By David Ward
The universe sounds like a pretty scary place. Galaxies are colliding, stars are exploding and black holes are sucking up stars and planets like giant cosmic vacuum cleaners.
All that stuff is far, far away, light years away, right? Here on Earth you are safe. The cosmos cannot touch you here. All that scary stuff is fun to read about, but you do not have to worry about the cosmos bothering you and your life here on our little planet.
But have you ever heard of neutrinos? There are 100 trillion of them passing through your body every second right now. One hundred trillion. Sounds like a big number, doesn’t it? You bet it is. One hundred trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills over 6,000 miles high!
Most of these elusive particles come from our sun. They are a by-product of nuclear fusion, the powerful process deep within stars that causes them to shine. Some come from distant stars and have been traveling for hundreds, thousands, millions and even billions of years on their voyage across the universe on their way to eternity.
Maybe you think that because most come from the sun that you get a break when the sun sets at night. Not a chance. These ghost-like particles can merrily fly right through the Earth at the speed of light and not hit a thing. Scientists estimate that about once a week one might graze an atom in your body as they pass through you.
Are they harmful? Probably not. I do not think anyone who knows what they are talking about would think neutrinos are bad for us even though vast swarms are flying through us constantly. If you dig deep enough online, you might find some conspiracy theorist who believes it is a sinister government plot to turn our minds to mush.
Neutrinos are not the only thing the universe is throwing at us and there are lots of other things zipping through us. Some of these are harmful, especially if you fly in airplanes a lot or live in a city like Denver. More on that later.
Saturn and Milky Way
The long reign of the planet Jupiter in the evening sky is just about over. You might catch a glimpse of it low in the west just after it gets dark. Saturn is the only planet out there that can be seen without staying up late. Look for it in the southwest shining with a steady yellowish glow. If you are up before dawn, Venus is blazing brightly in the eastern sky.
If you missed the Milky Way because of all the recent wildfire smoke, September is a great time to see it. Look for a dim glow stretching from north to south across the sky slightly in the west.
The total eclipse was awesome, perhaps the grandest sight nature has to offer. Everything on our little planet depends on the star that we orbit, but we almost never get a chance to really look at it. Two minutes was not nearly enough time, but the experience will live in my memory for a lifetime. I hope everyone got to see it either as a partial eclipse or total.
There is another one coming up in three years, so if you are hooked, start thinking about going. The path of totality then won’t cross North America, but 2024 will see another total eclipse arcing across the southeastern United States.