White Dwarf Fools Astronomers!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 30, 2012 – 10:22 pm -

dn23032-1_300The white dwarf thought it was sending all the right signals. Embedded near a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the star was emitting short, bright X-ray flashes that made it look like a feeding black hole. But after a multi-agency stakeout, cosmic detectives have blown the dwarf’s cover.

Read the rest of my story of this this neat cosmic detective work and how astronomers finally caught this undercover White Dwarf at New Scientist magazine online


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Best Meteor Shower of 2012 this Week!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 11, 2012 – 9:24 pm -

Sky-watchers are in for an early holiday treat as mid-December marks the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, the most prolific and mysterious annual cosmic fireworks show.

The meteor shower has been growing in intensity in recent decades and should be better than usual this year because it falls during a nearly moonless week.

Dozens of shooting stars per hour should streak across the night sky on the night of December 13 and into the early hours of December 14, making the Geminids one of the strongest and most reliable celestial shows around!

And if this wasn’t enough NASA astronomers are predicting a surprise appearance of a new meteor shower – that may add an extra 20 to 30 meteors per hour on top of the Geminids.  Computer models are predicting that Earth will be slamming into a debris stream of short-period comet Wirtanen (disc.1948). Best time to look out for these new shooting stars is expected to be early evening on the 13th. Will it pan out? Only way to know is to look up and watch the sky show.

Read the rest of my Geminids story at National Geographic News

Skywatching Extra: If you are in Montreal area on Thursday (Dec.13) night then come join me for a meteor shower party at the Morgan Arboretum and hosted by RASC Montreal.  I will be giving a short lecture on meteor showers and then if skies are clear we will watch for shooting stars!  Details here.


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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 9, 2012 – 4:04 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news coming out this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.


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North Star Surprises!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 5, 2012 – 10:26 pm -

The North Star has been a guiding light for countless generations of navigators. But a new study reveals that its distance to Earth may have been grossly overestimated.

In fact, the North Star—also called Polaris—is 30 percent closer to our solar system than previously thought, at about 323 light-years away, according to an international team who studied the star’s light output.

Read more about the North Star at National Geographic


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Evidence of Past Mars Life? Not so much

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 3, 2012 – 4:49 pm -

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This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 4-cm-wide scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After nearly two weeks of the blogosphere and media in general wildly speculating as to what the NASA Mars rover announcement will be, the day finally arrived. This morning the lead NASA researchers involved in analyzing the soil samples scooped up by the rover’s robotic arm held a press conference revealing their findings.  Scientists explained that they had the rover’s suite of scientific instruments run through its first soil samples of the mission by heating the soil in a tiny on-board oven, and sniffing out the various trace gases released.

Most of the rumors surrounded the idea that complex organic compounds had been detected, but that is not the case.  What they did tentatively find are traces of perchlorate – an oxygen and chlorine based molecules that has also been found in the soil by the late Pheonix lander in the high north arctic region of the Red Planet a few years back. Further heating, NASA says, formed reactions with carbon, produced methane -based compounds.  This has left scientists stumped.  NASA is not sure where the carbon comes from – Earth contamination maybe? Further analysis will tell the story.

While many are disappointment that no proof of Martian life materialized, the mission team members are stoked because now they  know their science instruments are working like a charm. Only four months into a 2 year mission, the best is yet to come and I think lots of exciting results are in store in the coming months. But as one of the Mars scientists pointed out  – patience is part of the process.

“We’re doing science at the speed of science in a world that goes at the speed of Instagrams.” said Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech in Pasadena.

Read all the details and check out more photos released to today at the press conference on NASA website.


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Super-Heavyweight Black Hole Found

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 6:20 pm -

A monstrous black hole—17 billion times the mass of the Sun and possibly the largest ever detected—appears to be too big for its galactic home, leaving astronomers scratching their heads about its very existence.

The cosmic behemoth, at the heart of a distant galaxy, is estimated to be 4,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Read more about this giant predator and why it may change our understanding of galaxies at my National Geographic story.


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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 2, 2012 – 5:56 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news coming out this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.


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