A Beacon in the Dark

Until the recent discovery of gravitational waves, the only ‘sense’ that astronomers had was vision.  Granted our ‘vision’ with telescopes is far broader than human eyes, we still need to find ingenious ways to use the precious photons that rain down on Earth. One of the new ways astronomers are using light is to look at what we call a ‘light echo.’  In reality it’s a reflection of starlight.  When a new star is forming, it is accompanied by a protoplanetary disk, which will eventually form all the planets of the system.  Our own solar system went through this stage 4.5...

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...

Hunt for the Small and Slow

With the recent discovery of gravitational waves, we now have a target for probing the very early universe, close to the big bang.  This is because gravitational waves can travel across the universe unimpeded, meaning those created after the big bang are still bouncing around today.  It’s like the big bang was the ringing of a giant bell, and the ringing can still be heard.  But all of our Easter eggs are not in one basket.  There is another way to probe the very early universe, one we haven’t found yet, because it involves particles that are very tiny and...

Searching for Nine

Planet nine from outer space has yet to be found, but the theory is sound, and the hunt has begun.  Since the announcement by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown on January 20th, astronomers have been finding ways to search for the theorized planet, using all the available data to zero in on it’s position.  It’s certainly big enough to find, at roughly 10 Earth masses, but with a huge swath of space to search, everything that excludes part of the search area is a step in the right direction. One of the ongoing goals of researchers is to carefully calculate...

Massive Ice Cloud on Titan

Titan is the most interesting body in the solar system from a weather standpoint.  It has a thick and robust atmosphere, a liquid cycle of methane and other hydrocarbons, and it has seasonal variations in these patterns.  It’s essentially a cold and oxygen-deficient version of Earth.  Because the seasons on Titan take 7.5 years to pass, we have few opportunities to study them up close with the Cassini spacecraft.  So as long as Cassini is operating, we are using our time wisely to see how Titan is changing.  The first major change is a giant ice cloud that has formed...

Powerful New Method for Distances

Ask an astronomer what the hardest thing to do is in astronomy, and chances are they will say ‘measuring distance accurately.’  It is surprisingly difficult to take the light from stars we see and match them to a correct distance.  In the past we have used several different methods depending on how close a star is to us.  For the nearest stars we use parallax, which looks at the change in a star’s position as the Earth is on opposite sides of it’s orbit. All other methods rely on what we call the standard candle approach.  Let’s say you had...

Earth May Have 1,500 Undiscovered Minerals

Minerals are formed when geological or biological activity create unique combinations of elements. The type of mineral you get is dependent on the environment in which it forms.  For geological minerals, pressure and temperature can vary to give different combinations that are difficult to replicate in a lab.  For biological minerals, life slowly but surely undergoes processes that shift and shape minerals, usually as a waste product from obtaining energy. But with 3 billion years of life forming and reforming on our planet, springing up new diversity and losing countless species to extinction, there may be minerals that we simply haven’t...

Motivation Monday: Understanding People

There are two kinds of people in this world…. wait maybe four….but if you use this model then there are sixteen… okay let’s try this again.  There are over 200 models for human behaviour in the world, and each one will tell you different things, like how many types of people there are, or how to work with people who you just can’t get along with.  I’ve encountered a few of these models in my life, though I feel like the Myers-Briggs types based on Carl Jung’s psychology is the most well-known, and the one that most people colloquially identify...

Comets Crashed into the Moon

The Moon has clearly seen some stuff.  It’s visibly heavily cratered across it’s surface, which has remained unchanged since it’s surface solidified 4.2 Billion years ago.  Think about that – the Moon has been the same, with the exception of cratering, for 4 Billion years. This is a stark contrast to the Earth, whose erosion and tectonic activity cause the crust to change on scales of a few hundred million years. Astronomers have worked hard to learn about the early solar system by looking at the Moon and its cratering patterns.  Most of the visible craters on the Moon are...