Category Archives: Astronomy

The End of Cassini: Crashing Into Saturn

On September 15, the Cassini spacecraft will come to an end. It’s going to crash into Saturn after orbiting it for more than 13 years. That’s a long time.

Cassini has brought us an incredible amount of information. Some of it has been extremely exciting. Lakes on Titan, liquid water ocean on Enceladus, the spongy-looking surface of Hyperion, and the split personality of Iapetus. And then there are the rings and the atmosphere of Saturn. I talk all about that and why Cassini is crashing into Saturn in my most recent science video.

What are some of your best memories of the Cassini mission? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Did You See the Eclipse? I Did!

This is the second solar eclipse I’ve seen in six years. The last one was in Japan, and it was a total eclipse. This time, we had a partial eclipse here in Edmonton. I made a solar eclipse viewer with a cereal box, and it performed wonderfully. Curious to see the results? Well, check it out!

The things that I observed with the viewer that I found interesting were:

  • I could see clouds when they passed over the sun.
  • While the image was sharp, the camera found it to be difficult to focus on it, mainly because of the contrast between the dark box and bright light of the eclipse.

Outside the box, when it was at maximum eclipse, I noticed the following:

  • It got darker. It was still sunny, but it was a very odd sunny. It was like we had a 70% less bright sun. Things that I normally would have squinted at, like the white garage door, was no longer very bright.
  • It became cooler. It was a significant drop in temperature, and I wanted to wear a jacket. It was a 25 C day. That’s warm. But with 70% of the sun covered, the heat was less, and it felt cool.

I would have loved to have experienced the total eclipse. When I was in Japan, it was cloudy. I didn’t notice much of a cooling and while it did become significantly darker, it was still cloudy, and it wasn’t as impressive. I could still see the eclipse through the clouds, though. And yes, I did look at it without protecting my eyes with glasses. I couldn’t see it with the glasses, actually! The clouds were just the right thickness to be able to see the eclipse. But don’t worry, I only glanced at it quickly. And then when there was a break in the clouds, I used the glasses and took pictures through them.

Did you see the eclipse? Let me know!

How to Make a Solar Eclipse Viewer

Most of you are from North America, and I’m sure you know about the solar eclipse next Monday, right? The path of totality will cross the United States, but all of North America will get to see it to varying degrees of partiality. For me, it’ll be around 75% partial.

Do you have your solar eclipse glasses? They’re hard to find now. If you don’t have some, don’t worry! You can still observe the eclipse! Actually, I made one today with my daughter. Here it is:

An easy to make solar eclipse viewer made with a cereal box.

That’s right, it’s a cereal box. Curious how to make it? It’s actually very easy. I made a video showing how I made it, so if you want to try this out, then definitely watch the video!

Are you going to make it? Any kind of cereal box will do. You can use pretty much any kind of box, actually. Just make sure no light is getting in except through the pinhole. Let me know if you’re going to make it!

E Is for Europa

Even though the A to Z Challenge is over, and I took a huge break, I’m going to finish it. A lot has happened over the last couple months, but it’s back! Today is the letter E, and I’m talking about Jupiter’s moon Europa! Did you learn anything new?

  1. Europa is the fourth largest natural satellite of Jupiter.
  2. It was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, along with the other three Galilean satellites.
  3. The surface of Europa is the smoothest surface of any world in the Solar System, consisting of water ice.
  4. Europa orbits Jupiter in just 3.55 days, with one side always facing Jupiter, as it’s tidally locked.
  5. Beneath the ice crust is an estimated 100 km deep ocean of salt water. But it isn’t clear if the ice is thick or thin. However, the amount of water on Europa is about two to three times the volume of Earth’s oceans.
  6. Europa has a weak magnetic field, best explained by Europa’s salt water ocean.
  7. Tidal heating from the interactions of Europa with Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites warms the interior of the moon, possibly resulting in hydrothermal vents at the floor of the ocean. This has led scientists to suggest that life may exist in Europa’s ocean.
  8. Europa most likely has an iron core and a rocky mantle.
  9. Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope provide further evidence of subsurface oceans, as plumes of water have been seen erupting to 200 km above the surface.
  10. Europa has an oxygen atmosphere. But it’s very thin, providing a surface pressure of only 0.1 micropascals.

Let me know what you learned in the comments section below!

A Is for Alpha Centauri

Here it is! It’s the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge! Two years ago, I participated in it, and now I’m doing it again. This time, I have a science theme, and I am featuring videos.

For the first topic, we have Alpha Centauri. Check out the video below. After the video, the facts are available for you to read.

  1. It’s a triple star system 4.37 ly from the sun.
  2. Alpha Centauri A is also known as Rigil Kentaurus, while Alpha Centauri C is known as Proxima Centauri. B has no other name.
  3. Alpha Centauri A is a G2 yellow dwarf star similar to the sun, although 10% brighter and 23% larger.
  4. Alpha Centauri B is a K1 orange dwarf star 90% the mass and 14% smaller radius than the sun.
  5. Proxima Centauri is an M6 class red dwarf star with 0.123 solar masses.
  6. Proxima Centauri orbits the AB pair at a massive distance of 15,000 AU or 0.24 light years, though it’s not completely certain it is a member of the system.
  7. Discovered in 2012, Alpha Centauri Bb was an extrasolar planet that was found in 2015 to be an artefact of data analysis. It doesn’t exist.
  8. In 2016, Proxima Centauri b was announced. It’s an extrasolar planet a bit larger than the earth, but is in the star’s habitable zone. It’s likely to be tidally locked, making life difficult to take hold. It’s also likely to be one of the easiest extrasolar planets to study in the near future because of it’s proximity.
  9. The Alpha Centauri system is estimated to be between 4.5 and 7 billion years old, around the same age of our sun or older.
  10. Due to Proxima Centauri being a flare star, life may never have a chance to become established on b because the flares may strip the planet of its atmosphere.

Coming on Monday is the letter B, which will have a more biological topic. Comments are always welcome!

TRAPPIST-1: A Solar System of Earth-Sized Planets

The announcement that NASA hinted about being a major discovery related to planets orbiting another star turned out to actually be pretty major. In many cases, we’ve seen announcements of huge planets, single Earth-sized planets, or a super-Earth in the habitable zone around a star. This time, it’s even more significant.

TRAPPIST-1 is a very cool and small red dwarf star 39 light years away. Not only does it have one Earth-sized planet, but it has seven. And it’s not just one of them in the habitable zone, it’s three. How’s that for amazing?

Two were originally discovered by The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile, then confirmed by NASA’s Spitzer Telescope. But Spitzer discovered a further five planets. When the James Webb Space Telescope is in operation, it will be used to study these planets even further. We may be able to discover the atmospheric composition, determining if they’re potentially habitable.

As these are planets orbiting a red dwarf, they are close to the star, with the outer planet having an orbital period of only 20 days. This means that they’re likely to be tidally locked, with one side of each planet facing the star. They don’t have enough information about the outer planet to determine its exact size, but scientists guess that it may be icy.

NASA released this video on the planets:

What do you think of this news? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

Planetarium Software

I found some really good free planetarium software. It’s called Stellarium. Today, I was able to use this software, but I’m going to download it and use it at home.

You see, I’m going to be using this software at work extensively. This should give you an idea about what I’m going to be doing. When I said I’ll be using my university degree in my job, I meant it. I’ll be educating people on astronomy and physics. But that’s not all. There’s something else I’m not telling you, and I think that will remain a secret for now. Sorry!

What I’ve been able to do with this software is look at stars, nebulae, galaxies, planets, and the Moon. I’ve looked at the movement of Jupiter’s moons over time, watched the Moon’s phases, and examine the night sky around 100,000 years in the past and future. There’s a lot more I can do, and I’ll explore it as much as I can before I start using it at work.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m finally using my university degree in a job! Do you use your degree in your job?