The Great American Eclipse of 2017

For three years I’ve been talking about this eclipse.  August 21st, 2017 is a date that feels etched into my skull.  With solar eclipses being few and far between, and usually occuring far from my home in Canada, I’m excited that the great american eclipse of 2017 will be within my budget for travel.  Though like many people, I’m ready to pay a bit extra to get to the right spot. The eclipse is expected to draw over 100 million people to the many towns and cities along the path of totality. Though most of the population of North America...

Rosetta’s Final Mission

Tomorrow, one way or another, the ESA’s Rosetta mission is coming to an end.  In a final maneuver, the craft will attempt to land on the surface of the comet, following in the footsteps of the Philae lander, though hopefully with more success. The video shows the final orbit plan, and really highlights how amazing mission scientists are to be able to plan a landing site when the comet is rotating so quickly, relative to the craft’s motion. You can follow the link to watch the live broadcast of the event here.  The mission will end around 7:20am EST tomorrow,...

The Next Canadian Astronaut

This guy is everything you expect in an astronaut.  At least that was my first thought when I was looking at his biography.  David St. Jacques was one of only two candidates (along with Jeremy Hansen) chosen in the 2008 Canadian Astronaut draft, the third in our nation’s history. He has a degree in Engineering Physics, a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, and is a medical doctor.  And that’s just his formal education.  He’s an avid mountaineer, cyclist, skier, and sailor.  Not to mention his advanced certification as a scuba diver, his commercial pilot’s license, and his ability to converse in Russian, Spanish, and Japanese. And so...

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...

Five New Studies of Pluto

It’s been nine months since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto.  Time sure does fly.  And even though the spacecraft is moving further from Pluto and Earth, it’s still sending back the massive amounts of data it gathered during closest approach.  As this data is received, the huge team of scientists that are part of the mission use it to characterize Pluto so humanity can begin to understand just how strange the distant dwarf Planet is. Five new papers characterize some of the latest science done on the enigmatic world.  Here’s a quick summary of each: The first paper from...

Cometary Chaos

In 2014, comet C/2013 A1, known as sliding spring, came within 140,000 Km of the planet Mars.  This is a bit more than a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon.  Comets are small, so gravitationally this interaction was insignificant, but from an electromagnetic point of view, things were shaken up big time! Comets are small, relatively speaking.  A typical comet is a few kilometers across, about the size of a big city.  But with sunlight melting ices and liberating gases and dust from the comet’s interior, the part of the comet we see in the sky,...

Searching for Nine

Planet nine from outer space has yet to be found, but the theory is sound, and the hunt has begun.  Since the announcement by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown on January 20th, astronomers have been finding ways to search for the theorized planet, using all the available data to zero in on it’s position.  It’s certainly big enough to find, at roughly 10 Earth masses, but with a huge swath of space to search, everything that excludes part of the search area is a step in the right direction. One of the ongoing goals of researchers is to carefully calculate...

An Astronaut Hits the Ground

After falling continuously for an entire year, Scott Kelly is ready to hit the ground.  With the goal of studying the long-term effects of microgravity on humans, his year is space has been something to keep an eye on.  Always in good spirits, he is probably excited to come home, albeit apprehensive due to the dangers of returning to gravity after such a long time.  Next Tuesday, March 1st, he will experience significant forces once again as he undocks from the ISS and is ferried home by the Soyuz capsule. Like wearing a weighted suit, coming home will be an...

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...

Black Hole Merger Confirmed!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…. Two black holes, with masses 29 and 35 times the mass of the Sun, merged to form an even bigger black hole.  The merger resulted in three entire suns worth of matter converted to pure energy in the form of gravitational waves. The waves travelled a billion light years before a tiny meat-filled species on a pale blue dot in space figured how to see them.  Thanks to the smartest one that species had seen in a century, they knew that black holes might merge, and that they would produce these waves if...