Showing category "Astronomy" (Show all posts)

The Planet Pluto

Posted by on Tuesday, September 11, 2018, In : Astronomy 
Just when you thought you knew the solar system...

Some long term readers may recall a heated debate twelve years ago over the nature of Pluto. When it was first discovered over a century ago, astronomers named it and labelled it the ninth planet. Generations of students learned the names of the planets, and wrote endless reports about the ninth planet. A few years ago the New Horizons probe sent back detailed images of its surface, taken from orbit during a flyby as the probe left the solar s...
Continue reading ...
 

The Opposition of Mars

Posted by on Friday, July 27, 2018, In : Astronomy 
For those who are interested in astronomy, tonight Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in fifteen years. That means that it will be both large - though still only viewable in detail through binoculars or a telescope - and very bright. 

As most people already know, both the Earth and Mars orbit the sun, in neighbouring orbits. Usually they are at different points in their respective orbits, and so Mars appears small and distant. Roughly every two years, the two planets pass close toget...
Continue reading ...
 

Neutrinos By The Sea

Posted by on Thursday, July 19, 2018, In : Astronomy 
Neutrinos are popular right now. 

Last week the IceCube neutrino observatory announced the discovery of the origin of many high energy cosmic rays as being a massive black hole and active galaxy, using the flux of neutrinos that it produced as a pointer to their source. The observations were then confirmed by a variety of observatories working in radio waves, visible light, and gamma-rays, but the original signal was through neutrinos.

Today we have the announcement that the University of Victo...
Continue reading ...
 

The Origin of Cosmic Rays

Posted by on Friday, July 13, 2018, In : Astronomy 
After weeks of speculation, today the IceCube neutrino observatory has revealed their big news. After more than a century of debate about the origin of high energy cosmic rays, the IceCube team together with astronomers around the world have managed to pinpoint the source of at least some high energy cosmic rays as being a very active and violent distant galaxy known as a blazar. (For those interested in the technical details, the two research papers can be found here and here)

Cosmic rays wer...
Continue reading ...
 

Dominion Astrophysical Centenary

Posted by on Sunday, May 6, 2018, In : Astronomy 
Today marks the anniversary of one of the biggest events in local astronomy history, and probably in the history of science in Canada. It was exactly one century ago today that the Plaskett telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Little Saanich Mountain in my hometown of Victoria,British Columbia, first collected light from the stars and became the second largest telescope in the world.

For those who haven't had a chance to see the telescope, it is an amazing piece of equipment ...
Continue reading ...
 

A New Test Of General Relativity

Posted by on Saturday, February 24, 2018, In : Astronomy 
One of the great unsolved problems in modern physics is the nature of gravity. Since Einstein first published the general theory of relativity over a century ago, it has proven to be a very accurate model of the solar system and the cosmos. Repeated experiments have confirmed its predictions in the form of planetary orbits, gravitational lensing, and high precision measurements of time and frequency on the Earth and in orbit. So far no deviations from the predictions of general relativity hav...
Continue reading ...
 

A Christmas Visitor?

Posted by on Saturday, December 16, 2017, In : Astronomy 
The astronomy community has been buzzing this week with discussions of a new object that has been seen in the solar system.  Its formal name is A2017UI (with the proposed common name Oumuamua, which is Hawaiian for "messenger from the distant past" ), and it is assumed to be an asteroid - but one such as we have never seen before. 

First off, it has entered the solar system from deep space, making it the first such asteroid in recent history to do so. Being extra-solar already makes it a valua...
Continue reading ...
 

Angry Aliens?

Posted by on Friday, November 17, 2017, In : Astronomy 
Since mankind first looked up at the night sky, one of the biggest questions has been "Are we alone in the Universe?". Philosophers and theologians have debated this issue for centuries, while astronomers and astrobiologists continue to look for evidence and explore the data. When NASA sent probes to the edge of our solar system and beyond, they included information on our location in the galaxy and our culture in case other life forms one day discover them. Projects such as SETI have spent d...
Continue reading ...
 

