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 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 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…

concerning the End of Science

Is this the end of Science? That is what one scientist connected with CERN was saying in a TED talk in December. Your knee-jerk reaction (and Bettridge’s Law of Headlines) says the answer should be a confused “no”. In reality, the headline is certainly overblown, but the problem being highlighted is a real one.

on Gravitational Waves

Light waves are a fundamental way we interact with and understand the universe. It’s what our eyes see, and it was the first thing we saw through a telescope. In fact, when it comes to astronomy, light waves (whether gamma rays, X-rays, UV, optical, infrared or radio) are basically the ONLY way we can detect…

on the objects orbiting KIC 8462852 and the things they might be (Part 3)

The mystery of KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s Star), the Kepler star with unusual structures apparently in orbit discovered by Yale’s Tabetha Boyajian, continues… I’ve covered it twice before, but practically every day a new paper appears on the astronomical preprint server examining one aspect of Tabby’s Star or another, all with the same intent: figure…

on the Saga of Planet Nine

  The story of the new ninth planet in the Solar System is quite possibly the most exciting stories to come out of solar system astronomy in quite a long time.  Largely because it suggests that the solar system is still a kind of wild west, full of the strange and the unknown, and we…

on eta Carina

eta Carina is one of the most impressive and noteworthy stars in the galaxy. Despite being thousands of light years away in the gigantic Carina star forming region, it’s bright enough to see from Earth (hence why it has a constellation-based Bayer name). But most importantly and interestingly, in 1843, it suddenly became the second-brightest…

on visible light from a Black Hole

Astronomers from Kyoto University in Japan have made an announcement that’s being reported as “Visible Light from a Black Hole Spotted by Telescope, a First” and “How to spot a black hole from your back garden: Researchers say astronomical phenomena CAN be seen using visible light”. But black holes are supposed to be black. They…

on Vertical Landing

One of the most iconic sci-fi images is the gleaming rocket landing vertically, at which point our intrepid heroes step out onto that brave new world and… well, probably get shot at by the natives. It’s in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, it’s in The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon; it’s in The…

on alpha Centauri

2015 (October 12, to be exact) marks the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of Proxima Centauri by the Scottish astronomer Robert Thorburn Ayton Innes, the director of the Union Observatory in Johannesburg, South Africa. Proxima was quickly recognized to be the smallest member of the alpha Centauri star system, and is now known to be…