Developed with ex-NASA engineers and current space technologies, the XP-1 also offers a blistering sub-3-second sprint to 60 mph and has a 1,000-Mile Range—and Can Recharge in 5 Minutes
Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies, Inc.
In the United States, plug-in electric vehicles account for just less than 2 percent of all vehicles running on roads, but Southern California–based Hyperion Companies, Inc., and its Hyperion Motors division, is banking on cutting-edge, space-grade hydrogen fuel-cell technology to help consumers embrace the electric car market with much more vigor. Hyperion’s first salvo in the battle against combustion is the XP-1 prototype—a futuristic supercar with a claimed 1,016-mile range and the ability to haul to 60 mph in 2.2 seconds. Oh, and the recharge time is less than five minutes.
The Hyperion XP-1 prototype. Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies.
Skeptics of the XP-1’s performance promises should consider three crucial factors: Hyperion was founded nearly a decade ago by a team of PhDs exclusively focused on hydrogen-based power and delivery, and Hyperion works in conjunction with NASA to utilize technologies developed for space travel in commercial applications. Lastly, the organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans are planning to add a hydrogen-powered class by 2024, signaling that the element may play a vital part in the future of motorsports.
“Our vehicle represents the answer to ‘why hydrogen?’” says Angelo Kafantaris, Hyperion’s CEO. “It’s a no-compromise car that represents the best that hydrogen fuel-cell technology can be. Hydrogen is the cleanest, most sustainable energy source that’s not been properly utilized.”
The hydrogen-powered car will reportedly have a top speed of more than 221 mph. Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies, Inc.
For those who glazed over during chemistry class in high school, hydrogen molecules can unleash heaps of electrical power after a chemical reaction breaks them apart. That electrical energy can be stored in fuel cells in lieu of lithium-ion batteries, which are beyond heavy, require lengthy charging times, degrade over the lifecycle and can be expensive to recycle.
“We can store more energy, for the weight, than a battery-electric vehicle,” Kafantaris shares, “all while extending range and shortening refueling time.” Kafantaris, who holds a transportation design degree, understands that the experience of owning and driving a hydrogen-powered car must be identical to our current vehicular norms, and so he is hyper-focused on reducing pain points for those making the switch. “I’ve been driving hydrogen for five years and it’s identical to gas, with refueling. Very quick,” he says.
Power comes from two permanently excited motors mounted in the rear. Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies, Inc.
Among the larger hurdles to mass hydrogen acceptance is a lack of low-cost hydrogen fuel stations and the current inability to provide home fueling, for those used to plug-in electric vehicles. “It will take time to get the infrastructure right, but we want to give you all the benefits of clean fuel without any tradeoffs. The benefit here won’t be matching gas vehicles; it’ll be exceeding them,” Kafantaris says. To help educate consumers about those benefits, and showcase them, his team—including a cadre of ex-NASA engineers—worked for more than eight years to bring the XP-1 prototype to fruition.
Only 300 examples of the XP-1 will be made. Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies, Inc.
“It’s the ultimate sports car,” he says. “It’s got all the right tick boxes: speed, excitement and range.” Powered by twin permanently excited motors (both mounted in the rear), the XP-1 is all-wheel drive, with a 55 percent weight-bias towards the back and a top speed of more than 221 mph. Part of the car’s blistering speed is due to its carbon-fiber monocoque anchoring a chassis surrounded with aluminum and titanium components. The result is a car with a curb weight of less than 2,275 pounds.
Unlike battery-electric vehicles, which require constant temperature regulation to realize maximum performance, the XP-1’s hydrogen storage system is unaffected by the thermometer’s readout and is capable of peak performance while repeatedly turning competitive laps on a track or during prolonged, impassioned road outings. Those wraparound buttresses pull double-duty as active aerodynamic elements that bolster cornering at higher speeds but also act as solar panels that can actuate and move to better align with the sun.
First deliveries of the XP-1 are planned for early 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Hyperion Companies, Inc.
Only 300 examples of the XP-1 will be made, but pricing and select power-train specs have yet to be announced. “With the XP-1, we’ll be inspiring first and then explaining how we’ll bring hydrogen mainstream,” notes Kafantaris. A lot can happen between prototype and production but, if all goes to plan, future models—with various body styles—are in the Hyperion product road map.
The gas-guzzling engine of yore has been replaced by a 30 aH lithium-ion battery.
It takes a lot of guts to mess with a bellissimo Vespa. The iconic scooter, which was designed by Corradino D’Ascanio and released by Piaggio in 1946, is beloved the world over. In fact, more than 16 million Vespas have been made to-date and garnered one helluva loyal fanbase. But, that hasn’t stopped one India-based design firm from penning a disruptive new take.
Mightyseed’s electrifying concept reimagines the classic scooter as a modern battery-powered ride. Like its muse, the “Vespa 98” still has a simple silhouette, step-through frame and artfully concealed mechanics. It also exudes the same playfulness for which the original two-wheeler is renowned. But it’s been equipped with a spate of futuristic features to bring the bike full speed into the 21st century
The gas-guzzling engine of yore has been replaced by a 30 aH lithium-ion battery and hub-mounted motor. This not only gives the rider extra storage under the seat; it reduces the carbon emissions to zero. The rearview mirrors have been swapped for an intuitive LIDAR system, which is essentially a fancy sensor that allows riders to “see” what’s around them (road hazards, oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, etc.). And the seat has also been reduced in size.
