## Supermassive black holes are *really* massive

How massive are they? The Sun is 1 solar mass and as wide as 109 Earths. Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, weighs 4.3 million solar masses and is as wide as Mercury is far from the Sun. The black hole at the center of the Phoenix Cluster is one of the largest known black holes in the Universe; it’s 73 billion miles across, which is 19 times larger than our entire solar system (from the Sun to Pluto). As for how much it weighs, check this out:

I also like that if you made the Earth into a black hole, it would be the size of a peanut. (thx, reidar)

## Flying through an eclipse

A group of astronomy enthusiasts rented a plane and flew through the shadow cast by the recent eclipse of the Sun. One passenger took the following video. Look at that shadow creeping across the cloud cover! So cool.

P.S. Still super excited for the 2017 eclipse! (via slate)

## Replacement Suns

From the Russian Space Agency, a video of what the sky would look like if the Sun were replaced by some other stars. It starts off with the binary star system of Alpha Centuri, but watch until the end for Polaris, which has a radius 46 times that of the Sun.

## Is it possible to extinguish the Sun with water?

From Quora, an answer to the question “If we pour water on the sun with a bucket as big as the sun, will the sun be extinguished?”

The probable answer is “no.” The Sun involves a special type of fire that is able to “burn” water, and so it will just get hotter, and six times brighter.

Water is 89% oxygen BY MASS. And the Sun’s overall density is 1.4 times that of water. So if you have a volume of water the VOLUME of the Sun, it will have 1/1.4 = 0.71 times the mass of the Sun, and this mass will be .71*.89 = 63% of a solar mass of oxygen and 8% of a solar mass of hydrogen. The Sun itself is 0.74 solar masses of hydrogen and 0.24 solar masses of helium.

So you end up with a 1.7 solar mass star with composition 48% hydrogen, 37% oxygen, and 14% helium (with 1% heavier elements).

Now, will such a star burn? Yes, but not with the type of proton-proton fusion the Sun uses. A star 1.7 times the mass of the Sun will heat up and burn almost entirely by the CNO fusion cycle, after making some carbon and nitrogen to go along with all the oxygen you’ve started with. So with CNO fusion and that mass you get a type F0 star with about 1.3 times the radius and 6 times the luminosity of the present Sun, and a temperature somewhat hotter than the Sun (7200 K vs. the Sun’s 5800 K). It will be bluish-white, with more UV. That, along with that 6 times heat input, will cause the Earth’s biosphere to be fried, and oceans to probably boil.

Well, we probably shouldn’t do that then. (via gizmodo)

## Gorgeous Time Lapse of the Sun

This is a time lapse of the surface of the Sun, constructed of more than 17,000 images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory from Oct 14 to Oct 30, 2014. The bright area that starts on the far right is sunspot AR 12192, the largest observed sunspot since 1990.

The sunspot is about 80,000 miles across (as wide as 10 Earths) and it’s visible from Earth with the naked eye. Best viewed as large as possible…I bet this looks amazing on the new retina iMac. (via @pageman)

## The 2017 total solar eclipse awarded to the United States

I do not officially have a bucket list1 but if I did have one, watching a total solar eclipse would be on it. Was just talking about it the other day in fact. Well. I am pretty damn excited for the Great American Eclipse of 2017!

In August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature’s most wondrous spectacle — a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun’s corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is your guide to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event.

It goes right through the middle of the country too…almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day’s drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.

Weather will definitely play a factor in actually seeing the eclipse, so I will be keeping an eye on Eclipser (“Climatology and Maps for the Eclipse Chaser”) as the event draws near. Early analysis indicates Oregon as the best chance for clear skies. Matt, I am hereby laying claim to your guest room in three years time. So excited!!

1. Also on this hypothetical bucket list: dunking a basketball, going to outer space, learning to surf, and two chicks at the same time.

## A canyon of fire on the Sun

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is getting some really amazing shots of the Sun, including this 200,000 mile-long solar eruption that left a huge canyon on the surface of the Sun:

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.

The level of detail shown is incredible. (via @DavidGrann)

## ISS in transit

Romanian photographer Maximilian Teodorescu recently caught the International Space Station in transit across the Sun.

Teodorescu has also taken photos of the ISS in transit across the Moon.

These photos make the ISS seem tiny and huge all at the same time. And be sure to click through on the links to see the full-sized photos.

## The Sun telescope

Turning the Sun into a giant radio telescope through gravitational lensing will take some work, but it is possible.

An Italian space scientist, Claudio Maccone, believes that gravitational lensing could be used for something even more extraordinary: searching for radio signals from alien civilizations. Maccone wants to use the sun as a gravitational lens to make an extraordinarily sensitive radio telescope. He did not invent the idea, which he calls FOCAL, but he has studied it more deeply than anyone else. A radio telescope at a gravitational focal point of the sun would be incredibly sensitive. (Unlike an optical lens, a gravitational lens actually has many focal points that lie along a straight line, called a focal line; imagine a line running through an observer, the center of the lens, and the target.) For one particular frequency that has been proposed as a channel for interstellar communication, a telescope would amplify the signal by a factor of 1.3 quadrillion.

## A photon’s random walk

The Sun is so dense at its core that the average photon created by the fusion process takes more than 40,000 years to escape to the surface. !!!

The center of the Sun is extremely dense, and a photon can only travel a tiny distance before running into another hydrogen nucleus. It gets absorbed by that nucleus and the re-emitted in a random direction. If that direction is back towards the center of the Sun, the photon has lost ground! It will get re-absorbed, and then re-emitted, over and over, trillions of times.

