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Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Planetary Effort to Photograph a Black Hole

Scientists around the world have been abuzz lately about a BIG announcement that’s due to be made live, early tomorrow morning. This announcement concerns the ever elusive, and as-of-yet, unseen, black hole.

In anticipation of what we all hope will be the first ever visual unveiling of that which cannot be seen, El Paso Herald-Post’s own Steven Zimmerman asks, “Why haven’t we seen a black hole before? And, what is a black hole?”

In order to fully explain, I will need to take you all on a journey back to the fundamentals of physics. For this explanation, I will not delve into quantum physics. And don’t worry, I’ll make it as painless as possible.

Everything you see, everything you touch, everything you breathe, is made up of atoms. This is something most people learn in their middle school physical science class. Every atom contains the same things: protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Looking much like microscopic solar systems, the nucleus of an atom houses the protons and neutrons. Zipping around the outside of that nucleus are electrons. The number of electrons that orbit is the same as the number of protons within the nucleus. But between the electrons and nucleus is a vast space of nothing.

In fact, the size of the nucleus of an atom and the size of the electrons are so very, very small that the space between them is huge, by comparison. You could say that everything is mostly made of nothing. Mind blowing, right?

The stars that shine in the sky do so by a process known as fusion. Here’s how that works:

Remember the periodic table of elements? You start off with some hydrogen. This is the lightest element on the periodic table. It has only one proton and one electron. In a star, so huge that the gravity is immense, the hydrogen atoms are smashed together—similar to what happens in the Large Hadron Collider—fusing them into helium atoms: two protons and two electrons.

It is this fusion process that powers the star and creates the light and energy we see every day from our very own Sun.

But the process doesn’t stop there. Throughout its life-cycle, the internal gravity of the star is such that atoms continuously smash into each other, creating heavier and heavier elements. So, what started out as hydrogen, eventually becomes carbon, gold, nickel, and eventually iron and lead.

As this happens, the star becomes heavier and heavier. Once it becomes too heavy, and most of its hydrogen supply has been exhausted, the star eventually dies.

There are several different ways in which a star will meet its end, but for the purposes of Steven’s question, we’ll just focus on one.

During the life-cycle of a very large star, the heavier elements are pulled to the center of the star. The more elements that are pulled in, the more densely packed they become. This diminishes the space between the electrons and nucleus of the atoms that make up these heavy elements.

Imagine being crammed into a bus or train car so tightly that there is literally no space between the passengers.

As the giant star reaches the end of its life, the heavy elements are pulled closer and closer together, until the star literally collapses under its own weight. When this happens, you almost literally have no space between the electrons and nucleus of the atoms. So, now the core of the dead star is so tightly packed, and so dense that it is very small in comparison to what it was.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

The Earth is 12,742km (7,917 miles) in diameter. If our beautiful planet were to become a black hole, it would have a diameter of only 17.4mm (0.69 inches)—about the size of a dime.

Now, because these heavy elements are so tightly packed together, the gravitational field created by them is so immense that anything that comes near it will be pulled in with no hope of escape.

In fact, the gravity of this singularity, which is what the tightly packed core of the now dead star is called, is so intense that not even light can escape.

Thus, the name: Black Hole. And that is why we can’t see them.

Any photographer knows that you can’t take a picture of a black dog in a pitch black room without a flash. All that will show up will be the color black.

But black holes have an interesting feature: the event horizon.

In the most basic terms, an event horizon is the point at which material drawn toward a black hole’s gravity swirls around the singularity, pretty much forever. There are many things that can happen to this material as it encounters an event horizon, but I won’t get into it all right now, since that would involve explaining Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Suffice it to say, event horizons, theoretically, can be spotted.

Here’s the thing, though: black holes are only theorized to exist. Astrophysicists believe that most (if not all) galaxies contain one (or more) super massive black hole at its center.

The belief is that it is the gravity of these giant singularities that keeps a galaxy together. Since we’ve never seen one, we can’t prove they are real…until now.

The Event Horizon Telescope is an international collaboration that was formed to continue improving upon the Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

Basically, it links radio dishes across the globe to create an Earth sized telescope.

It’s been used to measure the size of the emissions of two super massive black holes: Sagittarius A (at the center of our own Milky Way) and M87 (at the center of the Virgo A galaxy).

And apparently, they’ve found something exciting!

