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...

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...

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...

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss it

Have you ever seen a picture of a comet or asteroid in the sky against a background of stars? Here let me show you. Can you spot the asteroid? Okay I confess there is no asteroid in the image above, but if there was you’d believe me because an asteroid in this image would be indistinguishable from the stars.  They are all points of light, so how can you tell them apart? There’s something that separates asteroids, comets, planets, and all other solar system objects from background stars in an image. When you’re driving in a car and you look to the...

Makemake Moon

Hubble just discovered the newest moon in the solar system, a tiny rock orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. The new moon is about 250 Km across, compared to the 1,400 Km wide Makemake.  It orbits in approximately 12 days, and has an edge on orbit, making it difficult to spot. “Our preliminary estimates show that the moon’s orbit seems to be edge-on, and that means that often when you look at the system you are going to miss the moon because it gets lost in the bright glare of Makemake,” said Alex Parker of...

Saturn Double Shot 2/2: Enceladus Eruptions Explained

One of the most surprising and intriguing finds during the decade-long Cassini mission has been the discovery of geysers on the Moon Enceladus.  Originally spotted in 2005, scientists have spent the last decade trying to understand how they work.  And now they finally have a working model. How does an eruption on a frigid Moon last so long?  Eruptions on Earth are not long-lived, and if they are, they are very spread out. For Enceladus to have a ton of localized geysers in the South polar region, you need some pretty specific scenarios. Aside from the fact that a constant stream of material could clog...

Supernova is a Good Name

If you listen to an astronomer talk about a supernova, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of ‘A massive explosion of a massive star that is bright enough to outshine an entire galaxy.’  You can imagine how bright it might be, but it doesn’t really give you enough context to get the wow factor from it.  Carl Sagan always said ‘When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.’  Now you, dear reader, have the chance to make the discovery yourself.  A series of images of galaxy...

Potential Ninth Planet!

Sadly no, this time we are NOT talking about Pluto. Astronomer Mike Brown from Caltech, heralded as the ‘man who killed planet Pluto’ has done some new work that might replace Pluto with a better fit for a true ninth planet, one that is ten times the mass of Earth.  Now the only problem is finding it. But wait, if we haven’t seen it, how do we know it’s there? Well it certainly showcases the power of science, that an understanding of the true laws of nature can give us incredible predictive power.  It started out as a ‘that’s strange’...

The Gravity Wave ‘Discovery’

You may have heard about the leaked rumour about the discovery of gravitational waves from earlier this week.  It was from Lawrence Krauss, who is an amazing science communicator and author, as well as a darn good astrophysicist. My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned! Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting. — Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016 It’s safe to say that as a guy with an inside scoop on a lot of the latest science news, this is something to get excited about.  The ‘LIGO’ he is referring to stands...

Dark Matter in a Galaxy Cluster

We know that galaxies like our Milky Way are far more massive than we can see.  The dark matter in the Milky Way makes up 90% of it’s total mass.  Another way of saying this is the Mass to Light ratio, comparing the total mass inferred by the rotation speed of the galaxy to the total mass of stars in the galaxy.  This ratio, M/L, for the Milky Way, is about 10.  But for a galaxy cluster, the M/L ratio is more like 100.  Galaxy clusters are not just dense collections of stars and massive galaxies, they are also immense...