Dark Stars

Posted by on Monday, November 6, 2017, In : Astronomy 
In my previous article I discussed the possibility that the Universe contains a strange type of star called a Planck star, which is prevented from collapsing due to the effects of quantum gravity. However they are not the only type of exotic star which may exist, and certainly not the only kind that can be searched for with modern telescopes.

Another interesting possibility that is being studied by the theoretical physics community is the dark star

Before I go into details though, I must clar...
Continue reading ...
 

Planck Stars

Posted by on Saturday, November 4, 2017, In : Astronomy 
For most of us, our first experience with astronomy is looking up at the stars. Whether it is a prehistoric humanoid or a child living in a major metropolis, at some point we have all looked at the night sky and wondered at the distant point of light. As a result you would think that we know everything that there is to know about stars, but we do not.

Recently the theoretical physics community has started discussing a new type, called a Planck Star. At the moment it is a very theoretical and s...
Continue reading ...
 

A Cosmic Collision

Posted by on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, In : Astronomy 
There was an interesting joint announcement today from the LIGO, Virgo, and Fermi telescope teams, and one that will have great value to the astrophysics community. For the first time, all three simultaneously detected a neutron star collision and were able to collect data regarding both its gravitational wave signature and its gamma-ray signature. This new data will provide for interesting new studies on the physics of neutron stars and on the origin of several heavier elements in the Univer...
Continue reading ...
 

The End of Cassini

Posted by on Friday, September 15, 2017, In : Astronomy 
After twenty years of studying the planet Saturn, the working life of the Cassini spacecraft will come to an end in the next few hours. On Friday, September 15, 2017 at about 7:55 am EDT, NASA will crash the probe into the surface of Saturn and end its mission.

As far back as the 1980s astronomers from around the world were making plans to send a probe to the gas giant, Saturn. We had already explored both Mars and Venus, and the Voyager probes had made flybys of the outer planets, but Saturn ...
Continue reading ...
 

A Forty Year Old Mystery Is Solved

Posted by on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, In : Astronomy 
After forty years of speculations ranging from exotic particle decays to advanced alien civilizations, the famous 6EQUJ5 signal has now been explained, and the explanation is embarrassingly rather basic.

In August 1977, astronomers at the Big Ear observatory at Ohio State university were scanning the sky for radio signals from space. There are numerous sources of radio waves in the galaxy, and a lot of interesting science can be done using a map of the sources of radio signals. And of course m...
Continue reading ...
 

X-Ray Navigation & Communication

Posted by on Thursday, June 1, 2017, In : Astronomy 
Yesterday I wrote about the theory of neutron stars and pulsars, and about the NICER mission that is about to begin examining them in more detail. After fifty years of theoretical study and limited astronomical data, we are soon to have a dedicated x-ray telescope with the primary purpose of studying the composition and properties of pulsars in the galaxy.

However the mission has a second goal, and one with a more practical purpose than studying distant neutron stars and pulsars. The mission w...
Continue reading ...
 

A NICER Mission

Posted by on Thursday, June 1, 2017, In : Astronomy 
Nearly fifty years ago, astronomers discovered a bizarre signal in the sky coming from an unknown, mysterious object. Where most astrophysical objects send a steady stream of particles, light and radio waves, this new object was rapidly pulsing x-rays. 

These objects were eventually found to be very compact objects, known as neutron stars. When a star reaches the end of its life, and has exhausted its supply of nuclear fuel, it will expel its outer layers and the core will collapse into a smal...
Continue reading ...
 

Four New Planets

Posted by on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, In : Astronomy 
Congratulations to the researchers and volunteers with the Exoplanet Explorers project, with the announcement today that they have discovered four new planets orbiting a distant star.

These planets have been nominally named EE-1b, EE-1c, EE-1d, and EE-1e and are orbiting a star similar to our own sun, but located six hundred light years away in the Aquarius constellation. Each of them is approximately twice the mass of the Earth, but they have years that last between three and thirteen days. ...
Continue reading ...
 

