The Space X Martian Trailer

In the past year or so it’s been interesting to see space agencies and companies produce movie-type trailers for scientific expeditions.  The technology is there, and it is a proven way to inspire the general public.  It also creates an opportunity to create some of the amazing science being done, even if it’s just a small taste. Space X has been candid about wanting to colonize Mars, and yesterday they released a trailer to give some inspiration to all of us. It shows a system that utilizes their nearly-established system of landing and reusing rockets, as well as refueling in...

Why We All Use the Same Units

Here is a map of the nations of the world that use the two systems of measurement.  Metric shown in blue and imperial shown in red. While it’s not always good to go with the crowd, there is a reason why more nations use the metric system. An often-cited passage from the book Wild Thing by Josh Bazell: “In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount...

The Real Discovery of Neptune

Have you ever read the story of the discovery of Neptune? It truly is a triumph of science and mathematics, and part of the reason it is my favourite planet (a hard choice to make).  The story goes like this: It all starts with the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by William Herschel.  This was the first ever discovery of a planet, as the Earth and the five visible planets have been known of since the dawn of history. Thanks to Isaac Newton working out the laws of gravitation and the mechanics of the solar system, mathematicians could easily calculate the properties...

The Galilean Moons

In the year 1610, it was commonly believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe, that all bodies rotated around the perfect planet, placed by god with the heavens around it.  Galileo Galilei dealt a major blow to this idea, by using an early telescope to improve his vision and look up at some surprising dots. These dots formed a line that went straight through the bright planet Jupiter.  As Galileo looked again and again, night after night, he noticed that they not only persisted, they moved.  Their motion was predictable, and Galileo realized that they were orbiting Jupiter, just...

My Three Suns

Not just the title of an excellent Futurama episode, but now a real place.  A planet has been found orbiting in a triple star system, a surprising find that may be more common than once thought. Astronomers from the University of Arizona used the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to directly image the new planet as it orbits the brightest star in a triple system 320 light years away, in the constellation Centaurus. Orbits like this are thought to be extremely unstable due to the varying gravitational field in the system. “HD 131399Ab is one of the few exoplanets that...

Atmospheric Spectral Shift

Why does the Sun seem red near the horizon? Why does the Moon do the same?  We know the Moon isn’t actually changing colour, and the Sun isn’t either.  So what is happening to the light? The first thing to note about the image above is that the size of the Moon doesn’t change, showing that the well-known ‘Moon Illusion,’ where the Moon appears larger near the horizon, is just that – an illusion.  The second is of course the gradual change in hue as the Moon rises. The reason for the colour shift really has nothing to do with the Moon...

Everlasting Light

Light is beautiful.  It illuminates a world of beauty for us to appreciate while giving us a tool to decipher the riddles of the universe.  In astronomy, it’s always about more photons! Because more photons = more data = better results.  But in an increasingly technological world, more photons can be a bad thing.  Especially when the artificial photons overpower the natural. I was lucky to spend most of my youth living away from the bright lights of the city, but with the sprawling metropolis of Toronto to the South, I could always see the orange glow that blocked out...

Relative Time: Photography Year 2

Last year after getting a Canon DSLR camera, I spent as much time as I could doing some basic astrophotography.  I took photos of stars, planets, the Moon, and even did some star trails.  One thing I quickly realized is that there are limitations if you don’t have a tracking mount or a telescope adaptor.  The tracking gives you a method for taking longer exposures, and the telescope adaptor as expected gives you the ability to zoom in on distant objects. Even with these temporary limitations (I hope to invest in them someday) there are still a lot of options...

How Life on Earth Began

One of the most important questions our species has tackled is the origin of life on Earth.  If we can figure out the conditions and catalyst for the beginning of life, we can look elsewhere in the universe for those same conditions, and zero in on the potential for finding extraterrestrial life.  We know the universe is old enough for the painstakingly slow evolutionary process, but what started it? In the famous 1952 Miller-Urey experiment, a flask containing the basic natural elements water (H20), methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH4), and Hydrogen (H2), all present on the early Earth, was subjected to...

An Ancient Martian Tsunami

A pretty cool result came out of Cornell University this week, showing that Mars was struck by a pair of ancient asteroids that caused massive tsunamis.  Not only is it the first evidence of a tsunami event on another world, but it proves that Mars once had a large ocean. The study looked at ancient shorelines between the lowlands and highlands of Mars, where the ocean-land boundary would have been.  Two massive impacts, a few million years apart, extended the shorelines and caused turmoil with the Martian climate at the time. “About 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered...