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...

Gravitational Waves! A Red-Letter Day for Physics

Today, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is expected to announce a monumental discovery that is 100 years in the making.  Theorized by Einstein’s general relativity in 1915, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, similar to sound waves, but much tinier.  The search has been ongoing for decades, with no results.  Until now. LIGO has the most sensitive gravitational wave detector ever conceived – in two interferometer facilities in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.  They use a laser split along two axes to give an in-phase beam.  If gravitational waves along one of the axes affect the beam, it...

This May be the End for Philae

I remember being so happy back in mid-2015 when I heard that ESA made contact with the Philae lander.  The little lander that could was thought to be lost to the cold of space, not receiving enough sunlight to power itself.  But when the comet approached the Sun, the sunlight became intense enough to wake it back up and allow it to move some of the data it captured.   But now, as the comet 67P has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the likelihood that Philae will ever communicate again is slim. When the landing originally happened, the little...

Doing Exoplanet Chemistry From Earth

Exoplanets are light years away, hidden by their parent stars, and barely detectable.  Yet even though most have never been directly imaged, we can study the light from the parent star as the planet passes in front of it, and use this information to learn about the planet’s size and composition, especially if it has an atmosphere.  Once you know a little bit about how big and dense a planet is, and the major elements that form it’s crust and atmosphere, you can do a lot of Chemistry to figure out what it should be made of and how these...

Which Way is Earth Moving in Space?

Our planet orbits the Sun.  365.25 days to go full circle (ellipse actually) and bring the seasons to Earth.  But the Sun is not really stationary, it’s actually moving through space.  It’s orbiting the center of the Milky Way, along with the rest of the galaxy.  It actually has a periodic motion as it moves around the Galaxy, slowly moving up above the galactic plane then being pulled back down below by the disk stars. Currently, the Sun is moving toward the constellation Hercules at a speed of around 72,000 Km/h.  It is also moving up to the top of the...

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...

11 Years of Searching Mars we Finally Found the Beagle 2!

I couldn’t believe it when I read the story this morning.  The Beagle 2 probe has been found, and partially intact even.  It’s been more than eleven years since the 2003 Christmas day launch of Beagle 2 by the European Space Agency, presumed lost forever after months of attempts at establishing communication. Many scientists had assumed that Beagle 2 had smashed into Mars at high-velocity, destroying it completely, but photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)  clearly show the lander made it to the ground safely.  The issue seems to be that the Beagle’s deployable ‘petals’ did not unfurl completely.  The...

Earth’s Shield! A Natural Barrier in Space

Have you ever heard of the Van Allen belts? If not you really should learn about them.  After all, without them the majority of life on Earth could not survive. So what are they and how do they keep us alive? The Van Allen Belts are a collection of charged particles, held in place by the magnetic field of Earth, that act as a barrier to prevent the most harmful radiation from the Sun from reaching the surface of the Earth.  They shift according to the incoming energy of the Sun, and if there is a large enough swell of...