Sunday, September 30, 2007

mars rising

as jupiter sets earlier each evening in the south-southwest, mars is rising east-northeast around midnight! yippee! the planets are fantastic bright highlights in the sky and they're fun to observe with naked eyes, binoculars and telescopes! a little boy of about 6 years has come to two star parties now with him mom. he always tells me what's going on in his life ad how much he wants to see mars! he became a little mad at me the first night i told him mars was behind the earth at night right now and we couldnt see it. counting the 4 visible moons of jupiter thru the old telescope cheered him up a little, but i think he was still a disappointed. luckily for him.... mars is on its way up!

if you're awake and outside tonight around midnight, look to the east and find the waning gibbous moon. just below the moon you'll see the pleiades, a star cluster of hundreds of blue stars gravitationally bound together. when i was young and first recognized this little concentration of stars in the sky, i thought it looked like a little tiny dipper, which is still what runs thru my head whenever i see it! below the little tiny dipper is the star named aldebaran, and below aldebaran and a little to the left is mars. the red planet will rise higher as the night goes on and earlier as we (in the north) settle into autumn. enjoy!

anecdote for 200

i woke up this morning, alone in the house. i showered, made some oatmeal and read a chapter of harry potter. then i grabbed my computer and walked down to the local coffee shop to write more proposals for job applications (ugh!). i found a nice table in the corner with a chair of a good height! after setting up my computer, i walked to the counter to order my coffee. when it was my turn, i opened my mouth relay my order, but only a high pitched, barely audible squeak came out.... i lost my voice overnight! hahaha! i laughed, a little embarrassed, and tried again. finally in a scratchy whisper, i convey my order and accepted my large coffee and change.

what a funny experience. it's interesting that i was awake for a couple hours before trying to say a word. it's also fascinating how much different a cough sounds when my voice isn't attached!

my throat has been a bit sore all week and my voice was lower than usual and scruffy yesterday.... then i had a star party and explained quite a number of things for 3 hours straight! i was worn out and ready for sleep last night, but i didnt expect to lose my voice! i hope it returns by the time i'm in ohio on tuesday!

by the way, this is the 200th blog entry. a relatively pointless event to point out, but... es ist wie es ist!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

simple seaweed

this complex, yet simple image of seaweed is among the best science images of 2007 according to national geographic.

(arent there three more months left in the year?)

for and against

i am for seeking happiness.

i am against excuses.

i am for skinny dipping.

i am against cigarette smoking.

i am for universal health care.

i am against walmart.

i am for public transportation.

i am against fast "food".

i am for bananas!

i am against chewing gum.

i am for wearing costumes at any occasion.

i am against self doubt.

i am for self exploration.

i am for democracy.

i am against manipulation.

i am for reason.

i am against the band wagon.

i am for reading to kids.

i am against crappy beer.

i am for breast feeding.

i am for accessorizing.

i am against fake finger nails.

i am for discussions.

i am for campfires.

i am against litter.

i am against paying interest.

i am for empathy.

i am against gossip.

i am for honesty.

i am against lies on any level.

i am for participation.

i am against apathy.

i am for hard work.

i am for art parties.

i am for passion.

i am for family dinners.

i am for making music.

i am for orgasms.

i am for looking at the stars at night.

i am for saying hello to strangers.

i am for more than i am against it seems.

i am for erin o'brien who gave me this idea.

Friday, September 28, 2007

working towards employment

i'm so far in the depths of job applications that i can hardly think of anything else. one fellowship i'm applying for has a significant education and public outreach portion in addition to the scientific part. i'm very interested in talking to as many people as i can about astronomy, so this fellowship really appeals to me! the unfortunately ironic thing is that i've been spending so much time writing the proposal, describing how much i'd like to receive support to continue this blog... that i havent had enough time to spend composing actual in depth entries for the blog. :(

so i'll give you a quickie...

aside from writing about wanting to write for my blog, i've been thinking and writing about this galaxy cluster, unromantically named XMMU J2235.3-2557:

nearly all the little smudges you see are individual galaxies that each harbor billions of stars. the orange and red galaxies close together at the center of the image are actually close together in space too! they form an example of the most massive structures that exist in the universe: a galaxy cluster. there are hundreds of galaxies in this cluster all orbiting in circles around each other, stuck together by the force of gravity.

