The Largest Object in the Solar System

By Anupum Pant

On November 6th 1892, after being spotted by a British astronomer Edwin Holmes, comet Holmes was not seen again for several decades. Thus it came to be known as the lost comet. Out of the blue, more than 70 years later, the comet was again seen in the year 1964.

Now it is known that comet Holmes was captured by Jupiter several thousand years ago, and it never went back to the Kuiper belt. It is a Jupiter family comet. Every 6.88 years, the comet orbits the sun.

Even this year, on 27th of March, it was one of the most bright comets of the year. But it was something that happened back in the year 2007 which made it one of the most popular comets in the sky.

For a brief period, comet Holmes, which is also a part of our solar system, became the largest object in the solar system. Yes, even larger than the sun!

On November 9th 2007, the diameter of comet’s coma – a cloudy region surrounding the comet made up of very tiny shiny ice and dust particles – measured about 1.4 million km. The sun’s diameter rounded to the nearest hundred is estimated to be 1.392 million km. Agreed the coma wasn’t as massive as the sun, but the size of it did measure slightly more than the sun at that time.

It indeed is a great achievement to become the largest object in the solar system (for some time) for an object that is just a tiny mass of ice and dust that is only about 3.6 km wide.

That day, the cloud around it erupted due to a mysterious outburst which still puzzles scientists. Such outbursts have been seen in the past too and are thought to have been originated as a result of its collision with a meteor (or probably due to an internal steam eruption).

via [space]

The Hexagon Storm

By Anupum Pant

Saturn is probably the most beautiful planet we have in our solar system. But did you know, Saturn is also home to a very peculiar phenomenon which has never been seen anywhere else before – a hexagonal hurricane.

A hurricane in the shape of a hexagon (six-sided), not circle. If that doesn’t blow your mind, try this – the storm is an incredibly huge – 30,000 km across! And it is about 100 km deep, with winds of ammonia and hydrogen moving at  more than 320 km per hour. It is large enough to swallow four planets of the size of Earth. This is what the Earth would look like if it were kept beside the storm.

saturns hexagonal storm and earth comparision

It’s only natural for hurricanes to be circular. And yet, researchers at Ana Aguiar of Lisbon University have been able to show that the hexagonal storm raging in the north pole of Saturn is also very natural too. In the year 2010, they proved  to by reproducing a similar effect in the laboratory by using rotating liquids.

According to them, a very narrow jet stream that goes about the hurricane’s edge creates a couple of other tiny hurricanes. These little storms are the ones that push the larger hurricane’s borders and give it a hexagonal shape.

In the 80s, the storm was first spotted by the twin voyager spacecraft.

A Piece of Paper as Thick as the Universe

By Anupum Pant

Linear growth is only what we can visualize well. Estimating things that grow exponentially, is something not many of us can do properly.

Here’s what happens when you fold a piece of paper. A paper of thickness 1/10 of a millimetre doubles its thickness. On the second fold it is 4 times the initial thickness and so on. It doesn’t really seem like it would grow a lot after, say, 10 folds, right?

After 10 folds, the paper which was about the thickness of your hair, turns into something that is as thick as your hand.

Without any calculation, how thick do you think would it become if you could fold it 103 times?  (I know, no one has ever folded a paper more than 12 times)

Think about this for a second: How many times do you think would you have to fold a paper to make it 1 kilometre thick? The answer is 23. Yes, it takes just 13 more folds to go from the thickness of a hand to a whole kilometre.

Turns out, if you manage to somehow fold a paper 30 times, it would become 100 km tall. The paper would now reach the space.

For the sake of imagining how exponential growth works, a paper folded 103 times would be about 93 Billion light years thick – which is also the estimated size of the observable universe.

Watch the video below to see one other great example of how exponential growth can mess with you.