Geostationary Revolution

For 4.5 billion years, life evolved on planet Earth.  Not once were the inhabitants of this tiny blue mote of dust able to gaze upon their home as one entity.  To them it had always been an endless land without borders and an endless supply of food and resources.  Most of them were blissfully unaware that they could ever venture further, and so they accepted the boundaries of their existence unquestionably.  Once humans started making tools, we were taken down a path of discovery that would let us escape the bounds of our shrinking world. Finally, just over 70 years...

Motivation Monday: Tree Branches of Choice

A tree is a good way to represent a series of decisions.  Start at the trunk and move to smaller and smaller branches, each branch tip representing one o the many possibilities.  A tree representing a persons life would be immense, far larger than any tree on Earth.  There are an incredible number of possibilities that arise due to a persons choices, and every waking moment we move along a path.  But there is one stark difference between this tree and a real tree.  With the decision tree, you can cross back over to other paths. I started thinking about this...

How Life on Earth Began

One of the most important questions our species has tackled is the origin of life on Earth.  If we can figure out the conditions and catalyst for the beginning of life, we can look elsewhere in the universe for those same conditions, and zero in on the potential for finding extraterrestrial life.  We know the universe is old enough for the painstakingly slow evolutionary process, but what started it? In the famous 1952 Miller-Urey experiment, a flask containing the basic natural elements water (H20), methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH4), and Hydrogen (H2), all present on the early Earth, was subjected to...

An Ancient Martian Tsunami

A pretty cool result came out of Cornell University this week, showing that Mars was struck by a pair of ancient asteroids that caused massive tsunamis.  Not only is it the first evidence of a tsunami event on another world, but it proves that Mars once had a large ocean. The study looked at ancient shorelines between the lowlands and highlands of Mars, where the ocean-land boundary would have been.  Two massive impacts, a few million years apart, extended the shorelines and caused turmoil with the Martian climate at the time. “About 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered...

Europa Chemistry

I always get giddy when talking about Europa, as many astronomers do.  It’s one of the most fascinating places in our solar system when it comes to the search for life.  It has lots of water, likely contained in a subsurface ocean.  It’s heated though a gravitational tug of war with Jupiter and the other Galilean moons.  And, as of recently, it has a chemical production system that matches Earth’s. I wonder what goes on beneath the thick ice of Europa.  Is there an ecosystem filled with alien life down there?  Life in Earth’s oceans feels very alien, but creatures from...

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...

Motivation Monday: Start Now!

Now! Right now! Forget about reading this post, go out and do that thing that you should be doing to make your life better. Go! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about why starting now is better than starting later.  There are so many excuses you can make when there’s something you want to do.  “There’s not enough time,” “I need to learn more or build a skill first,” “That just isn’t possible for me,” “I have to give up everything I have now.” It’s hard to start something new and work toward something different...

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...

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...

Motivation Monday: Uncertainty

In the world of science, there is no definite measurement.  In any quantity, there is what we call an uncertainty.  In a simple example, let’s say you were using a ruler to measure the length of a rope.  You line up the rope along the ruler, and take a reading.  But how sure are you that the rope was perfectly lined up with the end of the ruler? How certain are you that your reading was correct? There is always uncertainty.  It extends more broadly in life. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been in the working...