Geostationary Revolution

For 4.5 billion years, life evolved on planet Earth.  Not once were the inhabitants of this tiny blue mote of dust able to gaze upon their home as one entity.  To them it had always been an endless land without borders and an endless supply of food and resources.  Most of them were blissfully unaware that they could ever venture further, and so they accepted the boundaries of their existence unquestionably.  Once humans started making tools, we were taken down a path of discovery that would let us escape the bounds of our shrinking world. Finally, just over 70 years...

The Ancient Martian Shift

It takes a long time for things to change in the Universe.  Time takes on an entirely different role when it comes to the lives of planets, stars, and galaxies.  A million years in the life of a star or planet is the equivalent of a single day in the life of a human being.  Human lifetimes come and go while stars and planets stay pretty much the same.  However, just like human lives, where many days can build up to an important event, millions of years of lead-up can produce some incredible changes to a planet or star.  New...

The Sun in an Earth Year

NASA has several orbiting spacecraft trained to study the Sun during it’s 11-year cycle.  Recently the team of astronomers and scientists behind the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) released a video showing a full year of activity on the Sun.  You’ll want to crank this one up to 4K if you can, though it still looks spectacular in 1080p. It’s interesting to note that the bulk of the solar activity is along the rotational plane, which is the plane of the entire solar system.  Also notice that as the days pass the Sun doesn’t rotate completely every day.  This is because...

Halloween Space Photos

Halloween is an amazing chance for people to be someone (or something) they have always wanted to be.  To step outside of their norm and live their life as an alter ego, if only for one night.  This is why so many people have crazy Halloween stories, and why the ‘holiday’ captivates us so much.  With humanity’s excellent pattern recognition skills, we tend to see spooky things in space, where if you would just turn the picture 90 degrees, it probably would look like some other item from human experience, and not be spooky after all.  Here are a few...

Astrophotography in 2015

I made a big purchase this year, one that I have wanted to make for a long time.  I bought a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) – A Canon Rebel T3i.  The only reason I did this was for astrophotography.  I like photography in general – the idea of getting the perfect shot, cleaning up an image, enhancing details that were not there before. But after a trip to Europe where I felt I took too many photos, I decided that I didn’t want to experience my life through the lens of a camera, especially in an age where...

Enceladus’ Global Subsurface Ocean Confirmed

For years there has been talk of a subsurface ocean present within Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.  Many have simply assumed it to be fact, but the reality is, something so complex on a world so far away is very difficult to prove conclusively.  But now, using data from over a decade of observations by the Cassini spacecraft, mission scientists have shown conclusively that Enceladus must have a global ocean beneath a surface of ice. Previous data analysis suggested that there was a lens-shaped liquid ocean beneath the south polar region of the planet, giving a source for the observed plumes...

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...

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...

Measuring Saturn’s Speedy Rotation

How do we measure the rotation speed of a planet? Exactly as you would expect.  Watch the surface, look for markable features, and time how long it takes until those features pass the same point again in the future.  But how can we possibly nail down this information when the planet has little to no visible surface features.  Gas giant planets are great examples of this.  Jupiter is a bit easier since it has plenty of storms and separated cloud layers along the planet’s rotation axis, but the other three are much tougher.  Aside from hard-to-spot features, gas giants also...

Dawn is Approaching Ceres

…and not the ‘dawn’ we refer to when watching a sunrise.  Dawn is a NASA spacecraft that was launched in 2007 with the goal of exploring the asteroid belt by observing its largest and most interesting objects up close.  The two largest asteroids, Vesta and Ceres, have been the largest mission goals of Dawn as it has journeyed through the belt. From July 2011 to September 2012, Dawn was in orbit around the 525 Km wide Vesta, snapping amazing photos and studying the giant in detail. Since it’s departure from Vesta in September 2012, the craft has been on route...