Monday, November 30, 2009

participate in dotAstronomy

if you would like to participate in this dotAstronomy technothon, you can follow the action LIVE from the dotAstronomy workshop thru UStream everyday this week:

if youre interested, i give my talk friday morning at about 0845 UT.... quite early in the US, sorry!

you can also follow me on twitter for up to the second happenings... or follow @dotastronomy on twitter OR keep up with the #dotastro hashtag.

use the #dotastro hashtag on twitter to ask the speakers questions in real time!

jimmy fallon does neil young doing the fresh prince

thats right... this video shows jimmy fallon (impressively) singing as neil young singing the theme to the fresh prince of bel-air! hilarious!

i'd like to hear him do parents just dont understand.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

christmas cracker joke

last night was my astronomy department's christmas party (yeah, i know its still november). the tradition in the UK at a christmas dinner is to open a christmas cracker, which looks like a cardboard toilet paper roll wrapped in shiny paper! the cracker makes a loud 'crack' when you open it, and inside you find a paper hat to wear during the meal, a tiny toy you can play with until it inevitably breaks, and a joke or riddle or motto!

i received a joke in my cracker and surprisingly, it was pretty good!

Q: why did the scientist install a knocker on his door?

A: he wanted to win the No-bell prize!

Friday, November 27, 2009


i'm off to the netherlands on sunday to attend the .Astronomy conference, which just had a press release today! the point of this conference is to explore in interaction between astronomy and the internet. citizens are now able to participate in real science, through projects like galaxy zoo, astronomers are more connected than ever by online databases and networked services, and public outreach possibilities have broadened with projects like sixty symbols.

i'll be presenting a short talk about my participation in the sixty symbols video series. if any of you have opinions or feedback about the series, please let me know in the comments!

i dont really know what to expect from this conference, but i'm excited to find out and learn about a lot of new technologies astronomers are developing to take advantage of the world wide web of information and communication!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

fireflies or lightning bugs?

a recent big picture set features 25 photos from the international national geographic photo contest.

my favorite is a beautiful photo by steve irvine that shows "about one hour of firefly activity near my home in rural Ontario. The precision of the background star trails is an interesting contrast to the chaotic pattern of the firefly flashes."

his caption captures the contrasting movements in the picture perfectly.

although... i've always called those little flying creatures that periodically light up in neon yellow: lightning bugs. as far as i can tell, fireflies and lightning bugs are the same bugs, and i'm wondering just how regional these terms are.

what do you call them and where are you from? have you heard both names?

i dont remember hearing the term "fireflies" until i moved to austin, texas. even after i heard the word, it took me a while to identify the glowing creature as my lightning bug, because there arent very many flying around austin! i was used to massive hoards of the creatures, and hadnt even realized that i hadnt experienced the mesmerizing feeling of being inside a cloud lightning bugs since i moved away from home!

where i grew up in ohio, there are TONS of lightning bugs! i usually found lightning bug clouds surrounding bushes or around a grove of trees. the last place i lived before moving away from ohio was a small, square building that held 4 apartments. around the back sat a small parking lot shaded by many tall trees that grew along a small creek. the location felt quaint, welcomed the seasons well, attracted loads of pesky mosquitoes, but also harvested lightning bug fiestas!! during certain nights, i could walk around the parking lot and be completely surrounded by little, moving, disorienting, flashing lights that reached all the way up into the trees!

of course as a kid, i would catch a lightning bug in my hands, watch the neon shine thru my fingers, and wonder why i didnt have the cool ability to light up any of my body parts in such a way!

i havent experienced lightning bugs in such a way anywhere else i've been, except for a hint of the feeling on a boat trip down a river deep in malaysia.... even there, people called them fireflies!

candidate collision at LHC!

the large hadron collider (LHC) is up and running again - successfully this time! beams of particles are shooting around the tubes, and professor brian cox is reporting on twitter that this image shows a candidate collision detected by the ATLAS project!!

congratulations to all all at CERN! you can read more at cosmic variance here and here.

dirty car art

Saturday, November 21, 2009

if earth had rings like saturn

here is a nice fantasy animation showing what the views might be from earth's surface if we had a ring system!

