Summer Astrophotography – A Passion Project

I love being a science communicator, being with people and sharing my knowledge of the universe. However, I have a personal fascination with the universe, and although this helps me learn more and ultimately makes me a better communicator, there is something nice about connecting with the stars in a traditional way, ie with a telescope. Every year, usually in Summer (a short season in Canada), I venture to a dark sky location and get in some observing, to remind me of the real universe that’s out there. Since I also love the visualization of space as a communication tool,...

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...

The Space X Martian Trailer

In the past year or so it’s been interesting to see space agencies and companies produce movie-type trailers for scientific expeditions.  The technology is there, and it is a proven way to inspire the general public.  It also creates an opportunity to create some of the amazing science being done, even if it’s just a small taste. Space X has been candid about wanting to colonize Mars, and yesterday they released a trailer to give some inspiration to all of us. It shows a system that utilizes their nearly-established system of landing and reusing rockets, as well as refueling in...

My Three Suns

Not just the title of an excellent Futurama episode, but now a real place.  A planet has been found orbiting in a triple star system, a surprising find that may be more common than once thought. Astronomers from the University of Arizona used the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to directly image the new planet as it orbits the brightest star in a triple system 320 light years away, in the constellation Centaurus. Orbits like this are thought to be extremely unstable due to the varying gravitational field in the system. “HD 131399Ab is one of the few exoplanets that...

Review: IMAX: A Beautiful Planet

I recently had the opportunity to watch a brand new IMAX feature, called A Beautiful Planet.  It features incredible views of the Earth from space, captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.  Most of the footage was taken during Expedition 42 on the ISS, starting with the arrival of Samantha Cristoforetti, Terry Virts, and Anton Shkaplerov aboard the Soyuz TMA-15M, and ending with their departure. Much of the film was focused on the views of Earth, the scenic diversity of life and land that can only be seen from space.  It was difficult to see the effects of humans during the day time,...

A Lonely Universe?

Life in the universe is a fascinating topic.  The simplest question: Are we alone? It breeds so many deeper and more profound scientific questions, like “How many habitable planets are there?” “How likely is life to develop on any given planet?” and “How long can a civilization survive?” We can’t answer them definitively, but we can narrow it down. The Drake equation, shown above, was first developed by Frank Drake, the head of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), in 1961.  He took the question of are we alone and made it quantifiable, in a probabilistic way.  It lets us...

Polar Asterisms

Have you ever seen the North star, Polaris? It’s decently bright and very close to the North celestial pole.  Lining up with the rotation axis of the Earth, the North celestial pole is the point in the sky that never moves, day or night.  If you know how to find Polaris, it becomes easy to find the cardinal directions and navigate by the stars. And finding it simply requires finding the big dipper, a bright and easily recognizable object.  The same rules apply in the southern hemisphere.  But even though there is no southern star, there is another fantastic object in the South that can guide you to the...

Standing on Mars

One of my first books on Astronomy was about the planets.  It had a collection of pictures from the first missions to each of the worlds in our solar system.   Seeing those photos, the planets felt so alien, so different, and the perspective was like something out a 1950s science fiction comic.  But now, with modern advancements in imaging technology and rocketry, we can send heavier instruments to distant worlds, and see them in high definition.  It changes the perspective and makes the world seem more familiar than alien, more livable and real.  Take a look at the first picture...

Where did the Elements Come From?

The elements that make up our world and our selves, where do they come from? Sure there is plenty of Oxygen in the air, Silicon and Carbon are just lying around, and a bunch of other stuff can be found across our planet.  but where did they come from originally? We know that most of the elements are synthesized within stars, but which ones aren’t? Which ones are made in a lab? The Big Bang gave rise to the first elements Hydrogen and Helium, which eventually clumped together to form the first stars and star producing the heavier stuff.  Lithium,...