Look Up! This Is Your Last Chance to See a Blue Moon Until 2020

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iStock

Lately, blue moons haven't been as rare as their reputation suggests. The last one appeared at the tail-end of January and coincided with a super moon and a total lunar eclipse. The next blue moon is set to light up skies on March 31, and though it won't be accompanied by any of those celestial oddities this time, you shouldn't take it for granted: According to WZTV, this is your last chance to see one until 2020.

Unlike other events marking your meteorological calendar, blue moons aren't affected by anything going on in space so much as the date they happen to land on. A blue moon is the second full moon to occur within a single calendar month. The previous full moon fell on March 2, making it the last full moon of winter as well as a Full Worm Moon (that's an Old Farmer's Almanac term for a full moon that occurs when birds start searching for worms at the end of winter).

Although a blue moon is indistinguishable from a regular full moon, sky gazers have an additional reason to step outside on the night of March 31: Mercury will be close to Venus in the sky above the western horizon, making the solar system's smallest planet especially visible. The best time to spot it will be right after sunset, after which spectators can stick around to watch the full moon rise.

If you miss the blue moon this time around, you have more than two years to prepare for the next one. It's set to arrive on Halloween night 2020, so start planning your blue werewolf costume now.

[h/t WZTV]

A Cartoonist and Physicist Team Up to Explain the Universe in New Science Podcast

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iStock

Have you ever wondered how galaxies formed, what constitutes dark matter, or what exactly lies inside a black hole? You’re not the only one. A new podcast called Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe is condensing these complex topics into 35-minute lessons that everyone can understand.

The podcasters who lent their namesake to the show are cartoonist Jorge Cham and physicist Daniel Whiteson. They previously teamed up to pen the 2017 book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe, which explored some of the many unanswered questions about the world and how it works. Their new venture will tackle similar themes.

So far, they’ve produced two episodes, both of which launch today, and which address the questions “Is the Higgs Boson useful?” and “Are we living in a simulation?” The tone of the show is laid-back and conversational, so it’s easy for the uninitiated to follow.

“Think of it as your chance to sit at a bar with some cool scientists and getting to ask them all the things you always wanted to know about space, stars, particles, and the cosmos,” Whiteson, who conducts research using the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), says in a promotional video.

The podcast is a product of HowStuffWorks, which also produces Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Daily Zeitgeist, and of course Part-Time Genius, from the pair who founded Mental Floss.

Newly Uncovered Galileo Letter Details How He Tried to Avoid the Inquisition

Galileo Before The Papal Tribunal by Robert Henry. Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Galileo Before The Papal Tribunal by Robert Henry. Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Galileo Galilei was one of the Roman Catholic Inquisition’s most famous targets. As a result of his outspoken support for the theory that all the planets, Earth included, revolve around the Sun, the Catholic Church charged him with heresy and he spent the last years of his life under house arrest. Galileo was well aware that he was on the Church’s hit list, and a newly discovered letter shows that at one point, he tried to tone down his ideas to avoid persecution, according to Nature and Ars Technica.

The letter in question, written in 1613, solves a long-held mystery for Galileo scholars. It was found in the library of the Royal Society, where it has been for at least 250 years.

Galileo’s beef with the Catholic Church came about because of his support for heliocentrism—the idea that the solar system centers around the Sun—as advocated in Nicolaus Copernicus’s book De Revolutionibus. Galileo’s scientific writings clearly endorsed Copernicus’s theory of the world, including in personal correspondence that was widely disseminated, and in some cases, he directly questioned the scientific merit of Biblical passages.

In 1613, Galileo wrote to a friend and former student named Benedetto Castelli who was then teaching mathematics at the University of Pisa. The letter was a long treatise on Galileo’s thoughts on Copernicus’s ideas and religion, arguing that science and astronomy should not be overpowered by religious doctrine. (He would later expand this into his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.) As with many of Galileo’s writings at the time, the letter was copied and disseminated widely, and eventually, a friar named Niccolò Lorini forwarded it to the Inquisition in Rome in 1615.

This is where things get tricky. Galileo claimed that the version of the letter Lorini sent was doctored to be more inflammatory. He sent a less controversial version of the letter to a friend, saying that it was the original document and should be forwarded to the Vatican, essentially to clear his name. But scholars have never been able to be totally sure if he was telling the truth about the letter being doctored.

This newly discovered letter suggests that he was lying, and that he himself was looking to tone down his rhetoric to appease the Catholic Church and keep authorities from quashing the spread of heliocentric ideas. The original copy found in the Royal Society archives shows changes to the wording in what appears to be Galileo’s handwriting. The seven-page letter, signed “G.G.,” includes changes like swapping the word “false” for the more slippery “look different from the truth,” changing “concealing” to “veiling,” and other edits that seek to tone down the rhetoric that inflamed Church leaders. The wording and handwriting corresponds to similar writing by Galileo at the time. Based on this finding, it seems that Galileo did seek to make his ideas more palatable to the Catholic Church in the hopes of escaping persecution by the Inquisition.

Discovered on a research trip by science historian Salvatore Ricciardo of Italy's University of Bergamo, the letter may have been overlooked in the Royal Society archives because it was cataloged as being dated October 21, 1613 rather than the date it actually bears, December 21, 1613. However, it’s unclear how it came to the Royal Society in the first place. The document is the subject of a forthcoming article by Ricciardo and his colleagues in the Royal Society journal Notes and Records, according to Nature.

The minor changes Galileo made did not successfully hold off the Church’s crackdown on heliocentrism. In 1616, the Inquisition ordered Galileo to stop teaching or defending the theory, and several of his books were subsequently banned. He would stand trial again almost two decades later, in 1633, on suspicion of holding heretical thoughts. He was found guilty and sentenced to house arrest, where he remained until his death in 1642.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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