A New Neighbour In Space

Posted by on Friday, February 24, 2017, In : Astronomy 
Another interesting announcement from NASA today in regards to the search for exoplanets. Using a combination of several ground based telescopes together with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the team has discovered seven new planets, each of which is roughly Earth sized, and orbiting a star a mere 39 lightyears away from the Earth.
The star at the center of this system is a very small, very cold star which was not observed until last May. It has been named TRAPPIST-1, short for Transi...

Continue reading ...
 

An Interesting SETI Signal

Posted by on Friday, September 2, 2016, In : Astronomy 
By now many of you have heard the preliminary reports from the astronomy community that a team of researchers has detected an interesting signal from a distant star. At this point it is impossible to know what generated this signal, but one possibility is that it could be a product of an advanced alien civilization. However it is far more likely that it is a natural astrophysical phenomena, which would be just as interesting for the scientific community but less newsworthy.

The SETI program in...
Continue reading ...
 

Project Starshot

Posted by on Friday, July 22, 2016, In : Astronomy 
I always love to see people excited about exploring new technologies and new scientific fields. This has been especially true of the Breakthrough Initiatives program funded by philanthropist Yuri Milner, and now the team have announced a very exciting new project.

We are going to send probes to other solar systems!

Recently it was announced that the Breakthrough Initiatives is beginning work on Project Starshot, whose goal is exactly that. They will be spending $100 million dollars developing h...
Continue reading ...
 

News From Rosetta

Posted by on Saturday, May 28, 2016, In : Astronomy 
After two years of collecting data, the team behind the Rosetta mission has made an interesting announcement today. The Rosetta probe has indicated that the comet it has been studying contains glycine, which is an amino acid considered to be one of the building blocks of life, as well as phosphorous which would be required to form primordial DNA. And while this is far from being life itself, it adds more weight to the theory that life could not only form in other regions of space, but that li...
Continue reading ...
 

Not The Ninth Planet

Posted by on Thursday, February 25, 2016, In : Astronomy 
I feel that I must being this article with a disclaimer. Although I usually try to keep my science news articles neutral, some of the comments in this particular article should be considered more of an opinion piece on the silliness of certain definitions in astronomy. Those who only wish more serious, formal articles might want to skip this one...

By now even the most casual of astronomy fans will have heard the reports that astronomers believe they have discovered the ninth planet in the sol...
Continue reading ...
 

The Great Attractor

Posted by on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, In : Astronomy 
In astronomy news this week, another big mystery has (possibly) been solved, and unfortunately it is a rather mundane solution. 

In the early 1970s, astronomers who were studying distant galaxies noticed that they were being pulled towards a mysterious region near the Hydra-Centaurus supercluster, approximately 200 million lightyears away from us. Assuming that gravity had the same properties on cosmic scales as it does within our own galaxy, this region appeared to contain a concentrated mass...
Continue reading ...
 

New X-Ray Observatory Launched!

Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016, In : Astronomy 
Some people stay up all night for movie premieres, for rock concerts, or for sporting events. I stay up all night watching rocket launches. Or at least that is what I am doing tonight.

Just before 4:00am Eastern Time the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a rocket carrying its sixth scientific satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, and in the next few hours it will deploy the ASTRO-H experiment into orbit. And if all goes well, it will be providing astronomer...
Continue reading ...
 

Gravitation Waves Confirmed!

Posted by on Thursday, February 11, 2016, In : Astronomy 
First let me congratulate the LIGO team and its collaborators on the first confirmed detection of gravitational waves! It is a milestone for astronomy and astrophysics, and one well worth celebrating!

The gravitational waves that they have detected passed through the Earth on September 14, 2015 at 5:51am EDT, and are believed to have been generated by merger of two black holes that had been orbiting one another. Based on the data, this particular collision likely occurred 1.3 billion years ago...
Continue reading ...
 

Gravitational Waves

Posted by on Wednesday, February 10, 2016, In : Astronomy 
By now most of you will have heard the rumors. This Thursday the team behind the LIGO experiment are scheduled to give a press conference, and the most likely reason is that they are going to announce the detection of gravitational waves. Of course at this point we do not know how strong the signal is, or even that it is true, but if it is it will be an interesting confirmation of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

According to the general theory of relativity, mass and energy warp space...
Continue reading ...
 

