Strange Universe | WAMC

Strange Universe

Sundays, 9:35 a.m.
  • Hosted by Bob Berman

Astronomer Bob Berman sheds light on the mysteries of space and time. Always fascinating and fun, Strange Universe will take you places you never knew existed. Learn why Betelgeuse sometimes goes weirdly dim and how after the totality in 2017 in places like Wyoming and the Carolinas, millions finally got to see a total solar eclipse.

Strange Universe 5/9/21

May 9, 2021

Mercury changes its orbital speed more than any other planet and this can make Mercury's sunrise screech to a halt. Then the sun sinks back down again, and rises a second time. Tune in this Sunday to hear how to spot this phenomenon for yourself.

Strange Universe 5/2/21

May 4, 2021

Berman shares with us some of astronomy's weirdest facts. For example, that the slowest-spinning object in the known universe is the nearest planet, Venus. A person could walk faster than it rotates.

Strange Universe 4/25/2021

Apr 26, 2021

From Friday through Monday, surrounding April 25, the nearest bright star to the Moon is the famous ‘Arcturus.’ Even beginners spot it easily: the Big Dipper's handle curves in its direction. Arc to Arcturus is one of the first sky watching slogans. It’s the only celestial body to open a world's fair and the only major star that will soon disappear!

Strange Universe 4/18/21

Apr 18, 2021

Earth Day is Thursday and you can bet the big topic will be climate change, which will bring up carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide makes up just 1/25th of one percent of our air, but nearly 100% of the air on our neighbor planets Mars and Venus. This explains why Venus has the hottest surface of any planet, and why Mars sometimes has pleasant temperatures. Stay tuned.

Strange Universe 4/11/21

Apr 11, 2021

This week we play with numbers! Astronomers love numbers -- they'll take all the numerals you care to throw at them. But the average person is ignorant of even simple stats like the diameter of the Sun. But the bottom line has always been making sense of the universe.

Strange Universe 3/28/21

Mar 28, 2021
Adege from Pixabay

For countless centuries the full moon was a time of monthly importance, even celebration. One reason was that the lack of artificial night lights meant that travel was perilous unless the Moon was out and was bright. Moonlight really mattered until the 19th century. Yet few of these reasons, and festivals and lunar calendars, still remain.

Strange Universe 3/21/21

Mar 21, 2021
flower in bloom
Mabel Amber from Pixabay

This weekend, of course, is the vernal equinox, the start of spring, which the media often celebrates by saying that, "Day and night are equal." But some people must surely glance at local sunrise and sunset listings and see that day is now longer than night. Real equality happened in the middle of last week. The culprit is our atmosphere, which bends the sun’s image upward. But, hey, it’s close enough, like the date itself. 

Strange Universe 3/14/21

Mar 15, 2021
Big dipper
Felix Wolf from Pixabay

The Big Dipper is so recognizable, it's been an old friend to most of us since childhood. Its shape is mutating and will appear different in just a few thousand years — but it hasn't changed a bit since we were kids. These nights, the Dipper is highest in the sky.

Strange Universe 3/7/21

Mar 7, 2021
Sunlight through green forest

March brings the year's fastest sunlight gain, especially in the afternoon when we most notice it. While April will provide the quickest growth in morning sunshine, meaning when daybreak happens, each day now has more than 3 minutes of additional light than the day before. Each sunset now happens about 2 minutes later, shoving back evening darkness by nearly an hour between now and the 31st. 

Strange Universe 2/28/21

Mar 2, 2021
Earth and Astronaut
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Can we get out of here? That's the question physicists pondered for centuries: can we permanently leave earth? This week we’ll discuss our attempts to figure it out.

Strange Universe 2/21/21

Feb 21, 2021
Ponciano from Pixabay

Sunday evening the Moon gets about as high up as we ever see it, and its illumination is perfect for exploring with any small telescope. But let’s start with an amazing fact, that the moon doesn't orbit our planet's center, but a spot a thousand miles beneath Earth's surface. And that magic place lies directly beneath your feet on Sunday evening.

