Astronomy Picture of the Day
Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2016 April 18
Explanation: The International Space Station is the largest object ever constructed by humans in space. The station perimeter extends over roughly the area of a football field, although only a small fraction of this is composed of modules habitable by humans. The station is so large that it could not be launched all at once — it continues to be built piecemeal. To function, the ISS needs huge trusses, some over 15 meters long and with masses over 10,000 kilograms, to keep it rigid and to route electricity and liquid coolants. Pictured above, the immense space station was photographed from the now-retired space shuttle Atlantis after a week-long stay in 2010. Across the image top hangs part of a bright blue Earth, in stark contrast to the darkness of interstellar space across the bottom.
Use Orion’s Belt to find Mercury
Tonight – April 18, 2016 – use Orion’s Belt to find Mercury, which is one of the five bright planets, but the most elusive among them, always near the sunset or sunrise. Mercury is in the sunset sky now, at greatest elongation (farthest from the sunset) on this date. The photo at the top of this post shows Mercury caught in the treetops during this evening apparition. It’s by an EarthSky friend on Facebook, Ken Christison. Thanks, Ken!
So Mercury stays low in the sky, typically, and – at this time of year – so does Orion. Look in early evening for the famous constellation Orion the Hunter, now about to disappear for another season.
Here’s how to use Orion to find Mercury. As Orion pops out after sunset, you might notice its three prominent Belt stars – a short, straight line of three medium-bright stars. Orion’s Belt always points to Sirius, nighttime’s brightest star – and you can see that for yourself tonight. But also, in the opposite direction, Orion’s Belt will be pointing – more or less – to Mercury, our solar system’s innermost planet. There’s a bright star in that part of the sky, too, Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Use the chart below to distinguish Aldebaran from Mercury.
From the Southern Hemisphere … assuming you’re at at temperate latitude, you’ll have a much harder time than those at northerly latitudes catching Mercury right now. From the Southern Hemisphere, the planet is much lower in the western sky as the sun goes down. Southern hemisphere dwellers will have an awesome opportunity to see Mercury in the morning sky in late May and June, 2016.
From northerly latitudes, Mercury is fairly easy to catch as dusk gives way to darkness. But if you’re not sure which object is Mercury, let Orion point the way.
Notice the star Aldebaran on the chart above. Practiced stargazers use Orion’s Belt to locate this star, too, which is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. It’s hard to say whether the star Aldebaran or planet Mercury will be the first to come out after sundown. Mercury is brighter than Aldebaran, but Mercury hovers closer to the horizon.
At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury sets a whopping 100 minutes after sunset – given an unobstructed western horizon.
From northerly latitudes, Mercury will set an hour or more after sunset for the rest of the month.
Can’t find Orion? It’s possible, especially at northerly latitudes, where this constellation is beginning to fade into the twilight glare.
If you have trouble finding Orion, try using some key stars. Although Mercury easily shines on par with the evening’s brightest stars, Mercury sits lower in the sky and closer to the sun’s glare. So several evening stars will probably spring out into the deepening dusk before Mercury does. You’ll probably see Sirius come out first, followed by Capella, Procyon, Betelgeuse and Rigel. Look for these stars on the chart below … and in the sky.
Depending on which stars are at your disposal, try star-hopping to Mercury. At mid-northern latitudes, seek for Mercury almost straight down from the bright star Capella. Or, from any latitude, draw an imaginary line from the star Procyon through the star Aldebaran to locate Mercury near the horizon.
If you can spot Mercury as dusk gives way to darkness, you might also be able to view the Winter Circle at nightfall. At northerly latitudes, the Winter Circle star Rigel could be difficult to see because it’s quite close to the horizon as the stars come out.
Like Orion and Mercury, the Winter Circle will soon be fading into the sunset glare
Bottom line: In April, 2016, look in early evening for the famous constellation Orion the Hunter, now about to disappear for another season. It can help you find the planet Mercury, which is one of the five bright planets, but an elusive planet because it always stays near the sunset or sunrise in our sky.
Bruce McClure is the chief writer for the popular EarthSky Tonight pages. Since joining EarthSky in 2004, he has written thousands of astronomy articles, enjoyed here by millions. He also writes, gives planetarium shows and hosts a wide assortment of public astronomy programs in and around his home in upstate New York. If you ask an astronomy question on our site, it’s likely to be Bruce that answers it. His love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and he has sailed the North Atlantic, earning his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. Bruce is also a sundial aficionado. He says his number one passion – besides his wife Alice – is stargazing.
