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Astronomers Update (2011Oct)

What You See Is What You Get Element
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October 1,  2011

eNewsletter Evolves to Astronomers' Update

Just as our natural world evolves, so has and will our newsletter. We are excited to be part of the Bell Museum of Natural History and look forward to continuing to bring you news of the ExploraDome, some current research and what you might want to look for in our Minnesota skies.

We welcome your suggestions for the newsletter now that we have a new home in the Bell Museum, so if you have great new ideas for us, please contact Parke at . We hope you plan to visit the museum in the near future, to see the ExploraDome at one of its venues, to enjoy our newsletter, and to continue to support a new vision for the Bell Museum.

Reserve the ExploraDome Now

The busy fall season has begun, with school visits and professional conferences filling up our schedule. We still have openings on our calendar for this school year, so contact us if you would like to arrange a visit! Call 612-624-8146 or email

ExploraDome Heads to Hopkins

WHO: Eisenhower Observatory and the Bell Museum
WHAT: International Observe the Moon Night

Telescopes to observe the Moon, Jupiter, and other sky sights, as well as presentations, exhibits and other activities.

SPECIAL TREAT: The Bell Museum’s ExploraDome

Travel the universe in a virtual, immersive environment.

See planets, stars, galaxies, and other celestial wonders like you’ve never seen them.

WHERE: Eisenhower Observatory in Hopkins, MN

1001 State Hwy 7, Hopkins, MN 55305

Phone: 952-378-0109

WHEN: Saturday, October 8, 7:00-10:00 p.m.

COST: FREE and open to the public. No reservations required.

Pop Cans Have Different Weights on other Worlds

How much would a can of pop weigh on another world in our solar system? You can find out for yourself with some empty pop cans and a few dollars worth of pennies. Empty the pop cans, mark each for a different world, and fill them with this many pennies: Mercury (54), Venus (128), Earth (Keep pop in the can. It's the equivalent of 142 pennies.), Moon (23), Mars (53), Jupiter (359), Saturn (151), Uranus (126), Neptune (162), Pluto (9), Sun (3976 Ok, this isn't possible in a 12 oz can! It would weigh 22 pounds!)

Why the difference? Gravity! Gravity is a force that pulls every object in the universe towards every other object. The more mass, the stronger the pull. So a planet pulls on even small objects very strongly. That's what keeps us from floating away from Earth, and gives us our weight. Notice how the can of pop would weigh more on Earth than on Uranus even though Uranus has more mass? That's because the pull of gravity on the surface of a planet depends both on the mass AND the distance to the planet's center.

Calculate how much you would weigh on another world at


Could the Speed of Light Be Broken?

Since the early 1900s, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity has helped us explain many phenomena from an overabundance of muons reaching Earth’s surface to how the global positioning system (GPS) works. Its fundamental tenet is that nothing in the universe travels faster than the speed of light (299,792 kilometers per second or 186,282 miles per second). This includes light itself. But an international team of scientists at the Gran Sasso research facility announced that they have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light at about 186,287 miles per second (5 miles per second faster). You can read about their research in Nature at .


At least one other experiment saw something similar. In 2007, the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment from our own University of Minnesota may have seen neutrinos from Fermilab in Illinois seemingly breaking this speed limit, but the uncertainty in their results also allowed the speed of light to be obeyed. Much more confirmation is needed before either modifying the Special Theory or throwing it out altogether. But that is the way science works. Stay tuned.  

October Minnesota Skies

Jupiter dominates Minnesota skies during October, rising around dusk and dazzling us all night. Look about 30 degrees above the eastern horizon at 10pm for the brightest object in the sky (other than our Moon of course). While you are outside, the Big Dipper lies so low on the northern horizon that it is sometimes difficult to see but if you follow the pointer stars (the two stars in the end of the scoop) up to the first bright star, you have found Polaris, the North Star. Follow that same line past Polaris to Cassiopeia, an M or W shaped constellation. In Greek mythology, she was a vain Queen, punished by being placed on her thrown so that half of the year she is upside down. The bright star Vega is now half way between the zenith and the western horizon. Star maps can be found at .

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