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There have been some pretty awesome things happening as far as the final frontier that I feel a post is in order. Despite being an enormous Sci-Fi fan, absolutely nothing beats the real thing.

I’m sure most have heard about this by now but I still have to call it out…NASA discovered seven Earth sized planets orbiting a star only 40 light-years away.

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Three of these planets are in the habitable zone of this ultra-cool dwarf star. They might even have oceans. The fifth planet closest to the sun, known as TRAPPIST 1-f (seriously needs a new name) is the one they think most likely to support life. LIFE, you guys. The implications are huge, and while forty light-years is still a great distance, in terms of space, it’s right next door.

In our own neighborhood, Jupiter has been in the news. In 2011 NASA sent out a probe to Jupiter in hopes of studying the biggest planet in town. It arrived on July 5, 2016 and entered orbit in its pole. I’m trying to contemplate a piece of machinery hurtling through the vacuum of space for five years and arriving in working order. Now that’s some really good workmanship. I’ve got electronics in my house that didn’t last that long.

Now in its fifth orbit, Juno got a closeup look on July 5th of the Giant Red Spot on Jupiter’s surface, its best known feature and something scientists have observed and wondered about for hundreds of years. The thing is massive–1.3 times as wide as the Earth–and the storm itself is theorized to have been going for more than 350 years. And here I thought that week of rain took forever to blow past.

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If you want to see more pics from the Juno cam and learn about the mission, click here

It really is a wonder so many Sci-Fi stories and movies take place in distant galaxies with planets and moons that don’t, uh, actually exist. From a fiction standpoint, it’s a lot of fun but I do ponder why our own little corner of the universe isn’t shown more love. And there’s a lot to love–literally. The Milky Way is over 100,000 light-years across with a monstrous black hole at the center.

While working on my Sci-Fi series Insurrection I decided early on that I wanted to shop local, choosing plot locations from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, to a pod-station orbiting Venus, to Vesta (a designated minor-planet located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter), and more. As I’ve done my research on the goodies in our galaxy, I’ve come across some pretty amazing things that make me wonder why Sci-Fi bothers heading out of town for its settings when there’s so much awesome right here.

For your Friday enjoyment, here are a few things I came across you might not have known existed in ye olde galactic homestead: (Excerpts taken online from Space.com and Astrobiology Magazine):

Particle Geysers

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“The center of the Milky Way is the location of an enormous amount of activity—stars are dying and bursting to life in a constant cycle. And recently, we’ve seen something else coming out of the galactic hub—a stream of high-energy particles that stretches over 15,000 parsecs across the galaxy. That’s more than half of the entire width of the Milky Way. They’re invisible to the naked eye, but with magnetic imagery, the particle geysers can be seen across almost two-third of our sky.

What’s causing the phenomenon? One hundred million years of star formation and decay, fueling a never-ending jet creeping towards the galaxy’s outer arms. The total energy in the geyser is over a million times that of a supernova and the particles are traveling at supersonic speeds. And it’s not random—based on the structure of the particle jets, astronomers are building a model of the magnetic field that governs the entire galaxy.”

Cannibal Galaxy

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“No matter how often a star is born, there’s no way for the Milky Way to grow if it doesn’t pull in new matter from another place. And the Milky Way is definitely growing. Though we previously weren’t sure exactly how that growth was happening, recent findings suggest that the Milky Way is a cannibal—it has consumed other galaxies in the past and will probably continue to do so, at least until a larger galaxy comes along and pulls us into it.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and information from about seven years of photos, researchers found stars along the outer rim of the Milky Way that were moving tangentially. Instead of moving either toward or away from the Milky Way’s core, like every other star, they just sort of drifted along sideways. The star cluster is believed to be a remnant of another galaxy that was absorbed by the Milky Way—crumbs left over from its last big meal.

That collision likely occurred billions of years ago, and it won’t be the last one to happen. At the rate we’re moving, we’ll likely eat the Andromeda galaxy in around 4.5 billion years. Too bad none of us will be around to see it.”

The 250 Million Year Orbit

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“On Earth, a year is determined by the length of time it takes the planet to orbit the Sun. Every 365 days, we’re right back where we started, generally speaking. It makes sense then that our entire solar system is similarly orbiting the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It just takes a little longer, to the tune of 250 million years for each rotation. In other words, we’ve made about a quarter of a single orbit since the dinosaurs died.

Descriptions of the solar system rarely mention that it’s spinning through space just like everything else. We’re actually traveling at about 792,000 km (483,000 mi) per hour relative to the center of the Milky Way. To put that into a more easily relatable example, that speed would take you around the Earth in just over three minutes. Each time the Sun makes it all the way around the Milky Way, it’s known as the galactic year, or cosmic year. It’s estimated that there have been only 18 galactic years in the history of the Sun.”

Not bad for a place whose name will always make me think of a delicious candy bar. FYI, NASA also got some brand new astronaut recruits this year who will most likely be the ones to go on the first mission to Mars. Discovery continues, friends, even in times like these.

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