Reflection in a Dark Universe

Like lighthouse beacons in a dark ocean, stars act as tiny islands in the vast universe.  Producing light at the atomic level from the powerful release of energy through fusion, they are the engines that drive the formation of new elements.  But in the darkness there are plenty of other hidden objects that are cold and give off little to no light.  Yet many of them are easily seen.  Here’s Why! The first thing to think about is infrared light, the radiation given off by warm objects.  Large planets and brown dwarf stars are very bright in infrared, much brighter...

Atmospheric Spectral Shift

Why does the Sun seem red near the horizon? Why does the Moon do the same?  We know the Moon isn’t actually changing colour, and the Sun isn’t either.  So what is happening to the light? The first thing to note about the image above is that the size of the Moon doesn’t change, showing that the well-known ‘Moon Illusion,’ where the Moon appears larger near the horizon, is just that – an illusion.  The second is of course the gradual change in hue as the Moon rises. The reason for the colour shift really has nothing to do with the Moon...

Astrophotography: First go at Luna

The Spring has been a bit slower than I would have liked in terms of astrophotography.  I have seen a lot of fantastically clear evenings, but have been plagued by a lack of time and a few technical issues that have kept me from getting the many hours of practice needed to become competent.  I did manage to purchase an inexpensive adapter to use my camera with my telescope, giving me a ton of new options for photography, as well as a ton of new challenges. The two main problems I had, and need to address in the future, are...

Relative Time: Photography Year 2

Last year after getting a Canon DSLR camera, I spent as much time as I could doing some basic astrophotography.  I took photos of stars, planets, the Moon, and even did some star trails.  One thing I quickly realized is that there are limitations if you don’t have a tracking mount or a telescope adaptor.  The tracking gives you a method for taking longer exposures, and the telescope adaptor as expected gives you the ability to zoom in on distant objects. Even with these temporary limitations (I hope to invest in them someday) there are still a lot of options...

Mars in the Spotlight

On May 22nd, Mars will be at opposition.  It’s the astronomical term for when Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth.  This makes the face of Mars fully illuminated from Earth, and also brings the Earth to it’s closest approach of Mars, at 75 Million Km.  Hubble images the red planet to celebrate the occasion. So get your telescopes out and be ready to take some pictures, because Mars is smiling! Mars will rise in the East at sunset, since they are on opposite sides of the Earth.  It will appear bright with a rusty hue, and...

Europa Chemistry

I always get giddy when talking about Europa, as many astronomers do.  It’s one of the most fascinating places in our solar system when it comes to the search for life.  It has lots of water, likely contained in a subsurface ocean.  It’s heated though a gravitational tug of war with Jupiter and the other Galilean moons.  And, as of recently, it has a chemical production system that matches Earth’s. I wonder what goes on beneath the thick ice of Europa.  Is there an ecosystem filled with alien life down there?  Life in Earth’s oceans feels very alien, but creatures from...

Review: Planetary

On the heels of my last review, I watched another movie with a space-documentary theme.  Though it started out with the human perspective from space, it progressed into so much more.  This is the TVO documentary called Planetary. It began with Apollo.  Humanity broke the bonds of our world and set foot on another heavenly body.  For the first time, we could look back and see the world as it truly is.  One of my favourite quotes from the movie came up early, though I’m paraphrasing: We are the Earth, and the Earth is all of us.  Seeing the Earth...

Narrowband Spaghetti

I’ve written many times about the power of looking at different wavelengths of light to study different properties of the universe.  From a visualization standpoint, there are other techniques that give you additional power when imaging.  More than just the wavelength of light you’re using to show the detail, you can choose the range of wavelengths to bring forward certain features while suppressing others. The aptly-named spaghetti nebula, shown above, is a great example of this.  A supernova remnant that covers the constellations Taurus and Auriga, the nebula is very large in the sky, covering three full moons worth (love that unit...

Moon Outshines the Sun

When could the Moon possibly be brighter than the Sun? The Sun is much bigger, produces energy, and gives all the energy needed for life on Earth.  But if you look at the sky in gamma rays, the highest energy photons on the electromagnetic spectrum, you’ll see the Moon more easily than the Sun.  Why? The Moon is the brightest gamma ray source in the sky, because it has no atmosphere or magnetic field.  Essentially it has no protection from the dangerous cosmic rays that are constantly zipping through space.  When they hit the Earth’s atmosphere they create a cosmic...

Makemake Moon

Hubble just discovered the newest moon in the solar system, a tiny rock orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. The new moon is about 250 Km across, compared to the 1,400 Km wide Makemake.  It orbits in approximately 12 days, and has an edge on orbit, making it difficult to spot. “Our preliminary estimates show that the moon’s orbit seems to be edge-on, and that means that often when you look at the system you are going to miss the moon because it gets lost in the bright glare of Makemake,” said Alex Parker of...