ISS Emergency: Potential Ammonia Leak has led to Partial Evacuation

This morning at 4am EST on the International Space Station, an Ammonia leak alarm went off, leading the crew to perform an emergency evacuation from the American capsule of the ISS.  All of the astronauts are currently safe and secure in the Russian capsule of the ISS. The hatch between the two capsules has been sealed, and any non-essential equipment has been powered down. Mission Control is in the process of assessing whether the alarm was the result of an actual leak or a malfunction, though recent reports from NASA TV suggest that the alarm was due to computer glitch...

Two Supermassive Black Holes are Merging

A vast number of Galaxies in the Universe have a central black hole that is incredibly massive.  The Black Hole at the centre of the Milky Way, dubbed Sag A*, is estimated to have a mass as high as three Million Suns.  We generally can’t see black holes, but when they start to pull in matter from surrounding gas and dust clouds, the material forms a disk around the star.  This accretion disk can heat up to incredible temperatures and emit X-rays and other high energy light, allowing us to see where the black holes are.  Sometimes the light from...

Simulating the Universe and Everything in it

You might think simulating the entire Universe is difficult, and it is, but not for the reasons you would think.  The Physics is actually somewhat straightforward.  We know the math behind star formation, Gravity, and fluid dynamics, and throwing in a few other effects is not too bad.   The hard part is finding a computer powerful enough to do the calculations in a reasonable amount of time. Think about it.  Imagine having a universe of 100 Billion ‘particles’ used for a simulation.  Each particle has a starting point, and that it pretty easy to do.  But then for every...

Curiosity shows that Gale Crater was a Giant Lake on Mars!

In a press conference yesterday, NASA officials revealed the latest data from the Curiosity rover mission on Mars.  The data shows that the Rover’s current location, at the base of Mount Sharp in the Gale Crater, was once deep underwater, part of a vast lake filling the entire crater. The results suggest that ancient Mars had a climate that could sustain large lakes across the planet over millions of years. “If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy...

The Halloween-Themed Universe

I did a short presentation last night for a group of families at a Halloween event.  My job was to talk space but make it as spooky as possible and use some Halloween themes for the kids.  There really is a fine line between teaching Science and being entertaining, but here’s some of the things I did. Lets start with the following image….What does this look like to you? Did you say the head of a witch? Then yes you are right! This is known as the Witch Head Nebula. A nebula is a place where gas and dust in...

Partial Solar Eclipse Today!

Tonight, right around sunset, there will be a partial eclipse of the sun, visible from most of North America.  As the sun sets, skywatchers will get to see the moon gradually cover about half of the sun, before it disappears below the horizon. A map of the viewing area shows that the best spot to see it will be all the way up in the Canadian arctic. If you don’t live in the Arctic circle, you can certainly see the eclipse in the South-West near the horizon as it sets.  The moon will start to cover the sun around 5:45 EDT,...

Top 5 comet breakups in History

When comets breakup it can be an emotional time for Astronomers, amateur and professional alike.  Though not like a breakup with a significant other, we get our hopes up that the next comet will be a comet of the century.  We do this because comets are very unpredictable, and any given close approach to Earth could be spectacular….or terrible. Comet ISON is about to pass behind the sun on November 28th, and could potentially break into pieces from the sun’s incredible tidal forces.  In honour of a new potential breakup, here are the top 5 comet breakups in history: #5...

Closest Stellar System Chills Out

Alpha Centauri.  Not only is it an alien in Dr.who, a strategy game released in 1999, and an album released by the German electronic band tangerine dream, but it’s the brightest star in our closest stellar system.  Named for being the brightest star in the constellation Centaurus in the southern sky, its a little over 4 light years away from Earth, and is very similar to our sun in terms of size, age, mass, composition, and temperature. Here is a great infographic from Space.com. Scientists have recently discovered that Alpha Centauri shares yet another resemblance to our home star: It has a strange, cooler...