Falcon Flight to the Galaxy

In the APOD photo from May 14th, it is easy to imagine the rocket launching far away into the galactic disk.  Sadly the rocket can’t traverse the thousands of light years to reach the distant stars, and is restricted to orbiting the Earth. Another beautiful part of this image is the technique involved in producing it.  It required combining two exposures. The first, with low sensitivity to capture the orange rocket trail of the Falcon 9.  The second with high sensitivity and a longer exposure time to capture the faint light of the Milky Way galaxy beyond.  The result is...

Mercury Transit Now!

The Transit of Mercury is happening right now here on May 9th, 2016.  If you want to watch live, check out the NASA feeds from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. For the small size of Mercury, it makes a pretty stark contrast against the bright Sun, and is easy to see, even in a small telescope.  Of course, you need a solar filter.  Don’t look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection, you won’t see Mercury and you’ll damage your vision. I managed to snag a photo on my phone through a small telescope.  Please excuse the lack of quality...

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss it

Have you ever seen a picture of a comet or asteroid in the sky against a background of stars? Here let me show you. Can you spot the asteroid? Okay I confess there is no asteroid in the image above, but if there was you’d believe me because an asteroid in this image would be indistinguishable from the stars.  They are all points of light, so how can you tell them apart? There’s something that separates asteroids, comets, planets, and all other solar system objects from background stars in an image. When you’re driving in a car and you look to the...

Stellar Snowball

The closest star to the Earth, aside from the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, a small red dwarf star that is part of the Alpha Centauri system, roughly 4 light years away.  If you don’t know light years, the distance is a staggering 37,800,000,000,000 Km.  Beyond that our stellar neighbourhood fills in as you move 20 light years in any direction, and by 100 light years, there are dozens of stars around us.  This gives a stellar density of about 0.14 stars per cubic parsec (a parsec is about 3.26 light years), pretty normal in terms of the number of stars in a given...

Hubble Bubble

Not to be confused with Canadian Gum Hubba-Bubba, Hubble has released a great birthday image for it’s 26th birthday.  I’m a few days late to celebrate, but it’s still a beautiful image. Known as NGC 7653, the Bubble nebula is 8,000 light years distant in the constellation of Cassiopeia.  The reason for this natural bubble shape is that the star just left of center in the image is ionizing a surrounding cloud of Hydrogen with it’s powerful stellar wind.  As electrons and protons recombine at the edges of the bubble, they release an infrared photon that can be clearly seen...

Very Long Exposure Photography

Since diving into astrophotography last year, I’ve discovered that I love the concept of time-lapse, and not just with respect to astronomy.  It’s amazing to see the changes that can occur over long periods of time, and time-lapse photography is a way to record the changes and see how they unfold.  In astronomy the best time-lapses give you a sense of the Earth’s motion through space, show satellites zipping overhead, and show aurora dance along with weather patterns. Large amounts of time with slow incremental changes produce incredible results when it comes to time lapses. Science communication is about how to...

Ceres and Photoshop

NASA has been zeroing in on certain features of dwarf planet Ceres and looked at them in more detail.  Here are the most surprising as well as what we know so far. There are a few other great videos in this playlist, but the first one gives a great summary of what has been seen so far.  The most surprising and interesting feature of Ceres in my opinion has been the Occator crater.  With the enigmatic bright spots that have been observed since the Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres, we are seeing them in finer detail than ever before, and we...

Fake Saturn

I love false-colour images.  They reveal detail that you can’t see in real life, but they also highlight things in an artistic way.  For me it’s an excellent marriage of art and science, and as a communicator it helps me get concepts across in an accessible way.  So when I saw the APOD image of Saturn from earlier this week, I had to discuss it. Saturn never has looked this way, and it never will.  The colours are vivid and unrealistic, but they show the differences in three distinct but close wavelengths of light on the electromagnetic spectrum.  All of...

Motivation Monday: Routine

“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” – Mike Murdock                  This morning was rough.  Getting up at 5am was getting easier.  Even though I was getting up in the dark, there would be a bit of morning twilight to greet me as I left my apartment, and by the time I left the gym, the full brightness of the day had arrived for my drive to work.  I didn’t need to turn on the headlights for the drive, even in the rainy weather. The time change made it tougher.  Suddenly I was up at what my...

Edge-On: Good for Planets, Bad for Galaxies

Every time we see amazing photos of galaxies or planetary disks, we can see most of the detail since we see them face on.  But since the orientation of spiral galaxies in the universe is random, there are a plethora of galaxies ignored by image processors since we just can’t see much of the detail.  We can still learn from edge-on spiral galaxies, just not as much as we can from those that are face on. We can see some fascinating dust lanes in the image above, and a ton of detail considering the view, but we don’t know what...