The Winter AstrOlympics Are Outta This World

Faster. Higher. Stronger. Translated from Latin, the Olympic motto is everything space is to us! And the AstrOlympics are perfect for showing us how. How?
Faster: A shockwave from Cassiopeia A is moving at 10 million mph (16 million kph).
Higher: Well, that’s sorta the nature of space… it’s up there. Higher than us.
Stronger: The central pressure of a neutron star is 10 decillion or 10×10³³ P.

But wait, there’s more! NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has put together a whole series of posters highlighting the parallels between winter sports and space. The AstrOlympics website (and its free downloads) highlights the commonalities between athletes and objects in space using physics concepts including rotation, pressure, time, density, and (my favorite) acceleration, which compares the 1230 m/s² of a hockey slapshot to the gravitational acceleration on the surface of a neutron star… which is about three trillion m/s².

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AstrOlympics image:

To be honest, the 12.3 m/s² of a Porsche 918 Spyder, which is the “everyday example” used, doesn’t even compare.

But that’s one of the great things about this poster series: since even the terrestrial Olympics aren’t particularly accessible to us average mortals, the nice folks at Chandra were thoughtful enough to include normal-human examples of concepts like mass, pressure, and rotation that we might actually be familiar with (feasibility of owning a Porsche 918 Spyder aside.) Connections with the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the mass of a dog, and the rotation of a washing machine make the relationships between Olympic feats and the wonders of space more… relatable, although I probably wouldn’t have thought to compare a Golden Retriever to a curling stone, let alone to Sagittarius.

AstrOlympics in the summer, summer, summertime!

Want more? The folks at Chandra also did a similar series for the Summer Olympics in Rio… except MORE SO. Summer AstrOlympics posters for rotation, speed, distance, time, pressure, mass, density, and acceleration are all available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and there are sets of 7 bookmarks for each language as well. Also available with the Summer Olympics set are videos, gifs, and ready-made social-media-shareable images…whew!

So if you’ve ever wondered how fast the pulsar at the core of the Crab Nebula spins in comparison to an Olympic figure skater… it’s about six times faster.

Now you know. Go learn the rest!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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