Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a decorated tree

a decorated tree sits in the snow near arosa, switzerland.

this photo comes from the christmas 2009 collection at the big picture.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

lunar eclipse on new years eve!

the last eclipse of 2009 will occur on new years eve! everyone around the world will see a full moon that night, and it will be a blue moon - the second full moon occurring in a month. look to the east, in the constellation gemini.

image from earth sky.

on new years eve, the earth will float almost directly between the sun and the moon, causing a partial lunar eclipse. the greatest eclipse occurs at 19:23 UT, when the edge of the moon passes thru the earth's shadow. this eclipse will be visible to people in europe, africa, asia, india, and some of australia - too bad americas! but you will have this view during the first few nights of 2010, as the moon passes close by mars on january 2nd!

the above map comes from sky and telescope, who state that "the Moon is plotted for North America; in Europe, move each Moon symbol a quarter for the way toward the one for the previous date."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

home for the holidays

trips home are always exciting, enjoyable, energizing *and* exhausting! some observations and lessons i've learned from this venture to the US:

you cant carry christmas crackers in your luggage :(

i can say "pants" without feeling slightly embarrassed, but i've started to snicker to myself when i hear other people say it.

it takes approximately 3 hours for me to have the midwestern drawl return to my voice, although my family claims to hear my british accents.

this is the land of plentiful water fountains, trash cans, and eye contact with strangers.

i forgot that some time in the last few years i was given a strawberry shortcake ornament that smells just like my old doll!

there is a lot of space in this country. everything is so spread out!

despite the fact that its too cold to show my feet, i got a pedicure with my good friend and completely enjoyed it.

i should have bought everyone in my family an electric kettle for christmas. best innovation ever. why dont people use them in this country? i hadnt realized how reliant i've become on mine and i'm impatient with the watched pot.

i love waking up to see snow unexpectedly on the trees and ground.

it has been entirely too long since i've been sled riding!

i saw a car dressed up as a reindeer today.

i'll see my mom tomorrow and over one hundred other family members in the next two days!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the many faces of calvin and keldan

we were stuck inside, waiting for enough snow to fall to go sled riding. my nephew and i found creative inspiration from calvin and hobbes.

the many faces of calvin and keldan:

snow days are great!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

carl sagan and the interstellar adventures of the voyager mission

i contributed today's podcast to the excellent 365 days of astronomy project! go have a listen to carl sagan and the interstellar adventures of the voyager missions, or read the trascript below! (i like that they published the trasnscipt in the same lowercase form that i submitted it!)


hello everyone! i'm amanda bauer, a postdoctoral research fellow in astronomy at the university of Nottingham in england. today is december 20th, 2009, the 13th anniversary of astronomer carl sagan's death.

my first memory of carl sagan is from my first year as an undergraduate at the university of cincinnati. i was majoring in french and taking the university's only undergraduate astronomy course as my one science requirement. my professor played a few episodes of the COSMOS mini-series in class. eventhough this tv series was written in the late 1970s by carl sagan, ann druyan, and steven soter, the episodes made a memorable impression on me! i wondered why i had never seen anything explaining the universe so simply and understandably before. remember, this was back before youtube allowed us immediate access to all the good, and the bad, video information humans had to offer each other.

i'd like to mention an online video project i've been involved with at the university of nottingham, called sixty symbols. filmmaker brady haran, has worked in collaboration with scientists here to create 5-10 minute youtube videos about the various funny little letters and squiggles used by physicists and astronomers to explain concepts about the physical universe. you can find videos at http://www.sixtysymbols.com/.

so a couple months after first being exposed to the COSMOS tv series, the movie contact was released, proving to be a huge inspiration in my thoughts about the future. in fact, just a few weeks later, i decided to change my course and switch my college major to physics, dedicated to the idea of studying astronomy as much as i could! i only found out many years later that the movie contact was actually based on a novel by carl sagan!

My student days are long gone now, but I regularly hear colleagues claim that he was a huge influence in their decision to study astrophysics.

