Sample Size Solves Problems

Science and technology benefit one another.  New scientific theories afford new opportunities to create technology that can harness the laws of nature.  Conversely, new technologies allow for better instrumentation and unprecedented efficiency in scientific progress.  It’s a continual feedback loop, and some of the greatest challenges in science are solved simply by throwing more resources at them, or in other words, gathering more data. A good example of this is a relatively old problem for astronomers – determining how the spin of a galaxy affects it’s shape.  We certainly don’t want for analogies on Earth, spinning pizza, driving on a...

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...

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...

Reproducible Results and Baby Planets

When I report science news, discuss new discoveries, and get excited about new results, it can be difficult to hear that little voice in the back of my mind that says ‘reproducible results.’  It’s the voice of the pure scientist that reminds me to be critical of the things I read, and be open to critical review for the things I write and say. Any result isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless it can be independently reproduced.  This is a key to scientific advancement.  If the result can’t be reproduced, then something is wrong.  It may be an error with...

New Kepler Planets Confirmed!

In a major announcement this week, researchers with the Kepler Space Telescope science team have confirmed the existence of 1,284 new planets that had originally been found by Kepler.  This is a huge leap in the number of confirmed planets, bringing the total to over 2,300. The previous science data collection done by Kepler was completed in 2013, so why is this new news? Well the exciting part is that these are confirmed planets.  Usually when Kepler detects a signal indicating a potential planet, it needs to be verified by using some of the larger ground-based telescopes.  Kepler is not immune...

Close, But No FRB

There was a report about a month ago that a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) produced a repeating signal.  This is big news because we really don’t know what causes FRBs, and once they have ended it can be difficult to trace their source.  But a repeating signal means we can pinpoint their origin and potentially figure out their root cause.  It’s no wonder the astronomical community was excited…and skeptical. Most of the FRBs that have been discovered were in archival data – data from past surveys that were given a closer look.  Only a few have been seen in real-time, so when...

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...

This May be the End for Philae

I remember being so happy back in mid-2015 when I heard that ESA made contact with the Philae lander.  The little lander that could was thought to be lost to the cold of space, not receiving enough sunlight to power itself.  But when the comet approached the Sun, the sunlight became intense enough to wake it back up and allow it to move some of the data it captured.   But now, as the comet 67P has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the likelihood that Philae will ever communicate again is slim. When the landing originally happened, the little...

Insight Launch Delayed

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, originally set to launch in March of 2016, has been delayed.  It’s not yet clear when it will launch, but it certainly won’t be on schedule for March. The reason for the scrub is that a major science instrument on the lander has been having issues. The French-made Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) requires a vacuum seal around three main sensors to protect them from the Martian environment.  This vacuum seal allows them to detect seismic activity on Mars, and notice any ground movements as small as...

More New Horizons Images!

After focussing all of its energy on taking science data during closest approach, New Horizons has been slowly but surely sending back the stream of information collected on the Pluto system.  This long process of returning the data to Earth has meant periodic updates for humanity, and a rekindling of excitement for the newest secrets revealed about the dwarf planet.  Here is a video of the region of Pluto imaged in high resolution, followed by some of the best still along the way. This is the closest and most detailed view of Pluto that humanity will have for decades.  We...