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...

Review: Planetary

On the heels of my last review, I watched another movie with a space-documentary theme.  Though it started out with the human perspective from space, it progressed into so much more.  This is the TVO documentary called Planetary. It began with Apollo.  Humanity broke the bonds of our world and set foot on another heavenly body.  For the first time, we could look back and see the world as it truly is.  One of my favourite quotes from the movie came up early, though I’m paraphrasing: We are the Earth, and the Earth is all of us.  Seeing the Earth...

A Lonely Universe?

Life in the universe is a fascinating topic.  The simplest question: Are we alone? It breeds so many deeper and more profound scientific questions, like “How many habitable planets are there?” “How likely is life to develop on any given planet?” and “How long can a civilization survive?” We can’t answer them definitively, but we can narrow it down. The Drake equation, shown above, was first developed by Frank Drake, the head of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), in 1961.  He took the question of are we alone and made it quantifiable, in a probabilistic way.  It lets us...

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...

Some Planets are More Livable Than Earth!

When the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope comes a few years from now, we will have then opportunity to probe deeper into the cosmos than ever before, to see things we had only dreamed of seeing previously.  Among the prime targets for this modern marvel of human ingenuity are potentially habitable exoplanets, where future humans could live, provided there isn’t already life occupying the real estate.  To help astronomers assign importance to the growing number of exoplanets, researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have devised an index to represent the habitability of worlds, near and...

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Catastrophe After Launch

I was downtown Toronto this morning, dressed in a suit and holding my umbrella to stay dry and navigate the city streets as they were soaked with rain.  I was headed to the CBC building on John street to do an interview about the SpaceX CRS-7 mission that would launch an hour later.  This would be a very important mission, the seventh of twelve ISS resupply missions contracted by NASA. It was also the third attempt at a secondary goal – landing the first stage launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket, upright on an ocean platform, a feat that had...

Lonely Galaxy in an Empty Void

Stars are far apart, especially compared to the everyday distances in human experience.  The fastest a human being has ever travelled is just shy of 40 Km/s, and even at that incredible speed it would take 30,000 years to reach the closest star.  That is an incredible distance no matter how you slice it.  Taking it a step further, most stars in the sky are 20-200 times further away, and that’s just the population of stars we can see.  So if we go beyond and talk about galaxies and the distances between them, we are literally talking astronomical quantities.  Yet even with...

Orion Spacecraft Test Flight – Taking Humanity further into Space!

The Orion Spacecraft will eventually be the next vehicle to take humans further into space than ever before.  But before it can do that, it requires extensive testing to ensure its ready to go! The short infographic below from the crew working on Orion gives us an idea of how the major December flight test will go, and the altitudes being tested. If you can’t see it, the axes are y (miles) vs. x (hours). Last short post of the week as my teaching conference STAO ends today!