Jupiter’s Triple Moon Eclipse and Ceres Comes Into View

There has been a lot to talk about with our home solar system lately.  Spacecraft approaching dwarf planets, robots on Mars, and all kinds of orbiters giving new insights and views we had never expected.  It’s a heavy news year for Planetary Science, and the great stories keep creeping up! Today we have an update on the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres.  The picture I posted on January 20th  (shown below) was from 380,000 Km away, comparable to the distance between Earth and the Moon. Now, about 2 weeks later, Dawn is only 145,000 Km away, and the view is much clearer!...

Rings around this Exoplanet put Saturn to Shame

Move over Saturn, J1407b has rings that are far more spectacular than anyone would have imagined.  This distant ‘planet’ (It may not actually be a planet) orbits an orange star 117 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, and has a ring system consisting of 30 separate rings, each of which could be tens of Millions of Kilometres wide. In Spring of 2007, while monitoring the light from the star, astronomers noticed that the star was being eclipsed multiple times to varying degrees.  This led the team, consisting of astronomers from Leiden Observatory and the University of Rochester, to conclude that...

Asteroid Belt vs. Kuiper Belt vs. Oort Cloud

Ever wondered the difference? The Asteroid Belt, shown above, consists of hundreds of thousands of rocks, with all kinds of different shapes, ranging in size from the Dwarf Planet Ceres at 950 Km in Diameter, down to small bits the size of dust particles.  It lies between Mars and Jupiter. The Kuiper Belt (pronounced Kai-per) consists of Icy rocks, and it a major source of short-period Comets in the Solar system.  Extending beyond the planet Neptune, Pluto was discovered to be one of the largest objects in the belt. The mysterious Oort cloud is a collection of Comets, thought to...

Rosetta Sheds New Light on Origin of Earth’s Oceans

One of the most important science goals of the Rosetta mission is to determine the conditions in the early solar system, as well as the element abundance and climate that led to the development of life on Earth. By studying a comet that has been isolated in Space for 4.5 Billion years, we can learn about the formation of the Solar System and the origin of the raw materials for life on Earth.  The Earth was thought to be so warm when it formed that any water would have evaporated away into space.  If so, where did our vast oceans come...

Magnetic Fields on Distant Exoplanets?

Twenty Years of exoplanet research has seen incredible advances in detecting planets orbiting distant stars, as well as their size, orbit period, orbit distance, and even atmospheric composition.  But the next step in understanding exoplanets is to learn about their magnetic fields. We know that many exoplanets should have magnetic fields.  It makes sense, since nearly every world in our own solar system has some sort of magnetism.  But for the first time, an international team of Astronomers, led by Kristina Kislyakova of the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have discovered a way to detect magnetic fields...

Here’s what the Surface of the (2nd) Largest Asteroid Looks like

Vesta is the 2nd-largest Asteroid in the well known asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  525 Km in diameter, it is very big for an asteroid.  If it was much bigger we would call it a dwarf planet. The Dawn Spacecraft, launched in 2007, stopped by Vesta in 2011 and stuck with it until 2012 as it orbited the sun.  We are still seeing the results of that rendezvous, and just recently NASA released a complete map of the surface features of Vesta. It’s amazing to see so many interesting surface features on such a small world.  Geologic...

Dark Matter may be more Massive than it already is!

Dark Matter; Dark Energy; We basically use the term ‘dark’ as a cool sounding version of ‘We have no clue what this is.’ But Dark Matter is a better name than ‘We haven’t a clue’ Matter. Over the years, Astronomers have been trying to pinpoint what the stuff actually is that seems to permeate the universe and makes up 26.8% of the entire total energy-mass (Compare this to a paltry 4.9% of ordinary matter, ie the stuff we can see). But now, as per usual, theorists have come up with another possibility for the source of dark matter: moderately sized,...

Earth Hour should be called ‘Amateur Astronomy Hour’

On Saturday, March 23rd, I arrived home before 8pm, and proceeded to power down all my electronics and turn off all my lights, before heading over to my friend’s place to watch the Leafs game.  Since it was the Earth Hour event, I wanted to contribute to the power down for the entire night. While walking along St.Clair Avenue W in Toronto, I noticed that the night sky was particularly clear, and as I walked a bit further it dawned on me that I couldn’t see all of the buildings in the downtown core, usually visible from St.Clair. It seems...