Science, Nature and Tech

What is the Orionid Meteor Shower?

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Sam has worked as a forensic scientist as well as for the British government, and has degrees in both archaeology and osteoarchaeology. She has 2 children, is passionate about science, reading, history and music, and loves dyeing her hair bright colours!

Sam blogs about all kinds of science at www.samanthagouldson.com.
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This October Earth will be passing through the tail of Halley’s comet, which will mean a shower of meteors flashing across the night sky. Our science editor Sam Gouldson explains.

What is Halley’s Comet?

A comet is a lump of rocky particles, ice and dust all bound together like a dirty snowball. When the comet nears a star, its surface transforms from a solid to a gas. The star’s light shines through these gases and makes them visible to observers as a fuzzy cloud around the comet’s centre, and a tail streaming out behind.

Observations of Halley’s comet have been recorded since 240 BCE, but it was Edmond Halley (pronounced HAL-ee or HAY-lee) who first realised that the comet was returning to Earth periodically and must, therefore, be orbiting the same star that we do.

Until Halley’s calculations in 1705 it was believed that comets merely passed through our solar system; using his friend Isaac Newton’s new laws of gravity and motion he worked out that the comet appeared every 75-76 years. It still does – it was last visible from Earth in 1986 and will next be seen in 2061.

What does the Meteor Shower have to do with the Comet?

Although we won’t see Halley’s comet again for 45 years, its presence is still felt. Every October Earth passes through debris left behind when the comet’s surface melts; as the dust and particles come into contact with our atmosphere at speeds of up to 145,000 kilometres per hour they burn up. This is known as a meteor shower or shooting stars.

Why are They Called the Orionids?

Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation of stars that they seem to come from, although of course, they originate much closer to our planet. For example, the Leonids are seen close to the constellation Leo, while the Geminids are seen near the constellation of Gemini. The Orionids (pronounced o-RYE-on-ids), as you may have guessed, are seen close to the constellation of Orion.

The constellation Orion, named after the hunter from Greek mythology. The three stars in the centre are known as Orion's belt. (Image: NASA).

The constellation Orion, named after the hunter from Greek mythology. The three stars in the centre are known as Orion’s belt. (Image: NASA).

How Can We See Them?

This year the Orionids are visible from the 4th October to the 14th November, but they’re at their brightest and most frequent on the 21st and 22nd October between midnight and dawn. You’ll need to be outside so wrap up warmly, and find a spot that doesn’t have much light pollution – a hilltop or the middle of a park are usually good spots. Look towards the southeastern part of the sky where Orion is, and you could see up to 20 meteors per hour.

 

Still not sure what to look for? Check out these videos:

This one has time stamps that you can click.

 

Sam has also written about the differences between asteroids, comets and meteors

Featured image: Orionid meteor shower by John Flannery

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Science, Nature and Tech

New Horizons – the Pluto flyby

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Sam

Sam has worked as a forensic scientist as well as for the British government, and has degrees in both archaeology and osteoarchaeology. She has 2 children, is passionate about science, reading, history and music, and loves dyeing her hair bright colours!

Sam blogs about all kinds of science at www.samanthagouldson.com.
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On Tuesday July 14th at 12:49 BST, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, the ninth planet in our solar system. But why is it there and what is it looking for?

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Science, Nature and Tech

Science News – Solar Storms Due to Hit Earth

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Sam

Sam has worked as a forensic scientist as well as for the British government, and has degrees in both archaeology and osteoarchaeology. She has 2 children, is passionate about science, reading, history and music, and loves dyeing her hair bright colours!

Sam blogs about all kinds of science at www.samanthagouldson.com.
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This weekend the Earth is due to be hit by a pair of solar storms that might affect radio and satellite communication. But how and why does this happen?

What Does Solar Mean?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything that is related to a sun is commonly described as being solar. Our sun is a typical medium-sized yellow star which is about 5 billion years old. Its surface temperature is about 5,500°C, but even that isn’t as hot as its superheated centre. Some parts of the sun’s surface are cooler, with a temperature of between 2,700–4,200°C, and these appear darker when viewed through specialised telescopes. These cooler patches are caused by fluctuations in the sun’s magnetism and are called sun spots.

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Science, Nature and Tech

A Kid-Friendly Explanation of The Big Bang & An Amazing New Discovery by Scientists

kid-friendly explanation of Big Bang

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Sam

Sam has worked as a forensic scientist as well as for the British government, and has degrees in both archaeology and osteoarchaeology. She has 2 children, is passionate about science, reading, history and music, and loves dyeing her hair bright colours!

Sam blogs about all kinds of science at www.samanthagouldson.com.
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Most scientists believe that the Universe began in a Big Bang around 14 billion years ago. The entire Universe was inside a bubble thousands of times smaller than a pinhead, and was hotter and denser than anything we can imagine.

When the explosion called the Big Bang happened, the Universe as we know it was born. In a fraction of a second, the Universe grew from smaller than a single atom to larger than a galaxy. It kept on growing, and is still expanding today.

Now researchers in America think they have found traces left in the sky that prove this that the Big Bang did really happen. It takes the form of a distinctive twist in the oldest light detectable with telescopes. These twists of light are called ‘gravitational waves’ – the effect is a little bit like how waves form on the surface when you drop a big stone in a pond. However, you also have to imagine that the Big Bang formed the pond itself.

 

 

The team leading the project, known as BICEP2, has been using a telescope at the South Pole to make detailed observations of a small patch of sky. The aim was to find evidence of ‘inflation’ – the idea that the cosmos grew rapidly in its first trillionth, or trillionth of a trillionth of a second – growing from something unimaginably small to something about the size of a marble.

The leader of the team, Prof John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said:

 

“This is opening a window on what we believe to be a new regime of physics – the physics of what happened in the first unbelievably tiny fraction of a second in the Universe.”

 

Over the coming years, scientists will work hard to investigate every aspect of this discovery. Other experiments will be carried out to see if they can replicate the findings of the American team. If this research is confirmed, it will be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time.

 

 
 
EDIT
 
Dr Sarah Bearchell drew our attention to this video, which explains the concept of gravity and gravitational waves with the help of a towel, an apple and a ping pong ball. Check it out
  

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