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...

Mercurian Monday

If you haven’t already heard, Mercury is going to transit the Sun this coming Monday! It’s like a solar eclipse, except Mercury is covering the Sun instead of the Moon.  And since Mercury is tiny and far away, it’s not so much ‘covering’ the Sun as it is passing across the face of the Sun in a barely perceptible way. The transit takes approximately 7 hours start to finish, and will occur on Monday, May 9th, 2016 from 7:12am to 2:42 pm EDT. If you miss this one, you can catch the next one in 2019.  They happen a dozen times a...

Three Nearby Earths

As the search for planets in the galaxy continues, there are two places to focus on: Distant stars with potential large planets, and nearby stars with potential small planets. If we are able to find Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars, they will be prime targets for future generations to explore. Astronomers have just announced the discovery of three new planets orbiting a star only 40 light years from Earth.  The star is a very small red dwarf, only slightly larger than Jupiter, and even though it’s close to Earth, it can’t be seen with the naked eye or even with a large...

The Past and Future Mars

The Past: Mars has water, and it used to have a lot more.  If modern Mars had the ocean it once had, it would evaporate off into space quickly because there is no heavy atmosphere to help keep it pressurized and in liquid form.  Mars would have had a thicker atmosphere in addition to it’s magnetic field in order to keep all that water in one place.  So where did the atmosphere go? And if there was such a thick atmosphere, how does it account for the fingerprint of excess Carbon-13 and a lack of Carbon-12 found on the red planet...

The Apoceclipse 2015

I promised my friend Dash I would use the term ‘Apoceclipse’ to describe last night’s Perigee Harvest Moon Lunar Eclipse, so here it is! Last night was great fun, even though I couldn’t see the event at all due to cloud cover.  Here’s why. It all started with a media blitz and a crazy day at the Science Centre.  I started off by doing a Global News interview in the morning, and then a 680 news phone in around lunchtime.  I had a planetarium show, and then it was off to CBC downtown to do the national news live! It...

Once in a Blue Moon, Twice in a Month

Hey hey! It’s a blue moon today!  For all those people who have used the phrase ‘Once in a blue moon,’ it finally happened.  Turns out that phrase means ‘about once every 2-3 years.’  A blue moon doesn’t mean the moon is changing colour anytime soon, just like a supermoon doesn’t mean the moon actually gains superpowers or gets noticeably bigger.  A blue moon is simply the second full moon in a calendar month. The moon orbits the Earth in approximately 29.5 days.  This was how months were originally formed.  But 12 months x 29.5 days means that we are...

Latest Weather Update from Pluto: Hazy with a chance of Ice Flows

Friday’s science update from the New Horizons team shed some more light on the seemingly endless jaw-dropping discoveries from the Pluto system.  We have found a surprising atmosphere and very cold ice flows, contributing to a surprisingly active geology for an object that receives so little sunlight.  Seven hours after the craft made its closest approach of Pluto, it turned around and took a backlit shot, revealing two distinct layers of hazy atmosphere at 80 Km and 50 Km above the surface respectively. It looks more like an eclipse photograph from much closer to home, but it shows a hauntingly...

Lunar Eclipse 3rd of the Tetrad coming at you for Easter!

It’s been a good couple of years for lunar eclipses, we are in the midst of what we call a tetrad, which is a series of four lunar eclipses spread out evenly over a period of time, usually 2 years, in this case April and October.  For observers watching the April 4th morning eclipse, in my boat here in Toronto, you won’t be able to see it because the Moon will set and the Sun will rise just as it gets good.  Plus you would have to wake up at 5:30am to go look at it.  Pretty much everyone East...

Rings around this Exoplanet put Saturn to Shame

Move over Saturn, J1407b has rings that are far more spectacular than anyone would have imagined.  This distant ‘planet’ (It may not actually be a planet) orbits an orange star 117 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, and has a ring system consisting of 30 separate rings, each of which could be tens of Millions of Kilometres wide. In Spring of 2007, while monitoring the light from the star, astronomers noticed that the star was being eclipsed multiple times to varying degrees.  This led the team, consisting of astronomers from Leiden Observatory and the University of Rochester, to conclude that...