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...

Mysterious Ceres White Spot Multiplies

By now, if you keep up with Astronomy news even a little bit, you’ve heard of the strange white spot on the surface of Ceres, within a large crater in the dwarf planet’s northern hemisphere.  As the science mission of the Dawn spacecraft continues, we are starting to see new images of the surface in unprecedented detail, and finally we have a closer view of the mystery spot.  Is the new series of images enough to determine its origin? See for yourself. The only thing clear from these new images is that what once appeared to be a single or...

Giant Gas Halo Found Around Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest large spiral to our own Milky Way, and the only major Galaxy moving toward us.  Turns out its on a direct collision course, but we still have 3.5 Billion years to prepare, so its not exactly pressing news.  On the plus side, studying Andromeda allows us to infer properties of more distant galaxies, and it gives us a map of what our own Milky Way Galaxy may look like.  Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered a giant halo of gas around Andromeda, and the Milky Way may have a similar one. By...

Protocluster of Super Stars About to ‘Hatch’

Massive star clusters can pop into existence in a matter of a few million years, a very short period of time on astronomical time scales.  They consist of hundreds or thousands of massive, bright, hot stars that will live relatively short lives of a few hundred millions of years.  Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have discovered a vanishingly rare molecular cloud of highly dense gas, containing no stars.  It is poised to become a massive star cluster, and we found it in its infancy. “We may be witnessing one of the most ancient and extreme modes of...

Most Distant Galaxy Ever Discovered!

As we push the limits of our technology, we naturally will find the biggest, the brightest, the smallest, the most extreme, and of course the most distant objects in the universe.  We are at the time in history where we are beginning to see the edges of our universe in unprecedented detail.  Eventually will will stop finding the biggest, brightest, and most distant, after which point our technology will serve to improve our precision and allow us to peer within these unique objects.  Astronomers have used this incredible technology to discover the most distant galaxy in the universe, forming only...

We’ve Landed on Mercury! And by ‘Landed’ I mean ‘Smashed Into’

Okay so even though it is technically the first ever Earth-borne object to ever touch the surface of Mercury, it isn’t as hopeful as one might expect from the planet’s best and brightest scientists.  But in all fairness we have crash landed on Mars, the Moon, and into the clouds of Jupiter, so it’s not uncommon.  The Messenger spacecraft has been in space since 2004, orbiting the Sun multiple times in order to arrive at Mercury in 2008.  Since then it has completed 4,103 orbits and obtained an incredible amount of scientific data as the first ever space probe to...

Colour Map of Ceres and New Images of Pluto!

Tis the season, as they say.  This year is a good one for space missions with the March arrival of the Dawn spacecraft at Ceres and the July fly-by of Pluto by new horizons.  Dawn made history by being the first ever spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet, and new horizons will provide the first ever pictures of the surface of Pluto in unprecedented detail.  I can barely contain my excitement, after having watched the launch of New Horizons live on NASA TV in 2006.  I thought about what life would be like in 2015 and what Pluto would look...

Strange Stars Lead to Reconsidering Galactic Evolution

If there’s one difference I notice between Science and Religion, it’s that when questions come up and something unexpected flies in the face of a well-established principle, Science gets excited, Religion gets defensive.  I’m always on the lookout for new data that causes us to rethink the ideas we have, and when I find something, I get excited because it means we’ve found something that has been elusive for a long time.  Isaac Asimov said it best: The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’ – Isaac Asimov...

A Song to laugh about the 176 Moons of the Solar System

About a year ago I had an idea for a music video.  I wanted to take a concept in science and put it to music, making it funny, catchy, memorable, and educational.  I wrote out the majority of the lyrics but left it alone for a few months, until I connected with the right friend.  My good friend Bob Wegner is a very talented guitarist and audio engineer, and as we spoke about the idea he wanted to be the guy to record it.  We spent an afternoon doing the vocals and guitars, and he cleaned it up and made...

Gravitational Lensing and a Supernova Give Insights into Dark Matter

Even I was blown away when I saw this image a friend sent me.  Gravitational lensing is a rare occurrence, and a supernova is a rare occurrence, so to see a supernova in a gravitationally lensed galaxy deep within the universe is exceptional.  So exceptional that it was spotted for the first time ever in a Hubble image of the distant universe. That dot in the image is a single supernova in a very distant galaxy, split into four images by the gravitational lensing of the galaxy cluster in front of it.  But there is also a secondary lensing effect from...