Super-Size That Telescope Order, Please!


The gringa has previously posted about the significance of the Alpha Centauri system in man’s eternal search for the origins of life, the meaning of life and, perhaps, other life. Europe and Chile are partnering together in an effort to focus their astronomy and scientific efforts to search the planets in this star system to discover any planet’s potential for habitability. 


The Breakthrough Starshot civilian scientist program has modified the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) telescope that is in Chile. Scientists and researchers are setting the stage for Starshot’s probe that will be transmitting images from Alpha Centauri. World renowned Stephen Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner are the captains at the helm of this ambitious private endeavor. 


Dubbed the “Very Large Telescope” (VLT), the specialized instrument will use infra-red technology to observe planets so incredibly distant the telescope counterparts of ESO’s VLT have only produced very faint depictions in their images of the planets of the Alpha Centauri system. The improvements to the VLT will minimize the interference of surrounding bright starlight that diminishes the clarity of imaging of the planets. Scientists hope that these improvements will make VLT better designed to find and study the Earth-sized planet orbiting in a cosmic sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone, around Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri system. 


An even larger telescope is slated for completion by ESO sometime in the next decade. It’s name, “Extremely Large Telescope” (ELT), may lack imagination, but the gringa doesn’t care so long as it does its job and does it well. This telescope will be committed to gathering data on the other exoplanets in Alpha Centauri. 


Although Chile is a hospitable host to this project, there are more than 16 other countries throughout Europe and South America working together toward ultimate success.  But why are so many observatories located in countries of Earth’s southern hemisphere? Countries like Chile, Puerto Rico, and Peru?


Well, just as Proxima Centauri is a sweet spot for an Earth-like exoplanet, the Southern hemisphere is a sweet spot for observing the heavens. There are many reasons why these locales are considered ideal for astronomy:

  • Remote locations with little industrial and urban development.
  • High mountain ranges.
  • Miles of coastal elevations
  • High altitude deserts with clear, dry air practically year round for clear viewing.

And if you would like to take a peek through Chile’s collection of enormous telescopes, take a trip to the Atacama Desert in the northern part of the country. In addition to the opportunity of a lifetime while gazing into the heavens through a 16 inch telescope, you can tour the Cerro Paranal Observatory and the SPACE Observatory in San Pedro. There are local archaeological sites to explore as well as geographical marvels like a high desert mesa filled with geysers. 

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But if you can’t afford the money or the time for a Chilean astronomy expedition, no worries. There are so many observatories open to the public, surely you will find one near your own hometown. Wikipedia has a rather extensive list so, find your country of choice and see which observatory is nearest you and is open to the public. And, if you have an enjoyable adventure, drop the gringa a line! I’d love to share your experience! 

Image Credit:  Extreme Tech

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Are Space Aliens Transporting Through Light Streams?


There is an amazing light phenomena even more fantastic than the legendary Aurora Borealis. This particular play of light in Earth’s atmosphere is reminiscent of the special effects used by Star Trek producers to “beam” people willy-nilly to their destination of choice. For night owls and insomniacs in the farthest reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, they got to bear witness to an event that surely had some UFOlogists wondering if a mass alien abduction event was taking place.

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What created these prismatic columns of light on the early morning horizon? Were space aliens zapping unsuspecting sleepers to heavenly laboratories for an exploratory prod and a poke then returning them to their beds unaware of what had happened? Sorry to crush any enthusiasm for fantastic explanations. The truth is that these were simply pillars of light, actually quite ordinary once you understand the science, despite their very extraordinary appearance.

When temperatures plunge in lower latitudes of Earth’s polar regions, there is enough moisture in the air for ice crystals to form. As light reflects off of these crystals, prismatic columns in every hue of the rainbow, blue, orange, red and white, can be seen vividly against the grayish backdrop of an arctic or sub-arctic sky. The most recent event was documented by amateur and professional photographers and videographers in Canada. The phenomena lasted for hours on January 6, allowing plenty of time for those lucky (or unfortunate, depending on how you view insomnia) enough to be awake at nearly 2am.

