Wednesday, May 30, 2007

spiral galaxy

the hubbles space telescope captures yet another fantastic image!

this beautiful spiral galaxy sits in the northern constellation Ursa Major, and can be viewed with some detail through binoculars. it is one of the brightest galaxies in earth's sky and was originally discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1774 who described it as a "nebulous patch." the light from this galaxy takes 12 million light years to reach us! as far as i know, this galaxy doesnt have a creative normal name, but astronomers refer to it mostly as M81 (messier object 81) or sometimes as NGC 3031.

the above image was taken with light that is visible to our eyes. the center of the galaxy looks like a bright fuzz ball where lots of gas and so many stars swirl around the center that we cannot make out individual stars among the masses even with hubble's resolution! towards the outside of M81 the gas and stars are clumped together in long swirling arms that give this galaxy type the name "spiral". the light in the outer arms looks bluer than the yellow light near the center mostly because the stars are younger. you can see darks patches throughout the galaxy which loosely line up with the spiral arms and then show more intricate patterns on smaller scales. these are patches of "dust"... thicker molecules that block us from seeing the light given off by the stars behind them... harbor nurseries for new stars. gas in galaxies recycles over and over unless it gets locked into a small star that lives longer than the age of our universe so far.....

cool stuff. thanks apod and hst.

Friday, May 25, 2007

carnival of space 4

check out carnival of space 4 for another series of great articles about astronomy and space! i have another contribution hidden in there somewhere!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


i'm heading to buenos aires for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday!

many pictures and stories to come, i'm sure!!!!

in the meantime, enjoy this:

ironic sans via pzmyers

iraq blog count

for anyone with an interest in the happenings of iraq, i found a very interesting blog called the Iraq Blog Count.

i got lost for a while reading thru stories and personal realities in this war torn country. i'm pleased to see such honest expression and shocked at the urgency of daily life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


heliocentrism is the idea that the sun, not the earth, is at the center of our solar system. nearly 500 years ago, the polish astronomer, nicolaus copernicus, introduced a model of the solar system which successfully described the observed motion of the planets and the sun across the sky... with the planets orbiting around the sun. the definitive work of copernicus, on the revolutions of heavenly spheres, was not published until 1543, the year of his death, because the religious doctrine of the time literally interpreted the christian bible to mean that the earth was at the center of the universe.

over the last 500 years, astronomers like kepler, galileo and newton have further solidified our knowledge of the detailed mechanics of exactly how the planets orbit the sun. even more recently we've begun to understand how the sun itself orbits about the center of our milky way galaxy from a distance of 30,000 light years! today we use the detailed knowledge of the motions and positions of planets to send spacecrafts out into the outer regions of our solar system.

we sent the Galileo spacecraft to jupiter several years ago to explore the planet's atmosphere and several of its moons. we first sent galileo toward venus and then back past the earth for a couple of close flybys. this allowed it to use the planets gravity to accelerate to higher speeds in a cosmic game of slingshot! the spacecraft would have required 16 times more fuel if scientists had not utilized the gravitational mechanics of the nearby celestial objects! to do this, very precise predictions of the planets in their orbits must be known over extended periods of time!

for this reason, i was utterly shocked to read a recent blog called "heliocentrism is an atheist doctrine". oh. my. please. help me... breathe. i mean, seriously..... i cant believe anyone actually still believes that the *earth* is the the center of the UNIVERSE! and to make this phenomenon more unbelievable... this post comes from a blog dedicated to electing sam brownback for president. not only does this topic have NOTHING to do with american politics, but it is just plain ridiculous!

are these people denying the beauty and wonder of the spacecrafts that have landed on mars and sent back some of the most amazing pictures ever taken by humankind? because if our models about the solar system were wrong, we NEVER would have landed anything on mars!

in general, i have no interest in choosing a candidate so so so far before even the primary elections, but i know one politician i definitely wont consider for 2008. ugh.

Friday, May 18, 2007

santiago, chile

rachel and i took an overnight bus to santiago last weekend with no particular plan. it turned into an amazingly fun trip!

i bought two fantastic paintings from this contagiously happy man!

we happened upon a fun parade.

on mothers day we walked into plaza de armas to find los bomberos doing flips off their firemans truck onto a big inflated cushion. on an impulse, rachel asked them if we could jump too. much to my surprise (and everyone in the square i think)... they said yes!

green beans seem to be a popular topping on sandwiches.

the most intriguing theme restaurant i've ever been in! every inch of the place was covered with "viking" stuff. they served a yummy traditional chilean meal!