This is from 1997, so that figure might have been revised a bit (anyone have updated numbers?) but still, that’s incredible. (via hacker news)

## Video portrait of the Sun

In complete defiance of its parents, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has stared directly at the Sun for the past three years. Here’s a video of those three years made from still images taken by the SDO.

During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits the Earth at 6,876 miles per hour and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour.

The video notes say the animation uses two images per day…it would be nice to see the same animation with a higher frame rate. (via ★interesting)

## The vortex view of planetary motion around the Sun

Since the Sun moves relative to the other stars around it at about 45,000 miles/hr, if you change the frame of reference from the Sun to the surrounding stellar system, you get planetary motion that looks something like this:

I would take this video with a grain of salt though, especially when it says things like “the Sun is like a comet, dragging the planets in its wake”…the planets don’t lag behind the Sun. Better to think of the thing as a conceptual schematic: resembling reality but not really accurate. (via @pieratt)

Update: There’s a new version of the video that addresses some of the concerns raised about the first video:

(thx, john)

Update: Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy has posted a pretty thorough takedown of this video.

However, there’s a problem with it: It’s wrong. And not just superficially; it’s deeply wrong, based on a very wrong premise. While there are some useful visualizations in it, I caution people to take it with a galaxy-sized grain of salt.

## Time lapse video of the transit of Venus

Venus passed in front of the Sun yesterday for the last time until 2117. The transit took almost seven hours but this NASA video shows it in under a minute.

## Solar eclipse…by Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft caught this remarkable photo of Saturn eclipsing the Sun in 2006.

Click through for the big image and the massive image. If you look close can see the Earth in the image, for reals!

## Big orange ball

What is this, do you think? Electron microscope photo of pollen? Infrared tennis ball? Mars? The inside of a baseball?

It’s actually a photo of the Sun taken at the H-alpha wavelength by an amateur astronomer.

## Sun may affect radioactive decay rates

During a search for a radioactive isotope-based random number generator, researchers discovered that radioactive decay rates, previously thought to be constant, appear to be influenced by the activity of the Sun.

On Dec 13, 2006, the sun itself provided a crucial clue, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth. Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins, while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics, noticed that the rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.

If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares prior to their occurrence, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space.

The decay-rate aberrations that Jenkins noticed occurred during the middle of the night in Indiana — meaning that something produced by the sun had traveled all the way through the Earth to reach Jenkins’ detectors. What could the flare send forth that could have such an effect?

Jenkins and Fischbach guessed that the culprits in this bit of decay-rate mischief were probably solar neutrinos, the almost massless particles famous for flying at nearly the speed of light through the physical world — humans, rocks, oceans or planets — with virtually no interaction with anything.

Maybe the science part of 2012 wasn’t so far-fetched after all. (No, not really.)

## The solar superstorm of 1859

A massive solar flare on September 1, 1859 “caused the most potent disruption of Earth’s ionosphere in recorded history”.

Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights, solar-induced phenomena more closely associated with regions near Earth’s North Pole, were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole.

(via the browser)

## Our three Suns

In early July, a photographer took a picture of what appears to be three Suns rising over Gdansk Bay in Poland.

The photographer insists that the effect was not created by the camera and was visible to the naked eye. The early consensus in the forums is that the photo was taken through a double-paned window.

## Photos of the Sun

The Big Picture collects photos of the Sun. I’ve featured a number of these on kottke.org before but it never hurts to look often at the Sun.

## Sunspots in Grand Central

The southern wall of the Grand Concourse, facing 42nd Street, has semicircular grills high up, with small curlicued spaces like those in a leafy tree. Many of those spaces act like the aperture of a pinhole camera, reflecting an image of the sun that, when it reaches the floor, will be 8 to 12 inches wide. The smaller grill spaces will produce dimmer but sharper solar images on your paper.

(via 92y blog)

## The One Day Poem Pavilion uses the

The One Day Poem Pavilion uses the sun to display a poem one line at a time over the course of an entire day. (via stingy kids)

## Solar furnaces

A solar furnace is a structure used to harness the rays of the sun in order to produce high temperatures. This is achieved by using a curved mirror (or an array of mirrors) acting as a parabolic reflector to concentrate light (Insolation) on to a focal point. The temperature at the focal point may reach up to 3,000 degrees Celsius, and this heat can be used to generate electricity, melt steel or make hydrogen fuel.

If you’ve got an old TV, you can use the Fresnel lens to make a solar furnace of your own. Caveats apply:

DANGER! This device is extremely dangerous. It should not be constructed or operated by anyone who does not observe proper safety precautions. It will instantly destroy flesh. It will melt metals, ceramics, and most any other material. Always wear welding goggles when operating this device! DO NOT leave this device unattended.

This DIY solar furnace is capable of melting brick (!!) and will “boil” a quarter in ~25 seconds.

Solar furnaces and the like have been around for centuries. In the 3rd century BC, Archimedes allegedly used a mirror to burn up the entire Roman fleet during the seige of Syracuse:

When Marcellus withdrew them [his ships] a bow-shot, the old man [Archimedes] constructed a kind of hexagonal mirror, and at an interval proportionate to the size of the mirror he set similar small mirrors with four edges, moved by links and by a form of hinge, and made it the centre of the sun’s beams—its noon-tide beam, whether in summer or in mid-winter. Afterwards, when the beams were reflected in the mirror, a fearful kindling of fire was raised in the ships, and at the distance of a bow-shot he turned them into ashes. In this way did the old man prevail over Marcellus with his weapons.

This assertion was tested at MIT and on Mythbusters with mixed results. (via delicious ghost)

## Closeup videos of the sun. The bottom

Closeup videos of the sun. The bottom one is especially mesmerizing.