Category Archives: Astronomy News

Long Range Sensors Detect…

  1. Jupiter’s moons
  2. Rosetta Finds Clues to Earth’s “Xenon Paradox”
  3. Mini-Flares Might Threaten Life Around Red Dwarf Stars
  4. The Curious Case of Tabby’s Star

Jupiter’s moons: Two new moons have been discovered and 5 lost ones found again by researchers looking for Planet X.   READ MORE

Rosetta Finds Clues to Earth’s “Xenon Paradox” :  Xenon measured by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has shed light on a long-standing mystery about the role comets played in Earth’s formation. READ MORE

Comet 67P

The alien surface of Comet 67P seen from Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera on May 17th from 9 kilometers away.
ESA/Rosetta/OSIRIS Team









Mini-Flares Might Threaten Life Around Red Dwarf Stars: The interesting aspect of this article is that fan writers with astronomical knowledge have long considered Star Trek’s Vulcan to be a planet orbiting a red dwarf. This would explain the 3rd eyelid to protect against sudden blinding light.  READ MORE

Mini-Flares Might Threaten Life Around Red Dwarf Stars

The Curious Case of Tabby’s Star:  Three new ideas have emerged to explain Tabby’s Star, officially known as KIC 8462852, but the jury’s still out on what’s really causing the weird behavior of our galaxy’s most mysterious star.

Comet swarm around Tabby's Star

This artist’s concept shows a swarm of comets passing before a star.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

The star KIC 8462852, also called Tabby’s Star, has been the subject of intense debate since May’s announcement that this unusual F-type star, located in the constellation of Cygnus, was dimming once again.

Observations at Fairborn Observatory detected a 2% drop in brightness between May 19th and 21st, and a host of ground- and space-based telescopes jumped in on the action.

Ever since the first public report of the mysterious star in 2015, numerous theories have been proposed to explain its bizarre behavior — sometimes the star’s brightness dims by a couple percent, like last May, but sometimes it dips by as much as 20%, and for days to weeks at a time. Not to mention the long-term fade that appears to be plaguing the star. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that many proposed explanations have failed in their attempts to explain what’s going on.   READ MORE

Long Range Sensors Detect…

  • Cassini–Fabulous pictures of Saturn, rings, and moons.
  • Cassini’s final view of Earth from Saturn
  • Lego’s Saturn 5 kit
  • The largest SETI initiative ever
  • How does sound travel on Mars?
  • 27 best Hubble images on its 27th anniversary

Cassini–Fabulous pictures of Saturn, rings, and moons.

Cassini Survives First “Grand Finale” Dive

Cassini’s view of Earth from Saturn

Click on the image to see more resolution–Earth is a dot near centre, bottom.

And what Earth looks like from other planets

Lego’s Saturn 5 kit

The largest SETI initiative ever–initial-results

How does sound travel on Mars?

27 best Hubble images on its 27th anniversary


Space Weather News for May 2, 2017

METEORS FROM HALLEY’S COMET: A radar in Canada has detected radio echoes coming from the constellation Aquarius. This is a sign that the annual eta Aquarid meteor shower is underway. In the days ahead ahead our planet will cross a network of debris streams from Halley’s Comet, producing a drizzle of eta Aquarids numbering 10 to 30 meteors per hour in the northern hemisphere and perhaps twice that number in the southern hemisphere. Usually, the eta Aquarid shower peaks around May 6th. This year, there might be an additional enhancement on May 4th or 5th.  Check today’s edition of for more information and observing tips.

Long Range Sensors Detect…

  • Possible aurora display this weekend
  • Citizen scientists are closing in on Planet Nine
  • Moon of Saturn has hydrogen and water

Possible aurora display this weekend: A magnetic filament on the sun exploded on April 9th, hurling a gaseous coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. The bulk of the CME will miss Earth; nevertheless a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field is possible this weekend. The impact, if it occurs, could cause magnetic disturbances and auroras around our planet’s poles. Visit today’s edition of to view a movie of the instigating explosion and for updates as the CME approaches.
Citizen scientists are closing in on Planet Nine : The Australian team are working in tandem with the public to search for what could possibly be one of the biggest discoveries of the century: a new, very massive planet. In 2016, Caltech astronomer Mike Brown and theoretical astrophysicist Konstantin Batygin announced that they’d found evidence of a massive planet orbiting far off in the annex of the solar system with a predicted orbit of 20,000 years.  Its presence is inferred from the orbit of several Kuiper Belt Objects which have dramatic orbits.  READ MORE

