The Real Discovery of Neptune

Have you ever read the story of the discovery of Neptune? It truly is a triumph of science and mathematics, and part of the reason it is my favourite planet (a hard choice to make).  The story goes like this: It all starts with the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by William Herschel.  This was the first ever discovery of a planet, as the Earth and the five visible planets have been known of since the dawn of history. Thanks to Isaac Newton working out the laws of gravitation and the mechanics of the solar system, mathematicians could easily calculate the properties...

An Ancient Martian Tsunami

A pretty cool result came out of Cornell University this week, showing that Mars was struck by a pair of ancient asteroids that caused massive tsunamis.  Not only is it the first evidence of a tsunami event on another world, but it proves that Mars once had a large ocean. The study looked at ancient shorelines between the lowlands and highlands of Mars, where the ocean-land boundary would have been.  Two massive impacts, a few million years apart, extended the shorelines and caused turmoil with the Martian climate at the time. “About 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered...

Multiple Ancient Supernovae

If a supernova were to go off somewhere in our galaxy, the minimum safe distance for Earthbound life would be about 50 light years.  Any closer than that, and we would experience an intense blast of high energy radiation and an eventual shower of radioactive particles.  It would be like nuclear bombs were set off all around the Earth, causing little destruction but a lot of radioactive fallout.  Supernovae are incredibly powerful to be able to cause such damage at 50 light years, but even at larger distances, we can see evidence of their effects here on Earth. A team of...

Saturn Double Shot 1/2: Less-Than-Ancient Moons

It’s always funny explaining astronomical time to a non-scientist.  I often get the craziest looks when I mention a million years as being a ‘blip on the radar.’  Perhaps there is some immortal alien race out there who would understand how nothing much happens on the scale of the universe in a million years.  To humanity and our ever-accelerating advancement, a million years is thrice the age of our entire species.  But I guess Einstein was right when he said that ‘it’s all relative.’ This brings us to Saturn, a planet as ancient as the solar system.  Moderately old in...

1000 Things You Didn’t Know About the Universe #4: Most Stars are Small and Red

Welcome to a new series of posts that will characterize 1000 amazing facts about the Universe.  There is so much out there that we have yet to learn, and every day, astronomers across the globe are using their research to reveal the deepest secrets of the cosmos.  This series will look at the strangest, coolest, most exciting facts that we have discovered in hundreds of years of modern science. Fact #4: Most of the stars in the universe are red dwarfs smaller than our Sun. There is a leap of understanding that happens when a child learns that our Sun...

The Expanse of Time – Galaxies, Evolution, Lifetimes

Have you ever seen those amazing composite images that people will post, showing the same picture every day or every year for a long period of time.  We see how children age, how people transform their bodies, and how their day to day experiences, though seemingly small, add up to incredible changes as the years go by.  I personally love time-lapse photography, representing a long period of time in a shorter instance.  For me the beauty is showing those changes that are subtle in human experience and communicating them in a way that shows how significant they are when we...

Slow Galaxies Form Stars

They may look like they are standing still, but galaxies are all spinning.  Spiral galaxies have the lovely regular spin of a disk, while elliptical galaxies are all over the place, a buzzing hive of stars.  We don’t see this rotation in real time because it takes millions of years for it to be noticeable.  The Milky Way takes 250 Million years to spin just once around it’s axis.  Looking at this rotation rate vs. distance from the galactic center was what originally led to the discovery of dark matter. Some galaxies do in fact spin slower than others, but how does...

The Great Iron Ball

Deep within the Earth, far below the layers of rock that form the crust, and even further below the molten rock of the mantle, lies a hot core of Iron and Nickel.  The swirling of the liquid metal creates a flow of charge and produces the magnetic field of the Earth, without which we humans could not survive. But there is still more.  At the centre of the Earth, a part of the liquid metal core, the size of Pluto, cooled into a solid ball of Iron and Nickel.  When in the Earth’s history did it form? This question has...

Lonely Galaxy in an Empty Void

Stars are far apart, especially compared to the everyday distances in human experience.  The fastest a human being has ever travelled is just shy of 40 Km/s, and even at that incredible speed it would take 30,000 years to reach the closest star.  That is an incredible distance no matter how you slice it.  Taking it a step further, most stars in the sky are 20-200 times further away, and that’s just the population of stars we can see.  So if we go beyond and talk about galaxies and the distances between them, we are literally talking astronomical quantities.  Yet even with...

We could see Star Wars happening right now!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. Not just the star wars intro, but a true statement if you’re an astronomer.  You see, once we start to look deep in space at the more distant objects in the universe, we are actually looking deep in time as well.  It all begins with a light year. A light year is not a measure of time, it’s a measure of distance.  When you turn on the light in a dark room, the light appears to fill the room instantly.  But it actually takes a small amount of time, as light has...