Name The Exoplanets

Posted by on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, In : Astronomy 
The Name The Exoplanets contest is over, and today the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has announced new common names for a number of planets outside of our own solar system. The planets in question will still retain their scientific names, but for common usage the IAU is hoping that their selections will become standard.

The contest began in July 2014, with the general public encouraged to submit possible names for exoplanets that had already been discovered. The public was then asked ...
Continue reading ...
 

New Horizons Video

Posted by on Saturday, December 5, 2015, In : Astronomy 
The New Horizons team has just released high-def photos and video from the Pluto flyby a few months ago. It is amazing to think of how far away Pluto is, and yet because of the hard work of a great many people in the fields of science and technology here we have great video footage of it. 



Continue reading ...
 

A Mysterious Star

Posted by on Thursday, October 15, 2015, In : Astronomy 
When I opened my e-mail this morning, I was stunned to find a number of messages all regarding the same astronomical oddity. Since it is rare for astronomy to make headlines, this was a most interesting start to the morning.

The topic that everyone is talking about today is the so-called 'most mysterious star in the galaxy' (as several of these e-mails called it). And the reason this star has everyone talking today is that one of the most plausible explanations for it is that it is home to a t...
Continue reading ...
 

Water Confirmed!

Posted by on Monday, September 28, 2015, In : Astronomy 
As predicted last week, the major announcement from NASA today is that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered that liquid water flows on present-day Mars. And while it may only be a seasonal flow, its mere existence has scientists excited. (The original press release can be found here)

The MRO contains a spectrometer which allows it to look for signatures of different materials. In this case the orbiter detected minerals that had been recently deposited by flowing water. The mine...
Continue reading ...
 

Discovery on Mars?

Posted by on Saturday, September 26, 2015, In : Astronomy 
It was announced this morning (September 25) by NASA that they are planning a major announcement of a discovery on the planet Mars. And while no one outside of the research group knows exactly what it will be, that has no stopped rampant speculation. Not being one to avoid a good bit of science speculating, here is my prediction for what the announcement will be.

The most obvious and debated would be some sign of life. Not little green men walking around and building things of course, but rath...
Continue reading ...
 

The Information Paradox

Posted by on Wednesday, August 26, 2015, In : Astronomy 
One of the trending topics on various social media websites today has been the claim by Stephen Hawking that he has solved the information paradox. (To be fair to him, I believe he has just proposed a possible solution, and the media has exaggerated his claims for dramatic effect). And while what he has proposed has been suggested in other forms in the past, and other experts in the field disagree with the validity of his idea, it is still and interesting argument and one well worth exploring...
Continue reading ...
 

The Perseids

Posted by on Thursday, August 13, 2015, In : Astronomy 
A reminder to those of you interested in astronomy and astrophotography that for the next two days the annual Perseid meteor shower will be at its peak. And this year should be especially spectacular as there is not going to be a moon to ruin the darkness, and in this part of the world the skies are supposed to be cloud free.

The Perseids are an annual meteor shower, formed by the debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years this comet passes through our solar system, and leaves b...

Continue reading ...
 

Another Earth...

Posted by on Thursday, July 23, 2015, In : Astronomy 
The team behind NASA's Kepler space telescope has just announced the discovery of another very interesting new exoplanet. The newly named Kepler-452b would appear to be a planet slightly larger than our own Earth, that is orbiting a Sun-like star at just the right distance to be in the “habitable zone”. They are claiming that this new planet is the most Earth-like that has yet been discovered in the twenty years of exoplanet hunting.

In addition, the team also announced several other pla...
Continue reading ...
 

New Horizon's Final Approach

Posted by on Monday, July 13, 2015, In : Astronomy 
This Tuesday will mark a historic event in planetary exploration, as after nine years and three billion miles of travel the New Horizon probe becomes the first man-made object to do a close fly-by of the planet Pluto. (And yes, I still consider it a planet!)

It should be exciting to see what images and data it returns to Earth on the day. However even now as it makes it approach it is sending back a lot of fascinating information. The first images of the surface have already been mapped in Goo...
Continue reading ...
 