In addition to communicating astronomy and critical thinking to the public, i admire carl sagan because he actively applied science to public welfare, he was a skeptic who fought against pseudo science, he wrote about the virtues of cannabis under the pseuonymn "Mr. X," he won a pulitzer prize for his book "The Dragons of Eden," and he contributed hugely to the scientific discoveries about our solar system made by space probes sent out in the 1970s and 80s.

One project in particular seems to have left a lasting impression on human beings: the twin voyager missions. in 1977, NASA launched the voyager 1 and voyager 2 spacecraft, which were intended for 4 year missions to explore the outer regions of our solar system! Both voyagers have completely exceeded all expectations for their missions and continue to explore the the farthest reaches of our solar system!

traveling aboard each voyager spacecraft is an ambitious time capsule, intended to communicate the story of humity to any being that might find them! referred to as a 'golden record,' each time capsule is a phonographic 12-inch gold-plated copper disk. carl sagan 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. imagine how exciting it must have felt to lead the group of people who designed, created, and found what images, symbols, and sounds to use to explain to a potential distant unknown creature... who we are, where we are, and *what* we are!

in the end, the team included 115 images, nature sounds of earth, 90 minutes of music, and spoken greetings from 55 different languages, among other things.

voyager 1 remains the most distant human made object we have sent to space, having passed the distance of pioneer 10 on february 17, 1998. As of November 20th, 2009, voyager 1 is over 111 times the farther from the sun than the earth! that's 111 astronomical units. thats more than 16,000 million kilometers and about 4 times as far from the sun as pluto's orbit!

these little chunks of synthetic machinery have been traveling away from earth for 32 years, and continue to travel outward, well beyond the confines of our solar system, making them the first spacecraft in interstellar space! the nearest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light-years away. at its current speed (about 38,000 miles per hour!), it will take 56,000 years for voyager 1 to reach the next star!!

it will have lost power, and all interactive capabilities, long before that time. NASA scientists estimate that in 2025, the spacecraft will lose electrical power, because the Radio-isotope Thermo-electric Generators will run out of their plutonium fuel sources, due to natural radioactive decay. The voyagers will lose power well before they reach another star system.

but the good news is that the 'golden record' has a shelf life of 1 billion years!

it's actually impossible to predict the exact trajectory of the voyager spacecraft as they will get gravitationally bumped along their journeys. but they could pass nearby several thousands of stars during the next billion years, while the golden records will still be playable. and they will possibly pass out into intergalactic space! voyager 1 is traveling 35 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the north. Voyager 2 is traveling 48 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the south and will pass 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) from Sirius, the brightest star in earth's night sky.

it's amazing how far these spacecraft will travel away from earth. and it reminds me just how incredible it is that the light from the distant galaxies that i study everyday, has traveled for over 10 billions years, across spacetime, without running into any obstacles, only to crash into the primary mirror of a telescope we happen to have sitting on the surface of earth. amazing!

relatively early on in the voyager missions, the voyager 1 spacecraft turned around to take an image of the earth on february 14, 1990. in that photo, earth appeared as a tiny dot, encompassing one single pixel of that entire image. carl sagan was inspired to call our home planet the "pale blue dot" based on that image, and i'd like to leave you with some of his words. thank you for listening:

"Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

what english sounds like to italians

what english sounds like to italians, the MUSICAL! i dont know the origin or reason behind the video, the music, or the dancing - but i love them all!!!

found at cluster flock.

i never open my eyes under water

i just dont like to. but this is a great photo from the big picture's 2009 in photos series.

