Looking Closer and Testing Theories

Last week, while looking at some of the best images from the Cassini spacecraft, I commented on the fact that the smooth rings of Saturn are small, varied chunks of ice and rock when you get down to the smaller scales.  Reflecting on that this morning, I was thinking about how observing objects in our universe at smaller scales gives new insight into the variety and complexity of natural phenomena.  Not long after, I came across a story of a new interesting object in our own Solar System. A new binary asteroid was discovered.  This in itself isn’t too different...

Comet or Asteroid?

What is the difference between a comet and an asteroid? The typical response is that an asteroid is rocky and a comet is icy/gassy.  Further than this, asteroids typically orbit closer to the Sun than Neptune, and comets orbit beyond this loose dividing line.  But as with everything in nature, there are often exceptions to the rule. C/2014 S3 PANSTAARS is classified as a weakly active comet, originating in the Oort cloud with an orbital period of 860 years.  As it approached the Sun, astronomers noticed that it was lacking the characteristic comet tail, resulting from the blast of solar radiation upon approach to the...

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...

Five Planet Alignment Starts This Weekend!

When were the planets discovered? Uranus and Neptune were definitely not found until modern science began, since a telescope was required to see them.  The other five planets were not actually discovered per se.  Since they are visible to human eyes, they have been observed since prehistoric times, and we see examples of cultures across the ancient world who observed them.  The five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Starting this weekend, you can see them all across one part of the sky, a visual alignment that hasn’t occurred since 2005. Planets are so-named because of the Greek...

Star Blasting Hydrogen off a Planet

If there’s one true fact about every single gas giant planet ever observed, around the Sun or other stars in the Galaxy, it’s that they all are mainly composed of Hydrogen.  Even though the giants of our solar system such as Neptune and Jupiter seem very different, it is Hydrogen that primarily composes them.  The difference is in the details though.  The blue colour of Neptune is due to the presence of Methane, and even then it only makes up 1.7% of Neptune’s mass. But Hydrogen is light.  Wouldn’t giant planets like hot Jupiters lose their Hydrogen from being blasted...