Double Post: Mini Stars & Morning Micrometeorites on Mercury

Alliteration is accessible to all! Okay I’m done. Start some science! Really done this time.  Today’s double post covers the smallest of stars, still larger than most planets, and the only weather Mercury will ever have. Humans are naturally interested in the extremes, the biggest, smallest, fastest, hottest, coldest, and every other characteristic outlier.  With stars, being so huge and powerful, we are often more interested in the largest, hottest, and most energetic.  Though on the opposite end of the spectrum, Cambridge University astronomers have discovered the smallest star in the known universe. The star, a red dwarf, has the...

Atmospheric Spectral Shift

Why does the Sun seem red near the horizon? Why does the Moon do the same?  We know the Moon isn’t actually changing colour, and the Sun isn’t either.  So what is happening to the light? The first thing to note about the image above is that the size of the Moon doesn’t change, showing that the well-known ‘Moon Illusion,’ where the Moon appears larger near the horizon, is just that – an illusion.  The second is of course the gradual change in hue as the Moon rises. The reason for the colour shift really has nothing to do with the Moon...

Fake Saturn

I love false-colour images.  They reveal detail that you can’t see in real life, but they also highlight things in an artistic way.  For me it’s an excellent marriage of art and science, and as a communicator it helps me get concepts across in an accessible way.  So when I saw the APOD image of Saturn from earlier this week, I had to discuss it. Saturn never has looked this way, and it never will.  The colours are vivid and unrealistic, but they show the differences in three distinct but close wavelengths of light on the electromagnetic spectrum.  All of...

This May be the End for Philae

I remember being so happy back in mid-2015 when I heard that ESA made contact with the Philae lander.  The little lander that could was thought to be lost to the cold of space, not receiving enough sunlight to power itself.  But when the comet approached the Sun, the sunlight became intense enough to wake it back up and allow it to move some of the data it captured.   But now, as the comet 67P has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the likelihood that Philae will ever communicate again is slim. When the landing originally happened, the little...

Motivation Monday: Acquiring Knowledge

This past weekend, I participated in a speech contest, the theme of which was education.  I do have a lot of experience with education, but for this speech I tried to think more broadly about the topic, to find something that can relate to anybody.  It led me to think about education as more than just going to school or reading a book.  The acquisition of knowledge is about openness to new ideas and experiences, and having the bravery to try new things in order to learn.  This post is excerpts from my speech, and an analogy to education that...

New Pluto Images Show Nitrogen Pits

Every so often we see a new set of images from Pluto, giving us a chance to rediscover it multiple times.  It’s like we are experiencing the July fly-by over and over again, and each new set of images reveals something new and exciting.  I feel the same sense of excitement and discovery each time I see a new image, realizing that it spent 6 hours as a beam of light crossing the 5 Billion Kilometres of the solar system to connect us to the New Horizons probe, a lonely little piece of human ingenuity flying through the darkness. Here...

Planets to See: October 2015

The month of October has some promising sights for Astronomers and the public, though only if you are an early riser.  The intricate pre-dawn dance of the Planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter continues from it’s initial soiree in September, with a couple of close passes throughout the month that are must-see.  Early on in the month, the waning crescent moon passes the group and gives us a perspective on the plane of the Solar System.  By month’s end, the planets will continue to shift around as they are joined by Mercury, slowly rising above the morning Sun.  Here are a...

Latest Weather Update from Pluto: Hazy with a chance of Ice Flows

Friday’s science update from the New Horizons team shed some more light on the seemingly endless jaw-dropping discoveries from the Pluto system.  We have found a surprising atmosphere and very cold ice flows, contributing to a surprisingly active geology for an object that receives so little sunlight.  Seven hours after the craft made its closest approach of Pluto, it turned around and took a backlit shot, revealing two distinct layers of hazy atmosphere at 80 Km and 50 Km above the surface respectively. It looks more like an eclipse photograph from much closer to home, but it shows a hauntingly...

Hot Summer Days Mark The Earth’s Greatest Distance from the Sun

As warm as the temperatures have been recently, it may shock you to learn that today marks the Earth’s Aphelion, or its greatest distance from the Sun in its orbit. This may confuse those that think the Earth has seasons due to its proximity to the Sun.  The seasons of Earth are actually due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and is a result of how much direct sunlight we receive at any given time of year. It’s one of my favourite trivia questions to ask kids in my planetarium shows, and have them guess when the Earth is...

Philae Lander Wakes Up After Months of Hibernation

Since it’s landing made international headlines back in November as it landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander has been in hibernation mode, not able to generate enough power to operate due to a lack of direct sunlight on its solar panels.  But after 7 months, as the comet has come closer to the Sun, the increasing solar intensity has given it the boost it needed to wake up! “Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available,” explains DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.” The...