Carnival of Space

Carnival of Space #3 is up and running today at the carnival of space collects recent writings about space and astronomy from all corners and crevices of the internet.

i'm very excited to be included this time around with a post i wrote about observing with gemini-south!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

burning bits of rock

ever wonder what would happen if a super huge meteorite hit the earth?

this picture shows the "meteor crater" in arizona which is 180 meters deep and 1.2 km in diameter with an eroded rim standing 30-60 m high. this crater is believed to have been made 50,000 years ago by a 46-meter wide meteorite composed of nickel-iron rock.

billions of objects enter earth's atmosphere everyday. they are mostly small things that burn up as they pass thru the atmosphere (we call these meteors). the objects that reach all the way to the earth's surface are called meteorites.

this video (7 min) shows a cool japanese-produced simulation of what could happen if a gigantic impact occured on earth....

i'm not intending to scare everyone by showing the fatal effects of that impact. in reality, an object that huge only hits the earth once every 100 million years or more. thats a very long time! the chart shows the frequency with which meteorites of different sizes are believed to reach earth.... and thats not even counting all the cosmic garbage!!

according to this chart, an impact like the one that made the meteor crater above should happen about every 5,000 years or so... and that one was 50,000 years ago! looks like we might be over due! good thing groups like the near-earth objects (NEOs) program and the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program are constantly monitoring the skies in search of potentially approaching objects!!


how is this even possible??


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

more life in the universe

i believe life... in some form... exists somewhere in the universe other than just on earth. the universe is just too big for us to be the only life!! we developed on one planet, among nine eight planets that orbit around one star in the milky way galaxy which harbors ~400 BILLION other stars. the milky way is only one galaxy among the BILLIONS of galaxies in the universe, each containing BILLIONS of stars. any of those stars could have planets, but planets are really hard to find!

i'm certain life exists *somewhere* in that vast volume of space, but that's exactly the difficulty in finding life.... there are so many galaxies and stars so where do we look? what do we look for? since we live on a planet, we can easily deduce that the best place to look is on other planets! as of today, we've detected 233 planets outside of our solar system and its cool that we finally found an earth-like planet that exists in a region around a star with a temperature to support liquid water!

life on earth has existed for 5 billion years but the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. some life out there could have just began in the last billion years or less, or some planets could have harbored evolving life forms for twice as long as the earliest known life forms believed to be on earth! that raises interesting questions about what life on earth might look like in another 5 billion years (assuming life survives this destructive period in human existence)! consider that only 65 million years ago, dinosaurs dominated earth's surface!

communication with extraterrestrial lifeforms is a whole other issue. our chance of "communicating" with anything out there (in my opinion) will result from another civilization communicating with us. we've been sending off electromagnetic signals for, lets say, 100 years. the earliest signals are now 100 light years away from earth in all directions. within that sphere there are only ~30 stars. the new planet we just found is about 20 light years away... so it has received our earliest transmissions and has had ample time (over 20 years) to send a light signal back our way. We havent received any signals from this or any other planet accoring to the SETI Institute. our (unintentional) early electromagnetic signals have only reached a few dozen stars among the buhzillions that exist in the universe... and thats traveling at the speed of light!

so.... thats why i say our best chance for communication is from another life form having sent out a signal at some point in the past. let's say there's intelligent life on a planet on the other side of the milky way... about 40,000 light years away. if we receive a signal tomorrow from this distant planet, the signal will have been traveling from that planet for 40,000 years! we are ready with our return signal (of course!), which we send out immediately. that planet will start receiving our original signals in 39,900 years and then in 40,000 years, they will receive our response specific to their message. then it will take them 40,000 years to respond to us, etc....

another (more hopeful) option is that they will have detected our presence thru light detection or exploration of our neck arm of the milky way, in space vehicles that travel very very fast!!

my point is not to lose all hope of ever detecting another civilization... on the contrary, i think it is super exciting that we are detecting so many planets so rapidly right now!! my real point is that there *has* to be life out there somewhere is this unfathomably large universe of ours. probability says there should be life considering the volume and the fact that the chemistry that makes life possible on earth is extremely abundant throughout the universe. so let's keep looking and doing our best not to destroy our own successful and immensely special civilization while we are actively searching for those signals!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

kaboom, indeed

i have to brag a bit about a good graduate school friend of mine, robert quimby. not only was he the first of our class to graduate (thus making the rest of us look bad), but he was the first (and only so far that i know of) to be mentioned by name in the New York Times (thus making us all very proud)!!