Surprisingly, it’s the handlebar area where the designers have really switched things up. They’ve eschewed the Vespa’s signature round headlight in favor of a minimalist LED strip that sits atop the front fender, offering a futuristic digital display, which runs across the decidedly svelte bars. These features alone give the bike a next-gen feel that’s sure to appeal to tech-heads.
The scooter’s outer shell sports a pale blue gloss finish, which is juxtaposed by two neon yellow pinstripes that run down the backside. It’s not the most groundbreaking paint job, but it’s appealing nonetheless.
“The Vespa 98 project was an in-house self-initiated project and the inspiration was Corradino D’Ascanio’s adored Vespa,” Mightyseed’s co-founder and principal designer, Bonny Sunny, told Robb Report. “We added the flavor to look relevant for modern times.”
The firm didn’t divulge whether this Vespa will roll into production. But count us among those hoping to see this Vespa on the road.
It’s no secret that beach clubs have become a popular addition to luxury yachts, but the one that adorns the new megayacht Indah is unlike anything currently on the seas. In fact, it’s more like an epic waterfront entertainment venue, offering enough space for you, your friends and even your friends’ friends to enjoy.
The oversized beach club is the centerpiece of the 394-foot concept, which was penned by Opalinski Design House. The vessel sports a sleek steel hull, an aluminum superstructure and a wave-piercing vertical bow. It also features some nifty, origami-like engineering to give it more space aft.
The patented design is equipped with rotating transom bulkheads that expand outwards to reveal additional decking. These extended decks are then raised to level with the swim platform to create a sprawling beach club. This space features sunpads for seaside chilling, along with a gym and sauna that are discreetly hidden behind tinted glass. Seafarers will also have direct access to tenders, which can pull up next to the openings in the bulkheads.
The vessel with the rotating transom bulkheads closed. Opalinski Design House
Beyond the beach club, Indah, which means “beautiful one” in Indonesian, features a massive 5,500 GT interior and a myriad of luxurious amenities. She can accommodate a total of 24 guests across 12 cabins and the generous owner’s suite comes complete with its own dedicated aft deck balcony. She can also sleep a total 32 crew.
Elsewhere, Indah offers a foredeck jacuzzi with sunbeds and a retractable sunshade, a sizable aft pool that overlooks the beach club, along with a haul of water toys. Owners can also choose to add a helicopter landing pad and hangar for further exploration at sea.
The vessel with the rotating transom bulkheads extended. Opalinski Design House
Billed as a “true ocean-going vessel,” Indah will be fitted with a diesel-electric propulsion package for cleaner and efficient cruising. She will be powered by four MTU16V engines that together deliver a top speed of 24 knots and a range of 7,000 nautical miles. She will also have solar generating surface coatings and vertical wind turbines onboard to produce green energy.
Although Indah is just a concept at this stage, the firm is currently offering to license the rotational transom bulkheads to selected manufacturers. That means we may be seeing many more ginormous beach clubs in the future.
One-off cars are hellishly expensive to make, but manufacturers treat us to one from time to time as a way of showcasing what they are capable of. Usually outlandish in design and often crazy-powerful, they act as halo machines for the wider brand. For example, when Volkswagen stuffed a W12 engine into the Golf GTI – which is downright nuts – it probably prompted a few sales of the regular hot hatch.
We’re just pleased that brands have given us so many amazing one-off cars over the years, so here we pay tribute to ten of the very best ever made.
BMW M1 Hommage (2008)
There are no prizes for guessing which legendary model BMW was making a nod to with the M1 Hommage. This reimagining of the 1978 M1 (the first ever M car) was also clearly heavy inspiration for the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sportscar, which became the second production BMW to feature a mid-mounted engine, after the M1.
Aston Martin Bulldog (1979)
The Bulldog was initially planned for a production run of 15-25 cars, but it was deemed too expensive to make so plans were scrapped after the first example. Effectively Aston’s first hypercar, the Bulldog could hit 237mph, but it ended up being mothballed in a private car collection owned by a Saudi Prince. It was recently returned to the UK, however, and is being restored to working condition.
Lamborghini Egoista (2013)
Built by Lambo to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Egoista is based on the Gallardo supercar but looks more like a fully-functional Batmobile. From its side profile the Egoista is supposed to resemble a bull ready to charge, and it’s powered by the Gallardo’s 5.2-litre V10 engine.
Mazda Furai (2007)
Mazda wanted this car to go into production and had ambitions of returning to Le Mans with it…until it caught fire and was destroyed. Yep, the 460bhp Furai burned up while being driven by a well-known motoring magazine which has the initials T and G, and it was never seen again.
GT by Citroen (2008)
Being a Citroen it has to have a pretentious name, but in every other way the GT by Citroen is an absolute beast, featuring a 640-odd bhp Ford-suppled V8 engine and weighing just 1,400kg. With Citroen being the masters of good PR, the GT was designed and produced as a joint venture with the Gran Turismo 5 video game.
Jaguar XJ13 (1966)
The brainchild of Jaguar engineering director William Heynes, the XJ13 was built as an entry to Le Mans, but sadly it never happened. In 1971 it was nearly written off in a crash during a photoshoot being held to promote the Series 3 E-Type, which used a similar V12 engine to the XJ13. Luckily it was restored, but it could never be remade to the exact original specification.
Porsche 911 Four Door (1967)
Long before the Panamera came the 911 Four Door, which was literally an elongated 911 with two rear doors fitted, which were suicide doors. The car was commissioned by a Texan Porsche distributor who wanted to give his wife something more practical to drive.
Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650 (2007)
The stats alone sound frightening: 641bhp, 750Nm of torque and a top speed of 201mph. In a VW Golf. Wow. While the W12-650 was built as a concept car the one example in existence is fully-functional, using a 6-litre W12 engine nicked straight out of the Bentley Continental GT.
Kia Sorento Ski Gondola (2016)
You don’t normally think of the Kia Sorento as an exciting car, but this 2016 one-off is brilliant. It’s essentially a four seater SUV with the capability to go almost literally anywhere, thanks to the continuous track systems in place of each wheel.
Bugatti La Voiture Noire (2019)
Based on the – let’s face it already pretty exclusive – Bugatti Chiron, the La Voiture Noire (French for ‘the black car’) is a nod to the 1935 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. It’s powered by the same 8-litre W16 engine as the Chiron, but components like the auto ‘box and dampers are softened to recreate that ‘wafting’ feel of the 57SC.
That time a Blackbird pilot revealed SR-71’s True Top Speed
The SR-71 Blackbird is still the fastest plane that has ever flown and served an important role in history as a spy plane. Its first test flight was on December 22, 1964 and was never once hit by a missile during its 25 years of service.Though these awesome planes haven’t left the ground since before the turn of the century, they’re still worth all the recognition of being the fastest plane on Earth.
The SR-71, the most advanced member of the Blackbird family that included the A-12 and YF-12, was designed by a team of Lockheed personnel led by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, then vice president of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Company Projects, commonly known as the “Skunk Works” and now a part of Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Blackbirds were designed to cruise at “Mach 3+,” just over three times the speed of sound or more than 2,200 miles per hour and at altitudes up to 85,000 feet.
Now when talking about SR-71 probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is-how high and how fast does it really fly?
‘When I first joined the SR-71 program there was one permanent operating location for SR-71s at Kadena AB. The unit at Kadena was known as detachment 1 (or Det 1) of the 9th SRW. Habus were deployed to Det 1 for six weeks at a time and each crew made the trip four to six times a year. About twice a year, there was a requirement to temporarily activate an additional Det at RAF Mildenhall in England. Although we’d had two SR-71s permanently stationed at RAF Mildenhall since 1981, it wasn’t until 5 April 1984 that Prime Minister Thatcher formally announced SR-71s would be permanently based at Mildenhall. This unit was known as Det 4 of the 9th SRW. Dets 2 and 3 of the 9th SRW were U-2 operating locations, at Osan AB, Korea, and RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, respectively.
‘There was a significantly different flying environment between the two detachments. The weather was almost at opposite ends of the spectrum. The missions were not quite as “routine” as many of the Okinawa missions.
‘Because of the more demanding missions at Mildenhall, each new SR-71crew had to fly its first operational sorties at Kadena. Every SR crew lobbied long and hard to get on the schedule for Mildenhall. And London was not far away!
‘Frank Stampf, my RSO crewmate on the SR-71, and I were fortunate to get on the schedule for Mildenhall after only two trips to Okinawa. For both of us, it was like going home. Just before entering the SR-71 program, Frank had been stationed at RAF Alconbury for about four years as an RF-4 crew dog. And I had been stationed at RAF Lakenheath for a couple of years. As the “crow flies,” Alconbury is only 30 miles from Mildenhall and Lakenheath is only 3 miles from Mildenhall. We were both anxious to visit the old flying buddies we had known and worked with in careers before we became Habus.
‘On one occasion, I arranged to meet several of my F-111 friends at Lakenheath Officers’ Club for dinner. We met in the bar and had a few drinks (as a real, live, dyed-in-the-wool teetotaler, I assume I was drinking grapefruit juice or 7-Up). We shared numerous laughs while trying to outdo each other with tales of unequalled courage and great feats of airmanship. I’m sure our hands were getting a good workout—pilots gesticulate a lot!
‘At some point in the evening, the Aardvark (F-111 nickname) guys began to press me, in a good-natured way, for classified information about the SR-71. Probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is-how high and how fast does it really fly? That question was being actively pursued that night at Lakenheath.
‘I need to back up about a year and a half to set the stage as to why they seemed intent on pushing that particular question. In most Air Force buildings, at least the flying squadron buildings I used to frequent, there were numerous locations where the base fire marshal had posted information regarding fire classifications and appropriate reactions upon discovering different types of fires. These posters were displayed in the restrooms, in the halls, near the duty desks, in the crew briefing rooms, and next to all of the fire extinguisher. I can’t remember all the specifics other than there was one fire classification identified as a category or type 3.
‘At some point in my application for assignment to the SR-71, I was requested to go to Beale for my “tryout” for the Blackbird program. The whole process from departing Lakenheath until returning back to Lakenheath took about two weeks. During the visit to Beale, I heard and read a number of times that the unclassified speed of the SR-71 was listed as Mach 3-plus. A “3+” patch is displayed on flight suits worn by SR-71 squadron crewmembers.
‘When I arrived back to Lakenheath, I was really pumped up and excited about the prospects of being selected to fly the SR-71. I didn’t want to forget the experiences I had at Beale or to lose sight of my goal. To help me remember and to keep my attention focused on what I wanted to do, I began adding a black grease pencil + sign to all of the 3s on the fire code posters. There were many added + signs around the base that the very diligent safety officer in 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron actually called the base fire marshal to get information about this “new classification.” When he was told there was no such thing as a code 3+, he finally figured it out and started looking for me. I was given a “cease and desist” order and one by one, he began erasing my “unauthorized” + signs.
