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Posts tagged ‘planets’

Safariology: All the rest

So in the first part of Safariology we covered the sets that involve life cycles, be they bee, plant, or frog.

In this part we cover the other sets in the series we shall be carrying. There are only 2 but they are awesome!

First up is Evolution of Man which is a 5 piece series that covers several stages of human evolution:



Time for Saturn Viewing!

May is going to be an excellent month for viewing planets – Mars is still quite prominent, Jupiter will show up nicely in the Western sky as the sun sets, Mercury makes one of its rare viewable times on the 25th of this month, and Venus will continue to greet early risers. But the big star….err…planet of the month is Saturn.




MOVA Solar Powered Spinning Globes

We’ve been waiting for these to come in, and now they are here. We are talking about the MOVA Solar Powered Spinning Globes!


These globes sit on their base and with just a little bit of light will spin. If you pick up the globe it will still spin! Put it on the table and it continues to spin! There is no cord, no batteries, and really odd is no obvious solar cells.

The secret is that the the globe is actually immersed in a liquid that in turn is inside a clear acrylic globe. There are solar panels located behind the printed image of the globe. Since the globe only needs a little bit of light to runt he drive mechanism this works out fine. Let;s take a look at a video of the globe in action:

The MOVA globes are a great desktop toy. and don’t just come as a globe. We also have ones that are the surface of the Moon


And also one that is the Planet Jupiter



There are more of these MOVA globes available and we will be adding more very soon. Keep an eye out on this blog for more Solar Spinning Globes.

Want to buy a solar spinning Earth? Moon? Jupiter?


Beetling 3D Wall Designs – Solar System & Astronaut Set

UPDATE 6/23/14:  In early 2014 the Beetling company stated they had to move their studios to a new location. After several months they have not returned to operations, have barely answered their email, had no updated to their Facebook page, and now their main webpage would appear to be defunct. With this in mind we are assuming that they are now out of business and no longer producing 3D Wall designs. Note that we have broken the links to the Beetling products due to the endless number of ‘Do you still have these?’ queries. The answer is: No, we do not.

Beetling Wall decorations are individually casted and painted three-dimensional wall mounted works of art, suitable for any child’s space. They are easily installed onto walls and create a great sense of fun for that room. Beetling 3D decoration castings are made of signature Designer Blended Foam,  a non-toxic and child safe material that is extremely light-weight and durable. We paint with Low VOC, child-safe water based paints and finishes.

Beetlings are very easy to install and each piece comes with step-by-step instructions on how to install them to any wall. Your 3D wall art piece can be ready in minutes in most cases as only a few screws are needed to hold it in place. If you need to move, the Beetling pieces uninstall as fast as they install.

Beetling has several series, including Dinosaurs and Safari, but in this post we shall be looking at the Beetling 3D Solar System. Complete with planets, astronaut, and our Moon!


The kit includes a 3D Astronaut:


The Astronaut really does justify the term 3D in this case, as can be seen from another angle:


There are 9 planets….ok, 8 planets and Pluto – give them a break they designed this thing before Pluto got downgraded. There is also the Moon. The planets, Moon and Astronaut can be arranged any way that fits you wall.


or for example:


The planets have excellent detail. Here is the Earth, for example:


or Jupiter:


They did an excellent job on the striping. Showing their attention to detail Uranus has a ring, as it does:


A bit generous of a ring, but it gives it a ring of detail and authenticity.

In addition to the Planets, Pluto, Moon and Astronaut there is also a detailed instruction sheet on how to paint the wall in that “Outer Space” scheme with comets, whisps of Nebulea, and other celestial objects. It give a real flair to the atmosphere of the set. Paint is not included but is not hard to obtain.

Oh, and of course we have a video:

Want to buy Beetling 3D Solar System Wall Decorations?




5 Planets Visible

This isn’t rare, but it isn’t really common either. This month (or at least this week) astronomical viewers can have a chance to see 5 planets in a single evening.

After sunset, Mercury will be visible just above the horizon in the West sky – and we do mean just. Trees and houses may block your view of Mercury. However Venus and Jupiter will be more visible right above them also right after sunset, nice and bright, along with Mars, which while still not in occultation is pretty bright, rising in the East  just after sunset.

Later in the evening, Saturn will rise in the Eastern sky – this is the only planet you will need to wait for  as it is not immediately visible after sundown.

Although Mercury may be blocked by buildings, all of these planets can be seen with the naked eye, even in light-polluted areas.

For your best viewing be sure to get an area with a clear horizon so that all the planets can be seen.

Happy viewing!


Astronomy Hints #6 – Viewing the Outer Planets

So in our last Astronomy Hints we discussed how to view the inner planets.

This time we’ll be discussing the outer planets That means the Gas Giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. We’ll also talk about the dwarf planets as well – or at least one of them.

So let’s get started:

JUPITER – Jupiter is very bright and usually little effected by light pollution. When viewing Jupiter you should stick to moderate magnifications levels – don’t ‘crank it up’ as it were. You should be able to see some of the banding, but don’t expect much color. Most of what you will see are bands of brown and gray. The edges of Jupiter will also likely appear a bit hazy and undefined at times. What should be clear are a number of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. There can be up to 4 visible at any time.  As you use larger telescopes, the bands may appear more defined and there should be more of them visible in the telescope. Jupiter is one of the most impressive things to be seen in a telescope, and anyone who does not point his telescope at it at least once is missing out.

SATURN -Equally impressive, if for different reasons is Saturn, the ringed planet. How well you see Saturn depends on the size of telescope you are using. In a small (60mm) telescope Saturn appears almost like a cartoon of an eye. The Planet itself forming the center of the eye and the rings acting like an outline. As you get larger telescopes the rings get more defined and you should start to get a hint of the Cassini Division – the largest separation in Saturn’s rings. Over the years, our angle of looking at Saturn’s rings changes so that at times we are looking at the ring edge-on, other times the gap is as wide as it will ever get. Like Jupiter, moderate power is the key.

URANUS – Uranus is the first of the major planets that is invisible to the naked eye. Uranus can be tricky to find but with the proper start charts or programs it shouldn’t be too hard. Once found, Uranus should have a gray-greenish/blue color in your telescope. There won’t be many details – Uranus’ surface is pretty uniform.

NEPTUNE – Now considered the furthest planet in our Solar System, Neptune, like Uranus, is invisible to the naked eye.  Once you do find it it should be uniform like Uranus, but also a slightly darker blue.

PLUTO  – Only recently demoted from planet status, we still get a lot of people asking about how to view what was for a long time considered the furthest planet in our solar system. Pluto is….tricky. Keep in mind it eluded view until the 20th century and sneaky techniques were needed to spot it.  Even if you do manage to find Pluto it is not an impressive view – it looks like any other star. Don’t feel too badly, the Hubble doesn’t get much detail either. Pluto is rather faint and probably not visible in smaller telescopes. You should keep magnification low and know what you are looking for!

Stellar Comparisons (and other space related comparisons!)

We’re kind of busy today and will be on vacation all next week, so we’re going to just to a more visual blog entry today. A few size comparison pictures, charts and videos.

Let’s start with a little image showing the retired Space Shuttle next to the incredible Saturn V rocket, as well as some of the Ares rockets:








(click for a larger version of this image)

Now we looked for an image of ISS Space Station compared with other objects, but sadly most such comparison pictures usually had fictional ships as a basis of comparison (USS Enterprise, Battlestar Galactica, etc.). But there was an image of the ISS compared with a Boeing 747:









But what about the non-man-made objects that populate our Solar System and the Universe at large? There are actually a number of videos doing comparisons of the relative sizes. Here’s a couple of the better ones:





Neptune finishes a year

The planet Neptune was discovered in September 23, 1846, the first half of the 19th century. As of today, July 12th, 2011,  it has made 1 full orbit of the Sun since its discovery.

Neptune is our solar system’s furthest known planet (with Pluto now being considered a dwarf planet). Its orbit is so far out that it requires 164.79 years to complete a year. Today marks the day that would make it a complete years since its discovery by Johann Galle.

Uranus, whose wobbly orbit was used to locate Neptune, has by comparison completed 2 years since its discovery in1781. It is also well into completing a third year.


What happened to Pluto?

As you may well know, a few years ago there was quite a bit of controversy in the Astronomical circles when the long beloved Pluto was demoted from being a planet to a new classification ‘dwarf planet‘. There was much lamenting of this decision. Even today a search of ‘Pluto’ on Facebook will turn up not less than a half-dozen groups lamenting the fact that Pluto was demoted.

Many gripe that the only planet discovered by an American tainted the decision, some demand  it remain a planet  for nostalgia’s sake. Only a few folks know the reason why Pluto is now classified like it is:

  First of all, let us understand that this is not the first time this has happened! In the past people once considered Ceres to a be planet. It was actually listed as such in most educational texts of the time. But as more discoveries of asteroids were made that classification changed as well. More on Ceres in a little bit.

Pluto was considered a planet from its discovery in the 1930’s to only about 5 years ago. The seeds of the problems started when Chiron, discovered in the 1970’s was spotted in what would be known as the Kuiper Belt.  But Astronomers effectively shelved the problem and dealt with other science issues.  This gave Pluto a reprieve from scrutiny for almost 30 years. But then more discoveries were made.

The discovery of Eris (nicknamed ‘Xena’ for a short time) by Mike Brown (who incidentally twitters under the name ‘Plutokiller’) in 2005 made it apparent that there was a lot more such planets in the Kuiper belt. The discoveries of more Kuiper belt denizens soon cascaded. Something had to be done about classification of these new objects and the international astronomers dithered and delayed once more.

Enter Neil deGrasse Tyson, the world’s sexiest Astrophysicist according to ‘People’ magazine and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Neil was working with the American Natural History Museum to put in a display of the planets of the solar system. They wanted to classify the planets by type. That is the rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) and the Gas Giants (Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus).  From there they would have special descriptions of each planet’s unique features.

This classification presented a big problem: Pluto doesn’t fit into either category. It certainly isn’t a gas giant, but it is not a rocky planet either. In fact, structurally speaking, Pluto has more in common with Comets than with the planets of the solar system. If Pluto were to break orbit and fly towards the sun, it would actually develop a tail just a like comets do! This made its classification very hard to do. There were other issues as well – while we have excellent photos of all the planets – some of them from even before the various  space probes were launched – we had very few decent images of  Pluto, partly because of its structure. In fact the photo you see near the top of this article is actually one of the best shots of Pluto ever taken, and it is still just a dot of light!

So Neil and the developers of the Hayden museum simply did not put in a display for Pluto. But then the media noticed the missing Pluto. Soon there were articles in New York newspapers decrying the lack of a Pluto and Neil’s explanation that Pluto might be recategorized was not enough. Now astronomers around the world had to make a decision: they could ignore the structural issues of Pluto, they could ignore Chiron in the 70’s, they could ignore the recent discovery of other Kuiper belt objects, but they could not ignore the media attention.

So there were some meetings of international astronomers to make some decisions. Part of the problem is that there wasn’t really a good definition of what a ‘Planet’ really is! ‘Planet’ simply means ‘wanderer’ in ancient Greek and referred to those objects that meandered forward and backwards in the sky compared to the stars around them. That was caused by retrograde motion but it led to their terminology. When new objects were discovered, such as Neptune and Uranus, the same term was used for them. There was only one glitch – when Ceres was discovered and termed a planet – until many more objects in the same region were discovered and a new term ‘asteroid’ was applied.

At first, not wanting to surrender Pluto as a planet they astronomers came up a with a rather poor definition. It was decided that any object that had sufficient mass to make a spherical shape and orbited the sun would be considered a planet. This decision, while saving Pluto from a status change, caused more problems than it solved. It meant that Ceres was once again a planet, and that the dozen or so Kuiper belt objects would also be classified as such. Our Solar System would now go from 9 planets to potentially over 20! This would not work.

So soon another decision was reached and a new condition was added. To be considered a planet an object had to meet three classifications:

1) Be in orbit around the sun

2) Be of sufficient size to form a roughly spherical shape


3) “Cleared its neighborhood” of other bodies.

This 3rd classification is what demoted Pluto. It had captured a moon: Charon, but the area of its orbit was still filled with other objects. Pluto had not cleaned its room. It was demoted from planet-hood.

But what to call the new objects? If they filled the first two qualifications they would be designated a new classification:  ‘dwarf planet’, sometimes referred to as “plutoids”.  Pluto and many of the newly discovered Kuiper belt objects went into this new category – and celestial poster-makers had to add a line saying ‘Pluto is no longer considered a planet’ to their prints.

Oddly enough, what was bad for Pluto was good for Ceres. After it had been demoted from being a Planet  to being an Asteroid in the 19th century, Ceres is now promoted to Dwarf Planet status. It is the only Dwarf Planet not int he Kuiper Belt or further out (although another asteroid, Vesta, might be classified as such – the Vesta probe will arrive in July of this year (2011) to determine more about its shape!

As astronomer Phil Plait put it, this really was no more than a distraction.  While we may be fond of our childhood mnemonic devices that help us remember the planets names, in the end it really doesn’t matter what we call a celestial object. Each one is unique and will have to be studied for its special features. With planets being discovered in other solar systems all the time we now have even more concerns and things to study rather than worry about what to call something. In the end, it is just a name.

Note: This article is a re-write from Spectrum Scientifics old blog.