Philae's Alive!

Posted by on Sunday, June 14, 2015, In : Astronomy 
There is some great news from the Rosetta mission this morning, as the Philae lander which was not entirely successful in landing on its cometary target last has today come back online and is broadcasting data back to Earth.

Some of you will remember the roller-coaster ride of news from the Rosetta mission back in November 2014. The Philae lander successfully deployed after spending the better part of a decade flying out to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The plan was for it to descend to the...
Continue reading ...
 

Happy Anniversary Hubble!

Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015, In : Astronomy 
Happy Anniversary to the Hubble Space Telescope! 

It was 25 years ago today that it was launched from the Discovery shuttle, and placed in orbit to start studying the Universe. And while it did need a proverbial pair of glasses shortly after launch, in those twenty five years it has done an amazing job of sending back photos and data of all aspects of the cosmos.

We have seen everything from detailed images of our neighbouring planets, to distant galaxies many millions of lightyears away, to st...
Continue reading ...
 

The AMS Excess

Posted by on Thursday, April 16, 2015, In : Astronomy 
There is another interesting result from the astrophysics community today, this time from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment, which is located on the International Space Station.

One of its tasks in recent years has been to measure protons, anti-protons, and helium nuclei that are present in high energy cosmic rays, and to record where they are coming from and how much energy they carry. Our best models of the Universe at present predict that these cosmic rays can be generated from a l...
Continue reading ...
 

Organic Chemical Clouds

Posted by on Friday, April 10, 2015, In : Astronomy 
Today the ALMA telescope array in Chile has made an announcement that has caught the imagination of astronomers, astrobiologists, and sci-fi dreamers around the world. By analyzing the light spectrum from MWC480, a young star roughly 455 lightyears away from us, they have determined that it is surrounded by a chemical cloud that contains several complex organic compounds.

Of course organic compounds is still a long way from life, but it is a necessary precursor. This star is similar to what we...
Continue reading ...
 

Inflationary Dust

Posted by on Friday, March 27, 2015, In : Astronomy 
After nearly a year of debate, it seems that the much heralded experimental evidence of inflationary physics was actually nothing more than dust. It is a bit of a disappointment for cosmologists, and especially for those who work in the field of cosmic inflation, but as with all of science the facts and the evidence must always take precedence over popular theories.

One year ago I wrote about an interesting new result from the BICEP experiment (original article), in which measurements of the p...
Continue reading ...
 

Planet Ceres

Posted by on Saturday, February 21, 2015, In : Astronomy 
Well, technically it is dwarf planet Ceres....

And it has been in the news this morning because the NASA Dawn probe has just sent back some of the best photos yet taken of these little known planet. 



Although it was first discovered as far back as 1801, it was considered just a very big asteroid until 2006 when the astronomy community chose to create a new classification of "dwarf planet" to cover objects such as Ceres which are smaller than a planet, but too big to be an asteroid. This one obj...

Continue reading ...
 

HiDef Galaxy

Posted by on Thursday, January 22, 2015, In : Astronomy 
As most of you will have heard by now, NASA this month has released a stunning 1.5 Billion pixel photograph of our neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy. (For comparison, the average household camera can produce about 10 million pixels per photo, so you would need 150 photos stitched together perfectly to match this one.). This is the highest resolution, sharpest photo ever taken of the Andromeda.

It was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to show over 100 million separate stars....
Continue reading ...
 

Organic Mars

Posted by on Friday, December 19, 2014, In : Astronomy 
The team running the NASA Curiosity probe has made an amazing announcement this week, with the confirmation that the little rover has discovered organic compounds on the planet Mars. (Scientists thought they had found similar compounds two years ago, but at the time there was uncertainty whether the tests were correct)

And while this is still a long way from claiming there is life on Mars, it is worth noting that these compounds on Earth were required to form primordial life. Most likely they ...
Continue reading ...
 

The Geminids

Posted by on Sunday, December 14, 2014, In : Astronomy 
For those of you in areas with clear skies tonight, there is another celestial show happening. Sometime overnight the Geminid Meteor shower will reach its peak.

