Extra – Stephen Colbert Interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson   Leave a comment

This is a great video, strongly recommended:


Posted June 14, 2012 by brunoplim in Astronomy, solar system

Welcome to My Astronomy Blog   Leave a comment

Welcome to my astronomy blog.  A short introduction to start this off.

My name is Bruno Ferreira, also known as Dr. Plim, and among many other things I’m an Astrophysicist.  I obtained my PhD from the University of Florida in Gainesville in April of 2010.

I’m currently teaching online at the Rasmussen University and will be using this blog to post some of the astronomy/astrophysics-related news and insights that I find interesting for my students and for anyone else who stumbles upon it.

Some useful information: It is March 2012 and I am still updating this website.  You may notice that the blogs entries are from 2010 or so, this is simply so that I can keep the blog entries in some kind of order.  Blog entry number 1 is at the very bottom of the page and it is for Week 1 of the astronomy course.

If you find some really awesome information that you would like added here then please email me or send me a comment.
If you find some error/correction then please email me or send me a comment.

Live long and prosper.


Posted December 26, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

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Extra – Planets In Our Solar System   Leave a comment

Planets In Our Solar System

We scientists have theories for the formation of the Universe, the formation of galaxies, the formation of stars, the formation of solar systems and the formation of planets.  And yet, there is still so much that we really don’t know or understand.  Let’s look at some interesting results when studying our own planets.


Two decades ago we measured Venus’ rotation period to be approximately 243.015 Earth-days; recently, with the Venus Express Orbiter, the European Space Agency made accurate measurements of Venus’ rotation and realized that it is rotating 16 minutes slower!

Here is the LINK to the news release.

Posted December 15, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Extra – The Aurora Borealis   Leave a comment

Hello Students of the Universe,

Photo by Dick Hutchinson (http://www.ptialaska.net/~hutch/aurora.html)

Some of you have chosen to do your research projects on the Aurora Borealis.  Great, that is definitely one of my favorite topics.

(Video by Terje Sorgjerd)

Just recently there was a very good interview on NPR about this magnificent phenomenon.  Tom Ashbrook interviewed I strongly recommend that you listen to this podcast.  LINK

Guests on the show were:

“Justin Kasper, astrophysicist in the Solar and Stellar X-Ray Group in the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His latest project is leading the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas And Protons (SWEAP) investigation on the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft.

Howard Singer, chief scientist at NOAA’s Space Weather and Prediction Center.

Frank Koza, executive director of operations support at PJM Interconnection, which is a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of electricity in 13 states.

Chad Blakley, aurora borealis photographer, who runs the website Lights Over Lapland.”

– drplim

Week 10 – All Together Now   Leave a comment

You are reaching the end of this course in astronomy.  For many of you it has been the first course in astronomy you have ever taken, the first time you have looked into understanding how the stars live, how planets were born, how the universe came about.

Here is a little inspirational video which should appeal to you both as humans and as scientists of the cosmos.



Posted October 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Rasmussen College Week 9 – Extrasolar Planets And Life!   Leave a comment

Hello Students of the Universe,

One of the most important concepts to critically think about during this course is that of life.  What is considered “life”?  What is alive and what isn’t?  and where is life possible?

Kepler Discoveries

(The Kepler Space Telescope used to make transit-detections of possible planets.)

Recently we have had a slew of detections of nearby planets that may be Earth-like (LINK).  Not that it is necessary to have an Earth-like conditions in order to have life, but it may even host life that is similar to ours.  (LINK).
February 21st 2012 Update: A new detection of an exoplanet just 42 light years away from us!  AND, we have made measurements of its atmosphere!  Here is the LINK and here is an excerpt from the paper:
Our solar system contains three types of planets: rocky, terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune). Planets orbiting distant stars come in an even wider variety, including lava worlds and “hot Jupiters.”

Observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have added a new type of planet to the mix. By analyzing the previously discovered world GJ1214b, astronomer Zachory Berta (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues proved that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.“.

The Kepler team has put together an excellent video showing all the exoplanets (actually: exoplanet candidates) detected thus far:

Recent ESO Discoveries

These new detections of Earth-like planets are extremely important to help us more accurately evaluate how often Earth-like planets arise.  You see, until very recently we really only knew about our solar system and our Earth… ours was the only Earth-like planet out there.  And, it is completely impossible to make predictions or statistical evaluations based upon 1 single data point.  With one single data point we had to accept the full range of opinions from “There are no other planets like ours, ours is completely unique, the factors that went into the formation of our Earth were so improbable they cannot come together again.  And thus, extraterrestrial life is not possible.” to “There are millions of planets just like ours in our galaxy alone, so that life is so probable!”.
Which opinion was right?  Well, we still don’t know about the extrerrestrial life part but we can say that the search for Earth-like planets is off to a good start:  Here is what the European Southern Observatory recently announced: “Many Billions of Rocky Planets in the Habitable Zones around Red Dwarfs in the Milky Way“! (That exclamation mark is my addition).  For my students I STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU READ THE WHOLE NEWS ARTICLE.  This is a pretty breakthrough moment in science and you are living in it.

