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11:51am, August 24, 2012

Sun’s speed unclear
Sun’s speed unclear
In “Sun’s shock wave goes missing” (SN: 6/16/12, p. 17), Nadia Drake reports the speed of the sun through space at 83,500 kilometers per hour, or roughly 11,000 km/h slower than previously thought. Yet in the same issue (“At home in the universe,” p. 22), Alexandra Witze reports the speed of the sun relative to galactic rotation as 220 kilometers per second. My first move was to convert Drake’s speed to 23.2 kilometers per second. What is going on here?
Tom Knost, Mills River, N.C.

The apparent conflict in the sun’s speed arises from the fact that different frames of reference are involved. My story about galactic rotation reports on new measurements of how quickly the sun orbits the galactic center, like a dot on a phonograph record circling around and around as the record plays. Nadia

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