Red Sprite Captured by the ISS

An unusual Phenomenon known as a Red Sprite has been seen by the International Space Station as it orbits the Earth.  Seen above a lightning storm, it is unknown what causes this rare phenomena of tendril-like lines that extend up into the atmosphere from the lower storm. The Moon is visible near the centre of the frame, and to its right we can see the constellation of Orion above the atmosphere and lights of our comfortable planet Earth.  Along the horizon at the right side of the image is the visible red sprite, occurring quickly during this longer exposure. Amazing...

Precision and the Prime Meridian

The Prime Meridian is the imaginary line of zero longitude, the geographic starting point for any East-West degree measurement of any place on the Earth.  It was selected by an international delegation that convened in 1884 in Washington, DC.  It’s a North-South imaginary line that run right through the Airy transit circle at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.  This is also where we get the measurement of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As our ability to measure position and time improves with the Global Positioning System (GPS), the precise position of the prime meridian has actually changed, moving 102 meters East...

Dark Skies, New Moon, Meteor Shower, and Thou

It’s that magical time of year once again, the best meteor shower of the year is upon us: The Perseids!  Generally the most reliable meteor shower and the one that most people know about, the August meteors have one of the highest rates, typically anywhere from 50 – 100 meteors per hour.  Its amazing how well known it is considering most people don’t know there are more than nine showers during the year. Either way, this year will be particularly good for a very special reason: It’s a new Moon. The Moon is the enemy of a meteor shower.  Its...

Once in a Blue Moon, Twice in a Month

Hey hey! It’s a blue moon today!  For all those people who have used the phrase ‘Once in a blue moon,’ it finally happened.  Turns out that phrase means ‘about once every 2-3 years.’  A blue moon doesn’t mean the moon is changing colour anytime soon, just like a supermoon doesn’t mean the moon actually gains superpowers or gets noticeably bigger.  A blue moon is simply the second full moon in a calendar month. The moon orbits the Earth in approximately 29.5 days.  This was how months were originally formed.  But 12 months x 29.5 days means that we are...

Latest Weather Update from Pluto: Hazy with a chance of Ice Flows

Friday’s science update from the New Horizons team shed some more light on the seemingly endless jaw-dropping discoveries from the Pluto system.  We have found a surprising atmosphere and very cold ice flows, contributing to a surprisingly active geology for an object that receives so little sunlight.  Seven hours after the craft made its closest approach of Pluto, it turned around and took a backlit shot, revealing two distinct layers of hazy atmosphere at 80 Km and 50 Km above the surface respectively. It looks more like an eclipse photograph from much closer to home, but it shows a hauntingly...

Hot Summer Days Mark The Earth’s Greatest Distance from the Sun

As warm as the temperatures have been recently, it may shock you to learn that today marks the Earth’s Aphelion, or its greatest distance from the Sun in its orbit. This may confuse those that think the Earth has seasons due to its proximity to the Sun.  The seasons of Earth are actually due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and is a result of how much direct sunlight we receive at any given time of year. It’s one of my favourite trivia questions to ask kids in my planetarium shows, and have them guess when the Earth is...

Leap Second: Why June 30th, 2015 Will be a Long Day

I presume that you know what a leap year is.  A year is the amount of time the Earth takes to orbit the Sun, and is measured as 365 days, or 365 rotations of Earth.  It is, in reality, a little bit longer.  Each orbit of the Sun takes 365.25 days, or 365 days and six hours.  So what do we do with that six hours? We ignore it for 3 years.  On the fourth year we add up those extra hours and we get 24 hours, an extra day! So we add in February 29th every four years. This...