Saturday, May 30, 2009

a peek at the peak district

i spent last weekend celebrating my birthday in the peak district of central england. we hiked though the hills and dales on a pleasantly crisp and warm day with blue skies!

a big dam built in the late 19th century.

a slowly uncurling fern.

war on drugs

in this video, dr. carl hart, a psychologist at the university of columbia, discusses some interesting ideas about the public's perceptions of drug use and abuse, and comments on some of the existing drug policies in the US. i've always thought the "war on drugs" was improperly directed. it seems to waste a lot of money on petty issues (i.e. arrests for marijuana possession) instead of focusing resources and energy on dealing with more hazardous substances.

Friday, May 29, 2009

the sun: right now!

in case youre wondering, this is what the sun looks like right now in the ultraviolet as imaged by the SOHO telescope.

it looks like a round prominence recently broke around the 4 o'clock angle, but otherwise things are pretty calm right now.

get updated images of the sun at anytime here!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

30 shades of red

i've actually been looking forward to turning thirty. i've celebrated thoroughly by enjoying a sunny weekend in the peak district with friends (pictures soon), despite acquiring tonsillitis last week. how many 30 year olds get tonsillitis, anyway? i dont know, but this one did!

i never created a list of "things to do before i turn X years old." i certainly have things i'd like to experience in life, but it seems silly to me to put a timeframe on most activities. why create pressure like that for myself? most likely my interests or circumstances will change over time, and i want to allow freedom for that to happen! expectations are inevitably met with disappointment when we're so focused on a goal that we forget to enjoy the intervening events!

for a bit of birthday fun, here is a picture of my big-cheeked self on my 3rd birthday. my family jokes that when i was a baby, you could see my cheeks from behind!

since trying to recreate old photographs is highly entertaining, here is my 30 year old self today:

i've nearly grown into my cheeks, i think.

it's also a good day to remember this piece of wisdom from jessica hagy...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

the closest star

what is the closest star to earth? the sun, of course! here's my latest appearance on the sixty symbols video project. we talk about the sun and the little circle-with-a-dot-inside symbol that astronomers use to represent it.

Friday, May 22, 2009


star wars > star trek

the beatles > elvis

neko case > new pornographers

snoopy > marmaduke

cats > dogs

mork > alf

sawyer > jack

snow > rain

milkshake > malt

skyline chili > gold star (shout out to cincinnati!)

yellow bananas > green bananas

birthmonth > birthday

30 > 29

"fringe" > "bangs"

mac > pc

emacs > vi

anything > IRAF

less > more (odd but true)

two wheels > four wheels

no makeup > makeup

herbs > no herbs

homegrown > store-bought

oven > microwave

acoustic > electric

live > recorded

snail mail > email

obama >> bush

barcelona fc > manchester united

liverpool fc > [insert club name here]

belgian beer > any other beer

curiosity > boredom

knowledge > memorization

truth > fallacy

spirituality > religion

the universe > everything

t > 0

v !> c

pluto > plutoid

xkcd !> abstruse goose

ps. the symbol !> means "not greater than"

beer levitation

here's my new favorite installment of the sixty symbols project! what do you get when you put a few drops of beer over a big powerful magnet?? levitating beer! awesome.

science is so fun!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

quantum theory of sexual interaction

take a moment to go read a unified quantum theory of the sexual interaction by UK astronomer peter coles. it's just hilarious.

i'll leave you with a hint and let you go explore:
In the simplest theories of the sexual interaction, the eigenstates of the Hamiltonian describing all allowed forms of two-body coupling are identified with the conventional gender states, “Male” and “Female” denoted |M> and |F> in the Dirac bra-ket notation; note that the bra is superfluous in this context so, as usual, we dispense with it at the outset. Interactions between |M> and |F> states are assumed to be attractive while those between |M> and |M> or |F> and |F> are supposed either to be repulsive or, in some theories, entirely forbidden.

Observational evidence, however, strongly suggests that two-body interactions involving either F-F or M-M coupling, though suppressed in many situations, are by no means ruled out in the manner one would expect from the simplest theory outlined above.

snake pit

from mattias inks

exploring space lectures

i've been advertising a lot of local and regional events lately, but luckily, the internet allows everyone to see some events!

the smithsonian national air and space museum in washington DC is hosting a series of lectures by professional astronomers that will be broadcast live as webcasts!!

the next event is scheduled for wednesday, may 27th, 2009 at 7:30pm (eastern time). sara seager, shown in the fabulous promotional image above, will discuss "Are We Alone? Searching for an Exoplanet Like Home."

listen and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

atlantis says goodbye to hubble

after an incredibly successful servicing mission, the crew of the atlantis shuttle releases the hubble space telescope in this neat video!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

scales of the universe

if you are in nottingham wednesday evening, come hear the first installment of our international year of astronomy public lecture series! the official poster pictured below has the full schedule for the rest of the year. i'll be speaking in august.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 20th, 6-7 pm

WHO: Dr. Sebastien Foucaud (University of Nottingham, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy)

TITLE: "Scales of the Universe"

WHERE: Maths & Physics building on the University Park Campus, Lecture Theatre B1

ABSTRACT: I invite you on a journey through space, speeding through the Universe at the "power of ten". From a standard meter on the scale to the edge of the Universe, traveling through distance that encompasses our sun and furthermost galaxies, I would like to show you how minuscule we are in terms of our size, but also how broad our knowledge is in terms of its expanse. I will take this opportunity to explain how through time, since the ancient Greeks to the era of space conquests, astronomers have been measuring distances. To conclude, I will also explain how we think the Universe was formed 13 billion years ago as we travel through time from its earliest stages to present times.

