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...

Moon Size

I hate the term ‘supermoon’. In fact that is the only time I’m going to use that term during this entire post.  The Moon does appear a tiny bit larger in the sky, but it’s not an uncommon thing.  Here’s why this one was particularly good at driving headlines. The technical term for the full Moon we saw this past week is a ‘perigee syzygy,’ which I think sounds way cooler.  Perigee is the term for the Moon’s closest point to the Earth in it’s orbit, and syzygy is the term for an alignment of bodies in space, in this...

Review: IMAX: A Beautiful Planet

I recently had the opportunity to watch a brand new IMAX feature, called A Beautiful Planet.  It features incredible views of the Earth from space, captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.  Most of the footage was taken during Expedition 42 on the ISS, starting with the arrival of Samantha Cristoforetti, Terry Virts, and Anton Shkaplerov aboard the Soyuz TMA-15M, and ending with their departure. Much of the film was focused on the views of Earth, the scenic diversity of life and land that can only be seen from space.  It was difficult to see the effects of humans during the day time,...

Valentine’s ‘Holiday’

I think valentine’s day is a waste of time and money.  It’s great to show someone that you love them, but do we all have to buy a bunch of stuff on one particular day because ‘it’s the norm?’ I am not single, but when I was, I spent just as much time loathing this pointless day.  So in the spirit of saying no to a useless commercial ‘holiday,’ here is a picture of a lonely star, instead of some heart-shaped astronomical object. The star pictured is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and although it is part of a...

More Stuff to Block Galaxies

A few days ago I wrote about a galaxy that was tough to see because of Milky Way field stars.  But our galaxy is far more than just a bunch of stars smattered about.  There is also a huge amount of gas and dust with varying temperatures.  Some of the hotter and more illuminated gas and dust are what make nebulae so lovely in space.  But the cold gas and dark dust that is just out floating in the cold interstellar medium? That stuff gets in the way. A normal image of interacting galaxies M81 and M82 would try to hide the...

What Medicine does an Astronaut Take?

Space is incredibly dangerous, in case you didn’t know.  Harmful radiation, bitter cold, low pressure, no air, and no gravity make for a very difficult environment to survive in.  Even though a space capsule is pressurized with breathable air, protected with radiation shields, and warmed to a comfortable temperature, the effects of microgravity are still damaging to the human body.  We know that astronauts lose bone mass rapidly, have to exercise to keep their muscles active, but what other effects does microgravity have on the body? For one, without gravity to clear your sinuses, they get a bit clogged in...

An Observer’s Dream: Venus and Jupiter Unite

What is the brightest object in the sky? Why the Sun of course.  Second brightest? The Moon.  Most people are able to answer this question quite easily, but what is the third brightest? The fourth?  Many people will confidently say Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, or Polaris the north star.  The answer is that the planet Venus is third and the planet Jupiter is fourth.  It shouldn’t be that surprising that planets hold these positions.  They are much closer than the distant background of stars, and the human species has been observing them since the dawn of recorded...

Saturn at Opposition is Amazing!

Every year, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, we pass an imaginary line directly from the Sun to Saturn.  The Sun is on one side of us and Saturn is on the other.  When two bodies are on opposite sides of the Earth like this we call it opposition.  Saturn’s opposition for the year was on May 23rd, and even though it has been a few days, you can still see Saturn up pretty much all night. Along with opposition, we can clearly see the rings, but Saturn does wobble on a 29.5 year cycle, meaning there are times...

Exoplanet Weather – From a Colleague

I always love to chat about stories by close-to-home scientists.  I just talked recently about some University of Waterloo cosmological work, but today I can follow it up with a very close to home scientist that I’ve run into a few times.  Something about seeing the achievements of those you know makes you feel pride too – it gives us all a good reason to support friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances, since we can share in their passion. Astronomer Lisa Esteves, a PhD candidate from the University of Toronto, has been watching exoplanets carefully with the Kepler Space Telescope, seeing...