The Geminid were first observed in 1862, and are believed to have originated with debris cast off by the Palladian asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, making them one of only two major showers not caused by comets. If conditions are right, viewers can expect up to 150 meteors per hour. And because it is in the winter sky, it should be eas...
Continue reading ...
 

New Horizons

Posted by on Saturday, December 6, 2014, In : Astronomy 
It is another exciting day for the space sciences community. After almost nine years in transit, today the New Horizon probe will be sent the wake-up signal and will prepare for its mission to Pluto. Let us hope that it goes better than the last long distance space probe...

The New Horizon probe was launched in January 2006. Once it started on its journey to the outer solar system, its electronics systems were shut down to avoid wear and power usage and to avoid the need to monitor it constant...
Continue reading ...
 

Philae Updates

Posted by on Saturday, November 15, 2014, In : Astronomy 
The excitement and jubilation of the Rosetta team and the scientific community seems to have turned sour today. The Philae lander seems to be in serious trouble, and is not expected to live much longer.

Just a few days ago (aka Wednesday) there was celebration as the Philae lander left the Rosetta orbiter after a decade travelling together, and started its descent toward the surface of comet Chury 67P. It landed where it should have, and started preparing to collect data. The technicians said ...
Continue reading ...
 

The Philae Has Landed

Posted by on Wednesday, November 12, 2014, In : Astronomy 
After more than a decade of travel, and many tense moments for the scientists, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission has made history this morning by successfully landing the Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is the first time a man made object has been placed on a comet surface, and now it will begin to transmit data to Earth that could help to understand how comets helped to create our own world.

It was a difficult maneuver, as the Philae cannot really...
Continue reading ...
 

Hot Jupiters

Posted by on Friday, October 3, 2014, In : Astronomy 
I was asked recently by a reader to explain the hot Jupiter problem in astronomy, and while it is not my specialist subject I do believe that it is an interesting topic and as such I will explain it as best as I can.

For most of human history, philosophers and scientists have wondered whether there are other planets in the galaxy aside from our own solar system. Even the ancient cultures throughout the world knew about the inner planets like Venus and Mars, and the gas giants like Saturn and J...
Continue reading ...
 

Gravity Waves and the Big Bang - Update

Posted by on Thursday, September 25, 2014, In : Astronomy 
As some readers may recall, back in March I wrote about the excitement in the physics community regarding new results that were published on the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. (see the original article here). By analyzing how the photons that were created in the early Universe were aligned, it appeared that the existence of the inflaton and inflationary theory had been proven after three decades. The new data also promised to have an impact on quantum gravity models, as some...
Continue reading ...
 

Third Supermoon

Posted by on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, In : Astronomy 
Tonight was the third and final supermoon of the summer. There isn't much more to say about it, but I finally got a decent photo with my 1000mm lens (regrettably my 2000mm lens malfunctioned in the field) so I thought I would add it here. This is as shot, with no post-processing.



Continue reading ...
 

The Perseids Peak

Posted by on Friday, August 8, 2014, In : Astronomy 
A reminder to those of you interested in astronomy and astrophotography that over the next few days we will be seeing the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The actual peak is expected to be on Tuesday, but they are still impressive in the days leading up to it. Unfortunately this week is also the supermoon, which will cause extra light pollution of the sky but hopefully won't completely obscure the meteor shower.

I am fortunate this year to be spending the week at a private dark site f...
Continue reading ...
 

Rosetta Rendezvous

Posted by on Tuesday, August 5, 2014, In : Astronomy 
For those who have not heard the news already, or who have forgotten, today is the day when the Rosette probe will make contact with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a ten year journey, and begin collecting data and transmitting it back to Earth.

Rosetta was built by the European Space Agency, and launched back in 2004 aboard the Ariane 5 rocket as part of the ESA Horizon program. It is composed of both an orbiter and a lander, with a combined total of 21 sensors and probes which will be ...
Continue reading ...
 

Extreme Exoplanets

Posted by on Sunday, May 25, 2014, In : Astronomy 
A few weeks ago I wrote about the interesting discoveries by the Kepler probe and by ground based telescopes of planets outside of our own solar system that seem to be similar to the Earth. They are interesting places to explore, as they could quite possibly support life similar to the diversity found on our own world.

