StarDate Podcast

A daily Science, Medicine and Natural Sciences podcast
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Episodes of StarDate Podcast

Hurricane season is roaring toward its peak about now. But even the biggest hurricanes are tiny compared to storms on some other planets. Late last year, for example, astronomers discovered a storm on Neptune that’s almost wide enough to swallo
The four outer planets of the solar system have a lot in common. They’re all giants — at least four times Earth’s diameter. They’re all made mainly of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements. They all have lots of moons. And they’re all enci
Two bright companions will keep pace with the Moon tonight. The brighter of the two is Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system. It’s well to the left of the Moon at nightfall — the brightest object in the sky at that time other than the
The space lanes are going to get busier in the next few years. That’s because NASA and other space agencies have recently announced plans for several new missions to the worlds of the solar system. In May, NASA selected three commercial landers
Two close neighbors are hiding in the sunlight right now. Both of them are passing behind the Sun as seen from Earth. And both will return to view next month. Mars is going first. It’s passing behind the Sun today. And Mercury will follow it to
One of the stalwarts of the evening skies of spring and summer is disappearing from view. In fact, tonight is your last best chance to see it, because it’s close to the crescent Moon. Spica is the leading light of the constellation Virgo. The b
A pioneering spacecraft began its final call 40 years ago today, when it plowed into the magnetic “bubble” that surrounds the planet Saturn. It flew just 13,000 miles from Saturn the following day, giving us our first up-close look at the ringe
Most of the glowing clouds of gas and dust that permeate the galaxy are associated with two phases of a star’s life: its birth and its death. A star is born from a giant cloud that splits apart to form many stars. And when a star dies, it creat
A huge stellar nursery climbs high across the sky at this time of year. It’s near Deneb, the bright star that marks the tail of Cygnus, the swan. The whole complex is about 1800 light-years away. And it spans about 130 light-years. The nursery
A black hole in the constellation Cygnus keeps popping off. Over the last eight decades or so, it’s produced several big eruptions. And during the most recent one, astronomers saw that the black hole is “dragging” the space around it. The syste
Cancer, the crab, is famed for its position in the zodiac. Yet other than its location, there’s not much to recommend it. The outline of the crab itself isn’t all that crab-like, and even its brightest stars are mere pinpricks of light. Cancer’
Most of the stars that dot the night sky are quite different from our own star, the Sun. An example is Antares, the heart of the scorpion. It’s low in the south at nightfall, close to the lower right of the brilliant planet Jupiter. Bright oran
The Sun’s most-remote major planet is fascinating. It features the fastest winds in the solar system, and it once had a storm big enough to swallow Earth. Methane in its atmosphere gives it a beautiful blue color. And its biggest moon is dotted
Most of the constellations are tough to pick out. Their classical “connect-the-dots” outlines are so faint, small, or spread out that it’s tough to see them as pictures. That’s not the case for two of the most prominent constellations of summer
The face of Taurus, the bull, is doomed. The V-shaped face is outlined by a star cluster known as the Hyades. But the cluster is falling apart. The Hyades is the closest major big cluster to the Sun — about 150 light-years away. All of its star
Mergers between big galaxies are violent events. They can kick millions or billions of stars into intergalactic space, and dramatically alter the orbits of other stars. They can trigger the birth of millions of new stars — many of which will qu
The Milky Way is headed toward a galactic pile-up. Our home galaxy is likely to merge with M31, our closest big neighbor galaxy. That will trigger the birth of millions of new stars. And it will fling the Sun and its planets into a new orbit —
NGC 6052 is a mess. It looks a little like a pair of big spiders locked in mortal combat. Instead, though, it’s two galaxies that are staging their own combat — they’re in the process of merging. The galaxies are about 230 million light-years a
We have lots of addresses. After your street address, city, state, and country, you might add lines for Planet Earth, the solar system, and the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way is just one of 200 billion galaxies or more in the present-day cosmo
Summer is the best time of year to seek out the Milky Way — the hazy band of light that outlines the disk of our home galaxy. If you can find an especially dark skywatching site as night falls, you’ll see it arcing from teapot-shaped Sagittariu
Depending on your viewpoint, the Dog Days of summer are either in full swing or they’re just wrapping up. That’s because there’s no formal definition for the dates of the Dog Days. All we can say for sure is that this period got its name from t
The Canary Islands attract millions of visitors every year. They come for the warm climate, beautiful beaches, and rugged volcanic mountains. And many of them are attracted by another natural wonder: dark night skies. In fact, skywatchers accou
Apep was one of the nastier gods of ancient Egypt. He was the god of chaos — a huge snake that lurked in the underworld, fighting the Sun god Re every night. And he’s the namesake of a star system that could have a nasty future. One of its star
Most big, heavy stars die in violent explosions. But some are more violent than others. The most powerful produce cosmic “death rays” — beams of energy that could kill any living thing within thousands of light-years. A gamma-ray burst may form
Most of the time, the planet Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. Once or twice a year, though, it disappears in the Sun’s glare. And that’s what’s happening now. Venus is passing behind the Sun as seen from Earth
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