And What Is Life?

And on the topic of Life, here is a link to finding it in some unexpected places; reminding us to keep an open mind on what and where we consider life to be. (LINK)

The following link is to the Astrobiology Web, a great resource for studying life in extreme habitats. (LINK)

(artists’ concept of a planet orbiting two stars)

The search for life on other planets goes hand in hand with the search for other planets.
Here is a recent article with the discovery that planets may be able to “ping-pong” from one star to another: (LINK) (fun fact, I shared an office with one of the co-authors)!

– drplim

Rasmussen College Week 9 – Life on the Moon   Leave a comment

Courtesy of NASA, the moon seen from the International Space Station


The New Scientist’s online magazine has an interesting post entitled “Hints of life found on Saturn moon” which opens with the ambitious sentence:”Two potential signatures of life on Saturn’s moon Titan have been found by the Cassini spacecraft”.

The University of California at San Diego’s “Life in the Universe” course syllabus has a nice page specifically directed at this topic and focusing on the two moons: Europa (one of Jupiter’s 4 moons) and Titan.

Finally, I recommend you watch the video by Carolyn Porco entitled “Could a Saturn moon harbor life?”

– drplim

Posted September 3, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

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Rasmussen College Week 8 – Mapping Our Galaxy   Leave a comment

Hello Students of the Universe


Posted August 5, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Rasmussen College Week 8 / Are We Alone In The Universe   Leave a comment

Welcome to Week 8 of your Astronomy Course.

This week the topic is extraterrestrial (ET) life.

There is loads of information on the internet about this topic.  On the internet, in books, in the media… ET life has been a hot topic since humans found out that the Earth was one of many small planets floating in space.

Here are some of the links I find most interesting at the moment:

first link is to a very recent article that appeared in the BBC news.  It talks about how it may be wise for the famous SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project to change its focus and look for other signatures of intelligent life.
“Alien hunters should look for artificial intelligence” by Jason Palmer of the BBC

Then, of course, are two videos from TED:

The discussion this week is about silicon-based life forms.  The Course Materials make a pun comparing silicon-based life to the new silicon valley… this, unfortunately, has led to a misunderstanding in that silicon-based life would not be computers talking.
I recommend reading the following Wikipedia pages on Carbon-based Life and Hypothetical Types of Biochemistry.

Update (Feb 2012): Here is an interesting article about Russians coming close to drilling into a subglacial fresh-water lake: (LINK).  It is interesting and correlated to astronomy in that: “Montana State’s Priscu, for instance, has found evidence that microbes could live in the subglacial lake, deriving energy from minerals—”eating rocks,” as he told National Geographic News in 2007.”  Examples of where life may exist.  Life on other planets is seeming less and less improbable.


Rasmussen College Week 8 – Was There Life On Mars?   Leave a comment

Was There Life On Mars?

This news has been going around lately – Proof that there was life on Mars?

“If there was enough life to make layers, to make corals or some sort of microbial homes, and if it was buried on Mars, the same physics that took place on Earth could have happened there,” – Dr. Adrian J. Brown

Dr. Adrian J. Brown is just now getting his evidence though David Bowie suspected it for a long time now.

– drplim

Posted August 2, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

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Rasmussen College Week 7 – Black holes   Leave a comment

Black Holes

I recommend reading particularly what Steven Hawking has found.

In this TED talk Andrea Ghez talks about black holes and about looking for the giants – the supermassive black holes.

Update: Feb 9 2012

Illustration courtesy M. Weiss, CXC/NASA
In the following news from National Geographic, our very own black hole may be snacking on asteroids, and we may be observing that.

As always, let me know if you have questions!

– drplim

Rasmussen College Week 7 – The Origin Of The Universe   Leave a comment

This week we are looking at the origin of the Universe (or trying to).

Hello Students of the Universe!

When studying the Earth our observations are immediate, our thoughts are more grounded, out theories are more easily tested.  Now when speculating upon the origin of the Universe there is a lot of science that has been done, both observational and theoretical, but we are more in the realm of philosophy than western-science.

This week’s discussion is less than a few hours young and there is already a first post and that first post goes straight to the most sensitive topic: Science vs Creationism, or Big Bang vs God.

God, Evolution and the Big Bang is written by a physicist so it looks at these topics from a scientific point of view.

And here is the opinion of Pope John Paul II on the issue of evolution:

“Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.  It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.  The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”
I have not found the original reference for this quote but I do know that it is a translation from french.

And of course, the talks that I have listened to and that talk about these topics:


Rasmussen College Week 7 – The Death of All Stars   Leave a comment

Hello Students of the Universe


Posted July 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Rasmussen College Week 6 – Twinkle Twinkle Different Star   Leave a comment

Posted June 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Rasmussen College Week 5 – Who Killed Pluto?   Leave a comment

Who Killed Pluto?

This week we discuss whether Pluto should or should not retain its status as “Planet”.

I am very interested in your personal opinions but I am more interested in hearing your informed opinions; as such, please start doing research into questions such as WHY Pluto’s status changed, WHEN Pluto’s status changed and WHO were the people involved in this.

