Monday, June 30, 2008

night sky july 2008

JUNE ENDS tonight with a very nice alignment of saturn, regulus, and mars as shown in the image below. the three will be pretty low on the western horizon and then continue to set, so you'll have to get out early to spot them.

the new moon is wednesday, JULY 2nd, so the skies will be nice a dark to view the planetary alignment!

on JULY 4th, the earth is at aphelion, the farthest distance from the sun all year! its about 152,105,000 km away from our burning star, or about 3.4% farther than at perihelion.

on JULY 5th, the crescent moon sweeps past the saturn-mars pairing, creating a wonderful photographic opportunity in the west around sunset!

JULY 8th-9th is when jupiter reaches opposition, and appears the brightest in our sky. the opposition position is when the sun, earth and jupiter line up with earth in the middle... constituting jupiter's closest approach to us on earth! jupiter rises in the east after sunset and will be the brightest thing in the night sky after the moon for the next few months. you should be able to see the galilean moons of jupiter with binoculars and a steady hand!

mars continues to catch up to saturn on the ecliptic, coming within one degree of each other on JULY 10th.


euro cup 2008 finale

no, it wasnt a fantastically thrilling final match of the 2008 euro cup, but i was still entertained. disappointed that my team didn't win the whole thing, but their aggressive energy at the beginning of each half gradually wore out without them scoring an actual goal! on the other hand, i was thoroughly satisfied with the winning goal (video) put forth by fernando torres... the only goal of the game. as the scoring play unfolded, i thought there was no way torres was getting around lahm with enough time to hit the ball, so i nearly missed his quick flick to goal as i reached for my beer! so quick... so great! congrats espana!

i'm sure i will now enter a small period of soccer-watching withdrawal...

good thing i'll have ample family entertainment in ohio for the entirety of july, and a whole season to look forward to once i move to the UK in august! i havent kept up much with MLS lately. any thoughts on which team i should follow? i havent chosen one yet. the obvious choice would be the nottingham forest, since that'll be my new hometown team. but what about liverpool? arsenal? thoughts?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

i love momentum

it took me a little while to get the xkcd reference (even though he gave it away in the title - i know)....

but then i got it in this nice video.

Friday, June 27, 2008

end of june sky 2008

starting tomorrow evening, look to the west after sunset to saturn, mars and the star regulus lining up near leo.

mars continues to creep closer to regulus, culminating in a near overlap of the two on sunday night! mars and regulus will be less than a degree apart in the sky. if you hold your arm out, pointing your finger to the sky, mars and regulus will be closer together than your index finger is wide! mars and saturn will be about 5 degrees apart in the sky on sunday!

euro cup 2008 goals

of euro cup 2008 according to fliggo!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

germany in the euro cup 2008 final

aside from the unfortunately dramatic power outages during the broadcast of the second half of the match, the germany-turkey bout yesterday was very exciting. i was pleased to see turkey attack early in the match. i lost count f how many shots they had on goal befre germany even had one! i was hoping for turkey to score early because if they didnt score and lost momentum, they would be tired and finished. also, a goal would produce a more exciting game! score they did and the game was off...!

germany ended up pulling thru... again... despite great playing by the turks.

the best quote i've read about the match comes from Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile: "Now the Mannschaft have reached the EURO 2008 final with a 3-2 win over an arguably better team, nodding heads are attributing their triumph to simply being German, a synonym for depressingly successful."

wish i was in germany celebrating now... and good luck sleeping, eva!

off to work early today so i can watch the spain-russia match today. russia looks good so this is a tough match to call. i think germany would be happier playing spain in the final. who know what will happen....

ein astronaut

it's been an astronaut kinda day for some reason.




found at neatorama

our exploration of space

in response to some of the comments i received on my post about the discovery of water on mars, i've been reading about the global interest in exploring other worlds in our solar system, thru both manned and robotic missions.

the european space agency, ESA, recently put out an application call for aspiring astronauts and received nearly 8500 completed applications from many different countries! i couldnt find many specifics about their exploration plans other than this generic statement: "This campaign is ESA's first astronaut selection since 1992, providing the opportunity to be at the forefront of ESA’s human spaceflight programmes, including future missions to the ISS and beyond." while 10% of those applications came from the UK, it's no secret that the UK space program has suffered from some recent controversial funding issues.

china has twice sent manned vehicles into space. they plan a third mission to launch after the 2008 beijing olympics, but only have plans to explore the moon, as far as i could tell from the internets. russia hopes to meet the october 2009 launch window to reach mars with their phobos grunt project. the indian space research organization (ISRO) has stated plans to launch a vehicle to mars by 2013. they would also like to send a "gaganaut" within a decade after that, if plans go well.

the NY Times posted an interview in january 2008, asking several space-science-related people: "Is manned space exploration worth the cost? Why or why not?"

all six people interviewed claimed manned space missions is definitely the way to go! this is surprising to me considering most of the astronomers i've talked to about this issue are of the opinion that if we go far far away, we should send robots first. i'll let you read that article to get an idea of the arguments given from their biased selection of NASA-related people, and i'll also list some other opinions collected by fraser cain at universe today and the bad astronomer phil plait.

the argument against space exploration that bugs me the most is that if we have so many problems here at home, why spend money to send humans so far away. now i agree with the fact that i dont think we should send humans, and therefore save money, but i also think there are plenty of financial resources - specifically in the US - that are being poorly allocated. specifically, have another look at the death and taxes poster to see where US tax dollars are going this year and how their direction differs from last year. increase in department of defense yet a decrease in energy efficiency and renewables (even though bush promised otherwise in his last state of the union address).

also, here's a quote from keith cowing of

“Right now, all of America’s human space flight programs cost around $7 billion a year. That’s pennies per person per day. In 2006, according to the USDA, Americans spent more than $154 billion on alcohol. We spend around $10 billion a month in Iraq. And so on.”

at this point, us earthlings have successfully blasted countless electronic explorers off into space, as well as placed many many satellites in orbit around our planet to help us with many technological endeavors that make our daily life a bit more "convenient." it's a pretty crazy reality to think about this accomplishment of ours. the arrival of phoenix to the surface of mars marks another huge accomplishment in our robotic exploration of our solar system, and the Universe at large. but are we ready... psychologically, economically, and politically to go that far ourselves?

i think there are clear benefits to space exploration, and i think the major problems us earthlings are facing is how we are treating each other, our children and our earth. those things should be evaluated, but not by putting on hold the one task that currently keeps us all together and reaching for the same goal.

by the way, NASA is also accepting astronaut applications until july 1st, 2008!

pictured above is astronaut karen nyberg on the recent discovery mission.

professional space travelers

english speakers call them astronauts, derived from a combination of the greek words for star, "astron," and sailor, "nautes." many languages use "astronaut" as the base of their word for space explorers with the exception of the countries who have sent, or who are considering sending, humans into space!

Russians labelled them cosmonauts (kosmonavt, космонавт) by combining "cosmos" and "nautes." ive seen chinese space explorers refered to as Taikonauts, which might mean something related to the word "space" in mandarin, but i have no idea how to interpret what wikipedia says: "yǔhángyuán" (宇航员) or "hángtiānyuán" (航天员).... anyone?

the coolest new word that i've found for astronaut is a sanskrit-derived name, gaganaut! according to the professional pakau, "gagan" refers to the vast sky above us and more generally, to everything beyond the earth. i like the sound of this word, but i also like his comment that gaganauts sounds more like 10^9 nauts!

any other clever names to distinguish professional space explorers from recreational soace explorers?

Monday, June 23, 2008

euro cup 2008 semi-final lineup

and so we have it...

SF1 (wed): turkey vs. germany
SF2 (thurs): russia vs. spain

i was half right on the semi-final match ups, but i still could get the right teams in the final! we'll see. i definitely think spain deserved to win today. italy finally showed the strength of their defense, but failed to attack consistently. maybe luca toni's mustache repelled the ball from coming to him, or maybe it was the missing play makers: pirlo and gattuso. my biggest hope is that this ref sits out the rest of the tournament!

i was glad to see germany step up in their QF match against portugal. i was pleased to see them score a fantastic goal that wasnt initiated from a set play. in the end, i think it was portugal's weak defense against germany's powerful set plays that cost them the game.

the croatia - turkey match started out sloppily, but they settled into a decent rhythm. unfortunate shoot outs for croatia, but what an unbelievable last few minutes of overtime play!

the netherlands started out slow against russia and played too conservatively to pose an offensive threat.

i'm still going for a spain against germany final.... but you never know what could happen in a given match in this sport!

a different kind of milky way?


Saturday, June 21, 2008

ode to michael chang

i've kept journals pretty consistently all my life... well, since about the 3rd grade anyway. right now i'm going thru all my stuff, whittling down what i will take east (not much), what i will store while i'm gone (not much), and what i will give to my friends and goodwill (most of it). i found all the journals i've kept since i was 9 years old, and collected them all together in one place for the first time in a long while! i was just reading thru a random journal and (for some reason) wanted to share a passage that made me laugh so hard i cried. it succinctly sums up my state of being in 1994:

It's so strange how things work. Last year I was so pist when I got my knee surgery because I couldn't do anything, but now this is the best summer of my life. Lara said last year that if something bad happens, good things will come from it. Now I'm running varsity cross country, I went to see the U.S. soccer team play in the World Cup, I went to Korea for a month, and I sat next to Michael Chang in church this morning!!

i had almost forgotten about the michael chang encounter. that very afternoon he was playing against stefan edberg in the finals of the ATP tennis tournament not 15 miles away! i was excited for sooo long after that! and yes, i went to church for a couple years there...

anyway, it feels great to simplify my belongings. "keep it light enough to travel," as the be good tanyas say. its strange to be in the graduate school denouement phase of my life. its exciting and nerveracking to prepare for the next portions of my professional and personal life.
you pass thru places and places pass thru you, but you carry them with you on the soles of your travelin shoes.

the littlest birds, by the be good tanyas:

happy first day of summer!

moving milky way

tom lowe has been producing some really great landscape timelapse videos lately! here's one of the milky way passing overhead at night. if you've never actually seen our galaxy, or known what to expect, here's a fantastic example!

"The One that Got Away"..... (Night Timelapse HD) from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.

carnival of space - #59

the lastest greatest carnival of space (#59) is up at green gabbro.

i thought it was cool to listen to the sounds of saturn, but the orbiting frog blog dares you to listen to the sounds of gravity!

this week i contributed a rundown of what's happening in the sky and a description of the big dipper.


Friday, June 20, 2008

water on mars!

this is too cool... phoenix has found water on mars! it cant be salt... it must be H20 water ice!

death and taxes

here is a very interesting visual of the US 2009 proposed budget... where are federal tax dollars going? this isnt the final version of the budget, but it's the proposed budget that will begin negotiations in october.

link to FULL SIZE poster!!

there is so much information here that it will take me a while to absorb and process, but it's an interesting thing for all united states citizens to look at.. in my opinion.

here's a video interview with the creator of the death and taxes poster:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

shuttle launch from space

these photos are stunning!

there appears to be a bit of controversy as to to whether these images were captured from the international space station or from a high-altitude plane. i couldnt find the original source of the photos, but they're still fantastic regardless of where they were taken!

UPDATE: flyingsinger performed a cool simulation experiment which he has shared on his music of the spheres blog. now i'm pretty convinced these shots were not taken from the ISS!

euro cup quarterfinals

tomorrow welcomes the euro cup 2008 quarterfinals! the match-ups are:

QF1: portugal vs. germany
QF2: croatia vs. turkey
QF3: netherlands vs. russia
QF4: spain vs. italy

my predictions were pretty close, other than the lack of the czech republic and the inclusion of turkey.

italy managed to squeeze in to the next round. they've been creating scoring opportunities, but they need to finish (come on luca toni!). i also wasnt too impressed with their defense. spain and portugal both look good and i'm excited to see how long the netherlands can keep up their scoring spree!

i'm definitely excited about the germany vs. portugal match tomorrow! i'm still cheering for germany, although they definitely need to step up their game if they expect to beat portugal. i thought philipp lahm played brilliantly against austria and hope the rest of the team can feed off his play-making enthusiasm.

planetary bubbles

creative review asked photographer jason tozer to test out the new sony alpha digital camera by shooting bubbles. as shown on the creative review blog, these bubbles look amazingly like planetary atmospheres!

this is the image i've seen most around the internets, and at first glance, i think it looks like an image of a hairless man from behind as he looks to the ground.

mechanical participation!

a couple weeks ago, i posted this animated simulation:

some enthusiastic and creative readers actually built this deceiving mechanism out of meccano!!

nice work, hardy and chris!! thanks for testing and sharing!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the skies of june 2008

TONIGHT, the nearly full moon and the bright star, antares line up.

WEDNESDAY, june 18th, reveals june's full moon!

THURSDAY night, june 19th, begins the ascent of the moon near jupiter. the two rise above the south-eastern horizon late in the evening with the very bright jupiter to the left of the moon. jupiter reaches opposition on july 9th (when the sun, earth and jupiter line up with earth in the middle), so it is very bright in our sky these days! this would be a great night for some late-night binocular or telescope viewing! try to find the 4 galilean moons of jupiter and guess which is which!

FRIDAY marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. this (early solstice) is the day the sun is as far north in the sky as it will get all year. those in the southern hemisphere celebrate their winter solstice as they begin to welcome longer days each day of the rest of the year!

SATURDAY, june 21st, is the first official day of summer in the north.... but it has been a brutually hot spring in this part of the world so i'm not really thrilled about the official hot season just beginning now!

SUNDAY night, look to the west just at sunset to see a beautiful trio of saturn, the star regulus, and the planet mars (upper left to lower right) with saturn being the brightest!


Monday, June 16, 2008


my favorite capture from last weekend's boat party in austin. as always... thanks tom!
more pictures here.

ursa major

straight overhead during these summer months in the northern hemisphere, the constellation, ursa major, is visible throughout the entire night! ursa major is the constellation inside of which lives the popular asterism: the big dipper. an asterism is a subset of stars from one of the official 88 constellations that divide the entire sphere of our sky.

can you identify the big an little dippers in the night shot below??

the big dipper is easy to identify right now, even from inside cities. i can usually use the stars at the end of the pan to find polaris as well, but it takes a bit more patience and fewer city lights to spot all the stars of the little dipper.

here's a hint:

note that the orientation of the constellation changes throughout the night and throughout the year. right now in the sky over austin, the big dipper is oriented differently than shown in the image above. it appears upside down early in the evening and rotates counterclockwise around the north star throughout the night... from the top to the left position in the image below.

ursa major translates from latin as the "big bear." it's not obvious to me where the "big bear" imagery comes from when considering the pattern formed by stars that i familiarly identify as the big dipper.

the map below shows the outline of the constellation ursa major. all the stars withing the boundary are considered part of ursa major. the brightest stars that create the shape of the "big bear" are identified and connected with red lines.

here's one that highlights the stars that make up the big dipper.

i've been reading that in england, this asterism is called the "plough." is that correct? that'll be a good thing for me to know ;) some other names i've read about include the butcher's cleaver, the saucepan, and the great wagon, among others.

the stars in ursa major are not all at the same distance from us, ranging in distance from about 70 light-years to about 210 light-years away. since the stars move relative to each other in our sky, the big dipper will not always look as it does now. here's a short history of distorted big dippers from the past and future...

here's why:

enjoy the view of the dippers!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

blues that make you smile

the great ella fitzgerald guest starring on the dinah shore show... singing the blues!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


today's match up of italy and romania marks the 13th game of the 13th european championship, occuring on friday the 13th. hmmmm... i'm not paraskevidekatriaphobic, and i don't believe in such 'omens,' but i think its interesting... and i'm watching this game with intrigue, wondering if italy is going to choke like they did during their first match!

carnival of space #58

the 58th installment of the carnival of space is up at universe today. many good articles this time around, but i was particularly amused by a few dorky jokes posted at the orbiting frog blog.

Q. How many general relativists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Two. One holds the bulb, while the other rotates the universe.

researchers and teachers

there's a nice guest post up at cosmic variance by physics graduate student, joel corbo. he points out some problems with the graduate school experience that i completely agree with... the lack of focus on developing good teaching skills.

some researchers take their teaching responsibilities very seriously. at my graduate institution, there were some very good faculty member teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and there were also some positively horrible teachers as well! the focus of my program was definitely on the research and not on the classwork, or on becoming a good teacher. i feel that this is not only a disadvantage for undergrad students entering physics and astronomy programs, but it also restricts the options for post-graduate careers for students who might not want to continue the fight up the academic ladder for many years to come!

a large portion of students believe that giving back to the community by sharing knowledge they've gained is the most beneficial part of gaining such a rigorous education. joel brings up some other good points as well... so enjoy the read!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

saturn, mars and the moon in june

if you saw the crescent moon in the sky last night after sunset, you saw the star regulus and planet venus just above it and the planet mars off to the right. tonight, the moon shoots past regulus and saturn to the left, providing a nice alignment of all these objects.

pay attention over the next month as mars approaches saturn in the sky as it moves along the ecliptic more quickly than the ringed planet. next month, when the moon passes by these planets, they will be within a few degrees of each other, culminating in a less-than-one-degree-separation of the two planets on july 10th!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008

euro cup 2008 excitement

anyone have any thoughts and/or predictions for the euro cup 2008 tournament that starts this weekend? i cant wait to watch so much good soccer! yippee!

here are my predictions:

QF1: czech rep. vs. croatia
QF2: germany vs. portugal
QF3: netherlands vs. russia
QF4: spain vs. italy

SF1: czech rep. vs. germany
SF2: netherlands vs. spain

Final: *germany* vs. spain

mechanical simulation

i thought it was an illusion at first...

this mechanical simulation was created by Alex Schlegel at rogue cheddar.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

i'm so glad mars has the internet...

... or else i wouldnt be able to get live phoenix updates on twitter like this one:
I've got plenty of energy from my solar panels, so team has upped my work hours from 9a - 4p to 8a - 6:30p. No OT :( but more science :-)


and shiny! find the most recent phoenix images from mars at the JPL NASA site!


make avatar

ps. i've never been able to wink convincingly :(
in one of those images, i look like a dick cheney pirate!?

but "b" is for banana!

today i learned the sad news that my beloved bananas... are possibly doomed to extinction within my lifetime!!?!?

you may have noticed that bananas have no seeds, which begs the question: how do bananas reproduce? the original breeds of bananas found in india (several thousand years ago) apparently had seeds, but the mutated seedless varieties were more pleasing to the palate. so ancient plant breeders propagated the tasty seedless kind by "grafting sterile mutants onto wild stems." after thousands of years of repeating this process, remaining bananas are sterile and defenseless against disease.... thus DOOMED!!

johann hari believes that the most damage has been done in the last 50 years due to profit-obsessed companies ignoring warnings. my feeling is that a combination of active manipulation of plants over time and apathetic human groups interested in money money money have contributed to the problem, even though the time frames of these two contributers are dramatically different.

what worries me is that this has happened so rapidly to a popular fruit loved by so many around the world.... so how many other fruits and vegetables will suffer the same fate before we humans fully grasp the issues at hand?

for more info on the above image of the banana floating in orbit, see the geostationary banana over texas project.

Monday, June 2, 2008

appreciating the potato

the year 2008 is nearly halfway over and i just learned that it's the international year of the potato! that website has world history of the potato, loads of recipes, nutritional info, anecdotes from different cultural use of the potato, pictures, and much more!

so i made a (loosely) potato-inspired meal for dinner tonight! i cut up veggies for a salad, and made mashed potatoes with chives. i used the mashed potatoes to line a bowl of lentils and collard greens that i made a few nights ago.

here's another meal involving potatoes that i prepared a few months ago: red beet-dyed quinoa with a potato, sausage and swiss chard combo. topped with some sesame seeds and fresh micro green sprouts!

mmm.... food!

expedient convenience

it saddens me when i see the exact same stores and taste the exact same flavors at opposite ends of the earth (and sometimes 5 times within the same big city block!).

hopefully we don't begin to redefine what a "guru" is!