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...

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...

Very Long Exposure Photography

Since diving into astrophotography last year, I’ve discovered that I love the concept of time-lapse, and not just with respect to astronomy.  It’s amazing to see the changes that can occur over long periods of time, and time-lapse photography is a way to record the changes and see how they unfold.  In astronomy the best time-lapses give you a sense of the Earth’s motion through space, show satellites zipping overhead, and show aurora dance along with weather patterns. Large amounts of time with slow incremental changes produce incredible results when it comes to time lapses. Science communication is about how to...

The Ancient Martian Shift

It takes a long time for things to change in the Universe.  Time takes on an entirely different role when it comes to the lives of planets, stars, and galaxies.  A million years in the life of a star or planet is the equivalent of a single day in the life of a human being.  Human lifetimes come and go while stars and planets stay pretty much the same.  However, just like human lives, where many days can build up to an important event, millions of years of lead-up can produce some incredible changes to a planet or star.  New...

Massive Ice Cloud on Titan

Titan is the most interesting body in the solar system from a weather standpoint.  It has a thick and robust atmosphere, a liquid cycle of methane and other hydrocarbons, and it has seasonal variations in these patterns.  It’s essentially a cold and oxygen-deficient version of Earth.  Because the seasons on Titan take 7.5 years to pass, we have few opportunities to study them up close with the Cassini spacecraft.  So as long as Cassini is operating, we are using our time wisely to see how Titan is changing.  The first major change is a giant ice cloud that has formed...

Global Jupiter Maps Reveal Wind Speeds

If you wanted to look at weather and climate patterns on the Earth, you would put a satellite in orbit and watch the planet for a long time, looking for changes in the cloud layers and measuring wind speeds, etc.  It isn’t a stretch to think that we could do the same for another planet, especially since most of the planets in the solar system have atmospheres.  Jupiter, being the largest and heaviest planet, also has immense wind speeds and beautiful vortex features, some of which are larger than the Earth.  But in order to understand these features, we have...

Hot Summer Days Mark The Earth’s Greatest Distance from the Sun

As warm as the temperatures have been recently, it may shock you to learn that today marks the Earth’s Aphelion, or its greatest distance from the Sun in its orbit. This may confuse those that think the Earth has seasons due to its proximity to the Sun.  The seasons of Earth are actually due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and is a result of how much direct sunlight we receive at any given time of year. It’s one of my favourite trivia questions to ask kids in my planetarium shows, and have them guess when the Earth is...

Mars keeps on Surprising: It has Glaciers!

As the inevitable launch of humans to Mars slowly approaches over the coming decades, we are using our best technology to study our neighbour in detail.  With multiple orbiting satellites and ground surveyors, we are slowly learning more about the geology, climate, environment, and history of Mars.  It feels as if every new discovery is a surprise, and we never expected Mars to be such a dynamic and complex world.  With science and technology improving every year, humanity is focussing efforts on the red planet.  The latest incredible discovery comes from radar data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The...

Rosetta Sheds New Light on Origin of Earth’s Oceans

One of the most important science goals of the Rosetta mission is to determine the conditions in the early solar system, as well as the element abundance and climate that led to the development of life on Earth. By studying a comet that has been isolated in Space for 4.5 Billion years, we can learn about the formation of the Solar System and the origin of the raw materials for life on Earth.  The Earth was thought to be so warm when it formed that any water would have evaporated away into space.  If so, where did our vast oceans come...

Curiosity shows that Gale Crater was a Giant Lake on Mars!

In a press conference yesterday, NASA officials revealed the latest data from the Curiosity rover mission on Mars.  The data shows that the Rover’s current location, at the base of Mount Sharp in the Gale Crater, was once deep underwater, part of a vast lake filling the entire crater. The results suggest that ancient Mars had a climate that could sustain large lakes across the planet over millions of years. “If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy...