Lunar and Martian Farming

Can we grow crops on the Moon? How about Mars? If you saw the movie “The Martian,” it seems you could grow potatoes on Mars with a supply of water, oxygen, and some fertilizer, but without these necessities (soil nutrients, water, oxygen) they just wouldn’t last. If we eventually want to colonize places like the Moon and Mars, finding a way to live off the land is a must. The sunshine will help, but can we really grow crops on alien soil? As it turns out, Earth scientists have been working on this problem, by simulating the soils of the...

The Apoceclipse 2015

I promised my friend Dash I would use the term ‘Apoceclipse’ to describe last night’s Perigee Harvest Moon Lunar Eclipse, so here it is! Last night was great fun, even though I couldn’t see the event at all due to cloud cover.  Here’s why. It all started with a media blitz and a crazy day at the Science Centre.  I started off by doing a Global News interview in the morning, and then a 680 news phone in around lunchtime.  I had a planetarium show, and then it was off to CBC downtown to do the national news live! It...

A Shot so Amazing, it Looks Fake

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DISCOVR) was launched back in February of this year. Although its goal is to measure solar wind particles from the Sun as a space weather predictor, DISCOVR passes the orbit plane of the Earth and the Moon twice per year.  In its first pass, it snapped an amazing series of frames of the Moon passing in front of the Earth.  The images show the dark side of the Moon, as well as the stark contrast between the darker lunar surface and the bright Earth. The camera that took the shots, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera...

Once in a Blue Moon, Twice in a Month

Hey hey! It’s a blue moon today!  For all those people who have used the phrase ‘Once in a blue moon,’ it finally happened.  Turns out that phrase means ‘about once every 2-3 years.’  A blue moon doesn’t mean the moon is changing colour anytime soon, just like a supermoon doesn’t mean the moon actually gains superpowers or gets noticeably bigger.  A blue moon is simply the second full moon in a calendar month. The moon orbits the Earth in approximately 29.5 days.  This was how months were originally formed.  But 12 months x 29.5 days means that we are...

Where are you? The Moon can tell you!

I was out on a sunny day a few weeks ago waiting for a bus, and as per usual I have my head up in space (I would say up in the clouds but that is too low for me).  I noticed the Moon up in the sky, just past first quarter, and I was thinking about the angle of the illuminated side and how it related to some of the positions of the Earth and Sun in space.  I wondered what information we could gather from the way it looked.  It led me to this ‘illuminating’ post. I realized...

Mining the Moon

It sounds completely like science fiction, something out of a campy space thriller where the protagonist is a miner taking a daily shuttle to the Moon to mine all the precious metals that the Earth needs to sustain itself.  But in real life, for a long time, it was thought that the Moon was a dead rock, completely useless to humanity except as the gravitational force to provide the amazing tides in the bay of Fundy.  Today we know so much more about the Moon, and its value has (pun intended) skyrocketed. For one, the low gravity of the Moon...

Lunar Eclipse 3rd of the Tetrad coming at you for Easter!

It’s been a good couple of years for lunar eclipses, we are in the midst of what we call a tetrad, which is a series of four lunar eclipses spread out evenly over a period of time, usually 2 years, in this case April and October.  For observers watching the April 4th morning eclipse, in my boat here in Toronto, you won’t be able to see it because the Moon will set and the Sun will rise just as it gets good.  Plus you would have to wake up at 5:30am to go look at it.  Pretty much everyone East...

Why is Mercury so Dark?

Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, and closest to the Sun, is only a little bit bigger than Earth’s Moon.  But the Moon is comparatively reflective object.  Mercury is thought to be made of the same rock as the Moon, so what is the difference? Why do objects in our Solar system have different brightnesses? The key is in a property called albedo.  It’s basically how much light an object reflects, measured as a fraction.  For example, the Moon reflects 12% of the light the Sun shines on it, so it has an albedo of 0.12.  The albedo...

The New Moon and a Sinking Mars

Every 29.5 days we see a new Moon, or rather we don’t see it, since it’s lost in the glare of the Sun.  But a few days after the new moon, we can see it slowly move away from the Sun and become visible after sunset, with the thinnest crescent growing a bit larger each night.  You may have heard that Mars and Venus also live in the Western sky after sunset, with Venus moving higher and Mars appearing to double back toward the Sun, soon to be lost in the glare of our home star.  Last night I was...