A Surprising Pan

You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now.  Every time I think I’ve seen it all, that I’ve seen every strange phenomenon in space, every unique planet, moon, star, galaxy, every variation, I’m proven wrong.  I expect that the order has been established and everything newly discovered will fall into a category with no more unique variation. But here we are again.  The close up view of Pan. Pan was photographed only a few days ago by the Cassini spacecraft as it carries out the final months of it’s mission to Saturn.  It was revealed to be a...

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 Galilean Moons

In the year 1610, it was commonly believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe, that all bodies rotated around the perfect planet, placed by god with the heavens around it.  Galileo Galilei dealt a major blow to this idea, by using an early telescope to improve his vision and look up at some surprising dots. These dots formed a line that went straight through the bright planet Jupiter.  As Galileo looked again and again, night after night, he noticed that they not only persisted, they moved.  Their motion was predictable, and Galileo realized that they were orbiting Jupiter, just...

Reflection in a Dark Universe

Like lighthouse beacons in a dark ocean, stars act as tiny islands in the vast universe.  Producing light at the atomic level from the powerful release of energy through fusion, they are the engines that drive the formation of new elements.  But in the darkness there are plenty of other hidden objects that are cold and give off little to no light.  Yet many of them are easily seen.  Here’s Why! The first thing to think about is infrared light, the radiation given off by warm objects.  Large planets and brown dwarf stars are very bright in infrared, much brighter...

Juno July

As Canadians start up Canada day celebrations and Americans get ready for their independence day, the world of space exploration holds its breath and hopes for a good result.  On July 4th, the Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a five year long journey.  NASA continued its recent theme of producing movie-trailer-like videos to promote the mission. Although I love the imagery and the design of the trailer, it feels cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s because I find movie trailers cheesy in general, and this is trying to appeal to the general public.  Though regardless of how I feel,...

The How and Why of Planet Nine

It hasn’t been found yet – let me make that clear.  But with evidence that it should exist, astronomers are looking more closely at the proposed planet nine and how it might have formed, and how it could have ended up in such a distant orbit. When you start to think about how a planet ten times the mass of Earth could have ended up more than ten times as far from the Sun as Neptune, a few scenarios pop into mind: It was formed in the inner solar system, where interactions with gas giants or another star pulled it out It formed...

Mercurian Monday

If you haven’t already heard, Mercury is going to transit the Sun this coming Monday! It’s like a solar eclipse, except Mercury is covering the Sun instead of the Moon.  And since Mercury is tiny and far away, it’s not so much ‘covering’ the Sun as it is passing across the face of the Sun in a barely perceptible way. The transit takes approximately 7 hours start to finish, and will occur on Monday, May 9th, 2016 from 7:12am to 2:42 pm EDT. If you miss this one, you can catch the next one in 2019.  They happen a dozen times a...

Comet or Asteroid?

What is the difference between a comet and an asteroid? The typical response is that an asteroid is rocky and a comet is icy/gassy.  Further than this, asteroids typically orbit closer to the Sun than Neptune, and comets orbit beyond this loose dividing line.  But as with everything in nature, there are often exceptions to the rule. C/2014 S3 PANSTAARS is classified as a weakly active comet, originating in the Oort cloud with an orbital period of 860 years.  As it approached the Sun, astronomers noticed that it was lacking the characteristic comet tail, resulting from the blast of solar radiation upon approach to the...

Space Travel HERTS

In the post-Voyager era of deep space flight, spacecraft propulsion designs feel like science fiction.  Instead of using rockets and a thermonuclear generator to produce heat, we have things like solar sails, laser sails, and ion propulsion.  These all take advantage of the vastness of space to create a slow-but-continuous acceleration that can get spacecraft moving at incredible speeds. Of course, even at incredible speeds it will still take decades to reach other stars, but compared to Voyager, it’s a step in the right direction. If you want to get to the outer solar system quickly, try the Heliopause Electrostatic...

History of a Made-Up Planet

There are eight planets in the Solar System.  This statement makes a lot of people angry for several different reasons.  The obvious group to respond with anger is the ‘people for Pluto,’ who have an unwavering dedication to the little planet that could.  It’s scientifically recognized as a dwarf Planet, and is still one step up from a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), so it’s doing well.  Far beyond Pluto, in the outer recesses of our Solar system, you may have heard of a potential Super-Earth-sized Planet recently theorized by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown.  This is the other reason people would...