Now a team of astronomers from the University of Montreal have announced a truly extreme exoplanet at the other end of the spectrum. They have just announced the discovery of a ...

Continue reading ...
 

Amateur Astrophotography Filters

Posted by on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, In : Astronomy 
Let me begin by stating that this article will be quite different from the usual content. Instead of reporting on some major news item, or some interesting piece of mathematics, or explaining some theory from modern physics, today's entry is the result of a simple experiment that I performed last night, which has very little importance but may help to answer a question that appears to be unanswered on the internet. 

As I have written in the past, I like to indulge in some very simple astrophot...
Continue reading ...
 

Cassini & Enceladus

Posted by on Friday, April 4, 2014, In : Astronomy 
The team behind the Cassini mission have made another fascinating discovery, and announced it today. They seem to have discovered a large lake of warm water on the surface of the moon Enceladus.

Enceladus is one of the moons of Saturn, and is actually relatively small being only the sixth largest of the moons. It was first discovered by Herschel in 1789, but due to its size and distance it was not well studied until the 1980s. Then the two Voyager probes passed close enough to photograph and e...
Continue reading ...
 

Gravity Waves and the Big Bang

Posted by on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, In : Astronomy 
The physics community is buzzing with exciting news from a team of Harvard scientists today. They are claiming to have detected gravitational waves produced by the inflationary period that occurred in the first second of the Universe's existence. 

Specifically they claim to have detected B-mode polarization of photons caused by inflationary gravitation waves resulting from the Big Bang.

Over the past century, there has been growing evidence that the Universe began in a sudden 'explosion' known ...
Continue reading ...
 

Searching for Life

Posted by on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, In : Astronomy 
An interesting proposal has been made in the last few days for a method of detecting life on exoplanets. It isn't yet a definitive test, which would be the holy grail of astrobiology, but it is an interesting new approach.

As I have written in past articles, over the past two decades scientists have managed to discover approximately 2000 planets outside of our own solar system, and many of these are believed to have the correct size and orbital radius to be habitable for life. Unfortunately be...
Continue reading ...
 

A Horde of New Planets

Posted by on Thursday, February 27, 2014, In : Astronomy 
In an amazing announcement today, NASA's Kepler mission has now more than tripled the number of exoplanets they have discovered, and nearly doubled the total number of known planets. Twenty years ago, no planets were known to exist outside of our own solar system, while this latest result brings the total up past 1700 exoplanets, with over 900 coming from this one space telescope (A complete list of the Kepler planets can be viewed here).

As most people know by now, the first such planets were...
Continue reading ...
 

Visible Supernove

Posted by on Wednesday, February 19, 2014, In : Astronomy 
A quick reminder to all of my readers that these are the last few days to observe supernova SN2014J, the closest supernova of this type in over a century. As I wrote when it was first discovered, this event is rare in that it should be visible to amateur astronomers as well as the big observatories. (It is actually so bright that many of the automated supernovae searches missed it, because they are programmed to search for faint signals)

The supernova is located in M82, and although it is a ma...
Continue reading ...
 

Supernova in the Neighbourhood

Posted by on Thursday, January 23, 2014, In : Astronomy 
More amazing news from the astronomy community this morning - a new supernova (dubbed PSN J09554214+6940260) has just been discovered. Normally this would be a non-issue, since they are discovered constantly at big observatories, however this one is in the M82 galaxy which is in our cosmic neighbourhood at a mere 12 million light years from Earth. That means that this supernova should be visible to backyard astronomers using binoculars, and will allow the professional scientists to gather hug...
Continue reading ...
 

Rosetta is Awake!

Posted by on Monday, January 20, 2014, In : Astronomy 
There is great news from the European Space Agency for the astronomy/astrophysics community this morning as their Rosetta space probe has successfully awoken from its long hibernation and is ready to do some science!

The goal of the Rosetta mission is to be the first man-made device to orbit a comet - in this case Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If everything goes as planned, the orbiter will then deploy a lander that will park itself on the comet's nucleus, and ride it as it travels into the...
Continue reading ...
 