‘Now back to the “O” Club a year and a half later. My dinner partners remembered the fuss over the posters and figured now was an appropriate time and place to get the real scoop as to how high and how fast the Blackbird really did fly. They were curious as to what kind of speed that little + sign actually equated to.
‘I played along for a while, dragging out the inevitable answer of Mach 3-plus, which, when all was said and done, was all I really could tell them anyway. I finally got them leaning in toward me as we sat around the dinner table. I did a pretty good acting job as I began nervously looking around the room be sure no one else was eavesdropping on what they thought would be a classified conversation.
With the guys leaning in to hang on every word I was about to speak, I said something like, “You’ve got to promise not to tell a soul what I am going to tell you now. If you do, I’ll deny it till the day I die. I’m sure you know I shouldn’t be talking about this at all. You know how high the pile will be that they’ll stick me in if you tell anyone else.” As they gathered closer to make sure they didn’t miss anything, I said, “I can’t specific numbers, but I can give you a point of reference you can use to figure it out. You know the part in ‘High Flight’—where it talks about putting out your hand to touch the face of God?” Well,” I added, “when we’re at speed and altitude in the SR, we have to slow down and descend in order to do that.”
“You know the part in ‘High Flight’—where it talks about putting out your hand to touch the face of God? Well, when we’re at speed and altitude in the SR, we have to slow down and descend in order to do that,” Gil Bertelson, former SR-71 Blackbird pilot.
15 Fascinating Facts About The SR-71 Blackbird —
1. The SR-71 Blackbird aircraft was built by Lockheed Martin and took its first flight in 1964. It was retired by NASA in 1999. 2. It is the fastest planes that ever took flight. The official fastest record it holds is 2,193.13 mph on July 1976. The photo above was taken right after it reached that record. 3. It earned its nickname “Blackbird” because of how stealth it was. It was also extremely quiet inside the cockpit, according to pilot Richard Graham. “You could hear a pin drop. The view is spectacular, being able to see the curvature of the Earth and the black space above filled with stars,” he said. 4. The Blackbird was able to map terrain like a side-scanning sonar, aim a radar up to 45 degrees to the side, and interrupt enemy communication and radar signals. 5. It was built to fly up to Mach 3.4 speeds (approx. 2,500 mph on land). 6. Over 4,000 missiles were fired at the Blackbird in the 25 years it was flown, but none ever hit it. The Blackbird was just too fast and its evasive tactic was just to speed up until the missile couldn’t keep up with it. 7. Its navigation system called “R2-D2” had a sensor so powerful that it could detect up to 61 stars in broad daylight while the plane was still on the ground. 8. The plane required a large amount of titanium to be built so the CIA created fake companies around the world to buy metal from the USSR, which was the biggest supplier, as well as the United States’ enemy at that time. 9. The plane was covered in over 60 pounds of black paint because the black helped cool down the plane by up to 86 degrees. Traveling at over Mach 3, the plane could hit as high as 1,000 degrees without the black paint dissipating the heat. 10. The SR-71 constantly leaked fuel while not in flight due to the contraction of its titanium skin. The tank was designed to expand as it heated up due to air friction. The SR-71 had enough fuel to take off and then get refueled up in the air by a tanker. 11. Its tires were specially designed for the SR-71. Their material was made of aluminum powder which was impregnated to reject heat. This additive gave its unique appearance of silver coloration. 12. There were only 32 Blackbirds ever built. 13. Even though it leaked fuel, the fuel had such a high flash point that it would not ignite even if it was hit with fire. 14. To work on the plane as a crew member, you needed to be between the ages of 25 and 40, be married and be “emotionally stable.” 15. The camera on the Blackbird was so advanced that when it took a photo of a car on the ground that was 80,000 feet below it and the plane traveled at over 2,000 mph, the license plate would be visible in the photo.
What does the sun look like from other planets? Given the vast and disparate distances, it is not so easy to imagine.
But the digital renderings created by Ron Miller, a Virginia-based illustrator who has spent decades representing space, help answer this delicate question. They show the sun as it appears in the sky of each of the nine planets (along with our favorite dwarf planet, Pluto).
“I’ve taken care in not only making sure the Sun is depicted realistically, but also the surfaces of the planets and satellites as well,” Miller told IFLScience.
Scroll down to see Miller’s starkly beautiful images…
The sun as seen from Mercury, which is about 60 million kilometers from the sun or 39 percent of the distance from Earth to the sun. On Mercury, the sun is about three times larger than on Earth.
The sun as seen (almost) from Venus, about 108 million kilometers from the sun (72% of the distance from Earth to the sun). Seen from beneath Venus’ dense, sulfuric acid-laden clouds, the sun is no more than a dimly glowing patch in the perpetual overcast.
Earth, which is 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) from the Sun. If you’ve ever seen a solar eclipse, this sight will be very familiar to you
Mars orbits the Sun at a distance of 230 million kilometers, or about 1.5 times further than Earth. But it is not the distance that reduces the visibility of the Sun, but the strong winds that carry dust up into the outer confines of atmosphere of the red planet.
This is what the Sun looks like from Europa, one Jupiter’s moons. It is much, much further away, at 779 million kilometers from the Sun (5.2 times greater than the distance between the Sun and the Earth).
The sun as seen from Saturn, about 1.5 billion kilometers from the sun. It is about 9.5 times farther than the distance from Earth to the sun. Here, water and gas crystals, including ammonia, refract sunlight, creating beautiful optical effects such as haloes and sundogs.
The sun as seen from Ariel, one of Uranus’s moons. Uranus is about 2.9 billion kilometers from the sun, or about 19 times farther than the distance from Earth to the sun.
