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 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...

Measuring Dark Energy Like a BOSS

When you start to think about the most massive and extreme ‘stuff’ in the universe, you inevitably go to Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  They exist as opposites, one with incredible gravity holding the universe together, and the other a mysterious vacuum energy tearing it apart.  Studying this cosmic tug of war gives astronomers a chance to determine the past and future of the entire universe. To study the immense scale of these two quantities, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) program of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS) constructed a 3D map of the sky, amounting to a volume...

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...

Science > Written History > Fortune Telling

One of the reasons I love science is that it actually does allow us to look into the past and future, beyond our existence in the present.  Written history gives us a perspective of a person who was around before any human currently living on Earth, and allows us to piece together the history of our culture.  This is very important, so no disrespect to historians and their work.  Much disrespect to fortune telling though.  It’s a waste of energy involving a person who fishes for information for a living.  But let’s talk about Science. Since we just passed Canada...

Juno July

As Canadians start up Canada day celebrations and Americans get ready for their independence day, the world of space exploration holds its breath and hopes for a good result.  On July 4th, the Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a five year long journey.  NASA continued its recent theme of producing movie-trailer-like videos to promote the mission. Although I love the imagery and the design of the trailer, it feels cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s because I find movie trailers cheesy in general, and this is trying to appeal to the general public.  Though regardless of how I feel,...

Seeding The Supermassive

In the early Universe, things were quite different.  The first stars were much more massive than stars today, and contained mostly Hydrogen.  Astronomers have good ideas about how they formed, but other objects from around this time, namely black holes, are much tougher to account for.  Early black holes were huge, with no explanation for how they grew so large.  “Early” means “first Billion years after the Big Bang,” but even in that time, it’s hard to determine how observed black holes could grow as large as 100,000 solar masses. I say 100,000 solar masses, because that is the mass of two ‘seed’ black holes, discovered...

Tug-Of-War Magnetism

I feel like I’ve been covering a lot of stories on magnetic fields over the past few months.  Fields around the Earth, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter’s Moons, and exoplanets are just some of the places in the universe where we are looking at magnetic field behaviour.  The intention is to use our understanding of magnetism to figure out what is inside these worlds, and how they interact with their space environment. You would expect us to understand the Earth’s magnetic field and interior very well, after all, we are stuck here.  But it turns out it’s very difficult to study the interior of...

Pi Written on a Pi Pie on Pi Day

Whether you’re looking for an excuse to eat dessert or just love mathematics, March 14th is a good day for geeks, nerds, and the rest of the world too.  The third month and the fourteenth day, 3.14, is known as Pi day, after the simplest and most ubiquitous constant in nature (no disrespect to c, e, g, or h).  Defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference and it’s diameter, Pi is an irrational number, meaning there is no end to its digits.  Most people know 3.14159, but some people have memorized hundreds more digits.  Mathematicians armed with supercomputers have calculated Pi to...