Article published on EarthSky
It is easy to take for granted things that we are used to or expect to be there for us because they normally are all the time. I remember once when I was a teenager performing on the piano, I hurt both fourth finger ligaments on each of my hands while playing a strenuous Rachmaninoff piece. The hand specialist I met with diagnosed me with a “flexor strain” and basically commented that I would be fine after some daily hand and arm stretches and lack of usage of my hands for several weeks at least. Boy were those some weird weeks though. It was hard for me to live my life feeding myself, doing my homework, and in general even getting my clothes on or washing my hair with both my hands NOT WORKING!
It was incredible, but even with just reduced usability of my fingers (it hurt to move any of them) my life went from usual to difficult if not very frustrating at best. Let’s not even add into this my regional piano competitions I was hoping to make in a couple of months, but I know, I know, that was my young and impatient self asking for too much. I should have been just grateful my hands would return back to working order eventually, even if albeit I would need to be more careful in my piano playing from then on.
Evidence of my typing this a decade later, I very much am
It is one thing when one suffers a “sports” or “performance” injury in one’s life and have to put something out of commission for a period of time if not in worst case scenarios, permanently. It is entirely another when it is genuinely your health involved…
In dedication to those who have learned much more patience, persistence, and perseverance than I had in my youthful years in living with a condition many of us struggle to understand due to how much we may not appreciate what we have that they must do without, I would like to discuss the condition of fibromyalgia: what it is, important details on it, and what can be done about it.
Perhaps one day those who suffer from it can go back to “playing the piano” in their own dedicated sense~
Let’s have a look!
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that affects up to 10 million Americans, most of them women. It was identified in 1816 by a Scottish physician, but wasn’t officially recognized by the American Medical Association as an illness until 1987. It manifests as pain in the fiber of the muscles, often throughout the body, along with unrelenting fatigue, headaches, and sleep disturbances. It can mimic other ills, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis, which often leaves sufferers spending years seeking a correct diagnosis. Because there is no definitive test for the condition, the diagnosis is tricky and some doctors continue to question its validity.
Definition: a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and possibly even mood issues. Researchers have found correlations that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
- Widespread pain – often is described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
- Fatigue – People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Cognitive strain – A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention, and concentrate on mental tasks. It is hard to pay attention when you have dull aching sensations constantly distracting you!
- Others – Many people who have fibromyalgia also may experience depression primarily caused by the stress of the condition, headaches, and pain or cramping in the lower abdomen.
What causes this?
Although doctors and medical researchers do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia, there is some speculation among patterns found among the following:
Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals.
Factors involved in this change of neurological reaction to pain signals include genetics, fibromyalgia does seem to run in families, infections, certain illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia, and physical or emotional trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.
Who is affected?
Statistically, fibromyalgia affects approximately 1/50 Americans. More women than men experience this chronic pain disorder, and those with a family history seem more prone to developing it at some point in their lives.
Some risk factors that appear to be commonalities among those who suffer from fibromyalgia include sex (fibromyalgia appears more often in women than men), family history, and if you also have a rheumatic disease (those with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus seem to get fibromyalgia more often than those without).
Testing and Diagnosis
Tender Point Exam – In the past, doctors would check 18 specific points on a person’s body to see how many of them were painful when pressed firmly. Newer guidelines don’t require a tender point exam. Instead, a fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made if a person has had widespread pain for more than three months — with no underlying medical condition that could cause the pain.
Blood tests – While there is no lab test to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your doctor may want to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Blood tests may include:
- Complete blood count
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Thyroid function tests
In general, conventional medical treatments for fibromyalgia include both medication and self-care. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health. The medications typically prescribed include: pain relievers, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs (designed to reduce certain types of pain).
Fibromyalgia is certainly not new. Although it may be less recognized by its formal medical title in the general population, the treatment of long-term chronic pain has been a focus for many traditional and alternative practices for quite some time.
Practices that have shown efficacy in helping to mitigate, treat, and even in some cases heal fibromyalgia include:
Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a Chinese medical system based on restoring normal balance of life forces by inserting very fine needles through the skin to various depths. According to Western theories of acupuncture, the needles cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. According to Eastern teachings acupuncture is believed to keep the balance between Yin and Yang, thus allowing for the normal flow of “Qi” throughout the body and restoring health to the mind and body. Although acupuncture has been shown to relieve pain from fibromyalgia, it does not appear to be long-lasting.
Essential Oils – for quick relief, essential oils have shown the ability to boost serotonin levels in one’s brain to reduce the effects of fibromyalgia. The best combination of oils that have been found are:
- Mix 20 drops chamomile, 20 drops lavender, 20 drops orange, 20 drops marjoram, and fractionated coconut oil. Put in diffuser or necklace diffuser for convenient timed release.
