Let’s Look for Meteors!

Today marks 5 months since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and everyone stopped going to school, to work, out in public, and we all just stayed home to stop the spread. In this time, people have learned to adapt their careers, and parents have done their best to educate their kids in the absence of formal public education. Still, we long for some non-screen entertainment (he said, while staring at a screen writing a blog post for the entertainment of others). Now we’re reaching that time of year where the Perseid meteor shower reaches it’s peak, with all the...

Summer Astrophotography – A Passion Project

I love being a science communicator, being with people and sharing my knowledge of the universe. However, I have a personal fascination with the universe, and although this helps me learn more and ultimately makes me a better communicator, there is something nice about connecting with the stars in a traditional way, ie with a telescope. Every year, usually in Summer (a short season in Canada), I venture to a dark sky location and get in some observing, to remind me of the real universe that’s out there. Since I also love the visualization of space as a communication tool,...

Using Stellarium to Find Comet NEOWISE

It’s an amazing time to look up to the night sky! For the first time in nearly 6700 years, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has made it’s return to the inner solar system. These small, icy, dirty clumps remain dim and dark through over 90% of their journey from the distant reaches of the Solar System, but once they close in on the immense heat of our nearest star, things change. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE captured by the Parker Solar Probe as it swings around the Sun. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher The ice melts, pockets of...

New Horizons and Ultima Thule – Two Perspectives

This post is a collaboration with my good friend Bob Wegner, a professional musician, amateur astronomer, and genuinely good person. With the New Horizons spacecraft passing Ultima Thule on New Year’s eve 2019, Bob and I noticed that Queen guitarist and astronomer Brian May was on hand for the live event, playing a newly-written song to mark the event. Bob and I often talk about astronomy, as I’m always interested in his perspective as an enthusiast, while he’s equally interested in my opinion as a professional. We decided to take this event and write about it from two perspectives. For...

Podcasting about Astronomy

I love working on different projects every day.  Some days I present planetarium shows, some days I do a radio show, some days I’m doing video conference calls with school children, and some days I’m on TV commenting on recent space news.  I enjoy the variety that being a science communicator offers.  In that spirit, I want to introduce a project I’ve been working on for the past year, a podcast called “The Expanding Universe.”  Together with my good friend Jesse Rogerson (@JesseRogerson), a fellow astronomer and science communicator, we have been recording an episode every two weeks on...

One Planet Hunter to Another

It wasn’t long after the discovery of exo-solar planets that scientists sent up spacecraft to look for them.  The Kepler Space Telescope (KST) was NASA’s first planet finder, which has been exceeding expectations since 2009.  It likely won’t get to continue on that road, as it is nearing the end of it’s life.  At the same time, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is just starting to open it’s eyes.  Today we say goodbye to one great planet hunter and hello to another.   KST is part of NASA’s early 2000s spacecraft approvals that saw relatively inexpensive missions pushed forward...

A Dusty Martian Opportunity

Mars is a planet wide desert with underground and polar cap water, but it’s general arid environment and occasional wind give rise to dusty weather events such as tornado-like dust devils and local dust storms.  Every so often, one of these little dust storms expands and becomes a planet wide phenomena, and in early June this is exactly what happened. So what does it mean for our rovers and orbiters? Global dust storms are a recurring phenomenon on Mars, and happen regularly about the planet regardless of season.  Every 3-4 Martian years (6-8 Earth years) one of these smaller storms...

Pluto Planet Problem

I’m going to come right out and ask the burning question: Is Pluto a Planet? No. At least under the current definition.  So the question becomes “Should Pluto be a planet?”  That answer is a bit more complicated.  Let’s look at the history.   Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto was initially considered the ninth planet of our Solar System.  It was part of an intense search that follows back all the way to the discovery of Uranus and the orbital calculations that led to the discovery of Neptune.  Even after Neptune’s discovery, gravitational perturbations pointed to a ninth planet,...