Source: Live Science

Image Credits: API NY

From Behind The Pen

Wild Sound Movies

Video Credit: Timmy Joe YouTube Channel

A Wave Making Waves & Suction Storms


(Originally posted 2/3/17 on Read With The Gringa)

An enormous gravity wave is making waves in space exploration circles. The wave of excitement began when Akatsuki, a space probe that is the handiwork of JAXA, Japan’s space agency, observed a 6,000 mile long gravity wave. That’s the longest gravity wave ever recorded by humans in outer space. But why is this a big deal? What does it mean? I mean, after all, gravity waves have been discovered before. Is this just a big deal because this is the largest one scientists have observed?

What a gravity wave does is affect a planet’s atmosphere. It can cause weather disturbances. What kind of weather does Venus have? With an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide, 3% nigrogen, a tiny speck of water vapor (about .003%), and a density nearly 90 times greater than Earth’s, things could be very interesting on Venus should a storm begin to brew.

Picture peeking out the window of your Venus habitat and seeing golden, yellow clouds billowing that stink of that rotten egg stench of sulfur. Imagine watching as they raced across the sky at more than 200 mph. And consider that you would have to be looking through glass several inches thick to withstand the atmospheric pressure outside. Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it! But, really, is there more to this excitement than just discovering the longest gravity wave ever?

December, 2015, JAXA’s Akatsuki observed the largest gravity wave ever over one of Venus’ mountain ranges. It looks like a whitish, bow shape in the image below:

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When the probe made its journey once again over this region a month later, the wave wasn’t there. The original thought that the wave was stationary had to be discarded. What scientists now theorize is that the gravity wave formed in Venus’ lower atmosphere and was then gradually pulled into the upper atmosphere by the rapid rotation of clouds. Once it reached the upper atmosphere it dissipated. So, on Venus, a storm is really like a great big gravity vacuum rather than wind and rain like Earthlings are accustomed to. Instead of stuff falling down, stuff is sucked up.

For scientists, this gives them more clues to understand what conditions are like on the surface of the planet. Instead of a lower atmosphere that is stable, quiet and boring, scientists are more inclined to believe that life on Venus’ surface could be quite thrilling and dynamic. It also means that any plans for a surface mission would require rovers that could withstand the possibility of a massive gravity suction storm. The gringa envisions the tornado scene that the “Wizard of Oz” opens with. That would be life on Venus if things weren’t “nailed” down really, really well. Or, Venus colonists could all just live in bouncy castles. When a massive gravity suction storm approaches you batten down the hatches, ride out the storm and who knows where you end up! New neighbors and new landscape when it all blows over. How exciting!

Sources: JAXA

CalTech

Dispelling Some Space Myths


(Originally posted 2/2/17 on Read With The Gringa)

If you are a dear reader of Read With The Gringa, chances are you are also a fan of science fiction. The gringa has seen every episode of her favorite series like the Star Trek franchise, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. If it’s a cheesy, classic or epic sci-fi movie, I’ve seen that, too. What about some of the common themes and aspects of this genre? Is there any kernel of truth to these commonalities or are they just creative license?

Spacecraft Explosions: Cosmic space battles between a star ship battle cruiser and a sporty, feisty spacecraft that maneuvers with lightning speed often end up with the absolute destruction of one, maybe even both. But what about those fabulous fireballs and bits and bobs of bulkhead that create an enormous blast radius. Does that really happen?

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NO! Why? Well, think about it. There is no oxygen in space! No oxygen, no fire. The best you could hope for is an insignificant spark that, pfft, quickly goes out. And the boom factor? Nope. You wouldn’t hear anything either. Sound only travels through Earth’s atmosphere because of a complex recipe of certain gases. So, that pfft effect goes for explosive sounds as well.

