The Gravity Wave Era

I saw an article last night about gravitational waves, that a black hole merger was detected by not just the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), but by another project altogether, the Virgo collaboration.  This is the first gravitational wave detection confirmed by two separate groups, and it marks the beginning of a new era of experimental science, the first in astronomy in over two decades. Around 1.8 Billion years ago, to black holes merged in a faroff galaxy.  They had masses of 31 and 25 times that of the Sun, though with their incredible density they would each be...

Astrophoto Bucket List

After the eclipse on August 21st, I took a deep breath.  I spent a year focussed on photographing the eclipse, and with that goal complete, what was next?  I was in the plateau of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, a couple dozen miles from Yellowstone, and had three days to enjoy with my fiancee.  As luck would have it, those days were absent of any clouds, giving me two perfect evenings in clear, dark, dry skies to do some of the best astrophotography of my life.  Here’s what I shot. The milky way shot for me is a...

Astrophotography: Sagittarius and the Galaxy

The challenge of learning astrophotography, and photography in general, is two-fold.  There’s the work you do at the eyepiece, requiring you to choose the right settings for the right shot.  Then there’s the work you do at the computer screen, the post-processing and adjustments.  Ultimately the more important one is the camera work.  If you take a bad photograph, no amount of post-processing will help you, even if you are an expert at it.  It’s like the image is the cake, and the processing is the icing.  No matter how much icing you cover it with, a bad cake is...

Everlasting Light

Light is beautiful.  It illuminates a world of beauty for us to appreciate while giving us a tool to decipher the riddles of the universe.  In astronomy, it’s always about more photons! Because more photons = more data = better results.  But in an increasingly technological world, more photons can be a bad thing.  Especially when the artificial photons overpower the natural. I was lucky to spend most of my youth living away from the bright lights of the city, but with the sprawling metropolis of Toronto to the South, I could always see the orange glow that blocked out...

Falcon Flight to the Galaxy

In the APOD photo from May 14th, it is easy to imagine the rocket launching far away into the galactic disk.  Sadly the rocket can’t traverse the thousands of light years to reach the distant stars, and is restricted to orbiting the Earth. Another beautiful part of this image is the technique involved in producing it.  It required combining two exposures. The first, with low sensitivity to capture the orange rocket trail of the Falcon 9.  The second with high sensitivity and a longer exposure time to capture the faint light of the Milky Way galaxy beyond.  The result is...

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...

Journey to the Center

As I’ve said before, the most powerful, most energetic, most intense processes happen in the center.  The gravitational center of the Earth, the Sun, and the galaxy are all places where temperature, pressure, and interactions of matter and energy are pushed to their limits.  When you look up to the sky it’s easy to see the Milky Way (unless you live in an urban center).  Do you ever wonder where the middle of it is? Where that supermassive black hole lies? Astronomers know where it is, but you need infrared cameras to see it past the thick dust that blocks...

Nature Outshines CERN

The gravitational center of most objects and clusters in the universe are the place where the most massive and high energy interactions take place.  For the solar system, the Sun’s core is hot and energetic.  For star clusters, central regions host the most massive and brightest stars.  For galaxy clusters, the most massive galaxies in the universe are seen in the center.  And for individual galaxies, the Milky Way included, the core is where the fun happens. In the core of our galaxy, there are many massive and powerful objects, not limited to a supermassive star cluster, pulsars, supernova remnants,...

Fake Saturn

I love false-colour images.  They reveal detail that you can’t see in real life, but they also highlight things in an artistic way.  For me it’s an excellent marriage of art and science, and as a communicator it helps me get concepts across in an accessible way.  So when I saw the APOD image of Saturn from earlier this week, I had to discuss it. Saturn never has looked this way, and it never will.  The colours are vivid and unrealistic, but they show the differences in three distinct but close wavelengths of light on the electromagnetic spectrum.  All of...