The Great American Eclipse of 2017

For three years I’ve been talking about this eclipse.  August 21st, 2017 is a date that feels etched into my skull.  With solar eclipses being few and far between, and usually occuring far from my home in Canada, I’m excited that the great american eclipse of 2017 will be within my budget for travel.  Though like many people, I’m ready to pay a bit extra to get to the right spot. The eclipse is expected to draw over 100 million people to the many towns and cities along the path of totality. Though most of the population of North America...

Moon Size

I hate the term ‘supermoon’. In fact that is the only time I’m going to use that term during this entire post.  The Moon does appear a tiny bit larger in the sky, but it’s not an uncommon thing.  Here’s why this one was particularly good at driving headlines. The technical term for the full Moon we saw this past week is a ‘perigee syzygy,’ which I think sounds way cooler.  Perigee is the term for the Moon’s closest point to the Earth in it’s orbit, and syzygy is the term for an alignment of bodies in space, in this...

The Space X Martian Trailer

In the past year or so it’s been interesting to see space agencies and companies produce movie-type trailers for scientific expeditions.  The technology is there, and it is a proven way to inspire the general public.  It also creates an opportunity to create some of the amazing science being done, even if it’s just a small taste. Space X has been candid about wanting to colonize Mars, and yesterday they released a trailer to give some inspiration to all of us. It shows a system that utilizes their nearly-established system of landing and reusing rockets, as well as refueling in...

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...

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...

The Galilean Moons

In the year 1610, it was commonly believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe, that all bodies rotated around the perfect planet, placed by god with the heavens around it.  Galileo Galilei dealt a major blow to this idea, by using an early telescope to improve his vision and look up at some surprising dots. These dots formed a line that went straight through the bright planet Jupiter.  As Galileo looked again and again, night after night, he noticed that they not only persisted, they moved.  Their motion was predictable, and Galileo realized that they were orbiting Jupiter, just...

Reflection in a Dark Universe

Like lighthouse beacons in a dark ocean, stars act as tiny islands in the vast universe.  Producing light at the atomic level from the powerful release of energy through fusion, they are the engines that drive the formation of new elements.  But in the darkness there are plenty of other hidden objects that are cold and give off little to no light.  Yet many of them are easily seen.  Here’s Why! The first thing to think about is infrared light, the radiation given off by warm objects.  Large planets and brown dwarf stars are very bright in infrared, much brighter...

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...

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...

Atmospheric Spectral Shift

Why does the Sun seem red near the horizon? Why does the Moon do the same?  We know the Moon isn’t actually changing colour, and the Sun isn’t either.  So what is happening to the light? The first thing to note about the image above is that the size of the Moon doesn’t change, showing that the well-known ‘Moon Illusion,’ where the Moon appears larger near the horizon, is just that – an illusion.  The second is of course the gradual change in hue as the Moon rises. The reason for the colour shift really has nothing to do with the Moon...