Strange Universe 2/14/21

Feb 14, 2021
Purple night sky

Venus is only visible just before dawn, at the very coldest possible hour. So if it's a very late date or if you and your beloved wake up just as morning twilight begins and gaze out a northeast-facing window, the Morning Star will be totally, absolutely riveting. And on February 14 of all days, the lunatic moon, ancient Sirene, the very celestial embodiment of passion, hovers just after sunset as a lovely crescent.

Strange Universe 2/7/21

Feb 7, 2021
Forest Road
Image by bertvthul from Pixabay

We’re now in the wonderful time of year when our daily light grows at its fastest rate. From this week through April, places around latitude 40 get 3 extra minutes of daylight per day. This week we’ll learn about light photons: how they move through space and experience no time at all.

Strange Universe 1/31/21

Jan 31, 2021
Mountains and valley
Sergio Cerrato from Pixabay

Even though we’ve relied on Groundhog Day to predict whether we will have a longer winter, believe it or not, this does connect with the sky. Turns out, according to NOAA climatological data, an average of 69% of February daylight hours are covered by clouds in the Northeast. This is actually one of the year's cloudiest months and we’ll learn exactly why.

Strange Universe 1/24/21

Jan 25, 2021

Let’s get strange and far out, by exploring a radical new way of perceiving the universe. It’s getting a buzz right now because it’s a central theme in the just-published Biocentrism book I wrote with Dr. Robert Lanza and a Croatian physicist. Using physics and quantum mechanics, it explores the idea that the universe did not start out lifeless. And that we should abandon our standard model in which everything unfolds within random physical events in a largely empty, matter-based universe.

Strange Universe 1/17/21

Jan 17, 2021
Image by ParallelVision from Pixabay

We don’t often think about the third largest planet. Most of us don’t even pronounce it correctly. But once in a while, Uranus becomes briefly easy to find and to observe, and if you own a simple pair of binoculars, that happens this coming Wednesday.

Strange Universe 1/10/21

Jan 10, 2021
warm winter day snowy field

Just a few months ago, this winter was forecast to be warm, and so far that’s been generally true. But now let’s look more closely at that North Atlantic Oscillation, which has been known since 1770.  When people notice that we seem “stuck in a pattern” -- either for good or for bad -- well, the NAO is that pattern. In 2010 and 11 the NAO was negative, and those winters were harsh and snowy. It was positive in 2000 and 2007, and we then had mild conditions.

Strange Universe 1/3/20

Jan 3, 2021
Colorado sky

After 2020, one of the strangest years of our lives, we’re looking forward to 2021 as a time to perhaps restore some normalcy. Well, will that be true in the heavens, as well? What will the new year hold for those of us who enjoy nature, and the night sky?

Let’s preview what the stars hold in store for the coming year. The most spectacular sky event is normally a total solar eclipse, and there will be one on December 4. Unfortunately, it will happen only over Antarctica. So, most of us can forget that one.

But, happily, the year’s two best mteors showers, the Perseids on August 11 and the geminids on December 13, will both unfold without a full Moon or even a bright gibbous Moon to spoil the show. If the weather’s clear, both meteor showers should be gorgeous.

Strange Universe 12/27/20

Dec 27, 2020

We are now entering the period when the Moon can get strangely high up. The ultra-highest full moon of 2020 happens this Tuesday night, at midnight. This, the 13th full moon of the year, will be two Moon-widths higher up than the Sun ever attains here, even on the summer solstice. Photo from Pixabay.

Strange Universe 12/20/20

Dec 20, 2020

A rare, spectacular sky event is about to unfold. On the very day of the solstice, December 21, Saturn will come as close to Jupiter as Jove’s own moons! From time immemorial, a meeting of Jupiter and Saturn was deemed the most auspicious of all planetary get-togethers, the only one called a “Great Conjunction.” This is the rarest meeting between any of the five bright planets, and happens just once every two decades. 

Strange Universe 12/13/20

Dec 13, 2020

On Sunday night, December 13, we will see the year’s finest meteor shower. These are the Geminids, and they deliver a meteor a minute.
     Geminids are much slower than either the summer Perseids or the hit-or-miss Leonids because they don't strike us head-on. They come at Earth sideways. They lope along at half the speed of the other major showers, and it shows. Instead of sharp, brief zaps across the sky, we get leisurely streakers. And you’ll start seeing them as early as 9 PM.

