The Real Discovery of Neptune

Have you ever read the story of the discovery of Neptune? It truly is a triumph of science and mathematics, and part of the reason it is my favourite planet (a hard choice to make).  The story goes like this: It all starts with the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by William Herschel.  This was the first ever discovery of a planet, as the Earth and the five visible planets have been known of since the dawn of history. Thanks to Isaac Newton working out the laws of gravitation and the mechanics of the solar system, mathematicians could easily calculate the properties...

Tug-Of-War Magnetism

I feel like I’ve been covering a lot of stories on magnetic fields over the past few months.  Fields around the Earth, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter’s Moons, and exoplanets are just some of the places in the universe where we are looking at magnetic field behaviour.  The intention is to use our understanding of magnetism to figure out what is inside these worlds, and how they interact with their space environment. You would expect us to understand the Earth’s magnetic field and interior very well, after all, we are stuck here.  But it turns out it’s very difficult to study the interior of...

Saturn Double Shot 1/2: Less-Than-Ancient Moons

It’s always funny explaining astronomical time to a non-scientist.  I often get the craziest looks when I mention a million years as being a ‘blip on the radar.’  Perhaps there is some immortal alien race out there who would understand how nothing much happens on the scale of the universe in a million years.  To humanity and our ever-accelerating advancement, a million years is thrice the age of our entire species.  But I guess Einstein was right when he said that ‘it’s all relative.’ This brings us to Saturn, a planet as ancient as the solar system.  Moderately old in...

Five New Studies of Pluto

It’s been nine months since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto.  Time sure does fly.  And even though the spacecraft is moving further from Pluto and Earth, it’s still sending back the massive amounts of data it gathered during closest approach.  As this data is received, the huge team of scientists that are part of the mission use it to characterize Pluto so humanity can begin to understand just how strange the distant dwarf Planet is. Five new papers characterize some of the latest science done on the enigmatic world.  Here’s a quick summary of each: The first paper from...

Plutonian Moons

Now that New Horizons has passed by Pluto and it’s moons, it’s time we updated out images of the entire system.  Taking images from New Horizons, today’s APOD shows the relative sizes of the moons with the best photos we have of them to date. Looking at the image, it makes sense that Nix and Hydra weren’t discovered until 2005, and that Kerberos and Styx were not found until 2012.  The moons are so tiny and distant, and are dwarfed by the larger Charon and central Pluto.  As far as we know, this is it for Pluto’s moons, since we haven’t...

New Pluto Images Show Nitrogen Pits

Every so often we see a new set of images from Pluto, giving us a chance to rediscover it multiple times.  It’s like we are experiencing the July fly-by over and over again, and each new set of images reveals something new and exciting.  I feel the same sense of excitement and discovery each time I see a new image, realizing that it spent 6 hours as a beam of light crossing the 5 Billion Kilometres of the solar system to connect us to the New Horizons probe, a lonely little piece of human ingenuity flying through the darkness. Here...

1000 Things You Didn’t Know About The Universe #2: Galaxies are Everywhere

Welcome to a new series of posts that will characterize 1000 amazing facts about the Universe.  There is so much out there that we have yet to learn, and every day, astronomers across the globe are using their research to reveal the deepest secrets of the cosmos.  This series will look at the strangest, coolest, most exciting facts that we have discovered in hundreds of years of modern science. Fact #2: There are more Galaxies than you could possibly count. Our night sky is jam-packed with stars.  If you’ve ever left the city to go far beyond the reach of...

Take a Ride on New Horizons as You Fly Past Pluto

The rendering I’ve been waiting for is finally here! A conceptual video of the flyby of Pluto from far away, leading through closest approach and turning back to see the dark side, all together.  This will give you a sense of the motion of New Horizons, and the state of the Pluto system in the Kuiper Belt. The credit goes not just to NASA, but to space enthusiast Björn Jónsson, who created the rendering from the latest Pluto images and data from New Horizons. The strangest part of watching this was the sense of longing I felt as we fly past...

Photos of the Epic Conjunction of 2015 Appear!

In the last few days, we have watched the intricate dance of Venus and Jupiter in the Western sky after sunset.  They have tangoed and passed by one another and the world has watched as the best conjunction of the year has come and gone.  Don’t forget that even though they appear close in the sky, Venus is actually closer to the Earth than it is to Jupiter.  Jupiter is hundreds of millions of kilometers further away than Venus. Today’s APOD is a beautiful shot by Letian Wang combining the proximity of the two planets with the (much further East...

Storms seen on Uranus!

The seventh planet from the Sun is a boring one.  The best photos we have of Uranus were obtained in January 1986 during the passing of Voyager 2, and they revealed a cold, pale-green, ball of Methane four times the diameter of Earth with very little visible activity. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about Uranus, and it’s far more interesting than we thought.  It has rings, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons.  It has a 98 degree axial tilt, meaning that the poles of the planet cycle through 42 years of sunlight and 42 years of darkness during it’s 84...