2009 in photos: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


my mom came to england to visit last month, and we took a trip to stonehenge. its a gorgeous and mysterious place, strangely located right next to a road. many friends here tell me stories of how they could climb all over the stones as kids, but now they are blocked off so you can only walk around from a distance, listening to a recorded history of the place.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

dotastronomy - The Leiden Experiment

more visual entertainment about the .Astronomy workshop. this video was created by zemogle, who also leads a nice little project called teapots from space.

what good is science if you cant sing and laugh about it? (see the 5:09 time mark)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

.Astronomy hack day and google wave

i tried to figure out how to benefit from using google wave, in fact, it was one of my goals while attending the dotAstronomy workshop last week in leiden. day three of the conference was "hack day," which had no official sessions planned so that people could team up to create absolutely whatever they wanted, and seemed like a good day to test google wave.... somehow.

this day could have been a major disaster considering the lack of structure, but the enthusiasm of the conference participants generated a fun atmosphere of impressively creative productivity! it really amazed me to watch so many people working together in such efficient collaborations.

markus possel spent his day learning how to use some new editing software to make the dot astronomy trailer. that's him on the right:

pamela gay interviewed many people (including chris lintott seen here) to get material for her popular astronomy-related podcast: astronomy cast.

i assume stuart was doing something here with the jodcast, but i couldnt keep up with all the projects he was working on! (photo by nancy a)

the night before hack day a group of us went to a pub and came up with a fun idea for a project we could actually do on hack day (details to come...)! NOTE: many good ideas come while sitting in a pub. during the morning of the hack day, we accreted more volunteers for our project and discussed the details. (photo by robert hollow)

the people with the technical skills quickly decided who could do what, and set about designing the components that would add together to make everything work. i realized that my normally sufficient nerdy knowledge was failing me, as i only understood bits and pieces of what they were saying.

i decided to share the responsibility of writing the text for the webpage, which allowed the opportunity to test out google wave! i sat in a room with chris, sarah, and michael, started a wave, and away we went.

we found wave beneficial for a little while. the interactive text was nice, as one person could be dictating an idea while watching the words change on the screen as someone else wrote. but then it got really slow and kept freezing at times, causing me to lose some work.

we eventually gave up on google wave and announced on twitter (as was customary at .Astronomy) that we were switching to EtherPad. i really liked the EtherPad set up more, because you could highlight each individual's edits in different colors, and there was a chat window next to the text file which would have been extremely useful had we not all been sitting in the same room together.

shenanigans ensued:

oddly enough, the very next day, we received word that google had bought EtherPad! i was not happy about that. then the next day, the announcement came that ether pad was back online and would be open sourced. um, ok. i'm still involved in some waves, but mostly because i like the projects that are using a wave to communicate, not because i'm a wave fan.

anyway, the main point of all this is that while i dont fully understand google wave, i have MANY many wave invites to share. so if you want one, let me know in the comments! also, congratulations to all who participated in the successful hack day and thank you to those who taught me new things and made the day so exciting and fun!

more photos!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

10 simple science stunts

ever get a little bored at holiday family gatherings? watch this short video by richard wiseman to get 10 ideas for great science stunts that can be performed at home!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


there is a new interactive astronomy website called chromoscope that allows you to explore our milky way galaxy in several different wavelengths! you can search for individual objects, you can zoom into different areas of our galaxy and you can explorre what various objects look like with x-ray vision, visible light, hydrogen alpha, far-infrared, microwaves, and radio light!

go explore and have fun!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

dotAstronomy: first day impressions

a colleague of mine joked before i came to this dotAstronomy workshop, that it would be a bunch of science, technology, and astronomy dorks sitting in a room twittering to each other and the world. i chuckled and reluctantly agreed, but really, i had no idea:

the laptop to human ratio in the main conference room is very nearly 1! the mac to human ratio is only slightly less than one, and i'm guessing the iPhone to human ratio is quite high too, but cant be exactly one because i dont own one! i admit it, i'm not an iPerson. i kinda wish i had one though, because there are all sorts of great sessions this week on various applications.

anyway, the venue for the workshop is amazing! i have my own office:

but i'm a bit worried that the elevator has a "gravity" switch!?

they keep us properly loaded with coffee.

we heard a nice talk by chris lintott and arfon smith about the galaxy zoo.

and ironically, there is a constantly-morphing schedule of events on a white board in the coffee room. there is NO accurate digital version of this plan of events!

and riding bicycles with a group of astronomers back to the hotel was amusing; the rental bikes here in holland only have foot breaks. the process of locking the bikes was even more hilarious....