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...

The Essence of Science and the Fringes of Reality

Data is fascinating.  And what’s even more fascinating is that the laws of nature produce predictable patterns in data.  For example, if you toss a coin 100 times and measure how many times heads comes up, you’ll get a number between zero and 100.  If you repeat that experiment again and again and again, you’ll get different values each time, but usually the number will be around 50, and 50 will come up more than any other value if you repeat the experiment enough times.  If you plot this data, with the # of heads in 100 coin tosses on...

Predicting a Supernova

Predicting the death of a star is easy.  If we know how massive it is, and what stage of life it’s in, we know that it should explode eventually, within a set timeframe of many hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years.  But on human timescales, that is just not good enough.  What if we could predict a supernova explosion within a few months? For something that lives for so long, this would be a triumph in our understanding of the universe.  Over the past couple of years, this is exactly what happened.  Here’s how. A supernova is one of the most...

The Past and Future Mars

The Past: Mars has water, and it used to have a lot more.  If modern Mars had the ocean it once had, it would evaporate off into space quickly because there is no heavy atmosphere to help keep it pressurized and in liquid form.  Mars would have had a thicker atmosphere in addition to it’s magnetic field in order to keep all that water in one place.  So where did the atmosphere go? And if there was such a thick atmosphere, how does it account for the fingerprint of excess Carbon-13 and a lack of Carbon-12 found on the red planet...