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...

Measuring Dark Energy Like a BOSS

When you start to think about the most massive and extreme ‘stuff’ in the universe, you inevitably go to Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  They exist as opposites, one with incredible gravity holding the universe together, and the other a mysterious vacuum energy tearing it apart.  Studying this cosmic tug of war gives astronomers a chance to determine the past and future of the entire universe. To study the immense scale of these two quantities, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) program of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS) constructed a 3D map of the sky, amounting to a volume...

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...

A Direct Black Hole

How did supermassive black holes form in the early epochs of the universe? More importantly, how did they have enough time to grow as large as they did? The answer requires a very different universe.  And back then, conditions were much different than they are now.  There was a lot of gas, little dust, no stars, and a plethora of dark matter. Astronomers have spent decades observing early quasars, massive active galaxies powered by huge black holes feeding on surrounding gas.  But these galaxies are seen so early in the universe’s history, one starts to wonder how a black hole finds sufficient...

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...

Science > Written History > Fortune Telling

One of the reasons I love science is that it actually does allow us to look into the past and future, beyond our existence in the present.  Written history gives us a perspective of a person who was around before any human currently living on Earth, and allows us to piece together the history of our culture.  This is very important, so no disrespect to historians and their work.  Much disrespect to fortune telling though.  It’s a waste of energy involving a person who fishes for information for a living.  But let’s talk about Science. Since we just passed Canada...

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...

Juno July

As Canadians start up Canada day celebrations and Americans get ready for their independence day, the world of space exploration holds its breath and hopes for a good result.  On July 4th, the Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a five year long journey.  NASA continued its recent theme of producing movie-trailer-like videos to promote the mission. Although I love the imagery and the design of the trailer, it feels cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s because I find movie trailers cheesy in general, and this is trying to appeal to the general public.  Though regardless of how I feel,...

Astrophotography: First go at Luna

The Spring has been a bit slower than I would have liked in terms of astrophotography.  I have seen a lot of fantastically clear evenings, but have been plagued by a lack of time and a few technical issues that have kept me from getting the many hours of practice needed to become competent.  I did manage to purchase an inexpensive adapter to use my camera with my telescope, giving me a ton of new options for photography, as well as a ton of new challenges. The two main problems I had, and need to address in the future, are...