What is the largest Galaxy in the Known Universe?

I sometimes forget just how big things can be in the Universe.  And I often forget just how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.  Then I see a Galaxy like IC 1101 side by side with our own and I very quickly remember. About 350 Million light years from Earth IC 1101 is the largest galaxy in the known Universe in terms of actual size. If you didn’t notice the image above, it shows our own Milky Way Galaxy as a little tiny dot in the bottom left corner, and then Andromeda our closest neighbour,...

Rosetta Orbiter / Philae Lander Updates!

They did it! 10 Years in Orbit and 2 Billion dollars later, the landing is successful and confirmed.  Now comes the fun part: The resulting Science!!! The first image that was beamed through 28 ad a half light minutes showed the lander on its descent, about 3km from the surface. The landing wasn’t perfect though.  In fact it may have ‘landed twice.’  The 4km wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko doesn’t have enough gravity to keep the lander from flying out into space, which is why Philae was equipped with a harpoon system to lock it in place on the surface. Yesterday I...

The Rosetta Comet Landing is Right Now!

For the first time in human history we are landing on a Comet! Watch the live feed and you can follow the landing as it’s happening.  It is expected to touch down at about 11:03 EST.  The lander, named Philae, already detached from the Rosetta Spacecraft at about 4am EST, and is slowly moving toward the landing site.  Once it gets close enough it will launch harpoons (yup you read it right) to grab onto the comet and pull itself down to the surface, snapping photos along the way. The Science communication world has been following this story since the Orbiter arrived...

Earth is Jealous: Mars just had an Epic Meteor Shower

It’s true, Mars just had what we call a Meteor Storm.  This is an event that, on Earth, only happens once every few hundred years, and the one that Mars just had was more intense than anything Earth has experienced in recorded history. This event happened because of a close Martian fly-by of comet C/2013 A1 Sliding Spring.  On October 19th around 2:30pm EDT the comet came within 140,000 Km of Mars.  This is incredibly close in Astronomical terms, being less than half the distance to the Moon and comparable to the total distance I’ve driven my car in the...

Hubble has nothing on ALMA: Planets forming around a star captured in finest detail ever

The Hubble Space telescope produced the finest Astronomical images in a generation, but Hubble’s time in the limelight has ended, and now it’s time for a new generation of both space- and ground-based telescopes to take over with their own jaw-dropping images and revolutionary science. Recently the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) has taken the leap and used its full power to take an astonishing image of the protoplanetary disk of the young star HL Tau. This image is of a very young star, only about a million years old (Which is really young compared to the 4.5 billions year old...

Dark Matter may be more Massive than it already is!

Dark Matter; Dark Energy; We basically use the term ‘dark’ as a cool sounding version of ‘We have no clue what this is.’ But Dark Matter is a better name than ‘We haven’t a clue’ Matter. Over the years, Astronomers have been trying to pinpoint what the stuff actually is that seems to permeate the universe and makes up 26.8% of the entire total energy-mass (Compare this to a paltry 4.9% of ordinary matter, ie the stuff we can see). But now, as per usual, theorists have come up with another possibility for the source of dark matter: moderately sized,...

Mystery of the Black Hole Cloud Solved

If you’re in Astronomy circles you may have heard about a big cloud of Hydrogen heading toward the supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*.  The lead up to the cloud approaching the black hole had astronomers buzzing this year, as it would be a direct opportunity for us to see the black hole ‘devour’ the cloud.  The black hole would show us some celestial fireworks and give us a huge opportunity to study their behaviour. Astronomers watched closely, and then the cloud passed right by…. We should have seen the cloud torn apart as matter spiralled...

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes

It’s been a rough week in the space flight industry.  On Friday afternoon, a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo class VSS Enterprise resulted in a catastrophe, crashing down in the Mojave desert, killing one pilot, with the other ejecting and now being treated in hospital. During the test flight, launched by Virgin Galactic’s partner corporation Scaled Composites from the Mojave Spaceport,  WhiteKnightTwo, an aircraft designed to bring SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude, successfully released the spacecraft.  After two minutes, something went wrong, resulting in the eventual crash of the craft. Virgin Galactic released a statement shortly after the accident, saying the National...

China’s Unmanned Moon Probe Returns!

If you weren’t aware, new countries have entered the next space race.  India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) named ‘Mangalyaan’ was successfully launched on November 1st, 2013, and has been orbiting Mars since its arrival on September 21st of this year.  China has been in the mix since 2007, and have been working to gradually increase their capabilities. Their latest mission, called ‘Chang’e 5-T1,’ was launched on October 23rd, and spent 8 days travelling to the Moon, performing a flyby, and returning safely.  This is the test mission before they send Chang’e 5 in 2017, a mission that will land on the...

The Halloween-Themed Universe

I did a short presentation last night for a group of families at a Halloween event.  My job was to talk space but make it as spooky as possible and use some Halloween themes for the kids.  There really is a fine line between teaching Science and being entertaining, but here’s some of the things I did. Lets start with the following image….What does this look like to you? Did you say the head of a witch? Then yes you are right! This is known as the Witch Head Nebula. A nebula is a place where gas and dust in...