Human Explosion: Sci-fi takes a reverse course on the pressure effects of deep water on the human. Go deep enough in the ocean without protective gear and  the water pressure will implode you. Not a pretty sight for a human to be crushed like an aluminum soda can. Sci-fi screenwriters like to imagine the vacuum of space would result in the atoms of humans no longer experiencing enough atmospheric pressure to remain cohesive. Thus an explosion of eyeballs and fingernails. A rather gruesome and bloody prospect. Is this accurate? Would astronauts who experience spacesuit failure explode in the vacuum of space?

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First, you would quickly begin to dehydrate as water began evaporating rapidly through your pores. You would also begin to feel the chill of MINUS 455 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, instead of exploding into itty-bitty bits, you would quickly become a human ice cube. About 30 seconds to be exact.

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The dark side of the Moon… who could live there? Well, a colony on the “dark side of the Moon” would get just as much sunlight as the “other” side of the Moon. You see, it is only the Earth that the Moon hides its backside from. That’s because of tidal influences between these two planetary objects. The Sun, on the other hand, enjoys seeing every aspect of the Moon.

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What of golden sunsets and sunrises? Are they as beautiful when seen from space? Well, they are definitely as bright but not golden. Stars, which our Sun is, have colors that are determined by their temperature. Our Sun, at about 6,000 degrees Kelvin, is actually white. It only appears yellow to us Earthlings because of how it’s short-wavelenths of blue, green and violet are scattered as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere. And you know those wavy little rays we always draw around our Suns when we are little kids? Yeah, those are all wrong too. The Sun isn’t burning. There are no flames. It is EXPLODING with gases so it’s glowing. Like a light bulb.

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Have you ever seen those crack pilots zipping about in their little shuttles, navigating like aces through the hazards of an asteroid belt? Yeah. That’s not real either. Even in a really, super crowded asteroid belt with millions of space rocks each of these hunks of geological junk are most likely hundreds of thousands of miles apart. How do you think NASA’s probes make it to the farthest reaches of space if there were such dangerous obstacles? Remember, space is really, really, really, big. Plenty of room to navigate.

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Could a huge meteor slam into a wilderness area and create a fiery crater? Nope. A crater, yes, but not a fiery one. I know, I know. The dear reader is saying, “Hold on there, gringa! I have actually seen a fiery fireball of a meteor that raced across the sky!” Yes, I am sure that you did. However, it is the outer surface of the meteor that has heated up, liquefied and converted to flaming plasma from the friction of hurtling through Earth’s atmosphere at high-speed. Its core, however, is frozen solid from a lifetime in space where temperatures are hundreds of degrees BELOW freezing. So, you would most likely end up with scattered fires from fiery plasma scattering on impact and then a soggy mess in the crater after the cosmic ice ball melts. Basically, a meteor is like a flaming snowball.

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The gringa’s really sorry if she spoiled things for you. But I must remind you that the most important thing about science-fiction is that it is FICTION. So enjoy it the way it is meant to be enjoyed… an escape from reality into fantasy for pure pleasure. Let it titillate your imagination and inspire you to greater things. But always know the difference between fact and fiction!

Sources:

NASA

David Darling

Geoffrey Landis

Stanford

How Stuff Works

www.space.com

Image Credits: Discovery Channel

Star Trek Desktop Wallpaper

YouTube

Keyword Suggestions

Top Tenz

UK2

Animal New York

Gizmodo

A Triple Play Cosmic Conspiracy


(Originally published 1/30/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Mars, Utah and Germany are all in cahoots together. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have been conspiring together for years and now evidence of their plot can be found in Utah. Yes, they thought they were clever, selecting a remote and rugged location, inhospitable to human life, in order to keep out prying eyes. But their schemes have been foiled. The gringa has discovered the truth of their cosmic conspiracy triple play.

I have discovered intelligence, yes, special intelligence. Intelligence that speaks with a German accent and rolls about the dust and craters surrounding the desert wilds of Hanksville, Utah. Cosmic conspiracy agents have been spotted in this region and are said to have the uncanny navigation skill of a Himalayan Sherpa and the adorability of a frisky coyote. And all controlled by the whims of German taskmasters. But what are they, the dear reader asks? What are they doing? What does it mean? Well, the gringa’s gonna tell you.

The whole world knows that global space agencies are itching to get to Mars. Scientists and engineers are all engaged in frenzied efforts, developing the technologies to make a successful mission possible. One thing astronauts will need on such a long-term deep space mission will be robots that can think for themselves, AI’s (Artificial Intelligence). There will be no shirking of duty on a mission like that. Everyone has to be capable of doing their part, even the robots. No slacking and leaving your duty for someone else to perform.

It seems that Germany has come up with a great design for a couple of robotic rovers, CoyoteIII and SherpaTT. However, seeing as how Germany is sorely lacking in landscapes that are similar to Mars, the good people of Utah have played host to NASA and the ESA. Exploring the crevices, rocky hills and dusty craters of the terrain around Hanksville is the work of the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). Boy, those Germans are precise, that’s for sure. What a mouthful!

Now, these German scientists didn’t just dump costly technology off and wash their hands of the whole mess. They also aren’t managing their robot trials nearby, bunking with the locals. They are engaged in a more accurate enactment of what it would be like to work with a robot that is as far away as Mars. The robots in Utah are controlled by scientists in Bremen, Germany. “But what are they doing with them,” the dear reader says. The gringa thought that you would never ask.

It seems that there are some issues with how these babies get around. Although technically considered rovers, that doesn’t mean they are limited to just rolling about.  There were some issues to work out with the legs, navigating tight spaces and collecting geological samples. And, according to DFKI, the Utah tests were a success.

For now, there are no definite plans for Mars, but the gringa can see where these scientists are going with this technology. They will first use it to explore non-human capable places like underwater volcanoes with a tenuous future goal of searching for water on Mars. All the gringa can say is that the control center in Bremen looks like the most amazing video arcade. I may scrap my ambitions of becoming a space gringa, soaring through the heavens in a spacecraft, for operating gizmos like this. Check it out and see if you agree with me.

Sources & Image Credit:

DFKI

What Really Is Out There?


Just about everyone, at some point, has asked themselves the question, “Are we alone in the universe?” Although most people are satisfied to follow up this question with non-committal discussions, others take it much farther. There are those, like the gringa, whose insatiable curiosity simply must be satisfied. You see, the curious types like myself are the people who walk up every single aisle in the grocery store even though their shopping list may only have four items on it. We simply must exhaust every possibility!

Once you start digging about credible resources like NASA and other science communities, you discover that there is plenty of fodder for the ET rumor and conspiracy mills. There is so much strange space stuff out there that NASA has a inspired series on the Science Channel entitled “NASA’sUnexplained Files”.  Now, keep in mind that the material comes from NASA but any oddball conspiracy theory comes from people unaffiliated with NASA. So, the gringa’s advice is watch for pleasure 100% of the time as well as with a critical eye so you don’t get sucked in to fringe science thinking that it’s “real” science endorsed by NASA. From 2012-2016, dozens of episodes have aired.  Here is one  of the gringa’s favorites:

Say Cheese!  James McDivitt, a NASA engineer and astronaut during the 60s, claimed that he filmed a UFO. The episode entitled “Something Out There” recounts his story. McDivitt served on mission Gemini 4, June 3-7, 1965. The Gemini 4 space capsule was orbiting Earth. McDivitt recounts that fellow Astronaut Ed White was sleeping as they drifted. Engines were off and instruments powered down. The gringa then supposes that McDivitt was probably quite bored. No one to talk to and nothing else to do. Of course he was watching the scenery pass by. And, suddenly, he claimed that a cylindrical white object appeared. Because he lacked any reference point for distance, he could not even guess at its size. However, being a well-trained astronaut, McDivitt did not remain frozen in awe, wonder and fear. He grabbed a camera and began filming. NASA will naturally dismisses it as space debris. You can look at the old footage and decide for yourself.

There are so many interesting episodes and amazing mysteries the gringa can’t possibly list them all. But my dear readers may be interested to explore the possibilities of:

  • Thousands of objects detected by the Hubble Space Telescope that travel faster than the speed of light.
  • Antananarivo, Madagascar, August 16, 1954, around 5pm, hundreds of thousands of people witnessed a UFO described as an “electric green ball” descending from the sky near the Palais de la Reine.  Among the witnesses was  Air France military officer Edmond Campagnac and an Air France technical director.  They testified that the UFO seemed to be at an altitude of about 50-150 meters, resembled a plasma shaped lens, was about 40 meters long, comparable in size to a DC4 aircraft, disappeared behind a hill and then an explosion was heard. A silvery metallic object flew behind it, was about the same size and produced blue exhaust flames. Both were completely silent. As the craft passed over, power outages were experienced but quickly resumed. Dogs were howling like crazy and other animals exhibited signs of panic. As the craft traveled over a farm, herds of animals were seized with panic and began to stampede in different directions.
  • Is Venus where the ancient ancestors of Earthlings are from? NASA says if the right ingredients are there, an Earth-like civilization on Venus would have been possible billions of years ago.
  • Is there 2,000-year-old evidence that the Earth once had 2 moons? And could we actually have 2 moons right now?

Sources:

Huffington Post

Science Channel

UFO Casebook

NASA

Image Credit:  Aluminum Foil Hat Society

A Year With The Stars


(Originally posted 1/6/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Now that the new year is in full swing, it’s time to mark all the significant events that you don’t want to miss. By now you’ve already missed the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, that happened in the wee hours of January 4th. Later that same day Earth arrived in its closest position throughout its annual orbit round the Sun, called Perihelion, despite the fact that it was cold as the dickens with most Earthlings experiencing their winter seasons. But don’t despair if you missed out. There is so much more to come!

Feb. 10/11 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse:  It may seem like a normal full Moon but it’s not. The Moon will be moving through the outermost part of the Earth’s shadow. Because this part of the shadow is so faint, the Sun’s reflection off the Moon is incredibly striking and bright. As the three celestial bodies align, rather than see the Moon blocked out by the Earth’s shadow, the reverse will happen, it will shine brighter. Look at this image and see the difference between an ordinary full moon and the Moon in penumbral eclipse:

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Feb. 26 Annular Solar Eclipse: If you live in the geographical swath of Earth that stretches across southern and western Africa, most of South America, and the islands dotting that belt in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, or if you happen to be in Antarctica, you will get to see the very best of this event. Some places, like the gringa’s H-town, won’t be able to see it at all. The eclipse will start around 6am Houston time and take about 5 hours to complete its cycle. However, you can’t just gaze up at the sky to see a proverbial “ring of fire” unless you want to come away blind and this be the last thing you ever see. To view a solar eclipse safely, you can always use a homemade pinhole projector, welders’ goggles or special solar filter viewing products. Check out Mr. Eclipse and discover how not to commit optic suicide while viewing a solar eclipse.  Here’s a map so you can see if you will be anywhere where you might get to see it.

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April 22/23 Lyrid Meteor Shower:  This annual celestial event takes place during the time of a waning crescent Moon. That means the setting will be fantastic to watch meteors streak across the sky. Although the Lyrid Meteor Shower season can start lighting up the sky as early as April 16 and last as late as April 25, the 22 & 23 are the days where activity should peak. So, as long as it’s not cloudy or raining, all you have to do is sit outside anytime after nightfall and watch the show until daybreak.

