on Cassini’s Final Year

On September 15, 2017, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere and be destroyed. It will be a sad day for science, but it’s one that we’ve known would be coming for a long time, and it’s decidedly not an accident.

on the Proxima Centauri planet

According to ESO’s latest press release, there is indeed a small slightly-larger-than-Earth-mass planet (1.3 earth masses) in orbit of the closest star to the solar system, Proxima Centauri. It’s even close enough to the star that liquid water could exist on the surface. That’s mighty close indeed – the year is only 11 days long!…

on the Proposed Planet orbiting Proxima

Recent news has announced with breathtaking excitement that astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri!  Or, rather, the information has leaked, and hasn’t yet been officially released, and lots of disgruntled scientists (like me) are wishing things had gone a bit differently. Why? Well, it’s common these days for research to get around (and…

on Juno and Orbital Motion

The Juno spacecraft has arrived at Jupiter, settling into orbit on July 4th after a trip of just under four years. Juno’s arrival was a flurry of enormous excitement. It’s the first time we’ve actually visited Jupiter since New Horizons blasted past it in 2007 (after a trip of only one year, but then again, New Horizons…

on the supposed Warp Drive

When people find out I’m an astronomer, one of the first questions I’m usually asked is if I want to be an astronaut. I always say no, because human spaceflight has been stuck in Low Earth Orbit since before I was born. I don’t want that; I want to go to distant worlds hundreds of…

on the objects orbiting KIC 8462852 and the things they might be (part 4)

KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s Star), the “most mysterious star in the Galaxy” is just becoming visible in the dawn sky after spending October-early May behind the Sun, and astronomical observations are starting up again as it becomes available to telescopes. With them comes a new opportunity to get involved in the study of this fascinating object.


TRAPPIST-1 (also known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285, which handily contains its location on the sky) is about 12 parsecs away, or 39.5 light years. That means it’s one of the closest 500 stars to the Sun, and we now know it has THREE planets. And if that’s not enough, the planets are all in the habitable…

on Gaia

Our knowledge of where things are in space is going to be changed forever. Over the summer, the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is going to release its first data, and with it, distances to two million stars. Eventually, once the full mission is complete, there will be distances to somewhere between one and three BILLION stars. This is…

on the Secrets of Pluto

At this point, the New Horizons space probe has uploaded about half the data it took back in July 2015*. Given a few months to mull over the images and other data coming back, planetary scientists have found out a lot about Pluto. And it is WEIRD.

on the Status of JWST

The James Webb Space Telescope isn’t actually complete yet, but its mirror is now together. As has been stressed repeatedly in places like Twitter, this sight isn’t an unfamiliar one, but this time it’s not a model or a computer animation… it’s the real thing. And that means the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is…

on Second-Wave Planets

By “second-wave planets” I mean a planet forming long after the protoplanetary phase of the star system (it’s not the technical term, and I’m not even entirely sure there IS one). Can that happen? It’s entirely possible, and astronomers may have now seen evidence of that.

on the Search for Planet Nine (Part 2)

A little over a month ago, Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown announced new calculations that suggest there IS a ninth planet in the outer solar system. The planet has to be very distant and can’t be very big or hot, otherwise we would have seen it already. Of course, to prove it’s more than just a mathematical curiosity, you need to find it. Now other astronomers are starting to weigh in.