Questions Series: How do we know the size of the Universe?

A set of questions I get from kids and adults alike while doing my Astronomy in Action planetarium shows consists of the following: Does the Universe have an end? How big is the Universe? Where is the center of the Universe? What is the ‘Observable Universe?’ How is it different from just saying ‘the Universe?’ First of all, let me say that it is really hard to imagine the Universe as it is, even with a solid understanding of large-scale Physics.  This is because there is no analogy in our lives, no reference point in our everyday experience.  It’s very...

Holiday Lights Make Cities Visibly Brighter from Space

With the extra lights shining in cities across the world at this time of year, we are outputting a significant number of photons into Space.  So many that Satellites in orbit have been able to see the difference.  In the maps below, the areas in green are locations where the brightness has increased by as much as 50%. Being able to see the difference from Space is amazing.  The maps also exist for Caribbean nations, where much of the population celebrates Christmas. Now I’m not avoiding any one particular holiday in my use of the phrase ‘holiday lights,’ because it turns...

Amazing NYT Mars feature and thoughts on the Universe

You have to see this incredible feature on Mars, showing some of the best High-Res photos and milestones from the mission. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/science/space/curiosity-rover-28-months-on-mars.html As you look through the images, remember that you are looking at another world.  It feels foreign, yet oddly familiar.  You almost want to reach out and just grab a handful of sand.  It makes you realize that we are not the center of the Universe. There are likely Billions of worlds similar to Mars, with Dunes and Soil and Skies and Mountains, except those world may not be so barren.  They may be lush and alive, dominated...

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...

Finding Planets is Easier than we Thought: Part Two – Less Dusty Sun-Like Stars

Yesterday I wrote about young stars that had a habitable zone further away than we thought, and how this would help us spot habitable planets more easily in the future. Today is the second news story this week dealing with finding planets, and it deals with more familiar Sun-like stars and their dusty planetary discs. Dust is both a good thing and a bad thing when looking for planets orbiting other stars.  Dust tells us that there is a high likelihood of finding planets, but too much dust blocks out the planets that we look for.  Warm dust is worse...

Stars do Collide! And We Saw It!

When I do Planetarium shows, one of the things I like to talk about during the Milky Way – Andromeda collision that will happen in 70 Mlllion years, is the fact that very few stars will actually hit each other.  Yet we still call it a ‘Galaxy collision.’  One of the questions I always get is “Will the Earth survive this?”  I usually ask the audience. The response is usually a unanimous ‘No way!” And then I tell them how big Galaxies are and they can’t believe how unlikely it is that the solar system will be affected.  Consider the...

Orion Launch is Happening Friday! Make sure you watch it!

It’s finally time for humanity to take the next great leap into the great beyond.  We are natural explorers, and the time to explore a new frontier is now.  Humans will soon go beyond the Moon, and we will venture there on the Orion Capsule, powered by the sails of the Delta IV rocket. You may have seen some of my other posts about it, or an old infographic of the flight procedure. The launch window is opening at 7:05 am EST today!  It will have a 2 hour – 39 minute launch window. But if the weather is clear it...

Just a Little Video of The Entire Universe

The Universe is big, in case you weren’t aware.  It’s the biggest thing we know of, containing at least 100 Billion Galaxies, each with up to 1 Trillion of their own stars.  It’s ludicrously large. How do we know its so big? A major project completed in 2001 surveyed the Galaxies of the local Universe, and what was found can be summed up in the video below, from Reddit. The data is from the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), whose goal was to map all the galaxies in the known Universe in Infrared.  The colours in the above map show...

DNA Survives a Trip into Earth’s Atmosphere

Panspermia. Look it up.  It sounds more like science fiction than science fact, but imagine the implications.  It is the idea that life is everywhere, and is seeded throughout the universe by comets, asteroids, meteors, rogue planets, and even spacecraft, by way of unintended contamination of microbes.  It could also explain why there is life on Earth. Because we still know so little about the Universe around us, panspermia is considered a plausible scenario.  To test parts of this theory, a team from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Anatomy used small pipettes to actually place double stranded DNA on the outside of...