A Dusty Martian Opportunity

Mars is a planet wide desert with underground and polar cap water, but it’s general arid environment and occasional wind give rise to dusty weather events such as tornado-like dust devils and local dust storms.  Every so often, one of these little dust storms expands and becomes a planet wide phenomena, and in early June this is exactly what happened. So what does it mean for our rovers and orbiters? Global dust storms are a recurring phenomenon on Mars, and happen regularly about the planet regardless of season.  Every 3-4 Martian years (6-8 Earth years) one of these smaller storms...

A Comet Tale (Tail)

As we rang in the new year, we were treated to a special astronomical appearance of Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina, close to the bright star Arcturus in the image below.  Also visible near the top is the faint Comet P/19 Borrelly, and between the two comets is a bright meteor that swept through the scene. It’s remarkable to notice the clearly visible tales of Catalina, the blue ion tail sweeping directly away from the Sun due to solar wind pressure, and the dusty white tail marking the path of the comet.  The dust is too heavy to be swept away...

Ancient Solar Storms

The Sun.  A bright fiery light in the sky to some, worshipped as a god by others, seen as a massive ball of hydrogen plasma 150 million kilometres away by scientists.  Once in a while, the Sun goes ahead and releases massive amounts of charged plasma particles toward the Earth.  The particles should eradicate humanity with horrible burns and render our planet lifeless, but luckily… they don’t.  Why? The Earth’s magnetic field protects us, funnelling the particles to the poles where they ionize gases in the atmosphere and become harmless.  The bonus for humanity, aside from not dying, is that we...

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...

Post Eclipse breakdown – Quickest DIY Pinhole Camera ever

Yesterday’s post had me discuss the partial Solar Eclipse that occurred around sunset for most of North America.  The one thing I neglected to mention was regarding safe viewing of it. In reality if you saw the sun with your bare eyes during a partial eclipse, it looks like the sun any other time of day – its bright. Don’t damage your eyes. I found a bit of time in the afternoon to build a pinhole camera, which basically consists of a tube or box with a pinhole in one end and a film or ‘viewing area’ at the other...