Here is a link to help you get started: LINK
It is to a very good interview/discussion on NPR, (Tom Ashbrook interviewing) with one of the scientists behind this occurrence.

“Mike Brown, professor of planetary astronomy at California Institute of Technology. His new book is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.He discovered Eris, the largest object found in the solar system in the past 150 years, which then resulted in Pluto’s demotion from planet status.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. He’s a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. His books include: “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet” and “Cosmic Horizons: Astronomy at the Cutting Edge.””

– drplim

Rasmussen College Week 4 – The Beginnings of Our Solar System   Leave a comment

Posted April 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Rasmussen College Week 3 – Telescopes Telescopes   Leave a comment

Hello Students,

Here is a short video going over the topics for week 3: Spectral Analysis and Research Project – Thesis and Outline.


Posted March 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

Week 2 – Gravity / Our Solar System / Research Project   Leave a comment

Welcome to the Second Week

This week we are looking at: what is gravity and how it depends on both mass and distance, the movement of the Earth and planets in the Solar System, and finally we are looking at Topic Selection for your Research Projects.

Solar System

One of the concepts I find most important when learning about the Solar System is the movement of the Earth.  It is well established that it is the Earth that is moving around the Sun, not the other way round (you all know this of course, ahum!).  It is well established that the stars are not moving around the Earth either… but every night we see the same illusion which keeps telling our brains that it is the Sun and the stars that are moving, NOT US!

Here are two videos that should be watched one after the other.  The first is simply a beautiful timelapse video of the night sky, the second video has changed the first so that the stars stay still and the Earth itself moves!

Research Project – Topic Selection

You will be doing a major written assignment in the form of a research project.
What I want you to show me is that you have gone to many (about 10) different sources of information, that you have read the information, understood it, and rewritten it in your own words in a way that makes it apply to your topic.
The main guidelines for this project are that it must be astronomy related and it must be a fact-vs-fiction piece.

Some examples of topics:
1 – The Zodiac – Can the position of the stars and planets influence us emotionally and physically? – Not Allowed, I consider this an extremely difficult topic for the time and level of this course.  It has been attempted several times and not once has the student managed to do a thorough evaluation of the facts and fictions involved.
2 – Was the Moon Landing a Hoax? – Not Allowed.  There are many ideas of how this could have been a hoax but it is not possible for a student to do a thorough investigative piece on this work.
3 – The Aurora Borealis – What are the facts about this phenomena and what are the myths? – Excellent Topic.  This topic is very interesting, it is straightforward, and it has rich literature in terms of fact and in terms of fiction.
4 – Does Life Exist on Another Planet? – Good Topic.  There is a lot of science fiction literature about life on other planets; you can look at some of that literature and compare it to some of the facts that we know about what conditions may be required for life to exist on another planet.  Note that I am not talking about human life on another planet, I am referring to life forms being able to exist on another planet.
5 – Is there water on the Moon?  – Good Topic.  The possibility that water exists on the Moon has been looked at in terms of science fiction as well as with present-day science missions.  Plenty of information to compare here.
6 – Your own Topic – EXCELLENT TOPICFind a topic that interests you, contact me about it and work on it with interest!


Posted February 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Astronomy, solar system, Uncategorized

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Week 1 – Scale and the Sky / Apparent Retrograde Motion / Lunar Phases   Leave a comment

Welcome to Week 1

Astronomical Scale

This week we are looking at some astronomy basics.  We are all familiar with the use of the word “astronomical” for indicating that something is very big; so the first concept to grasp is scale.  Scale is definitely THE concept to become familiar with when starting to look at astronomy; the phenomena we will be looking at occur on a much larger scale than that which we are used to interacting with.  The video below is by Charles and Ray Eames, was made in 1968/77, and is still relevant.

Regarding Retrograde Motion
The second concept we are looking at is called Retrograde Motion.  Retrograde motion is a complex concept, it was not understood for many centuries and caused quite a lot of trouble when astronomers were trying to come up for a model of the movement of the Earth, Sun, stars and planets.
It is important to note that the assignment is about Apparent Retrograde Motion being observed in the motion of planets.  Apparent retrograde motion is different to real retrograde motion.
The following video explains this phenomena very nicely, use it in addition to the Rasmussen text.

Lunar Phases

The final concept for the week is understanding the phases of the Moon.  We have all seen the Moon many times in our lives and will see it many more times; but what are we really seeing?  This is the moment when we get it straight!

Rasmussen College has a very good introductory tutorial located HERE to help you understand the phases of the Moon.


Posted January 1, 2011 by brunoplim in Uncategorized

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Astronomy Podcast Beginnings   Leave a comment

Greetings Students!

As part of this online class I have been designing a podcast to help you.

Here is the first of such podcasts.  This podcast is focused on the weekly Assignment that you have to hand in.  Not all students have the same idea of what is a “well organized, well presented” assignment, and rather than trying to individually and progressively assist you in reaching a consensus I have made this simple podcast.

In this podcast I break down what each assignment needs to look like, view this!

Posted September 7, 2010 by brunoplim in Uncategorized