Moon of Saturn has hydrogen and water:  In what is likely to be its final big discovery before it plunges into the gas giant planet Saturn later this year, the NASA spacecraft Cassini has discovered what could be a habitable ocean environment on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s dozens of moons.  The discovery, reported in the journal Science and announced by NASA Thursday, shows there is hydrogen in the massive plumes of gases and water that explode like geysers from Enceladus’s south pole, out of geological features known as “tiger stripes.”   READ MORE from Montreal Gazette And from  Astronomy Magazine:  Researchers published a paper last year suggesting that hydrothermal vents were the source of life on Earth, where chemical reactions fed these early microbes. If that’s the case on Enceladus, the ocean may have microbial life at the very least.  “The hydrogen could be a potential source of chemical energy for any microbes living in Enceladus’ ocean,” Spilker says.
Of course, it may be years or even decades until we know for sure — in September, NASA will intentionally crash Cassini into Saturn to make sure it doesn’t crash land into Titan or Enceladus and accidentally contaminate either potentially habitable moon with Earth bacteria.   Read More from Astronomy Magazine

Long Range Sensors Detect…

  • Mars Lost Atmosphere to Space
  • Rosetta Sees Changing Face of Comet
  • Observing the planets Mars, Jupiter, Saturn this week

NASA’s MAVEN mission has confirmed that the solar wind stripped the Red Planet of its atmosphere. on the ratio of various elements’ isotopes planetary scientists suspect that the Red Planet has lost anywhere from 25% to 90% of its atmosphere over the last 4-ish billion years, with the estimates favoring at least 50%. READ THE ARTICLE

Researchers have used data from the Rosetta mission to link outbursts on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with dramatic surface changes.  Changes seen on the comet’s surface provide researchers with the before and after “smoking gun” of seeing the possible triggering mechanism for a cometary outburst in action. READ THE ARTICLE


Jupiter (magnitude –2.5, in Virgo) comes to opposition on April 7th. It rises around sunset, shines low in the east-southeast after nightfall, high in the southeast by 11 p.m., and highest due south around 1 a.m. daylight saving time. Spica hangs 7° below it. In a telescope Jupiter is 44 arcseconds across its equator.

Mars and Mercury in the twilight.

Saturn over Sagittarius at dawn, early April 2017

Saturn (magnitude +0.4, in Sagittarius upper right of the Teapot) rises in the early morning hours and glows in the south by early dawn. Redder Antares (magnitude +1.0) twinkles 19° to Saturn’s right. Saturn doesn’t reach opposition until June 14th.

The blue 10° scale is about the width of your fist at arm’s length.

Will potatoes grow on Mars?

Lab growing space potato

In a lab in the Peruvian capital of Lima, a simulator mimicking the harsh conditions found on Mars now contains a hint of life: a nascent potato plant.

After experimenting in the Andean nation’s dry, desert soil, scientists have successfully grown a potato in frigid, high carbon-dioxide surroundings.

Though still in early stages, investigators at the International Potato Centre believe the initial results are a promising indicator that potatoes might one day be harvested under conditions as hostile as those on Mars.

The findings could benefit not only future Mars exploration, but also arid regions already feeling the impact of climate change.

“It’s not only about bringing potatoes to Mars, but also finding a potato that can resist non-cultivable areas on Earth,” said Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist with Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology who is working with NASA on the project.

The experiment began in 2016 — a year after the Hollywood film The Martian showed a stranded astronaut surviving by figuring out how to grow potatoes on the red planet.

Peruvian scientists built a simulator akin to a Marsin-a-box: Frosty below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide concentrations, the air pressure found at 6,000 metres altitude and a system of lights imitating the Martian day and night.

Though thousands of miles away from colleagues at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California providing designs and advice, Peru was in many ways an apt location to experiment with growing potatoes on Mars.

The birthplace of the domesticated potato lies high in the Andes near Lake Titicaca, where it was first grown about 7,000 years ago. More than 4,000 varieties are grown in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where potatoes have sprouted even in cold, barren lands.

