By Jason Cooper
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Extra resources for Antlers and Horns (Let's Look at Animals Discovery Library)
What does it mean? First, that mass and energy can be changed into each other and so are just different forms of the same thing. An object’s mass is also a measure of how much energy it holds, Einstein said. Second, because the speed of light is such a big number, a tiny bit of mass can equal a lot of energy, according to the equation. The idea that a small amount of mass can produce a huge amount of energy is a big deal, especially for astronomers. It explains why stars burn and glow for millions of years.
Massive objects bend the fabric of space-time and sink into holes with sloping walls. Nearby matter flows down these slopes in space-time. This is what gravity is. It is the force that keeps planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity doesn’t pull an apple off a tree. The curvature of space-time creates gravity. Space and time in Einstein’s universe are not rigid and fixed, but are flexible, pushable, and changeable by matter. Gravity feels strongest where space-time is most curved, and it vanishes where space-time is uncurved.
Friedrich Bessel (1784–1846) did such a good job teaching himself astronomy that the king gave him his own new observatory at Königsberg. There, along the Baltic Sea, Bessel watched a pair of stars through his telescope. The faint but nearby stars were called 61 Cygni. Bessel was trying to measure the distance to 61 Cygni from Earth using parallax. You can see how parallax works yourself. Just set an object—say, a soda can—a couple of feet away from you. Staring at the can, alternately close your right and left eye.