The sun as seen from Triton, one of Neptune’s moons. Neptune is about 4.5 billion kilometers from the sun. That’s about 30 times farther than the distance from Earth to the sun.
From the perspective of the planet furthest from our solar system, the Sun is little more than a tiny point of light. Pluto is 6 billion kilometers from the Sun (40 times the distance between it and Earth), which means that the light reaching it is 1600 times weaker than that which we receive here.
Our Sun is a normal main-sequence G2 star, one of more than 100 billion stars in our galaxy but although The sun may appear to be the largest star in the sky, that’s just because it’s the closest. On a stellar scale, it’s really quite average — about half of the known stars are larger; half are smaller. The largest known star in the universe is UY Scuti, a hypergiant with a radius around 1,700 times larger than the sun. And it’s not alone in dwarfing Earth’s dominant star.
The largest of all
In 1860, German astronomers at the Bonn Observatory first cataloged UY Scuti, naming it BD -12 5055. During a second detection, the astronomers realized it grows brighter and dimmer over a 740-day period, leading astronomers to classify it as a variable star. The star lies near the center of the Milky Way, roughly 9,500 light-years away.
Located in the constellation Scutum, UY Scuti is a hypergiant, the classification that comes after supergiant, which itself comes after giant. Hypergiants are rare stars that shine very brightly. They lose much of their mass through fast-moving stellar winds.
Of course, all stellar sizes are estimates, based on measurements taken from far away.
“The complication with stars is that they have diffuse edges,” wrote astronomer Jillian Scudder of the University of Sussex. “Most stars don’t have a rigid surface where the gas ends and vacuum begins, which would have served as a harsh dividing line and easy marker of the end of the star.”
Instead, astronomers rely on a star’s photosphere, where the star becomes transparent to light and the particles of light, or photons, can escape the star.
“As far as an astrophysicist is concerned, this is the surface of the star, as this is the point at which photons can leave the star,” Scudder said.
If UY Scuti replaced the sun in the center of the solar system, its photosphere would extend just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. The nebula of gas stripped from the star extends even farther out, beyond the orbit of Pluto to 400 times time the Earth-sun distance.
But UY Scuti doesn’t remain stagnant. Scudder pointed out that the star varies in brightness as it varies in radius, with a margin of error of about 192 solar radii. These errors could allow other stars to beat out UY Scuti in the race for size. In fact, there are as many as 30 stars whose radii fit within UY Scuti’s smallest estimated size, so it shouldn’t sit too securely on its throne.
Nor does UY Scuti’s large radius make it the most massive star. That honor goes to R136a1, which weighs in at about 300 times the mass of the sun but only about 30 solar radii. UY Scuti, in comparison, is only about 30 times more massive than the sun.
So which star would take UY Scuti’s place if it weren’t exactly 1,708 solar radii? Here are a few of the stars that might dominate:
WOH G64, measuring 1,504 to 1,730 solar radii. It is a red hypergiant star in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way). Like UY Scuti, it varies in brightness. Some estimates have placed its radius as high as 3,000 solar radii. Variations are due in part to the presence of dust, which affects the brightness of the star and its related radius.
RW Cephei, at 1,535 solar radii. This star is an orange hypergiant in the constellation of Cepheus, and also a variable star.
Westerlund 1-26, which comes in at 1,530 to 2,550 solar radii. If the upper estimate is correct, its photosphere would engulf the orbit of Saturn if the star were placed at the center of the solar system. The star changes its temperature but not its brightness.
KY Cygni, at 1,420 to 2,850 solar radii. It’s a red supergiant in the constellation Cygnus. The upper estimate is considered by astronomers to be dubious due to an observational error, while the lower estimate is consistent with other stars from the same survey, as well as theoretical models of stellar evolution.
VY Canis Majoris, ranging from 1,300 to 1,540 solar radii. This red hypergiant star was previously estimated to be 1,800 to 2,200 solar radii, but that size put it outside the bounds of stellar evolutionary theory. New measurements brought it down to size. (Some sources still list it as the largest star.)
History of The Sun
The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system. It contains more than 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System (Jupiter contains most of the rest).
It is often said that the Sun is an “ordinary” star. That’s true in the sense that there are many others similar to it. But there are many more smaller stars than larger ones; the Sun is in the top 10% by mass. The median size of stars in our galaxy is probably less than half the mass of the Sun.
The Sun is personified in many mythologies: the Greeks called it Helios and the Romans called it Sol.
The Sun is, at present, about 70% hydrogen and 28% helium by mass everything else (“metals”) amounts to less than 2%. This changes slowly over time as the Sun converts hydrogen to helium in its core.
The outer layers of the Sun exhibit differential rotation: at the equator the surface rotates once every 25.4 days; near the poles it’s as much as 36 days. This odd behavior is due to the fact that the Sun is not a solid body like the Earth. Similar effects are seen in the gas planets. The differential rotation extends considerably down into the interior of the Sun but the core of the Sun rotates as a solid body.
Conditions at the Sun’s core (approximately the inner 25% of its radius) are extreme. The temperature is 15.6 million Kelvin and the pressure is 250 billion atmospheres. At the center of the core the Sun’s density is more than 150 times that of water.
The Sun’s power (about 386 billion billion mega Watts) is produced by nuclear fusion reactions. Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons (=3.86e33 ergs) of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light. For the last 20% of the way to the surface the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation.