The Peruvian scientists didn’t have to go far to find high-salinity soil similar to that found on Mars, though with some of the organic material Mars lacks: Pampas de la Joya along the country’s southern coast receives less than a millimetre of rain a year, making its terrain somewhat comparable to the Red Planet’s parched ground.

International Potato Center researchers transported 700 kilos of the soil to Lima, planted 65 varieties and waited. In the end, just four sprouted from the soil.

In a second stage, scientists planted one of the most robust varieties in the even more extreme conditions of the simulator, with the soil — Mars has no organic soil — replaced by crushed rock and a nutrient solution.

Live-streaming cameras caught every tiny movement as a bud sprouted and grew several leaves while sensors provided round-the-clock monitoring of simulator conditions.

The winning potato: A variety called “Unique.”

“It’s a ‘super potato’ that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing,” Valdivia said.

Long Range Sensors Detect….

Two stars will merge in 2022 and explode into red fury  In 2022, there will be a spectacular sky show. Two stars will merge into one, pushing out excess gas into an explosion known as a red nova. At magnitude 2, it will be as bright as Polaris in the sky, and just behind Sirius and Vega in brightness. The collision in the constellation of Cygnus will be visible for up to six months.

Read More

Mars might once have had rings, and might have rings again in the far future.

Read More

Is it time to restore Pluto’s planetary status?  Redefining the world “planet” yet again could raise the number of planets in our solar system to over 100.

Read More

New study finds martian volcano’s last eruption  It was around the time the dinosaurs went extinct.

Read More

Long Range Sensors Detect:

  • Scientists Find Organics on Ceres
  • Three articles about Sol, our nearest star
  • NASA is enlisting the public to find Planet Nine
  • High school students identify an ultra-rare star
  • How Islamic scholarship birthed modern astronomy

Scientists Find Organics on Ceres: There are two reasons the result is interesting. One, Ceres also has tons of water ice, plus carbonates and salts. The addition of organic material makes the dwarf planet a promising environment for prebiotic chemistry. Two, the organics don’t seem to have been delivered by impacts — no clear cause-and-effect with particular craters, plus a hit probably would have distributed the stuff in diluted form along with other debris. Not to mention there’s other, clearly native material mixed in. Instead, the organics likely come from Ceres itself. READ MORE

Three articles about Sol, our nearest star: 

If the Sun goes spotless in decades to come, as some scientists are predicting it might, what does it mean for Earth? Scientists are studying the past to predict the future of space weather. READ MORE

Meteorites Date Demise of Solar Nebula: A study of ancient meteorites has refined the date for the dissolution of the solar nebula, the cloud of dust and gas that shrouded our Sun in its earliest days. READ MORE

How researchers use solar pressure to study our own star — and maybe reach interstellar space: The same pressure that could propel us to the stars may explain quirks in the Sun’s behaviour…. the Breakthrough Starshot initiative announced by billionaire Yuri Milner in 2016 aims to use giant lasers to launch swarms of tiny spacecraft on interstellar voyages at speeds of roughly 20 percent that of light to reach the nearest star system to the sun, Alpha Centauri, in approximately 20 years, give or take. READ MORE

NASA is enlisting the public to find Planet Nine: Although it’s proposed as a way to find Planet Nine, the Backyard Worlds program may also help find asteroids near Earth, faint dwarf planets in the outskirts of the solar system, and failed stars within a few dozen light years of us, all of which appear faint to the naked eye but will still give off heat in infrared. READ MORE

High school students identify an ultra-rare star: This newly-discovered variable is one of only seven of its kind known in our galaxy. READ MORE

How Islamic scholarship birthed modern astronomy: While Europe was in an intellectual coma, the Islamic empire which stretched from Moorish Spain, to Egypt and even China, was entering their “Golden Age”. READ MORE especially if Hidden Figures has interested you in the role of women scientists.

Many schools and mosques around this time were overseen and managed by Muslim women who themselves had been educated in subjects ranging from literature to algebra, a form of math also perfected by Islam. One of the most well known astronomical tools called an Astrolabe was created by the Greek thinker Hipparcus but was perfected by islamic scientists, particularly women.

Trade Zine: OSFS Statement

The Statement, club zine of the Ottawa Science Fiction Society, is available for your reading pleasure!

There is a great article by Ken Tapping about how warping space could make make interstellar travel possible. Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton BC.