April 10th, the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration will present its first results in a live press conference that will air around the world. It will take place at 13:00UT (6am MST) where they will present their findings up to this point, and hopefully, some of the first actual pictures ever taken of the event horizon of a super massive black hole.

If you are interested in watching this, set your alarms clocks early and tune into the European Commission YouTube Channel, the EHT Facebook, the EHT Twitter, or the National Science Foundation Live Stream.

If you have any questions about their findings, or black holes in general, feel free to ask me. You can message your questions in real time to my Facebook page or send them via email to


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA Declares Opportunity Mission Complete

Wednesday was a bittersweet day for NASA and JPL as they said goodbye to the second of the rover twins exploring the Red Planet.

Launched in 2003, Opportunity landed shortly after its twin counterpart, Spirit, in 2004.

Though the mission is considered a success, it was declared complete this afternoon after NASA/JPL team members failed to receive a response from Opportunity after having sent the final recovery commands.

Initially slated to run for only 90 days, the total mission lasted a surprising 14 ½ years. At the onset, the mission was racked with issues beginning with a massive solar storm that threatened to irreparably damage the rovers. In order to save functionality, JPL ordered Spirit and Opportunity to completely shut down onboard computers in order to save them.

Once safely on the surface of Mars, mission specialists noticed that the heater on Opportunity’s robotic arm was stuck in the ON position.

This meant that precious battery power was being wasted. JPL then sent commands to the rover instructing it to go into deep sleep mode on a nightly basis. With a battery life consisting of 5000 charge/discharge cycles, it would now operate at a continued 80% capacity for the remainder of its mission.

Because this deep sleep mode could not be initiated prior to the historic dust storm that encircled the planet in June 2018, mission specialists believe this is the main reason for its failure to respond to recovery commands: the battery has likely been completely drained.

Another issue Opportunity encountered during the mission was that of the failure of the flash memory. When this stopped working, Opportunity could no longer save data collected in a given day, prior to shut down at night. This meant that the team back on Earth had to work quickly to download all the data collected each day to prevent an irretrievable loss of valuable information.

Despite these issues, Opportunity spent nearly two decades on Mars, producing some important scientific discoveries.

Akin to a forensic scientist, the rover was a robotic field geologist that used it rock sampling ability to determine information about Mars’ past. While today Mars is a cold, dry, and desolate place, it wasn’t always so. The Red Planet used to be quite the opposite: a hot and steamy place with violent meteor impacts and volcanic explosions. This was proven by Opportunity when it found evidence of past hydrothermal activity.

This evidence shows that Mars may once have been an extremely habitable place for hearty microorganisms.

The first mission given to Opportunity lasted for 9 years and hit geologic pay-dirt from the beginning. Starting at Little Eagle Crater, the rover made the journey to Endurance Crater, and then Victoria Crater.

This mission took 4 ½ years to complete. Younger rocks in these areas showed that liquid water had once existed below the surface. Though to say liquid water gives the wrong impression.

It was discovered that the liquid was in the form of sulfuric acid when the rover determined that the rocks in the area were composed of sulfate sandstone, which is largely made up of sulfur and evaporated salt water.

Once this part of the mission was complete, JPL set its sights on Endeavor Crater. Because of topographical issues, the route to Endeavor was not a direct one, making the journey take years. Once Opportunity was on the rim of the newest target, it saw evidence of drinkable water.

This was determined by studying rocks that predated the creation of the crater, itself, that were composed of clay minerals that are typically formed near neutral Ph (drinkable) water.

Chief Administrator Jim Bridenstine, joked that he takes full responsibility for the end of the rover mission since the massive dust storm and ensuing radio silence occurred shortly after he took on this new position with NASA.

But NASA promises we will see much more science to come with the launch of the Mars 2020 rover in July of next year. It is the legacy of Spirit and Opportunity that helped with the development of this newest mobile science station.

Mars 2020 will be equipped with better wheels, have the ability to talk to the orbiters, and the ability to do things faster with the help of auto-navigation that will allow the rover to navigate more complex terrain.

Slated to land in Jezero Crater in Columbia Hills, the rover will be looking for evidence of past life. Jezero Crater is known to have once had standing water within it and the team hopes to find out if life ever existed there. Additionally, JPL is hoping to find out why Mars’ climate changed and where all the life (if ever any existed) went.