UPDATE: an interesting discussion on the implications of earth having rings is up at quantum rocketry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

nora the piano cat

this is hilarious! it just keeps getting better....!!!

i miss having a cat in my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

R2D2 knitted hat!

this is purely awesome knit wear from babbidge patch!!

an astronomer's periodic table

speaking of periodic tables, what chemists call the periodic table of elements is very different from what astronomers consider! listen as dr. omar almaini describes an astronomer's periodic table, followed by the description of how the elements are formed in the hearts of stars!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

marvelous night for a moondance

can i just have one more moondance with you my love?

here's a great recording of moondance by van morrison that i cannot embed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

wheelbarrow races revisited

wait for the brilliance!

thanks to ze frank for his quality run of recent video finds!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

ringo starr's small head?

after reading a guardian article about the auction of the photo below, minnesotastan at tywkiwdbi noticed that ringo starr's head (second from right) looks oddly tiny compared to neighboring john and george!

does ringo really have a smaller head?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

galaxies of garbage

yes, humans have purposely created islands in unexpected places - dubai, for example. but we've also accidentally made other islands, whose total size may add up to be TWICE THE SIZE OF TEXAS!

thats right: trash islands! off the pacific west coast of the US, 1000 miles northeast of hawaii, live several massive, synthetic, growing islands of our rubbish. our synthetic products and the whirling ocean currents have conspired together to create floating piles of plastic leftovers from our lives. we have multiple huge and expanding mountains of refuse living in the vortices of earth's oceans.


what can we do? reuse items that dont break up: plastics! reuse plastic bags, or get cloth bags that you can use infinitely! increase the use of biodegradable materials wherever possible. buy a cup or more permanent water bottle to drink from , instead of opening several plastic water bottles a day.

of course, as a single individual my efforts wont decrease the rate at which the galaxies of garbage are growing, but i think as a society, we have to get better at reusing what we buy. we just plain dont need all this *stuff* in our lives!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

spaceship to mars

gene vincent sings spaceship to mars in 1962!

carl sagan on childhood

in honor of his birthday, i'd like to share a quote from carl sagan:

“As soon as I was old enough, my parents gave me my first library card. I think the library was on 85th Street, an alien land. Immediately, I asked the librarian for something on stars. She returned with a picture book displaying portraits of men and women with names like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. I complained, and for some reason then obscure to me, she smiled and found another book — the right kind of book. I opened it breathlessly and read until I found it. The book said something astonishing, a very big thought. It said that the stars were suns, only very far away. The Sun was a star, but close up.”

from “the backbone of night,” cosmos.

more quality quotes at skeptic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

IYA posters redesigned

the whole set by simon page is great!

mittenwald, germany

mittenwald is a gorgeous little town in the alps of southern germany. it's known for the murals painted on the buildings and its history of people making quality violins.

i'll take the high road and you take the low road....

mmm... apple strudel.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

carl sagan day

today is carl sagan day, with a celebration being held at broward college in southern florida for what would have been carl's 75th birthday.

carl sagan was an astronomer, but most well-known to the public as an incredible science communicator. i meet professional astronomers all the time who claim him to be a major influence in their decision to go into science, including myself.

he has written some very influential books, shared amazing perspective as to our place in the universe on our pale blue dot, he and partner ann druyan created the memorable cosmos tv series, and a recent youtube video featuring carl sagan, a glorious dawn, has proven to be very popular!

here is carl with the dalai lama in 1991.

i'm actually working on another piece about carl sagan, and i'd like to hear your thoughts. what influence has he had for you, if any? what memories do you associate with him? if you are a young person, do you know who he is? how did you hear about him?

Friday, November 6, 2009

space day aftermath

space day at the castle was loads of fun last saturday! my mom came from the US for the event and has been here all week - hence a lack of posting! here's a photo of us at the event in our costumes! more soon....

ps. no, i'm not dressed as ronald mcdonald!

Monday, November 2, 2009

when accuracy kills romance

this cartoon from saturday morning breakfast cereal reminded a reader of me. haha!!

there are certain times when people say things inaccurately and i *have* to say something about the correct information. but sometimes, i have to recognize when to keep my mouth shut ;)

ps. its not a meteorite until it actually lands on the surface of the earth!