the red image that flashes every so often, shows the really hot gas that lives between the galaxies. detecting this red, X-ray light was how the cluster was initially found. the galaxies in the cluster appear in this image as they existed over 8 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 5 billion years old!

this galaxy cluster is one of the most distant ever detected, and i'm hoping to spend the next couple years exploring every detail of it that i can! back to work...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

under the full moon

tonight's full moon reminds us again that autumn is here (in the northern hemisphere) and it's springtime in the south (finally!). we call tonight's full moon the harvest moon because it is the full moon closest to the september equinox. last year's harvest moon occured on october 6th.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

psychedelic autumnal equinox

i've held 3 star parties now on UT's campus. each night new people show up and the objects in the sky change positions enough to always keep things unique and interesting. Last night there were a lot of people in the little dome! many students taking introductory astronomy courses at UT came along with several students from a local high school! i'd never heard of a high school offering a course in astronomy, but apparently these students have already taken the other standard science classes and astronomy was the last one. one girl completely impressed me by asking questions that are nearly impossible to answer observationally right now now. my speculative (and somewhat unsatisfying) answers were purely based on theory and she was clearly wanting more! i encouraged her to keep asking these questions because if she's having such complex thoughts now.... wow!!!! i hope she continues to explore the places her mind is taking her!

jupiter moved directly behind the bright UT tower right at 8pm, so we looked at moon first. so many people were present that we looked at the moon for over an hour! the shadow on the waxing gibbous moon is the perfect spot to look at how deep the craters are by looking at the shadows of the deep crater walls! as much as i love looking through the telescope at the moment that everything is lined up and adjust the focus to see all the little details of the moon's surface.... i equally enjoy seeing people crawl up the old wooden stairs, peer through the eyepiece of the old telescope for the first time and exult... WOW!!! i'll never get tired of that!

near the end of the evening some friends showed up and took some pictures. here's a shot of me focusing on the moon with the 70 year old 9-inch refracting telescope.

then katie and garret showed up with the best surprise ever.... happy psychedelic equinox costumes!!! hahahaha!!

after the observing ended, they swept me off so i could create my own costume for the official psychedelic equinox party...

a surprising evening that turned out to be a lot of fun!! thanks kt and g-rat!

Friday, September 21, 2007

stephen hawking on the simpsons...

super cosmologist, stephen hawking, in an interview about the show: "the simpsons is the best thing on american television."

homer simpson to lisa in the episode starring stephen hawking: "did you have fun with your robot buddy?"


mcdonald observatory

i've spent many weeks of my graduate student career out in west texas at the mcdonald observatory. long nights up all night operating the 107 inch telescope by myself. it's always a little creepy the first night... getting used to the sounds of the night again. when things break, you just have to fix them... somehow! if it's a huge problem, then of course you can call someone and wake them up to come help, but little problems can generally be fixed temporarily until the day crew comes in the morning. i think thats part of the fun of using these "little" telescopes!

anyway, i wanted to highlight this cool little video about the mcdonald observatory and some of the outreach that goes on there!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

the end is near

it's official.... i can graduate this spring! that is if i can get one more paper ready for publication to include in my dissertation. that's great news! i think my committee gave me some good advice and motivated me about writing proposals for academic jobs. the applications for US fellowships and astronomy-related academic post-docs are all due in october thru december. "real" jobs in industrial fields or with more independently funded businesses are more interested in people who can start immediately, so i'm not applying for those yet.

anyway, i'm excited and overwhelmed at the same time because my committee also reminded me of just how much work i have to do between now and next may!

at least i've had some time for fun!

fun with refraction and underwater cameras!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

sweet... an award!

today is a big day for me... a committee meeting where i get to ask those fellas whether they think my research thus far is complex enough that i can defend my dissertation for them in the spring.... eek! i'm not too worried, but i'm still a little nervous. thats why i was so delighted to receive an email this morning telling me i won the red hot blog of the day award from Red Orbit: your universe online. woohoo!! thats awesome! thanks so much red orbit. i'll get back to my regularly scheduled blogging just as soon as i make sure i can graduate this spring!!!

jupiter's triangle!

tonight in the southern skies, you will notice a very bright jupiter, forming a triangle with the star, antares below it and the filling crescent moon to the left!

