Saturn Double Shot 1/2: Less-Than-Ancient Moons

It’s always funny explaining astronomical time to a non-scientist.  I often get the craziest looks when I mention a million years as being a ‘blip on the radar.’  Perhaps there is some immortal alien race out there who would understand how nothing much happens on the scale of the universe in a million years.  To humanity and our ever-accelerating advancement, a million years is thrice the age of our entire species.  But I guess Einstein was right when he said that ‘it’s all relative.’ This brings us to Saturn, a planet as ancient as the solar system.  Moderately old in...

Gravitational Waves! A Red-Letter Day for Physics

Today, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is expected to announce a monumental discovery that is 100 years in the making.  Theorized by Einstein’s general relativity in 1915, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, similar to sound waves, but much tinier.  The search has been ongoing for decades, with no results.  Until now. LIGO has the most sensitive gravitational wave detector ever conceived – in two interferometer facilities in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.  They use a laser split along two axes to give an in-phase beam.  If gravitational waves along one of the axes affect the beam, it...

Moon Phase Affects Rainfall

In voodoo, new age, astrological, aura, garbage news, the Moon’s phase affects mental health and is a general consideration for werewolves.  In real and useful science, the Moon is that occasional sight in the sky that gives us ocean tides and casually reminds us that the Earth actually has a big ball of rock falling around it.  But in a strange twist, new data suggests that the Moon actually does affect one facet of human experience: Rainfall. A new paper from the university of Washington suggests that there is a slight dip in rainfall when the Moon is overhead or underfoot, due to the tidal force exerted by...

Shredded Asteroid

With the recent story of the star with a debris ring potentially being a sign of extraterrestrial life (spoiler alert, it’s not aliens), I had to talk a bit more about debris rings in general around other stars. How can they exist? When we start to look at the number of worlds and the variability of objects and stars, it would be no surprise to find strange systems where recent interactions have produced all kinds of fascinating patterns. It’s another example of finding art in nature. A group of astronomers from the university of Warwick have directly imaged a debris...

And I Thought Hurricanes on Earth Were Bad…

Our species is just now reaching the technology necessary to detect features of exoplanets, and not just the exoplanets themselves.  We have seen atmospheres, aurorae, and magnetism on distant worlds, and now we can add incredibly fast winds to that list.  A team of astronomers have discovered an exoplanet, classified as HD 189733b, that has wind speeds exceeding 8,500 km / h, or about 2 Km / s. Lead researcher Tom Louden, of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics group, said: “This is the first ever weather map from outside of our solar system. Whilst we have previously known of Wind on...

“Without Gravity”

It always fascinates me to see videos and photographs from the International Space Station (ISS), how simple day to day activities are so altered because of the altered Physics of constant free fall in orbit around the Earth.  Many of the videos are showing what people call the ‘effects of zero gravity.’ This is actually not the case.  There is gravity in space.  Let’s take a closer look at the situation of an ISS astronaut. If we do the math (I do realize the term ‘do the math’ turns away a lot of people, so I will keep it short),...

Dark Energy not as Energetic as Once Thought

After yesterday’s post about some data that has caused us to rethink a theory, I wanted to follow it up today with an even bigger bit of data that could substantially change an even bigger theory.  Dark energy was discovered as a large-scale repulsive force in the universe that is responsible for the acceleration of its expansion.  It was discovered by looking at type 1a supernovae in distant galaxies.  since the supernovae all explode with the same mass limit, they appear to all have the same intrinsic luminosity.  If we know how bright they actually are, we can compare them...

Dark Matter is Darker than we Thought?

We call it dark matter because it doesn’t give off light, right? Well there is a lot of matter than doesn’t radiate, but the difference is that whatever the stuff is that we call dark matter doesn’t interact with anything through the small-scale fundamental forces.  The only way we have been able to detect it’s presence is through large-scale gravitational interaction.  Dark matter is ‘dark’ because it doesn’t interact with anything in a way that lets us figure out what it’s made of.   Well now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can look at the new...

Do You Weigh Less When the Moon is Above You?

Everything in the universe that has mass, has gravity.  It’s easy to understand that the Earth has gravity and pulls on us all day every day.  It’s just as easy to understand that the Moon and the planets and the Sun have gravity too, and they are all pulling on us. It’s much harder to understand that every person on Earth has gravity too.  You exert a force on the Earth, and on every other human.  You also exert a force on every rock, tree, and creature that roams the Earth, and they all exert a force on you.  The...

Stars do Collide! And We Saw It!

When I do Planetarium shows, one of the things I like to talk about during the Milky Way – Andromeda collision that will happen in 70 Mlllion years, is the fact that very few stars will actually hit each other.  Yet we still call it a ‘Galaxy collision.’  One of the questions I always get is “Will the Earth survive this?”  I usually ask the audience. The response is usually a unanimous ‘No way!” And then I tell them how big Galaxies are and they can’t believe how unlikely it is that the solar system will be affected.  Consider the...