The Geminids

Posted by on Saturday, December 14, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Just a quick reminder that tonight is the peak of the annual Geminids meteor showers, arguably the best meteor shower viewing of the year. In most areas it will be visible around 1am - 2am, although they should be visible all through the night. As with all astronomical events, it is best to get as far away from the city lights as possible, and to stay in darkness for as long as possible to allow your eyes to reach maximum sensitivity. Unfortunately, I won't be able to travel this year (and th...
Continue reading ...
 

Comet ISON

Posted by on Saturday, November 23, 2013, In : Astronomy 
A quick reminder that this weekend should be decent viewing of comet ISON. It will appear just before dawn, and can be seen between the planets Saturn and Mercury. Later next week it will pass the Sun, and if it survives that encounter should be viewable again next week as begins its journey out again.

For those who are not aware, Comet ISON (also known as Comet Nevski–Novichonok) is a comet discovered in September 2012 which will graze the Sun sometime in the next week (predicted to be at...
Continue reading ...
 

A Distant World

Posted by on Thursday, October 31, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Just in time for Halloween, a team of astronomers has announced the discovery of a planet very similar to Earth, but much hotter. New studies of an Earth-sized planet circling the sun-like star Kepler-78 have shown that it has quantities of iron and rock comparable to those in Earth, and it is the first world of this size for which astrophysicists are able to calculate both its density and diameter. (Kepler-78 is located about 400 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.)

Unfortunately th...

Continue reading ...
 

The End of Planck

Posted by on Thursday, October 31, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Today is a bit of sad day for the astrophysics community. The European Space Agency's space telescope, named Planck, was finally shut down after a little more than four years of collecting data.

The goal of Planck when it was launched back in 2009 was to provide higher quality data on the Cosmic Microwave Background. When the Universe was a mere 380,000 years old, the atoms that would form all matter cooled down to the point where they were no longer absorbing and emitting large numbers of pho...
Continue reading ...
 

The End of Deep Impact

Posted by on Tuesday, September 24, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Last week NASA reported with pride that Voyageur 1 was still going strong after more than thirty years in space, and became the first man made object to leave the solar system. This week comes less joyful news that the Deep Impact probe has been formally declared to be dead.

Deep Impact was launched on a Delta II rocket on January 12, 2005 with the goal of performing several fly-bys of nearby comets. The first target was Comet Tempel 1, which was extensively photographed in July 2005, before t...


Continue reading ...
 

Voyager Has Left the Solar System

Posted by on Monday, September 16, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Some readers may remember back in July that some scientists at NASA believed that the Voyager 1 probe had left the solar system, but there was still some debate about the issue. Now, just over two months later, there is more evidence that it not only is beyond the edge of our solar system, but that it may have left as early as August 2012. (The official news release can be found here.)

Unfortunately there is no clear delineation of the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space. ...
Continue reading ...
 

The Perseids

Posted by on Sunday, August 11, 2013, In : Astronomy 
This weekend skywatchers in areas with clear weather and minimal light pollution will have the opportunity to watch the Perseid meteor showers again. I am lucky this year to be spending some time at a remote private dark site which has unobstructed views of most of the sky, and absolutely no light pollution. Now I just need to hope for no cloud cover...

The Perseid meteor showers happen quite regularly every August. They are caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle which passed by the Earth lo...

Continue reading ...
 

Kerberos and Styx

Posted by on Monday, July 8, 2013, In : Astronomy 
Frequent readers of my blogs may recall back in February I wrote about a contest to name the two newly discovered moons of the planet Pluto (I don't care what the IAU says, Pluto deserves to be a planet). The results are in, but not without a measure of controversy.

The two moons have been named Kerberos and Styx. As the planet furthest from the Sun, Pluto was named for the Roman god of the underworld. The first three moons that were discovered were named Charon (the boatman who ferried the sp...
Continue reading ...
 
 

About Me


Dr. Chris Bird I am a theoretical physicist & mathematician, with training in electronics, programming, robotics, and a number of other related fields.

   


Make a free website with Yola