Robert got involved with a cool project at McDonald Observatory using a relatively tiny 18-inch telescope. using nifty software that robert developed, the telescope automatically scans galaxy clusters for signs of change... explosions indicative of stellar deaths called "supernova"! when he wakes up in the morning he looks for these new spots in his images. he's so dedicated to this project that he has his cell phone set up to ring every time a new supernova is discovered! hahaha! i used to make fun of him for that, but i secretly thought it was pretty cool (uh-oh... now the truth is out!)!

the big news revealed yesterday is that Dr. Quimby discovered a very interesting explosion last september while he was deep in the haze of writing his phd dissertation. his collaborator's follow-up observations revealed that they dont really know what caused this explosion to happen! it's 100 times more powerful and has lasted longer than any other supernova explosion resulting from stellar death ever seen!

that's cool!

what's even cooler is that i have all kinds of pictures of the doctor to reveal to the public! bwah ha ha ha!!! dont let him fool you here... astronomers dont drink no stinking water!

here he is with my adoring little sister. another little-known fact is that he used to be in the band reel big fish way back in the day... which is my little sisters alltime favorite band. she got so mad at me the first time she came to visit and i didnt introduce her to robert. so here's their meeting... in all its glory (water again!?)!

from our first astronomy meeting together... awe....

oh yeah... and he's a big-blocking volleyball super star!

ok, thats all for now. congrats dr quimby!!

las empanadas chilenas

rachel and i spent most of saturday making empanadas! we each made our fillings friday night in preparation. i made pino (meat filling) and she made chicken filling and apple filling. preparing the dough.....

rolling and cutting it into circles (using wine bottles and pot lids for lack of better tools!)

placing the pino filling on the dough.... the meaty concoction, an olive and a slice of hard boiled egg. i still havent been able to discover the origin of the olive in the meat empanadas, other than it tastes good, which is reason enough!

folding over the dough and securing...

poking holes.

and enjoying the (cooked) yumminess....

... for many many meals to come!!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

sick of this

"sick of this" - hometown baghdad

solar systems

our solar system is a pretty cool place. not only does it harbour the only life that we know to exist in the universe.... it has lots of planets, moons and millions of asteroids and comets. this is one reason that the recent discovery of the most earth-like planet found yet (see a great discussion by phil plait, the bad astronomer) is exciting!

regardless of the way we've adopted to define a planet in our own solar system, there are lots of BIG objects in it! check out this cool site to see all known objects in our solar system bigger than 200 miles across!.

and somehow i'd never noticed this before... hee hee... but saturn's moon, mimas, looks amazingly like a certain sci-fi famous... death star... eventhough this image of mimas wasnt captured until many many years after the release of star wars

Friday, May 4, 2007

you gotta list?

lists, lists, lists... magazines love to create lists! the current big list is the
Time Top 100. Time magazine claims that these are the people whose "power, talent or moral example is transforming the world". wow! people are chosen (in equal number) in these five categories...

* Artists & Entertainers
* Scientists & Thinkers
* Leaders & Revolutionaries
* Builders & Titans
* Heroes & Pioneers

here's my list.... of some things i noticed about their list:

- king bush the W is not on the list.

- a coach of an american football team, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, made the list - is he really that influential in the entire world?

- the egyptian televangelist, Amr Khaled, made the list - i had no idea.

- the russian chessmaster, Garry Kasparov, made the list - awesome, although i admit i dont follow the world of chess too closely!

- Ken Lewis, ceo, Bank of America made the list - that bastardo sure has been negatively influencing my monthly income by charging me so many ridiculous fees!

- Tina Fey, actress, is on the list - very happy to see her... she's great!

- Youssou N'Dour - senegalese musician! - yeah! see video of him below

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

King Bush the W

april was poetry month, but i failed to post anything. so now i share robert greenwald and poet steven connell's bold short, marking the fourth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished," the infamous 2003 assertion by president bush that "major combat operations have ended" in iraq.

tell us the mission .com