The Sun is Doing That Weird Thing Again

You know the thing I mean, when it suddenly goes dark in the middle of the day and looks all fiery.  Stars come out in the daytime and animals go crazy.  When silly people pray extra hard for some reason.  I swear the Moon is involved. It looks like this…. Ah yes the solar eclipse, the rare event that only occurs because the Sun is both 400 times wider and 400 times more distant than the Moon.  It’s a mathematically beautiful event that only occurs every 5 years on average.  And when it does happen, the total coverage of the...

A Cracked Egg Moon

One of the first things you hear when learning about the states of matter is about good old H2O: Steam, Water, Ice.  Naturally you are asked “Why does Ice float?” The answer is a simple matter of density, frozen water is less dense because water expands when it freezes.  You can do a bit of an experiment by filling a balloon with water.  Paint the balloon and put it in the freezer.  When it freezes the water will expand, and so will the rubbery balloon, but the dried paint will crack at weak points. This is exactly the same thing...

Moon Phase Affects Rainfall

In voodoo, new age, astrological, aura, garbage news, the Moon’s phase affects mental health and is a general consideration for werewolves.  In real and useful science, the Moon is that occasional sight in the sky that gives us ocean tides and casually reminds us that the Earth actually has a big ball of rock falling around it.  But in a strange twist, new data suggests that the Moon actually does affect one facet of human experience: Rainfall. A new paper from the university of Washington suggests that there is a slight dip in rainfall when the Moon is overhead or underfoot, due to the tidal force exerted by...

Cryovolcano on Pluto

Cryovolcano is a cool word, literally and figuratively.  You hear about it a lot when talking about solar system moons like Enceladus, and it’s one of those words that would make a heck of a great Hollywood disaster movie title, like ‘Sharknado’ or ‘Armageddon.’ I do not, however, endorse either of those movies, they were both terrible.  At any rate, a real cryovolcano seems like an interesting thing.  It’s a volcano in the sense that it looks a little like a mountain and spews out material when the pressure builds from beneath the surface, but it’s not your traditional Earth-like volcano...

Best Place for an Alien Civilization

This story popped up yesterday, and I can imagine it will go far, since it talks about life in the universe.  I get it, it’s what people are interested in, and at least this story is focused on the science of why this is the best place to look for intelligent civilizations, instead of “Oh hey there’s a strange ring of material around a star, must be an alien superstructure.”  But I digress. So where is the best place to look for life in the universe? The answer is in a Globular Cluster. A globular cluster is one of the...

The Mystery Spot of Ceres

Since the arrival of the Dawn spacecraft in March of 2015, we have seen tremendous views of the dwarf planet Ceres.  Lying within the asteroid belt, it is revealed to be a frozen world of ice and rock, with many interesting features.  None of these features had generated more intrigue than the famous bright spot in the bottom of what is now called the Occator crater. The icy spot has had astronomers guessing for months whether it is a cryovolcano, water ice, frozen carbon dioxide, or something even more strange and rare. As the Dawn spacecraft has moved into a...

Exoplanet Water – Common or Surprising?

We are reaching the point in our study of exoplanets, planets orbiting other stars, where the atmospheres of distant worlds are within the limits of our technology.  Once we could barely see the wobble of a star, the telltale sign of an exoplanet, and now we can see reflected starlight and study a distant atmosphere.  Now we can probe deeper questions, are atmospheres of exoplanets similar to solar system planets? What are they made of? Do other solar systems have the same raw materials as ours? Do they have what we believe to be the raw materials for life? A...

Cassini Dives into Enceladus Geysers

Since 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn, giving us unprecedented views of the rings and Moons, and sending back data that has helped us to understand the dynamic nature of the Saturnian system.  The flexibility of such a craft allows for new science goals to be determined in an ongoing basis, since new discoveries often lead to new questions and new areas to focus our resources on.  Yesterday, October 28th, Cassini focused its resources on the geysers of Enceladus, flying lower than ever before over the surface of the icy moon, in an attempt to sample some of...

Hurricane Patricia from Space

This storm is a monster.  It strengthened from a pretty usual category 1 hurricane to the most powerful hurricane the planet has ever seen in less than a day.  This strengthening was all due to the warmer-than-usual pacific waters under the influence of el nino. Luckily the storm has weakened since making landfall and is down to a tropical depression (less than a category 1), but it still highlights the fact that warmer oceans and a shifting climate are bringing more extreme weather events our way every year.

Pluto has Water! And is Blue to Human Eyes!

Some colour images were released from New Horizons today, showing some of the first true colour views of the icy dwarf planet.  The amazing thing is that to human eyes, the combination of Methane and Nitrogen in the atmosphere give it a gorgeous blue tinge. The other amazing piece of news is that Pluto has water ice on its surface! Check out these photos highlighted for surface water ice. By looking for the signature of Sunlight reflected off water, the cameras on New Horizons can spot regions where water ice is dominant.  Pluto continues to surprise!