Another cool mission we can look forward to is that of a sample return mission. This will allow samples collected on the Red Planet to be brought back to Earth for more detailed study about Mars’ past climate and habitability.

In talking of plans to eventually send humans to Mars, Bridenstine stresses the importance of figuring out how to safeguard our men and women against the deadly solar flares that affected Spirit and Opportunity en route, given that these flares are a regular occurrence. He reinforced the importance of working with international partners in order to get to Mars safely to work alongside the robots and rovers that will already be there.

He further stated that the main goal is to discover life on another world, especially given that the Curiosity rover found complex organic compounds on the Red Planet not too long ago. Though, Bridenstine admits these compounds do not guarantee that life ever existed on Mars.

As for the rovers, themselves, there are no plans to ever retrieve them. Mars is their permanent home and they sit where they worked as a testament to human ingenuity and the drive to learn and explore.


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Herald Post’s Amy Cooley Named ‘NASA Solar System Ambassador’ for West Texas

The El Paso Herald-Post is proud to announce that our contributor Amy Cooley, known best for her column Amy’s Everyday Astronomy, has been selected to be a NASA Solar System Ambassador for West Texas.

After undergoing a rigorous selection process and attending several classes with NASA, Amy is now able to work in an official capacity with educators and the public, alike, to give insight into NASA missions and programs.

Though many individuals apply for this opportunity, few are selected.

It is because of her education and background in astronomy and science that she was chosen to be among this elite group.

As part of her mission, Amy is looking to help educators make learning fun. Her goal has always been to make science and astronomy accessible to everyone. In an effort to show students the wonders of science and astronomy, Amy wants to come and inspire your students by engaging them in discussions and activities that will fire their imaginations. You can contact her at for more information.

As her first official act as NASA Ambassador, she would like to share with all college professors an exciting opportunity for their science and engineering students.

Professors will be able to connect their students with NASA and other college engineering students through the 2019 NASA Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge (NASA OPSPARC).

This mission (Mission 3) offers unique mentorship opportunities with other college students around the country. It will include building 3D virtual models and developing a marketing plan, which will all take place in a protected 3D virtual world. In order to get started, you can download the packet online.

Deadline for Mission 3 products is February 19, 2019. Selected teams will be notified and introduced to their college mentor by Friday, February 22nd. Mentors will work with their teams in the virtual world between February 22nd thru March 26th. Six finalists will be selected by March 29th.

Finalists will present to NASA and industry researchers April 10th and 11th within the virtual world. Winning teams will be announced by early May and will be invited to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for behind-the-scenes workshops and an award ceremony June 19th and 20th.

If you have any questions about the NASA OPSPARC Mission, you can contact Sharon Bowers at

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Global Warming and Its Effects on Seasons

As the Midwest prepares for a strong storm system caused by a polar vortex, some are wondering how there can still be talk of global warming when temperatures in the northern United States are due to reach lows not seen in decades, or even centuries.

The science behind these weather patterns and their connections can seem complicated. And though some still deny the human contribution to climate change, the overall scientific evidence of global warming is irrefutable.

As temperatures around the globe increase, polar ice melts, causing ocean and sea levels to rise. This allows for more evaporation to occur while simultaneously shifting the jet stream further south.

When this happens, colder arctic air pushes southward during the winter months. This, coupled with the excess evaporation of water, increases the chances for harsher winters with heavier snow storms and more freezing snaps.

This happens due to a rise in overall greenhouse gas levels. As the levels rise, many plants are unable to absorb as large a percentage of those gases as they could in the past due to the overabundance.

This increases the amount of greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere.

When this happens, the remaining carbon gasses then cause a rise in temperatures during spring and summer months. Hotter temperatures mean shorter growing seasons for various crops and other types of plants.

And the cycle continues.

In fact, a new study by NASA is showing a correlation between warming of tropical oceans and the potential affects it could have on increasing the frequency of extreme rain storms during summer months in the coming century.

NASA’s JPL study team recently combed through 15 years of data that was gathered by their Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument above the tropical oceans in order to determine if there is a correlation between the average sea surface temperature and the onset of severe storms.

What they discovered was that these extreme storms formed when the water’s surface temperature was higher than about 82°F (28°C).

“It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment. Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year,” says Hartmut Aumann, leader of the NASA/JPL team that did the study. “But our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans.”

