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...

First Light For Black Hole Observatory

A newly installed instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) has just taken it’s first images, what we call ‘first light’ in the astronomy world.  The instrument, called GRAVITY, uses four different 8m telescopes to perform what we call ‘Baseline Interferometry.’  It is expected that tis is the instrument that will allow humanity to take the first ever direct picture of a black hole. Interferometry is a technique that uses multiple small telescopes all collecting light at a specific wavelength.  These telescopes form a line that we call the baseline.  The combination of these telescopes and...

Reflected Light from First True Exoplanet Observed

The first exoplanet ever discovered was 51 Pegasi b in 1995.  It kicked marked the slow beginning of what would soon become the ‘exoplanet gold rush.’  It meant that for the first time, we had the technological capacity to discover new worlds, and science fiction soon became science fact.  51 Pegasi b was also a very strange planet.  A massive Jupiter sized world orbiting very close to its home star.  On one hand it was this characteristic that made it much easier to detect.  On the other, it showed us that we did not understand planetary system formation as well...