What direction should you look? Well, the event takes its name after constellation Lyra. That’s the direction from which the meteors emerge. Look toward the star Vega, it’s one of the brightest stars in the sky in April. To spot it, look directly overhead for a brilliant star that looks bluish-white. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere have the best seats for this show but just about everyone in the world has a chance at a peek.  Here’s a star map to help you find Vega so you will be looking in the right direction:

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May 5/6 Eta Aquarid Meteors: If you didn’t get to see anything exciting with April’s meteor showers, maybe you will see something in May. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower season lasts from April 19 until May 28. However, the time of most activity will be May 5 & 6. Well, more specifically, the week hours on the morning of May 6. These meteors are the product of dust and debris from Halley’s Comet. During this time, Earth is passing through the path this famed comet travels around the Sun. This happens twice every year. The second event occurs in October. It takes the comet about 76 years to complete its orbit around the Sun. So, we are seeing rocks burn up in our atmosphere that have been hanging out on their own for nearly a century, at least. But, that’s just how long the rock has been separated from the comet. As to a meteorite’s true age, there’s really no telling. When you witness a shooting star, you could be watching the end of millions of years of history. To look for these meteors look toward the Aquarius constellation. Eta Aquarii, the namesake of this event, will be the brightest star of Aquarius. Here’s a star map to help you:

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Aug. 7/8 Partial Lunar Eclipse: This will be visible in most of southern/eastern Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. The eclipse will begin around 4pm UTC with maximum effect happening around 6:20pm UTC.

Aug. 12/13 Perseid Meteors:  This is one of the brightest and most active meteor showers throughout the year.  The entire season lasts from July 17 until August 24 but these are the best 2 days to be expected from the peak period of Aug 9-13. If you can, get out of town on a really dark night, settle down on a blanket and wait for the sky to light up right before dawn. These meteors are debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet and can be viewed by looking toward the Perseus constellation. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere should look at the zenith of the northeastern sky. Here’s an image of the Perseus constellation:

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Aug 21 The Great American Eclipse: A total solar eclipse will be center attraction across the entire U.S. Refer to Mr. Eclipse listed in the event for Feb. 26 to find out how to watch it safely.

October 8 Draconid Meteor Shower:  The debris left behind by dust from comet 21 P/Giacobini-Zinner makes for a spectacular light show but only for certain lucky people who live in North America, Europe and Asia. The further south you go toward the equator, the less likely it is you will get to see any action. For the best opportunity, look toward the 2 brightest stars of the Draco the Dragon Constellation, Eltanin and Rastaban. If you can find the Little Dipper, Draco is close by. Take a look:

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October 20/21 Orionid Meteors:  Right on the heels of one fantastic meteor shower event is another. The Orionid meteors are blasting away throughout all of October but these two nights are the biggest shows. The best time to start watching is right after midnight. More dust from Halley’s Comet is making an encore appearance. Everyone in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere is invited to watch. It’s as easy as looking right overhead no matter where you are.

Nov 17/18 Leonid Meteor Shower:  If you want to have a chance at seeing light shows from burning space debris created by the Tempel-Tuttle Comet, this show promises about 20 meteors per hour.  People in both hemispheres can view the meteors starting around midnight on Nov. 17. No particular direction is better than another. Just get out of town, away from city lights. Pack a few sleeping bags so you can snuggle down in comfort and warmth, then lie on your back and enjoy the show.

Dec 3/4 Supermoon: End the year with a fabulous Supermoon. It will appear about 12-14% larger than normal. Being nearer the Earth will also mean the Moon will have a stronger tidal effect. If you have a chance, get to a beach and view three cool natural events, a Supermoon, amazing high tide and super-low neap tide. As the Supermoon pulls the tide further away from the beach than normal, there’s no telling what kind of treasure might be found!

The gringa hopes you are all excited about an interesting year ahead with cool space stuff to do every single month! Get out and enjoy the stars with someone you love! Pack a midnight picnic, disconnect from devices, lay back, relax and be patient. The show will begin in its own time!

Source:  www.timeanddate.com

Image Credits:  Fine Art America

CNN Philippines

www.timeanddate.com

www.space.com

Fall Of A Thousands Suns

Shmoop

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