also, straight overhead you'll notice a bright star... vega! this is one star of the bright summer triangle.


meteorite falls in peru

a meteorite crashed into the andes mountains of peru late saturday night. it wasnt a huge meteorite, but big enough to cause a 30-meter wide and 5-meter deep crater.

the interesting thing is that the people living in the region who investigated the site of the loud crash and police that went afterwards have been suffering from vomiting, nausea and dehydration. i havent seen much about this story in the western media yet. i dont think its reason to panic or anything either. i hope they dont start spreading scare-stories about space diseases or radio-active materials! not necessary.

i'll post more when i find out anything...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the far side of the moon

i've had a heck of a transition back to life in the US. The semester proceeds at full force leaving me little time to digest all the changes. i'm enjoying teaching, although i felt a little rusty during the first study session last week. students that take astronomy courses often get angry during the first week or two of classes because they think they will just be memorizing constellations or galaxy names! they dont seem to realize that the astronomy department shares a building with the physics and math departments for a reason! astronomy is physics applied to the universe! as the teaching assistant and not the intimidating professor, i get the wrath of the students who become frustrated at having to use any math what so ever.

i find that they quickly calm down though.... or they drop the class. the point of an introductory astronomy class is not to purposely confuse or frustrate students with a lot of equations and numerical solutions, contrary to what they may believe! it's about training oneself to think about why things are the way they are. look at the following pictures of the moon at different phases and think about what you see. one image was taken each night during one month long orbit as the moon circled around the earth.

on the right side of the moon you notice two dark spots. these two spots are in every image where you can see the right side of the moon. the left side of the moon reveals a pattern that shows up in each image! always the same! but the moon orbits around the earth once every month... so that must mean that the same side of the moon is always facing the earth! contrary to what pink floyd would have you believe, there's no "dark" side of the moon because every side faces the sun as the moon orbits around the earth each month, but there is a "far" side of the moon that we will never see from the surface of the earth as the moon continues along its natural orbit!

i enjoy thinking about these things and seeing the light in the eyes of the students when the *get it*! but its equally as frustrating when some students just *dont get it* even after many explanations. i just have to keep practicing i guess....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

stupid scammers

its good and bad to be back in a country that speaks my native language... i can more easily tell when i'm being scammed!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

planets in the sky

here's a bit more on the voyager spacecrafts and information on where to find the planets that are visible in our sky this month: jupiter, saturn, venus, uranus and neptune!

Friday, September 14, 2007

space reading

the 20th installment of the carnival of space is up at music of the spheres.

there are some neat articles... i ejoyed the contribution from the planetary society blog with some incredible new saturn photos from the spacecraft cassini.

my entry this week talks about some of the constellations up in the northern hemisphere and the stories behnd them from various cultures!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

the dippers

from the northern hemisphere, you can easily spot the big dipper... and figure out which direction is north! as you can see from the map below, the big dipper is close to the horizon right now. the stars in the handle are bright and easy to find.

follow the handle to the dipper and find the stars "merak" and "duhbe" (pronounced "doobie"!). following these stars with your eyes from merak thru duhbe takes you in a nearly straight line to polaris... the "north star". while all stars rise in the east and set in the west... just like the sun... the north star stays stationary in our sky and all other stars rotate around it. thats why long exposure night time images when you use no tracking mechanism look like this...

that is an extreme example that was exposed for 11 hours!!!! but the effect of the long star trails is cool.

once you find polaris, you can try to identify the little dipper knowing that polaris is the last star in the handle of the little dipper. the stars are fainter so i always have a much harder time finding the little one, but it's a good challenge for a non-cloudy night and hopefully you can always determine which way is north!!

nap time

Saturday, September 8, 2007

bubbles in space

i like the last experiment the best, but the bubble races are cool too!

Friday, September 7, 2007

happy 30th birthday voyagers!

in 1977 (before i was born!!), NASA scientists launched the voyager spacecrafts, which were intended for 5 year missions of solar system exploration! they each succeeded well beyond just taking pictures of jupiter and saturn! voyager 1 passed pioneer 10 on february 17, 1998 to become the most distant synthetic object in space!!! both voyagers continue to travel out in space, well beyond the confines of our solar system.

as of august 10, 2007, voyager 1 is 15.4 billion km (9,594,000,000 miles) away from earth! that's about 100 AU, or 100 times as far from us as we are from the sun. voyager 1 travels away from the solar system at a speed of 3.6 AU per year, which is 17 kilometers per second or 38,000 miles per hour!!!

one of my long-time heroes, carl sagan, was integrally involved with the planning of the voyager missions. he had the brilliant idea to turn the voyager 1 spacecraft around just before it left the confines of our solar system to take an image o the earth on february 14, 1990. earth encompassed one single pixel of that entire image. if you've never read sagan's reaction to this phenomenon, please read this!!

carl sagan also chaired the committee that determined what message should be sent out into space on the voyager spacecrafts to portray the uniqueness of life on earth. they included 115 images, nature sounds of earth, 90 minutes of music and spoken greetings from 55 different languages among other things. the message is carried by a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk phonograph "golden record"!!

for a bit of perspective... while it is exciting to think about the huge distance traveled by the voyager space crafts over the last 30 years... the nearest star to our sun is 4.2 light-years away. that is roughly 200,000 AU. at its current speed of 3.6 AU per year, it will take 56,000 years for voyager 1 to reach the next star!! let's hope that some other civilizations in the universe started sending machines out into space a long long time ago and hopefully sent them off at much much faster speeds!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

the universe is brought to you by master card

tonight i decided to watch some tv while i ate my dinner. i'm not a big fan of TV, but i found a great program on the history channel called the universe. when i turned on the program they were taking about the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation and the resulting nobel prize in physics given to penzias and wilson in 1978. i was hoping that they would go on to discuss the related 2006 nobel prize awarded to john mather and george smoot because mather is coming to austin to give a few lectures next month!! unfortunately, they didnt mention this, but they did show some fantastic graphics of the beginning and predicted end of the universe that i havent seen before due to my lack of cable television watching for so long! there are some great visualizations of the universe that i have long thought about but never actually *seen* before! how cool!

at the end of one segment leading into the commercials, a narrator spoke over some icon for the history channel and said:

the universe
is brought to you by master card.....

holy crap... i laughed out loud so loudly and for so long that my roommate eventually asked what i was watching. when i told her "a show on the history channel called the universe," she looked at me sort of funny and moved on. hahaha!

ah, consumerism..... with interest! bienvenidos a los estados unidos!

i hope the rain keeps up

it has been raining non-stop in austin since i returned. so weird!! i enjoy a good rainstorm, but there hasnt been a lot of thunder and lightning yet and those are the best. instead, it's just a ton of water keeping the creeks nice and full, preventing me from riding my bike anywhere and making it nearly impossible to enjoy the night sky or play with the old telescope before i have my first public viewing night this friday.

while standing in the rain at the bus stop today, i started thinking about the great lightning storms in ohio and my family... most likely instigated by the fact that i bought a plane ticket today to go home and visit in october! yeah!

when i was a kid, my grandpa used to tell me all kinds of one-liners that equally confused and intrigued me.

i hope the rain keeps up!

i used to think about that one every time he said it! i thought he was weird at first... who wants to get wet when walking to their car? but he had a certain smirk on his face when he said it that made me think there was something else to his odd statement. at some age i figured it out, but would still have to remember his little trick every time he said it! sneaky grandpa.

if you run fast enough, you can make it between the raindrops!

i never believed this one as a kid, but i didnt know why. i tried many times to run between the raindrops... when no one was watching, of course... but it never quite worked. as an undergrad i got to thinking about that grandpa-line again and came up with my own little proof as to why he wasnt right. if i'm driving in my car during a steady yet mild rainstorm and i have the windshield wipers set to a certain frequency, when i slow down to stop at a red light, i inevitably have to slow the frequency of swipes... or be horribly annoyed by their screeching squeal! when i start driving again, i have to speed up the wipers because there is more rain on the windshield. during a few second interval, the same surface area of my windshield is sweeping out more volume and therefore more raindrops per second than when the car is stationary. so... my body actually gets hit by *more* raindrops when i try to run faster thru the rain and my grandpa is wrong! ha ha! i never told my grandpa about this theory of mine but i think he reads this blog so maybe he'll have something to say about it!

rain rain go away. come again some other day.