Double Post: Mini Stars & Morning Micrometeorites on Mercury

Alliteration is accessible to all! Okay I’m done. Start some science! Really done this time.  Today’s double post covers the smallest of stars, still larger than most planets, and the only weather Mercury will ever have. Humans are naturally interested in the extremes, the biggest, smallest, fastest, hottest, coldest, and every other characteristic outlier.  With stars, being so huge and powerful, we are often more interested in the largest, hottest, and most energetic.  Though on the opposite end of the spectrum, Cambridge University astronomers have discovered the smallest star in the known universe. The star, a red dwarf, has the...

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...

New England Fireball

Space dust hits the Earth every day in the form of meteorites. As much as 300 tonnes of the stuff falls to the Earth each day.  Of course, most of it is dust or small rocks, and goes unnoticed by the majority of people.  But every so often, a larger rock plummets to Earth, and if it’s big enough, it will make it’s presence known.  One such meteor flew through the atmosphere less than 48 hours ago in the Northeast USA. The bright flashes occur when a space rock, called a meteoroid, hits the atmosphere of the Earth, which rapidly...

Rare Double Meteorite Strike

Around 470 Million years ago, two asteroids collided in the asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter.  This sent fragments everywhere, and millions of years later these fragments moved into the inner solar system, many of which struck the Earth as meteorites.  Recently, in Jämtland county, Sweden, a team of geophysicists has identified a pair of impact craters that were formed at the same time, likely from two separate impactors.  One of the craters is a massive 7.5 Km across, while the other is smaller at 700 meters.  This is the first time a double impactor has been scientifically confirmed on Earth....

The Seeding of Life on Distant Worlds

The concept of Panspermia is a description of all life in the Galaxy having been seeded by other life, all originating at one point.  This life can hitch a ride from star to star on comets, meteorites, and rogue planets.  It’s true we have never found evidence for life outside of our own home planet, but if panspermia is a viable theory, it could mean that life is everywhere, just waiting for us to find it. In a new study from astronomers as the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, panspermia creates ‘oases’ where pockets of life form.  As life is able...

Dark Skies, New Moon, Meteor Shower, and Thou

It’s that magical time of year once again, the best meteor shower of the year is upon us: The Perseids!  Generally the most reliable meteor shower and the one that most people know about, the August meteors have one of the highest rates, typically anywhere from 50 – 100 meteors per hour.  Its amazing how well known it is considering most people don’t know there are more than nine showers during the year. Either way, this year will be particularly good for a very special reason: It’s a new Moon. The Moon is the enemy of a meteor shower.  Its...

Why Pluto Isn’t a Planet, and Why it Was Before

The true story of why Pluto isn’t a planet goes back further than you would think.  It has a lot to do with our understanding of science at the time, and a lot more to do with surprising luck.  I made this video a couple of days ago for the Khan Academy Talent Search.  I hope you enjoy it. It will be interesting as we move into better telescope technologies that allow us to see further into the depths of the solar system and the universe.  What strange mysteries will we find?

Ceres has a Mystery Bright Spot: What is it?

As the Dawn Spacecraft readies for orbit insertion only a week from now, the images coming in are getting sharper and sharper.  Once the craft is fully in orbit its first task will be to map the surface of the planet in high definition.  Even on the last few weeks of the journey to Ceres, we have seen increasingly clear images, and have already started asking ‘What the heck is that?’ This week’s ‘what the heck are we looking at?’ involves this apparent double bright spot on Ceres, imaged on February 19th from a distance of 46,000 Km, about an...

4.4 Billion Year Old Meteorite Represents the Bulk of Mars’ Crust

A few years ago, in a desert in Morocco, a very special meteorite was found.  A rock unlike anything ever found on Earth, called NWA 7034, or colloquially ‘black beauty.’  Chemical analysis in 2011 found that it originated on Mars, but it was even unlike any other Martian meteorite discovered.  The scientific community was extremely excited to determine its properties through a spectroscopic analysis, and today we have some answers that are as amazing as we expected. A new paper detailing spectroscopic results of the meteorite reveal that its composition is the same as the composition of the dark Martian...