Strange Universe 12/6/20

Dec 6, 2020
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Bond (STScI) and M. Barstow (University of Leicester)

Who hasn't heard of the Dog Star, Sirius - the most brilliant star in the heavens. Right now it rises in the east around 10 p.m., and can easily be identified because the famous belt of Orion points down and leftward to it.
  As the brightest star in the constellation of the Big Dog, Sirius was considered bad news in the Roman Empire, when hit men sometimes sacrificed dogs when Sirius appeared. The Dog Star had better press in ancient Egypt; they believed an alliance between the sun and the brightest star caused summer's heat. Even today we still use the expression "Dog Days" to mean sultry weather.

Strange Universe 11/29/20

Nov 29, 2020
Earth from Space
Image Credit: NASA

Every couple of months you'll read about the "first-ever New Earth" found beyond the solar system. But in nearly all cases, the item had been uncovered many years earlier. It’s an odd development that science discoveries are being announced as “new” when the information has been out there for years or even decades. It's strange. Another science journalism sin is hyping sky events that are either minor or unobservable. So beware of today’s headlines, promoting a lunar eclipse Sunday night, November 29th.  For casual observers, the Full Moon will remain unchanged.

Strange Universe 11/22/20

Nov 22, 2020
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Explore the five most abundant elements in the galaxy: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. The remaining seven dozen elements are almost a seasoning. Together they make up just 4% of the universe. And then there’s the unknown, like dark matter. There’s six times more of it than all of the 92 natural elements combined, but what has nature fashioned out of that?

Strange Universe 11/15/20

Nov 15, 2020
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Following up on last week’s episode regarding planet speed, this week we consider the speed of natural objects around us. We’ll hear about the speed of ocean currents, tectonic plates, air motion and more. 

Strange Universe 11/8/20

Nov 8, 2020

Everything moves. We know of no object – not one – that doesn’t spin on its own axis while also whizzing through space. It’s a hurry-up universe. But what about us? How fast are you moving through space? Glad you asked.

First, there’s your speed on our spinning planet, and this depends on where you live. At either pole, you don’t move at all. At the equator, you move at 1,038 miles per hours. If you like math, you can figure your exact speed by multiplying the cosine of your latitude by 1,038. It works out to about 750 miles an hour in typical American cities, which is very close to the speed of sound. And while you’re doing that, you’re also being carried through space at our planet’s orbital speed, which is an extremely fast 66,600 miles per hour.

Strange Universe 11/1/20

Nov 1, 2020
Credit: NASA Goddard / Tom Bridgman

We cover the Earth and Sun’s scheduled pole shifts. Usually the Sun's enormous magnetic field's north pole becomes south, and vice versa, every 11 years, and we are now entering solar cycle number 25. But the recent sunspot cycle has been weirdly drawn out. All this activity has its roots far below the surface in a solar zone called the tachocline, about 70% of the way from the center toward its gassy surface. It's powerful and yet, most people are more concerned about Earth's magnetic poles flipping over. Could our poles shift too?

Strange Universe 10/25/20

Oct 25, 2020
AlexAntropov86 /

Every 26 months Earth and Mars meet, but the encounter can occur at either a narrow gap between our orbits or a wide gap. The difference matters because, after waiting 26 months between Martian encounters, called oppositions, the Red Planet can be more than twice as bright on some occasions compared to others. Whenever we meet in the early autumn, we meet at very nearly its closest and best, which makes it very large through backyard telescopes and simply brilliant in the night sky.

Strange Universe 10/18/20

Oct 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of WikiImages

Heat is simply the motion of atoms: Something feels hot because you sense the frenzied movement of those little critters. At 98.6 degrees all your body's atoms are jiggling at about 1,000 miles per hour. Atoms stop moving only at 460 degrees farhenheit below zero. Since nothing can go any slower than "stopped," this is indeed the coldest possible temperature -- Absolute Zero.

Strange Universe 10/11/20

Oct 11, 2020

Amateur astronomers are also often disappointed by the full moon, which looks boring because the sun then shines straight down like a flash camera to erase all shadows and highlights; but all phases are not created equal. The best moon for observers happens next  Thursday, October 22, and it stays fabulous right through weekend.