The third-brightest star in Orion, Bellatrix, is often overlooked. And yet Bellatrix is such a wonderful star. The name means “Female Warrior,” which some find odd since the original Arabic title translates as “Conqueror.” But – throughout the world – women understand. Bellatrix represents Orion’s left shoulder. Although it appears only as the 22nd brightest star in our heavens, in reality it is a hot, blue giant some 240 light-years away.
Georgia State University astronomers announced on December 9, 2013 that they now have observational evidence for the theoretically predicted break between very low-mass stars and brown dwarfs. They say they can point to a precise temperature, radius and luminosity of the lowest mass stars. According to these astronomers, in order to be a star, an object must have temperature of at least 2,100 K, a radius 8.7% that of our sun, and a luminosity or intrinsic brightness 1/8000th that of the sun.
Scientists have discovered huge reserves of freshwater beneath oceans off of Australia, China, North America and South Africa. An estimated half a million cubic kilometers of low-salinity water are buried beneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world, according to a new study, published December 5, 2013 in the journal Nature.
What a difference a year makes, when it comes to weather and climate. 2012 was considered a very mild winter for the United States. We didn’t see significant winter storms or extreme cold temperatures across the lower 48. However, winter 2013-2014 is dramatically different. Even though Northern Hemisphere winter does not officially begin until December 21, 2013, winter has already made its presence known across the United States. In many part of the western U.S., temperatures have already fallen below zero. For today’s date – December 9, 2013 – there is more snow on the ground in the U.S. than on this date in at least the past 10 years.
The 2013 Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of December 13-14, though the night before (December 12-13) should offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. The show starts at mid-to-late evening and ends at dawn. The meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night. Don’t let the moonlight discourage you. These meteors are bright! No matter your location, Geminid meteors will fall most abundantly after midnight on December 13 and 14.
Expert observers are reporting an unexpected outburst of a little-known (but historical) meteor shower, which began yesterday (December 8, 2013) and might not have peaked yet. The Geminid meteor shower is going on now, too, peaking on the mornings of December 13 and 14. So tonight might be an awesome night to go outside and watch for meteors!
The National Research Council (NRC) has released a new report that recommends the establishment of an early warning system to detect abrupt impacts from climate change. Abrupt changes in Earth’s climate system or abrupt changes in human and natural systems caused by gradual climate change could be especially detrimental given that society would have little time to adapt.
Researchers studying snake venom – with the goal of producing an anti-venom – say that snakes’ venom glands have co-opted many proteins that originally played more mundane roles elsewhere in their bodies. They studied snake venom via sequenced genomes of the deadly venomous King Cobra and the non-venomous Burmese Python, and compared the two to shed light on how each evolved. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published their work in December 2013.
This star varies because — although it looks single to the eye — it’s really a binary star, or two stars that revolve around one another. The star is called Sheliak, or Beta Lyrae. It’s a special kind of binary star system, known as an eclipsing binary. One star in the Sheliak system blocks out the light of its companion star in regular periods, as seen from our earthly vantage point. This blocking of one star by the other causes Sheliak’s brightness to dim every 6.5 days.
Snow geese flying in front of the moon at sunset