The surface of the Sun, called the photosphere, is at a temperature of about 5800 K. Sunspots are “cool” regions, only 3800 K (they look dark only by comparison with the surrounding regions). Sunspots can be very large, as much as 50,000 km in diameter. Sunspots are caused by complicated and not very well understood interactions with the Sun’s magnetic field.
A small region known as the chromosphere lies above the photosphere.
The highly rarefied region above the chromosphere, called the corona, extends millions of kilometers into space but is visible only during a total solar eclipse (left). Temperatures in the corona are over 1,000,000 K.
It just happens that the Moon and the Sun appear the same size in the sky as viewed from the Earth. And since the Moon orbits the Earth in approximately the same plane as the Earth’s orbit around the Sun sometimes the Moon comes directly between the Earth and the Sun. This is called a solar eclipse; if the alignment is slighly imperfect then the Moon covers only part of the Sun’s disk and the event is called a partial eclipse. When it lines up perfectly the entire solar disk is blocked and it is called a total eclipse of the Sun. Partial eclipses are visible over a wide area of the Earth but the region from which a total eclipse is visible, called the path of totality, is very narrow, just a few kilometers (though it is usually thousands of kilometers long). Eclipses of the Sun happen once or twice a year. If you stay home, you’re likely to see a partial eclipse several times per decade. But since the path of totality is so small it is very unlikely that it will cross you home. So people often travel half way around the world just to see a total solar eclipse. To stand in the shadow of the Moon is an awesome experience. For a few precious minutes it gets dark in the middle of the day. The stars come out. The animals and birds think it’s time to sleep. And you can see the solar corona. It is well worth a major journey.
The Sun’s magnetic field is very strong (by terrestrial standards) and very complicated. Its magnetosphere (also known as the heliosphere) extends well beyond Pluto.
In addition to heat and light, the Sun also emits a low density stream of charged particles (mostly electrons and protons) known as the solar wind which propagates throughout the solar system at about 450 km/sec. The solar wind and the much higher energy particles ejected by solar flares can have dramatic effects on the Earth ranging from power line surges to radio interference to the beautiful aurora borealis.
Recent data from the spacecraft Ulysses show that during the minimum of the solar cycle the solar wind emanating from the polar regions flows at nearly double the rate, 750 kilometers per second, than it does at lower latitudes. The composition of the solar wind also appears to differ in the polar regions. During the solar maximum, however, the solar wind moves at an intermediate speed.
Further study of the solar wind will be done by Wind, ACE and SOHO spacecraft from the dynamically stable vantage point directly between the Earth and the Sun about 1.6 million km from Earth.
The solar wind has large effects on the tails of comets and even has measurable effects on the trajectories of spacecraft.
Spectacular loops and prominences are often visible on the Sun’s limb (left).
The Sun’s output is not entirely constant. Nor is the amount of sunspot activity. There was a period of very low sunspot activity in the latter half of the 17th century called the Maunder Minimum. It coincides with an abnormally cold period in northern Europe sometimes known as the Little Ice Age. Since the formation of the solar system the Sun’s output has increased by about 40%.
The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. Since its birth it has used up about half of the hydrogen in its core. It will continue to radiate “peacefully” for another 5 billion years or so (although its luminosity will approximately double in that time). But eventually it will run out of hydrogen fuel. It will then be forced into radical changes which, though commonplace by stellar standards, will result in the total destruction of the Earth (and probably the creation of a planetary nebula).
The Sun’s satellites
There are eight planets and a large number of smaller objects orbiting the Sun. (Exactly which bodies should be classified as planets and which as “smaller objects” has been the source of some controversy, but in the end it is really only a matter of definition. Pluto is no longer officially a planet but we’ll keep it here for history’s sake.)
Is there a causal connection between the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice Age or was it just a coincidence? How does the variability of the Sun affect the Earth’s climate?
Since all the planets except Pluto orbit the Sun within a few degrees of the plane of the Sun’s equator, we know very little about the interplanetary environment outside that plane. The Ulysses mission will provide information about the polar regions of the Sun.
The corona is much hotter than the photosphere. Why?
Interesting Facts about the Sun
The Sun is one of the millions of stars in the solar system. It is, however, larger than most (although not the biggest) and a very special star to us. Without the Sun there would be absolutely no life on Earth.
The Sun is 870,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) across. This is so big it is hard to imagine, but it would take more than one million Earths to fill the size of the Sun!
The Sun is so big it takes up 99% of the matter in our solar system. The 1% left over is taken up by planets, asteroids, moons and other matter.
The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. It is thought to be halfway through its lifetime. Stars get bigger as they get older.
As the Sun ages, it will get bigger. When this happens, it will consume some of the things close to it, and this includes Mercury, Venus and maybe even Earth and Mars. Luckily this is billions of years in the future.
The Sun is the centre of the solar system.
The Sun is 92.96 million miles (149.6 kilometers) away from Earth.
The Sun is made of a ball of burning gases. These gases are 92.1% hydrogen and 7.8% helium.
The sunlight we see on Earth left the Sun 8 minutes ago. This is the length of time it takes for the light to travel the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
When the moon goes around the Earth, it sometimes finds itself between the Earth and the Sun. This is called a solar eclipse and makes the Earth dark whilst the moon shuts out most of the Sun’s light. This only lasts for a couple of hours while the moon continues its rotation and moves out of the way of the sun.
In ancient astronomy, it was thought that the Sun moved. People believed that the Earth stayed still and the Sun rotated around it.
About 2000 years ago some began to think it was the Sun that stays still whilst the planets make a path around it. This only became an accepted theory around the 1600s when Isaac Newton proposed the sun-centric solar system.
