A faraway Cosmic ray

Cosmic rays are incredibly powerful invisible particles, and we can’t be sure where they come from. Not much in the way of a comforting thought, but it makes for a cosmic mystery that astronomers have been trying to solve for decades.  And now they have come one step closer. Here’s what we do know.  Cosmic rays are energetic atomic nuclei travelling at near the speed of light.  They hit our atmosphere and rapidly interact with the molecules there to break into billions of smaller, less energetic particles that shower down on the life on Earth, without giving us much notice...

Cassini – A Fond Farewell

I remember vividly my first astronomy class in university.  Winter 2004, only months before the Cassini spacecraft was set to arrive at Saturn after a seven year journey.  On several occasions in that class we talked about what we might see when Cassini reached it’s destination.  The first dedicated mission to the jewel of the solar system, originally conceived right after the voyager flyby in 1982, would give us a chance to study more than just a planet, but an entire system of interaction between a planet and it’s moons.  Beyond that, it included the Huygens probe, to land at...

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...

Earth Suspended in a Sunbeam

As 2015 wraps up, I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes and perspectives, from none other than Carl Sagan, arguably the greatest science communicator in history. “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love,...

A Song to laugh about the 176 Moons of the Solar System

About a year ago I had an idea for a music video.  I wanted to take a concept in science and put it to music, making it funny, catchy, memorable, and educational.  I wrote out the majority of the lyrics but left it alone for a few months, until I connected with the right friend.  My good friend Bob Wegner is a very talented guitarist and audio engineer, and as we spoke about the idea he wanted to be the guy to record it.  We spent an afternoon doing the vocals and guitars, and he cleaned it up and made...

Heliosphere Shaped by Solar Jets

The Sun is the driving force behind our planetary system.  It’s energy warms our planet, drives weather and climate patterns, and fuels the aurorae that surround our magnetic poles.  The Sun also has a much grander sphere of influence beyond the orbit of the Earth, stretching into the vast space between itself and the other members of the stellar neighbourhood. The charged particles that are released from the Sun, called the solar wind, stretch out to 120 Astronomical Units, about 18 Billion Km.  The bubble of the Sun’s influence is known as the Heliosphere, though it is anything but a...

Voyager has been Rocked by Interstellar Tsunamis!

Voyager 1, launched way back in 1977, is still giving us Science, far away beyond the influence of the Sun.  In the past few years, the spacecraft has passed the boundary between the Solar System and the Interstellar Medium, the so called Heliopause.  This has given scientists the first ever direct look at the Space between stars. Since then, Voyager has felt some interesting shock waves, which are being referred to as ‘Tsunami Waves.’ When the Sun emits a Coronal Mass Ejection, the charged particles travel through the Solar System as a pressure wave.  When this wave hits the Heliopause...

Saturn’s Moons: Voyager vs. Cassini Images

Since Voyager 1 and 2 passed by Saturn in 1980 and 1981 respectively, scientists have wanted more information about the many amazing icy moons that orbit the gas giant.  The follow up mission to Saturn, Cassini, has been in orbit around the planet for over a decade, and has since mapped the icy moons in their entirety.  Take a look at some of the Voyager images and how they compare to the new colour maps from Cassini.  I should note that the colours in the Cassini images are beyond human vision, extending into infrared and ultraviolet to add some further...

Storms seen on Uranus!

The seventh planet from the Sun is a boring one.  The best photos we have of Uranus were obtained in January 1986 during the passing of Voyager 2, and they revealed a cold, pale-green, ball of Methane four times the diameter of Earth with very little visible activity. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about Uranus, and it’s far more interesting than we thought.  It has rings, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons.  It has a 98 degree axial tilt, meaning that the poles of the planet cycle through 42 years of sunlight and 42 years of darkness during it’s 84...