Monday, May 18, 2009

we are astronomers

we are astronomers is a new 360° fulldome digital planetarium show describing what professional astronomers actually do during their working hours! "Today’s astronomer is not the lone observer of past centuries. We are Astronomers reveals the global collaboration, technology and dedication required to answer the unresolved questions of the Universe."

i'm thrilled to have been asked to participate in this project! you can view the film (and my cameo) at several locations around the UK starting 23 may, 2009. let us know what you think if you see it!

here is a beautiful scene of the very large telescope (VLT) in chile, that is included in the film. remember the film will be shown on a full 360°, so this flatscreen projection looks oddly circular!

WAA VLT WIP from NSC Creative on Vimeo.

here's the first trailer for the movie. the narrator of the film is the former doctor who, david tennant!

WAA Trailer 1 from NSC Creative on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

my sixty symbols debut - photons

this was recorded a couple weeks ago for the sixty symbols of physics and astronomy project. i talk about photons - little energy packets of light. and why the sky is blue!

the tomatoes are coming!

i'm pretty amazed that these windowsill tomatoes are poking through already. the windows are huge, but theyre north-facing! i hope they survive...

hubble repairs

watching NASA's live footage of the hubble repair spacewalks has been absolutely riveting! i mean, the new star trek movie was pretty entertaining for a couple of hours, but i've been entertained by this mission to hubble for almost a week now! there have been some dramatic moments and clever maneuvers to find solutions, but i'm even mesmerized by the simple task of loosening screws! you can listen to the astronauts help each other accomplish each goal, step by step.... and see how they react when something unexpected happens.... all the while watching the round blue earth spinning below them!

today i heard one of the astronauts say "this is a lot more fun in space!" hahaha!

so far the mission has been a complete success, despite some unexpected challenges. congrats to those spacewalking superheroes!

so if you havent taken any time to watch the astronauts work their well-developed magic in space, you can watch online live, or see highlights at the NASA youtube station! enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

a charming duet

here's a piano duet that is guaranteed to make you smile! when i first started watching, i wondered why they were standing up....

sixty symbols of physics and astronomy

there's a new project by the creator of the fantastically successful series of periodic videos - short youtube films for each element on the periodic table (explosive sodium was my favorite!).

the new project is called sixty symbols and shows scientists at the university of nottingham describing the squiggles and letters that physicists and astronomers regularly use to communicate with each other! if you want to read the youtuber comments, you can also watch the videos at the youtube channel.

there are lots of good videos so far, but my favorites might be the one about mass:

and the one about big numbers:

stay tuned...

seeing other worlds

as you may have noticed from reading this blog, i'm a big fan of astronomy and photography! there is a project (and contest), by the smithsonian photography initiative called click! photography changes everything, that combines the two in an effort to share with each other how our photos can influence "our ability to see people, places, and things ‘unseen’ or ‘unfamiliar’ in honor of the International Year of Astronomy 2009." fantastic!

to enter the contest, read about it here and submit your photos here! i'm curious as to what readers of this blog will contribute, so let us know if you submit anything!

also, the blog of the smithsonian, the bigger picture, will feature astronomy and photography for the next couple months. should be an interesting contest!

good luck!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

more orbiting telescopes!

if you enjoyed watching the recent shuttle launch, today you have the opportunity to watch more space telescopes set off for orbit! today the european space agency launches both the planck and hershel telescopes aboard the ariane 5 unmanned rocket.

hershel is an infrared telescope that will look at cool objects around the universe, while planck will view the universe at microwave wavelengths, seeking to study the relics of the big bang.

of course, you can follow either planck or hershel on twitter, watch the launch live from ESA, or read along as orbiting frog live-blogs the event.

launch is scheduled for 13:12 UT, may 14th, 2009.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

atlantis launch in infared!

this might be my favorite image yet of the launch of STS-125 yesterday! it was captured by eliot j. schechter using an infared filter on a digital camera, and some fantastic framing!

this gorgeous image came to my attention from astroengine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

atlantis launched successfully!

the shuttle atlantis successfully launched this afternoon - woohoo! the crew will arrive at the hubble space telescope on wednesday afternoon to give the old telescope some much needed love!

here's a view from above of the shuttle atlantis before the 1996 launch of sts-79!

this is a great shot from twitterer mattsimantov.

check out nasa's astrovan that shuttles the crew to the launch pad! every shuttle crew since 1984 has ridden the nine miles to the launch pad in this modified airstream motorhome. sweet :)

here's a hint at the flight plan of the atlantis crew over the next 11 days... they will be busy!!

Flight Day 6

Sat 03:26 AM...04...13...25...HST: SSR engineering playback
Sat 04:31 AM...04...14...30...Crew wakeup
Sat 05:46 AM...04...15...45...EVA-3: Preparations begin
Sat 07:16 AM...04...17...15...EVA-3: Spacesuit purge
Sat 07:26 AM...04...17...25...EVA-3: Spacesuit pre-breathe
Sat 08:06 AM...04...18...05...EVA-3: Airlock depressurization
Sat 08:16 AM...04...18...15...EVA-3: Spacesuits to battery power
Sat 08:21 AM...04...18...20...EVA-3: Airlock egress and setup
Sat 08:46 AM...04...18...45...EVA-3: Cosmic Origins Spectrograph
Sat 10:46 AM...04...20...45...HST: COS aliveness test
Sat 11:36 AM...04...21...35...EVA-3: ACS repair (part 1)
Sat 02:01 PM...05...00...00...EVA-3: Cleanup and airlock ingress
Sat 02:46 PM...05...00...45...EVA-3: Airlock repressurization
Sat 02:46 PM...05...00...45...HST: COS functional test
Sat 02:56 PM...05...00...55...Spacesuit servicing

see the full schedule here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

beautiful day for space travel!

good luck to the crew that launches today aboard the atlantis shuttle! we thoroughly appreciate all your efforts to pimp our favorite space telescope!

right now, 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen are flowing into atlantis' external fuel tank.

you can follow along from NASA TV, or the official facebook page, or Hubble PAO on twitter, or regular old television, i imagine ;)

launch is scheduled for 2pm EDT.


i dont entirely understand what is, but its visually stunning and even thought the music is relaxing, watching is a slightly intense experience! check it out, then tell me what you think!

happy songkran! (best waterfight ever.)

we arrived in thailand in mid-april, 2009, on the first day of the 3-day new years celebration called songkran! i was told this multi-day celebration focuses on cleaning, cleansing, and restoring. everyone spends some time cleansing their bodies, they clean their entire house, they clean up images and statues of buddha, and they visit their elders to spend some time together. the whole process sounds lovely, but the most memorable part for most visitors, i think, is the self-cleansing period... which essentially means having a country-wide water fight where you not only dump water on yourself, but you make sure every other person that comes within your vicinity is also "cleansed" with refreshing water!!

we crossed the cambodia-thailand border around noon, having seen no evidence of the purported water fights in cambodia. almost immediately as we rode south along the quiet two lane roads in thailand, the taxi was pummeled with buckets of water by kids, and sometimes entire families, that stood along the side of the road, dancing to music, and laughing together waiting for more people to drive past! our excitement rose as we headed toward koh chang island!

we packed ourselves and our backpacks into a taxi which drove us along the single road that went around the island. the driver rudely motioned to the twelve taxi riders that we should hide our electronics (i realized from hindsight), but we got annoyed because it just seemed like he was yelling at us loudly in thai, pointing and waving his arms wildly! we began the 45-minute journey complaining about the driver, until it hit us - icy cold water from buckets and warm fountains of water from hoses and waterguns!! we screamed and scrambled and begged in vain for people to take mercy on us and all of our stuff. we got wet. were were sitting ducks trapped in the back of the taxi!

we found ourselves needlessly angry about getting refreshingly soaked with water, and i felt a bit silly after we made it to the bungalow and i realized not much got wet inside my bag!

we took some time to plan before we left to explore the town: we didnt mind getting wet, but we needed to waterproof our wallets! i have a waterproof case for my little digital camera, and this experience made the investment unbelievably worth it!!

we were warmly welcomed with buckets of water not more than 20 feet from our bungalow!

this kid got me with his ice water and face paste :(

we enjoyed our brief encounter with the water rituals that night, but they ended in the evening as the sun set. the next day we headed to the beach for a swim in the ridiculously warm water before fully joining in the songkran fun! remember these watery hair dos? haha!

after a quick bite to eat, there was no avoiding the fun.

we dropped everything, bought some beers, grabbed some buckets, and took our places with the people dancing along the side of the only road!

welcome to the party...

scooter drivers had no chance of staying dry!

when the traffic was slow...

everyone participated!

i realized that people stuck in the back of taxis really were the best targets. i got my undeserved revenge ;)

truck loads of families and friends would drive by...

... usually with their own water supply to dump on us!

and occasionally, someone would come along and cover us all with some type of powder or paste!

we were the last ones left with buckets in our hands as the sun began to set ;)

best. waterfight. ever.

more (high-res) photos of koh chang island and thailand: here.