Water in the Lunar Desert

The environment on the moon is pretty boring.  Rocks, dust, and craters as far as the eye can see in all directions.  Untouched for billions of years, save for meteors and a few recent visits by a blue neighbour.  In 2009, the cold, dry surface of the moon was found to harbour trace amounts of water.  Now, less than a decade later, the first map of lunar water has been produced. The map was produced with data taken by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, the craft that discovered the water in 2009, along with a similar...

The How and Why of Planet Nine

It hasn’t been found yet – let me make that clear.  But with evidence that it should exist, astronomers are looking more closely at the proposed planet nine and how it might have formed, and how it could have ended up in such a distant orbit. When you start to think about how a planet ten times the mass of Earth could have ended up more than ten times as far from the Sun as Neptune, a few scenarios pop into mind: It was formed in the inner solar system, where interactions with gas giants or another star pulled it out It formed...

Saturn Double Shot 2/2: Enceladus Eruptions Explained

One of the most surprising and intriguing finds during the decade-long Cassini mission has been the discovery of geysers on the Moon Enceladus.  Originally spotted in 2005, scientists have spent the last decade trying to understand how they work.  And now they finally have a working model. How does an eruption on a frigid Moon last so long?  Eruptions on Earth are not long-lived, and if they are, they are very spread out. For Enceladus to have a ton of localized geysers in the South polar region, you need some pretty specific scenarios. Aside from the fact that a constant stream of material could clog...

A Galactic Tale about a Galactic Tail

Galaxy NGC 4569 is a spiral galaxy that is part of the Virgo cluster, around 55 Million light years distant.  Like any other spiral galaxy, we can learn about its motion through the cluster, the properties of its stellar population, and how quickly its converting gas and dust to stars.  But this galaxy has an interesting property, it’s missing a lot of gas.  For years, astronomers have had ideas about where the gas has gone, and with new data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), they now have the answer. The gas is being stripped off of the galaxy, and is now...

Formation of Titans

Big stars tend to stick together.  They all require incredibly dense regions in which to form, but once they do, they do a great job of blowing away and ionizing any other gas and dust in the vicinity.  This is why nebulas in distant galaxies are great tracers of massive star formation.  The bigger and hotter the star, the more UV light it produces, the more it ionized a gas cloud, the more we see gorgeous nebula.  So it’s no surprise that when I look at the nebula below, I can guess that the central stars are huge, outweighing our...

Cryovolcano on Pluto

Cryovolcano is a cool word, literally and figuratively.  You hear about it a lot when talking about solar system moons like Enceladus, and it’s one of those words that would make a heck of a great Hollywood disaster movie title, like ‘Sharknado’ or ‘Armageddon.’ I do not, however, endorse either of those movies, they were both terrible.  At any rate, a real cryovolcano seems like an interesting thing.  It’s a volcano in the sense that it looks a little like a mountain and spews out material when the pressure builds from beneath the surface, but it’s not your traditional Earth-like volcano...

Motivation Monday: Fear

I am afraid. You are too. We are all afraid of something, and it’s not a bad thing, at least not always.  Sometimes, our fear is a natural reaction that truly can save our life.  But more often than not, I would argue, it prevents us from doing something that really wasn’t that dangerous in the first place and would have given us some kind of benefit in the long term. Why do we fear things? It’s all an evolutionary mechanism that has given our species a survival advantage for hundreds of thousands of years, since before we had all the...