Finding ‘Baby Earth’ Planets is Easier than we Thought

Space is Big.  I say this often, but it is so vast we can’t even comprehend the emptiness of it.  We see Billions upon Billions of stars, all taunting us with their shine, seemingly close but completely unreachable. How do we know which stars we should spend our time looking at? We don’t really have the time to scan through each star in detail, so what are the criteria for taking a closer look? Generally we look at a population of stars to gain an understanding of each life stage, and then we look at the oldest and youngest to determine...

A Very Recent Explosion Still Ongoing

About 170 years ago, a star nearly exploded in the Southern constellation Carina.  I say nearly for a few reasons.  On Earth, observers saw a dim, seemingly-average star become the second brightest star in the night sky.  It stayed that way for 20 years before slowly fading. When we looked at it with telescopes, we found that whatever happened to Eta Carinae, it ejected more than 30 times the mass of our Sun in that short twenty year period, creating what we now call the homunculus nebula. Eta Carinae is a multiple star system 7500 light years away from Earth, so rest assured any...

Earth’s Shield! A Natural Barrier in Space

Have you ever heard of the Van Allen belts? If not you really should learn about them.  After all, without them the majority of life on Earth could not survive. So what are they and how do they keep us alive? The Van Allen Belts are a collection of charged particles, held in place by the magnetic field of Earth, that act as a barrier to prevent the most harmful radiation from the Sun from reaching the surface of the Earth.  They shift according to the incoming energy of the Sun, and if there is a large enough swell of...

Magnetic Fields on Distant Exoplanets?

Twenty Years of exoplanet research has seen incredible advances in detecting planets orbiting distant stars, as well as their size, orbit period, orbit distance, and even atmospheric composition.  But the next step in understanding exoplanets is to learn about their magnetic fields. We know that many exoplanets should have magnetic fields.  It makes sense, since nearly every world in our own solar system has some sort of magnetism.  But for the first time, an international team of Astronomers, led by Kristina Kislyakova of the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have discovered a way to detect magnetic fields...

Here’s what the Surface of the (2nd) Largest Asteroid Looks like

Vesta is the 2nd-largest Asteroid in the well known asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  525 Km in diameter, it is very big for an asteroid.  If it was much bigger we would call it a dwarf planet. The Dawn Spacecraft, launched in 2007, stopped by Vesta in 2011 and stuck with it until 2012 as it orbited the sun.  We are still seeing the results of that rendezvous, and just recently NASA released a complete map of the surface features of Vesta. It’s amazing to see so many interesting surface features on such a small world.  Geologic...

Next Year we could Discover Hundreds of new Black Holes!

I’ve talked about black holes previously, and only in our own Galaxy, and only the big one in the middle, Sag A*. When I speak with the public and with kids about Black Holes, most people never really understand that there aren’t just one or two kicking around, but potentially there are as many as a Billion Black Holes in our own Galaxy! The problem is, we are not very good at finding them.  It makes sense, they give off no light, and we can only find them through indirectly measuring their effects on the surrounding environment.  We can sometimes see...

The Sun has been going Insane lately!

The sun is definitely hitting its usual ‘rebellious’ phase on its 11 year sunspot cycle, where it flares up at literally everything. The biggest sunspot observed in 24 years has been releasing huge amounts of energy, in the form of X-class solar flares. In the past week this sunspot, designated AR 12192, has released 3 X-class flares, including a huge X-3.1 on Friday.  NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been watching the light show. Okay so the Sun is blowing up, what does all this mean? Let’s start with Sunspots.  A sunspot is a place on the sun where there...

Post Eclipse breakdown – Quickest DIY Pinhole Camera ever

Yesterday’s post had me discuss the partial Solar Eclipse that occurred around sunset for most of North America.  The one thing I neglected to mention was regarding safe viewing of it. In reality if you saw the sun with your bare eyes during a partial eclipse, it looks like the sun any other time of day – its bright. Don’t damage your eyes. I found a bit of time in the afternoon to build a pinhole camera, which basically consists of a tube or box with a pinhole in one end and a film or ‘viewing area’ at the other...

Partial Solar Eclipse Today!

Tonight, right around sunset, there will be a partial eclipse of the sun, visible from most of North America.  As the sun sets, skywatchers will get to see the moon gradually cover about half of the sun, before it disappears below the horizon. A map of the viewing area shows that the best spot to see it will be all the way up in the Canadian arctic. If you don’t live in the Arctic circle, you can certainly see the eclipse in the South-West near the horizon as it sets.  The moon will start to cover the sun around 5:45 EDT,...