpha Centauri is composed of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B and Proxima Centauri, which is shining close to the Sun, the star at the center of the Solar System.

9. Alpha Centauri is a complicated system because its stars orbit one another. Further studies were made to confirm whether the orbiting body is indeed a planet.

8. Alpha Centauri is only 4.3 light years away from Earth.

7. The recently discovered unnamed planet in the Alpha Centauri System has the same mass as Earth. It is the nearest planet to Earth compared to other planets – 840 so far – discovered in the past.

6. In contrast to Mercury’s distance to the sun during orbit, the newly-discovered planet is closer to the star it orbits, suggesting extreme temperature on the surface — about 1,500C, according to scientists.

5. The neighbor planet was found near Alpha Centauri B, six million kilometers away.

4. The Harps instrument spotted the planet from the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla facility in Chile.

3. Four years of observation revealed the planet orbits Alpha Centauri B in just 3.2 to 3.6 days, a far contrast to earth’s 365 days.

2. Normally, more planets are discovered once a planet and its star have been properly identified. “The prospects are excellent for finding further planets in this system. Everything we know indicates that when you find one planet like this you’re very likely to find additional planets further out, so it’s very exciting in terms of looking forward to further detection,” Greg Laughlin of the University of California at Santa Cruz told The Guardian.

1. The Alpha Centauri planet discovery is ordinary-but-promising in space exploration. “Even if the discovery just stands perfectly normal in the discoveries we have had up to now, it’s a landmark discovery, because it’s very low-mass and it’s our closest neighbor,” Stéphane Udry of Switzerland’s Geneva Observatory told BBC.

With a surface temperature of 1500 degrees Celsius, we won’t be colonizing that planet any time soon, and of course, with our present technology, it would still take thousands of years to get there. Well, if they ever invent warp drive, that that will be our first stop.

 

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Trillions and Trillions

July 21, 2011

The United States Federal Government is more than $14 trillion in debt. I think that one of the problems in our political discussions over the debt is that the human mind is simply not designed to comprehend such large numbers. We may understand them on an intellectual level but not on an emotional or “gut” level. I am not sure what the largest number we can really understand intuitively, maybe 20 or 100. Anyone can instantly tell the difference between 10 and 20 or 50 and 100, but when it comes to millions or billions, it’s harder to compare.

The largest number the ancient Greeks and Romans used was the “myriad” which was 10,000. So 50,000 was 50 myriad, 1,000,000 was 100 myriad, and so on. This went up all the way to a myriad myriad which means 100,000,000. They didn’t really need any numbers larger than that.

By the time of the Renaissance, mathematicians and bankers needed larger numbers. The precise meaning of large number names varies from country to country. I will be using American usage.  A million is a thousand thousand. The word million was coined sometime in the 14th century from French and Italian. A billion is a thousand million. The word was coined around 1680 and means simply two + million. A trillion is a thousand billion. The word was also coined around 1680 and means three + million. I could go on with quadrillion, quintillion, and so on but I think you get the point. Anyway mathematicians and scientists who use really large number use scientific notation, which is beyond the scope of this post.

All right now, let’s see if we can understand 14 trillion. Fourteen doesn’t seem to be a large number, does it? Well, let’s convert the trillions to billions giving us  14 thousand billion. That seems a bit larger. Now let’s go further down to millions. Now we have 14 thousand thousand million. One more step. Try thinking about 14 thousand thousand thousand. That sounds like a whole lot more than just 14 trillion.

Whichever way you put it, that is a truly astronomical number. It is more than the number of stars in our galaxy. It is more than the number of galaxies in the observable universe. It’s a little more than half the distance to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, in miles, but give Obama a second term and I’m sure we’ll get there.

If any of this doesn’t help, here is a visual aid I got from life’s little mysteries.

What the 14 Trillion National Debt Looks Like
Infographic Source:

 

With all that in mind, the current controversy concerning the debt limit seems to me to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The iceberg has hit us and we had better start plugging the hole.


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