The Sun is almost a perfect sphere. It is the closest thing to a sphere found in nature with only a 6.2 mile (10 kilometres) difference between its vertical and horizontal measurements.
The Sun’s core is extremely hot! An unthinkable 13,600,000 degrees Celcius!
The Sun has a very big magnetic field. It is the most powerful magnetic field in the whole solar system. This field is regenerating itself, but scientists are unsure how.
The Sun produces solar winds. These are a stream of particles from the Sun that stream out into space. This is why planets atmospheres are so important. They protect the planet from these solar winds.
The Sun rotates but not as Earth does. On Earth, the planet is rotating at the same speed no matter where you are. The Sun does not rotate like a solid object and is spinning faster at its equator than it is at its poles. It is complicated to say how fast the Sun is spinning but depending whereabouts on the Sun you are looking at it takes between 24 and 38 days to spin around.
The Sun has been both worshipped and feared throughout history by a variety of cultures.
Today’s chart is best viewed full-screen. Explore the high resolution version by clicking here.
Sailors have been circumnavigating the high seas for centuries now, but what could be found beneath the sunlit surface of the ocean remained a mystery until far more recently. In fact, it wasn’t until 1875, during the Challenger expedition, that humanity got it’s first definative idea of how deep the ocean actually was.
The ocean has an average depth of approximately 3.7 kilometres (or 2.3 miles). A calculation from satellite measurements in 2010 put the average depth at 3,682 metres (12,080 feet). However, only about 10% of Earth’s seafloor has been mapped to high resolution, so this figure is only an estimate.
Ocean depth is divided into zones: littoral, bathyal, abyssal and hadal. The deepest part of the ocean, the hadal zone, is anywhere deeper than six kilometres.
Today’s graphic, another fantastic piece by xkcd, is a unique and entertaining look at everything from Lake Superior’s ice encrusted shoreline down to blackest, inhospitable trench (which today bears the name of the expedition that first discovered it).
The graphic is packed with detail, so we’ll only highlight a few points of interest.
Deep Thoughts with Lake Baikal
Deep in Siberia, abutting a mountainous stretch of the Mongolian border, is the one of the most remarkable bodies of water on Earth: Lake Baikal. There are a number of qualities that make Lake Baikal stand out.
Depth: Baikal, located in a massive continental rift, is the deepest lake in the world at 1,642m (5,387ft). That extreme depth holds a lot of fresh water. In fact, an estimated 22% of all the world’s fresh water can be found in the lake.
Age: Baikal (which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is estimated to be over 25 million years old, making it the most ancient lake on the planet.
Clarity: Interestingly, the water in the lake is exceptionally clear. In winter, visibility can extend over 30m (98ft) below the surface.
Biodiversity: The unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal provides a home for thousands of plant and animal species. In fact, upwards of 80% of those species are endemic, meaning they are unique to that region.
Who is Alvin?
Since 1964, a hard-working research submersible named Alvin has been helping us better understand the deep ocean. Alvin explored the wreckage of RMS Titanic in 1986, and helped confirm the existence of black smokers (one of the weirdest ecosystems in the world). Though most of the components of the vessel have been replaced and upgraded over the years, it’s still in use today.
The ancient Greek word, ábyssos, roughly means “unfathomable, bottomless gulf”. While there is a bottom (the abyssopelagic zone comprises around 75% of the ocean floor), the enormous scale of this ecosystem is certainly unfathomable.
Objectively, the abyssal plain is not the prettiest part of the ocean. It’s nearly featureless, and lacks the panache of, say, a coral reef, but there are still some very compelling reasons we’re eager to explore it. Resource companies are chiefly interested in polymetallic nodules, which are essentially rich manganese formations scattered about on the sea bottom.
Manganese is already essential in steel production, but demand is also getting a substantial lift from the fast-growing electric vehicle market. The first company to find an economical way to harvest nodules from the ocean floor could reap a significant windfall.
Drill Baby, Drill
Demand for resources can force humans into some very inhospitable places, and in the case of Deepwater Horizon, we chased oil to a depth even surpassing the famed Marianas Trench.
Drilling that far below the surface is a complicated endeavor, and when the drill platform was put into service in 2001, it was hailed as an engineering marvel. To this day, Deepwater Horizon holds the record for the deepest offshore hole ever made.
After the rig’s infamous explosion and subsequent spill in 2010, that record may stand the test of time.
There are thousands of spoken languages in the world and most can be traced back in history to show how they are related to each other.
By finding patterns like these, different languages can be grouped together as members of a language family.
There are three main language families:
Indo-European is the largest language family, followed by Sino-Tibetan, and lastly Afro-Asiatic. The Language Tree below shows languages that come from the same origin. (sorry about the quality. I’ve relabelled some popular languages) The numbers on the tree below are in millions of native speakers.
Linguists often use the tree metaphor to show the historical relationships between languages and how they relate to one another. In a language history course, these trees would most of the time look very simple and informative, but they lack imagination. Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent, thinks that there is no reason why linguistics should be so visually uninspiring and unimaginative. So, she remapped the languages into one beautiful and magnificent tree that is quite a sight to feast your eyes on.
This tree beautifully captures the connections between groups of languages, and it shows that all languages descend from a common ancestral proto-language. The size of the leaves on top of each branch approximates how many people speak each language, with English being one of the largest groups, alongside Spanish and Hindi.