The currently accepted climate models have projected that the steady increase of carbon gases in the atmosphere will cause tropical ocean surface temperatures to rise by as much as 4.8°F (2.7°C) by the end of this century.

If this were to happen, the study team concludes that the frequency of extreme storms is likely to increase by as much as 60% by that time.

Admittedly, climate models are not perfect. But their results can be used as guidelines for those that are looking to prepare for the potential effects of a changing climate. These studies can also be used to help us determine how we can all work together to change the outcome by changing the way we affect the environment.

“Our results quantify and give a more visual meaning to the consequences of the predicted warming of the oceans,” Aumann said. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage, and so on, unless mitigating measures are implemented.”


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA Confirms Voyager 2 Entered Interstellar Space

Back in 1977, Voyager 2 was launched 16 days before Voyager 1. Both spacecraft were designed to last five years in order to conduct up-close and personal studies of Jupiter and Saturn.

As the success and longevity of the missions continued, remote reprogramming was used to give the twins greater capabilities. This allowed the mission parameters to change from a two-planet to a four-planet flyby.

Knowing the spacecraft were never destined to return to Earth, each was loaded with a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures, and messages in multiple languages.

The Voyager story has inspired generations of scientists and engineers, as well as music, art, and films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

And while we’ve not found that either has yet been enhanced by alien tech, the spacecraft and their respective Golden Records could last billions of years. While the twins haven’t been out in space for quite that long, their five-year mission has stretched to 41 years, so far. This makes Voyager 2 the longest running mission of NASA.

Even though Voyager 1 was launched second, the twins were sent on different trajectories, allowing Voyager 1 to enter interstellar space back in 2012.

Interstellar space is the area that lies beyond the Heliosphere. For reference: the outflow of plasma from the sun, also known as solar wind, creates a bubble that envelopes all the planets in our solar system. It is this bubble that is known as the Heliosphere.

The space surrounding Voyager 2 was predominately filled with plasma flowing from the Sun, until recently.

Evidence of this comes from Voyager’s Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an onboard instrument that uses electrical current of the plasma to detect the temperature, density, speed, pressure, and flux of the solar wind. Since November 5th, Voyager 2 has observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles making it likely that it has exited the Heliosphere.

And, indeed, NASA confirmed today that Voyager 2 has also entered interstellar space.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence, gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

Although the twins have left the heliosphere, they have no yet left the solar system. Far beyond the planets is an area known as the Oort Cloud. This is a collection of small objects that are still under the Sun’s gravitational influence. While the actual width of the Oort Cloud in not known, it is estimated to extend from roughly 1000 AU to about 100,000 AU (an astronomical unit, or AU, is the distance from the Earth to the Sun and is the standard measurement used when calculating distances within our solar system).

Given this estimation, it will likely be another 300 years before Voyager 2 reaches the inner edge of the Oort Cloud at its current speed. That means it could take 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s JPL. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Now, we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Astronomers Confirm Presence of Water in Exoplanet Atmosphere

For decades, scientists have been on the hunt for planets outside our solar system. Finding them is key to continuing the search for life outside our planet, as well as learning about how other star systems are formed.

Detecting exoplanets is no easy business, however, since we lack the long-range sensor technology of the Star Trek Universe. But astronomers are ingenious inventors of new ideas, and over the years have come up with different methods for detecting these alien worlds.

The first method that worked was the Radial Velocity Method (aka Doppler Spectroscopy). Relying on the fact that stars are affected by the gravitational tugs from their orbiting planets, Radial Velocity is able to measure changes in the light spectrum of the star being monitored.

This works because when the star is moving closer to the observer, the light appears slightly shifted toward the blue spectrum. If the star is being pulled away, the spectrum shift will be slightly red.

For finding Earth-like planets, Transit Photometry is used. This method measures minute changes in brightness as a planet passes between the observer and the host star. If this change lasts for a fixed amount of time and occurs at regular intervals, that increases the likelihood that a planet is passing in front of the star during its orbital period.

Measuring how much the brightness of the host star changes gives scientists an idea of the actual size of the planet. When using this method in conjunction with the Radial Velocity method, astronomers are able to calculate the planet’s density.

Microlensing is the method used to detect planets that are not in our cosmic neighborhood. This method, based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, is a bit more complicated. Here’s how it works: let’s say you have a far away star, we’ll call him Roger. Roger has a large, overweight neighbor named Big Blue.

When Roger and Big Blue are very close to each other, say talking near the fence line that divides their yards about the latest football game, the lensing affect will cause Roger and Big Blue to appear further apart than they actually are. Now imagine that on another day, Roger is standing in line at a drugstore counter directly behind Big Blue. Roger would now appear to be surrounding Big Blue on all sides.

This affect is known as the Einstein Ring, and happens when the ‘lensing star’ (Big Blue) bends the light of the source star (Roger) all around it. Now, picture Roger and Big Blue are at a barbeque and Roger’s young son, Ivan, is standing closer to Big Blue than he is to Roger.

According to Einstein, this would cause there to appear to be a third Roger. When observers from Earth measure this, it appears as a temporary spike in brightness that can last from several hours to several days. When hunting for planets that are very far away, these spikes are telltale signs of a planet. And by measuring the characteristics of the light curve (intensity and length), astronomers can learn a lot about the planet’s mass and orbit.

Directly observing exoplanets is very difficult to do, but not impossible. In 2008, scientists were able, for the first time, to directly image three planets orbiting the star HR8799 thanks to the Keck and Gemini telescopes. In 2010, astronomers were able to image a fourth planet in this system. But this year, the focus has been on one planet in particular, HR8799c. At seven times the mass of Jupiter it’s a rather large target.

Using a combination of the two telescope’s technologies, scientists were able to confirm the presence of water in its atmosphere. Adaptive optics on one telescope were used to counteract the blurring affects of the Earth’s atmosphere. The spectrometer on the Keck 2 called NIRSPEC (Near-Infrared Cryogenic Echelle Spectrograph), is a high-resolution spectrometer that works in the L-Band.

This type of infrared light has a wavelength of 3.5 micrometers which is a region of the spectrum that shows many detailed chemical fingerprints.

“The L-Band has gone largely overlooked before because the sky is brighter at this wavelength,” says Dimitri Mawet, an associate professor of astronomy at Caltech and research scientist at JPL. “If you were an alien with eyes tuned to the L-Band, you’d see an extremely bright sky. It’s hard to see exoplanets through this veil.”

But, when astronomers combined L-Band spectrography with the adaptive optics, they were able to overcome these difficulties. Instead, they were able to precisely measure the chemical signature of the atmosphere of HR8799c, which confirmed not only the presence of water but the absence of methane.

“We are now more certain about the lack of methane in this planet,” said Ji Wang, former postdoctoral scholar at Caltech and Assistant Professor at Ohio State University. “This may be due to mixing in the planet’s atmosphere. The methane, which we would expect to be there on the surface, could be diluted if the process of convection is bringing up deeper layers of the planet that don’t have methane.”

With technologies like adaptive optics and the spectroscopy of NIRSPEC being applied to future telescopes such as KPIC (Keck Planet Imager and Characterizer), direct planet imaging will be able to detect alien worlds that are fainter and closer to their host star than ever before. In the meantime, astronomers are not only learning a great deal about the ways planets in our universe form, but they are finally able to see these worlds with their own eyes.


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA to Broadcast Russian Supply Mission to ISS

Back in early October, the Soyuz Spacecraft carrying Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and Astronaut Nick Hague was forced to abort its mission during launch due to separation failure of the first stage boosters.

Luckily for those aboard the ISS, there were still plenty of supplies to get the crew through the next few months of zero-G living.

Recently, NASA announced the Russian cargo vessel, Progress 71, is set to launch this Friday, November 16th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:41pm EST.

Loaded with almost three tons of fuel, food, and supplies, the unmanned spacecraft will dock with the Zvezda Service Module on the

Photo courtesy NASA

Russian segment where it will remain for the next four months.

In March, the Progress 71 will depart for deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere.

For those interested in watching the launch live, you can see it on NASA Television Website. For those here in the Borderland, the live stream will begin at 11am local time.

Additionally, if you’d like to watch the live broadcast of the docking, tune in to NASA TV on Sunday, November 18th, at 11:45am MST.


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Swedish Research Team Develops New Solar Energy Storage Method

El Paso is known as the Sun City for a good reason. From blistering summers, to mild winters, the desert southwest knows the sun well.

On average, we experience more sunny days than any other kind of weather. And given the amount of energy the sun puts out every hour—enough to power the entire planet Earth for one year—you’d think converting to solar power would be the best option. But with the cost of solar paneling and converting buildings to use these options, it can be very a little expensive to make the change.

Surprisingly, the biggest drawback to solar power conversion may be the batteries. They store only a limited amount of the total energy received by the sun. This means power usage needs to be closely monitored. Gauges and meters must be observed in order to insure you have enough energy to use at night and during cloudy days. We won’t even talk about the recurring cost of replacing the batteries when needed.

But a change could soon be on the horizon.

A research team in Sweden has made a potential breakthrough in the ability to store solar energy. As an alternative to batteries, the team has developed a specialized fluid called Solar Thermal Fuel. Composed of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, the fluid can hold energy from the sun for long periods of time and expel it on demand in the form of heat. When the molecules are hit by sunlight, the bonds between atoms are rearranged. This chemical conversion traps energy within the molecules. The energy stays in the storage container even when the molecules cool down to room temperature.

When energy is needed, the molecules are passed through a catalyst. This process rearranges the chemical bonds back to what they were which releases a lot of heat. The hope is that this can be used in residential heating systems, water heaters, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and much more.

In a recent interview with NBC News, MIT engineer, Jeffrey Grossman explained, “A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand.”

The emissions-free energy system can now store energy for up to 18 years, according to nanomaterials scientist Kasper Moth-Poulsen from Chalmers University. In fact, the researchers claim their fluid are currently capable of holding 250 watt-hours of energy per kilogram. According to the NBC interview, that’s double the capacity of Tesla’s Powerwall batteries.

This has the potential to save money and cut down on pollution when it comes to the various heating needs of a home or commercial building. All that’s left is to figure out how to turn this energy into usable electricity for powering all our electronic devices.


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Borderland Sky Watching Events for November

Happy November, Borderland Sky Watchers! This month promises some decent sights for spending time outdoors during the cooler temperatures of evening. There will be several planets visible, a meteor shower, as well as an asteroid, and even a comet.

All month long, Venus will be visible in the pre-dawn sky. So, if you’re an early riser, keep an eye out in the east just before sunrise to see this bright planet. On November 7th, Jupiter will be near the planet Mercury about a half hour after sunset.

The views for this will be best on the west side of town where the horizon is not blocked by mountains. The following week, on November 11th, Saturn will be near the crescent moon starting at 5:45pm. On November 14th, Mars will be near the moon after 6:30pm.

Over the rest of this month, Mars will fade in brightness as it moves further away from Earth. But it will still be visible in the night sky on November 26th when the InSight Lander touches down on the Red Planet.

On November 17th, the Leonid meteor shower will reach its peak. As the Earth passes through the dust left behind by Comet 55P Temple-Tuttle, sky watchers can expect to see around 10 meteors per hour when viewing just after midnight.

Happening all month, Asteroid 3Juno will be visible through small, backyard telescopes. You can find it by looking west/southwest between the constellations Orion (easily the most recognizable constellation in the autumn/winter sky) and Taurus.

Another great sight through backyard telescopes or a good pair of binoculars will be Comet 46P. Visible all month long near the constellations Orion and Taurus, there is the possibility that this comet will brighten enough to be seen with the naked eye.

So, take your chairs and spend some time outside with family and good friends, because you never know what you’ll see when you just keep your eyes to the skies.

If you get pics or video of any of these events, you can email them to me at and I will feature them in an upcoming article.


For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: New Mexico Solar Observatory Re-Opens After Mysterious Closure

On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, closed the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico.

With FBI on sight due to an unnamed security threat, all personnel and onsite residents were evacuated, and the local post office was also shut down.

A statement to the public was all the information that was given at the time.

Thank you all for your patience while the closure at Sunspot Observatory is resolved. Our other facilities remain open and NSO is operating as normal. AURA – our management organization – is addressing a security issue at Sunspot Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico and has decided to temporarily vacate the facility as a precautionary measure.

With no further information having been released, the theories were all over the map with everything from a terrorist plot to an armada of alien ships having been spotted near the sun.

On Monday, however, all of that changed. The residents that vacated their homes will now be returning and all employees will also return to work this week, according the a newly released statement.

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. 

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. 

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment. 

We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

At this time, the exact nature of the criminal activity has not been released. However, anyone planning a trip up there can likely expect an increased security presence while visiting the observatory for some time to come.


To read Amy’s previous stories, click here.

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