Moon Size

I hate the term ‘supermoon’. In fact that is the only time I’m going to use that term during this entire post.  The Moon does appear a tiny bit larger in the sky, but it’s not an uncommon thing.  Here’s why this one was particularly good at driving headlines. The technical term for the full Moon we saw this past week is a ‘perigee syzygy,’ which I think sounds way cooler.  Perigee is the term for the Moon’s closest point to the Earth in it’s orbit, and syzygy is the term for an alignment of bodies in space, in this...

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...

Rockets Blowing Up

Modern rocketry is a pinnacle of engineering.  It requires the right balance of multiple systems, and a deep knowledge of scientific principles such as fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, and chemistry.  But a huge part of the brute force science done in rocketry has been ‘try and fail.’  Countless rockets have exploded in tests dating back to the cold war, and even though they are much less frequent today, there is still value in learning from explosive and expensive mistakes.  Here is a compilation of rocket failures and testing from the last 70 years. ….because sometimes you have a day where you...

Motivation Monday: The Shared Path

“No man is an island; entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent.” -John Donne It’s easy to feel alone sometimes.  We feel as if our feelings of anger, shame, or sadness are ours alone.  The rest of the world, in the meantime, is happy, confident, and energetic.  As a counter to this you’ve probably heard that we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.  Well not only is that true, but it’s also true that we are not the only ones to feel these emotions.  We, as humans, never realize how much deeper our similarities...

Pi Written on a Pi Pie on Pi Day

Whether you’re looking for an excuse to eat dessert or just love mathematics, March 14th is a good day for geeks, nerds, and the rest of the world too.  The third month and the fourteenth day, 3.14, is known as Pi day, after the simplest and most ubiquitous constant in nature (no disrespect to c, e, g, or h).  Defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference and it’s diameter, Pi is an irrational number, meaning there is no end to its digits.  Most people know 3.14159, but some people have memorized hundreds more digits.  Mathematicians armed with supercomputers have calculated Pi to...

Five Planet Alignment Starts This Weekend!

When were the planets discovered? Uranus and Neptune were definitely not found until modern science began, since a telescope was required to see them.  The other five planets were not actually discovered per se.  Since they are visible to human eyes, they have been observed since prehistoric times, and we see examples of cultures across the ancient world who observed them.  The five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Starting this weekend, you can see them all across one part of the sky, a visual alignment that hasn’t occurred since 2005. Planets are so-named because of the Greek...

Why Pluto Isn’t a Planet, and Why it Was Before

The true story of why Pluto isn’t a planet goes back further than you would think.  It has a lot to do with our understanding of science at the time, and a lot more to do with surprising luck.  I made this video a couple of days ago for the Khan Academy Talent Search.  I hope you enjoy it. It will be interesting as we move into better telescope technologies that allow us to see further into the depths of the solar system and the universe.  What strange mysteries will we find?