How to See ‘Star Trek’ Worlds in the Night Sky – By Andrew Fazekas PUBLISHED JULY 22, 2016

The artist's depiction shows one possible vision of Kepler 452b, the closest thing to an Earth cousin seen by NASA's Kepler telescope. --  ILLUSTRATION BY NASA AMES, JPL/CALTECH, T. PYLE

The artist’s depiction shows one possible vision of Kepler 452b, the closest thing to an Earth cousin seen by NASA’s Kepler telescope. —

In the Star Trek universe, habitable worlds abound, fueling the adventures of the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise. In the latest movie, Star Trek Beyond, much of the action takes place on Altamid, a rugged wilderness world filled with exotic forests and perilous canyons and mountains.

Across the franchise, such Earth-like worlds are designated as M-class planets, a fictional classification derived from the Vulcan word Minshara.

Trek fans will know many examples of famous class M-class planets, such as Vulcan, Romulus, and Qo’noS, the home worlds of key alien species. While many of these worlds were conjured up by the show’s writers decades ago, today’s planet-hunting astronomers are finding scores of real-life counterparts outside our solar system. (Find out what else the fictional Star Trek universe got right about real-world science.)

Rocky planets like Earth are relatively puny compared to their host stars, making these worlds hard to see and even harder to characterize. But in the last two decades, astronomers have successfully developed indirect detection methods to find ever smaller, more Earth-like planets. Today the tally of confirmed alien worlds has reached nearly 3,000, with a handful that are considered rocky and potentially habitable.

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How to See the Total Solar Eclipse, No Matter Where You Are – By Andrew Fazekas PUBLISHED Mon Mar 07 07:00:14 EST 2016

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between Earth and the sun.  PHOTOGRAPH BY CARSTEN PETER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between Earth and the sun.

Lucky skywatchers in Southeast Asia get a rare front-row seat to a total eclipse on March 8 and 9, and Pacific islanders will see a still-dazzling partial eclipse. But the rest of the world doesn’t have to miss out: If you can’t hop a plane to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you can watch it live online.

(Just come back to this page and scroll down to see our handy video feed, below.)

 `The moon passes between Earth and the sun every month, but a total solar eclipse happens only when the three celestial bodies are perfectly aligned. And this particular eclipse is even more special: It’s happening while the moon is at its closest point to Earth—called perigee—making the moon appear larger in the sky, as a “supermoon.”

The moon casts its dark central shadow, called the umbra, onto a very narrow strip along the surface of the Earth. The strip from which the upcoming total eclipse will be visible lies mostly over the Pacific Ocean.

Over the course of about three hours, the moon’s dark shadow first touches land over Sumatra, Indonesia, at 6 p.m. EST Tuesday evening in North America (Wednesday in Indonesia).

The path of the totality—where the entire face of the sun is covered—then races across central Borneo, Sulawesi, and moves across the International Date Line into March 8. The shadow will pass quickly northeastward across the Pacific Ocean until vanishing near Hawaii.

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How to Build an 80-foot-wide Telescope Mirror to See Deep Space – By Buddy Martin, University of Arizona, Dae Wook Kim, University of Arizona, The Conversation on January 15, 2016

Two scientists working on the Giant Magellan Telescope explain the mammoth and intricate construction

Artist’s concept of the completed Giant Magellan Telescope which will be situated in the Atacama Desert some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile. GMTO Corporation/Wikimedia Commons

When astronomers point their telescopes up at the sky to see distant supernovae or quasars, they’re collecting light that’s traveled millions or even billions of light-years through space. Even huge and powerful energy sources in the cosmos are unimaginably tiny and faint when we view them from such a distance. In order to learn about galaxies as they were forming soon after the Big Bang, and about nearby but much smaller and fainter objects, astronomers need more powerful telescopes.

Perhaps the poster child for programs that require extraordinary sensitivity and the sharpest possible images is the search for planets around other stars, where the body we’re trying to detect is extremely close to its star and roughly a billion times fainter. Finding earth-like planets is one of the most exciting prospects for the next generation of telescopes, and could eventually lead to discovering extraterrestrial signatures of life.

Detectors in research telescopes are already so sensitive that they capture almost every incoming photon, so there’s only one way to detect fainter objects and resolve structure on finer scales: build a bigger telescope. A large telescope doesn’t just capture more photons, it can also produce sharper images. That’s because the wave nature of light sets a limit to the telescope’s resolution, known as the diffraction limit; the sharpness of the image depends on the wavelength of the light and the telescope’s diameter.

As optical scientists, our contribution to the next generation of telescopes is figuring out how to craft the gargantuan mirrors they rely on to collect light from far away. Here’s how we’re perfecting the technology that will enable tomorrow’s astrophysical discoveries.

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A Star-Crossed ‘Scientific Fact’: The Story Of Vulcan, Planet That Never Was – NPR STAFF Updated November 30, 20151:46 AM ET

There’s a common misconception that science is purely about cold, hard facts — concrete evidence, mathematical models and replicable experiments to explain the world around us.

It’s easy to forget that there are people behind the data and equations. And when people are involved, there is always room for human error.

The Hunt for Vulcan
The Hunt for Vulcan

And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

by Thomas Levenson

In The Hunt For Vulcan, author Thomas Levenson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores one glaring error that was taken as fact for more than 50 years: the belief that there was another planet in our solar system that we couldn’t see behind the sun.

The mistake started with good science, Levenson says: the observation of something odd, and the development of a reasonable hypothesis to explain it.

“In the mid-19th century, an extremely talented astronomer — a really, really top-flight guy — was studying the orbit of the planet Mercury, and he found that there was a wobble in it. There was an unexplained extra residue of motion,” Levenson tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

And, Levenson says that according to the prevailing science of the time, there was a clear explanation for that: “another planet that we hadn’t yet discovered, inside the orbit of Mercury, that could tug it just slightly off its expected course.”

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the theory was announced, both amateur and professional astronomers reported that they’d actually spotted the planet. The planet was named Vulcan, and its orbit was calculated. It all appeared quite cut and dry.

Then Albert Einstein came along.

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