The Fukang Meteorite
Back in the year 2000, an incredible meteorite weighing 2,211 pounds was discovered near Fukang, a city located in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, China. Named the Funkang meteorite, it was identified as a pallasite, a type of stony–iron meteorite. With 4.5 billion years in the making, its golden olivine mixed with silvery nickel-iron to create a stunningly beautiful mosaic effect.
Pallasites are extremely rare even among meteorites (only about 1% of all meteorites are this type) and Fukang has been hailed as one of the greatest meteorite discoveries of the 21st century.
It has since been divided into slices which give the effect of stained glass when the sun shines through them. It is so valuable that even tiny chunks sell in the region for $40 to $60 a gram. An anonymous collector holds the largest portion, which weighs 925 pounds.
❝ A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic. ❞
Carl Sagan (via stereobone)
The cosmic neighborhood gets a little bigger
On Wednesday, the ESO announced that they discovered a rocky earth-sized planet around our closest neighbor, Alpha Centauri.
Alpha Centauri (α Cen) is a three-star system consisting of a binary star pair (α Cen A and α Cen B). A third star, Proxima Centauri (α Cen C), is gravitationally bound to the binary pair. The system is 4.4 light years from Earth.
The planet, known as Alpha Centauri Bb, orbits α Cen B at 6 million km (3.7 million miles)—that’s nearly 10x closer than Mercury orbits the Sun (check out this NYTimes graphic). At that distance, it is likely tidally locked with its star, meaning that one side of the planet is always facing it (e.g., the moon is tidally locked with the earth). Its surface temperature is estimated at 1200ºC (2192ºF)—for comparison, the hottest surface temp in our solar system is Venus at 462ºC (863ºF).
The planet was detected using the wobble method (that’s “doppler spectroscopy” for those of you who dislike colloquialisms), wherein astronomers watch a star closely and measure the amount of “wobble”, or movement that can’t be explained by anything visible. According to OBSPM, over 90% of “existing” exoplanets have been detected this way.
(Read the ESO press release; more at NYTimes, HuffPo, Bad Astronomy)
If you want to try your hand at discovering planets yourself, Zooniverse has a Planet Hunters program that is a lot of fun, here.
Solar Eclipse Analemma
If you were to go outside and take a picture of the sun from the same spot and time of day for an entire year, you could track the movement of the sun in the sky, and that movement would look exactly like this: a figure eight. This is called an analemma, and the term for an analemma containing a solar eclipse is a tutulemma, a term based on the Turkish word for eclipse. (x)
Charles Jencks is the American landscape architect and designer behind this incredible flight of stairs. Called The Universe Cascade, it has 25 landings that mark the important shifts in cosmic history. Starting at the top, in the present day, and descending down, visitors are moving through 13 billion years of cosmic evolution. The steps finally disappear into the dark water below, which represents the mystery of the origin of the universe.
❝ Summer night—
even the stars
are whispering to each other. ❞
Kobayashi Issa (via larmoyante)