Sino-Tibetan branch includes Mandarin and Thai
Indo-European branch includes: English, Russian and Hindi
Austronesian branch includes: Malay, Indonesian and Tagalog
Japanese and Korean have their own branches
Tamil is on another branch called Dravidian
NB: “It has been suggested that Thai could be part of the neighbouring family called Austronesian, rather than the Sino-Tibetan family. Perhaps the similarities that Thai shares with Chinese are due to borrowing, not descent from a common ancestor.” – Peter Thomas
Just like a family tree, we can think of branches as different families, and leaves as languages. By tracing these branches back we arrive at larger branches, such as Indo-European, and by tracing the Indo-European branch back, we arrive at even larger branches. Eventually, It is believed that you will arrive at the main trunk of this tree into which all of the languages came from.
The European region splits into Slavic, Romance, and Germanic branches. Celtic languages, as well as Latin, are shown as delicate twig-like branches.
As beautiful and illustrative as the infographic seems, it still overlooks other very significant languages. One language that does not feature in this tree is Arabic and other Asian and African languages of which the number of native speakers could easily amount to a billion speakers. But then again, that tree would be too big to fit on a web page. Just imagine how humongous a tree would look if it included all the 7000+ beautiful languages that we have in the world today.
The original mother tongue may never be found. It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between inheritance from a common ancestor and borrowing from another group. There are no written records, so we can never know if word similarities happened by sheer chance or by accident.
However, what is known about the main language groups is still fascinating, such as:
The amazing fact that in the 18th century it was discovered that Sanskrit (the ancient language of India), resembles and has relationships with Greek and Latin.
Malay, Indonesian, Javanese, and Tagalog are all related.
Hokkien is a direct descendant of old Chinese, and is the oldest of the Sino-Tibetan languages alive today.
The ultimate luxury SUV makes debut at Guangzhou with mild-hybrid V8 power.
The new model invokes many of the styling elements seen on the S-Class Maybach to help distinguish it from the standard third-generation GLS.
Included is a distinctive chrome grille featuring vertical louvres, chrome highlights within the side window surrounds and along the sills, standard 22in (and optional 23in) wheels, an optional two-tone exterior paint scheme in eight different colour combinations, electrically extending running boards and chromed tail-pipes with a signature cross-rib.
Inside, the 5202mm-long Mercedes-Maybach GLS sports an upgraded interior with nappa leather upholstery and unique trim elements. Among the long list of options for UK customers are reclining rear seats with a massage function and a fixed centre console with folding tables and a refrigerator in a four-seat layout that can be further enhanced with a panoramic sunroof. Boot capacity below the cargo blind at the rear is 520 litres. Reflecting its upper luxury positioning, the latest Maybach model also receives a long list of standard driving aids.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The GLS600’s twin-turbocharged V-8 makes 558 horsepower and can motivate the big luxury SUV from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Maybach. The engine is assisted by a 48-volt hybrid system that gives a little extra shove right from the start. If that’s not fast enough for you, check out the Mercedes-AMG GLS63, which offers a 603-hp version of this powertrain and boasts a claim of 4.1 seconds to 60 mph. We haven’t driven the GLS600 yet, but we expect a silky-smooth ride and an exceptionally quiet cabin. An air suspension is standard, and it features a Maybach mode that is said to all but erase bumps in the road.
Perhaps the least important thing about the Maybach GLS is the way it drives, but you might be happy to hear it has a stonking-great 4.0-litre biturbo V8 engine to back up those… bold looks. Max power is 550bhp and 538lb ft of torque. It’ll even do 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds despite weighing 2,785kg. Yeah, two-thousand seven-hundred and eighty-five.
There are all the usual Mercedes driving modes, but there’s now also a ‘Maybach mode’ which prioritises rear-seat comfort. Select it, and the chauffeur will be presented with a flat accelerator curve, fewer gearshifts from the nine-speed auto ‘box and all starts in second gear without the use of stop/start.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
While the regular Benz-branded GLS-class SUV is a three-row affair, the Maybach GLS600 offers just two rows, both of which offer heat and massage functions. The rear seats are the place to be; with acres of legroom and two power-adjustable recliner seats, riding in the back is akin to traveling in the fanciest first-class airline cabins. A three-across bench is also offered, but c’mon, the executive treatment is what this SUV is all about. Nappa leather covers the dash, door panels, and seats, while real wood trim with a handsome pin stripe add a touch of class. A fragrance diffuser helps occupants create the sensory oasis they deserve after a hard day of being filthy rich. Cargo capacity won’t be as generous here as it is in the regular GLS-class since the rear seats are fixed and don’t fold to accommodate larger items. Mercedes-Maybach says there’s still about 19 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and will offer a handsome set of custom-fitted luggage.
Mercedes-Benz’s most luxurious SUV will be offered from the outset of sales with just one drivetrain in the GLS 600 4Matic. The mild-hybrid unit combines a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine with a 48V integrated starter motor to provide an overall output of 550bhp at 6000rpm and 538lb ft of torque from 2500-5000rpm. The electrically boosted reserves are channelled through a nine-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-62mph time for the 2710kg Maybach GLS 600 4Matic of 4.9sec. Top speed is limited to 155mph. Combined fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are put at 24.1mpg and 266g/km respectively on the WLTP cycle.
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Mercedes-Maybach’s warranty coverage is fairly basic, but it offers coverage for up to a year longer than the policies that come with new Bentleys. There’s no complimentary scheduled maintenance included in the sale, but oil changes and tire rotations are another expense we expect the owners of such an expensive SUV will find affordable when paying for them on their own.
Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles