Distances in Astronomy

How do we determine the size of the Universe? How do we know how far away the planets and stars are? How can we measure it without ever being there? The answer, as it always is in Astronomy, is light! More Photons = More Science! Here’s my video explaining the concepts of Parallax, spectroscopic parallax, and type 1a supernovae!   Space is big, and although we can figure out how big it is, its another challenge all together to understand and comprehend its sheer size.

Cassini View of Dione

Since it entered Saturnian orbit on July 1st, 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has changed our view of Saturn and its moons.  It is a dynamic gas giant with unique and fascinating moons that have their own characteristics that make them seem more like small, rocky, planets than moons of a gas giant.  Cassini has been delivering amazing science for over a decade, and it’s next journey lies in a polar orbit of Saturn, where it will dive through Saturn’s rings, giving the most detailed and close up views of the tiny ice particles that compose them.  Before this journey, Cassini...

Lonely Galaxy in an Empty Void

Stars are far apart, especially compared to the everyday distances in human experience.  The fastest a human being has ever travelled is just shy of 40 Km/s, and even at that incredible speed it would take 30,000 years to reach the closest star.  That is an incredible distance no matter how you slice it.  Taking it a step further, most stars in the sky are 20-200 times further away, and that’s just the population of stars we can see.  So if we go beyond and talk about galaxies and the distances between them, we are literally talking astronomical quantities.  Yet even with...

Complete 3D Map of the Local Universe

It’s always nice to know that amazing science is being done in local institutions.  Here in Ontario, Canada, we have 24 universities, and I had the pleasure of attending two of them, giving me a first hand look at the day to day work of astronomers.  It certainly helped me realize how hard scientists work to get one simple result that the public will only care about for a day or two. About 95% of the work, from grant writing to data acquisition to data reduction to analysis and interpretation, is behind the scenes, and the final 5%, the result,...

Dawn Arrives at Ceres Today!

Today is the day that the Dawn Mission completes a long 7.5 year long journey that has taken it past the orbit of Mars and into the asteroid belt, studying the second largest asteroid Vesta before heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres, where it has now injected itself into orbit, as of 7:39 am EST. This marks the first time in history a spacecraft has seen a dwarf planet up close, and with New Horizons passing Pluto in July, Dawn won the race in an astronomical photo finish. The Story So Far Launching on September 27th, 2007, Dawn orbited the Sun and...

The Gold Rush of the Galaxy – Exoplanets

I’ve always been a fan of data visualization.  We have so much raw data in the world that can reveal incredible information about our Universe, and the only thing stopping us is the time to analyse it all.  Sometime data visualizations pop up that really put things into perspective, help us see trends that we didn’t know of before, and offer insights into where we should look in the future.  I feel like I find something amazing that someone has produced on a daily basis, and being able to visualize complex data can give anyone a deeper understanding of the...

Opportunity Mars Panorama Marks 11 Years

The Opportunity rover has just about reached it’s 11 year anniversary of it’s 90 day mission puttering around Mars.  The actual day is tomorrow since the rover landed on January 25th, 2004. To mark its incredible accomplishment, the imaging team produced a lovely panorama of what the rover would see from its current position on a high point along the rim of endeavour crater. The map below shows the path of Opportunity over its past 11 years, from the Eagle crater, to endurance crater, to Victoria crater, and finally on to the much more massive Endeavour crater, where it currently...