Interesting astronomy facts

Im starting on a new job as a presenter at an observatory. I am to give a speech about astronomy to ordinary laymen. Do you guys have any suggestions for interesting, but simple, aspects of astronomy?

99% of people who hear voices in their head indicate that they originate from the rings of Saturn.

The Chinese moon rocket launched this week is tainted by lead paint.

Bombardier will inherit the rights to the North Star, Polaris, in 2010.

The moon is about 240,000 miles away, and mankind has spend about 300 hours there.

However, the bottom of the Marianas Trench is only about seven miles away. . . .

I don’t know if these are accurate, or of the great wall of china from outer space/duck echo variety.

Maybe you could do a talk about popular misconceptions about astronomy.

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy website is a good place to begin.

From wiki:

“The Earth’s distance from the Sun is about 400 times the Moon’s distance from the Earth. The Sun’s diameter is about 400 times the diameter of the Moon. Because these ratios are approximately the same, the sizes of the Sun and the Moon as seen from Earth appear to be approximately the same: about 0.5 degree of arc in angular measure.”

Coincidence? Or something more sinister…?

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Betelgeuse is not pronounced “beetle juice.”

The North Star is not the brightest star in the sky (far from it).

Here is a page of numerous astronomy-based quizzes. You could glean quite a few tidbits from there, if you wish.

Well, just based on this one:

*If you were to drive a car at 100 kilometres an hour, 24 hours a day then you could reach the sun in about 3 years. *

I would take it with an enormous grain of salt. Unless my math is completely wrong, driving at 100km/hr for three years will get you about 2.6 million kilometers, just slightly short of the 149.5 million kilometers you need to get to the sun.

Per the on-line Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.
One entry found.


Main Entry: Be·tel·geuse
Pronunciation: \ˈbē-təl-ˌjüs, ˈbe-, -ˌjüz\
Function: noun
Etymology: French Bételgeuse, from Arabic bayt al-jawzā’ Gemini, literally, the house of the twins (confused with Orion & Betelgeuse)
Date: 1769
: a variable red supergiant star of the first magnitude near the eastern shoulder of Orion
Looks like beatle juice to me.

Owing to the Y2K bug, fourteen red giant stars are now named “Jennifer.”

Despite being 2 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy is a much larger visual object in the night sky than the full Moon - it’s just that it’s mostly too dim to see with the naked eye (we can just about glimpse the bright centre).

If Antares were placed at the centre of our Solar System, all the planets out as far as Mars would be inside it.

If the planet Saturn could be dropped into a giant ocean, it would float.

From my experience (limited) a lot of people appear to have a hard time coming to grips with standard astronomy because the view of the observer is constantly changing and it can be difficult and intimidating for a novice to grasp the dynamics of it all, even with the help of experienced amateur astronomers.

Apart from the standard methods of astronomy, you might consider spending a little time doing something a little bit differently. Perhaps you might consider explaining the galactic coordinate system and allow your audience to look at things from a point of view located well outside our solar system.

A look at things from a hypothetical interstellar navigator’s point of view might add a different perspective to your presentation and help some people visualise things better.

For example, with the 133 stars visible to the naked eye within a fifty light year radius of the sun, a reasonably good three dimensional representation can be found here at atlasoftheuniverse

And specifically for the fifty light year map fifty light years distant

Also I suggest you don’t neglect to point out our solar system’s orientation. Side on to the galactic centre and tilted at 62.9 degrees, with the southern hemisphere (rah) leading.

There are other maps on the site that cover different distances from a 3D point of view and they might also make good overheads.

A check of copyright conditions seems to indicate you would be free to use the text and illustrations provided attribution is given.

I just realized after my most recent trip that the moon’s phases are reversed when you’re south of the equator.

And, because of this, for about 5 minutes, I thought I might be insane.

Space is so mind bogglingly big, so enormously vast, that even if you were to go to Mars or Jupiter or Pluto even (if you could, that is) and look up at the night’s sky, you’d see pretty much the same constellations you see here - they wouldn’t look any different. Even though Mars and Jupiter and Pluto all seem very far away, they’re nowhere near far away enough to change the vantage point enough so that the constellations look different.

Most of the brightest stars in the big dipper are gravitationally bound and are travelling together through space in company. It’s one of the largest (and loosest) star clusters that we can see.

Really? Have we ever been there? If so, when and for how long?

Ummm…, I am not a professional astronomer or anything, but I am going to have to go with the insane option. Feel free to smack me if I am wrong.

If the sun, then the moon, then the earth are lined up in a row, then no one anywhere on the earth is going to be able to see a reflection of the sun off the moon… new moon for everyone. Same if the sun, earth, and moon are lined up in that order - full moon for all.

I don’t remember. Hey, does anyone really remember the sixties?

The asteroid belt is a huge, impenatrable field of rocks, right? If you were in your spaceship being chased through the solar system by the Integallactic Space Police, you could hide out in the asteroid belt, because there are so many rocks there.

If the Sun were the size of a beachball, the Earth would be the size of a pea. All asteroids, clumped together, would be the size of a grain of sand.

I think you misinterpreted. It’s not a new moon/full moon sort of opposite, it’s a left side/right side sort of opposite.

Yes. I didn’t phrase it as clearly as I could have.