Massage therapy – This is one of the oldest methods of health care still in practice. It involves use of different manipulative techniques to move your body’s muscles and soft tissues. Massage can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints and increase production of your body’s natural painkillers. It often helps relieve stress and anxiety. Similarly with acupuncture, massage therapy does appear to relieve pain but does not seem to have long-lasting effects.
Yoga – Through slow rhythmic movements and Ayurvedic meditative teachings, yoga’s ability to shift the nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response is vital to people whose central nervous systems are sensitive and naturally hyped way up. The practice of yoga has shown significant help for those suffering from fibromyalgia both in the short and long-term. It is recommended that beginners do a gentle practice that enhances relaxation and avoid strenuous poses until they know they can move into them without triggering a pain reaction. Also, extra thick/cushy yoga mats are advised.
Tai Chi – studies have shown that just 12 weeks of tai chi — the slow-motion Chinese martial art — relieved longstanding fibromyalgia symptoms and improved quality of life in a clinical trial. Compared with patients who received wellness education and stretching exercises in this trial, those who practiced tai chi saw their fibromyalgia become much less severe. They also slept better, felt better, had less pain, had more energy, and had better physical and mental health, says study researcher Chenchen Wang, MD, of Tufts University School of Medicine regarding the clinical trial performed in August 2010. “We definitely saw better results than reported in trials of drug treatments for fibromyalgia,” Wang reports. “One patient with previous arthritis pain kept saying, ‘No pain! No pain!’” Although this initial clinical study does not appear conclusive Wang says 50% to 60% of the patients were “really engaged,” and after about eight weeks began to feel better.
Nutrition & Supplements – Vitamin D and magnesium levels appear to be consistently low in those suffering with fibromyalgia. A small clinical study published in Pain Medicine’sJanuary 2012 issue discussed findings that fibromyalgia patients who took vitamin D supplements over the course of 8 weeks experienced marked improvement.
Other nutritional changes that can significantly better those suffering from fibromyalgia include:
Food to Not Intake:
- artificial sweeteners
- corn syrup
- hydrogenated oil
- food dyes (esp. red #3, #40, yellow #5)
- enriched flours
- bleached flours
- canned vegetables (except tomatoes and beans)
- sugary cereals
- boxed or instant potatoes
- instant rice
- low-fat mayonnaise
- fake butter
- soda (regular or diet)
- processed meats
- American cheese
- candy bars
- high sugar fruits
Food to Intake in one’s diet much more:
- cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
- organic chicken broth
- dried spices
- organic yogurt
- fresh vegetables
- fresh herbs
- Bragg’s liquid aminos
- Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
- grain mustard
- sparkling water
Supplements for Fibromyalgia:
- 5 HTP – amino acid – may help with pain
- Astragalus – helps with immune function, may help with pain and joint stiffness
- Gotu Kola – may help with sleep disorders, fatigue, and depression
- Magnesium – alleviation of symptoms, about 400 mg/day
- Quercetin – antioxidant properties, may limit release of histamines
- guaifenasin – 300 mg twice daily
- SAM-e – chronic pain and depression
- Skullcap – anti-inflammatory and joint pain
- Vitamin D – pain and fatigue (as mentioned)
- Vitamin B Complex – fatigue, brain fog
- fish oil – pain 24,000 mg/day
- ribose – joint pain, this is a simple sugar, not recommended for diabetics
- brown seaweed extract – symptom relief
- capsaicin cream – joint pain, apply topically 4 times a day
In general, nutritionally it can be seen that the cleansing of one’s diet and subsequently body of environmental toxins, synthetic chemicals, and heavy metals appears to be the best bets in helping fibromyalgia.
Gerson Therapy – by far one of the world’s most leading institutes for alternative non-toxic treatments, the Gerson Institute, named after the famous physician Max Gerson, helps treat patients suffering from arthritis, diabetes, chronic degenerative disease, and most famously cancer. Those who suffer from fibromyalgia can benefit from their all-encompassing approach to treatment (involving nutrition changes and detoxification) as well. Check out the Gerson Institute website for more information. Although the non-profit headquarters is in San Diego, CA, their licensed inpatient clinics are located in Mexico and Hungary.
All in all, there are many alternative ways to combat and reduce the effects the difficulties of fibromyalgia in one’s life. Although tai-chi, yoga, and nutritional changes appear to be the most effective long-term non-invasive and non-prescription orientated methods of helping fibromyalgia, a combination of many of these alternative treatments can make a significant impact on the extent of this medical condition and it’s pervasiveness.
My heart goes out to those women and men who suffer from chronic pain like this in their lives every day. All the best to you, and hopefully something mentioned here will aid to help you feel better!
~May your days be long and your hardships few~
Share with me your stories and experiences, comment below.
The Wisdom of Buddha